Question: One of the issues I have a great deal of trouble with is the Trinitarian doctrine of Orthodox Christianity vs. the Mormon view of three separate personages of the Godhood.  Just reading in the book of Mormon yesterday, I found several instances where the Book of Mormon clearly seems to be Trinitarian (orthodox) in its writings.  I was surprised to find those scriptures in the Book of Mormon that seemingly contradict the LDS theology of the Godhood.  If you have any scriptural references I'd appreciate it. Thank you so much.  This is a hard issue to deal with, I know.

Answer: This is a great question and an important one.  As are all doctrines of the gospel when properly understood, the concept of the Godhead is beautiful and logical.  Jesus said, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3)  So, this question is not just a matter of curiosity, it is critical for all of us to understand as we journey toward eternal life.  The prophet Joseph Smith taught,

“Three things are necessary in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation.  First, the idea that he actually exists.  Secondly, a correct idea of his character, perfections, and attributes.  Thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing is according to his will.  For without an acquaintance with these three important facts, the faith of every rational being must be imperfect and unproductive; but with this understanding it can become perfect and fruitful . . .” (Lectures on Faith, Lecture 3, verses 2-5, emphasis in original)

Your question relates to the second point, a correct idea of God.  But this is not always easy to discern from reading the scriptures.  Job was right in asking, “ Canst thou by searching find out God?  Canst thou find out the almighty unto perfection?” (Job 11:7)  So, you are right, it can be a difficult topic.

There are at least four reasons for this difficulty:

1. The difficulties and subtleties language.  I love words and language; in fact, my undergraduate degree is in English.  I also speak a foreign language, so I am familiar with the complexities and difficulties of translating from one language to another.  I enjoy the subtleties of language.  Words form pictures in our minds which associate meaning.  One of our biggest challenges in communicating ideas is that these images and meanings can vary depending upon the person, their background, point-of-view, and experiences.  For example, my wife and I have a very different perception of the word “camping.”  To me, it represents adventure, fun, beautiful vistas, and friendship.  But to my wife, it means dirt, discomfort, and unpleasantness.  Notice: same word, two totally different pictures.  If this kind of variation in meaning can occur with two people as like-minded as we, consider how different our word-perceptions could be when you add a different language, culture, and region of the world—then throw in a 2000 year difference in time period!  It truly is amazing that we understand anything from ancient scriptures at all.  Too often, we assume that we understand the meaning of a particular word or phrase based on our own understanding, or the way it is in common usage today, where the actual intended meaning is quite different.     

2. The concept of God stretches our mortal understanding.  Our finite, limited minds often have a hard time grasping concepts such as “eternity” or “perfection” or “omniscience” or “universe.”  The Lord beautifully summed up this gap in comprehension.  Said He, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)  There are some things about God that have not been revealed, many of which are probably beyond our comprehension until we ourselves are resurrected and perfected through Christ.  Even those things which have been revealed stretch our mortal understanding.  So, although we will attempt to discuss these concepts as clearly as possible, we should never be disheartened or disappointed if we don’t understand everything all at once. 

3. God reveals Himself a little at a time.  Nephi taught, “For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts . . . for unto him that receiveth will I give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.” (2 Nephi 28:30)  The more righteous and teachable a people are, the more knowledge will be poured down upon them.  At times, great knowledge and understanding about the nature of God have been revealed to men and women. But there have also been times in the history of the world when the knowledge of God was limited.  For example, during the long period from Moses to the coming of Christ, because of the wickedness and rebellion of the children of Israel, the people were given a lesser or preparatory law.  They functioned under the Aaronic Priesthood only.  It was a law of strict actions and limited understanding of spiritual truths.  They knew that they worshipped God, whose name was I AM, or Jehovah.  The prophets, I expect, had an understanding of the true nature of God.  But generally, the people were not given a complete, detailed understanding of the nature of God.  The Law of Moses was “a law of performances and of ordinances, a law which they were to observe strictly from day to day, to keep them in remembrance of God . . . And now did they understand the law?  I say unto you, Nay, they did not all understand the law; and this because of the hardness of their hearts.” (Mosiah 13:28-32)  So, according to the righteousness and receptiveness of the people, varying levels of understanding about these principles existed at different times in history.  

4. God is understood only through revelation.  Prophets and apostles throughout the ages have found it difficult to express the true nature of God using words and language.  They recognize the necessity of being enlightened by the Holy Ghost in order to understand.  Speaking of the things of God, Paul said, "Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth . . . But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 2:13-14, see verses 9-14)  God is understood only when revealed to man.  The third lecture on faith continues, “We are indebted to the revelations which he has given to us for a correct understanding of his character, perfections, and attributes; because without the revelations that he has given us, no man by searching could find out God.” (Lectures 3:7)

The Nicene Creed

Without revelation, man is left to try to figure out these matters on his own, often with confusing results.  When the apostles of Jesus were killed, various doctrines began to enter the church and the authority of the priesthood was lost from the earth for a time.  The doctrine of the Godhead became confused and the subject of debate, conflict and even war.  Some taught that the Father and the Son were the same essence.  Others, however, fervently opposed this doctrine, notably Lucian of Antioch and Arius of Alexandria.  Arius taught “an emphasis on the distinction rather than the unity of the trinity; and the subordinate position of the Son and the Spirit.” (New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 1, p.791, McGraw-Hill, New York 1967)  By the year 325 A.D., Christianity had grown to become a political force in the Roman Empire and the emperor Constantine determined to settle these doctrinal differences by convening the first Council of Nicaea—using the church to try to unify his kingdom politically and civically as well as religiously.   

Constantine announced himself the “Pontifex Maximus of Christianity” which means “bishop in matters external” and called a council of about 300 “principle” bishops.  His purpose was “to settle a controversy that was upsetting the politico-religious unity of his Christian empire.” (New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 10, p. 432, emphasis added)  On this matter of the nature of God, Constantine urged them to cease fighting over what he called “a trifling and foolish verbal difference.” (NCE, vol. 1, p. 814)  “Constantine was honorary president and even intervened to ensure peaceful discussion.” (NCE, vol. 10, p. 432)  At this council of Nicaea, Arius’ teachings, that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were separate and distinct, were rejected.  When he refused to submit, Arius, along with two other bishops, was banished to the Illyricum.  The council drafted a statement containing their ideas of the nature of God.  This statement, now referred to as the Nicene Creed, was adopted “with some misgivings because of its non-Biblical terminology.” (NCE, vol. 10, p. 437)  Despite the banishment and excommunication of Arius, the concept that members of the Godhead were distinct individuals continued to flourish (especially in the Eastern and Northern areas of Europe).  This doctrine, later referred to as Arianism, had many strongholds for over 200 years until “gradually the Catholic Church succeeded in eliminating Arianism.  In some instances this was achieved by military action.” (NCE, vol. 1, p. 794) 

This is the history of the Nicene Creed, which is still used by churches today to establish the doctrine of the Trinity and as a test or “tessera of orthodoxy” (NCE, vol. 10, p. 433).  It is not a revelation or an inspired document, nor does it claim to be.  Rather, it is a statement of belief produced over a period of several weeks by “selected” bishops, under the direction of the Roman Emperor, and enforced through systematic war against opponents.

Another reason that this doctrine has become so confusing is the ambiguity of the Bible itself.  For example, we read that “the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.” (Exodus 33:11)  Jacob also had a similar experience. (Genesis 32:30, see also Numbers 14:14)  Yet, in other places the Bible says, “No man hath seen God at any time.” (John 1:18, see also 1 John 4:12)  How does one reconcile these two conflicting statements in the Bible without direct revelation?  (This apparent contradiction is resolved by modern revelation in D&C 67:11.)

The First Vision: a Key to Understanding the Godhead

In 1820, God spoke to man directly and restored the truth about deity.  Young Joseph Smith went into a grove of trees to ask God for wisdom.  Here are Joseph’s words:

“I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until if fell upon me . . . When the light rested upon me I saw two personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air.  One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son.  Hear Him!” (Joseph Smith—History 1:16-17)  

This singular revelation shed more light on the nature of God in an instant, than had 2000 years of secular speculation.  Here are some things that we learn from the first vision. 

  1. God lives
  2. God speaks to mankind in our day.
  3. The Father and the Son are two separate individuals
  4. The Father and the Son are personages of indescribable light and glory
  5. They have bodies in the shape of man’s, or in other words, man was literally created in the image of God.
  6. The Father introduces the Son, and the Son reveals knowledge to man.

This glorious vision is the key to understanding all that has been written, taught and spoken in the scriptures about God and the Godhead.  And, each truth-seeker can know for himself or herself if the First Vision really happened.  We don’t just have to take Joseph Smith’s word for it.  We can know the truth of the vision through the power of the Holy Ghost.  As Paul expressed it, the reality of revelation is “spiritually discerned.”  Through sincere prayer and the power of the Holy Ghost, you and I can know for ourselves whether or not Joseph Smith really saw God the Father and Jesus Christ.  If he did, and I testify that he did, then we have received the greatest key to understanding the nature of God.  So, upon the foundation of the First Vision, and with the assistance of the Holy Spirit to quicken our understanding, let us examine the doctrine of the Godhead.

Once we have the foundation of the First Vision, we see that the New Testament clearly teaches that the members of the Godhead are separate beings.  One such instance is at the baptism of Jesus.  We have Jesus in the water with John the Baptist, the Father introducing His Son with a voice from heaven, saying: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” and the Holy Ghost “descending like a dove, and lighting upon him.” (Matthew 3:16-17)  All three were there, each one separate and distinct.  We know that Jesus often prayed to His Father.  He once declared, “My father is greater than I.” (John 14:28)  And, on the cross, he cried out in anguish, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)  All of these passages, and many more, indicate the individuality of the members of the Godhead.  

But, you might ask, what about passages in the New Testament (and, for that matter, the Book of Mormon) indicating that there is one God?

The Title “God” in the Scriptures

In the scriptures, the word “God” is a title which indicates the office, position, and station of Godhood.  It is not a proper name.  Rather it is a title that can be properly applied to any of the three members of the Godhead, or to the organization of the Godhead itself.  This is similar to the way we use titles today such as apostle, committee, presidency, parent, or chairperson. We know that these terms refer to a specific individual or group under certain conditions and circumstances.  But, under different conditions, they could apply to another individual or group. 

As a result, when the scriptures use the word God, it is sometimes unclear which member of the godhead is being referenced.  Commonly, it refers to all three together as members of the Godhead.  And, since the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost all possess the same attributes (love, perfection, united purpose), in most cases it is not necessary to distinguish whether this term is referencing one of the three, or the three as an organization.  When John says, “God is love,” it properly describes the attributes of any or all of the members of the Godhead. (See 1 John 4:8,16)  Here’s another example.  In the church today we refer to President Monson, President Eyring, and President Uchtdorf.  Together, they form the First Presidency, which is referred to in the singular (as in, “there is only one First Presidency”).  Please don’t get hung up on the differences between the term president vs. presidency (or God vs. Godhead).  This is a convention of modern English that we use to differentiate between members of a group and the group itself, which may not have been used in other times or languages.

Relying on these modern language conventions, especially in a translation of an ancient text, can get us into trouble.  Here is one example.  The first place the word God is used in the scriptures occurs in the first verse of Genesis, which states, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.”  The original Hebrew word, which is rendered “God” in English, is Elohim, which is actually a plural word in Hebrew.  When the suffix –him is added to a word in Hebrew, it makes it plural.  When –him is added to the Hebrew word Eloi (God) it becomes “Gods.” So, the first verse of the Bible could be appropriately translated as “In the beginning, the Gods created the heaven and the earth” or as Abraham put it, “And they, that is the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth.” (Abraham 4:1)  (For a complete sermon on this subject by the Prophet Joseph Smith, please see TPJS, pg 370-373)  In our Bibles, Elohim is rendered in the singular.  However, later on as we continue reading Genesis, we do get some plural pronouns referring to God.  Verse 26 reads, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”  (Genesis 1:26, emphasis added)  Here, the plural English words “us” and “our” are used to refer to God.  This can be very confusing to people who are relying solely on their own understanding of modern English to understand the nature of God.  Can you see what a mistake it is to get hung up on these language conventions? 

Here is another example:  suppose we start a new company; let’s call it “Inc.”  Inc is composed of three people in management: a president, vice-president, and secretary.  These three together make decisions on company policy, rules and organization.  They are united in purpose and as an organization.  Each one can represent the entire organization at meetings and events, even when the other two are absent. They decide how business will be done, employees will be promoted, etc.  People both inside and outside the company refer to the company as “Inc” using phrases such as, “Inc has positioned itself above the competition” or “Inc provides health insurance for employees” or “Will Ink give you the day off?”  Notice that the language appears to refer to “Ink” as a person, but everyone understands that it represents an organization composed of three people in management.  Just because Inc is referred to in the singular, as in “there is only one Inc,” no one assumes that the three managers have somehow been sucked into the walls as part of a mysterious, living entity and are no longer individuals.  Everyone understands that when they refer to “Inc” they are really referring to the organization composed of three united, yet distinct individuals. 

But, suppose someone unfamiliar with modern business, perhaps someone raised in a remote area of Africa, learned English and tried to translate these phrases into their native language.  They might think that Inc was a real, rather mysterious, person, instead of referring to an organization.  Unfortunately, this is the situation with the creeds of modern Christianity.

The Doctrine of Oneness

Another reason for confusion is that in an effort to emphasize the unity of the members of the Godhead, the writers of scripture sometimes refer to them as “one God” meaning “united God.” (See Romans 3:30 & 2 Nephi 31:21)   The problem is that in English, the word “one” can be interpreted various ways.  “One” can mean “singular” or it can mean “united.”  So, we can get into trouble if we assign the wrong meaning to this word.  For example, speaking of the sacred institution of marriage, the scripture states, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)  By “one flesh” we all understand that this does not mean that the two marriage partners are now only one person.  They are still two individuals, but they have become one in purpose, desires, hopes, and goals.  Similarly, when Jesus states, “I and my Father are one,” (John 10:30)  He is not saying that they are one single individual.  He is stating that they are united in purpose.  He is saying that if the Father were there, He would be saying, doing, and teaching exactly what Jesus did. 

Jesus further clarified this point in his great intercessory prayer.  Praying for those who would join the church through the preaching of His disciples, Jesus prayed, “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.”  Again, Jesus is not praying that his disciples will somehow be physically joined together into one being.  Rather, He is asking that His followers may be united in the same way that Jesus and the Father are united. 

To summarize this point, since we know from the First Vision that the Father and Son are two separate and distinct individuals, united with a common purpose, and considering what we have already talked about concerning language conventions, when we come upon the word “God” in a scripture passage that clearly refers to the Godhead as a whole, perhaps it makes sense to substitute the word “Godhead” in our minds.  And, when the word “One” is used to signify unity, we might, in our minds, add the word “united.”  So, when Nephi speaks of the “the doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end,” in the minds of our understanding, we might appropriately render it as “the doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one united Godhead, without end.” (2 Nephi 31:21)

Roles of each member of the Godhead

We have examined the use of the title “God” and “Godhead.”  But what about other names or titles used to describe members of the Godhead such as The Father, The Son, Holy Ghost, Redeemer, Jehovah, or Elohim?  Do these terms refer to a specific member of the Godhead?  Or, could they be appropriately applied to more than one?  Good question.  But before we look at these various titles, let’s briefly examine the roles of each member of the Godhead.  Remember, as we described earlier, the attributes, goals, and purposes of each member of the Godhead are the same.  Each one is perfect; each one is omnipotent and omniscient; each one is filled with perfect love, charity, and kindness; each one is unchanging (consistent and trustworthy); each one has as His goal and purpose “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39)   So, even though each member of the Godhead fills specific roles, they overlap and complement each other.  It could be compared to the roles of parents.  Each parent has specific roles (as described in the Proclamation on the Family).  Some of these roles (such as bearing children) can only be done by one parent, but in most areas, they are to work together and assist each other in their roles, working together to achieve the common purpose of raising children. 

Here is a brief summary of the nature and roles of each member of the Godhead.

  1. God The Father – is the supreme being in the universe.  He is the father of the Spirits of all mankind.  He is the organizer and architect of the universe; the author of the great Plan of Salvation.  He is also the literal father of Jesus Christ in the flesh.  He is most often referred to by the title “God the Father” or by the title “Elohim” (which is also not a name, but a title meaning Gods or head of the Gods).  Jesus said, “The Father is greater than I.”  The Father has a glorious, resurrected body of flesh and bone, as tangible as man’s.  As the supreme Creator and Father of us all, it is to the Father that we direct our prayers and worship.
  2. God The Son – is the first born of the spirit children of the Father and the only begotten Son of the Father in the flesh.  He attained the status of Godhood before the beginning of the universe.  He it was, under the direction of the Father, who created “worlds without number” for “by the Son I created them.” (Moses 1:33)  He is the great Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament, the LORD I AM, the law-giver, the Beginning and the End (Alpha and Omega).  He it was whom Moses saw face to face. (Exodus 33:11)  He is Jesus Christ.  He was born of Mary, lived a perfect life, and wrought the infinite atonement according to the plan of the Father.  He was crucified for the sins of the world and rose again the third day with a perfect body of flesh and bone, opening the door for all mankind to likewise be resurrected “that He may draw all men unto him.” (3 Nephi 27:14-15).  He is the Redeemer of the world, our Savior, the “author and finisher of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2, see also Moroni 6:4 and 1 John 4:14)  He called and ordained His disciples, gave them His holy Priesthood and organized His church upon the earth.  Those who accept His Gospel and are baptized through the priesthood become His sons and daughters in the gospel. (Mosiah 5:7)  He represents the Father in the earth. (See Hebrews 1:1-2)
  3. God the Holy Ghost – is a personage of spirit.  He testifies of the Father and the Son. (2 Nephi 31:18).  He is our Testator, Comforter, and Guide.  He is the holy Spirit of God.  As a spirit being, his influence is felt throughout the universe and dwells in the hearts of men.  He it was whom Christ promised to send after his ascension in to heaven. (John 15:26)  He inspires righteous men and women, giving them knowledge, direction, comfort, and guidance.   The power of the Holy Ghost can be felt by any who will diligently seek God and strive to keep His commandments. (Moroni 10:3-5)  After baptism, members are bestowed the “Gift of the Holy Ghost” which is the right to “always have his Spirit to be with them.” (D&C 20:77)

Titles vs. Names

Titles can refer to different individuals at different times.  Names refer to a specific individual.  We know that Jesus Christ is the name of God the Son and this name refers only to him.  He is also identified by the name Jehovah, which is typically translated as LORD (all caps) in our English Old Testament.  However, in the New Testament and other LDS scriptures, the word “Lord” is used in its more generic sense as a title of deity, meaning “master” or “God.”  Just as the term “God” is a title which can appropriately refer to any or all of the members of the Godhead, there are other titles which can refer to more than one member of the Godhead. 

Let’s take the word “Father” for example.  Typically, when we use the term “The Father” we refer to God, the Father of our Spirits.  However, there are at least three instances where Jesus Christ is appropriately referred to as Father.  The first relates to the creation.  Under the direction of the Father, Christ physically created all things in the universe.  “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:3)  In English, we commonly use the term “Father” to indicate the inventor or creator of something.  For example, we often refer to Sigmund Freud as “the father of modern psychology” or Galileo as “the father of observational astronomy.” (see Wikipedia: Galileo Galilei)  In the same way, Christ could be referred to as “the Father of heaven and earth.” (Mosiah 3:8; see also 2 Nephi 25:12)  Second, He is the primary figure in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We are saved by Him.  The scriptures often indicate that when we accept the gospel, “we become his sons and his daughters.” (Mosiah 5:7)  Third, he represents the Father in this world.  He speaks for the Father and acts for him through divine investiture of authority.  

So, we should not be confused, when the term Father is used to refer to Christ.  Christ himself indicated “I am the Father and the Son.” (Ether 3:14)  Now, you know what it means.  He is referring to the roles that he fills.  He could just as easily have said, “I am the Creator and the Redeemer.”

So, titles such as God, Lord, Father, Son, Almighty, Alpha and Omega, Holy One, King of Heaven, Light of the World, Lord of Hosts, Creator, Love, Word, Judge, and hundreds more, could appropriately refer to any member of the Godhead, or to all three together as a united Godhead.  All of the members of the Godhead are on the same team, titles are used to indicate both roles and individuals in the Godhead, but we should not make the mistake of insisting that a specific title or role refer to only one member of the Godhead.   To do so would be like insisting that a shortstop cannot cover 2nd base if needed in a game of baseball.

Did Joseph Smith change his teachings about the Godhead?

So, finally, we come to your detailed questions.  The first being this:

Just reading in the book of Mormon yesterday, I found several instances where the Book of Mormon clearly seems to be Trinitarian (orthodox) in its writings, yet as the D&C grew in revelation, the picture began to change from traditional to the more unorthodox view of three separate beings, the only spirit being the Holy Ghost.  Why would the Book of Mormon be so Trinitarian in doctrine, yet as the church grew and Joseph Smith wrote more of his personal revelations, it clearly changed? Does not the Bible and the Book of Mormon say that God is one and changes not?

This is a great question that is easily answered after laying the groundwork of our discussion above.  Without realizing it, you have discovered two important truths about the Book of Mormon.

First, you have discovered that the Book of Mormon is in perfect harmony with the Bible!  Both books of scripture use similar language to describe God, as we have discussed in the proceeding pages.  We have seen that, when viewed through our key of the First Vision, both the Book of Mormon and the Bible testify that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are separate members of a united Godhead.  We see that ALL of the prophets, from Moses down to John the Baptist, to Peter and Paul, to Nephi and Mormon, and Joseph Smith—all understood the true nature of the Godhead.  What you have referred to as “Trinitarian in writings” is your interpretation of what they wrote, as viewed through the lens of the Nicene Creed.  If you will look at these scriptures through the lens of the First Vision, as we have discussed, we see that although these prophets sometimes struggled to describe the majesty of God using mortal language, and with our limited understanding we often struggle to comprehend what they were saying, they all understood the true doctrines about the Godhead. 

Second, you have discovered that there is a subtle shift in perspective that occurs at one point in the Book of Mormon.  Before the coming of Christ (which includes everything from 1 Nephi through the 8th chapter of 3 Nephi, plus the book of Ether) the people were under the Law of Moses.  Their perspective was focused upon their worship of Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament (who is Christ).  Although the prophets knew of the true nature of God, not as much was said about other members of the Godhead.  Then, after the death and resurrection of Christ and His visit to the people (beginning in the 9th chapter of 3rd Nephi), more emphasis was placed upon the three members of the Godhead.  Jesus, in effect, introduces the Father and the Holy Ghost to the people.  This is identical to the difference between the Old and New Testaments in the Bible.  The Godhead did not change, only the focus and perspective of the people changed after Christ came in the flesh. 

Now, what about Joseph Smith’s teachings?  We know that he saw the Father and the Son as two distinct personages in 1820.  This became the foundation of his teaching his entire life.  However, we should also remember that he was preaching to people who were steeped in the orthodox traditions of the trinity.  So, he had to teach line upon line, and precept upon precept in order for the people to understand.  This could account for the fact that his teachings on this subject became more pointed and direct toward the end of his ministry.  Although we don’t have detailed accounts of even a fraction of Joseph Smith’s sermons, from the surviving records of his teachings and revelations, it is clearly documentable through most periods of his life that Joseph Smith clearly taught that the Father and the Son are separate personages.  Joseph once said:

“I wish to declare I have always and in all congregations when I have preached on the subject of the Deity, it has been the plurality of Gods, it has been preached by the Elders for fifteen years.  I have always declared God to be a distinct personage, Jesus Christ as separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and that the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods.”  (TPJS p. 370)

Just a word about your comment about God not changing: both the Bible and Book of Mormon state that God does not change.  However, we should not be confused about what this means.  In every instance, it is talking about the unchangeable nature of God’s teachings and His consistency in dealing with Mankind.  These scriptures do not mean that God (referring to all members of the Godhead) does not change physically, or increase in glory as He continues with his work.  We know, for example, that Jesus was a Spirit, became flesh, died, and was resurrected with a glorious body.  This is certainly a physical change.  Upon careful reading, we see that these scriptures are referring to the comforting fact that the Godhead will be consistent in all their dealings, words, requirements, and love toward man.  What God says unto one, He says unto all.  It means that God can be trusted and that we can put our full faith in Him.  Alma said it this way:

“I perceive that it has been made known unto you, by the testimony of his word, that he cannot walk in crooked paths; neither doth he vary from that which he hath said; neither hath he a shadow of turning from the right to the left, or from that which is right to that which is wrong; therefore his course is one eternal round. (Alma 7:20)

Nephi recorded the same concept with these words of the Lord:

“And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure.  And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever.” (2 Nephi 29:9)  The prophet Mormon used this principle of God being unchangeable in his dealings with man to demonstrate that the day of miracles has not passed. (see Mormon 9:9-19)

Christ is God Who Came Down in the Flesh

Now for the second part of your question:

One Book of Mormon passage says that Christ is God who came down in flesh to dwell among us. How does that not contradict what Mormons believe that Jesus is our brother in God but not our Heavenly Father God?

It appears that you are referring to the 15th chapter of Mosiah.  Based upon the above discussion about titles and roles, we see that it is perfectly consistent for Abinadi to say “God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people.” (Mosiah 15:1)  As we have discussed earlier, Christ is God, the Father is God, and the Holy Ghost is God.  Their role, individually and collectively, is to redeem the children of men.  So, this passage is correct: Christ, who is God the Son, did come down among the children of men, and did redeem his people. 

It is true that the first 9 verses of this chapter are, on the surface, rather difficult to understand—especially when we are stubbornly determined to assign a specific member of the Godhead to each of the specific roles or titles that are mentioned.  Remember, this was during Old Testament times, when the people were under the Law of Moses.  During this time, prophets seldom spoke of individual members of the Godhead, but normally referred to them collectively as God.  Once we understand that “God” is a title which can properly refer to any member of the Godhead or to all three together as a group, and that various titles and roles can be appropriately applied to more than one member of the Godhead, these passages become clearer. 

Abinadi is talking about the atonement.  We know that Jesus Christ is the one who came down among men, lived a perfect life, suffered and died on Calvary, and rose again the third day.  But, as we have already seen, there are situations when Christ can be appropriately referred to as both the Father and the Son. In these verses, roles and titles such as Father, Son, Flesh, Spirit, God, and Redeemer, describe what Christ individually, and the Godhead as a united team, will do for the children of men.  Rather than getting bogged down in the language, mistakenly trying to assign titles and roles to specific members of the Godhead, we should be marveling at the message: the wondrous gift of the atonement that God has given to us.  When understood correctly, these 9 verses could be appropriately summarized in the following words: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)  The message is the same.
 
Is Jesus our Brother?

The final part of your question is:

How is Jesus God and our brother physically as Mormon's believe?

This sentence is not correct.  Jesus is not our brother physically.  Jesus Christ is “the only begotten of the Father” in the flesh. (John 1:14; 2 Nephi 25:12; D&C 76:23)  This means that Christ alone is the physical son of God the Father. 

It is true that the spirits of all men and women, including Christ, are all spirit children of God the Father.  We are His “offspring” as Paul put it.  So, in that sense, Jesus is our spirit brother from back before the beginning of time.  Thus, Jesus appropriately said, “I ascend unto my Father and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” (John 20:17)  

Our spirit creation took place before the beginning of the universe.  Jesus was the first born of the spirit children of the Father, and in this pre-mortal realm before time began, Christ attained Godhood.  He became perfect in all attributes of godliness (love, knowledge, power, etc.).  As a member of the Godhead, He created worlds without end under the direction of the Father.  He is the Great God,  the Almighty Jehovah.  He lived a perfect life and died for our sins.  He is our Savior and Redeemer.  Through Him we have life and salvation.   So, while it is technically correct to say that spiritually Jesus is our brother, we certainly don't want to understate the difference between us.  He is God, we are mortal. He is perfect, we are imperfect.  Hence we typically refer to Jesus Christ using titles that demonstrate our respect and devotion for Him such as the Lord God Almighty, The Son, Savior, and Redeemer.

In the church we occasionally refer to Jesus as our "elder brother"--mostly in the context of expressing our gratitude and love for Jesus Christ who loved each one of us so much that He gave His life for us and prepared the way for us that we might return to our Father in Heaven and be joint-heirs with Christ and receive the same glory that He enjoys. Paul taught this doctrine in these words: “we are the children of God. And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” (Romans 8:17)

Conclusion

The first Article of Faith states, “We believe in God the Eternal Father, and in his Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.”  These three make up the Godhead which rules the universe.  Each one is God possessing all the attributes, glories, and majesty of Godliness.  They are unified in desires, power, and purpose.  Yet, they are three distinct and separate individuals.  “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 no so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us.” (D&C 133:22)  Together, they are one united Godhead.  Sincere truth-seekers throughout the ages have desired to know the true nature of the Godhead, and many have received great knowledge of God through revelation.  Others have tried to find Him through study, reason, and debate—with doubtful results.  In our day, knowledge of the Godhead has been revealed in fullness and purity through the prophet Joseph Smith.  The First Vision is a key to understanding the teachings of the Godhead in the scriptures.  Although some scriptural passages about deity are sometimes difficult to understand, when viewed through the lens of the First Vision, and with the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, these glorious doctrines can become clear and understandable.