Relationships Between Man, Christ, and God: Mormon Answers (LDS FAQ)
Who is God, who is Christ, who are we, and what are our relationships to each other? People learning about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are often intrigued by the Church's teachings on these issues, and critics often devote far too much energy in attacking these teachings (or more frequently, attacking what they incorrectly claim we believe). Here I offer some responses to common questions and attacks in this area. This is one of several pages in a suite of "Frequently Asked Questions about Latter-day Saint Beliefs" and is solely the responsibility of Jeff Lindsay. While I strive to be accurate, my writings reflect my personal understanding and are subject to human error and bias.
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"[I'm troubled by the concept of] Jesus being an elder brother. If he's an elder brother, he's not the Son of God, is he? I mean, it takes him out of that concept ... of being God-like if he's a brother. Does this make sense?"
First, we believe that ALL people are sons and daughters of God - an entirely Biblical concept. The Bible teaches that we existed as sons and daughters of God before we were born, and that Christ was there, too - a Son of God. See Heb. 12:9; Acts 17:26-29; Deut. 32:8; Job 38:4-7; Deut. 14:1; Prov. 8:27-31; Colossians 1:15-17; Numb. 16:22; 1 Cor. 1:11; Jerem. 1:5; John 9:1,2; Titus 1:2; and John 20:17. Christ, the Firstborn and greatest of all, is one of those sons of God, making Him a brother, yes, but also much more than "just" a brother since He was co-creator with the Father and destined to be our Savior. He was the Word and Redeemer, who seeks to help all of us, already sons and daughter of God by premortal inheritance, become true Sons and Daughters of God who enter into the presence of the Father and become more like the Father (Romans 8:14-18; Phil. 2:5,6).
Is he really our Brother? Yes, certainly. Romans 8:29 says that Christ was appointed beforehand (KJV uses "predestined") to "be the firstborn among many brethren." This is exactly right: he was the firstborn in the spirit (and the Only born of God in the flesh) among his many brethren (and sisters) - namely, us. He is our Brother - though that title alone is grossly insufficient and even misleading. Likewise Hebrews 2:9-12 discusses how Christ, through the Atonement, offers salvation to his "brethren." The word "brethren" - describing our relationship to Christ - is used in verses 11 and 12. Hebrews 2 in general is a wonderful discourse on the relationship between mankind and our Savior, Creator, Redeemer - and Brother - Christ. (See also Matt. 12:50.)
Christ is the Only Begotten Son of God and is much MORE than "just" our Brother. He is our Creator, the Author of our salvation, the Messiah, the Great Jehovah, the I AM, and the Holy One to whom every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is the Christ. He is also the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh, something none of us are. The differences between Him and us are awesome.
Additional detail for those interested in understanding:
In our premortal existence as spirit sons and daughter of God the Father (there is a reason for that favorite title of His!), Jesus was there, the Firstborn of the Father, one who was like the Father and was one with the Father, though He was yet a spirit and had not yet received His immortal and glorious physical body (a combination of spirit and matter) that He has had since His resurrection (Luke 24: 36-43; Phil. 3:21). Jesus was the greatest of all the spirits and was the Chosen and the Firstborn of God, having special honor and glory from God "before the world was" (John 17:5). The idea that Jesus was the Firstborn is offensive to some, for it seems to imply that He was created by the Father. However, the scriptures clearly indicate that Christ was the Firstborn (see Psalms 89:27; Romans 8:29; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:5,6; Rev. 3:14 and Heb. 12:23).
If Christ was the Firstborn of the spirit children of God and we are also spirit children of God, then several scriptural references begin to become more clear and consistent in meaning, such as the scriptures already cited above showing that He is our brother. Further, In Romans 8:14, Paul notes that we become sons of God if we are led by His spirit. Indeed, Paul writes in Heb. 12:9 that God is the Father of our spirits and in Acts 17:28, we read that "we are also his offspring." No one can dispute that Christ is the Son of God. But if we are also in some sense sons and daughters of God, is it so odd to suggest that Christ is then a Brother (in some sense) to us? Yet he is also a Father and Creator, and the title "Brother" is again inadequate, even grossly so.
But there is some common relationship between us and Christ that Paul refers to in Romans 8. Look now at verses 15-18: "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that 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." Those are heavy words: children, heirs, and joint-heirs with Christ. The relationship strongly implies that we are brothers and sisters to Christ (in some sense), just as Paul goes on to say explicitly in verse 29 (Christ "the firstborn among many brethren.") This common relationship is further emphasized by the words of Christ to Mary, after His resurrection: "Go to my brethren and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God" (John 20:17).
But does all this mean that Christ is created, a creature of the Father? To a degree (but not completely, as I note below), the answer may be construed to be yes. Colossians 1:15 notes that Christ "is the firstborn of every creature," yet the next verse again notes Christ's role as the Creator of all things and as "the beginning" (v. 18), for "it pleased that Father than in him should all fullness dwell" (v. 19). This refers back to the premortal glory that the Father gave His chosen and Firstborn Son, who was set apart from us even then and was one with God. Christ could and did represent the Father and was a member of the Godhead of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost - three beings yet one in purpose and heart. Yet He was born - the Firstborn - and could say of the Father that "my Father is greater than I" (John 14:28).
Hebrews 1:5,6 again notes that Christ was begotten of the Father, a Son; indeed, he was the "firstbegotten [who was brought] into the world" (v. 6). This makes sense if there were other begotten sons and daughters of God, among whom there was one Firstbegotten, even Christ. Finally, Revelation 3:14 says that Christ is "the beginning of the creation of God," though this can be interpreted to mean that Christ began the Creation (true) rather than to imply that He was the first created being. Indeed, I realize that all Bible passages can be interpreted in multiple ways, so please take my interpretations with caution! However, I hope the passages I have cited help to show that Christ and we are sons and daughters of God - and thus related and capable of being joint-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:14-18). (Again, see Acts 17:28: we are all offspring of God, who, according to Hebrews 12:9, is the Father of our spirits.)
What bothers many people is the idea that Christ and humans are related. Some teach that God and Christ are "wholly other," unrelated to us, and not even part of the same universe or dimension. Many are offended by the LDS concept that Christ is a Brother to us (though much more!) and that we share a common, divine heritage. There is much more that I could say about this and its implications, but I am convinced that this is what the original apostles and disciples of Christ understood and taught. Those concepts became offensive much later when Greek philosophy (Platonic ideals and "forms" and the aversion to matter and tangible existence) dominated the thinking of the scholars of the Church, culminating in the man-made Nicene and Athanasian creeds, centuries after the time of Christ. Some passages for further study include Hebrews 2; Phil. 2:5-12; Heb. 5:8,9; Rom. 5:15; Phil. 3:20-21; and 2 Peter 1: 4-10. (See also my page on the oneness of God.
Note: Being the firstborn does not mean that Christ was entirely created, for LDS theology teaches that all the spirit children of God have at least an aspect of them that is not created but is eternal, that aspect being the "intelligence" which seems to be some root essence of our being or identity (see Abraham chapter 3 in the Pearl of Great Price). Indeed, the concept of free agency only makes sense if some part of us not wholly the creation of God, for if He created everything about us, then is not God responsible for who we are and what we do? But if there is something unique and uncreated about each individual for which God has no responsibility, then it is possible for us to truly have at least the potential for free will. God, the greatest of all intelligences, organized us into spirit children and then provided this mortal existence for our progression and benefit, it being a time in which we could grow and choose Him freely if we desired.
Reading assignment: read Doctrine and Covenants 93: 1-39. Heavy, but fascinating. Also in the Book of Mormon, read Mosiah chapters 13-16. Good stuff!
See a related question at MormonWoman.org for another perspective.
This seems to be one of the most popular cheap shots against the Church.
The Church has issued a short statement on this topic ("Answering Media Questions About Jesus and Satan," LDS.org Newsroom, Dec. 12, 2007):
Like other Christians, we believe Jesus is the divine Son of God. Satan is a fallen angel.
As the Apostle Paul wrote, God is the Father of all. That means that all beings were created by God and are His spirit children. Christ, however, was the only begotten in the flesh, and we worship Him as the Son of God and the Savior of mankind.
I'd like to add some of my thoughts as well. Christ is the creator of this earth and our one and only Savior and the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh. However, He shares something with us in that we are all spirit sons and daughters of God (Heb. 12:9; Acts 17:28; Numbers 16:22) as is Christ (see also Hebrews 1:5,6; Heb. 2:9-12; Matt. 12:50; Col. 1:15; Psalms 89:27; Romans 8:29; Rev. 3:14). Christ differs from us in several ways, such as the fact that He alone was perfect and sinless throughout his mortal life, having served as Co-creator with God and then as our Savior. Yes, technically, Satan is the brother of Christ, but so are all of us and all the angels, both good and fallen. But anti-Mormons want to make this doctrine sound scary by leaving out the information that would explain our position, and suggesting that somehow we worship a false "Mormon" Christ who is like Satan. That's seriously misleading - and often deliberately so.
It's a Biblical doctrine that Satan was in heaven originally but fell from heaven. Here is an excerpt from the article "Satan" in Smith's Bible Dictionary (a non-LDS source):
Of the nature and original state of Satan, little is revealed in Scripture. He is spoken of as a "spirit" in Ephesians 2:2; as the prince or ruler of the "demons" in Matthew 12:24-26; and as having "angels" subject to him in Matthew 25:41; Revelation 12:7, 9; The whole description of his power implies spiritual nature and spiritual influence. We conclude therefore that he was of angelic nature, a rational and spiritual creature, superhuman in power, wisdom and energy; and not only so, but an archangel, one of the "princes" of heaven. We cannot, of course, conceive that anything essentially and originally evil was created by God. We can only conjecture, therefore, that Satan is a fallen angel, who once had a time of probation, but whose condemnation is now irrevocably fixed. As to the time cause and manner of his fall Scripture tells us scarcely anything; but it describes to us distinctly the moral nature of the evil one.
As for our common heritage with Christ as sons of God, the teachings of the Bible are clear. In Romans 8:14-18, I see Paul saying that our divine heritage from God is what makes it possible for humans to become "joint heirs with Christ." Though we may be potential "joint heirs," Christ is always and eternally our Savior.
Latter-day Saints also believe that Satan was a spirit being in the premortal existence that we all shared, who, as Revelation 12:7-9 describes, rebelled against God and was cast down to earth, with those angels (spirits) who followed Satan (see also Jude 1:6, 2 Peter 2:4). Lucifer (Satan) was in heaven and was "a son of the morning" (Isaiah 14: 12-15) who sought to usurp God's glory and throne, rather than follow God's will (see also Job 1:6, where Satan comes into an assembly among the sons of God - these sons of God, premortal spirit children, existed before the creation of the earth was completed, according to Job 38: 4-7).
Just as we see the potential for great goodness and great evil in humans around us, so has there always been such potential among the spirit children (Heb. 12:9) of God who are blessed with liberty to choose God and Christ or to choose evil. Satan chose the greatest evil possible and still works toward that end. That he was in heaven and was a "son of the morning" among the spirit beings there ("morning stars" in Job 38:7) makes his fall and his guilt and his eternal punishment all the more terrible. But our understanding of who Satan was and is - a fallen angel, by choice a total and complete enemy to God and Christ - does not make us unchristian, in my opinion. Nor does it give us any respect for that abominable being!
Simply saying that "Mormons think Christ and Satan are brothers" is a distortion of LDS doctrine - it is deliberately misleading. We see all of humanity and all of the angels - fallen as well as divine - as creations of God, spirit sons and daughters, given freedom to choose good (through Christ) or evil. Christ is obviously a Son of God, though much more completely than we are. He is also our Savior and even our Eternal Father in several ways. Our common relationship to those who are Good and those who are truly evil in no way impugns the Good or blasphemes God and Christ.
Obviously, Latter-day Saint doctrine is not derived from the popular teachings of mainstream churches, but I see it as being in harmony with the Bible, though others are free to interpret the Bible differently. But I hope you won't mistake differences in interpretation with a rejection of Christ, to whom I look for salvation.
Update: Early Christian Evidence on the Nature of Satan
FairWiki (FAIRMormon.org) has a valuable entry on the charge that Mormons think Christ and Satan are brothers. Here's a helpful excerpt with some evidence from early Christianity in favor of the LDS view:
The early pre-nicene Church father Lactantius wrote:Since God was possessed of the greatest foresight for planning, and of the greatest skill for carrying out in action, before He commenced this business of the world,--inasmuch as there was in Him, and always is, the fountain of full and most complete goodness,--in order that goodness might spring as a stream from Him, and might flow forth afar, He produced a Spirit like to Himself, who might be endowed with the perfections of God the Father... Then He made another being, in whom the disposition of the divine origin did not remain. Therefore he was infected with his own envy as with poison, and passed from good to evil; and at his own will, which had been given to him by God unfettered, he acquired for himself a contrary name. From which it appears that the source of all evils is envy. For he envied his predecessor, who through his steadfastness is acceptable and dear to God the Father. This being, who from good became evil by his own act, is called by the Greeks diabolus: we call him accuser, because he reports to God the faults to which he himself entices us. God, therefore, when He began the fabric of the world, set over the whole work that first and greatest Son, and used Him at the same time as a counselor and artificer, in planning, arranging, and accomplishing, since He is complete both in knowledge, and judgment, and power... [Lactantius, Divine Institutes 2.9. in Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds. The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols. (1885; reprint, Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004), 7:52-53]
Many things he here taught are not considered "orthodox" by today's standards. However, Lactantius was definitely orthodox during his lifetime. Amazingly, many things here correspond to LDS doctrine precisely in those areas that are "unorthodox." For example,
- "He produced a Spirit like to Himself," namely Christ. Christ, in this sense, is not the "co-equal," "eternally begotten," "same substance" "persona" of the later creeds.
- "Then he made another being, in whom the disposition of the divine origin did not remain." God made another spirit who rebelled and who fell from his exalted status. He is the diabolus.
- Christ is the "first and greatest Son." Not the "only" son.
- Lastly, since the diabolus and Christ are both spirit sons of God, they are spirit brothers.
The writings of Lactantius are available online. The quote above can be read at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf07.iii.ii.ii.ix.html.
Let me answer with another question: Was Christ once man like us? Did Christ have a Heavenly Father whom He could call His God just as we can call Heavenly Father our God? Is Christ God? And can the glorified, resurrected Christ properly be called "perfect man," as he was called by the early Christian father Ignatius ("To the Smyrnaeans," 4, The Apostolic Fathers, 2nd ed., translated by J.B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer, ed. and rev. by M.W. Holmes, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1989, p. 111)?
We know some intriguing details about Christ - that He once was man (or like man, though Only Begotten Son of God), that He was divine, that He died and resurrected and sits on His throne with the Father, with whom He is one. One can speculate on analogies between Christ and the Father, but we know essentially nothing about the "history" of God the Father except that He is eternal. Lorenzo Snow, a President of the Church, once said "As man now is, God once was: as God now is, man may be." This controversial passage is clearly applicable to Christ, a God who became mortal for a time and yet was still and is still God. His work made it possible for us to become as He is, in a limited sense, for we can receive glorious resurrected bodies (Phil. 3:21; 1 Cor. 15:40-45), we can become "joint-heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:14-18), we can "put on the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4-10), and we can become "like him" (1 John 3:2). Indeed, Christ even went so far at to say, "Ye are gods" (John 10:34), in reference to the divine potential of human beings. While He and the Father are the one true God, whom we will always worship, He does want us to become more like the Father (Matt. 5:48) and that possibility is there because of Christ. Thus, thinking of Christ and our relationship to Him, what Lorenzo Snow said is accurate. However, it appears that Lorenzo Snow's quote also applies to the Father, indicating that He also experienced a period of mortality, but we know nothing specific. But before you let the idea of "God once being like man" offend you, remember that it is explicitly true about Christ Himself. If Christ were the same being as God the Father, then it would also be true of the Father as well, so non-LDS critics who accept the doctrine of the Trinity shouldn't get so upset. Of course, we believe that God and Christ are separate individuals, one in purpose, heart, and mind. But, in the spirit of pure speculation, let me ask if it is possible that Christ, during His mission on the earth, was doing that which He had seen the Father do? In John 5:19, Christ said "The Son can do nothing, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise." Some people have speculated on what is meant by John 5:19 and on what Lorenzo Snow meant, but we do not know and I get very nervous when people pretend they know. Certainly there are many difficult and foolish questions which can be asked in this arena. The important point is that God, Christ, and man are of the same "species," and that man has divine potential to become more like Christ and the Father (e.g., see Romans 8:14-18; 2 Peter 1:4-10; 1 John 3:2). This concept was understood by the early Christians, as I show at "http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/FQ_theosis.shtml".
Knowing who Christ is makes me very suspicious of anyone who says that we will become EXACTLY like Him. The Bible teaches that we can become "joint heirs" (Rom. 8:14-18) and can become "like him" (I John 3:2) and indeed, need to become like him (Matt. 5:48) and be one with him (John 17:21-23). Stronger still, Paul in Philippians 2: 5-7 seems to urge us to pursue that goal, not through puffery, but through humble service:
"Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant...."
However, I sense a world of difference between the "small g" gods that Christ mentioned (John 10:34) in speaking of the potential of humans (my view) and God the Eternal Father, who is the one and only everlasting God (see also I Cor. 8:5,6). The reference to humans as potential "gods" is clearly meant in a limited sense, but the word God uses nevertheless is "gods." Obviously, we know too little to explain anything in depth about the next life and about "the glory that shall be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18). We are like microbes looking up through the microscope and speculating about the Scientist who observes us. We are children, following after our very wise and mature Father, knowing little more than a young child does of the things of God. This we know: the glory is to the Father (and Christ) forever. May we return to their presence.
In Latter-day Saint theology, we are here on this earth as part of a divine process that can - if we follow Christ and fully accept his grace - allow us to do the following (quoting passages from the King James version of the Bible):
This process of becoming more like our Heavenly Father - of putting on the "divine nature" - seems to be strongly related to knowledge. For example, the process of becoming one with Christ and the Father (John 17:21) is equivalent to receiving eternal life, which is the result of knowing the true God: "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent." (John 17:3). When Adam partook of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, God said, "the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil." (Gen. 3:22.) Adam became godlike - in a sense - through the knowledge that he gained. In quoting Psalms 82:6 in John 10:34, Christ said:
Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?
If he called them gods, unto whom the word of god came, and the scripture cannot be broken;
Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?
Again we see knowledge - imparted here through the word of God - as something that makes mere mortals able to be called "gods" by God himself. (Please see the next question below for more on this issue of "plurality of gods.")
Joseph Smith wrote that "the glory of God is intelligence" (Doctrine and Covenants 93:36) and that those who enter the celestial kingdom - the recipients of eternal life - will "see as they are seen, and know as they are known, having received of his fullness and of his grace" (Doctrine and Covenants 76:94). An interesting Book of Mormon passage (2 Nephi chapter 9, esp. verses 13, 14, 20, and 33) from the prophet Jacob (ca. 550 B.C.) contrasts the knowledge of the righteous and the wicked on the day of judgment , noting that after our resurrection our knowledge shall be perfect. For the wicked, that means a perfect knowledge of the harm they have done and of their guilt, while for the righteous who have accepted the Atonement of Christ, they will have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment. It seems to me that the pains of hell are created by a true knowledge of one's iniquity and guilt (2 Nephi 9; see also Alma 36 and Mormon 9). Jacob teaches that the way out, of course, is through Christ:
And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam.
And he suffereth this that the resurrection might pass upon all men, that all might stand before him at the great and judgment day.
And he commandeth all men that they must repent, and be baptized in his name, having perfect faith in the Holy One of Israel, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God. (2 Nephi 9:21-23)
Christ does say that He and the Father are one (John 10:30), but the meaning of this is clarified in his great intercessory prayer in John 17:20-23. He prayed that His followers "all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me; that they also may be one in us" and that "they may be one, even as we are one." This strikes me as a unity of purpose and heart, not dissolving into just one individual and one body (if any). In Acts 7:55,56, Stephen, who is being martyred by enemies of the Church, sees God and Christ standing at the right hand of God. He saw two distinct beings - just as Joseph Smith did in his First Vision.
As for the meaning of John 10:30, the non-LDS scholar David J. Ellis gives the following explanation in his commentary on John in The International Bible Commentary, ed. F.F. Bruce, Zondervan Publ. House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1986, p. 1249:
30. I and the Father are one (Gk. hen): The neuter gender rules out any thought of meaning 'one Person.' This is not a comment on the Godhead. Rather, having spoken of the sheep's security in both Himself and the Father, Jesus underlines what He has said by indicating that in action the Father and He can regarded as a single entity, because their wills are one.
We do not believe that God and Christ are one in substance, without body, parts or passions. In the creation story in Genesis 1, God (Elohim, a plural noun) says in verse 26: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." The Hebrew word used for "image" really describes a physical similarity, not some abstract relationship. The same wording is used to describe the physical similarity between Adam and his son Seth in Genesis 5:1-3; see also Col. 1:15, Heb. 1:3 and James 3:9. That the resurrected, eternal Christ has a tangible, individual body is manifest in Luke 24:36-43, where the resurrected Christ shows his body to his surprised disciples. They first think it is a spirit, but Christ asks them to feel his tangible body: "handle me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have." To drive the point home, he then asks for some food, and eats it in front of them.
Referring again to Genesis 1:26, 27, in which God speaks of making man "in our image," some people today argue that this was like the "royal we" in which the plural really refers to one individual speaking of Himself. But early Christians, familiar with the Bible, did not understand it that way. For example, in one of the earliest Christian documents available after the time of the New Testament, The Epistle of Barnabus, written between about 70 A.D. and 135 A.D., Genesis 1 is mentioned in a way that shows God the Father was speaking to the pre-mortal Jesus Christ, His Son:
He being Lord of all the world, to whom God said at the foundation of the world, "Let us make man after our image, and after our likeness," understand how it was that He endured to suffer at the hand of men.
(The Epistle of Barnabus 5:5, in Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, Buffalo: The Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1885, p. 139, available online at Early Church Fathers Site at Wheaton College.)
All this means, of course, that we believe God and Christ to be one Godhead (with the Holy Ghost), perfectly one in purpose, yet not one in substance. They are distinct. For example, in John 14:28, Christ says that "my Father is greater than I." In John 20:17, the newly resurrected Lord tells Mary to tell His disciples ("my brethren") that He will "ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and unto my God, and your God." Paul, in 1 Cor. 11:3, notes that the "head of Christ is God" just as "the head of the woman is the man" and the "head of every man is Christ." The implication to me is that distinct beings have distinct roles, allowing one to be the head, but in each case there is or should be unity. Indeed, the husband and wife should be "one flesh" according to the scriptures, believers and Christ should be one just as Christ and God are one (John 17:20-23) - but this unity does not imply that there is only one person.
The distinctness of the three Beings in the Godhead is evident in Matthew 3:13-17, in which Christ is baptized. In this event, Christ is in the water, the Holy Ghost is descending in the form of a dove, and the Father speaks from heaven saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Likewise, the many times that Christ went off to pray to the Father in private would be confusing, in my opinion, if Christ were identically equivalent to the Father. In my reading of the Bible, they are distinct.
As to the issue of progression, we know that Christ was already divine before His mortal ministry. We believe that He created the earth, under the direction of the Father (see Heb. 1:1-3 and Colossians 1:15-18) and that He was the God of Israel, the great Jehovah, representing the Father in all things. Yet before His ministry on earth, He had not yet completed His Atonement, in which He would pay for the sins of all humanity, and had not yet brought about the Resurrection, in which he would break the bonds of death for all mankind (1 Cor. 15:20-22) and by which He would also receive a glorious, resurrected body, as now can we, according to Phil. 3:21. Prior to His mortal ministry, He was a spirit being alone. He is still Spirit, but Spirit clothed with a "glorious body" (Phil. 3:21, see also Luke 24:36-43). Completing His divine work on earth - the Atonement and the Resurrection in particular - was "progress" in my opinion. For us, everything depended on that, and it brought glory to Christ and to the Father.
The Bible also teaches that Christ became "perfected" through the divine work He performed here. The word "perfect" can mean complete, whole, finished, etc. Now He was already "perfect" in righteousness, justice, and wisdom, yet there was more to achieve. Listen to what Christ said: in Luke 13:32, prophesying of His death and resurrection, He said on "the third day I shall be perfected." Paul in Hebrews 2:10 wrote that God made "the captain of [our] salvation perfect through sufferings." In other words, the suffering of Christ (especially during the Atonement, I would say) helped to make Him perfect. The concept of Christ progressing and becoming perfect is especially clear in Hebrews 5:8,9:
Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.
And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.
The issue of "perfection" is raised by Christ in Matt. 5:48, where He tells us, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect." If the Father was "perfect" in Matt. 5:48 but Christ was "made perfect" through His Atonement, and Resurrection, this alone might imply that they are distinct beings. Interestingly, shortly after His resurrection, when, according to the Book of Mormon, He ministered to some of His "other sheep" (John 10:16, cf. Matt. 15:24) from the House of Israel in ancient Central America, he told the Book of Mormon people to "be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect" (3 Nephi 12:48). It seems that Christ had become fully "perfected" through His mission on earth and now was completely like the Father.
The Hebrew word translated as "beside" or "besides" does not imply that there are no other heavenly beings or godly beings, but that there are none that are His equal or greater than Him. He is preeminent and He alone is our Father and source of life and salvation. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 8:5,6, there are gods many and lords many, but to us there but one God the Father, and one Lord Jesus Christ. That is, for worship and salvation, there is only one Being. above all, to whom we look: God the Father, who truly is a God of gods (Deut. 10:17).
We agree with Isaiah! Now what did Isaiah mean? Let's first ask what Moses meant when he quoted God saying, "Let us make man in our own image." Who is the "we" that is talking? Just one divine being? Then why the plural?
It is commonly argued that this is the "royal plural" - like the affected language of some kings who use the first person plural as the subject of sentences instead of the first person singular. (A related phenomenon is found in the language or politicians who replace the first person singular with the phrase "the American people," as in "The American people want me as the next president.") But in Genesis 3:22, a plural appears that is not consistent with usage of the royal plural. Adam, having eaten of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, is said to have become like "one of us" - indicating that plural beings are being mentioned. And what kind of plural beings might that be? Divine beings - even gods.
Deuteronomy 32:8-9 offers more evidence of a group of plural divine beings:
When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. For the Lord's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance."
Bible scholars now recognize that this should say "sons of God" instead of "children of Israel." (The New English Bible, for example, uses "sons of God" in this passage.) The Most High God thus gives an inheritance to the sons of God. The portion that goes to Jehovah, the Lord, one of the sons of God, is Israel. As McGregor and Shirts put it, "This is hardly 'pure monotheism.' In fact, the title 'most High God' is a comparison, and it really doesn't mean anything unless there are also less High Gods" (Russell C. McGregor and Kerry A. Shirts, "Letters to an Anti-Mormon," FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 11, No. 1, 1999, p. 123).
But let's deal with Isaiah specifically. Isaiah 43:10 says "before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me." McGregor and Shirts (p. 126) explain that idols are formed all the time, so the Lord is not referring to idols when he speaks of Gods who are not formed before or after Him. Since God is the first and the last and has always existed, actually nothing can be formed before or after Him. Literally, this verse does not rule out other godlike beings (such as the kinds that are mentioned many times in the Bible), but gives preeminence to the Originator of all, before whom no other being, divine or otherwise, was formed.
Isaiah 44:6-8 states that God is the first and the last, and "beside me there is no God.... Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any." I think this is easily understood in the same sense as 1 Cor. 8:5. Toward that end, the word "beside" needs consideration. McGregor and Shirts explain that it "is used to translate a Hebrew word that could just as well be rendered 'apart from' or 'away from' or even 'not associated with' or 'in preference to.'" (p. 127) Thus, the passage can be taken to mean that all beings, even divine ones, are subservient to God (none are apart from Him) and that we should not have any god in preference to God the Father.
A more detailed explanation is given in the article, "Isaiah: 'None Beside Me'" from Lehi's Library (April 29, 2009), where we learn that "there is none beside me" is "an idiom essentially meaning 'I am the best,' or 'I am supreme.'" God is supreme, even if there are other godlike beings.
An important observation needs to be made in Isaiah 44:6-8, where we have the Lord, Jehovah, declaring that He is the first and the last, just as Jesus would later say (Rev. 1:8, 11; 21:6; 22:13). The LDS view is that Jesus was known as Jehovah prior to His mortal ministry, though the term Jehovah can also apply to the Father. Related passages in Isaiah include Is. 45:21 and 43:11, from which we learn that Jehovah is a Savior - indeed, the only Savior. The Savior, of course, is Jesus Christ - also known as Jehovah ("Lord") in Isaiah. Whether it is Jesus or the Father declaring that there is no God "beside" Him, this statement cannot possibly exclude the other as being divine. And when God says that He knows no other God, it can't mean that the Father doesn't know Jesus and vice versa. For logic and consistency, we have to interpret Is. 44 and related passages in a way that does not exclude other members of the Godhead. Otherwise, we are left with a Godhead of one person and one being, which is the doctrine of modalism that was rejected by the creeds (though mistakenly accepted by many Christians today in an attempt to explain the Trinity).
The Isaiah passages about one God (43: 10, 11; 44:5-8; 45: 18, 21-22) need to be read in their context. The Lord is contrasting His work and power with false gods or idols. Isaiah 44 mocks the idols made of wood, while Isaiah 46 condemns the pagan gods Bel and Nebo and Isaiah 43:12 speaks of a time when there were no strange gods among Israel. Genuine "gods" are not being rejected - there is no need to, for they have nothing to do with us and are not worshipped.
What of God and Christ? Are they two Gods, in contradiction to Isaiah? Clearly, God is one, but in what way? After all, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost can be in three separate places at the same time, as we learn from the story of Christ's baptism, recorded in Matt. 3:16-17. Christ in John 17 says He and the Father are one in the same way that Christians should be one with Christ - indicating a oneness not of substance but of heart and mind. The separateness of God and the Son is evident in many places, including Acts 7:55,56, where Stephen, like Joseph Smith, sees Christ on the right hand of God. That makes two beings - not just one. And of those two beings, the Father is one who is greater, as Christ Himself said in John 14:28: "My Father is greater than I."
Paul's comments in 1 Cor. 8:5,6 are relevant here. He explains that there are beings "that are called gods, whether in heaven or earth (as there be gods many, and lords many)," he clearly goes beyond a discussion of earthly idols alone. Idols are only on earth - you won't find any in heaven. Those that are called "gods" on earth are probably just pagan idols, but what of those that are called "gods" in heaven? There are such beings - in fact, many, as Paul says, along with many lords - but Paul explains that they have nothing to do with us, at least as far as worship is concerned, for "to us there is but one God, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things" (verse 6). That last passage indicates that God the Father is the One God, and yet there is another person, Jesus Christ, who is our "one Lord" - playing a role that is not the same as the Father's role. Paul speaks of Christ as a separate being from God the Father. For Paul to be consistent with Isaiah, what do they mean? In my opinion, the most logical and Biblically-based view is that there is one God the Father whom we worship, and He is one in many ways with a distinct person, Jesus Christ. And while there may be other heavenly beings that can be called gods and lords, we have no relationship to them, we do not worship them, and have no need to consider any god beside the One God, for He is supreme. There is none outside His dominion, none "beside" or "not associated with" or "having pre-eminence to" Him. We worship only the One, to whom all glory be due forever.
Our critics claim that there is no difference in the Old Testament between Elohim (a Hebrew term often translated as "God") and Jehovah (a name often translated as "Lord" and rendered in capital letters in the King James Version). Yet we believe that the terms generally refer to two separate beings, God the Father and Jesus Christ, and that Christ before He was born was known to the Israelites as the God of Israel or Jehovah. Early Christians also shared this view, as other serious scholars of Christianity have noted. For example, non-LDS scholar Margaret Barker recognizes that the early Christians identified Christ with Jehovah in the Old Testament. The following excerpt is taken from her book, The Great Angel: A Study of Israel's Second God (London: SPCK, 1992, pp. 192-193, as cited by Kevin Christensen, Paradigms Regained: A Survey of Margaret Barker's Scholarship and Its Significance for Mormon Studies, FARMS Occasional Papers (Provo: FARMS, 2001), pp. 24-25):
The evidence that the first Christians identified Jesus with the God of the Jews is overwhelming; it was their customary way of reading the Old Testament. The appearances of Yahweh or the angel of Yahweh were read as manifestations of the pre-existent Christ. The Son of God was their name for Yahweh. This can be seen clearly in the writings of Paul who applied several 'Lord' texts to Jesus. . . . Now Paul, though completely at home in the Greek world, claimed to have been the strictest of Jews, educated in Jerusalem and zealous for the traditions of his people. How is it that he, of all people, could distinguish between God and Lord as he did in 1 Corinthians, if this was not already a part of first century Jewish belief? He emphasized that this distinction was fundamental to his belief: "there is one God, the Father . . . and one Lord, Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 8:6). This is, to say the least, a remarkable contradiction of Deuteronomy 6:4, if he understood that verse in the way that we do, as a statement of monotheism. If, on the other hand, it was a statement of the unity of Yahweh as the one inclusive summing up of all the heavenly powers, the 'elohim, then it would have been compatible with belief in God Most High also. (emphasis in Barker's original text)
Note that Barker finds the evidence for the identity between Christ and Jehovah in early Christian thought to be "overwhelming."
In the Old Testament, Jehovah/YHWH and Elohim are not always interchangeable, though they can be (just as "God" and "Lord" could be interchangeable). McGregor and Shirts point out that there are many examples of expressions like "sons of God" or "sons of the most High" but apparently none for "sons of the Lord" or "sons of Jehovah" (Russell C. McGregor and Kerry A. Shirts, "Letters to an Anti-Mormon," FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 11, No. 1, 1999, p. 139).
Things get more interesting when we take the New Testament into account, where many Hebrew passages from the Old Testament have been translated into Greek. Here is the analysis offered by McGregor and Shirts (p. 140-141):
How does Jehovah appear in the Greek New Testament? As Kyrios. This gets translated as "Lord" in English.
How does Elohim appear in the Greek New Testament? As Theos - especially Ho Theos [The God]. This, of course, gets translated as "God" in English.
Of course, the same words appear in many places in the New Testament that are not merely quotes from the Old. And you will find that Lord usually refers to Jesus - especially after his resurrection - while God usually refers to the Father....
[In Isaiah] the Lord announces that he is the one and only Savior (see Isaiah 43:3, 11; 45:15). And when the angel appeared to the shepherds in he field outside Bethlehem, he said to them, "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11).
Now we may never really know what the angel's words were in the original Aramaic, but it seems reasonable that it would be something like, "a Savior, who is the anointed Jehovah."
But don't just take Luke's word for it. In John 1:1-2 we read, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God." ... [T]he first and third "God" in this passage comes from Greek Ho Theos - the God - while the second occurrence was simply Theos. So this could be rendered, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with The God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with The God."
God the Father is The God. Jesus Christ is God, the same Lord who was with God in the beginning (as in one of the "us" in Gen. 1:26,27 and 3:22) and who made all things, according to Colossians 1:15-17, John 1:3 and Heb. 1:1-3. Sure sounds like the Old Testament Jehovah to me! And he is separate from Elohim, the Father.
Christ makes the case for His premortal role as Jehovah even more clear in John 8:58, where he says, "Before Abraham was, I am." Remember that in Exodus 3:14, Jehovah told Moses that His name is "I am." You can interpret this statement in John 8:58 in several ways, but the most logical to me is that Christ was saying that he was Jehovah. The Jews got the message and sought to stone him for blasphemy.
The term "Jehovah Elohim" does occur sometimes, but can be viewed as a son taking his father's name or acting as his representative, which is certainly proper with Christ.
Jesus is Jehovah, as early Christians knew - an important truth that has been restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Though Christ was worshipped under the old covenant in Old Testament times, during his mortal ministry Christ directed all worship to the Father in the new covenant that he mediated.
The Lord speaks as God - they are one and He fully represents the Father. There is usually no need to split hairs about who was speaking for whom when Jehovah/Elohim speaks in the Old Testament - they are one (not in the "one substance," "one Being" sense of the post-Biblical creeds, but in the truly Biblical sense taught so clearly in John 17 and elsewhere). The Book of Mormon even gives Christ the title of Eternal Father - after all, He represents the Father, He inherits all from the Father, He is the Father of heaven and earth by creating it as an agent of God the Father, and He is the Father and Author of our salvation. We more fully become sons of God and sons of Christ when we enter into covenant relationships with them through proper, authorized baptism.
We should all strive to become sons and daughters of Christ.
Certainly - that's what Christ said. In John 14:28, Christ plainly states that "my Father is greater than I."
There are many more hints, of course. In John 20:21, Christ tells his apostles that He is sending them just as the Father sent Christ. The apostles went because they were subordinate to Christ, just as Christ was subordinate to the Father. In John 5:19, Christ states that he does nothing but what he has seen the Father do. He's following the Father's lead - which points to a subordinate status. In Matt. 28:18, we read that all power is given to Christ. If something is given, it must have had a source. Who? The Father - who thus is more powerful.
Christ was not the only one explaining that the Father was above Him. In 1 Cor. 11:3, Paul teaches that the head of Christ is the Father, as the head of man is Christ. In 1 Tim. 2:5, Paul teaches that "there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." This suggests that Christ plays a role between God and men - but not identical to the role of the Father. (I am indebted to Russell C. McGregor and Kerry Shirts for suggested use of these scriptures, as published in FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 11, No. 1, 1999, pp. 144-145.)
But your question may have reference to our belief that other "gods" exist. Yes, they do - and even humans, according to the Bible and LDS revelations, can put on the divine nature and be called "gods" (see John 10:33, 34; Ps. 82:6, Deut. 10:17, etc.) But the fact that other beings exist with godly attributes has nothing to do with who we worship. We worship God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ - not glorious angels or Abraham or Moses or John the Baptist, no matter how great they may be in the kingdom of heaven as sons of God who have become "like Christ" (1 John 3:2). The only reasonable definition of polytheism requires that plural gods be worshipped - but the beings that Christ calls "gods" are not who we worship at all. In terms of worship, we are properly called monotheists.
But be careful in how you apply simple labels - they can really mislead.
For a detailed discussion of the LDS position on this topic, as I understand it, please see the following LDSFAQ pages:
Another good resource is a short article on polytheism at FairMormon.org. Here is an excerpt:
Usually the very same people who are pressing the case that Mormons are polytheists are some stripe of Evangelical Christians who claim to be monotheists. But Trinitarians are not Monotheists by definition (just ask a Jew or Muslim).
The facts that the LDS do not believe the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are one in substance, and believe in deification/theosis (that humans may eventually become deified and become partakers in the divine nature), has been used to paint Mormons as polytheists. When we examine the technical terminology above, though, it becomes clear that a key point of demarcation is worship versus acknowledgment of existence. If members of the Church worshiped an extensive pantheon like the Greeks or Romans, then the label would be appropriate. In the context of doctrinal differences over the relationship among the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, however, or the doctrine of deification (which is a profoundly Christian doctrine and not just a Mormon one), use of the word "polytheistic" as a pejorative is both inaccurate and inappropriate.
Instead of using a single-word label, one must actually articulate the belief (using fully-developed sentences or paragraphs). The single-word label that will adequately describe the full breadth of LDS thought on the nature of God has yet to be coined.
As for the still separate nature of the members of the Godhead in the doctrine of the Trinity, it is useful to consider the development of the doctrine in the post-Biblical councils of the fourth and fifth centuries. Following the apostolic era, Christian intellectuals felt a need to make Christianity seem more plausible to the intellectuals of the day, who were steeped in Greek philosophy. Augustine and Origen, for example, borrowed concepts from pagan Greek philosophy in attempts to explain and justify Christian views, views which were already becoming transformed in the absence of revelation to apostles and prophets as required for the guidance of the Church, according to Ephesians 4:11-14. In reviewing a work of Hugh Nibley, Louis Midgley offers this explanation:
The fruit of this borrowing from pagan philosophy can be seen in the works of the councils, in the vocabulary of the ecumenical creeds, and especially in the theology that took its cue from the efforts of the three so-called Cappadocians: Basil of Caesarea (ca. 330-79), Gregory of Nyssa (ca. 332-95), and Gregory of Nazianus (ca. 329-89), who struggled to devise formulas to explain how the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, though clearly separate beings from the perspective of the New Testament, could still be understood as one God. This was accomplished by invoking categories borrowed from pagan sources and hence foreign to the Bible.
Among those writing in Greek it became common to refer to God's "being" or "essence" (ousia), which was sometimes translated as "substance" (Latin substantia. But in order to protect against monarchians [those who felt that there were many divine beings, of whom one ruled] ... and Sabellians (or modalists) [those who felt that there was only one divine Person who expressed Himself in different modes] ..., Christians began to insist on there being what they called three persons (personae in Latin, borrowed from the Greek prosopon). Tertullian seems to have used this word to identify the mask worn by an actor in a play, but he also insisted, against the modalists, that a "person," at least in Roman law, was a separate, distinct entity .... In this way he attempted to avoid having Father, Son, and Holy Ghost simply dissolved into one Being, which is exactly what the modalists were doing.
(Louis Midgley, "Directions That Diverge: 'Jerusalem and Athens' Revisited,"FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 11, No. 1, 1999, p. 66.)
Indeed, modalism was and still is condemned as a heresy. The creeds emphasize the separate nature of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, but also emphasize that they are undivided and one in substance (though few can explain what that really means). If there are three persons who are worshipped, that could be said to be just as polytheistic as Latter-day Saint Christianity. I suggest that both views be considered as monotheistic, though neither are as strictly monotheistic as modern Judaism.
LDS doctrine on this controversial issue is akin to the equally controversial but powerful teaching of C.S. Lewis on this topic. Let me begin with a quote from his book, Mere Christianity (Collier Books, MacMillan Publ. Co., New York, 1943; paperback edition, 1960; p. 160 - the last paragraph of Chapter 9, "Counting the Cost," in Book IV):
"The command Be ye perfect [Matt. 5:48] is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were "gods" and he is going to make good His words. If we let Him - for we can prevent Him, if we choose - He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what he said."
That quote, coupled with Romans 8:14-18, sums up much of my personal beliefs on this issue. Yes, there is a widely denounced LDS concept known as "plurality of gods" which teaches that humans are sons and daughters of God - His offspring (Acts 17:28) - capable of becoming more like Him by accepting the fullness of the Gospel and grace of Christ (see also John 10:34; Matt. 5:48). The possibility of multiple "godlike" beings may be what Paul referred to when he said there are "gods many and lords many, but to us there is but one God, the Father" (1 Cor. 8:5,6) and what David meant in Psalm 8:4,5 when he said that man is "a little lower than the gods" (KJV gives "lower than the angels" but the Hebrew word is "gods" - I guess it was just too painful for the translators to put down the correct word).
In the question answered above, I present some of the Biblical support for this concept. Basically, if we fully follow Christ, we can become joint-heirs with Him (Romans 8:14-18), becoming like him (1 John 3:2) by putting on the divine nature (2 Peter 1: 4-10). Such Christ-centered beings are sons and daughters of God (Acts 17:28; Heb. 12:9) who can become the kind of beings that Christ called "gods" in John 10:34. In 1 Corinthians 8:5,6, Paul notes that there are many gods (in the small "g" sense), but these are not beings that we worship, for to us, there is only one God, the Eternal Father. We believe that there may be and will be many resurrected beings who have become joint-heirs with Christ and can thus be called "gods," but they are not our Savior, our Creator, our Lord, and our God. To us, there is and always will be but one God, that Being who is properly called the "God of gods" (Deut. 10:17), the Almighty God, even Elohim, the Eternal Father. We will always worship and follow Him. A son growing up to be more like his father in no way detracts from the father or weakens their relationship - but can add to the joy and glory of the father. Indeed, helping that to happen is what being a good father is all about. There is a reason why God's most preferred title seems to be "Father."
Critics abhor our doctrines on this issue and claim that we are polytheistic. It is true that we believe the Father and the Son are separate beings, but they are one and comprise, with the Holy Ghost, one united Godhead. I consider myself a monotheist, a worshiper of the one true God. Rejecting the "one in substance" concept of post-biblical creeds does not make me a polytheist, in my opinion.
As to "being perfect," none of us are, though Christ asks us to become so. The goal is not to just be nice people, but to follow Christ with all our heart, might, mind, and strength, and to overcome all through his power (Rev. 3:21). C.S. Lewis says, "The change [becoming perfect through the power of Christ] will not be completed in this life, for death is an important part of the treatment. How far the change will have gone before death in any particular Christian is uncertain" (Mere Christianity, p. 161 - the essay is "Nice People of New Men?"). As we follow Him and accept Him, His grace makes up for our weakness and saves us. A related passage in the Book of Mormon (Ether 12:27) teaches that God gives "weakness unto men that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them." Likewise, consider Moroni 10:30-33 in the Book of Mormon:
30 And again I would exhort you that ye would come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift, and touch not the evil gift, nor the unclean thing....
32 Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.
33 And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.
God has given us great helps to assist in this painful process of seeking "perfection" - a process that requires enduring to the end (Matt. 24:13), much patience (James 1:3,4), and work on our part (James 2:22; Phil. 2:12-15). According to Paul, one reason that the Church was established, and given inspired leadership through apostles and prophets, was for "the perfecting of the Saints" (Ephesians 4:11-14). The process required is described by Peter in 2 Peter 1:4-10, where we read that God has given us all that pertains to "godliness ... through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue ... that by these things ye might be partakers of the divine nature...." Peter then goes on to describe the process of growing, step by step, diligently adding godly attributes such as virtue, patience, kindness, etc. He says that we need to "give diligence, to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall." This does not mean that we are saved by works, not by grace. Please see my discussion elsewhere on the relationship between grace, works, and salvation. All this is only possible, of course, through the grace of Christ, and the forgiveness, hope and strength He offers us. But we cannot simply assume that we are saved and do nothing to follow Christ, for we certainly can fall from grace (1 Cor. 10:12; Heb. 3:12-14; Heb. 4:1,11; Phil. 2:12; 2 Pet. 1:10; Heb. 12:15; Gal. 5:4; Heb. 6:4-6; 2 Pet. 3:17).
For your personal study, there are numerous passages in the Bible that admonish us to strive for perfection. A partial list includes Matt. 5:48; John 17: 20-23; Matt. 19:21; 2 Cor. 13:11; Eph. 4:12; Phil. 2:11-15; Phil. 3:12-14,21; Col. 1:28; Col. 4:12; 1 Thess. 3:10; 2 Tim. 3:17; Heb. 6:1; Heb. 11:40; Heb. 13:21; James 1:3,4; and 1 John 2:3-6.
Regarding the subordinate nature of humans who God brings back to His presence and makes "gods" - or "priests and kings" to the Father (Rev. 1:6, and Doctrine and Covenants 66:12), and priestesses and queens, too, as the LDS Temple teaches us - one person asked how my understanding of this could be compatible with a statement he found from Joseph Smith. The confusion came from my emphasis on the "small 'g'" nature of the term "gods," while he noted that a statement from Joseph Smith used the capitalized word. Here is the question from March 2003:
I am wondering how you interpret this passage from Joseph Smith which is NOT in the King Follett Discourse:"Here, then, is eternal life - to know the only wise and true God; and you have to learn to be Gods yourself, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; . . ." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 346-47)What confuses me is why does he use the capital letter "G" for "Gods" instead of the lower case "g".
For one thing, the statement, like most statements from Joseph, was recorded by someone else and later typeset by others, and someone else's choice of capitalization should not be assumed to carry some kind of doctrinal weight, especially when the source has not been canonized as a source of official doctrine. The term "gods" in the LDS scriptures, referring to the potential of us mortals, is lowercase (e.g., Doctrine and Covenants 76:58).
Though I emphasize the small "g" issue, one can use a capital "G" and still have the same meaning, as long as it is clear Who is in charge. Note that Joseph plainly teaches the subordinate nature of "Gods," teaching that we as "Gods" will be priests and kings to God, and teaching that eternal life is to know THE ONLY wise and true God.
Absolutely not. John Taylor in Doctrine & Covenants 135 said Joseph Smith had done more for the salvation of men than anyone EXCEPT the Lord Jesus Christ. As far as mere mortals go Joseph's ministry was especially significant, restoring baptism for the dead and temple work that will offer the blessings of baptism and other covenant ordinances to millions who died without the possibility of accepting such in the flesh. He restored a huge set of sacred scripture and received many revelations of great value. He also was the tool through which the Church of Jesus Christ was restored, a Church which will fill the earth and endure throughout the Millennium, affecting billions for good. Joseph was a tool through which Christ could do a marvelous work and a wonder among many. His ministry was great, but he was a mortal and imperfect servant; CHRIST is the Lord.
Many suggest that Joseph was a megalomaniac, but his writings quickly invalidate the popular megalomaniac theory. (See Doctrine and Covenants 10, for example - what megalomaniac would falsify a revelation in which he is openly criticized by the Lord for a serious mistake?)
No (taking anthropomorphic to mean primarily that God has a tangible body resembling that of man). The early Christians took the resurrection of Christ literally and believed that he had a tangible body (see the last third of Luke 24; see Acts 7:55,56; Philipp. 3:21; etc.) and they believed that man was created in God's image. As further evidence, consider this quote from David L. Paulsen in the Harvard Theological Review (the article is "Early Christian Belief in a Corporeal Deity: Origen and Augustine as Reluctant Witnesses," Vol. 83 of HTR, 1990, pp. 105-116, with the quote from page 105):
"...ordinary Christians for at least the first three centuries of the current era commonly (and perhaps generally) believed God to be corporeal" [having a body]. " The belief was abandoned (and then only gradually) as Neoplatonism became more and more entrenched as the dominant world view of Christian thinkers."
Jimmy Swaggart has expressed similar views (belief in an anthropomorphic God, with three separate beings in the Godhead, as I understand), but only a few would dare say he's not Christian for such a belief.
This rejection of an anthropomorphic God may be what causes many modern Christian groups to be display a certain shyness, I might call it, on one of the most fundamental tenets of Christianity, the Resurrection. It's not just us Mormons who feel that the grand Resurrection is a bit downplayed outside our ranks. As is noted in Wikipedia's article on, "The Resurrection of Jesus" (accessed June 10, 2012), international scholar Thorwald Lorenzen finds "a strange silence about the resurrection in many pulpits." He writes that among some Christians, ministers and professors, it seems to have to have become "a cause for embarrassment or the topic of apologetics."[Thorwald Lorenzen, Resurrection, Discipleship, Justice: Affirming the Resurrection of Jesus Christ Today, Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys, 2003, pp.3-4]. I feel that is an unfortunate loss. Rather than focusing only on the dark hours of agony on the cross where Christ gave up His body, let us turn to the vibrant, triumphant fruit of Christ's mission, his full victory over death and sin revealed in the glorious Resurrection where He takes up that body once again and becomes spirit and glorified flesh permanently united with hands and feet that people will touch and feel in witness of His living, tangible, and, yes, anthropomorphic nature.
No. We worship God the Father, the Creator of all, who created the man Adam. The scriptures and the official teachings of the Church are unmistakable on this point. There is a clear process for doctrines to become official, and nothing that could possibly be called an Adam-God doctrine ever went through that process. To understand what is actually official doctrine, please see "What is Official Doctrine?" by Stephen Robinson and "Are Brigham Young's Sermons Scripture?" by John Walsh.
Latter-day Saints grow weary of others trying to tell us what we really believe, and this is a good example. It doesn't seem to matter how many times we explain to them that we don't believe Adam was God, or that we only worship God the Father and Jesus Christ. Many anti-Mormons continue to assert that it is LDS doctrine that Adam was God. This is false, but it certainly serves the anti-Mormon agenda of making Mormons seem like a moronic cult with no connection to biblical Christianity. (See Adam, the Fall, and the Messiah: The LDS Perspective for a discussion of the very biblical LDS view of Adam's Fall and the resulting need for a Savior - something that was planned from the beginning.)
What is the basis for the charges that we worship Adam? Among the many non-canonized, unofficial statements of Brigham Young are several very puzzling quotes that seem to indicate confusion about the identity of God and Adam, though in even more quotes from him he clearly speaks of Adam as the human created by God. If the quotes are correct, I can accept their gist by taking "Adam" to be a title meaning "First Father," which can be applied to God the Father as well as the earthly Adam (see Abraham 1:3 and Moses 1:34). It can also apply to Christ, who is the Father of our salvation, the Firstborn, and the Firstfruits of the Resurrection. Use of the title "Adam" is demonstrated by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:45-47:
45 And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.
46 Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.
47 The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven.
Thus, we have a biblical example where Christ is called by the title "Adam" in a way consistent with the "First Father" concept of the LDS scripture, Abraham 1:3. Adam was the first father for mortality, while Christ is our First Father spiritually.
But we still don't really know what Brigham was trying to say in the puzzling "Adam-God" quotes. Some seem to contradict his own clear and plain teachings about the Godhead and about Adam. Some of these can be resolved by an appeal to confusing grammar and to the concept of Adam being a title (First Father). But in a lecture given in the St. George Temple, for example, he apparently taught the confusing idea that Adam was an immortal, resurrected being who became mortal again in the garden of Eden. If he has been correctly quoted, it just doesn't fit with basic teachings of the Church and the scriptures and of President Young himself on other occasions. Whatever he had in mind, it did not become canonized doctrine and has not been incorporated into official Church materials. In expressing his opinions on this matter, he may have been misunderstood or he may simply have been wrong. Yes, that's right - prophets are not infallible and can be wrong. Perhaps that is the ultimate explanation here. Since he never attempted to canonize his theories, however strongly he may have felt about them, we are under no obligation to defend them.
This point is further explained by Ari D. Bruening and David L. Paulsen in "The Development of the Mormon Understanding of God: Early Mormon Modalism and Other Myths," FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 13, No. 2, pp. 109-169 (quoting from p. 141):
A private letter coauthored by President Wilford Woodruff - fourth president of the church and a contemporary of Brigham Young - and Apostle Joseph F. Smith makes clear that the Adam-God theory was never widely held nor accepted by the church as an official doctrine:President Young no doubt expressed his personal opinion or views upon the subject. What he said was not given as revelation or commandment from the Lord. The doctrine was never submitted to the councils of the Priesthood nor to the Church for approval or ratification, and was never formally or otherwise accepted by the Church. It is therefore in no sense binding upon the Church.
(Wilford Woodruff and Joseph F. Smith, letter to A. Saxey, 7 January 1897, Family and Church History Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)
So whatever Brigham Young actually meant when he spoke of confusing doctrines about Adam, those concepts must be relegated to the "personal opinion" file and not to official doctrine. In the Church, official doctrine comes through established, official routes, and is primarily embodied in standard works that have been presented to the Church and ratified for approval. As President Gordon B. Hinckley explained,
When all is said and done, the test of the doctrine lies in the standard works of the Church. These have been accepted in conference and assembled as our doctrinal standards." (Gordon B. Hinckley, General Authority Training Meeting, October 1, 1996, in Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, p. 574)
Earlier opinions and writings of Church leaders and their previously published writings do not automatically become official Church doctrine when they later become President of the Church. As Joseph Fielding Smith himself stated,
My words, and the teachings of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear.... You cannot accept the books written by authorities of the Church as standards in doctrine, only in so far as they accord with the revealed word in the standard works. Every man who writes is responsible not the Church, for what he writes. If Joseph Fielding Smith writes something that is out of harmony with the revelations, then every member is duty bound to reject it. If he writes what is in perfect harmony with the revealed word of the Lord, then it should be accepted (Joseph Fielding Smith, in Doctrines of Salvation 3:203-4).
Claims that Adam is the Almighty Creator or Father of Christ do not have scriptural support. No such concept has ever been presented to the Church membership for their sustaining vote. Given the conflict of the so-called Adam-God with canonized scripture, we are, as Joseph Fielding Smith himself stated, "duty-bound to reject them."
The Adam-God theory is a fundamental issue in the imaginations of anti-Mormon writers, but is largely irrelevant in LDS theology. Anti-Mormon writings refuse to acknowledge that most of the quotes we have from Brigham Young mentioning God, Christ, and Adam correspond with what we all know and understand from the scriptures and leave no room to make LDS doctrine out of the so-called "Adam-God theory." Official LDS doctrine has always been clear that God and Adam are distinct beings and that God was the Creator and Adam was the created. We find that in the Bible, in the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, in the teachings of Joseph Smith and of Brigham Young. It is unmistakably taught and conveyed in the LDS Temple.
One quote from Brigham Young that has caused much confusion (at least it is commonly cited by anti-Mormon writers) is from a talk given April 9, 1852, as reported in an unofficial and sometimes questionable source, The Journal of Discourses , Vol. 1, p. 51. Here Brigham is explaining that Christ is divine and is the Son of God the Father:
"Again, they will try to tell how the divinity of Jesus is joined to his humanity, and exhaust all their mental faculties, and wind up with this profound language, as describing the soul of man, "it is an immaterial substance!" What a learned idea! Jesus, our elder brother, was begotten in the flesh by the same character that was in the garden of Eden, and who is our Father in Heaven...."
Here Brigham is referring to God the Father when he says "that being who was in the Garden of Eden," for the Bible and other LDS sources indeed teach that God visited Adam in the Garden of Eden and walked and talked with him there, before the Fall.
I will now quote at length on this topic from Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr., from Doctrines of Salvation, Vol.1, p.102-106:
The statement by President Brigham Young that the Father is the first of the human family is easily explained. But the expression that he was the same character that was in the Garden of Eden has led to misunderstanding because of the implication which our enemies place upon it that it had reference to Adam. Unfortunately President Brigham Young is not here to make his meaning in this regard perfectly clear. Under the circumstances we must refer to other expressions by President Brigham Young in order to ascertain exactly what his views really were in relation to God, Adam, and Jesus Christ.
GOD: FIRST OF THE HUMAN FAMILY. Let me comment first upon the expression that God is the "first of the human family." This same doctrine was taught by Joseph Smith. It is a fundamental doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. According to the teachings of Joseph Smith, he beheld the Father and the Son in his glorious vision, and he taught that each had a body of flesh and bones. He has expressed it in these words:
"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."
He also taught that, literally, God is our Father; that men are of the same race -- the race called humans; and that God, the Progenitor, or Creator, is the Father of the human race. "In the image of his own body, male and female, created he them, and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created and became living souls in the land upon the footstool of God."
It is a doctrine common to the Latter-day Saints, that God, the Great Elohim, is the First, or Creator, of the human family.
THE FATHER WAS WITH ADAM IN EDEN. In discussing the statement by President Brigham Young that the Father of Jesus Christ is the same character who was in the Garden of Eden, it should be perfectly clear that President Young was not referring to Adam, but to God the Father, who created Adam, for he was in the Garden of Eden; and according to Mormon doctrine Adam was in his presence constantly, walked with him, talked with him, and the Father taught Adam his language. It was not until the fall, that the Father departed from Adam and no longer visited him in the Garden of Eden.
Surely we must give President Brigham Young credit for at least ordinary intelligence, and in stating this I place it mildly. If he meant to convey the thought that the character who was in the Garden of Eden, "and who is our Father in Heaven," was Adam, then it would mean that this expression was in conflict with all else that he taught concerning God the Father, and I am bold to say that President Brigham Young was not inconsistent in his teaching of this doctrine. The very expression in question, "the same character that was in the Garden of Eden, and who is our Father in Heaven," contradicts the thought that he meant Adam.
BRIGHAM YOUNG'S TEACHINGS ABOUT ADAM. Now let me present one or two expressions in other discourses by President Young -- of course, the critics never think of referring to these:
"How has it transpired that theological truth is thus so widely disseminated? It is because God was once known on the earth among his children of mankind, as we know one another. Adam was as conversant with his Father who placed him upon this earth as we are conversant with our earthly parents. The Father frequently came to visit his son Adam, and talked and walked with him; and the children of Adam were more or less acquainted with him, and the things that pertain to God and to heaven were as familiar among mankind in the first ages of their existence on the earth, as these mountains are to our mountain boys."
"How did Adam and Eve sin? Did they come out in direct opposition to God and to his government? No. But they transgressed a command of the Lord, and through that transgression sin came into the world."
"The human family are formed after the image of our Father and God. After the earth was organized the Lord placed his children upon it, gave them possession of it, and told them that is was their home. . . . Then Satan steps in and overcomes them through the weakness there was in the children of the Father when they were sent to the earth, and sin was brought in, and thus we are subject to sin."
"Our Lord Jesus Christ -- the Savior, who has redeemed the world and all things pertaining to it, is the Only Begotten of the Father pertaining to the flesh. He is our Elder Brother, and the Heir of the family, and as such we worship him. He has tasted death for every man, and has paid the debt contracted by our first parents [that is Adam and Eve]."
"The Latter-day Saints believe in Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of the Father, who came in the meridian of time, performed his work, suffered the penalty and paid the debt of man's original sin by offering up himself, [they believe he] was resurrected from the dead, and ascended to his Father; and as Jesus descended below all things, so he will ascend above all things."
It is very clear from these expressions that President Brigham Young did not believe and did not teach, that Jesus Christ was begotten by Adam. He taught that Adam died and that Jesus Christ redeemed him. He taught that Adam disobeyed the commandment of the Father, or God, and was driven from the Garden Of Eden. He said that Adam was conversant with his Father in the Garden of Eden. This is believed by all members of the Church, and also that the Father was in the Garden of Eden until Adam was driven out for his transgression....
We worship God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ. We have never worshipped the man Adam, husband of Eve (though Adam or "First Father" can be a title referring to God).
For more details on the Adam-God theory, see Mike Parker's page on the Adam-God theory - something that was never official LDS doctrine and still isn't. And be sure to see my new page, "Adam, the Fall, and the Messiah: The LDS Perspective." As for the possibility that even real prophets can have wrong opinions or make mistakes (something that is obvious if you read the Bible!), please see my page on prophets and also my page on the Bible.
Interestingly, at least one anti-Mormon source appears to be citing an 1856 hymn as evidence that the Adam-God doctrine was official LDS theology. Here is an e-mail I received in Sept. 2001 on this topic:
I forgot to mention an interesting fact - what do you do with your Hymns when your teaching is in them and you don't like the teaching.. In your 1856 British hymn book it has the song, "We Believe In Our God." The 3rd line reads:
Our own Father Adam, earth's Lord as is plain -
However, your church has chosen to rid this doctrine - it won't happen - too many things of proof that support it. Reminds me of the scripture - nothing will be hidden.....
Ah, another case of Latter-day Saints being attacked for believing in the Bible. Here is my answer to the inquirer:
Adam was our father ... and was made Lord of the earth. That is Biblical doctrine and LDS doctrine. Gen. 1:26 states that God gave Adam dominion over all the animals of the earth - thus making him lord (supervisor, the one with dominion) over an earthly stewardship. That's not the same as THE Lord who rules in heaven. The doctrine in the line you quote from the 1856 hymn is still with us. The fact that an old song isn't in our modern song book doesn't reflect a cover up, but probably has something to do with the quality of the hymn itself.
Again, whatever Brigham Young may have meant when he made some of his puzzling statements is simply not clear to us today. Some of his personal views may have simply be wrong. But the scriptures and official LDS doctrine are clear: the husband of Eve in the Garden of Eden was not God the Father!
Brigham Young was explaining that Jesus was and is the Son of God, born of the virgin Mary, as the Bible teaches, and not the Son of the Holy Ghost, as some have misunderstood. Luke 1:35 explains that the Holy Ghost played some role in the miraculous conception of Christ, but it was from "the power of the Highest" (God the Father) that Jesus was conceived and it was from God the Father that Jesus inherited divine power while yet inheriting mortality from His mother, Mary. I have no idea how the conception of Christ occurred, but the scriptures (including the Book of Mormon) are clear that Christ was the Son of God and that His mother was the virgin Mary.
The Church makes no official statement on the biophysics of the miraculous conception, except to affirm what the scriptures clearly indicate: that Mary was a virgin, that God the Father was the Father, and that Christ was begotten of the Father. He was the literal Father of Christ: Christ had a fleshly body that inherited divine attributes from the Father and mortal attributes from His mother. With our pathetic mortal technology, we already know it is possible for someone to be a literal father of someone without having sex, thanks to processes such as in-vitro fertilization and artificial insemination. If mortals can do such things, surely it's possible for God to be the literal Father of Christ and for a virgin to be the literal mother. NOTHING in official LDS doctrine says God had sex with Mary. That is a deceptive charge of anti-Mormons trying their best to take our literal acceptance of Biblical doctrine and distort it into something offensive.
Anti-Mormons often string together a series of quotes from various Church leaders in various unofficial sources about how God is the literal Father of Christ, etc., which anti-Mormons use to imply that there were sexual relations. But that's not what LDS doctrine requires.
One such quote comes from Bruce R. McConkie's unofficial source rather poorly entitled, Mormon Doctrine:
"And Christ was born into the world as the literal Son of this Holy Being; he was born in the same personal, real, and literal sense that any son is born to a mortal father. There is nothing figurative about his paternity; he was begotten, conceived and born in the normal and natural course of events, for he is the Son of God, and that designation means what it says." (p. 742)
This statement is supposed to be shocking, but it says nothing about sex - just that Christ is truly the son of God and that he was physically born as a result of conception. And that's exactly what the Bible teaches! Please review the first few pages of Luke, for example. Yes, we DO believe that the birth of Christ was natural, meaning that Mary had labor pains, and that a child was delivered from the womb. Those wishing to turn these physical realities into offensive distortions are free to do so, but they are misguided.
As for those who try to read sexual implications into statements about the Savior's divine paternity, President Harold B. Lee helped to clarify any confusion on this issue (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde J. Williams, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996, p. 14, as cited by Barry Bickmore, FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 13, No. 2, 2001, pp. 247-248):
You asked about . . . the birth of the Savior. Never have I talked about sexual intercourse between Deity and the mother of the Savior. If teachers were wise in speaking of this matter about which the Lord has said but very little, they would rest their discussion on this subject with merely the word which are recorded on this subject in Luke 1:34-35:"Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her. The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God."
Remember that the being who was brought about by [Mary's] conception was a divine personage. We need not question His method to accomplish His purposes. Perhaps we would do well to remember the words of Isaiah 55:8-9: "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."
Let the Lord rest His case with this declaration and wait until He sees fit to tell us more.
Several groups of allegedly conservative Christians often attack us for out beliefs in this area. What is the alternative that they believe? That God the Father was NOT the Father? That Christ was NOT born from a female womb? That Christ was not in a human body with the mortal power to suffer and die, yet with divine power as well? I can see that such non-Biblical doctrines might be attractive to those who reject the Biblical idea that the resurrected Christ has a body, as does the Father, in whose physical image we are created (see Gen. 1:26,27; James 3:9; many others). The post-Biblical Nicene Creed and other creeds introduced the pagan Greek doctrine that matter is bad and pure idea is good, so that God must be without body, parts, or passions - but the living, resurrected, tangible Christ said "handle me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bone, as ye see me have" (Luke 24:36-43; Phil. 3:21). Christ, born as a real baby boy, is now spirit AND immortal flesh together. These tangible, physical aspects of Christ were troubling to the minds of philosophers in the fourth and fifth centuries and beyond, who redefined Him according to their own imaginings. They mocked those early Christians who accepted the traditional view of God that looks like man, our Father in Heaven with a literal Son in the flesh who was Christ. Some of their successors now mock us for literally accepting the Biblical record about God being the Father and Christ the Son, but again, they are misguided.
(Someone asked me about Web page accusing Mormons of "double-think" because the Bible says that God is unchanging (the same yesterday, today and tomorrow), yet Joseph Smith taught that God was once a man. This contradiction is said to stump LDS missionaries.)
The scriptures say Jesus Christ is the same today, yesterday, and forever (Heb. 13:8). But obviously He was once mortal, able to die, a "man" like us in many ways (even called a man in Rom. 5:15; 1 Cor. 15:20-22; and 1 Tim. 2:5). During His mortal ministry He went from being a baby boy, growing before God and becoming an adult. Before His birth He was obviously "premortal" (by definition), in the presence of the Father. Between the time of His death and Resurrection, He was a spirit that preached the Gospel to those that are dead (1 Peter 3:18-20; 1 Peter 4:6). Since His Resurrection, He is obviously immortal, glorious, having conquered all and having become perfected like the Father (see Phil. 2:5-11; Heb. 5:8,9), now having a tangible, glorious body of flesh and bone (Luke 24:36-43; Phil. 3:21). Further, he learned things in His mortal ministry (see Luke 2:42), including that which he learned by His sufferings, through which he became more fully perfected (see Heb. 5:8,9). So what does Paul mean in saying that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever?
If we consider God the Father, we must remember that at one time He commanded us to perform animal sacrifices and many other aspects of the Law of Moses, but all that was changed later. God's commandments to men have changed. And Christ has experienced change, as shown above. So what does Heb. 13:8 mean?
In my opinion, Heb. 13:8 means that Christ's approach, His ways, His principles, His plan of salvation, and His love never change. He was the God of Israel before His birth and is the glorified Son of God now, but He has always been the same in His purpose and His ways. Likewise, there is no change in His emphasis on revelation to prophets (Amos 3:7), on authorized priesthood leadership (Heb. 5:4), on covenants between man and God, on the need to repent of our sins - issues which must make "mainstream" religions squirm because they have lost prophets, priesthood, and the covenant nature of God's plan of salvation. They have changed the Gospel without authorization.
Christ is not fickle but is always the Rock, reliable, trustworthy, divine and merciful, even though specific commandments and rituals may change at His command. He was born as man and died for all mankind, and now sits on the right hand of God (Acts 7:55,56). Paul was right and Joseph Smith was right.
This question is exemplified by the following email:
You state that "the marriage of a husband and wife is not over at death..." Surely you have read of the account in the Gospels (Matthew 22:23-30) where Jesus states that there is no marriage in heaven. This is a clear teaching against marriage in heaven (at the resurrection).
Temple marriage, like baptism, is an ordinance of change and covenant making that must occur prior to entering into heaven. They are ordinances intended for mortals to prepare them for the endless state of Eternal Life in God's presence by bringing mortals into unchanging, eternal covenants. Christ did not say that the married state does not exist, nor that husbands and wives will not be sealed in the heavens, but he said that marriages aren't performed in heaven. Neither baptism nor marriage is performed in heaven, but must be done on earth. Christ gave Peter power to seal, such that what is sealed ON EARTH might remain sealed in heaven (Matt. 16:19). Temple marriage is also called "sealing" since a husband and wife are sealed together. It is an ordinance that can only be done on earth, like baptism, but if done with proper authority and if the terms of that covenant are fulfilled, then the sealing will be valid in the heavens and the husband and wife will be heirs together of the grace of life (1 Pet. 3:7).
In Matt. 22:23-30, Christ is being interrogated by unbelieving Sadducees who did not even believe in the resurrection. They were trying to entrap him and create an extreme case to ridicule the concept. In my view, Christ did not cast his pearls before swine and did not choose to teach all that could be taught about marriage and resurrection in responding to the insincere inquiry of critics. It is characteristic of Him that he would not answer with any detail an insincere or hypocritical question. The answer that he gives is technically correct, but was not meant to teach his accusers much about the sacred concept of eternal marriage.
Before examining the answer that He gave, observe that if Christ had been teaching the concept of eternal marriage, the Sadducees' question would make more sense as an attempt to entrap Jesus and make nonsense of his doctrine. If Christ had not taught eternal marriage, or if He had taught that there was simply no marriage and no married couples in heaven, then their question would be rather meaningless. So in context, I think it's fair to see an implicit background here of Christ having been known to have taught marriage endured beyond death. This was the concept their question seeks to mock. (See the discussion in the related Mormanity post, "The Majesty of the LDS Temple Concept." Special thanks to GB for his comments.)
His answer can be understood in two ways. One is that those seven men aren't going to be married in heaven at all. This is consistent with his use of the word "they" in "they neither marry, nor are given in marriage." This is technically correct because the seven referred to apparently were worldly Sadducees themselves, not faithful believers. This is clear in Matthew's version of the story (Matt. 22:23-33), where the Sadducees say "there were with US seven brethren" (Matt. 22:25). Those unsaved souls in the specific case study mentioned probably aren't going to be in heaven, so their marriage status is moot.
If the story is understood in a more generic sense, not just applying to the seven Sadducee brothers, it is also technically correct. Temple marriage, like baptism, is an ordinance of change and covenant making that must occur prior to entering into heaven. They are ordinances intended for mortals to prepare them for the endless state of Eternal Life in God's presence by bringing mortals into unchanging, eternal covenants. Christ did not say that the married state does not exist, nor that husbands and wives will not be sealed in the heavens, but he said that marriages aren't performed in heaven. Neither baptism nor marriage is performed in heaven, but must be done on earth. Christ gave Peter power to seal, such that what is sealed ON EARTH might remain sealed in heaven (Matt. 16:19). Temple marriage is also called "sealing" since a husband and wife are sealed together. It is an ordinance that can only be done on earth, like baptism, but if done with proper authority and if the terms of that covenant are fulfilled, then the sealing will be valid in the heavens and the husband and wife will be heirs together of the grace of life (1 Pet. 3:7).
Thus, in a generic sense, Christ explained that after we are resurrected, there would be no confusion about relationships because marriages aren't performed there. Marriage, baptism, and some other covenants are handled on earth, either by the living themselves or by the living vicariously for the deceased, and sources of confusion will need to be ironed out and resolved with God's help before we enter into Eternal Life in His presence.
In Matt. 19:4-6, shortly after Christ gave Peter power to seal in heaven what was sealed on earth, Christ spoke of marriage:
And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them in the beginning made them male and female,
And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?
Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
Adam and Eve, before they fell, were immortal and were joined by God. There is no indication that God said "until death do you part" in joining them. They were married in an immortal state and were intended to remain joined together. "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." In the LDS view, based on direct and clear revelations to the Prophet Joseph Smith, we know that marriage is intended to be eternal, that a husband and wife are meant to be sealed together in heaven. Those who have experienced the rich joy of true love between a husband and wife - as I have - should marvel that God would want it any other way. Marriage is one of the greatest and most divine gifts - a gift that is not eradicated in the resurrection. The world has lost this knowledge, but I'm grateful for the Restoration of the fullness of the Gospel and for the restoration of the Temple, where such sacred ordinances are performed.
A related question is based on Galatians 3:27-28, which might suggest to some that gender is a non-issue in heaven:
27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
This passage is not talking about heaven, it's talking about entry into the Christian community, which is open to all regardless of lineage, social status, or gender. Paul is dealing with a controversy about circumcision among the Christians of Galatia (see Gal. 2), and is explaining that circumcision is not needed, and that the old requirements to enter into the covenant of circumcision do not apply to entry into the covenant of baptism. See, for example, Troy W. Martin, "The Covenant of Circumcision (Genesis 17:9-14) and the Situational Antitheses in Galatians 3:28," Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 122, No. 1, 2003, pp. 111-125 (available for download as a PDF at Findthatpdf.com, also available online through your local library or via purchase from JSTOR.org). Here is an excerpt from pp. 121-122 (footnotes omitted):
Christian baptism recognizes neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, and it does not distinguish between male and female. All are baptized into Christ and have put on Christ (3:27). All become one in Christ Jesus (3:28). Christian baptism ignores the distinctions required by the covenant of circumcision and provides a basis for unity in the Christian community.
This unity, however, is not uniformity. In Christian baptism, Jews are baptized as Jews, Greeks as Greeks, slaves as slaves, free persons as free persons, males as males, and females as females. Baptism does not abolish such distinctions but treats them as irrelevant for entrance into the community of faith. Once in this community, of course, the baptized person must still contend with her or his cultural, economic, and gendered status as well as with the differing status of others. Nevertheless, all have full standing in the community in that all are baptized. The diversity produced by these distinctions creates many members in the one body according to 1 Cor 12:12-14. When Gal 3:28 proclaims that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, and that in Christ there is no male and female, the proclamation only pertains to the absence of these distinctions as requirements for baptism in contrast to the requirements in the covenant of circumcision. This verse does not proclaim the absolute abolition of these distinctions but only their irrelevance for participation in Christian baptism and full membership in the Christian community. According to 1 Cor 12:12-14, these distinctions must remain intact to reflect the true nature of the body as composed of many members.
And from page 124:
Later interpreters who use Gal 3:28 to develop idealistic notions of the body of Christ as a reality that completely erases all distinctions and inequalities take Gal 3:28 far beyond its situational context. In response to the Agitators' insistence on the distinctions in the covenant of circumcision, Paul simply denies that these distinctions have any relevance for determining candidates for Christian baptism and entry into the Christian community. Whereas not everyone in the Jewish community is circumcised, everyone in the Christian community is baptized. Thus, baptism into Christ provides for a unity that cannot be realized in a circumcised community. Nevertheless, Paul still recognizes the distinctions between Jew/Greek, slave/free, and male/female as realities within the body of Christ, which is composed of many members. Later interpreters who transform Paul's situational antitheses in Gal 3:28 into an absolute ideal unnecessarily place this verse in tension with some other Pauline statements.
In heaven, in what we call the Celestial Kingdom, the sacred concept of gender is not done away. When God says, "Let us create man in our image, male and female" (Gen. 1:26,27), there is an early hint of our divine potential as mature sons and daughters of God in His kingdom. That hint is reiterated in other passages such as 1 Peter 3:7, where we read that husbands and wives will be "heirs together of the grace of life."
Before dealing with John 4:24, look in the previous chapter of John and think what is meant in John 3:6, where we read that "that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." Does this mean that a newly converted Christian loses his or her body and becomes a spirit only? Is it possible to be spirit and still be clothed with a physical body? With that preface, let's turn directly to John 4:24.
In the King James Version of the Bible, John 4:24 declares that "God is a Spirit." Many use this passage to justify the popular doctrine that God has no physical form or body. But what does John 4:24 really teach?
In John 4, a woman is asking Christ about whether God is best worshipped on a Samaritan mountain or in Jerusalem. The context of John 4:24 shows that Christ's answer is about our spiritual communication with God, which is not restricted by place. He wasn't answering a question about God's physical nature, but about how we worship. In fact, the phrase "God is a spirit" may be a poor translation of the Greek, "pneuma ho theos," which really says "God is spirit." Some modern translations, like the New English Bible, recognize this and simply say "God is spirit." John 4:24 doesn't say that God is "only a spirit." It certainly doesn't say God is "an incorporeal, immaterial, formless spirit Being who is wholly other, comprising three persons of one substance." No, not even close.
Here is a helpful comment offered by a reader, Jon, to one of my posts at Mormanity on the Trinity:
The Greek text of John 4:24 says pneuma ho theos, literally "spirit/breath the god" or idiomatically "God is [a] spirit." Since there is no indefinite article in Greek ("a(n)" in English), it's pointless to quibble over whether or not it says "God is spirit" or "God is a spirit" since both are acceptable translations. I tend to lean, however, toward "God is a spirit," since pneuma (spirit) is a neuter word in the nominative case. If it were supposed to be "God is spirit," i.e. "God is of the spirit substance," I would have expected a genitive pneumatos rather than the nominative present in the text. [Webmaster's note: I have romanized the Greek in the original post.]
Also see the entry on "God Is a Spirit" at FAIRMormon.org, which makes this salient point, after discussing the translation of the Greek:
It is interesting that in 1 Cor. 2:11, Paul wrote about "the spirit of man and the Spirit of God." Elsewhere he spoke of the resurrection of the body and then noted that it is a "spiritual" body (1 Cor. 15:44-46), though, rising from the grave, it is obviously composed of flesh and bones, as Jesus made clear when he appeared to the apostles after his resurrection (Luke 24:37-39).
We worship God in "spirit" because God is "spirit" and we, being spiritual beings also (but not spirits only), can communicate with Him "in spirit." But nothing in John 4:24 rules out the possibility that God has a body - or that Christ has a body, or that we have bodies. We all do. We are all spirits clothed in tangible bodies - and someday, that tangible body will be resurrected and made glorious - like Christ's body, according to Philippians 3:21, and presumably like the Father's body, in whose physical image we are created (Gen. 1:26,27, cf. Gen. 5:1).
The phrase "God is Spirit" should remind us of other similar phrases, such as "God is light" (1 John 1:5) and "God is love" (1 John 4:8). Are these passages defining God's physical nature or several of His many attributes? Is it not possible to be love and light and Spirit while still having material form? We humans are body and spirit - can it not be so with God as well? In fact, Paul writes that "he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit" (1 Corinthians 6:17). Spirit and body are not antagonistic concepts, else how could we corporeal beings worship Him in spirit and truth? (But spirit and matter are incompatible in Neoplatonic philosophy, the Greek worldview of the fourth-century intellectuals who devised the post-Biblical creeds that gave us the definitions of the Trinity.)
God is not like mortal man in many ways, for He is perfect, divine, immortal, infinitely wise and all knowing, etc. But He did create us in His image (Gen. 1:26,27). To say that He lacks a form or a body, based on John 4:24, would be to say that Christ cannot be God (or part of the Godhead) because He plainly taught that He does have a resurrected body and is not spirit alone. In Luke 24:39, His resurrection, He told his disciples: "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have." When we resurrect, we will have a "spiritual" body (1 Cor. 15:44), though it will also have a component of tangible matter like Christ's resurrected body (compare Philipp. 3:21), and even mortal believers are said to be "spiritual" (Gal. 6:1) - not because there is no tangible matter present, but because of the role played by the spirit. God is spirit, and so are we.
There is a difference between worshipping one God and recognizing that there can be multiple godlike beings. The distinction appears to be part of the biblical record and part of the beliefs of early Christians. The Bible, may I remind you, bears witness of God the Father who is the "God of gods" (Deut. 10:17) and who said to mortals receiving the law that they are "gods" (Ps. 82:6 and John 10:33,34). But these "gods" are subservient beings, like angels, and are not the source of salvation to us. Thus Paul could say that there are "gods many," but to us there is but one God (1 Cor. 8:5-8), indicating a clear difference between "gods" and "God."
This approach was taken by other early Christians, such as Origen. Origen's words and those of the Bible are discussed below in e-mail I received from Eugene Seaich, Oct. 11, 1998, and which I quote below with his permission:
"Men should escape from being men, and hasten to BECOME GODS"(Origen, Commentary on John, 29.27, 29).
"Thou shalt resemble Him...having made thee even God to his glory"(Refutations, X.30).
Note that Origen's "gods" are THEOI. Both Clement and John called the Father HO THEOS, "the God" (with the definite article). Origen explains this important grammatical distinction by pointing out that The True God...is "the God" (HO THEOS, with the article), and those who are formed after him are "gods" (THEOI, without the article), "images," as it were, of him, the Prototype (Commentary on John, 7.2).
It is very likely that Lorenzo Snow's famous aphorism, "As man now is God once was; and as God now is, man may be, should also be interpreted in light of this critical distinction between HO THEOS and the other THEOI. President Snow's "God who was once a man" would accordingly belong to the same category as Origen's THEOI, those who have BECOME gods after the Father's Prototype. But his "God who now is" would be HO THEOS, the Prototype himself, or "the God of all other gods" (D&C 121:32), the one who has always been God (Ps. 90:2; D&C 20:12), and to whose eternal likeness all others aspire. Indeed, there can never have been a time when HO THEOS was not God, nor has he ever been anything but what he now is (Mormon 9:19; Moroni 7:22; D&C 20:17).
Paul's context in 1 Cor. 8:5,6 is certainly about pagan idols, but in his discussion he makes a very important comment on another topic. When he says that there are beings "that are called gods, whether in heaven or earth (as there be gods many, and lords many)," he clearly goes beyond a discussion of earthly idols alone. Idols are only on earth - you won't find any in heaven. Those that are called "gods" on earth are probably just pagan idols, but what of those that are called "gods" in heaven? There are such beings - in fact, many, as Paul says, along with many lords - but Paul explains that they have nothing to do with us, at least as far as worship is concerned, for to us there is but one God, and (as in yet another person) one Lord, Jesus Christ.
Some modern translators inject their own views into the text by adding quotation marks around the words "gods" and "lords" when there are no such markings or indicators in the Greek. Some translators also turn beings that are "called gods" into "so-called 'gods'", but this is not being true to Paul's text, at least not for those "gods" and "lords" that Paul says are in heaven.
God certainly fills heaven and earth - with light, power, glory, the works of His creation, etc. His majesty, power, and influence fill the universe. The passage you cite does not require that God be an incorporeal spirit of infinite dimensions. The Bible says nothing to that effect. Rather, it teaches that God can be seen and looks like us (that we have His physical image). See, for example, Gen. 1:26,27 and Gen. 5:1-3. And Christ, the image of the Father, has a physical, glorious, resurrected body that can eat and chew and be felt by others (see the last portion of Luke 24 and Phil. 3:20,21).
That view is historical, but historical since its development in the third or fourth centuries, not historical since the time of Christ. A good analysis of this issue comes from Barry Bickmore (FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 12, No. 1, 2000, pp. 275-301, with the following excerpt taken from pp. 278-280):
Is [God] a person with a body in human form, as the Latter-day Saints believe, or a "most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternally incomprehensible," as the Westminster Confession of Faith states? The Vatican Council further explains that God's being is "a unique spiritual substance by nature, absolutely simple and unchangeable, [and] must be declared distinct from the world in fact and by essence" [George Brantl, Catholicism, New York: Braziller, 1961, p. 41]. These definitions of God go beyond anything in the Bible, but they happen to coincide nearly exactly with those taught by the ancient Greek philosophers. For instance, Xenophanes (570-475 B.C.) conceived of "God as thought, as presence, as all powerful efficacy." He is one God - incorporeal, "unborn, eternal, infinite, ... mot moving at all [and] beyond human imagination" [Karl Jaspers, The Great Philosophers, New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1981, 3:13]. Empedocles (ca. 444 B.C.) claimed that God "does not possess a head and limbs similar to those of humans.... [He is] a spirit, a holy and inexpressible one" ibid., p. 51]. This concept of God was adopted by Christians, starting in the mid-second century, in an attempt to make sense of their faith in light of the assumptions they inherited from Hellenistic culture. Thus the Christian theologian Tertullian (ca. A.D. 200) could say, "The Father ... is invisible and unapproachable, and placid, and (so to speak) the God of the philosophers" [Tertullian, Against Marcion 2.27, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers (hereafter ANF), ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Buffalo: Christian Literature, 1885-96, 3:319].
How did the Jews and Jewish Christians conceive of God before they moved out into the Hellenistic world? Christian Stead, Ely Professor of Divinity Emeritus at Cambridge, writes that "The Hebrews ... pictured the God whom they worshipped as having a body and mind like our own, though transcending humanity in the splendour of his appearance, in his power, his wisdom, and the constancy of his care for his creatures" [Stead, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1994, p. 120]. In the early third century, the Christian theologian Origen argued against the Jewish and Jewish Christian belief in an anthropomorphic God, not by appealing to unanimous Christian tradition, but to the philosophers: "The Jews indeed, but also some of our people, supposed that God should be understood as a man, that is, adorned with human members and human appearance. But the philosophers despise these stories as fabulous and formed in the likeness of poetic fictions" [Origen, Homilies on Genesis and Exodus 3:1, trans. Ronald E. Heine, Washington, D.C.: The Catholic Univ. of America Press, 1982, p. 89]. Our evangelical friends interpret the anthropomorphic passages in the Bible allegorically, but Latter-day Saints see no compelling reason (apart from the assumptions of Greek philosophy) not to take Ezekiel quite literally when he say he saw "upon the throne, a form in human likeness" (Ezek. 1:26 NEB). True, some passages described God's "wings" or "feather" (e.g., Psalm 91:4), and the like, but these are always given in a clearly metaphorical context. What, then, was Ezekiel's metaphor when he simply described what he saw?
Bickmore further explains that the commonly cited passage, "God is a Spirit" of John 4:24, is often rendered "God is Spirit" in modern translations, and like "God is light" (1 John 1:15) and "God is love" (1 John 4:8), is not meant to describe God's physical nature, but to describe God's activity with respect to man. The non-LDS scholar Christopher Stead explains how the ancient Hebrews would have understood the "spiritual" nature of God: "By saying that God is spiritual, we do not mean that he had no body ... but rather that he is the source of the mysterious life-giving power and energy that animates the human body, and himself possesses this energy in the fullest measure" (Stead, op. cit., p. 98). Origen even complained that some people used John 4:24 to prove that God is material, for they had the view that spirit itself was a form of matter: "Fire and spirit, according to them, are to be regarded as nothing else than a body" (Origen, De Principiis, 1.1.1, in ANF, 4:242, as cited by Bickmore, p. 280).
The former Anglican bishop of London, J.W.C. Wand, said that Hellenized Christians took their understanding of God's "spiritual" nature from pagan philosophers, the Neoplatonists:
It is easy to see what influence this school of thought [Neoplatonism] must have had upon Christian leaders. It was from this that they learnt what was involved in a metaphysical sense by calling God a Spirit. They were also helped to free themselves from their primitive eschatology and to get rid of their crude anthropomorphism which made even Tertullian [A.D. 160-220] believe that God had a material body. (J.W.C. Wand, A History of the Early Church to A.D. 500, London: Routledge, 1937, reprint 1994, p. 140, as cited by Bickmore, p. 280.)
Much more could be said on this point. The traditions of "historic Christianity" holding that God is pure spirit, devoid of body, parts, or passions, is not found in Biblical Judaism or in the earliest days of Christianity. Greek philosophy later had a profound influence on Christianity - part of the process we call the apostasy - and resulted in the importation of unbiblical metaphysics. The Bible teaches that we are created in the physical image of God (see Gen. 1:26,27; Gen. 5:1, and many other passages), that Christ has a glorious resurrected body (Phil. 3:21), and that Christ looks like the Father (Heb. 1:1-3). Christ and the Father are separate, glorious Beings with tangible bodies. That's what the original historic Christianity held. And I'm grateful that this knowledge has been restored.
Actually, early Christians and Jews definitely did. Several exemplary passages illustrating this concept have been cited above (Job 38:1-7; Heb. 12:9,10; Acts 17:28,29; etc.). One example is Jeremiah 1:5:
Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.
Here more is involved that merely God's foreknowledge of Jeremiah, for God says that Jeremiah was known, sanctified, and ordained before he was born. Such terms don't make much sense if the person that was ordained and sanctified did not yet exist.
Another example is John 9:1-3:
1 And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.
2 And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?
3 Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.
This passage shows that the disciples of Christ understood that humans had a premortal existence, and were inquiry as to whether poor behavior there might have resulted in a curse of blindness at birth upon the man in question. Christ does not challenge the assumption of premortal existence, but challenges their assumption that sin was the cause of the blindness.
Some very interesting evidence for ancient belief in the concept of a premortal existence comes from the Book of Job and other Jewish texts. See "Adam in Ancient Texts and the Restoration" by Matthew Roper.
The loss of this doctrine during what we call the process of apostasy is very easy to document. Joseph F. McConkie sums it up this way, citing authoritative, non-LDS sources ("Premortal Existence, Foreordinations, and Heavenly Councils," in Apocryphal Writings and the Latter-day Saints, C. Wilfred Griggs, ed., Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1986, p. 174):
Historically the story is simply this: belief in the premortal existence of the soul was dropped from Christianity in A.D. 553 by an edict known as the Anathemas against Origen, promulgated by the Roman emperor Justinian. The Pope consented under extreme duress. [Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, vol. XIV (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1956), p. 320; cf. New Catholic Encyclopedia, 17 vols. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1967), 8:96-101; 10:771-73; 14:145.]
A brief but good review of historical and Biblical evidence showing that early Christians and Jews believed in a premortal existence is given in a book review by Allen Wyatt, "Preexistence and the Second Estate" at FAIRLDS.org. Please consult that article for more information.
By the way, this doctrine was not unique to early Christians. It was a major doctrine in Judaic writings, according to the scholar R.H. Charles (The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, 2 vols. Oxford: Oxford University, Clarendon Press, 1976, 2:444, as cited by J.F. McConkie, p. 175). The Judaic apocryphal work, Second Enoch, for example, teaches this doctrine: "All souls are prepared to eternity, before the formation of the world" (2 Enoch 23:5, as cited by McConkie, p. 175). In Third Enoch (Hebrew Enoch), Rabbi Ishmael is shown the spirits of righteous people who are yet to be born (3 Enoch 43:1, as cited by McConkie, p. 175). This concept must be very old in Judaism, as evidenced by scholarship on Deut. 32:8, where Moses speaks of assignments made to the sons of God before their birth: "When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel." The phrase "children of Israel" is now widely understood to be incorrect. Rather, it should probably be "sons of God" ("ben elohim" in Hebrew), an alternate reading that is supported by the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls (McConkie, p. 179).
Here is one example of this question, which I've received in several forms:
I was given a Book of Mormon and have been reading it avidly. Initially I found many things which I found difficult to accept because of my previous teaching but I have found your web pages very helpful and for the most part the explanations given are very plausible. There is one difficulty I still have and that is the passage in 2 Nephi 31 [verses 14 and 15] which talks of the baptism of the Holy Ghost accompanied by the speaking in tongues of angels. As far as I see it the gift of tongues was given in the book of Acts as a sign that Jesus had sent his Spirit after his ascension. In fact Jesus specifically said that He had to go away otherwise the 'Helper' would not come to them. (John 16vs7) Neither do I see in the Old Testament any account of 'speaking in tongues'. I would be grateful if you could shed any light on this topic.
You raise an interesting issue. My understanding is that while Christ was with people on earth, there was not a need for the Holy Ghost to be present as well because the Godhead was already represented, serving as a witness. But the power of the Spirit (referring to the Holy Ghost) was still active to bring people to Christ and to cause gifts of the spirit.
The Holy Ghost definitely was active before the Pentecost and before the time of Christ, according to the New Testament. For example, Luke 2:25-26 says that Simeon received revelation through the Holy Ghost. Zacharias also received revelation through the Holy Ghost in Luke 1:67 before John the Baptist was born. In Mark 12:36, where we are told that David in the Old Testament received revelation through the Holy Ghost. In Hebrews 3:7-11, Paul quotes Psalm 95:7-11 and attributes those words to the Holy Ghost. So if the Holy Ghost were moving men to speak prophetic words long before the time of Pentecost, it should not be surprising that other spiritual manifestations of the Holy Ghost also occurred more anciently. But 2 Nephi 31 does not say that men would speak foreign languages miraculously, but rather speak like angels - which may refer to inspired, prophetic words of praise, as is suggested by the last part of 2 Nephi 31:13:
. . . then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel.
The Old Testament reports many miracles that can be categorized as gifts of the spirit, including many visions, visits by angels, and some very interesting events such as a donkey momentarily able to speak to a human (Numbers 22:22-35, where Balaam is reprimanded by his donkey). Now that's an interesting variation on the gift of tongues!
You refer to the widespread doctrine known as "creation ex nihilo" - creation out of nothing. Unlike nearly every religion of his day, Joseph Smith taught that the meaning of Genesis 1 was not creation out of nothing, but creation by organizing matter that already existed. God is the Creator, but the raw materials (matter or energy or both, since they are interchangeable) were already available. Joseph Smith rejected the doctrine of creation ex nihilo as something that entered Christianity as a result of apostasy, not revelation from God. In his view - and ours - it is a post-biblical and non-biblical doctrine. And the latest evidence weighs firmly on our side, as you'll see in a moment.
The Bible says God created the world, but does not say that it was created out of nothing. In fact, when the earth was created, Job 38:1-7 indicates that "the sons of God shouted for joy." We, the sons and daughters of God (Heb. 12:9,10; Acts 17:28,29; Romans 8:14-18), existed already when the earth was created. We watched the process and rejoiced as it was completed.
While Joseph Smith's teachings on this topic were way out of line with accepted beliefs in his day, his departure from what "everybody knew" in his day is now on firm scholarly ground in our day. There is widespread scholarly recognition that creation ex nihilo is NOT a biblical doctrine, but a post-biblical doctrine that evolved after the loss of the apostles. For example, in his Presidential address to the British Association for Jewish Studies in 1990, Peter Hayman said:
"Nearly all recent studies on the origin of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo have come to the conclusion that this doctrine is not native to Judaism, is nowhere attested in the Hebrew Bible, and probably arose in Christianity in the second century C.E. in the course of its fierce battle with Gnosticism. The one scholar who continues to maintain that the doctrine is native to Judaism, namely Jonathan Goldstein, thinks that it first appears at the end of the first century C.E., but has recently conceded the weakness of his position in the course of debate with David Winston."
See the article of Peter Hayman, "Monotheism - A Misused Word in Jewish Studies?", Journal of Jewish Studies 42 (1991), 1-15. See also Jonathan Goldstein, "The Origins of the Doctrine of Creation Ex Nihilo", Journal of Jewish Studies 35 (1984), 127-135; Jonathan Goldstein, "Creation Ex Nihilo: Recantations and Restatements", Journal of Jewish Studies 38 (1987), 187-194; David Winston, "Creation Ex Nihilo Revisited: A Reply to Jonathan Goldstein", Journal of Jewish Studies 37 (1986), 88-91.
The doctrine of creation ex nihilo, now the standard for Protestants and Catholics, has the same roots as the doctrine of the Trinity: both are the result of trying to fit Christianity into the demands of Greek philosophy, and both evolved after the time of the New Testament. These concepts are not found in the Bible. At best, one can try to interpret the Bible to say that it is consistent with these doctrines, but they are not explicitly taught.
If Joseph Smith were just making up a new religion based on what would sell, why would he depart from what nearly everybody already accepted? Why would he take the risk of rejecting such a fundamental doctrine as creation ex nihilo? And why would he be so lucky as to have a majority of Bible scholars later acknowledge that creation ex nihilo was not taught in the Bible? Answer: Joseph Smith didn't make this up. He was a prophet of God, restoring sacred truths.
Some have argued that the name "Lucifer" in Isaiah 14:12 doesn't refer to Satan at all, but simply to a Babylonian king. The Hebrew word translated as "Lucifer" refers to the morning star, Venus, or otherwise indicates a bearer of light. Critics say that the Book of Mormon is simply wrong when it quotes Isaiah 14:12 in 2 Nephi 24:12 and keeps the name "Lucifer." They say the revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 76:26 is also wrong, for it also follows the allegedly incorrect interpretation of Isaiah 14 in calling Satan "Lucifer, a son of the morning." A good answer to this question comes from Ben McGuire on a page at FAIRLDS.org.
As McGuire points out, early Christians such as Origen and Tertullian associated the name Lucifer with Satan. Further, several New Testament passages associate Satan with an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), with lightning falling from heaven (Luke 10:18), or as the "god of this world" (2 Cor. 4:4)--all consistent with the fallen "lightbearer" concept in the Hebrew of Isaiah 14. Christians for centuries have equated Lucifer with Satan, so there is no question what is meant in Doctrine and Covenants 76:26. In that context, there is nothing wrong with calling Satan "Lucifer, the morning star." However, in the book of Revelation, chapter 22, verse 16, we read that the title of "Morning Star" belongs to Christ, which again makes Satan an impostor, trying to take away the glory of God.
Further insight is found in commentary from René A. Krywult. The second half of that page provides some excellent insights into ancient Near Eastern views that support the LDS position.
The Oneness of God - an LDSFAQ page answering questions about the Trinity, the "plurality of gods," how God can be One if Christ and the Father are distinct Beings, etc. Contains interesting material from early Christianity and modern scholarship. (Please note how strong the evidence is becoming that Latter-day Saint doctrine really is a restoration, not an innovation from Joseph Smith.)
Adam, the Fall, and the Messiah: The LDS Perspective - a page by Jeff Lindsay explaining differences between LDS theology and other views on the Fall and Christ.
How Jesus is Both the Father and the Son - an excellent LDS article by Mike Parker
What is Official Doctrine?" by Stephen Robinson
Are Brigham Young's Sermons Scripture? by John Walsh.
"Adam in Ancient Texts and the Restoration" by Matthew Roper.