The Book of Mormon contains a passage where Jesus Christ tells the brother of Jared: “Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son” (Ether 3:14). His declaration, although initially confusing, can be understood by examining His eternal roles.
How the Godhead Is One
A fundamental belief of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes inadvertently called the Mormon Church) is expressed in the first Article of Faith: “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” Together they form the Godhead. Mormons believe in the corporeal separateness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. They believe that the Godhead is united in their common purpose “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).
Jeffrey R. Holland, one of the Twelve Apostles in The Church of Jesus Christ, wrote that the Father and the Son are “virtually synonymous in their interchangeable roles and functions.”1 Some of the roles he discusses include:
In the Role of Father
There are ways in which Christ is so united with his Father that in some assignments he rightfully plays a fatherly role and rightfully bears the title of Father in doing so.
One way to understand this—on a significantly smaller scale, of course—is when my mother used to place me in charge of my younger siblings while she temporarily left our home. She assigned me to act in her place, to take on a motherly role. So while she was gone, I cleaned house, consoled hurt feelings, and kept peace—tasks she regularly performed. Even when one of my siblings exclaimed in anger, “You’re not my mother!” I knew that I rightfully bore the title because my mother had assigned me the role.
In the role of Father, Christ has the right to speak and act for the Father at any time. The Father gave this “divine investiture of authority”3 to Christ, who is the firstborn of the Father’s spirit children and the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh.
As the Heir of the Father
All human beings are children of God who once lived in heaven with Him as His spirit-children prior to the creation of the earth. Because He is a loving Heavenly Father, He organized a plan for the growth and eternal salvation of His children. Jesus Christ is the firstborn-in-the-spirit of our Heavenly Father. The Father selected Him to be the Savior and Redeemer of His children. Christ is literally the Only Begotten Son, as John describes: “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).
An heir is entitled to receive property or rank. As the heir of the Father, Christ received power and authority from the Father.
As Father of Creation
John also declares that Christ was “in the beginning with God” and that “all things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:2–3). The Book of Mormon explains this further:
Behold, I am Jesus Christ the Son of God. I created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are. I was with the Father from the beginning. I am in the Father, and the Father in me; and in me hath the Father glorified his name. (3 Nephi 9:15)
In this role, the name Father is not meant literally. Rather, the Father and the Son made and organized the heavens and the earth.
In English, father is a term used to connect a mentor or inventor to the resulting invention; for instance, Alexander Graham Bell is known as the father of the telephone. The idiom “necessity is the mother of invention” is another example of the term mother not having a literal meaning.
As Father of Salvation and Father of Those who Live His Gospel
Redemption and resurrection, both provided through Christ’s Atonement, give the children of God new life. In this way, “Christ is literally the Father of our salvation.”4 TheLord Jesus Christ said that “all those who receive my gospel are sons and daughters in my kingdom (Doctrine and Covenants 25:1).
Living the gospel of Jesus Christ is a lifelong endeavor. We are not left alone: the Father and the Son act as father in supporting, mentoring, correcting, guiding, and helping us.
It is easy for me to picture my future day of reunion with the Father and the Son. I will look to my Father as the father of my spirit and the father of the plan of happiness, which gave me the opportunity to live on earth. He is the father to whom I prayed and yearned to return to. I will look to His obedient Son as the source of my salvation. I will remember His connection to the Father’s work and His exemplary obedience. I will be pleased to know that the Father trusted Jesus Christ to join Him in His fatherly roles.
Christ is literally the Son of God who, by designation from His Father, takes on fatherly roles and can therefore also be called the Father. In no way does Christ usurp the Father.
Elder Holland said that “This relationship between Christ and His Father is one of the sweetest and most moving themes running through the Savior’s ministry. Jesus’ entire being, His complete purpose and delight, were centered in pleasing His Father and obeying His will. Of Him He seemed always to be thinking; to Him He seemed always to be praying.”5
- Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997), 180.
- Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997), 183.
- Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997), 186.
- Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Hands of the Fathers,” Ensign, May 1999. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1999/04/the-hands-of-the-fathers?lang=eng
Paula Hicken was an editor with the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship from 2000 to 2013. She earned her BA degree in English from Brigham Young University. She edited Insights, the Maxwell Institute newsletter, and was the production editor for Faith, Philosophy, Scripture, Hebrew Law in Biblical Times (2nd ed.), Third Nephi: An Incomparable Scripture, and was one of the copy editors for Analysis of the Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon. She also helped manage the Maxwell Institute intellectual property and oversaw rights and permissions. She has published in the Ensign, the Liahona, the LDS Church News, and the FARMS Review.