James E. Talmage and the Nature of the Godhead : The Gradual Unfolding of Latter-day Saint Theology
Brigham Young University
Since the beginning of Christianity, the debates over the nature of God have been frequent and ardent. Augustine, John Calvin, and John Wesley, with others, supplemented the generally accepted view of the Godhead as established at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. Correctly understanding the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost is one of the most critical aspects of religious worship. The Savior said, "And this is life eternal, that they may come to know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3).
Joseph Smith, the first Latter-day Saint Prophet, taught a correct understanding of God was required for any man or woman to receive eternal life. The Latter-day Saint teachings regarding the Godhead were fitted into place one piece at a time. Those that followed Joseph Smith, over time, added to the doctrinal foundation that he established from 1820 to 1844.
Elder James E. Talmage added to the foundation left by previous Church leaders. The leaders of the Church utilized James Talmage's abilities, specifically as a writer, to explain and clarify important principles of the gospel. The efforts of Elder Talmage resulted in three monumental works. First, his book Articles of Faith was published and publicly endorsed by President Lorenzo Snow, the fourth President of the Church. Next, Jesus the Christ was published by the Church and endorsed by Lorenzo Snow's successor, President Joseph F. Smith. Finally, at the request of President Joseph F. Smith, Elder Talmage authored "The Father and The Son: A Doctrinal Exposition by The First Presidency and The Twelve" in 1916.
The official declaration is still referred to by Church leaders when they comment on the relationship between Jehovah and Elohim. The document answered questions regarding the Book of Mormon's use of "Father" when referring to Jesus Christ. Generally, members of the Church today understand these teachings. Nearly a century passed before Church leaders taught them in their entirety and they could be compiled into one declaration. Elder Talmage's efforts, as directed and overseen by the First Presidency, assisted in clarifying his predecessors' teachings on the Godhead. [Author's abstract]