1916 The Father and the Son

1909 Exposition image

The First Presidency: Presiddent Joseph F Smith, Anthon H Lund (First Counselor), Charles W Penrose (Second Counselor)
Council of the Twelve Apostles: Francis M. Lyman, Heber J Grant, Rudger Clawson, Reed Smoot, Hyrum M Smith, George Albert Smith, George F Richards, Orson F Whitney, David O McKay, Anthony W Ivins, Joseph Fielding Smith, James E Talmage

        By 1916, all 48 continental states had been admitted to the United States of America.1 There were approximately 35.48 automobiles per 1,000 people in the U.S., up from 0.11 automobiles per 1,000 people at the turn of the century.2 In 1916, the first radio tuning system was patented, allowing one radio to receive broadcasts from multiple broadcast stations with the turn of a dial. Stainless steel was also patented, originally for the purpose of enhancing gun barrel efficiency.3 President Woodrow Wilson4 was trying to stay out of World War I in Europe and the Mexican Revolution broiling south of the United States border, all while preparing to run for a second term in office. Everywhere Americans looked, life was becoming more innovative, but also more complex.

       American religious life was also becoming more complex. With increased immigration came increased religious diversity. Christianity in America had always been a religion of diverse manifestations. Ten years earlier, William J. Seymour had burst onto the denominationally prolific American religious scene with the Azusa Street Revival.5 These charismatic religious meetings contributed to the founding of the Pentecostal movement.6 This religious revivalist movement coincided with the rise of Christian fundamentalism in the United States.7 One key element of “fundamentalism” was an effort to codify and entrench what some Christians regarded as the “fundamentals” of their beliefs. For example, the Assemblies of God (a group of churches formed from the Pentecostal movement in 1914) “adopted a formal confession of faith [in 1916] in response to a controversy over the doctrine of the trinity.”8 As The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continued to grow and spread throughout the United States and the world, it came into contact more frequently with other religious movements and denominations. This resulted often in a need to clarify views on a variety of issues, such as the matter of speaking in tongues9 or on the use of the cross.10

       Ever since a young Joseph Smith had testified that the Father and the Son had appeared to him as two separate Personages in a grove in New York, Latter-day Saints had found themselves somewhat at odds with their Christian neighbors on the matter of the Trinity, or the Godhead.11 Aside from the debates within Christianity at large on this subject, questions persisted within the Church as well. The 1865 Proclamation had resulted from questions about the nature and role of the Holy Ghost. It wasn’t until 1876 that verses now frequently cited by Latter-day Saints about the Godhead were canonized in the Doctrine and Covenants--and even those verses developed over a considerable period of time. 12Brian Ricks has recounted in detail how questions related to this central theological issue persisted up until the time that the First Presidency issued this doctrinal Exposition in 1916.13

        The official signatories on this document were the First Presidency--President Joseph F. Smith and his counselors, Anthon H. Lund and Charles W. Penrose--and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles--Francis M. Lyman (President), Heber J. Grant, Rudger Clawson, Reed Smoot, Hyrum M. Smith, George Albert Smith, George F. Richards, Orson F. Whitney, David O. McKay, Anthony W. Ivins, Joseph Fielding Smith, and James E. Talmage. Although the junior member of the Quorum at the time, Elder Talmage had been lauded by the First Presidency for his capacity to clearly articulate the doctrine of the Church. He played a significant role in authoring the 1916 Exposition on the Father and the Son, which was ultimately reviewed and approved by the other fourteen members of the two highest priesthood quorums of the Church.14

        The 1916 Exposition is a vitally important doctrinal contribution for members of the Lord’s Church. As in previous official documents issued during President Joseph F. Smith’s ministry, this Exposition modeled a focus on the revelations of God as the source of truth about God and His plan of salvation, citing from the Latter-day Saint standard works at least 58 times in just eight pages. It also established the now common nomenclature among the Saints of using “Elohim” when referring to God, the Father, and using “Jehovah” when referring to the Son of God, the Redeemer and Savior, Jesus Christ. It reinforced the doctrine pronounced in the 1909 Exposition that all mankind are literal spirit sons and daughters of an embodied, perfected, and glorified Heavenly Father--but it only spent two paragraphs on this truth. The Exposition likewise used four short paragraphs to explain how the term “Father” can be used for “any one of the Godhead” (1916 Exposition, p. 2) in Their roles as Creators of the earth--although this is not completely spelled out in detail. The Exposition takes only three paragraphs--two of which are somewhat lengthy--to explain how Jesus Christ can speak as the Father by “divine investiture of authority” (Ibid., pp. 6-7), thus clarifying the meaning of many scriptural passages. But the bulk of the Exposition--twelve paragraphs in the middle and most of the concluding three paragraphs (some of which are quite lengthy)--focuses on the Savior Jesus Christ and “the relationship between him and those who accept His Gospel and thereby become heirs of eternal life” (Ibid., p. 2). Coming from the fifteen prophets and apostles called as “special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world” (Doctrine and Covenants 107:23), the 1916 Exposition was intended as more than just a response to theological inquiries. It was more than just a defense of the restored doctrine of the Godhead in a world awash with multiple theories on the subject. It was an apostolic invitation and promise, in the midst of an increasingly complex world, that all who would “come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel…[would] partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption” (Omni 1:26).

  1. Arizona was admitted in 1912; Alaska and Hawaii would both be admitted in 1959.
  2. See Vehicle Technologies Office, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (2014), “Fact #841: October 6, 2014 Vehicles per Thousand People: U.S. vs. Other World Regions,” Energy.gov, https://www.energy.gov/eere/vehicles/fact-841-october-6-2014-vehicles-thousand-people-us-vs-other-world-regions , accessed June 21, 2021.
  3. See “Inventions 1911-1991,” Time Travel Project, https://g3timeline.wordpress.com/monika/inventions-1911-1921/ , accessed June 21, 2021.
  4. President Wilson was viewed favorably by many Church leaders and members. Indeed, 59 percent of Utah voted for him in November 1916. He was the first United States President to appoint a Latter-day Saint to a sub-cabinet position, namely James Henry Moyle as assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury; see Winder, Michael K. (2007), The Story of America’s Presidents and the LDS Church: Presidents and Prophets, pp. 209-215.
  5. Gurrentz, Benjamin T., “William Seymour and Azusa Street Revival,” Association of Religion Data Archives, https://www.thearda.com/timeline/events/event_211.asp , accessed June 21, 2021.
  6. See “What Was the Azusa Street Revival?” Christian Union Day and Night, https://www.dayandnight.org/azusa , accessed June 21, 2021; and “The Azusa Street Revival,” Apostolic Archives International Inc., https://www.apostolicarchives.com/articles/article/8801925/173190.htm , accessed June 21, 2021.
  7. See “Fundamentalism,” U-S-History.com, https://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h3806.html , accessed June 21, 2021; Bedroth, Margaret (2017), “Christian Fundamentalism in America,” Oxford Research Encyclopedias, Religion, https://oxfordre.com/religion/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199340378.001.0001/acrefore-9780199340378-e-419 , accessed June 21, 2021; and Wacker, Grant, “The Rise of Fundamentalism,” National Humanities Center, http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/twenty/tkeyinfo/fundam.htm , accessed June 21, 2021.
  8. Matzko, Paul, “Assemblies of God Founded,” Association of Religion Data Archives, https://www.thearda.com/timeline/events/event_214.asp , accessed June 21, 2021.
  9. Davies, Matthew R. (2013), “The Tongues of the Saints: The Azusa Street Revival and the Changing Definition of Tongues,” in Joseph F. Smith: Reflections on the Man and His Times, ed. Craig K. Manscill, Brian D. Reeves, Guy L. Dorius, and J. B. Haws, pp. 470–85, https://rsc.byu.edu/joseph-f-smith-reflections-man-his-times/tongues-saints-azusa-street-revival-changing-definition , accessed June 21, 2021.
  10. De Groote, Michael, “Mormons and the Cross,” Deseret News, September 10, 2009, https://www.deseret.com/2009/9/10/20339414/mormons-and-the-cross#lds-president-joseph-f-smith-talks-at-funeral-at-... , accessed June 14, 2021.
  11. While Latter-day Saints prefer this terminology when speaking of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, it is actually a biblical term; see Acts 17:29, Romans 1:29, and Colossians 2:9.
  12. See Bartholomew, Ronald E. (2013), "The Textual Development of D&C 130:22 and the Embodiment of the Holy Ghost," BYU Studies Quarterly, vol. 52, no. 3, pp. 4-24, https://byustudies.byu.edu/article/the-textual-development-of-dc-13022-and-the-embodiment-of-the-holy-ghost/ , accessed MAy 5, 2021.
  13. See Ricks, Brian W. (2012), "James E. Talmage and the Doctrine of the Godhead," Religious Educator, vol. 13, no. 2, pp. 185–209, https://rsc.byu.edu/vol-13-no-2-2012/james-e-talmage-doctrine-godhead#ref35 , accessed June 21, 2021.
  14. See Ricks, "James E. Talmage and the Doctrine of the Godhead.” The Exposition even refers readers to chapter 4 of Talmage’s >Jesus the Christ for additional explanation about the premortal acts of Jesus Christ in the process of the Creation.

In both the tenth (1917) and eleventh (1919) editions of James E. Talmage’s book The Articles of Faith: A Series of Lectures on the Principal Doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, selections from “The Father and the Son” are included in Elder Talmage’s notes on the Godhead. In later editions, beginning with the twelfth (1924), this was replaced by a reprint of the entire 1916 Exposition:

That Jesus Christ or Jehovah is designated in certain scriptures as the Father in no wise justifies an assumption of identity between Him and His Father, Elohim. This matter has been explained in a publication dated June 30, 1916, entitled "The Father and The Son; a Doctrinal Exposition by the First Presidency and the Twelve." This appeared in Improvement Era, August, 1916, and in a pamphlet of earlier issue.

Read More: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=njp.32101079828636&view=1up&seq=71 (This can be found on page 53 of this digital version, which is p. 71 of the PDF.)

On March 25, 1924, the 1916 Exposition was “reprinted by request” in >Liahona, The Elders’ Journal, on pp. 380-384:

https://www.familysearch.org/library/books/records/item/528516-1923-vol-21-liahona-the-elders-journal?viewer=1&offset=1#page=469&viewer=picture&o=info&n=0&q= (pages 470-74 of the PDF)

In 1954 President Joseph Fielding Smith included the entire 1916 Exposition in his book Man: His Origin and Destiny. While the book represents his opinions and not formal Church doctrine, it has nonetheless been influential in the Church and has been cited in Church publications ranging from Church Educational System manuals to magazine articles. “The Father and the Son” is found on pp. 117-129 (1973, 8th edition; pp. 85-91 in the PDF linked below).

Read More: http://www.sainesburyproject.com/mormonstuff/Man%20His%20Origin%20and%20Destiny.pdf

Elder Bruce R. McConkie cites and summarizes the 1916 doctrinal exposition in the entry, “Christ as the Father” (p. 130), in his reference book Mormon Doctrine (1966):

Although Christ--the Firstborn in the spirit and the Only Begotten in the flesh--is the Son of God the Father, and as such is a separate and distinct personage from the Father, yet there are three senses in which Christ is called the Father. These are clearly set forth in a document entitled, “The Father and the Son: A Doctrinal Exposition by the First Presidency and the Twelve.”

Read More: https://archive.org/details/mormondoctrine00mcco/page/130/mode/2up

An October 1978 Ensign article titled "I Have a Question" used the 1916 exposition to answer the following question: “In the Book of Mormon, the word Lord generally refers to Christ, but there are other times when it seems to refer to God the Father. How can one distinguish the meaning in a particular case?”:

The Savior also has distinct roles and responsibilities, delegated to him by our Heavenly Father throughout the ages. Jesus was the Father’s executive in preearth life, in mortality, and since his triumphant victory over death. Our Father in Heaven has allowed Jesus to speak to various prophets as if he were the Father. In the legal profession this is a well-understood practice referred to as the “power of attorney.” Jesus stated that “I am come in my Father’s name.” (John 5:43; see also John 10:25.) The First Presidency, in an excellent explanation of this principle, called this authority of Christ to speak for the Father in the first person “Divine Investiture of Authority.”

Read More: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1978/10/i-have-a-question/how-can-one-distinguish-the-meaning-of-the-word-lord-in-a-particular-case?lang=eng

In a December 1989 Ensign article, titled "I Have a Question,” Keith L. Sellers and Victor G. Forsnes used the 1916 Exposition to answer the question: “Why did Isaiah write that the Lord said ‘Beside me there is no God’ and ‘There is none beside me’ when there are three personages in the Godhead?”:

Jehovah, or Jesus Christ, is known by many other names. One of these is the Son, meaning the Son of God the Father. (See 1 Ne. 11:18–21.) In 1916, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve explained that “Jesus Christ is the Son of Elohim both as spiritual and bodily offspring; that is to say, Elohim is literally the Father of the spirit of Jesus Christ and also of the body in which Jesus Christ performed His mission in the flesh.” They went on to declare that because of this unique relationship with God the Father, “Jesus the Son has represented and yet represents Elohim His Father in power and authority.”

Read More: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1989/12/i-have-a-question/i-have-a-question?lang=eng

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland draws heavily from the 1916 Exposition in organizing his chapter on “The Father and the Son” (pp. 179-193) in his book Christ and the New Covenant (1997). He also includes the 1916 Exposition as Appendix C (pp. 359-369).

In an April 1997 Ensign article titled "The Morning Breaks, The Shadows Flee," Larry E. Dahl used the 1916 Exposition extensively in explaining the roles and titles of Jesus Christ:

Several verses in latter-day scripture use Father to refer to Jesus Christ. In other verses it appears that the Savior is speaking, but he speaks as if he were the Father, even referring to “mine Only Begotten Son.” How are such things to be understood? In an extended discussion of this subject entitled “The Father and the Son: A Doctrinal Exposition by the First Presidency and the Twelve,” dated 30 June 1916, Church leaders taught: “The term ‘Father’ as applied to Deity occurs in sacred writ with plainly different meanings.

Read More: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/ensign/1997/04/the-morning-breaks-the-shadows-flee?lang=eng&clang=ase&country=am

The Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society Manual for 2000-2001, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, takes the majority of the content for its 40th chapter, “The Father and the Son” (pp. 353-361), from this 1916 Exposition:

In an effort to help the Saints better understand certain scriptures concerning the Father and the Son, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve issued a doctrinal exposition on 30 June 1916 titled “The Father and the Son.” This declaration affirmed the unity between God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, and clarified the distinct roles of each in the plan of salvation. It also explained the ways in which the term Father is applied in the scriptures to both our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ.
Several excerpts from the exposition are cited in this chapter along with other teachings of President Smith, who affirmed that to gain “the knowledge of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ, … is the first and last lesson of life.”

Read More: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/teachings-joseph-f-smith/chapter-40?lang=eng

In April 2002, as part of the Gospel Classics series, “The Father and the Son” was reprinted in the Ensign. This reprint was introduced with the following description:

In the early 1900s, some discussion arose among Church members about the roles of God the Father and Jesus Christ. The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles issued the following in 1916 to clarify the meaning of certain scriptures where Jesus Christ, or Jehovah, is designated as the Father. It is thought that a printing of this statement will be helpful to members as they study the Old Testament this year.

Read More: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2002/04/the-father-and-the-son?lang=eng

In 2006 Corbin Volluz wrote an article for BYU Studies (vol. 45, no. 2, pp. 141-158), titled “Jesus Christ as Elder Brother,” which discussed the development of the doctrinal understanding of Jesus Christ as the Elder Brother of humankind. He notes the 1909 and 1916 Expositions as two of the earliest times the First Presidency authoritatively spoke on this issue:

In the early twentieth century, the First Presidency made two statements that used the phrase elder brother. This is important to consider, as these were the first instances the phrase was used in official Church pronouncements…
While the document [“The Father and the Son”] uses the term elder brother to demonstrate Christ’s relationship to humankind (“There is no impropriety, therefore, in speaking of Jesus Christ as the Elder Brother of the rest of human kind”), it also clearly reminds the Saints of their proper place in relation to Christ: “Let it not be forgotten, however, that He is essentially greater than any and all others.” The 1909 and 1916 statements became the basis for numerous usages of the elder brother terminology by Church leaders throughout the twentieth century.

Read More: https://byustudies.byu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/45_2Final.pdf

The Old Testament Seminary curriculum published in 2015 used the 1916 doctrinal exposition to teach about divine investiture of authority:

In President Dallin H. Oaks’s April 2017 General Conference talk “The Godhead and the Plan of Salvation,” he made specific reference to the 1916 Exposition and the doctrines that it teaches:

On those unique and sacred occasions when God the Father personally introduced the Son, He has said, ‘This is my beloved Son: hear him’. Thus, it is Jesus Christ, Jehovah, the Lord God of Israel, who speaks to and through the prophets. So it is that when Jesus appeared to the Nephites after His Resurrection, He introduced Himself as ‘the God of the whole earth’. So it is that Jesus often speaks to the prophets of the Book of Mormon and to the Latter-day Saints as ‘the Father and the Son,’ a title explained in the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve’s inspired doctrinal exposition just 100 years ago.

Read More: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2017/04/the-godhead-and-the-plan-of-salvation?lang=eng

Four printings of this Exposition, which appear to be in pamphlet form, are listed in the Church History Library catalog. These range in dates from 1960-1994. While these have not yet been digitized, their call numbers and publication information are available for those who may want to view these in person or request digitization:

There are many additional resources that promulgate the doctrines found in the 1916 Exposition, even if those sources do not cite the Exposition directly. The following are a few examples that represent the long term impact the doctrines in this document have had in the Church:

The 1916 Exposition was published in the Deseret News on July 1, 1916, p. 4:

According to Elder James E. Talmage, the 1916 Exposition was published “in a pamphlet of earlier issue” (Articles of Faith [1917], 10th ed., p. 53, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=njp.32101079828636&view=1up&seq=71 , accessed June 16, 2021) before it appeared in the August 1916 Improvement Era. This pamphlet version is included in the entry for June 30, 1916, in the “Historical Department journal history of the Church, 1830-2008”: https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org/assets/64064a22-3d69-4d3c-8e1e-105710695db5/0/225

[Featured version] A digital version of this pamphlet (made available from the Princeton Library) can also be found at Hathitrust:
The same pamphlet can be found on Google Books:
https://books.google.com/books?id=5yFOAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org/assets?id=64064a22-3d69-4d3c-8e1e-105710695db5&crate=0&index=225

The 1916 Exposition was published in the August issue of the Improvement Era, pp. 934-942:

The 1916 Exposition was published serially in the Millennial Star about the same time as in the Improvement Era. The first part was published on pp. 481-485 in the August 3, 1916, issue:
The second part was published in the August 10, 1916, issue on pp. 497-500: https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org/assets?id=d0267239-766c-4bbb-bfc8-6b64368e51b1&crate=0&index=0

For the benefit of Danish-speaking Saints, the 1916 Exposition was published in the Skandinavians Stjerne on September 1, 1916, pp. 257-264:

The 1916 Exposition was translated into Dutch and published serially in two issues of De Ster. The first part was printed on pp. 261-267 of the September 1, 1916, issue:
The second part was published in the September 15, 1916, issue on pp. 277-280:

The 1916 Exposition was also published serially in two issues of the German periodical, Der Stern. The first part was published in the November 1, 1916, issue on pp. 321-325:
The second part was published in the December 1, 1916, issue on pp. 361-364:

The 1916 Exposition can also be found in Clark, James R. (1971), Messages of the First Presidency, 5:23-34.