Does Amulek Teach the Trinity?

In a recent exchange with a critic of Mormonism I put together the following commentary on Alma 11:21-33. This is the oft-quoted discussion between Amulek and Zeezrom in which Amulek affirms that there is only one God. I argue that they use the word “god” in the sense of a “supreme being”, and that this is perfectly in line with modern LDS thought.

Verses 21-22

Zeezrom tempts Amulek with money, asking him to deny the existence of a “Supreme Being.”

Verses 22-25

Amulek declines the offer, and chastises Zeezrom for it. Amulek then restates what Zeezrom tried to do, but instead of using the title “Supreme Being” Amulek uses the title “true and living God.” So in verse 25 Amulek has equated “Supreme Being” with “true and living God.” That is important.

Verses 26-27

Zeezrom basically repeats the same question as before, but this time uses the title that Amulek used. Zeezrom asks Amulek if he believes in a “true and living God”, and Amulek affirms that he does.

Verse 28

Zeezrom then asks, “Is there more than one God?”. It is important for us to understand what exactly Zeezrom has in mind here. What does he mean by “God”? It seems rather clear from the context of their discussion that Zeezrom has in mind the sort of God who could be described as a “Supreme Being” or as a “true and living God.” I don’t know how else you could interpret this.

Verse 29

Amulek replies with a “No.” There is not more than one “Supreme Being” or “true and living God.” So far, this is all perfectly in keeping with other LDS scriptures. As I showed in my previous post, in various places in the LDS canon God the Father is described as being the Most High. Within the LDS doctrinal framework there are multiple “gods”, but only one of them is the “true and living God”.

Verses 30-31

Zeezrom asks Amulek how he knows this, and Amulek says that an angel told him.

Verses 32-33

Zeezrom asks Amulek about “he that shall come”. This is a reference to Alma’s sermon that they all just listened to in chapter 9. Zeezrom refers to him as “the Son of God”, the same title that Alma used in 9:26. Amulek responds by affirming that “he that shall come” is indeed the “Son of God”. In summary, they establish that the person who Alma prophecied would come is the son of the Supreme Being they have been discussing.

From there they get into a debate about what exactly the Son of God will do. But by now they have already left their dicussion about the Supreme Being, of which there is only one, and are discussing the Son of the Supreme Being and what he will do.

The bottom line is that when Zeezrom asks “is there more than one God?” it is in the context of their discussion about the Supreme Being. There is not more than one Supreme Being, at least not in my interpretation of Mormonism.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in ..

5 comments on “Does Amulek Teach the Trinity?

  1. aquinas says:

    James, there are several issue underneath the premise of your post and it could be useful to bring these issues to the forefront. For example, did the Nephites have the exact same understanding of God that modern Mormons do today? Was there no doctrinal development overtime among the Nephites from Lehi to Moroni? Has there be no doctrinal development from early Mormonism to today? How much weight should we give to the 19th century religious environment in interpreting the Book of Mormon? How much weight should we give the religious worldview of the Old Testament in interpreting the Book of Mormon? How much attention should we give to the internal structure of the narrative itself?

    I prefer to look at Amulek and Zeezrom’s dialogue proper. The narrative as well as Zeezrom’s several responses suggest that Zeezrom’s goal is to catch Amulek in a logical contradiction (Alma 10:16). It doesn’t seem that Zeezrom is genuinely concerned with Amulek’s beliefs proper (at least not initially). Rather, he merely wishes to show that Amulek’s beliefs, whatever they may be, are inconsistent. His reason for asking Amulek whether there is more than one God, is merely to set up his coup de grâce. Amulek says there is “a true and living God” but also says that the “Son of God” shall come. Zeezrom’s believes he has found the contraction and tells the people “See that ye remember these things; for he said there is but one God; yet he saith that the Son of God shall come.” Zeezrom’s reasoning here is that it is inconsistent to believe there is one God but also believe the Son of God shall come. That is two Gods.

    Zeezrom also tries to point out the contraction with saying God will “not save his people in their sins” but then saying the Son of God will come to redeem his people.

    It seems less likely that Zeezrom is concerned with protecting religious orthodoxy as much as he merely wants to expose Amulek’s beliefs as incoherent. Thus, Zeezrom’s responses to Amulek at this point, don’t really serve as good indicator’s of Zeezrom’s religious beliefs.

  2. James says:

    Hi Aquinas.

    I agree that the questions you ask are important. But all of that falls outside of the scope of my discussion here. Evangelical critics like to point to this particular discussion between Zeezrom and Amulek as evidence that Amulek believes in one “god”. The point they want to make is that this contradicts Joseph Smith’s later teachings about multiple “gods”.

    I’m simply trying to identify what working definition or sense of the word “god” is being used in the discussion between Zeezrom and Amulek. If we can recognize that it is a different sense than the multiple “gods” of D&C 76, 132, etc, than the issue is resolved. I’ve tried to point out that the sense in which Zeezrom, and more importantly Amulek, are using the word “god” in their discussion is in reference to a “Supreme Being.”

    I think it resolves any potential contradiction with Joseph Smith’s later teachings.

  3. aquinas says:

    I think these question need to be addressed in order to answer the issue adequately. I think it is perfectly fine to acknowledge that Joseph’s understanding of the nature of God expanded over time. There is a split among Mormon historians as to the degree and nature of this development, and, unfortunately, the literature tends to be somewhat polarized. At any rate, several doctrines were only revealed after the publication of the Book of Mormon. Some of these doctrines specifically relate to the nature of God.

    If the critic wants to show that Joseph Smith’s later teachings contradict teachings found in the Book of Mormon, why is that a problem? I think it is important to identify what is at stake. I would say that some people are uncomfortable with the idea that Joseph expanded his ideas beyond the Book of Mormon. Yet, in many respects, this shouldn’t be a controversial idea. I think we have to be careful allowing apologetic concerns dictate our analysis of the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith clearly didn’t freeze his understanding of the nature of God immediately following the publication of the Book of Mormon. I’m not sure that Mormons should be threatened by this position.

  4. James says:

    Aquinas,

    I’m of the opinion that a contradiction between Amulek’s prophetic understanding of God, and Joseph Smith’s prophetic understanding of God (no matter what stage of its development) is a problem.

    For me, this has nothing whatsoever to do with Joseph’s expanding views on God or on the nature of exalted man. Instead the question is, “Does Amulek contradict Joseph Smith?”. The answer is “No”.

    I’m perfectly fine with the fact that Joseph’s personal understanding of God and gods developed and underwent a maturity process “line upon line”. But what I’d be uncomfortable with is if any incorrect ideas of Joseph’s crept into the scriptural record. That would be bad, and I hope you agree.

  5. James says:

    I should clarify something I said in the first paragraph of my last comment.

    I’m actually not bothered at all if Amulek’s understanding of God contradicts Joseph Smith’s understanding of God. That is no more a problem than the fact that Brigham Young’s concept of God contradicts Spencer Kimball’s concept of God. But what would be problematic is if one place in scripture contradicted another place in scripture on such a fundamental issue. That is the basic problem I’m addressing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s