Did Joseph Smith Restore Theosis? Part One: The Mormon Doctrine of Exaltation

A recent article in the Mormon newspaper Deseret News (August 3, 2011) by Brigham Young University professor and Mormon apologist Daniel C. Peterson carries the provocative title, “Joseph Smith’s restoration of ‘theosis’ was miracle, not scandal.” The term theosis is a Greek term used in the Eastern Orthodox theological tradition referring to its doctrine that through the Incarnation (the union of divine nature and human nature in the person of Jesus Christ) human beings may become united with God and in some sense like God. This Orthodox doctrine is rooted in the doctrine of several early church fathers (mostly writing in Greek) who spoke of the redeemed in Christ becoming “gods” (Greek, theoi) through the union with God that he put into effect in the Incarnation. According to Peterson, the doctrine of “exaltation” taught by Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon movement, was a miraculous “restoration” of “an authentically ancient Judeo-Christian doctrine,” the doctrine of theosis.

Was it?

My response to Peterson will be rather detailed and so will be broken up into several parts. In this first part, I will review the doctrine of exaltation taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and affirmed by Peterson. In subsequent parts I will examine Peterson’s arguments in support of that doctrine. This includes his New Testament proof texts (Rom. 8:17; Rev. 3:21), his proof text for the doctrine in the Book of Mormon, his claim that “an early Jewish midrash expressed the belief” in theosis, and his citations to show that Joseph’s doctrine restored an ancient Christian doctrine reflected in statements by various church fathers.

The Mormon Doctrine of Exaltation

Peterson summarizes the doctrine he wishes to defend as follows:

“Late in his life, the Prophet Joseph Smith began to teach that humans, being children of God, can become like their Father. The doctrine is most famously expressed in the couplet of Lorenzo Snow: ‘As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.’”

Peterson refers to this teaching as the doctrine of “exaltation.” Let’s be clear on what this doctrine means. In Mormonism, exaltation is something that has already happened to God that made him what he is today and that can also happen to us to make us reach our full potential. There are two parts to Snow’s couplet, the first regarding God, and the second regarding man, and these two parts must be understood in relation to one another. The precise wording that Snow himself used was slightly different from the wording given by Peterson: What Snow said was, “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be” (Eliza R. Snow Smith, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow [Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret News, 1884], 46). The wording used by Peterson, on the other hand, appears to have become standard in Mormon usage (see, for example, Encyclopedia of Mormonism 4:1474). In any case, the question is, just exactly what does this statement mean?

The first part of the couplet asserts that God “once was” as we are but he is now what he is. Exaltation for God denotes the change from what he “once was” to what he “is.” Furthermore, exaltation for man is the change from what “man is” now to what “man may become”—and “what man may become” is “as God is.” In other words, God was once a man, like us, and he then became what he is now, namely, God; and we can do the same thing and go through the same change from what we are now to becoming the same kind of being as God.

The basic conception that this doctrine expresses is that deity is an open category. The being that we call God was not always “God” but became God by the process that Mormons call exaltation. The beings that we call “man” were not always physical, earthly humans but were divine spirits living in Heaven and are living here temporarily in order to progress toward their own exaltation.

Joseph Smith stated explicitly toward the end of his life that God has not always been God. I will quote three paragraphs in full from his famous 1844 sermon known as the King Follett Discourse so that there can be no question about the context (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 345-46, emphasis in original):

God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible,—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with him, as one man talks and communes with another.

In order to understand the subject of the dead, for consolation of those who mourn for the loss of their friends, it is necessary we should understand the character and being of God and how he came to be so; for I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see.

These are incomprehensible ideas to some, but they are simple. It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did; and I will show it from the Bible.

One can easily see the first part of Snow’s couplet, “As man is, God once was,” explicitly in Joseph Smith’s remarks here: “God himself was once as we are now”; “he was once a man like us.” The second part is also found in the same sermon just two paragraphs later:

Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, 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; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power. (Teachings, 346)

Some Mormons will argue that neither this sermon nor Snow’s couplet are included in the LDS scriptures (their “Standard Works”) and therefore are not “official doctrine,” but this is an idle claim. As we have seen, Dan Peterson treats this doctrine without embarrassment or hedging as a doctrine miraculously revealed to Joseph Smith. As evangelical scholar Ron Huggins showed in an important article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, when the LDS Church is not engaged in public relations, it clearly affirms this doctrine of exaltation, including Snow’s couplet and the King Follett Discourse, as accepted doctrine. The LDS doctrinal manual Gospel Principles, in print continuously since 1978 and published by the LDS Church as a primer on Mormon doctrine for its members, clearly affirms Joseph Smith’s doctrine (Gospel Principles, 2009 ed., 275, 277, 279):

When we lived with our Heavenly Father, He explained a plan for our progression. We could become like Him, an exalted being…. Exaltation is eternal life, the kind of life God lives. He lives in great glory. He is perfect. He possesses all knowledge and all wisdom. He is the Father of spirit children. He is a creator. We can become like our Heavenly Father. This is exaltation….

These are some of the blessings given to exalted people:

  1. They will live eternally in the presence of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ (see D&C 76:62).
  2. They will become gods (see D&C 132:20–23).
  3. They will be united eternally with their righteous family members and will be able to have eternal increase.
  4. They will receive a fulness of joy.
  5. They will have everything that our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have—all power, glory, dominion, and knowledge (see D&C 132:19–20)….

Joseph Smith taught: “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God.… He was once a man like us; … God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 345–46).

Our Heavenly Father knows our trials, our weaknesses, and our sins. He has compassion and mercy on us. He wants us to succeed even as He did.

Note that Gospel Principles quotes with approval statements from Joseph Smith’s King Follett Discourse, from the very pages we quoted above, including the statement that God “was once a man like us.” It also affirms that God is “an exalted being” and that we can become exalted beings too, that we can “become gods” in this sense of becoming like God in every way. For example, it asserts that God is “a creator” and that we can “become like” him in this respect. It claims that exalted people will have “all power, glory, dominion, and knowledge,” just like God the Father and Jesus Christ.

Let us draw these ideas together in a brief summary. The LDS doctrine of exaltation, taught by Joseph Smith himself, found in the current Mormon doctrinal primer, and defended by Mormon scholar and apologist Dan Peterson, includes the following doctrinal claims:

  • God has not always been God; it is not true that he has been God from all eternity (though he may have existed from all eternity, he has not always existed as God).
  • God was once a man like us before becoming God our Heavenly Father.
  • God became God and is an exalted man, an exalted being.
  • Human beings are the spirit offspring of God, our Heavenly Father. We lived in heaven with God before becoming physical beings here on earth.
  • We became human beings precisely so that we would have the opportunity to attain exaltation just as God did.
  • Human beings can become “gods” in the sense of becoming exalted beings fully like Heavenly Father in all essential respects, just as he did before us.
  • As exalted beings or gods, we can become creators and have all the power, glory, dominion, and knowledge that God the Father has (in the worlds we create).

What we want to know is whether any of the evidence from the New Testament, Jewish literature, or the early church fathers adduced by Peterson really supports the antiquity of any of these doctrinal claims. This is the question that will be addressed in the subsequent installments of this series.

Rob Bowman is the director of research for the Institute for Religious Research in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For a wealth of resources on Mormonism,  please visit IRR’s website.

101 Responses to “Did Joseph Smith Restore Theosis? Part One: The Mormon Doctrine of Exaltation”

  1. I just did.

  2. The heart of my question: Care to substantiate from the worldview of early church fathers, etc., that they actually held to a view of theosis more like Mormonism than glorification in classical Protestantism?

  3. Aaron said, “I don’t see any early Christian fathers who believed they’re going to get to govern their own worlds populated with billions of their own future billion spirit children…”
    I suppose that’s one way to put LDS belief, but it also describes more of a folk belief than a real one. Indeed, I’ve never heard it taught in our classes. Few of us will deny that belief but even fewer teach it as doctrine.
    1 Corinthians 2:9 applies:
    But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
    That’s my belief.

  4. Aaron,
    Your link quoted John as saying “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent,” (John 17:3). John later writes in his epistle, “I write to you, children, because you know the Father,” (1 John 2:13).
    I agree and I don’t see an “incomprehesible God” in those scriptures. The creeds teach God is a mysterious incomprehensable God. We do not. We believe as John taught that we need to come to know God and become like him to obtain eternal life.

  5. It’s not a hard concept to grasp Aaron S.

    You guys don’t teach, emphasize, or often – even admit the existence of the doctrine of theosis. And the only time I started hearing you and your crowd start talking about “glorification” was AFTER Mormons started pointing out to you this hole in your doctrine.

    Which makes you a bit of a Johnny-come-lately on the issue. Nice to see that you are coming around to our way of thinking on the issue, but you have a lot of catching up to do, to be frank.

  6. “Folk” and “speculation” = weasel words often aimed at historical revisionism.

    “The Father has promised us that through our faithfulness we shall be blessed with the fullness of his kingdom. In other words, we will have the privilege of becoming like him. To become like him we must have all the powers of godhood; thus a man and his wife when glorified will have spirit children who eventually will go on an earth like this one we are on and pass through the same kind of experiences, being subject to mortal conditions, and if faithful, then they also will receive the fullness of exaltation and partake of the same blessings. There is no end to this development; it will go on forever. We will become gods and have jurisdiction over worlds, and these worlds will be peopled by our own offspring.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 2:48, quoted in Achieving a Celestial Marriage Student Manual, 1976, p.132)

    The basic, standard LDS idea here is the genealogy of the Gods.

  7. Seth, it sounds like early Christian ideas of theosis are a lot more like Protestant ideas of glorification than Mormon ideas of being worshiped by billions of future spirit children. I’d still like to see you make an actual historical argument that shows otherwise.

  8. Yeah Aaron,

    Except you guys don’t teach, emphasize, or frankly even seem to care about glorification one way or the other.

    You’re too busy talking about how filthy we all are and how we all need to be forgiven and – by golly – how good that feels. And how all this is avoiding going to hell. And how YOU too can avoid going to hell if you sign up with us.

    That’s the message I get from you and your ministry Aaron. All this “glorification” talk was just an afterthought attempt by MRM to try and insulate itself against Mormon criticisms in the last couple years. You guys never talked about this stuff with us until FAIR started pointing it out to you. And then it was only defensive in nature.

    Because after all Aaron – aren’t we supposed to just go by what the Protestant “on the street” thinks and ignore all those “ivory tower intellectuals” that no one really thinks about? Isn’t that the approach you’ve been advocating here? Just what Joe-blow Protestant thinks?

  9. Aaron said, “Folk” and “speculation” = weasel words often aimed at historical revisionism.
    That well may be but in my view 1 Corinthians 2:9 still applies:
    But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
    If we can imagine a heaven where there is no end to our progression and you can not. Who is right? I contend that 1 Corinthians 2:9 implies we are.

  10. Modern “orthodoxy,” of course, has since invented an “unbridgeable gulf” separating Man from God, supposing that it somehow “magnifies” the one to belittle the other. Unfortunately, “orthodoxy” only belittles God’s ability to do whatever he pleases… the early Church preferred to believe that “provided thou obeyest His solemn injunctions, and becomest a faithful follower of Him who is good, then shalt thou resemble Him, inasmuch as thou shalt have honor conferred upon thee by Him. For the Deity by condescension does not diminish aught of the dignity of His divine perfection, having made thee even God to His glory” (Ibid., X.30)(Eugene Seaich, “Ancient Texts and Mormonism,” pp. 45-46).

  11. Ibid should be (Refutation of Heresies, X.30).

  12. That “partaking of the divine nature” actually meant deification is still clearly recorded by Hippolytus, Bishop of Portus, at the start of the third century. “And thou shalt be a companion of the Deity, and a co-heir with Christ, no longer enslaved with lusts or passions, and never again wasted by disease, for thou hast become God… Whatever it is consistent with God to impart, these God has promised to bestow upon thee, because thou hast been deified, and begotten unto immortality” (Refutation of Heresies, X.30).

  13. Seth has indicated to me on another forum that he can no longer post here. Has someone here done that?

  14. Well, I’ll try to post again…

    Aaron, aren’t we supposed to be going just off what today’s average Joe-blow Protestant on the street thinks, and not be appealing to all those “ivory tower” Protestant intellectuals that no one thinks about? After all, that does seem to be the approach you yourself advocate as the best method for understanding a religion, right?

  15. Man the silence is deafening. Where did everyone go?

    Don’t you agree that we can all become “sons and daughters of God”?
    Romans 8:14

    For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.

    Romans 8:17

    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.

    Christ was a creator. Wouldn’t joint-heir with Christ also be creators?

  16. Either everyone but me has been banned from this board or no one has a good response to my undenyable logic and have decided Mormons are right. ;-)

  17. Mike, I think Romans 8 is a great focal point for showing how Christian views of theosis and glorification differ from traditional Mormon views of gods-in-embryo becoming full-blown Gods, worshiped and prayed by future spirit children, furthering a genealogy of Gods of unknown origin or generational size.

    The key here is that Jesus never *became* a Creator. For Paul, Jesus is Creator from the very beginning (Col. 1:15-16). Christians can inherit what Jesus inherited (with some qualifications, we will never be the King of kings!), but Jesus never inherited Creatorhood. He is the God-became-man, not the man-became-God. Kudos to you for perhaps thinking otherwise, but Mormons leaders have grossly misused Romans 8:16 as though it refers to us all being literal spirit children and gods-in-embryo born of Heavenly Parents. The context (even the previous verse!) makes it abundantly clear that we are adopted as children (to the Father, not to the Son as Mormon interpreters falsely construe).

  18. Seth, I believe in a more holistic engagement of religion. I certainly don’t agree with efforts to filibuster engagement of dominant, traditional teachings and views by redirecting all attention to minority positions. I list four considerations concerning this at my article, “Should We Stop Addressing Non-Official Teachings and Beliefs?”

  19. I never said Christ *became* a creator and Mormon leaders have not grossly misused Romans 8:16. We are all being literal spirit children and gods-in-embryo born of Heavenly Parents. We are children of a loving God (Deut. 14:1; Ps. 82:6; Hos. 1:10; Mal. 2:10; Luke 3:38; Acts 17:28-29; Rom. 8:16; Gal. 3:26; Eph. 4:6) created in his image and likeness (Gen. 1:26; 5:1; 9:6; 1 Cor. 11:7; Jam. 3:9). What does created in his image mean to you Aaron?

  20. Mike, I think the most significant part of the “image of God” is that he has given us in our being and in our intended function, reflection of the glory and relationality and kingship of God and responsibility and dominion over creation. We are in his image, he is not in ours.

    As for Romans 8:14-16, let us take a look:

    “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God”

    In the context of Romans 8, it is a subsection of humanity who are children of God (those led by the Spirit, those who have received the Spirit of adoption). In verse 29, lovers of God are told of being predestined to be “conformed to the image of his Son”. This is most significantly an inner-transformation, not a plastic-surgery job or species-change. ;-)

  21. Seth R.,

    You claimed that am “already getting one thing wrong from the get-go” because “We Mormons are not required to believe that God the Father was ever a sinful man like we are.” But Seth, I never said anything about the Father having been a sinner in LDS doctrine. All I said was that the LDS doctrine is that God was once a man like us prior to becoming a God, and that we can do the same thing.

    The LDS Church takes no official position on whether Heavenly Father was ever a sinner. I am therefore not critiquing such a claim. Of course, we evangelicals find it troubling enough that Mormon theology even *allows* for the possibility that the Father was a sinner. But I said nothing about this idea and am not critiquing it in this series.

  22. Aaron S., I think the main question that needs to be asked is not whether a position is “majority” or “minority.” I think that’s actually irrelevant in this discussion.

    The main topic was Joseph Smith – and what HE thought and taught.

    If there’s only one person in the entire LDS Church who holds a certain view about what Joseph Smith taught – but that one person also happens to be right – and can show from the historical record that he is right –

    Then that one person’s opinion on the subject of what Joseph Smith taught is worth more than the combined weight of all the street interviews you’ve conducted, and every last church manual ever published – isn’t it?

    So the real question is not whether this viewpoint is minority or majority – but whether this viewpoint is an accurate portrayal of what Joseph Smith taught. Because that’s the main topic of Rob Bowman’s post – and secondarily, what Daniel Petersen thinks about it.

  23. Aaron,

    I am familiar with Romans 8:14-16. What I would like is your opinion of Deut. 14:1; Ps. 82:6; Hos. 1:10; Mal. 2:10; Luke 3:38; Acts 17:28-29; Gal. 3:26; Eph. 4:6. Are they all speaking of adoption as well? I doubt it. They all speak of us as sons and daughter of God.

    Gen. 5:3 tells us:

    And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth:

    Note that Adam had a son after “his own likeness, after his image.”

    These are the exact same words used in Gen. 1:26:
    And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion… etc.

    Seems intentional to me. Thus, we must resemble God and his Son as Adam resembled Seth since man’s basic nature is sinful (1 Jn. 1:8) and nothing like God’s (Heb. 4:15); our thoughts are not his thoughts and our ways are not his ways. (Isa. 55:8-9)

  24. C.S. Lewis a favorite protestant writer and theologian among Latter-day Saints agreed with our interpretation:
    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. C. S. Lewis, Beyond Personality (London: The Centenary Press, 1945), P48

  25. Mike H.

    You also have to take into account that Mormon theology on the precise way in which we are spirit children of God is all over the place too.

    So you actually can claim that we are God’s children by adoption and be completely within the spread of Mormon theology. I myself, happen to be an adoptionalist – mostly because I think you have to be if you reject creation ex nihilo and want to be consistent.

    And Mike, turns out I just got stuck in the spam filter. No worries.

  26. To be fair Mike, I imagine C.S. Lewis would have had a few reservations about the Mormon position.

    The Eastern Orthodox like to summarize their own concept of theosis thus:

    “We become by grace, what God is by nature.”

    And most E. Orthodox would strenuously deny that any of us become God by nature, or that God ever had to become that way by grace himself.

  27. Seth,
    I’m not disagreeing that we all become sons and daughters of God by adoption when we have faith in Christ. Gal. 3:26 say that but we are also spiritual sons and daughter of God by creation. I believe that is what Paul was saying in Acts 17:28-29. I believe the Old Testament passages I was citing (Deut. 14:1; Ps. 82:6; Hos. 1:10; Mal. 2:10) are referring to this.

  28. Seth, much respect to you for that last comment.

  29. Seth said, “And most E. Orthodox would strenuously deny that any of us become God by nature, or that God ever had to become that way by grace himself.”

    The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology on the subject of “Deification”:

    Deification (Greek theosis) is for Orthodoxy the goal of every Christian. Man, according to the Bible, is ‘made in the image and likeness of God’…. It is possible for man to become like God, to become deified, to become god by grace. This doctrine is based on many passages of both OT and NT (e.g. Ps. 82 (81).6; 2 Peter 1.4), and it is essentially the teaching both of St. Paul, though he tends to use the language of filial adoption (cf. Rom. 8.9-17; Gal. 4.5-7), and the Fourth Gospel (cf. 17.21-23).

  30. The language of 2 Peter is taken up by St. Irenaeus, in his famous phrase, ‘if the word has been made man, it is so that man may be made gods’ (Adv. Haer, V, Pref.), and becomes the standard in Greek theology. In the fourth century St. Athanasius repeats Irenaeus almost word for word, and in the fifth century St. Cyril of Alexandria says that we shall become sons ‘by participation’ (Greek methexis). Deification is the central idea in the spirituality of St. Maximus the Confessor, for whom the doctrine is the corollary of the Incarnation: ‘Deification, briefly, is the encompassing and fulfillment of all times and ages’,… and St. Symeon the New Theologian at the end of the tenth century writes, ‘He who is God by nature converses with those whom he has made gods by grace, as a friend converses with his friends, face to face.’ …

  31. Finally, it should be noted that deification does not mean absorption into God, since the deified creature remains itself and distinct. It is the whole human being, body and soul, who is transfigured in the Spirit into the likeness of the divine nature, and deification is the goal of every Christian. (Symeon Lash, The Wesminster Dictionary of Christian Theology, ed. Alan Richardson and John Bowden, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1983, pp. 147-48; as quoted in Are Mormons Christian, p. 62)

    Sorry I had to break this up due to word limitations on these posts.

  32. Seth,

    I hope you will respond to my comment. Specifically, I hope you will acknowledge that your first comment here misrepresented me as claiming that Mormons are required to believe that God was ever a sinful man. I made no such claim, and I would greatly appreciate it if you would acknowledge that fact.

  33. No Rob, I don’t think I have mischaracterized your position. The part where you treat the Lorenzo Snow couplet and Joseph Smith’s King Follet statements seems to be sending a pretty clear summary of your views of what Joseph Smith, and then Lorenzo Snow taught. Summed up by this quote from you:

    “The basic conception that this doctrine expresses is that deity is an open category. The being that we call God was not always “God” but became God by the process that Mormons call exaltation.”

    Since you leave it at this, and don’t offer any further explanations or caveats, I think it’s pretty clear that this is the message you intended to convey here.

    Of course, if you want to go on the record here as stating that you do not think that the predominant LDS view is that “God was once a sinful man” I’ll be happy to bear witness for you.

    Are you making such a statement?

  34. Correction – I wasn’t careful enough with that comment.

    I should have asked you Rob if you were going on the record here as declaring that Joseph Smith’s view was NOT necessarily that “God was once a sinful man.” As my exchange with Aaron S. revealed – we’re not necessarily after the opinion of most Mormons.

  35. I think you already know this, Seth, but you implicitly misrepresent my claim as somehow asserting that the dominant Mormon view is that God the Father definitely sinned. More accurately, my claim is that roughly two-thirds of Mormons believe that God the Father was perhaps a sinner. In other words, they leave it open as a general uncertainty, as a “maybe”, as essentially an “I don’t know.”

    Committed mainstream Mormons seem to be very clear and consistent that Jesus never sinned, and seem to agree that his eternal sinlessness is important to believe. But when it comes to the Father, suddenly Mormons think it’s OK to believe that he was maybe a horrific wife-abuser or liar or sex addict.

    You don’t seem to yet realize that the arguments in Rob’s original post do not even depend on the specific mainstream Mormon idea that God the Father was once perhaps a sinner. He is doing what Mormons have done for a long time: link the idea of the genealogy of Gods with the KFD and…

  36. … the Lorenzo Snow couplet.

  37. “But when it comes to the Father, suddenly Mormons think it’s OK to believe that he was maybe a horrific wife-abuser or liar or sex addict.”

    And you have a problem with this – why?

    Although frankly, I don’t think any of those extreme examples are even remotely on the minds of most Mormons.

  38. “It’s OK, we try not to think about it!”

  39. Seth,

    You undermine any credibility you have when you read into my post a claim about Joseph Smith’s doctrine that is simply not there. For the record, to the best of my knowledge Joseph Smith made no speculation as to whether Heavenly Father had ever committed sin as a mortal man. He appears to have left that question unanswered. What he did clearly teach was that Heavenly Father was not always God, but that he went through a history from being a mortal man to becoming a God. This claim is crucial to Joseph Smith’s teaching that we can become Gods in the same sense and with the same powers and potential as Heavenly Father: the message, in brief, is that if God the Father could do it we can do it too. This idea does seem to allow for the *possibility* that Heavenly Father was once a sinner who repented and attained exaltation, but I don’t think it *requires* this inference. And again, this inference plays absolutely no part in my analysis or critique of Joseph Smith’s doctrine or of Dan Peterson’s article.

  40. Thank you for the clarification Rob.

  41. I think that if a man was exalted and became God, then who exalted him? Whomever or whatever that process is that exalted him would then be the only being who has the right to be called God.

  42. Why would I worship that being Ruben?

    I have no relationship with that being. Besides, if God the Father was already one with this hypothetical “grandfather” – wouldn’t worshiping God the Father be pretty-much the same thing as worshiping the grandfather, as far as he was concerned.

    No one on this forum worries about worshiping Jesus Christ instead of God the Father. They assume they are one and the same anyway. So why should there be any worry for Mormons who happen to believe in an infinite chain of gods?

  43. It is a wondrous doctrine – that we will on day be transformed and be made like the Lord Jesus – the firstborn from the dead. Our lowly bodies will be transformed to be like unto His glorious body. But to conflate the two and make it a requirement that God, the eternal spirit who is like no other, had to go through the same stages of exaltation before us, from man to exalted being, is to enter into heresy in the essential doctrine of the nature of God. The glorification of the believer in no way demotes the God of all creation in making him a former man, as we are. Nor does it elevate our future, glorified bodies to the status of the eternal God.

    The evangelical church no longer preaches much on the glorification of the believer. Probably because there are so many pitfalls navigating through LDS and New Age doctrines that counterfeit and mimic the great and glorious gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ. But it’s a pity.

  44. Aaron —

    Care to substantiate from the worldview of early church fathers, etc., that they actually held to a view of theosis more like Mormonism than glorification in classical Protestantism?

    If you mean the standard church fathers they are much too late. You do see these ideas in 1st century church fathers and Christian writings. I think there is pretty clear evidence that huge sections of the early Christian world held to the doctrine of adoptionism, that Jesus had at some point been fully human and then infused with divinity. If I were to start listing those suddenly “they don’t count”. You see the notion of divine replacement in the epistles:

    Expressions like Gal 2:20 (I live no longer, but Christ lives in me) which expresses the idea of a form of a replacement of nature a fundamental shift.

    Mark 1:10 where the holy spirit comes down as a bird, a reference to Hellenistic magic where one undergoes deification.

    There are remnants of this idea that exaltation involves a change in nature in the frequent claims that Jesus is possessed (i.e. not human): John 8:48-58 talks about the exalted nature as being:
    a) deathless
    b) timeless, pre-existent
    c) greater than any earthly prophet
    d) glorified by the power of the father

    Frequent references to possession as a claim against Jesus i.e. that his exalted state was via. a spiritual transformation (though a negative kind): Mt 12:22-37, Jn 7:20, Mt 10:25, Lk 11:19 etc…

    Even stuff as early as the Revelation of Dositheus talks about those whose true origins are not of the physical world and of course that theme continues all through “Gnostic Christianity”.

    I think the evidence is pretty clear that during the first few centuries there was a wide range of views as to what salvation actually meant. And even today the discussion continues, the idea that you “go to heaven” in some sort of spiritual state and become like an angel, is far more common than the orthodox bodily resurrection.

  45. I think that if a man was exalted and became God, then who exalted him? Whomever or whatever that process is that exalted him would then be the only being who has the right to be called God.

    This is one of the things that is really and truly insightful about Mormonism the notion of eternal progression. God’s god, Heavenly Grandfather, is a God infinitely perfect beyond imagination, timeless, of a nature that is absolutely incomprehensible in any way to you. And thus he has no interest in being in relationship with you. You aren’t worthy even to give him worship. If were to worship him committing idolatry refusing to worship the God of your creation in favor of the God of other’s creation. It would either be pointless or disobedient and you would be ignoring the father.

    Mormonism manages to successfully reconcile the notion of a personal God with the notion of infinite perfection in a way that is incoherent in orthodox Christianity.

  46. What ever happened to love one another, or having no dissensions among us? Endless debates…really? Are we all spiritual babes? Perhaps time would be better spent serving our fellow brothers and sisters instead of arguing over Theology. I don’t remember Jesus ever preaching the need for a “perfect Theology”, but compassion and love in His name. Or maybe even truly seeking Theosis. Theosis will not be reached by anyone who has hate, discord, pride, etc. in their hearts. We all experience the Father (God) through the lenses of our own individual experiences, culture, biases, etc. Love one another. The Gospel is truly very simple. No wonder so many Non-Christians look at us as jokes. Take a step back, look at the entire forest instead of being so engulfed and mesmerized by the single tree. Raging debates like this only serves in tearing down the the Church of Christ, you know, where two or three are gathered. That is all brothers and sisters. I will not make any further comments since I refuse to be sucked into the eternal circle of discord, I only hope this humble comment may be used to help in some way.

  47. There is an enormous amount of speculation when it comes to the eternal realm…how things really work outside of our mortal perspective and dimension. How the eternal round goes and works…who knows. The idea that God has always existed in his perfections and amazing power without coming to be…just exists without a beginning is incomprehensible and doesn’t make sense to mortals. IF indeed an endless generation of exalted beings exist…where did the first one come from…this question is the same answer as where God according to orthodoxy came from; out of nowhere…just was. It is no more difficult for me to believe that the first God had a body, or was a loaf of bread, or a rock, or had no corporeal form of any sort. If he just IS what determined his essence. If, in contrast to orthodoxy, the reality of eternity is an endless generation of exalted beings with laws and eternal society so to speak, I don’t see God (my) Father any different whether he actually lived in a sphere laden with opposition and made a wrong choice…was sanctified through his repentance etc. or he, like Jesus, had the power to never sin. I look at my earthly Father and know that he has made a wrong choice or two. But, he is beyond those mistakes. When we are sanctified and purified eventually through the power of Christ we will not be sinful beings anymore. We will be like the society of heaven. I can worship the Father forever (in spite of what he experienced or MAY have done in the past because he now has the nature of Godliness and perfection. Why do we praise any being anyway. Is it not because he loved us first…as Peter said. My devotion to my earthly Father exists in part because of our relationship and the service and sacrifice he provided to me. The devils hate God in spite of his greatness…so no one worships any being just because of his wonderfulness. Praise and worship simply come down to the loving relationship of the Father and his children…to the great blessings (including sharing himself and his attributes..and the life he lives with us). So I don’t find LDS doctrines on theosis to be so ridiculous as some may say, in fact it makes more sense than sitting on a cloud for eternity, doing what? I see no problem whatsoever giving my own sons everything I have…because I want them to be happy. And I believe that God wants to give his children (the one’s that in spite of opposition strive to do his will and prove they have the character to exercise power according to the Father’s will) every wonderful thing he possesses. What is so awful about this doctrine. People that want glory and honor and eternal life (Rom 2) are not like Satan. Satan wanted to replace God and put the Father on the side lines. Theosis occurs only to people who have a loving relationship with God. They receive of his fulness because of this relationship. Satan doesn’t qualify. Wrong motives, wrong relationship. Orthodoxy simply cant let go of tradition.

  48. “This is my work and my glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (from the Pearl of Great Price). Our free choice to follow the Savior and our eventually change from a human in mortality to an immortal sanctified being in the eternal dimension, as joint heirs with Christ, further the Father’s glory and joy in the eternities to come. Just as my joy is increased as my sons progress along the straight and narrow path, so the Father’s joy and glory increase as his sons and daughters (each of us) here on earth choose the better way. Not a bad plan I might say.

  49. There is lots that has not been revealed, that is true. And there is lots that has. And Jesus did seem to think some truth was essential to salvation. Debates can be ugly and unloving. But discussing differences can also be done in a loving way. Christians must continue to speak the truth to Mormons, but in love.

  50. Deniability when confronted with documents and facts in print and LDS historical context the Mormon believes what only the book of Mormon says to a fault if any scripture in Bible doesn’t agree the member first reply is it not translated correctly?
    Over all, where did Christian fellowship advocate political involvement and war that’s

    found in the book of
    Mormon (mt. Meadow masquerade) and B.Young being a general of Army Mormons to fight the United States

    Where was Jesus born ??? Alma 7:10 say it was Jerusalem
    JST of his bible. Matt. 3:4-6 says that it was Bethlehem is
    Smith correcting Elohim or Moroni or maybe he was in error when looking in the hat or scribe took a coffee break
    Add to the list pretentious milk of the church and that Adam was a God took mans form to bring Elohims spiritual children to earth but had eat the fruit of tree good and bad first to become equipped sexually to produce human offspring

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