When did Joseph Smith learn that the Holy Ghost was the third member of the Godhead?
This is a good question. From the Book of Mormon, published in 1830, we know that the Holy Ghost is part of the Restoration, and that Joseph knew quite a bit about the Holy Ghost. A quick search on LDS.org in the scriptures application will show the various references to the Holy Ghost and the Holy Spirit. For example, there are 87 references to the Holy Ghost in the Book of Mormon and 16 references to the Holy Spirit.
However, what exactly was revealed to Joseph Smith about the Holy Ghost and his relationship to God?
In the winter of 1834-35 in Kirtland, Ohio, Joseph Smith gave what is known today as the Lectures on Faith. In Lecture Five Joseph said that the Holy Ghost was the “mind of God”. He said:
Question 13: Do the Father and the Son possess the same mind?
They do. John 5:30: I [Christ] can of my own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just; because I seek not my own will, but the will of the Father who sent me. John 6:38: For I [Christ] came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him that sent me. John 10:30: I [Christ] and my Father are one.
Question 14: What is this mind?
The Holy Spirit. John 15:26: But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceeds from the Father, he shall testify of me. [Christ] Galatians 4:6: And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts. (Lecture Five of The Lectures on Faith, see: http://lecturesonfaith.com/5/)
Later in this same lecture Joseph Smith said: Question 15: Do the Father, Son and Holy Spirit constitute the Godhead? They do. (5:12) Let the student commit this paragraph to memory. (Lecture Five of the Lectures on Faith)
So from these passages in The Lectures on Faith, it seems that Joseph believed and taught that the Holy Ghost was a member of the Godhead (question 15), and yet when specifically asked how many personages there are in the Godhead, he said that there were two (question 3). This seems confusing. Did Joseph place the Holy Ghost on the same plane as the Father and the Son?
I do not know. But it does seem to me that he places the Holy Ghost in the Godhead as one of its members when he says, “Do the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit constitute the Godhead? They do.”
I would add that the Book of Mormon (published 1830) similarly places the Holy Ghost in the Godhead when it says:
- “And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.” (Testimony of the Three Witnesses)
- “And be arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is cone Eternal God…” (Alma 11:44)
By April of 1843 Joseph Smith had this to say about the Holy Ghost:
The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us. A man may receive the Holy Ghost, and it may descend upon him and not tarry with him. (D&C 130:22-23)
I do not know of Joseph clarifying more than this regarding the Holy Ghost prior to 1843. If you have any information on him explaining or expounding the role of the Holy Ghost in the Godhead prior to 1843, other than the information I have provided, I would appreciate anything you can provide on this!
Joseph learned line upon line
I would venture to say that Joseph Smith had to learn about the Holy Ghost as he worked on the translation of the Book of Mormon, and later the Bible and his work with the Book of Abraham. By the time he has finished the work on the book of Abraham, Joseph’s understanding of God had grown and he knew more (at least it seems so from his teachings) than what he knew in 1834-5. By the time we get to his famous King Follett discourse, Joseph taught about the idea of God being an exalted human being, and having a Father, and the council of the Gods.
Regarding this Council of the Gods Joseph said:
In the beginning, the head of the Gods called a council of the Gods; and they came together and concocted [prepared] a plan to create the world and people it. When we begin to learn this way, we begin to learn the only true God, and what kind of a being we have got to worship. Having a knowledge of God, we begin to know how to approach Him, and how to ask so as to receive an answer. (Joseph Smith, King Follett sermon. April 7, 1844.)
Regarding God the Father having a father, Joseph taught:
“If Jesus Christ was the son of God, and John discovered that God the Father of Jesus Christ had a Father, you may suppose that he had a Father also. Where was there ever a son without a father? And where was there ever a father without first being a son? Whenever did a tree or anything spring into existence without a progenitor? And everything comes in this way. Paul says that which is earthly is in the likeness of that which is heavenly. Hence if Jesus had a Father, can we not believe that he had a Father also? I despise the idea of being scared to death at such a doctrine, for the Bible is full of it.
“I want you to pay particular attention to what I am saying. Jesus said that the Father wrought precisely in the same way as His Father had done before Him. As the Father had done before, He laid down his life, and took it up the same as His Father had done before.” (Joseph Smith, HC, 6:476-77. Meeting in the Grove, east of the Temple, June 16, 1844.)
As I have studied this and other doctrinal points and practices in the Church, I have come to the conclusion that we are learning line upon line, and that the Restoration is an ongoing process (Uchtdorf, Are you sleeping through the restoration? April 2014).
Other examples that I have written short papers on:
- Tithing – it hasn’t always been what we see today. See: https://ldsscriptureteachings.org/2016/12/22/a-brief-history-of-tithing/
- The Word of Wisdom – what we see today isn’t what it always was. See: https://ldsscriptureteachings.org/2011/02/21/dc-89-the-history-of-the-word-of-wisdom/
There are other examples of course. What we see regarding sealing ordinances has not always been what we know. Family relationships continuing beyond the grave and how everything works is still something I am trying to figure out. We see the evolution of baptism for the dead, where it was allowed in the Mississippi River at the beginning when it was introduced, only to be restricted to the temple as further light was obtained. I hope this helps. This was a great question!
Further reading on the development of prophetic understanding of doctrine:
- Thomas Alexander, The Reconstruction of Mormon Doctrine.
- Robert Millet, 1989, Joseph Smith and Modern Mormonism: Orthodoxy, Neoorthodoxy, Tension, and Tradition. BYU Studies, Volume 29, issue 3, article 4.
- Samuel Morris Brown, In Heaven as it is on earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death, Oxford University Press, 2012.