Mormonism: Jesus Christ

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The doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“Mormons”) regarding Jesus Christ is in harmony with biblical teachings. Given the Church’s nickname and associated belief in the Book of Mormon as canonical and in addition to the Bible, it could be easy to question whether Mormons believe in Jesus Christ. Confusion over this belief generally arises as differences appear between Mormon conceptualization of Jesus as compared with other Christian faiths, though both rely on biblical and extra-biblical authority.

Mormonism Jesus Christ
Mormons are devoted Christians

Jesus Christ is Distinct from the Father: Biblical Support

Understanding Mormonism’s concept of Jesus Christ requires an understanding of His position in the Holy Trinity. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches the doctrine of the trinity—that the “God” referenced in the Bible and in other Latter-day Saint scripture can be properly understood to be in reference to God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost, or even in some combination of some two or all of those entities. Indeed, the first of the Church’s thirteen articles of faith states:

We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost. [1]

Mormons understand and teach that the unity of the trinity is a symbolic unity, but that each being in that trinity retains individual “person-hood.” The Bible does not contradict this notion, though on occasion there is room for interpretation in admittedly challenging biblical texts. Examples of Biblical support of the notion that the three entities in the trinity are distinct individuals include some of Jesus Christ’s own teachings:

• John 5:19 – “Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.” • John 14:10 – “Believest though not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.” • John 6:38 – “For I came down from heaven, not do do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” • Matthew 19:17 – “And he said unto them, Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” • John 14:28 – “If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I.”

Other Biblical stories during and after Jesus’ life can be understood to explain Jesus Christ’s distinctiveness from the Father.

At the baptism of Jesus Christ, the three individuals in the trinity were present: Jesus, in the water with John; the Father, whose voice was heard from heaven; and the Holy Spirit, who descended on the event in the form of a dove (see e.g., Matthew 3:13-17). The story of Stephen, the first martyr, likewise illustrates Jesus’ distinctiveness from the Father.

From the book of Acts, just before Stephen’s death, one can read that “[Stephen], being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55-56, emphasis added).

Confusion can arise from Jesus Christ’s teaching that He and the Father are one (see generally John 10:30). It has been pointed out that the word translated “one” is not in the masculine, but in the neuter gender, thereby expressing union without defining the precise nature of that union. [2] Indeed, in previous verses Christ expresses His partnership with the Father and their unity in purpose.

Christ’s teaching to His disciples at the Last Supper adds clarity to His understanding of His “oneness” with His Father. In His great prayer for the disciples, He asked “That they all may be one; as though, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (John 17:21). In so asking, He was effectively imploring the disciples to strive for the same unity that He shared with the Father, and not a literal unity.

Jesus Christ as Distinct from the Father: Extra-Biblical Support

The Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints does not adhere to creedal interpretations of teachings of the trinity. The Nicene and subsequent creeds gave solidity to the growing (but in no way unanimous) belief that the trinity’s “threeness” was literal, and not symbolic or indicative of unity of purpose. [1]

These extra-Biblical creeds are not followed due to The Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints’s unique belief in ongoing prophetic presence on earth and continuing scripture. The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ is part of the Latter-day Saint canon of scripture and is fundamental to the Mormon concept of Jesus Christ. Likewise, present-day prophets affirm His divinity.

Jesus Christ: the Resurrection

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints affirms that, as taught in the Holy Bible and confirmed in the Book of Mormon, Jesus Christ was literally resurrected—that His corporeal body was reunited with His spirit. That He appeared to Mary and later the disciples is a matter of Biblical record. That He appeared to other people in the world (the “other sheep” of John 10:16) is confirmed in His visit to the American continent shortly after His resurrection (see 3 Nephi 11 et. seq.). That He appeared and does appear in the modern era in the same flesh into which He was resurrected is a matter of faith for Mormons. Joseph Smith witnessed that, on several occasions, he saw and conversed with Jesus Christ as a resurrected being. [2]

Jesus Christ: Savior

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints affirms that salvation is only possible through the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made as our Savior. The third Article of Faith reads, “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.” [3]

Mormonism: Jesus Christ

“The fundamental principles of [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] are the testimonies of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (2007), 49.)

That statement, oft-quoted by contemporary Church leaders, first made by Joseph Smith, articulates the Mormon view of Christ. That there are differences between mainline views of Christ, His origin, His nature, His purpose, is not in dispute. That the Christ of the Bible, affirmed in The Book of Mormon and in modern prophetic instruction, is the center of Mormon theology can likewise not be in dispute.

  1. See generally Shelley, Bruce L., Church History in Plain Language, 2d Ed., Word Publishing, 1995, pp. 99-108 et. seq.
  2. See generally Joseph Smith-History 1:17, Doctrine and Covenants 76:14.