Worshipping the Lord Jesus and Elder Brotherism

Doctrinal ideas are like the exposed geology of Southern Utah. In the various strata of our history, movements of our people are veins of documentary sediment, some still being added upon. Some veins are followed to the Great Source, others end at a void or insignificance. Perhaps the greatest example of the latter is what I call Elder Brotherism.

There are some among us who claim that we should only worship the Father and that Jesus, our elder brother, is basically just like us, but effectuated the atonement. We, consequently, worship the Father only and approach him through Jesus. The problem is that this is just not supportable.

I’m pretty sure elder brotherism started with Adam-God. This is the first place where we see the idea that Christ isn’t all that different from us, in fact, according to this belief, a human would have to be reincarnated as a Christ of a different world in order to ascend to Godhood. This scheme obviates the worship of Christ, because only those that have passed through an atonement and started a spirit family are worthy of worship and God the Father is all we have. This is just soooooo problematic. It is also modern heresy.

If you go back to Joseph’s discussions of theogony in the Sermon in the Grove and in his King Follet Discourse, one finds that even though we are co-eternal and uncreated with God and Christ we are different from them as well. Christ and the Father had the capacity to atone, we do not. What’s more, they have always been perfect. Something to which we will never have claim. They have power over death and creation.

We worship them because of what they are – God. They are the same. This is why the scriptures, modern prophets, and current Church materials indicate that we should as Christians worship Jesus Christ.


  1. Amen.

  2. well said. The wonderous thing about the Savior, the Son of God is that in condescending below them all, he became personable. We could understand what God looked like, was, acted, felt, etc. We could see that we, the imperfect natural men, could have hope for a more excellent way through the Savior. That said, we also cannot lower the Savior from the position he is. He is the Creator of this world, the Savior of this world, and the Judge of this world. No mortal man comes anywhere close to that position of grand magnificence.

  3. So, I suppose you are also refuting the (oft-refuted) Lorenzo Snow couplet? “As man is…”

    The Elder Brother concept seems fairly entrenched. Even just reading your passage above makes me cringe a little – what, worship Jesus? Does He ever ask that of us?

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    For background on the development of the usage, see Corbin Volluz, “Jesus Christ as Elder Brother,” BYU Studies 45/2 (2006): 141-58 [the current issue]. Volluz’ basic thesis is to caution against careless theological abuse of this expression.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    Volluz concludes his article by quoting Robert Matthews, former dean of religious education at BYU:

    “In the Book of Mormon, Christ is God. He is not simply a mortal, a great teacher, a Friend of Mankind. He is God. I have been surprised that the Book of Mormon never defines Jesus as the firstborn spirit, man’s Elder Brother. In the Book of Mormon, he isn’t so much man’s brother, he is man’s God.”

  6. So it sounds like y’all are lining up behind Bruce R. McConkie, who very publicly rebuked those at BYU who were, at the time, advocating the development of a “special relationship with Jesus Christ.” Instead, he argued that all three Persons are God and should all be worshipped (although he noted there is some division of labor between them and our worship should be tailored appropriately). We shouldn’t single one Person out for special worship.

    But if you line up behind Elder McConkie, then there’s the problem that Elder McConkie was, in turn, privately rebuked by President Kimball, who complained that some people already think Mormons are anti-Christian and that Elder McConkie’s very public criticism of developing a relationship with Jesus Christ was counterproductive. Elder McConkie was then sent back to BYU to give a couple of pro-Jesus Christ talks in succeeding months.

    Personally, I don’t like “Elder Brother” talk at all, but I’m also nervous if I find myself on the same side of a doctrinal issue as Elder McConkie.

  7. Eric Russell says:

    “I’m genuinely perplexed here. What does it mean to worship? We pray to the Father in the name of the son, but otherwise how do we worship the Father and not the son? It seems to me that if we worship anyone, the problem is that we worship Christ in lieu of the Father. We have pictures of Jesus all over the place but rarely an image of God the Father. In general, we talk about Christ much more than the Father. When we talk about changes in our behavior, we speak of becoming like Christ. What actions constitute “worship”?

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    Dave, I was at BYU at the time of the George Pace episode, and I don’t think his message was to worship all three persons of the Godhead equally, but rather to reserve worship for the Father alone. One quote from the address is pretty straightforward on this: “We worship the Father and him only and no one else. We do not worship the Son…”

    I remember the Pace book. I never read it, but I recall the cover art that showed a young girl in bed looking up at a beatific Christ. Although the sentimental spirituality of the book was not to my taste, I thought BRM acted abominably towards Bro. Pace.

    It was doubly ironic to me, because I was fresh off my mission, and one of the last discussions was entitled “Our Relationship with Christ.”

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    BTW, anyone interested in but unfamiliar with the infamous Pace episode at BYU can read about it by following the links here.

  10. Thanks for that, Kevin. Dave, I think Kevin makes the point McConkie was saying we don’t worship Christ and we shouldn’t strive for a personal relationship with him. Those two positions have been repeatedly repudiated.

  11. FHL: Does He ever ask that of us?


  12. J., I can’t help but think that this post stemmed from my post at BoJ.

    I think it all boils down to how you wish to define “worship”. Should we pray to Jesus? No, we pray to Heavenly Father in Jesus’ name. Should we reverence, adore, respect, and obey both Heavenly Father and Jesus? Of course. Worship becomes somewhat of a subjective term that affects its application.

  13. Connor, praying doesn’t equal worship. Prayer is Prayer. By every definition of worship I can think of, we are to Worship Jesus.

    …and if you want to take credit for it, you are correct that this post was written to show your error; but I didn’t want to say that publically.

  14. In True to the Faith, it says:

    Prayer is one way you can worship the Father.

    Yet building on that, (as included in my post), Joseph Fielding Smith said:

    We believe that worship is far more than prayer and preaching and gospel performance. The supreme act of worship is to keep the commandments, to follow in the footsteps of the Son of God, to do ever those things that please him.

    While “prayer is prayer”, I think it is also a form of worship. Christ routinely directed praise and glory to the Father, both of which are associated with worship. Yes, we are commanded to obey Christ, and that is a part of worship… but I don’t think we’ve ever been told by Christ, as FHL asked, to “worship” him.

  15. I read the Pace book when it was first published. As with most Church-related books, I did not agree with everything he said, but I saw nothing heretical in the book, and thought it was, on the whole, a very fine work.

    I also enjoyed the Volluz piece in the current BYU Studies.

    I do not pretend to understand the distinctions in the roles of the members of the Godhead, and the relative levels of worship to which each should be given. I am not entirely sure which or which combination of the three is listening and answering my prayers, and do not particularly care. It is enough for me that God (whether that term is meant as singular or plural or something else) hears and answers them, and extends His/Their love and grace unto such as I.

  16. Part of the problem has to do with our definition of God. We don’t have a terribly stable one. We insist that Jesus is the God of the old testament (which includes much of the Book of Mormon). There, when God is given “familial” titles, it is Father, never Brother, and Son only in specific cases where it is necessary to distinguish him from the Father. When it comes right down to it, in Book of Mormon terms, the Father and the Son are the same, except that the Son has flesh (meaning, I think, mortality). The Son has to have flesh so he can die. He has to die so that God can die so that the will of the Father can be accomplished. This is going to remain muddled so long as we remain muddled in our understanding of the differences between God the Father and God the Son.

    That said, I don’t believe that this makes us ultimately different from God the Father and God the Son. That is, I don’t believe that we cannot become like them. Though we may have different origins, this does not entail that we cannot become as they are now (though it may entail that we cannot become as they are).

  17. To make myself more clear, Jesus is the Father is all of the Old Testament and much of the Book of Mormon.

  18. Whatever your belief about the eternal trajectory of Man, unless you accept some form of reincarnation, we will always be significantly and eternally different from God the Father and the Son.

    I guess it depends on how you take divine investijure, Connor. There are many instances in the DC where we are commanded to Worship the author of the revelation (Christ?). As HP mentions, there is the whol OT and BoM. We don’t pray to Christ, not because we don’t worship him, but because we have been comanded to pray to the Father (though the Nephite example is fascinating).

  19. J.,

    I don’t think the D&C examples are so obvious as you would like to make them. After a quick search, I’ve found this one and this one, but then you have ones like this and this where the author of the revelation (Christ) instructs us to worship the Father.

  20. I should also point that there is an argument to be made for a subtle brotherism in the first 2 chapters of Ether (depending on how symbolically you wish to read the relationship between Jared and his brother)

  21. For more fun, see if you can figure out who is being prayed to in D&C 109. Really.

  22. HP, doesn’t verse 4 give that away? “And now we ask thee, Holy Father, in the name of Jesus Christ…”

  23. So where does the Holy Ghost fit into this? If we worship the Father and the Son, do we also worship the Holy Spirit? I think to be consistent we would have to say ‘yes’. How do we go about this? We know so little about him, it seems. Is it fair to assume he is the same as the Father and the Son in the same way those two are the same?

  24. Connor,
    Keep reading

  25. :::Light bulb turns on:::

    Interesting how I’ve never caught onto that before. I came across this post by J. as well referring to the Kirtland dedication.

    One commenter on that page, Ed Snow, said (referring to the prayer being directed to the Father and then Jehovah) “This is an apparent early statement of loose Deity designations that occurred before the Widtsoe/Talmage/Roberts reworking of LDS doctrines when several aspects of Deity were later harmonized.”

    Does anybody have any knowledge or information of this? I’d like to learn more about it.

  26. Mark Butler says:

    I think many of you all (and many of those quoted here) are unfortunately on the wrong track. Jesus Christ, the person, said “of mine own self I am nothing”. D&C 93 is the great discourse on this principle.

    Jesus Christ (as a single individual) is not God all by himself, never has been, and never will be. All by himself he is next to nothing.

    And lest we assume that Jesus is different from his father, and ignore the lesson taught in the King Follett Discourse, we would also readily conclude that if Jesus Christ’s father were here to day, he would tell us the same thing – literally that all by himself he is nothing.

    But on the other hand we have many scriptures that teach the opposite principle. That Jesus Christ is the only way or name under heaven whereby we must be saved. That the Eternal Father has all power in heaven and in earth. And worse, that Jesus Christ is the Eternal Father.

    So which is it? I say the answer is that the name of Christ is a name given to all those who follow him in righteousness and truth. In other words if we deference the nominative qualifier Christ, we end up not with one person, but many – the true sons and daughters of God.

    And if we dereference the name God, we end up not with one man, but many, Elohim, the divine concert of all heavenly fathers and (starting in the second estate) mothers as well.

    Also do not forget Mosiah 5 where we are spiritually begotten sons and daughters unto Christ. Well Christ is the Eternal Father right? So one person with the name of Christ is generally our brother or our sister. But all of the people with the name of Christ become or constitute the Eternal Father in the process of time.

    If we take Joseph Smith’s statement about the proper semantics of the term Elohim at all seriously (something that has been neglected for one hundred and fifty some odd years now), the resolution of a host of theological mysteries come into view. If we spake most literally we would not say our Father who art in heaven, but rather our fathers who art in heaven, because like Christ here on earth, the Eternal Father is not one person, but many.

    For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren
    (Hebrews 2:11)

    Now if the meaning of that scripture makes sense unto you, the doctrine of the New Testament and the reasons thereof should be as plain as day.

  27. Mark Butler says:

    And so Jesus Christ (the man we know) often has to be qualified with the term Lord, so we know that we are referring to the captain of our salvation, and not Christ generally.

    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.
    (Romans 8:16-17)

    Many more where that came from.

  28. Mark, that’s fine (and this is probably a threadjack) but what does it have to do with Christ? Seriously, an individual was subjected to the great and last sacrifice. That individual had to be a god. Therefore, Christ’s role in the plan of salvation is substantially different than ours. I agree that taking upon ourselves his name (when done sincerely and enduringly) is essential to our salvation, but it doesn’t make us Him. The prophets are pretty clear that we are not involved in a truly polytheistic system.

  29. Mark,
    forget the last comment (we must have been writing at the same time). Instead, would you accept that there are other (equally rational) ways of reading that quote from Romans?

  30. But all of the people with the name of Christ become or constitute the Eternal Father in the process of time.

    …so we, as a collective, “constitute the Eternal Father”? Huh?

  31. Connor, the classic treatment of the development of the Jehovah in Mormonism is here. Scroll down to “The Development of the Mormon Jehovah Doctrine By Boyd Kirkland”

  32. J.,

    So are you simply dismissing all the teachings that human beings are literally “children” of the Father, hence the same “species” and capable of all the same things? This teaching has been taught (or strongly implied) in authoritative sources for years, I believe. Here’s one example from LeGrand Richards in 1982:

    My church teaches me that I am a son of God the Eternal Father, and therefore I have all of the attributes in embryo to develop like my Father, just like my sons have become like me and I became like my earthly father.

  33. No, I have argued elsewhere that we do have a parent child relationship with God (and Jesus). I’m just saying that according to Joseph Smith, who I believe is best source for theogony in Mormonism, we are different in many significant ways than God the Father and the Son.

  34. ed,
    I’ll let J defend himself, but there is a fundamental difference between saying we can become like God is and saying we can become like he is now. The first assumes that that there is a point A (Divine) that God is eternally at and that we will join him at, assuming we take full advantage of the atonement. The second assumes that there is a gap between us now and that, since we both may be progressing (I know, I know, heretical), the gap may remain even as we become as he is now, assuming we take full advantage of the atonement.

  35. …but to be more blunt, ed, I do disagree with that analogy. I don’t see any support for it in the revelations and Joseph certainly didn’t purport such thinking. As for my personal views, they are best outlined here.

  36. On occasion, I’ve found myself entertaining the heretical thought that perhaps the traditional three-in-one doctrine of the Trinity, for all its confusing aspects, actually has some advantages over our “three different persons in the Godhead” model. It seems like it would be easier in terms of worship, at least, to be dealing with only one God, without worries that you might inadvertently have selected the wrong member of the Godhead to worship.

  37. (Not that I’m advocating that Mormons endorse Trinitarianism, by the way. Just thinking.)

  38. Ah…so if I understand you, J., you are not denying that the idea expressed by LeGrand Richards above is (or was) “authorized doctrine,” but you believe it is incorrect doctrine, and you take the teachings of Joseph Smith to be the standard for identifying correct doctrine. Is that right?

  39. I also have gotten a whiff of that in J’s posts as well. J., I’m not sure if it’s intentional or not, but it seems like you hold all that Joseph says to be absolute doctrine that cannot be changed, built upon, or added to by successive prophets and apostles. Have I misinterpreted?

  40. Mark Butler says:


    No I am not saying we are the Eternal Father now. I am saying however that the body of Christ is the Saints here on earth, and that if we are righteous we shall be exalted as he, and become one with the Eternal Father, who is the concert of the exalted, represented unto each one of us by our heavenly father by divine investiture.

    So no man ever becomes Elohim – he only represents Him (the divine concert). Same deal – no man ever becomes Christ (all by himself) he only represents Him (takes upon himself His name). But eventually sons become fathers, and the Son becomes the Father. Thus eternally we might say that the Son is the Eternal Father, because no one rises to the same station except by following the path provided. God is no respecter of persons, all will eventually have the same privilege under the terms and conditions provided.

    For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.
    (1 Cor 12:12)

    For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.
    (Romans 12:4-5)

    Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.
    (1 Cor 12:27)

    Paul knew, understood, and preached this doctrine.

  41. I wouldn’t count LeGrand as being authorized doctrine today (though it probably was at one time – but so was Brigham’s views). I’m not sure what the authorized doctrine of theogony is…I would guess that there isn’t one. There is no question at all the it is authrorized doctrine that we should worship Jesus Christ (Connor even quotes President Hinckley, the BoM and lds.org to this effect in other posts).

    As to what my own beliefs are, well, you asked.

  42. As to what Joseph Smith believed, well, I think as the great Revelator of our doctrine and Temple rituals, he has the prime perspective. I’m not aware of any revelations subsequent to him on these matters.

  43. I have always understood that God and Christ are glorified through their creations,(i.e. Us) If we become as they are, perfect, that is all added unto their glory. Therefore, even without they themselves progressing, they remain greater than we, because they are glorified in us. So it is impossible to surpass your creator in glory and perfection, problem solved, end of story. This leaves no problems with diminishing God or the Savior, no heresy of God still progressing (He is perfect, but continues to gain glory through his creations.) I’ve always thought this a rather profound solution to the doctrinal paradox of eternal progression. I do shudder a little at the Elder brother-ism that seemed to permeate the church as I was growing up. I agree, Christ is fundamentally different than we. We cannot know the Father except through Christ, He created the Earth, he atoned. We will always be in his debt. All the glory we receive as we take upon us his name is added unto him.

  44. Mark Butler says:


    The trinity is a three persons in one God doctrine. Neither confusing the persons, nor dividing the substance, right?

    Now personally, I see the Trinity as not three persons but ultimately thousands of millions of the righteous, divided into three stages of development: the pre-mortal life (the Holy Ghost), life on earth (the Son), and life after death (the Father).

    Then the Holy Ghost (the head), the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Most High God are the three persons that lead this tripartite division. So we might be considered either trinitarians or my favored term: tripartite infinitarians.

    The core doctrine of Christianity is taking upon the name of Christ and becoming joint heirs with him by following his example of service and sacrifice, and that has vast implications that the Christian world has been handily neglecting for nearly two millennia now. Paul is so explicit it is a wonder they miss it completely. And all too often, we as well.

  45. Mark Butler says:

    I too think of the words of Joseph Smith as the cardinal reference for latter day prophecy (after the Canon), however I read him completely differently. Either that or he didn’t know what he was writing, which I find incomprehensible, as a general principle.

  46. Thanks J….to be clear, I’m not attempting to criticize your views, just to clarify them.

    I didn’t mean to suggest that the isolated remark of LeGrand Richards should be given too much weight—it is simply one example of many similar authorized statements. Here’s a quote from Gospel Principles:

    Every person who was ever born on earth was our spirit brother or sister in heaven. The first spirit born to our heavenly parents was Jesus Christ (see D&C 93:21), so he is literally our elder brother (see Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 26). Because we are the spiritual children of our heavenly parents, we have inherited the potential to develop their divine qualities. If we choose to do so, we can become perfect, just as they are.

    You speak of Joseph’s “revelations;” do you consider the Sermon in the Grove and KFD to be revelations? Or, if not, what revelations are you refering to? Or are you just referring to the idea that JS had many general revelations about the nature of God, and subsequent leaders did not?

  47. I forgot about the Gospel Principles Manual. It is like the last hold out; now that they have removed it from the Missionary Library, I wonder if they will replace it in Sunday School? But definatly authorized.

    Yeah, I think that there is a significant amount of evidence that Joseph had a more revelatory (i.e., access to revelations of the spectacular sort) life than subsequent prophets. Like section 107. We know that he had a vision and he talks about the vision, but we only get part of it. So, I tend to weigh his preaching, especially on the “Nauvoo Doctrines,” as the best sources.

  48. Elder Brotherism–

    Sentimental pop religiousity. Can’t stand it.

  49. cj douglass says:

    So as Jehovah He is worshipped as God. Then after he offers an infinite atonement for all mankind – that’s when we stop worshipping Him? Yeah, makes a lot of sense.

  50. Mark Butler says:

    J. Stapley, I do not understand your position with regard to what Joseph Smith taught. Allow me to quote from the Sermon in the Grove:

    In the very beginning the Bible shows there is a plurality of gods beyond the power of refutation. It is a great subject I am dwelling upon. The word Eloheim ought to be in the plural all the way through-gods. The head of the gods appointed one god for us; and when you take tgat view of the subkect, it sets one free to see all the beauty, holiness, and perfection of the gods.
    (TPJS, p. 172, capitalization adjusted)

    So it seems rather apparent that Elohim is the one true and living God, beside whom there is no equal, but that He consists of many exalted persons, the elohim (note case). That is what Joseph Smith taught, and that is what we have been ignoring for one hundred fifty years now, leading to serious theological misunderstandings, of which the Adam-God theory was the first.

    Thus when we read any scripture about God, we are usually talking about the Eternal Father – the concert of all the heavenly fathers (and eventually mothers as well), headed by the Most High God (El Elyon). But sometimes we speak of the everlasting Son – the concert of all those who have taken upon themselves His name, a concert led by the Lord Jesus. And other times we speak of the Holy Ghost (the Spirit) – the concert of spirits who serve under His direction.

    God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.

    How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah. Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked.

    They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course.

    I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.

    Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt
    inherit all nations.
    (Psalm 82)

  51. Mark Butler says:

    Jehovah is not a single person [He is married]. The Lord Jesus is only Jehovah by divine investiture. Thus we can fairly use Jehovah, the Great I AM, as the name of the Eternal Father of heaven and earth and all things that in them are.

  52. re 51: That is clearly polytheism.
    But the problem is, Church leaders have said over and over that the LDS are not polytheists. I don’t think they are just playing semantic slight-of-hand when they say that.

  53. Mark Butler says:


    All Christians are polytheists if that is the definition you are going to pick. However, as any good Christian will tell you, there is only one God and three persons – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

    Joseph Smith made this precise argument in the Sermon on the Grove:

    It is altogether correct in the translation. Now, you know that of late some malicious and corrupt men have sprung up and apostatized from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and they declare that the Prophet believes in a plurality of gods, and, lo and behold! we have discovered a very great secret, they cry—”The Prophet says there are many gods, and this proves that he has fallen.”

    It has been my intention for a long time to take up this subject and lay it clearly before the people, and show what my faith is in relation to this interesting matter. I have contemplated the saying of Jesus (Luke 17th chapter, 26th verse)—”And as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of Man.” And if it does rain, I’ll preach this doctrine, for the truth shall be preached.

    I will preach on the plurality of gods. I have selected this text for that express purpose. I wish to declare I have always and in all congregations when I have preached on the subject of the Deity, it has been the plurality of gods. It has been preached by the Elders for fifteen years.

    I have always declared God to be a distinct personage, Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and that the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three gods. If this is in accordance with the New Testament, lo and behold! we have three gods anyhow, and they are plural: and who can contradict it!

    Our text says “And hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father.” The Apostles have discovered that there were Gods above, for Paul says God was the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. My object was to preach the scriptures, and preach the doctrine they contain, there being a God above, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I am bold to declare I have taught all the strong doctrines publicly, and always teach stronger doctrines in public than in private.

    John was one of the men, and apostles declare they were made kings and priests unto God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It reads just so in the Revelation. Hence, the doctrine of a plurality of gods is as prominent in the Bible as any other doctrine. It is all over the face of the Bible. It stands beyond the power of controversy. A wayfaring man, though a fool, need not err therein.

    Paul says there are gods many and lords many. I want to set it forth in a plain and simple manner; but to us there is but one God—that is pertaining to us; and he is in all and through all. But if Joseph Smith says there are gods many and lords many, they cry, “Away with him! Crucify him! crucify him!”
    (TPJS, p. 370, capitalization adjusted)

    Jesus Christ quoted the Psalmist on the same subject:

    Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me?

    The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.

    Jesus answered them, 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, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?
    (John 10:32-36)

    However, I will readily agree with you that the most prevalent conception of exaltation is in error. There is only one true God. Gods (with an uppercase G) is a grammatical error. We can participate in God, but no man (especially a single man) will ever be God all by himself. Nor any couple either. That is hyper-Pelagianism of the worst kind.

  54. It’s not for me to re-hash the “Is it polytheism or isn’t it?” debate. (Or maybe: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Polytheism!)

    I’ll leave it to the anti-Mo’s to make the case that Mormonism is polytheistic and traditional trinitarian Christianity is monotheistic. I’ve never believed it boiled down to that.

    My point was, your posts skew strongly in a polytheistic direction and that contradicts everything I read out of SLC lately.

    If I’m mis-reading you, and I suspect I am, my apologies.

    One of the problems with a post like this, I suspect, is that temple covenants prevent discussion online of some aspects of what the Church teaches and the membership generally believes. Maybe there needs to be an encrypted, TR-holders only blog!

  55. Mark, when you start quoting the source materials for the Sermon in the Grove, then lets talk.

  56. OK Stapley:

    Forgive my confusion here (It is late on the East Coast). But let me summarize what appears to me to be implications of what you are saying here and have said in the past:

    Jesus is not the Son of God in any literal sense. He is God and always has been.

    We are not literal children of God in any sense. We are a different species altogether. We might symbolically be children of God based on some covenant we might make, but are not really offspring of God in any way.

    We can not become like God no matter what – unless there is some kind of reincarnation – because we are not offspring of God. We are simply a different species.

    And all this is based on your interpretations of the King Follet Discourse and the Sermon in the Grove.

    I have stated this quite bluntly, but is this not what it comes down to?

  57. Well, Eric, this is a major threadjack, but I would put it this way:

    We are all eternal and uncreated. We are Children of God Spiritually. I believe Joseph when he says That Jesus and his Father have fullfilled an atonement and that through the atonement we can become “gods” or “Sons of God” (to use the SitG language). I believe the Scriptural account of Jesus conception. My personal view is that humans will not ever be in a Godhead qua the Father. This is from a plain reading of Joseph.

    I’m not sure how this relates to my original post except that I tie Elder Brotherism to Adam-God, which does purport some kind of reincarnation and physiological spirit procreation.

  58. Mark Butler says:

    J. Stapley,

    As it happens there is better and more explicit support in the Canon for everything I just said than in the words of Joseph Smith. He was just confirming what dozens, if not hundreds of scriptural passages already teach. Try D&C 86:11 on for size. Or D&C 93. Or Psalm 82. Or virtually everything the Apostle Paul or his contemporaries ever wrote. A master of bivocal discourse comparable with Isaiah, but with a different focus.

    Now I do not have access to the WoJS, but I can pull the same materials from the BOAP site, and they will confirm almost word for word the same doctrines. This is not a matter of a conspiracy to distort his teachings. Some of them were not properly understood – and it is very difficult to rewrite something you do not understand.

    In the begin the heads of the gods organized the heaven & the Earth-now the learned Priest–the people rage–& the heathen imagine a vain thing–if we pursue the Hebrew further–it reads The Head one of the gods said let us make man in our image I once asked a learned Jew once–if the Hebrew language compels us to render all words ending in heam in the plural–why not render the first plural—he replied it would ruin the Bible–he acknowledged I was right. I came here to investigate these things precisely as I believe it–hear & judge for yourself–& if you go away satisfied– well & good–in the very beginning there is a plurality of gods– beyond the power of refutation— By Referring to the 1st Gen. as in the original Hebrew—that it Read that in the Beginning the Head gods organized the Earth & the heavens &–

    it is a great subject I am dwelling on—the word Elohim ought to be in the plural all the way through– gods—the heads of the gods appointed one God for us–& when you take a view of the subject it sets one free to see all the beauty holiness & perfection of the God–all I want is to get the simple truth–naked & the whole truth–
    (Joseph Smith, SitG, Bullock report, capitalization adjusted)

    There apparently are no other detailed notes of this sermon other than those by Thomas Bullock.

  59. Mark Butler says:


    We cannot discuss the Temple ordinances here, but suffice it to say I believe they teach the general principles I am advocating here (and many other profound mysteries) in reasonably plain terms for anyone who pays proper attention, has an open mind, and has prepared themselves to understand through proper study and pondering of the scriptures as well as living according to its precepts.

    I don’t think that there is anything taught in the temple that isn’t taught in the scriptures however, the temple just gives an abundance of prominent hints as to how the scriptures are to be properly interpreted.

    J. Stapley,

    I concur with you that mortal reincarnation and physiological (viviparous) spirit birth are two of four critical weaknesses in the Adam-God theory as (briefly) taught by Brigham Young. The third is that any person can ever be an uppercase G God of his own lesser person (i.e. as a singularity). D&C 29 and 121 both teach a contrary doctrine. VSB has no presence in the scriptures anywhere, quite the contrary. And mortal reincarnation of Adams and Eves is contrary to the explicit doctrine of the Book of Mormon on the subject of the permanency of resurrection.

    The idea of a necessary biological (viviparous) descent of Adam and Eve or their peers from divine parents is also not taught in the scriptures. Strictly speaking it is a physical impossibility, because Adam, the first man Adam, was the first man of all men, as were his peers (in the first estate). The same with Eve and her peers.

    There was no marriage, nor death, nor viviparous birth in the first estate. Our relationship with our heavenly father(s) was not biological, but spiritual and adoptive. There were no heavenly mothers (strictly speaking) in the first estate – that is the plan for the third, well underway, of which the second is a type.

    The fourth weakness is infinite backward recursion, also not present anywhere in the scriptures, a principle which makes the Creation meaningless, as well as the Fall, the war in heaven, the idea of a Most High, divine power and discretion, Mount Zion, the center place, and on and on.

    So granting such a misunderstanding, where do you see Brigham Young and company distorting the textual record of the SiTG? It is quite apparent to me they didn’t follow it properly themselves. It is hard to rewrite a text one does not understand.

    If one reads the unpublished October 1854 discourse, and others it is clear that Brigham Young still considered Elohim to be a proper name for a single individual, and not the divine concert, or a mantle obtained therefrom. James E. Talmage said the same thing in Articles of Faith (Elohim not being plural), a striking contradiction of the KFD and SiTG.

    So (informally at least) common understanding since Brigham Young is a doctrine of multiple Elohims, i.e. multiple Eternal Fathers. I think that is a strict contradiction of the scriptures. There can be only one Eternal Father. The difference is that I see Him as a concert, and you (apparently) see Him as a singularity (a single person).

    I do not see how eternal marriage fits into your scheme. Does Heavenly Father have a wife in your view? My view is that the Eternal Father is a concert, or Anointed Quorum of exalted fathers and mothers, who rule by the common consent of that body. However it is also apparent that in the first estate it was not so, the new and everlasting covenant of marriage being an innovation prepared for the second, to remedy the weaknesses of the first. A better covenant founded on better promises.

  60. J.,

    not to beat a dead horse, but here’s a quote from Our Search For Happiness by Elder Ballard, which, as you pointed out in a recent post, is now part of the missionary library, and so certainly qualifies as “authorized doctrine”:

    Before the world was created, we all lived as the spirit children of our Heavenly Father. Through a natural process of inheritance we received in embryo the traits and attributes of our Heavenly Father. We are His spirit children. Some of what our Eternal Father is, we have inherited. What he has become we may become.

    I’m sure I could come up with many more examples if the search engine at lds.org wasn’t so sucky. But anyeay, if you think this idea is on the way out, you may be mistaken.

  61. And here’s even more from Our Search For Happiness, this time from page 83:

    Because of some of the things we’ve already covered, you probably have a good idea about our concept of Heavenly Father and the Savior, Jesus Christ. Our feelings about them run deep and are richly personal. God is indeed our Heavenly Father, with all of the warmth, tenderness, and caring that the word father should imply. Similarly, while Jesus is our Lord and Master, full of majesty and glory, He is also God’s firstborn spirit Son, and therefore our Brother. His love for us is therefore familial and personal, as is our love for Him.

    Sounds like Elder Ballard might be an Elder Brotherist.

  62. Thomas Parkin says:

    Give y’all a couple hundred more years and you’ll need a council to foment some creeds about this stuff.

    um … *wink*


  63. Mark Butler says:

    I think that was the Council in Heaven some several eons ago…

  64. Thomas Parkin says:

    They debated what to make of their own natures in the Council in Heaven?

    Both Brother Stapley and Brother Butler have made an assertion that their view is a product of a “plain” reading, and Brother Butler has gone on to assert that one might come to his views by being “proper” in one’s study, attitude of openness, and besides all that living properly. etc. Which is all very bold. A person might find his ideas a little more approachable if he himself demostrated a little more humility – even an admission that while his views may have come to him by proper living, study, etc., in short by personal revelation, they still may be incomplete and will look very different under new light – as ideas always do.

    It seems to me, in any case, leaving my own humility aside, that it is no accident that his digression is refuted by countless authoritative statments over many decades. Heavenly Father is indeed a single being whose face, as Pres Benson said, will be familiar to us. We receive “all that the father has.” I might italisize all. A single being cannot receive all that multiple beings posess and remain a single being. The fact that the name Elohim is plural, and denotes a Council (Book of Abraham), doesn’t make neccesary the idea that there is not also a single Heavenly Father, who presumably presided over that Council.

    I cringe at what I think is being called Elder Brotherism, too. Not because Christ is not in an importnat sense or two our Elder Brother – but because that is only one aspect of His relationship to us, and isn’t the aspect that has allowed him to atone for us and become the author of our salvation. We are all brothers and sisters, in some sense more or less literal, but we cannot atone for one another’s sins. In working out our salvation, our relation to Christ is one of children to Father. When we are baptized and take upon us His name, we get on the path that leads to becoming like Him, we become His children, are spritually begotten into a family which He (Christ) is the Father of (the very Eternal Father). (Mosiah 5:7) So long as we remain on this path of becoming like Him, as children become like adults, like their parents, we will evntually, through his effort on our behalf, become one with Him as He is one with the Father (Heavenly Father). (John 17) And we will receive everything that the Father has. (D&C 84, among many other places) So that while we may take comfort in knowing that Christ also worked out His second estate, and as such stands in a parallel filial relation to us, it is more important, it seems to me, that we understand the way in which we are His children – to think and to speak more of Him in that way. His preeminence over us is hardly bounded (one think of 1 Nephi 1, in which his brillaince far outshines that of the Twelve that follw Him) – though it is ultimately swallowed up, so to speak, in the Fatherhood of Heavenly Father, whose parenthood predates and supercedes, and to whom this family of Christ, the Church of the Firstborn, is presented clean. (D&C 76: 51-69) At least this is how I’d state my understanding today.


  65. “What’s more, they have always been perfect. Something to which we will never have claim.”

    Other than Christ, this assumes facts not in evidence. We know nothing about the mortal life of our Heavenly Father.

  66. cj douglass says:

    you stated, “We worship them because of what they are – God.” I would submit that regardless of whether Jesus is God, we certainly worship Him. That is evident by the weekly sacrament, hymns of praise, emulation and closing every prayer and testimony in his name.

  67. Wow. So much confusion about the very nature of God. I never heard so many strange ideas. I am not at all convinced that the early Joseph Smith and the later Joseph Smith and the Bible are at all reconcilable. The ideas are just too disparate. Many of you seem to be groping toward a sort of quasi-trinitarianism… while others seem to be favoring a radical subordinationism of some sort (Arianism?). Also, worshiping something not God is idolatry. By definition. Period. I don’t know the way out of this chaos other than abandoning all this stuff for the classic Christian Trinity. Just my opinion.

  68. But anyeay, if you think this idea is on the way out, you may be mistaken.

    Perhaps so.

  69. Henotheism. As I woke up this morning and thought of this string over my morning tea, that word came to mind. A brilliant friend of mine was recently telling me about evidence that the (very) early Hebrews were in fact henotheists, not monotheists, and in fact this is similar to the traditional LDS position. Which is really cool.

    That said, I think #68 has a point (although I disagree with her/his second-to-last sentence). This string really does highlight how muddled Mormon understanding of the nature of deity is these days, at least at the pew level. Where is SteveEM on this one anyway?

  70. Which was what I was trying to say originally. We have too many competing “plain” readings. We have had a variety of “authoritative” doctrines on the subject. I often wonder if that is the point.

  71. As to Brigham and the SitG. If I am not mistaken, he was out on a mission when it was delivered. That isn’t to say that he wasn’t intimately involved in Joseph’s theological development. The SitG is one of our best exigesis of the Temple cerimony that we have and Brigham was very involved with that.

  72. Sorry J. RE: #57

    I am a bit dense. I thought, and still do, that your original post begs for questions about the Divine Sonship of Jesus Christ (Spirit Sonship), and our own status as literal spirit children of God. It seems strange that what you consider a major threadjack to me seems the obvious questions.

  73. Brent Hartman says:

    I found that the following poem by Eliza Snow had some interesting insight into the eternities.

    The Ultimatum of Human Life

    Adam, your God, like you on earth, has been
    Subject to sorrrow in a world of sin:
    Through long gradation he arose to be
    Cloth’d with the Godhead’s might and majesty.
    And what to him in his probative sphere,
    Whether a Bishop, Deacon, Priest, or Seer?
    Whate’er his offices and callings were,
    He magnified them with assiduous care:
    By his obedience he obtain’d the place
    Of God and Father of this human race.

    Obedience will the same bright garland weave,
    As it has done for your great Mother, Eve,
    For all her daughters on the earth, who will
    All my requirements sacredy fulfill.
    And what to Eve, though in her mortal life,
    She’d been the first, the tenth, or fiftieth wife?
    What did she care, when in her lowest state,
    Whether by fools, considered small, or great?
    ‘Twas all the same with her-she’d proved her worth-
    She’s now the Goddess and the Queen of the Earth.

    Life’s ultimatum, unto those that live
    As saints of God, and all my pow’rs receive;
    Is still the onward, upward course to tread-
    To stand as Adam and as Eve, the head
    Of an inheritance, a new-form’d earth,
    And to their spirit-race, give mortal birth-
    Give them the experience in world like this;
    Then lead them forth to everlasting bliss,
    Crown’d with salvation and eternal joy
    Where full perfection dwells, without alloy.

    Eliza R. Snow

  74. Mark Butler says:

    jm (#66),

    Actually that is the case with regard to the early life of our Lord Jesus as well. We know that he received not of the fulness at first, but rather grace for grace (i.e. he became perfect). And what are we to make of the following scripture:

    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;
    (Heb 5:8-9)


    I am plainly not an authority. I do not imagine anyone else here is either. It just seems to me that the general conception of a concert of exalted beings is taught plainly by Joseph Smith in the KFD and SiTG and, as he said, the Bible is full of it. That does not mean that concert is not represented unto each of us by one personal heavenly Father. As Paul said:

    For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)
    But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.
    (1 Cor 8:5-6)

    And I further say that as there can be only one true and living God, the doctrine of exaltation requires that any exalted heavenly father and mother participate in Him. So Pres. Benson, when he says we have a personal Heavenly Father is right of course, but that does not mean his power and his glory is of his own lesser person, any more than our Lord Jesus’ is.

    In order to make the doctrine of exaltation make any sense and comply with dozens and dozens of prominent scriptural principles, all heavenly fathers and mothers must work together as one God. The only other alternative is universe multiplication and I think that is ridiculous, not to mention violating the whole ideal of an eternal family, the Anointed Quorum, and the concert of the just.

    In order to understand how to become like Christ, we must understand what Christ is like, and the nature of the body whereby he subdues all things, the body of Christ.

  75. Mark,
    You missed my meaning. I don’t believe anyone here is an authority (myself included). I do believe that everyone here has rationally considered their ideas and believe them to best describe the situation. My “authoritative” comment was directed at J’s last post, that there have been several “official” doctrines regarding the relationship between Father and Son and God and Man over the course of our church’s existence. I, for one, don’t like the implications of either J’s, Geoff J’s, or your theories. Mine are, I think, much closer to the orthodox position (at least the most recent “Millet/Robinson/Maxwell” version thereof). Be that as it may, I think that we are all currently guessing as I believe that we are all good people with equal access to the spirit.

    For me, in many ways, 1st Nephi 11:17 is the most important verse in scripture. It narrows down what I need to know spectacularly. That doesn’t mean that people can’t know more, but I am usually suspicious of those who claim to (at least until I get a bit of revelation myself).

    You offer your conclusions as the great key that unlocks all scripture. I am not saying it can’t be, but I doubt it. I don’t think God really works that way with humanity. In many ways, we are often left to draw our own conclusions. I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with that.

  76. Thomas Parkin says:

    “That doesn’t mean that people can’t know more, but I am usually suspicious of those who claim to (at least until I get a bit of revelation myself).”

    Amen to that. Especially seeing that those who understand the mysteries of God (and apparently MANY do) are also under command to not speak of them beyond that portion generally “given to the children of men.” It is one thing to speculate, learning is impossible without asking questions. Quite another to make claims about the unassailable nature of one’s neccesarily tentative views. I’ve got my own heresies and I stick to some of them, but I generally keep them to myself out of fear that someone might believe what I have to say. When I do speak of them, I try to make sure they are heavily qualified.

    Speaking of which, I beleive that the council that makes up the name Elohim is Mother and Father in Heaven. Hence, God (Elohim) created man in his own image … male and female created he them. Which Preisthood Council presides over a family? Who are the Gods? Mother and Father. Ah, but this is very very tentative. ;>


  77. D&C 121:26-8
    26 God shall give unto you knowledge by his Holy Spirit, yea, by the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost, that has not been revealed since the world was until now;
    27 Which our forefathers have awaited with anxious expectation to be revealed in the last times, which their minds were pointed to by the angels, as held in reserve for the fulness of their glory;
    28 A time to come in the which nothing shall be withheld, whether there be one God or many gods, they shall be manifest

  78. Doc,
    your point?

  79. Mark Butler says:


    I don’t know about Maxwell, but my general impression of Robinson/Millett is an abandonment of anything resembling classical Mormonism for the doctrine of total depravity and a wide variety of other Protestantisms. I agree that the Adam-God theory minus Adam (which may very well still be the most prominent theory of exaltion in the Church) is problematic in several respects, however I don’t think the answer is to dump classical Mormonism, a trend that in doctrine (though not in practice) has been continuing for almost a century now.

    More and more, our doctrine and practices follow what they are supposed to be according to the directions of the D&C, but our theology is rather less coherent than it was in Brigham Young’s era, because as commonly understood it is an incoherent mixture of Protestantism and greater revealed truths. The AGT was the most successful theory of exaltation we have had, hence its continuing predominance minus the HF = Adam equation. The AGT in modern form is now:(viviparous spirit birth of souls enough to populate a whole world for generations, personal direct spiritual parenthood as a Heavenly Father or Mother over hundreds of billions of souls, and absolute power within that domain).

    Personally, I think that is Pelagianism, more or less. But the doctrine of total depravity is no better, because it makes the whole idea of exaltation pretty much a nullity, leads to grace only salvation, ruining the principle of the Atonement, which is that grace comes only by sacrifice. The Santa Claus model of salvation.

  80. HP,
    My point was that it will all make much sense when it is revealed, until then maybe we shouldn’t be so ready to jump on other’s percieved heresy’s because the truth may turn our world upside down. That may be one of the factors that has kept a plain answer from being given. This whole discussion is rather eerily like the council of Nicaea, minus the worldly authority. In short, I’m with you and Thomas that it is okay to take these theories with a grain of salt. I look forward to the day we really understand how it all works.

  81. Thanks, Doc. I thought that might be what you were getting at, but I couldn’t tell. I also thought that you may have been calling me to repentance :)

    The thing is that I don’t believe that Maxwell/Millet/Robinson buy the doctrine of total depravity as outlined in the annals of christian history hook line and sinker. That said, depravity is what is taught in the Book of Mormon, at least as far as I understand it. Regarding Classical Mormonism, don’t we all tend to place classical Mormonism at that point where the “authorized” doctrine happened to match our own prejudices? And we are threadjacking, so sorry J.

  82. I’ve always seen the “elder brother”ism of Jesus Christ as one of the “cultural constructs of Christianity” I am fond of looking for. The basic gist is that people tend to create cultural constructs of diety to make the diety more palatable and understandable to themselves. As an example, I often cite to the Old Saxon Heliand, wherein Jesus basically takes on the characteristics of a Germanic warrior Chieftain.

    To the Saxons, Christ was understood as the great Chieftain. To many in our generation, he has been understood as the “elder brother”. The question is whether or not this is helpful or good.

    As JS and others seem to be pointing out, it probably is not a very good idea to impose our cultural constructs on the being(s) we worship as deity. While some such imposition is probably unavoidable, too much conscious imposition of such constructs actually impedes our understanding of our Savior. Thus, while it may help in the short term as an analogy, such constructs are probably damaging to real faith in the long term- ultimately more like spiritual twinkies than transcendent gospel teachings.

    Just my two cents.

  83. My comment about the greek words translated to “worship” in the KJV back at the original post at Blogger of Jared may be useful in some way in settling these apparent contradictions. Confusion between the greek “proskuneo” and our modern use of the word worship seems to be the main problem, imho.

  84. Jeff Day is certainly right about the word “worship”. It can mean a lot of things in english that don’t correspond exactly with the greek words. I meant, in #68, the strict theological definition of the homage paid to god alone. Reading all these posts I’m struck with two things: 1. How strange Mark Butler’s thoughts sound since I know of no one, Mormon or not, who holds such views. 2. The christian doctrine of creation ex nihilo (i.e. creation from nothing) would help clarify a lot of things for people. I do not believe that we humans are uncreated and eternal, only God is that. We are creatures, that is, created by an act of God. We exist, and continue to exist, because God chooses to keep up in existence. Therefore, we can never become a god since our natures are distinct. God has a divine nature, we have a creaturely nature. This whole idea of becoming a god is foreign to christianity (and don’t bring up eastern orthodox parallels, they are based upon completely different suppositions and have only verbal similarity). We can be united to God, become partakers of the divine nature, but this is through grace not nature. Anyway, whatever you may think of these thoughts, I think if would be good for all to reconsider the implications of the doctrine of creation and what it means to say that humans are eternal and uncreated just like god is.

  85. We’re overcomplicating the issue of whom we worship. The First Presidency said that ultimately we worship God the Father, and that we worship Jesus because God the Father said to. We follow Jesus’s example because God the Father said to, and because Jesus is our perfect mortal example and went through all the trials that we go through. Jesus said: I came but to do the will of the Father. We following the promptings of the Holy Ghost because God the Father said to and because those promptings are ultimately one with the Father. Thus, Jesus stresses in His prayers to the Father that his followers may be one with Jesus, as Jesus is one with the Father.

  86. re: 85
    That’s a nice summary of traditional creedal Christianity (Catholic and Protestant), but the Mormon experience from the get-go rejects pretty much all of it to some degree. Are you LDS, cassianus? Mark Butler sounds pretty darn Mormon to me (for better and for worse! : )

  87. I am not LDS, but am pretty familiar with Mormonism and Mormons, from years of reading and being around many Mormons, and most of Butler’s thoughts sounded foreign to me. Perhaps I need to talk to a few more Mormons.

  88. cj douglass says:

    worshiping something not God is idolatry.

    Jeff Day is certainly right about the word “worship”. It can mean a lot of things in english that don’t correspond exactly with the greek words.

    What exactly are you saying?

  89. I refine what I meant in #85. In english “worship” is also an honorific title such as “your worship”, akin to “your honor” for judges.

  90. Mark Butler says:


    Please understand that to a degree we are talking about the mysteries of godliness here, in part because they are far beyond the pale for Sunday School class. I could make an argument that virtually every single distinctive Mormon doctrine can be found in the Bible, often in rather explicit terms. The problem is when paradoxes or mysteries appear, and then different people end up resolving them different ways, for better or for worse. I happen to think that is partly intentional, but that is another story.

    In terms of the New Testament, the doctrine of joint heirship with Christ – in some cases to the point of personal equality – is quite prominent. Take this scripture for example:

    For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.
    And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.
    And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation.
    (2 Cor 1:5-7)

    That is more than a parallel. It is also worth noting that typically the New Testament distinguishes between the status of Jesus Christ and the Father. Jesus is almost always referred to as Lord, and the Father as God.

    Now that does not mean that Jesus isn’t divine but that he most definitely became divine, a doctrine explicitly taught in the book of Hebrews. First the book introduces the idea of Jesus as the great high priest. Now technically speaking, is a priest God, or does a priest represent God? The former of course:

    For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins:
    …And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins.

    And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee.

    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;

    Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec. Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing.

    Note that the author of Hebrews had much more to say about Christ, but they could hardly be uttered because the audience was dull of hearing. But all the later New Testament authors hint at these things, teaching some of the doctrines outright. However I like Hebrews 2:10-11:

    For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren

    This verse teaches what may be called the doctrine of the distribute At-one-ment. Namely that the sons of God both sanctify and are sanctified (i.e. they are all of one – that Jesus is the captain of their salvation, who was made perfect through sufferings.

    And why is Jesus not ashamed to call them brethen? Because they take upon themselves His name, His mission, and a part of His burden.

    Now if anyone is paying attention notice that Jesus Christ is not ashamed to call them brethren. Isn’t that rather germane to the topic here, that those who take upon themselves His name are not only brethen of Jesus Christ, but also that he is not ashamed to call us brethren?

    Now that is pretty deep doctrine, but it is all over the Bible, and most especially the New Testament.

  91. Dang! I missed the fun.

    Oh well — at least Stapley let the cat out of the bag on his belief that humans and Gods are in fact a different species (as Eric and Ed and others so astutely sniffed out). I think his position is out of step with both Joseph and his successors (though he has a partial ally in Blake Ostler). That will give me fodder for a post tonight or tomorrow I hope.

    I’ll talk about Mark Butler’s unusually detailed (and overconfidently asserted) theology too — or perhaps I will post separately on it in a series on Nacle theologies. I happen to somewhat agree with the basic “divine concert” idea of Elohim, but I disagree with many of the details Mark preaches so vehemently.

    HP/JDC – Very tricky of you to try to lump Elder Maxwell in with Millet and Robinson. I’m not buying that tie-in at all though.

  92. cassianus (85) — now you know at least two of us.


  93. Geoff J,
    I calls it as I sees it ;)

  94. HP,

    Hehe. Alright since I probably won’t cover this at the Thang I’ll ding you here.

    I, for one, don’t like the implications of either J’s, Geoff J’s, or your theories. Mine are, I think, much closer to the orthodox position (at least the most recent “Millet/Robinson/Maxwell” version thereof). (#76)

    What on earth are you talking about here? Not only does Maxwell not fit in with the Millet/Robinson idea, but I am not aware of any of them even covering any of these questions. (IE the issues of whether God was a man who grew into Godhood, whether the Father has a Father, whether there is such a thing as viviparous spirit birth or not, etc.) What position do you think those three men have taken on these theological questions and what is your position on those things and why do you think it is an “orthodox” position?

  95. Geoff,
    I don’t have much time to go into it at the moment (and won’t for at least a month or so). I find Maxwell, Millet, and Robinson all deeply interested in how we become like God and, to my mind, they all talk about it in similar ways. None of them address J’s original thesis directly, except that all three would put the focus of our worship on both the Father and the Son (I think). I personally find Maxwell’s lengthy discussion of becoming a disciple much more divinely directed, motivated, and accomplished than what I read in your posts on the subject (but that may be a misreading on my part). In any case, I believe that what Millet and Robinson propose has directly influenced how many of the current apostles think about God and our relationship to him. I constantly hear their ideas in talks by Elders Oaks, Holland, and Eyring. I know from a good friend that Elder Oaks has endorsed the reading of Believing Christ. As I said, I often hear important ideas of their in Elder Maxwell’s old talks. So, yes, I think I can lump the three together and I do believe that I, in some small way, represent the current “authorized” approach better than you, J, or Mark do at the moment.

    Then again, I may be wrong ;)

  96. Mark Butler says:

    I think HP is right re the “authorized” approache – however the authorized approach flat out does not address the mysteries of godliness. That is why President Hinckley could say that the King Follett Discourse and many related ideas not found in their fulness in the scriptures are not the doctrines of the Church, but that many prominent authorities within the Church had advocated them.

    Minus one minor detail though, Brigham Young’s theological approach seems to dominate. And “biological” spirit birth is the most critical point of his whole approach – especially the idea of heavenly parents having 100 billion first generation descendants. That implies of course that those parents act as or in behalf of the Eternal Father by themselves for an infinite first generation posterity instead of a nigh unto infinite lineal and adopted posterity.

    I think higher ordinances of the temple clearly teach the latter. That is what being sealed into one big family is all about. Brigham Young appears to me merely to have hybridized two different models of exaltation – the patrilineal presidency model (a la Abraham and Sarah) and the model that you get by doing a search and replace for God the Eternal Father and substituting Adam, the father of the faithful, except in the first couple chapters of course.

    Of course Adam probably is a heavenly father by now, but he is certainly not the Eternal Father. Jesus Christ is not Adam’s son – in the only sense that matters, Adam is his. The Adam-God theory is backwards, in time, order, and most especially, in scale.

  97. HP – None of them address J’s original thesis directly, except that all three would put the focus of our worship on both the Father and the Son (I think).

    I know that I also think we should focus our worship on the Father and Son and I am fairly certain both J and Mark feel the same way. So I don’t see any differences there.

    I personally find Maxwell’s lengthy discussion of becoming a disciple much more divinely directed, motivated, and accomplished than what I read in your posts on the subject


    That is a matter of execution and not beliefs. I agree with Elder Maxwell on that subject. I also preach that we should become disciples of Christ. So all you have said is that you prefer Elder Maxwell’s sermons to my blog posts…

    (Did I mention “duh” yet?)

    I believe that what Millet and Robinson propose has directly influenced how many of the current apostles think about God and our relationship to him.

    Have they proposed anything at all about the actual details that are in question here? (“the issues of whether God was a man who grew into Godhood, whether the Father has a Father, whether there is such a thing as viviparous spirit birth or not, etc.”) I haven’t ever read it if they have.

    Elder Oaks has endorsed the reading of Believing Christ.

    The book Believing Christ doesn’t come close to addressing these details so I think this point is moot. It is an inspirational book — I’ve recommended it before too even though I take issue with some of the theological implications of the parable of the bicycle.

    I do believe that I, in some small way, represent the current “authorized” approach better than you, J, or Mark do at the moment.

    Everything I read in your comment tells me you and I have the same opinion on the issues you mentioned. The subjects that J and Mark and I have touched on are details that you apparently no opinion on at all. Then again maybe I’m wrong — do you have an opinion on subjects like “whether God was a man who grew into Godhood, whether the Father has a Father, whether there is such a thing as viviparous spirit birth or not, etc.”?

    If not then what are you actually disagreeing with from J or Mark or me?

  98. Mark: I think HP is right re the “authorized” approace – however the authorized approach flat out does not address the mysteries of godliness.

    Good point Mark.

  99. Brent Hartman says:

    Mark, in reference to the Adam-God doctrine, I think Brigham hit the nail on the head when he said, “Some years ago, I advanced a doctrine with regard to Adam being our father and God, that will be a curse to many of the Elders of Israel because of their folly…It is one of the most glorious revealments of the economy of heaven, yet the world holds it in derision. Had I revealed the doctrine of baptism from the dead instead of Joseph Smith there are men around me who would have ridiculed the idea until dooms day. But they are ignorant and stupid like the dumb ass.”

  100. Mark Butler says:


    A few years back I read a very extensive book on the Adam-God doctrine written by a Mormon “fundamentalist” type. I can’t say I appreciated the attitude, in fact it rather disturbed me, but it quoted no end of documents establishing the history of that doctrine from October 1854 until the present.

    As you might imagine, they presented the gradual rejection of the Adam-God doctrine (making it at best a theory, but more accurately now an official heresy) by the Church, in terms of apostasy by every President of the Church succeeding John Taylor.

    President Joseph F. Smith completely rejected it and had that principle taught in General Conference. He was ordained an Apostle in 1866. He became a counselor in the First Presidency that same year, and I believe remained in the First Presidency until he became President himself in 1901.

    During that period he had ample opportunity to become familiar with the Adam God theory – several letters were written regarding it during that time, and it even made a brief appearance in the St. George Endowment.

    Now Joseph F. Smith’s strategy was not to say Brigham Young made a serious theological error, but rather to deny that he ever taught such a doctrine (remember the original talk was never published). However, the general idea was out in the wild, and though Pres. Woodruff rather explicitly told the Elders to quit worrying about such things, it formed one of the twin kernels of the Brighamite apostate movement (the other being polygamy).

    And why are they Brighamites? Because they rather explicitly not only regard Brigham Young as the greatest prophet, but rather preach and teach that every President of the Church since John Taylor is an apostate. This is not the Church of Brigham Young, it is the Church of Jesus Christ, and the leaders of the Church have the authority to declare binding doctrine by revelation, and they have declared that the Adam-God theory is flat out wrong on several occasions, most recently in everal talks by President Kimball and Elders Mark E. Petersen and Bruce R. McConkie.

    Now I think that one might quibble with the previous practice of denying that Brigham Young ever taught such a doctrine, but I won’t quibble with their authority to proclaim that the theory is quite wrong, and the likelihood of rather explicit revelation confirming that fact.

    The problem is the Adam God theory contradicts the doctine of resurrection, it contradicts any viable interpretation of Genesis / Book of Moses, it contradicts the whole idea of the Fall being something that mankind was morally culpable for (cf. D&C 20:20), it leads to a enormously overblown conception of exaltation with near fatal moral hazards, it leads to hyper-Pelagianism, it contradicts the Book of Mormon and the New Testament regarding the natural man, and on and on.

    I posted on some of the additional problems with it today over at Millennial Star:


  101. Mark,

    “and it even made a brief appearance in the St. George Endowment” … 25 to 50 years is brief? Maybe.

    I’d be interested in how you think it contradicts (1) the doctine of resurrection, (2) any viable interpretation of Genesis / Book of Moses, (3) the whole idea of the Fall being something that mankind was morally culpable for, and (4) the BoM/NT regarding the natural man.

    I also can’t see how it can be considered an enormously overblown conception of exaltation considering what being Gods would entail anyway. In fact, it seems vastly more simple than exaltation to an “orthodox Christian” view of Godhood.

    And what are these “near fatal moral hazards” you say it has?

    Also, if Brigham taught and believed it, how do these hazards and pitfalls you mention affect his actions in life and in his calling as president of the Church?

    To the contrary, I think when followed out the idea itself brings forth amazing beauties in the doctrine of resurrection, and the blessing of eternal LIVES.

    The Book of Moses, especially chapter 1, makes absolutely no sense anyway in relation to today’s established LDS neo-orthodox doctrines regarding Jehovah.

    The fall is something mankind was culpable for, and according to this type of theology Adam would have descended from his station to perform the great work of become culpable for it, something any Christian should be able to appreciate.

    It seems that Brigham and his contemporaries had an easier theology to get a handle on than today’s patchwork quilt.

  102. Jeff, I believe Mark has a whole post related to that topic at Millennial Star. I recommend you (and Mark, and….) take this particular debate/carnival of oddities over there.

  103. Mark Butler says:

    Jeff D.,

    I readily concur with Steve – if you want to discuss the (de)merits of the Adam God theory, let’s do it over in my current Millennial Star thread on the topic. Please cut and paste your last comment over there, and I should be able to respond in the morning.

  104. Very fine. Didn’t mean to thread-jack this. Pasting it over at the other place now… ;-)

  105. Geoff,
    J’s original post was concerned with whether or not we should be worshipping Christ. I never said that you, Mark, or J didn’t advocate that. I did say that all of our respective comments on the nature of godliness constitute a threadjack from the original point. I don’t like your theory of godliness because I believe that the scriptures preclude any form on reincarnation. I don’t like J’s theory because, while I do believe that there is a big gap between us and God, I don’t believe that it is insurmountable with God’s grace. I don’t like Mark’s theory, because I think it stands our understanding of the nature of God on its head (that being that God is an individual, not a collective). I think that the stuff about being a disciple (found in all the sources I have quoted) is a lengthy explanation of how God makes us like him in this life and the next. The difference in how I view this and how you view this is that while we both agree that both the individual human and God are involved in the process, you seem to believe that we mostly change ourselves and I believe that God mostly changes us. So, there you go.

  106. Mark Butler says:

    Unto us, God is an individual. Any certainly any god is an individual. Jesus is an individual, his Father is an individual, and the Holy Ghost is an individual. And yet they are one God.

    So why can’t they admit more persons to the divine compact? Isn’t that what the intercessory prayer is all about, among many other things?:

    Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

    22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
    (John 17:20-23)

    We might also profitably consider why the Lord said “Endless is my name”.

  107. Mark,
    I don’t deny that divine unity is something unique and remarkably different to any purely earthly experience. I have my doubts that it is analogous to the Borg collective (which is where I feel you are going with this).

  108. HP,

    First, the post was not only about whether we worship Jesus in our church because J slipped in several of his personal views on how Jesus and the Father are ontologically different than humans. Therefore, despite J’s and your claims that discussing that issue is a threadjack it isn’t (see #57 and #73 — Eric is right I think). If a doctrine is included in he post then I don’t think discussing it in the thread is at all a threadjack.

    Second, I am fine with you not liking the way that I or Mark or J reconcile the teachings in the King Follet Discourse and Sermon in the Grove with scriptures. Maybe all three of us are incorrect in how we go about it. I did object to you claiming that you reconcile those difficult questions on the currently “authorized” or “orthodox” way because it is clear to me that your approach is to not try to reconcile the difficulties at all. Now as Mark said, ignoring the late sermons of Joseph is the official approach lately but pretending the KFD and SitG don’t exist is not the same a seeking to reconcile them with scriptures.

    Last, I agree with Mark (and Joseph Smith) regarding the issue of Elohim being a plural word. If you are going to evoke Borg then you must admit that the 3 in 1 concept is just as Borg-collective like as more members of a divine oneness (even if on a smaller scale). That argument bites any believers in multiple persons constituting one God.

  109. Geoff,
    I unapologetically accept canonized works of scripture over uncanonized. When the canonization process includes the KFD, SitG, and other semi-secret, poorly recorded doctrinal discourses, I will certainly give them more thought and more weight in my personal doctrinal know how.

    I don’t deny that Mark is trying to grapple with the doctrine of the many and the one and that it is an issue that we all struggle with. All I am saying is that he leans far more toward the many than I am personally comfortable with.

  110. I unapologetically accept canonized works of scripture over uncanonized.

    As do I. Don’t we all?

    The problem is properly interpreting the canon. The KFD and SitG are not competing with canon, they provide new goggles through which to read the canon in my opinion. The question is whether we want to use the goggles Joseph Smith used at the pinnacle of his prohetic mission or do we want to reject them and use the old creedal goggles. My suspicion is that your boys Millet and Robinson like the view through ther creedal lens of the scriptures better than the startling new views we get through the lens Joseph Smith gave us. I’ll take Joseph’s veiws over creedal views any day. (But I readily admit that there is debate over what Joseph really meant in those sermons too… thus the difference of opinion between guys like Stapley and Ostler and me.)

  111. “My suspicion is that your boys Millet and Robinson like the view through their creedal lens of the scriptures better than the startling new views we get through the lens Joseph Smith gave us.”

    Cool! Their my “boys”. I’ll have to let them know. In any case, my point is that I am not alone in accepting the Millet/Robinson/Maxwell/Oaks/Holland/Eyring approach (as you all readily admit). Those are all folks who (I assume) have examined KFD and other poorly recorded discussions as thoroughly as possible and have come to the conclusions they have come to. From my one-time reading of the KFD in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith years ago, I don’t see anything that substantially clashes with the approach I take. I know that J favors other versions. I don’t know the critical issues involved, so I can’t comment on why he does so.

  112. I am not alone in accepting the Millet/Robinson/Maxwell/Oaks/Holland/Eyring approach

    My point is that refusing to discuss it is not an approach at all. Of course we only have access to the public discussions of these men so none of us know their actual theological approach they individually use in understanding the KFD and SitG. (And again, Millet and Robinson have no business being lumped in with apostles. Do you really think that highly of them?)

    Those are all folks who (I assume) have examined KFD and other poorly recorded discussions as thoroughly as possible and have come to the conclusions they have come to.

    What exactly are those conclusions for each of these men? If they refuse to talk about the details publicly then you are only guessing about their conclusions. So how do you know you agree with any of them or that any of them agree with each other?

    From my one-time reading of the KFD in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith years ago

    Aye aye aye…

    I don’t see anything that substantially clashes with the approach I take.

    HP, you don’t take any approach. Pretending these issues don’t exist is not taking an approach regarding them.

  113. Geoff,
    Have you stopped to consider that not taking a position is a position in itself? If the current prophets and apostles don’t feel a great need to grapple publicly with the intricacies of 150 year old diary entries regarding doctrines that were apparently poorly understood at the time of their revelation, I don’t understand why I am less of a Mormon if I don’t run right out and hop on it myself. At the moment, my position is that it really isn’t that important.

  114. Yes! That what I’m saying. You are free to ignore the subject. You are not less of a Mormon for doing so.

    But all along you have been saying that you disagree with the takes I and J and Mark have on the subject because you agree with the take Millet and Robinson and several apostles on it. What you really mean is you don’t like our takes but you don’t have an alternative take at all. Rather, you prefer not to think about it.

    That is fine if you don’t want to think about the subject. My point is this: Don’t imply that the take that I or others have is somehow contrary to some “official” or “authorized” view on this subject. An official or authorized view does not exist.

  115. Geoff,

    I apologize. I am firmly of the belief that there is no “official” view on the subject of how God became God, how Christ and God and we differ, and so forth. The “authorized” view of these matters is best considered one of benign neglect. I should say that my current position is primarily one wherein I think you are all wrong but I don’t have the time at the moment to educate myself sufficiently to argue specifics. Hence, my general condemnation earlier. However, my lack of regard for your pet theories certainly doesn’t mean that they are heretical or blasphemous. I am certainly no authority on the subject.
    I should say that I believe that Millet, Robinson, et al do offer a different take on how we become like God than I see in your theories. I don’t know that they ever really discuss where God came from, which is where I would say they have no opinion on the matter. But when they talk about becoming a disciple, they are talking about becoming like God.

  116. Mark Butler says:

    The reason why this is a big deal is that the doctrine of grace is intricately tied to the doctrine of exaltation. I really haven’t studied Robinson/Millet in detail, all I know is they both seem to believe in total depravity and total inability. And the whole idea behind both ideas is that man is so infinitely separated from God that any mortal effort amounts to less than nothing.

    Now I should say that is a halfway decent approximation, as long as one understands the true nature of God. And it is also true that At-one-ment is necessary to accomplish good works of lasting value.

    However, in contemporary LDS thought it leads to a position like J. Stapley’s – that the Godhead is composed of three personal beings that are infinitely different than us, that we can never contribute one iota to their glory. Thus exaltation is impossible, only glorification as the Protestants teach – basking forever in borrowed light.

    Thus taking upon ourselves the name of Christ is a token only, and not actually effective in making us joint heirs with our Lord Jesus Christ. More Augustianism.

    Now while, per instruction, I shall not discuss it here (go to Millennial Star for that) my understanding of the doctrine of the name of Christ is that the scriptures are riddled with synecdoche where Jesus represents the greater reality of all the true sons and daughters of God, who suffer in his holy name, according to the sacrifice that our Lord requires of them.

    And because this principle is confusing, the prophets, particularly the authors of the New Testament, use constant synecdoche to switch back and forth, even speak on multiple semantic levels at the same time. Now if this were not the case, a strict conventional interpretation of the scriptures does indeed imply the doctrine the way the Protestants (and Catholics as well, as a rule) teach it. But the scriptures are full of riddles to make sure that no one can reconcile that interpretation, lest they error (hence the problem with binding creeds).

    So the number one problem in contemporary LDS theological discourse in my view is trying to reconcile an irreconcilable conception of the nature of the true and living God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent. Can’t be done – hence the flight to Protestantisms.

  117. Mark Butler says:

    Which are worse than what we started with…it is always better to a rough and ready (non-systematic) theology than a bad systematic one, despite the greater intellectual respectability of the latter. Inspiration can fill in the gaps of a rough and ready theology, but systems are usually incorrigible – hence the contemporary return to scholastic Calvinism and TULIP in the Protestant world.

  118. Mark Butler wins by virture of his use of the word synecdoche !!!

    But seriously, Mark, how would you resolve this “number one problem” and stem the move toward Protestantism?

  119. Mark Butler says:

    Thankfully that is the Lord’s job. However, the way I see it doctrinally speaking certain Protestantisms teach a better approximation of the humility we should have relative to the Lord than the moral hazards of the way many (improperly in my view) understand the doctrine of exaltation, and hence the doctrine of the Priesthood, in a way that is contrary to the doctrine of the At-one-ment.

    In other words, a shift in the direction of Protestantism to a degree is a healthy thing in terms of practical behavior – it is also far easier to comprehend – milk before meat and all that. If one understands exaltation as the process of becoming a personal, absolute, sovereign, and independent instance of God instead of a humble bearer of His name the way the Lord Jesus was it leads to near fatal errors, what I call hyper-sovereignty or photocopier theology.

    Now of course we normally emphasize the personal aspect of God in the Latter-day Saint world to the degree that we use “God” as a synonym for a single exalted individual, where the rest of Christianity uses the term to refer to the Trinity – a mystical union of three individuals – neither dividing the substance, nor confusing the persons. Technically speaking they are accurate, and our shorthand is not, and that should give us a clue as to what exaltation is really like.

    The scriptures are emphatic that there is only one God, infinite and eternal. We need to get our nomenclature straight if we hope to understand our theology. Otherwise the accusation is liable to be correct that we are tri-theists or worse, polytheists. We are neither, in the sense that matters. There is only one true and living God, and multiple persons.

    The Father could not be God without the Son, neither the Son without the Father, neither the Holy Ghost without both of them. And yet not three Gods, but one God, infinite and eternal. There is a great mystery in this. I posted on the subject today at Millennial Star.

  120. Doesn’t a shift towards Protestantism sort of represent going backwards, back into apostasy? Opposite of restoration? Even on a personal level, I came to Mormonism because I could not accept Protestantism – it presented a message that was unacceptable in my opinion, and the Mormon differences actually made a difference (primarily, work performed for the dead, and the idea of exaltation.)


  1. […] Note: for further discussion on this topic, visit Blogger of Jared or By Common Consent. […]

  2. […] Yeats was far more of a mystic than I can pretend to be. My worry is a little different than his, one I admittedly wrest with difficulty from Yeats’ text: Mormon Studies, if left unchecked, may kill our Mormonism. Our endless discussions, exegeses and theories threaten to sap us dry, and rob our worship of natural contentedness. Some of us find God in the complexities of the system, the magic of the ritual and the hierarchy; I say, the Devil is in these details. I am beginning to believe that the more layers of rites, theories and speculation we have between us and the Creator, the more diluted our salvation. […]

  3. […] There have been posts recently here, and here, which directly or indirectly call into question the fact that we are literal spirit children of Heavenly Father. Or more specifically Heavenly Parents. It seems that there are those who claim to believe that we are not literal spirit offspring at all, but are beings who are quite different from God. They seem to forward the idea that the parent-child relationship between God and us is a symbolic relationship, and is really only a covenant that was made. A comment was even made that this covenant relationship is better than a literal parent-child relationship. I have read where some think the idea of a literal parent-child relationship was a strange idea forwarded by Brigham Young, and perpetuated by cultural over belief by folks like Bruce R. McConkie. Hogwash, I say. […]

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