Oh brother, where art thou?

I was delighted to see the recent issue of the International Journal of Mormon Studies; the table of contents has much to entice the reader. I’ve skimmed a few of the papers and will likely review them as I have time. Here, however, I’d like to make a few comments on John Walsh’s article (PDF) treating the silly criticism that Mormons view Satan and Jesus as brothers.  (Note:  This is not the John W. Welch who is associated with BYU.)

While I agree with Walsh’s general perspective, the devil is, as we say, in the details. Besides Walsh’s claim that creedal Christians view Jesus’ soul being created ex nihilo at his conception (something that I don’t believe is accurate – see John 1), my basic criticism relates to his strange assertions regarding normative Mormon Doctrine.

My first concern was Walsh’s sources for doctrine; Mormon Doctrine and Doctrines of Salvation are an odd place to look for normative thought in the contemporary Church. After the basic appraisals of Mormon belief, Walsh gets into the nitty gritty of premortal cosmology, which forms the basis of the real titular concern. But Walsh is a partisan of one strand of Mormon thought and asserts it as the only Mormon doctrine, wrapping his entire argument around the position: Tripartite Existentialism. Alas, Walsh wants spirits to have been “procreated” by God the Father (I do think that like Pratt and Young, many Mormons believe spirits were gestated in a celestial womb). Instead of going back to Joseph Smith (“God never did have the power to create the spirit of man at all”), Walsh takes Roberts and runs. Bizarrely, he even cites McConkie in his explication of the tripartite cosmology, when McConkie clearly thought the enterprise was rubbish.

Walsh’s key point is that “while it is a Mormon theological dogma that both Jesus and Satan received premortal spirit bodies from the Father, I believe it is improper emphasis to create a brotherly relationship based on it.” While I appreciate and agree with Walsh’s subsequent discussion of the associated belief that Jesus is our “elder brother” (a trend I have occasionally called elder-brotherism), I think that his points are weakened by the emphasis on tripartite existence. Without it and speculations on spiritual procreation, his point would have been wildly strengthened. References to critical editions of source material instead of the historiographically flawed Teachings, and History of the Church would have also added to the article.

I would have appreciated a broader treatment of Satan and his relation to God and Christ in Christian thought. I suspect that despite divergences in ontology, Mormons are closer to their creedal cousins on this issue than most suspect.


  1. Korey Horr says:

    You are correct about creedal Christians not believing that Jesus was created ex nihilo. Rather, as the second Person of the Trinity, He is co-eternal with God the Father and the Holy Spirit.

    Satan’s relationship in creedal Christianity (at least as far as I know) is that of the most prominent of the rebellious angels, and the primary antagonist in the story of salvation.

  2. “God never did have the power to create the spirit of man at all”

    Does that mean we were all created ex nihilo?

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    Good points, J. As a criticism from other Christians I find it pretty cynical, given that other Christians too believe in a fall of Satan. So I agree that broader Christian thought needs to be explicated on this subject.

  4. Good grief. There you go again, ragging on Roberts. I can’t take this.

    Actually, I’m a little sympathetic to the use of TE. What the heck, to write an article like this, you have to start with some assumption about what Mormonism sanctions in the way of doctrine. TE may be sanctioned in the other sense, but I think it’s still pretty normative.

    And of course you are right about jettisoning all that baggage and going with an adoptive scheme. That takes care of the problem altogether. In a way however, TE does this, by making the mind of the person self-existent. Going with the Talmage scheme leaves you completely open to the Jesus and Satan are brothers (and all the shock-vibes that go with it I guess).

    I’m afraid your review makes the article appear to be more of a problem than a solution. Too bad. Don’t articles have to be refereed in this rag?

  5. Hee hee. I’m not ragging on Roberts, WVS; I have a great deal of respect. I just don’t think it is normatively Mormon (grin).

    Tracy, a common reading is that there was no creation at all.

    Korri, you need to work on that handle.

    Kev., I agree. I’m not an expert on this, but I have read Christian treatments of angels as being sons of god, ontologically distinct from humans.

  6. I’ve never seen what the big deal was in the Jesus/Satan brothers thing. If we are all children of God, I can deal with the best and the worst of us being brothers. I’ve never understood why it was given any significant thought. (Or Elder Brotherism, for that matter.)

  7. J. – I STILL think Truman Madsen made Tripartite Existence much more normative than you seem to acknowledge.

    Tracy M. – rather than creatio ex nihilo, the idea is we are all self-existent beings who neither have beginning or end, like in Abraham 3:18

  8. Korey Horr says:

    J.-“Korri” is a rather feminine spelling, though, don’t you think?

    Matt W., I think that non-Mormon Christians bring it up in a critical way for two reasons:
    1. The shock value of the statement
    2. The idea of Jesus having any siblings means that He is a created being, which is an implicit denial of His divinity and place in the Trinity. Which, since creedal Christians are trinitarian, is proof positive that Mormonism is a non-Christian cult.

  9. Korey — But only certain segments of Mormons buy the viviparous birth theory. So I suppose those saints could be categorized as non-Christian if you detach them from their deep and abiding Christology.

  10. I agree with J largely on this point. Early Mormonism really did preach that all angelic/human beings are siblings, and that includes the fallen ones and the great exemplar of the rest, Jesus. If you want Jesus to be brother to humans you’re stuck with Jesus as brother to the fallen.

    Of course, as people have indicated, this is really a story about whether Christ is separate from “creation” or a part of it. Mormons believe he is part of creation in complex ways, while creedal Christians tend not to believe he is part of creation. The Jesus-Satan brothers thing is rhetorical grandstanding and name-calling, but there is an actual theological difference underlying it.

    Also, on this note, I understand that Douglas Davies has a forthcoming book (this fall) on Jesus, Joseph, and Satan, that treats this topic at length.

  11. Douglas Davies, what a man: http://www.dur.ac.uk/theology.religion/staff/?id=663

    smb — Do you know the tentative title?

  12. Korey Horr says:

    Tod-Viviparous or not, in Mormon theology, Jesus was somehow created or organized into existence by God the Father, and as smb indicated in post 10, it is this idea of a created Jesus that causes the creedal Christian’s consternation.

  13. Created how? I have always held the belief that Christ has maintained his identity from eternity, his appointment as Savior is not creation in my view but relational. He had no beginning and therefore no end, just as all spirits. What Mormon theologians are you citing?

  14. Korey — I apologize for my tone. Not very kind of me. Your thoughts are appreciated by me.

  15. Korey Horr says:

    Tod-You’ve caught me off guard inasmuch as citing a specific theologian is concerned. I’m only just now beginning to deepen my study of Mormonism, and cannot give you a specific name, although my thinking ran along the lines of the McConkie quotation from the link in the original post. My (apparently erroneous) understanding of McConkie’s idea of eternal “intelligence” was of this self-existent, amorphous spirit matter that God just sort of scooped up and shaped into individuals, as opposed to eternal individuals.
    Although, I maintain that the conflict with creedal Christianity still remains, as Jesus, though eternal, is not a part of the Triune Godhead, which doesn’t gel with a trinitarian’s ontology of God.

  16. Korey Horr says:

    Tod – Oh, you don’t need to apologize! I didn’t find your tone to be particularly hostile or anything. Besides, you’re forcing me me refine my thoughts and how I express them.

  17. Fair enough. Eternal individuals are more defendable in the context of why there is evil in the world. If God scooped up spirit element and formed humans, say Adolf Hitler pre-mortal, he could logically be held accountable for not scooping up the right stuff. From my stance, amorphous spirit matter doesn’t jive well and with the current official wording of “The Proclamation” we are to understand gender is eternal and thus complicates the pool of intelligences theory. Unless self-existent intelligent elements tend to flock by gender… Wait what?

  18. “The Proclamation”… actually meaning The Family: A Proclamation to the World

  19. Korey Horr says:

    Well, now I suppose that we are moving into more speculative territory, but for the sake of discussion (and a little bit of fun) I will try to defend the viability of this idea of spiritual raw material.

    Couldn’t Hitler’s actions in mortality be explained through free agency instead of defective spirit element?

    As for gender, from [i]The Family[/i]:

    “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.”

    Unless the Brethren have clarified the meaning here, I feel that, judging from the way the sentence is structured, the word “eternal” might not be saying that gender is without beginning or end (one definition of “eternal”), but rather that gender just has no end (as another definition suggests). That is, once gender is established in pre-mortal life, through organization or gestation of spirit matter, it is set for eternity. This excerpt from the next paragraph seems to support this idea:
    “Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally”
    Unless families are united in the pre-mortal existence (which I believe is largely rejected as “folklore”), then the word “eternally” is saying “without end subsequent to a fixed starting point”. So, gender might not be eternal in the sense that it is an immutable quality that just always exists, and the spirit matter or intelligence could be given a gender upon its organization into a being.

    Does this jive at all with the position of any Mormon theologian, or am I totally out of left field here?

  20. I don’t think we as individuals were scooped from a pool of undifferentiated eternal “intelligence”.

    “Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be. All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.” D&C 93:29

    Intelligence being independent and acting for itself implies to me an individual moral agency that is self-existent for each person, co-eternal with God. I can’t conceive of group independence or group agency.

    This construct does not keep this Mormon from believing that Jesus was/is eternally part of the Godhead. Many scriptures testify of that, and no scripture describes a time or event when one of many intelligenses/spirits became the Son. He always was, as far as I know, as signified by the name I Am.

  21. I agree Clair.

    Korey — I imagine that gender could be constructed in premortality, however it also could be part of the self-existence of spirits from all eternity, as innate as the mind, or identity.

    I also am waiting for our “heavy hitters” to comment in response to my own ramblings. J.? WVS? smb? Scott B.?

  22. Davies’s book seems to have changed titles (or my memory is going), but this is the one I mentioned:

    Tod, I don’t understand your reference–you mean the question of “gender” as it applies to the “intelligences” who became God’s (J and I argue by an act of God’s choosing best understood as the grand exemplum of grand adoption) before their mortal birth? I have no objection to either gender or something like gender being a part of such an “intelligence”; nor do I object to gender being absent from such “intelligences.” As for a theologian on Jesus being “created” as humans were, that’s what JSJ is preaching by the 1840s, and it’s followed by most of the earliest. I don’t do Utah period, so I defer to someone else on a theologian more proximate to the twentieth century. (I understand most of them have significant initials of some sort or another.) Early Mormons are _strongly_ anti-Trinitarian at almost every turn. When creedal Christians speak of Jesus they mean God in some absolutely central sense, when Mormons traditionally speak of Jesus they mean instead the Son of God rather than God (the language they use is very complex and disorienting at times, but that is how I read the early Mormons). That is the central controversy, but getting down to details on this is much less inflammatory than saying “Mormons think Jesus and Satan are brothers.”

  23. Korey Horr, could you please give us some insight into your moniker? An interesting choice for someone who wants to be seen as providing a sincere contribution to a Mormon discussion.

    I also wanted to point out that there is no relation between the John Walsh, who authored the article J. Stapley is highlighting, and John W. Welch.

  24. I think I will go with Walsh on this one – not surprising. I have not read the article yet, but based on your review I think hs is quite right about normative Mormon thought on this.

  25. J, I looked over Walsh’s essay briefly this AM. From a quick read he is saying that Satan is Jesus’s disowned brother, which means he is no longer brother but may have been before he fell. That actually probably does comport with early LDS readings. It’s a bit of spin, but I don’t think it’s objectionable spin.

  26. Aaron R. says:

    Its worth pointing out that Davies has an article in this volume of the IJMS dealing with the themes that seemingly predominate in the book (h/t John F.).

    Also, it seems to me that we can accept Walsh’s thesis, as described by smb, even if we reject tripartite existentialism and accept self-existent spirits (along with an adoptive scheme)?

    J., is your quibble about his use of sources and his characterisation of ‘normative’ Mormon theology or is there something else?

  27. Yeah, I still need to read Davies’ piece. I generally agree, Sam. Satan appears in the divine council within the Mormon narrative and Smith viewed this council as ontologically continuous with humanity (though I generally see a higher Christology in Smith than you do, I think). My major criticism is, as Aaron recognizes, the strange basis for his arguements.

    As a side note, do Calvinists view the fall of Satan to be completely discrete from TULIP?

  28. smb — Can you supply me with some references wherein JS is preaching that Jesus was “created” as humans were in the 1840s? Cheers.

  29. I don’ believe that JS believed that either Jesus or humans were created.

  30. Antonio Parr says:

    The older I get, the more theology seems like “rubbish” to me. The speculative musings of both LDS and Christian thinkers about the origins of Satan/Christ/etc. all have glaring weaknesses that make me almost embarassed for those on both side who fail in their attempts to remove the speck from their neighbors’ eye because of the beam blinding their view.

    To quote the sub-prophet Jeff Tweedy, “theologians don’t know nothing about my soul.”

  31. Korey Horr says:

    john f. (23) – I would like to think that, judging by my previous posts here on BCC, my sincerity is not in question–my knowledge or experience, certainly, but not my genuine interest in and desire for constructive dialogue about Mormonism. I chose the moniker because I connect with Korihor on a personal level. While I don’t share his rabble-rousing tendencies, I do share his skepticism. Also, I’m an outsider to Mormon society, as Korihor was to the Nephites–although, in my case I come among you to learn more and not to condemn. Does the name bother you, john?

  32. Steve Evans says:

    #31 don’t be facetious. Siding with an infamous book of mormon villain and choosing him as your moniker is pretty much guaranteed to alienate and offend. Your sincerity is not in question: people can already tell why you’re here.

  33. Korey, BCC is neither a message board nor the DAMU. Privilege is given to commenters that are forthright and self representative. Disingenuous commenters are generally not welcome, nor are commenters that try to agitate. Yor handle smacks of DAMU trollery, though your comments on this thread haven’t. Don’t be surprised if people distrust you. I would suggest changing your handle if you are sincere.

  34. 28/29. what matters is that both Christ and angels/humans have the same creation status, whatever you want to call it. I think most people would call it “creation,” in the sense of deriving from God’s activities, but some would refuse to call it creation.

    30. i like theology better than arguing about sporting teams but less than reading good poetry or fiction or taking a nap in a mountain meadow.

  35. Like a few others here, I am troubled when other Latter-day Saints try to explain their speculative beliefs as “normative” LDS thought. I’m LDS by every definition but I do not endorse any idea of spirit womb gestation or any idea that Jesus ever was something less than God. I acknowledge that some Latter-day Saints hold these views, but I do not see them as normative. And I am grateful that we do not have an all-encompassing “normative” theology.

  36. If understanding LDS doctrine and theology have been compared to nailing jello to a wall, calling something “normative” sounds bit like narrowing the metaphor by saying “…nailing fruit flavored jello to a wall”.

    Using TPE as a given really does sound to me like it weakens Walsh’s argument substantially. In any case, I agree that the brothers argument is deliberately sensational and designed to inflame emotions on both sides, while ignoring all the nuances of our theology, and someone needs to take those folks to task. This article may not be the one to do that, however.

  37. Maybe the New Cool Thang people need to do a survey on “normative” Mormon belief about premortality. :)

  38. re #31, no it does not bother me but I was grateful for your explanation.

  39. What do I believe? Not viviparous birth!

    I believe strongly that what we have from JS is a nice story, a hint, of what is reality. Reality is so stunning that we can not comprehend it in our present state. What the story tells us is that there is something there and it has the general form of this, that we can grasp.

    It is like the 6 days of creation in Genesis, a hint not to be taken literally. This is what Antonio Parr suggests that theology is rubbish. Well, not entirely, and I enjoy talking and reading about it. These discussions are enormously enlightening. (I wish I were more informed to take part in a deeper, theological level!) The only caution is to beware that we take ourselves too seriously thinking that we really know something.

    For example, I “Stumbled upon” this very interesting and very Mormonesque story which I wish I had written. It fits very broadly into Mormon theology.

%d bloggers like this: