Mormon Jesus?

Some months ago, I sat with a close friend just outside of Heathrow airport. We shared the Chinese food that was apparently prepared by Malaysian chefs, but we also shared deep interests in religion and theology. It was just the most recent meal of dozens over the years, and as was common, our conversation drifted in and out of chemistry, scripture, and belief. Quite appropriate to the context of our discussion, my friend asked, “Now, Mormons believe that Jesus was not always God, right?” Without blinking I replied that while some Christians might reject our formulation of the Trinity, Jesus was most certainly God from all eternity to all eternity. It was only later—some hours after we separated ways—that I reflected back on my response and wondered if I had mischaracterized some Mormons’ beliefs.

I readily confess that I have grown into a thoroughly Nauvoo cosmology over the years. I believe in a cosmology based on the teachings that Joseph Smith delivered in his King Follett Sermon, subsequent Sermon in the Grove, and other temple-related documents. Namely, I believe that spirits were never created nor made, and that “God never did have the power to create the spirit of man at all.” I believe that God the Father was once a man in the same way that Jesus was a man on earth (seriously double check the KFD if you don’t believe me). And I believe that through Christ’s atonement we can be made queens and priests, kings and priestesses to God in eternity, and that the sealings of the temple are real. I’ve chased the theological rabbits down their various holes and this is where I have emerged. I consequently believe that Jesus has, as has the Father, always been God, and that per Abraham 3, they truly are greater than all.

As I thought about my conversation with my friend, I retraced the development of popular Mormon deification beliefs. Brigham Young’s radical (and subsequently rejected) Adam-God teachings. Orson Pratt’s similarly rejected transcendence. It is pretty easy to identify the lines of evolution (hint: a major theme rhymes with Birit Spirth). Still I had to conclude that I actually have no idea what those Mormons who currently believe that God was at some point some random fallen dude in his distant history actually believe about the history of Jesus. For these folks (I presume they exist), is Jesus exalted above the Father, because he not only had the capacity to atone, but because he bears the eternal consequences of that empathy in his soul? Or is it just penal substitution all the way down? Is it just coincidence that Jesus was the first born of God the Father? Was Jesus always God (assuming some sort of spirit creationism) but the Father not? Brigham Young solved the problem with impermanent resurrection, but subsequent church leaders rejected that with extreme prejudice. I must confess that I am at a loss. There aren’t many topics in Church history and belief where I just have no clue. Seems this is one.

As a bonus, I recently reread these posts on Mormon Trinitarianism that are great:

John’s Mormons and the Trinity
RJH’s God
Jason’s Trinity Sunday


  1. “(I presume they exist)”. heh.

  2. You wrote, “Without blinking I replied that while some Christians might reject our formulation of the Trinity, Jesus was most certainly God from all eternity to all eternity. It was only later—some hours after we separated way—that I reflected back on my response and wondered if I had mischaracterized some Mormons’ beliefs.

    I definitely don’t think that you mischaracterized fundamental Mormon beliefs. (Great post, by the way.)

    I agree that we see Mormons who “currently believe that God was at some point some random fallen dude in his distant history” because they believe that Joseph Smith, Jr. taught in the King Follett discourse that God was once a man like we are (see the Lorenzo Snow couplet, which might be the origin of this apparent misreading of the King Follett Discourse and which President Hinckley downplayed in a media interview saying he doesn’t know that we teach that part of it and that it’s not well understood), rather than a man like Christ was. I am similarly puzzled as to what this makes Jesus Christ into, for them — as you ask, “For these folks (I presume they exist), is Jesus exalted above the Father, because he not only had the capacity to atone, but because he bears the eternal consequences of that empathy in his soul? Or is it just penal substitution all the way down? Is it just coincidence that Jesus was the first born of God the Father? Was Jesus always God (assuming some sort of spirit creationism) but the Father not?

    Thanks for linking to my own post about Mormons and the Trinity from December 2014. In the comments to that post, I also wrote the following entirely orthodox explanation (in my view), which seems relevant to this discussion:

    “[I]t appears that Joseph Smith actually taught in the King Follett Discourses that God was once a man as Christ was, not as Adam was (that is, as we are). The latter is a gloss added by Brigham Young in connection with his Adam-God theory, which is not considered canon and was abandoned even in the nineteenth century. Jesus Christ, as the Only Begotten Son of God from the very beginning, was perfect from the very beginning. This is not true with Adam or with any of us, none of whom was already perfect — already God — in the preexistence or here in mortality (of course).

    Mormon teachings about this give ample room for space to discern a qualitative difference between the kind of being that God the Father and Jesus Christ, his Only Begotten Son, are and the kind that we, as God’s children, are. That we are of the same species as them, and therefore have the potential to become like them as joint heirs with Christ through the saving grace of Christ and the Atonement, does not mean that any of us have the potential to atone for anyone else’s sins or resurrect ourselves. That alone was Christ’s ability, acting in perfect harmony with the will of the Father. We simply do not need to reject many scriptural passages from the New Testament expressing the fundamental unity and even indwelling of the Father in the Son.

    But we are of the same substance as them. How could we not be? In our human form, our physical bodies are of the same substance as Christ’s human physical body was, though each of us have a physical body that is separate from his physical body (of course). And, of course, God the Father is the father of our spirits which inhabit our physical bodies. When we are resurrected through the Atonement of Christ, these physical bodies of flesh and blood will be transformed into resurrected, perfected physical bodies of flesh and bone. We will then be of the same substance as both God the Father and Jesus Christ (as they are already of the same substance with each other).”

    I also responded to a question about whether, when we “become gods” we will have to atone for our children like Christ had to perform the Atonement for us as God’s children. In my response, I applied the reasoning above about Christ’s eternal perfection to our own future potential in considering the half of the Lorenzo Snow couplet that President Hinckley affirmed — that we can become like God through the atoning power of Jesus Christ:

    “I doubt that each of us, in the eternities, will need to (or could even) become Saviors in our own right like Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God the Father, is our Savior, having performed the Atonement for us, something which none of us could do for ourselves. Christ was different from us because he was perfect from the beginning and had the divine power within himself to perform the infinite Atonement and resurrect himself, having laid down his own life at his own choosing, by willing it to be so. That is not the mortal existence that we experience, obviously.

    I do not see how one can contend that we are not on a firm doctrinal foundation to recognize the qualitative difference between Christ’s nature as the Only Begotten Son of God and the Savior of the World and our nature as God’s children. It does not require a belief that we are of a different species, or that we are not of the same substance as God the Father and Jesus Christ, but it does require the humility to recognize that there is something special about Jesus Christ that makes him intrinsically One with the Father, co-eternal with Him in perfection, in a way that we are not, as our ultimate perfection depends entirely on the grace of Christ, applicable to us through Christ’s Atonement to the extent that we choose to allow it to affect and perfect us.”

    The thread provided examples of Mormons who believe that Jesus was not perfect from the beginning. I expressed my view that I did not find that to be doctrinally founded:

    “Christ, as a man born of Mary, was able to perform the infinite Atonement and resurrect himself based on the divine power naturally within him as the Only Begotten Son of the Father, both fully human and fully divine at the same time. Neither Adam nor you or I possess these characteristics.

    I find your assertion that Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of the Father, was not perfect from the beginning to be doctrinally unfounded, whether in terms used by JSJ or even later Church leaders in the mid- to late twentieth century, including JFSII and BRM. At the very least, he, as God, created heaven and earth before he even condescended to become incarnate through Mary’s womb.”

    Ronan’s and Jason’s posts prompted similar discussions with similar insights on all sides of the issue being expressed.

  3. If we must have the Nauvoo cosmology (and I don’t think we do), then this is probably about as authentically Christian a way of making sense of it as I’ve read. Well done, Jonathan.

  4. (I suspect that for them the extent and meaning of the Atonement is, indeed, penal substitution.)

  5. J. Stapley says:

    Well, WVS, based on responses so far, maybe they don’t!

    John, that really is such a great post and subsequent comments. Extraordinary. And I must admit that if it really is penal substitution for them, it makes me sad. While any metaphor can be useful, I don’t have any fondness for it.

    Russell, perhaps we’ll get you to pitch your tent in Nauvoo yet.

  6. I’m inclined to agree with J and John’s understanding of the nature of God based on Nauvoo theology. But that does create problems re. a Mother in heaven, right? J and/or John, how do you square your understanding with the heavenly parents of the proclamation?

  7. Personally, I believe that we’re too tangled up in time to begin to characterize, much less understand, the way life works in the eternities. As mortals we’re utterly incapable of explaining the concepts we roughly describe as “forever,” “eternity,” “from the beginning,” “history,” or even “was.” I trust that the universe is made of love and that God wants the best for us; til then, I merely hope that the cosmologies that appeal to me turn out to be meaningful, useful metaphors for the truth.

  8. J. Stapley says:

    gomez, from my perspective, we have so little actual information that it is difficult to say anything. And so much of what we do have is vestiges from deprecated systems. But I don’t see any reason that the adoptive framework that works for a relationship with the Father wouldn’t work for a relationship with heavenly parents. I personally take a fairly radically egalitarian view of eternal relationships, hence priests and priestesses. But I can claim no particular insight into the nature of Mother in Heaven (particularly no more than JS was willing to teach (which seems to have been nothing)).

  9. Leonard R says:

    Does this not still beg the question of generations before or after?

    Recognizing our story is our creation, fall, redemption (and we needn’t spend too much time on stories before or after), Joseph’s connecting God the Father to a mortality like Jesus’ leads to the two-fold question of 1) was the Father likewise a Son, and 2) will the Son also become a Father (who has a Son)?

    Put another way, are there world’s without end, and generations of gods (a la hieing to Kolob), or not? Is Jesus the only Saviour, in all eternal senses, or did he do what his father had done previously (in another round of redemption)?

    While I take the Gods to be a communal grouping (and thus not a one god, one planet/universe, everyone gets their own planet one day), if the Father was once a Son, and the Son will one day be a Father…. then I’m not sure how to understand the “just some dude” idea.

    Or put another way, is the redemption of Christ complete or partial? Regardless the actual history of my life, is not the message of salvation that when I am perfected in Christ, that my history is no longer a negative? That my “just some dude” is both justified and sanctified (and now white as snow)?

    In all this, I’m not fully disagreeing – I also cleave to Nauvoo theology, along with the Book of Mormon’s clear message that Jesus is the Eternal God.

    But I can’t help but wonder how you incorporate the Father’s mortality, whether in the eternal scheme only Jesus was the Redeemer (or prior/later ones for other creations), and most importantly, whether our joint-heir-ship is fundamentally a less-than to Christ’s heir-ship, and thus not “all”.

    Apologies for the “written-on-a-bus-commute” rambling; hope my query is understandable if not clear.

  10. J. Stapley says:

    Leonard, while I think that a fair reading of the KFD suggests that the Father was once a Son, I’m not sure that it is the right question to ask. Whether Jesus is Savior of the world, galaxy, universe, or multiverse is unanswerable, I think. I think the more relevant question asks if the Father has always been God, as Jesus apparently has been. Jesus was God before this earth and was one with the Father in ways that we simply weren’t, moreover he had capacities that we simply didn’t. It appears to me that the question is whether the Father was always this way, and I think that the scriptures and JS’s teachings suggest that he was.

  11. Thanks, J. I recall you hinting towards this a number of times, but thanks for spelling it out (and my apologies if you had and I missed it). One thing that interested me was the fulness that Christ lacked that he then gained as discussed in section 93 and some of JS’s speeches. So I found it interesting that in Buck’s Theological Dictionary under the entry on Origen it says that Origen taught, “The humanity of Christ was so God-like he emptied himself of this fulness of life and glory, to take upon him the form of a servant.” (My footnote says that Origen did say something like that in his First Principles 1.2.8, but I can’t remember what it was). Section 93 and JS’s speeches talk about how Christ then gets this fulness, grace for grace etc. Here’s what the entry in the contemporary Encyclopedia Brittanica listed as the belief of the “Origenists” (not a real groups as far as I’ve been able to determine) “That Christ is the son of God by adoption; that he has been successfully united with all the angelical natures, and has been a cherub, a seraph, and all the celestial virtues one after another.”

    I also go over the KFD statement about Christ doing what the Father did, but missed emphasizing the point about being like Christ, not a regular man. Still I’d be interested in your thoughts (435-38).

  12. J.

    Jesus was god before. Yes. That is established. But I think there are not yet established parts.

    For example, What does being god mean? Jesus was not always the Savior, as he became such in the council of heaven.

    In Wrestling the Angel, Terryl Givens posits that the statement in the Book of Mormon’s sermon on the mount is tell to “be perfect, even as I, or as your father in heaven is perfect.” He states that the resurrected Christ makes a different statement in the Bible because “this distinction is to suggest, that while yet in the spirit, Jesus achieved perfect conformity to eternal law, a fullness of virtue and wisdom that made him divine, Yet his acquisition of a glorified body represented the unqualified culmination of that process.”

    Anyway, good read.

  13. Thanks for this post, Jonathan.

  14. It’s a thoughtful post. For me I have had to give up all ideas on it. I hope for a God who cares about all of us and our experiences. I believe Jesus gave his life for me. What happened before or will happen I can’t process. In our own time we have vacillated on the details beginning with Nauvoo forward that I don’t see how it matters. I am thrilled to see so many people who are sure of their convictions. I hope I will be someday, too.

  15. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks Stephen. You hit the main sections on the Father as archetype for the Son on pp. 436-437. I am unaware if there were antecedents to that idea in neoplatonism or elsewhere. Did you ever run across it?

    Matt, I’m inclined to see that the unity of the Godhead is the prime requirement for being a god. We don’t fuss over the idea of the Holy Spirit being god (at least I haven’t seen people fuss over it, maybe some people do), despite not having a body.

  16. Oh, I just deal with the issue of God as a defied man. It’s sort of an extension of human deification, I argue. And there are a number of mentions here and there of the idea that the gods were once humans. But I also found some interesting stuff from Isaac Newton and Benjamin Franklin (no joke).

  17. deified

  18. Angela C says:

    I don’t know what “real” Mormon belief is, but growing up I concluded that to become a God, you had to first atone like Jesus did in some future iteration. Then you would become exalted like God is. So, in my view, Jesus is subordinate to God the Father and God the Father once trod the winepress like Jesus did to become exalted. To me, that was always what I assumed was required to become a God, but only much later in the temple did I realize that nothing applies to me because I’m just a woman. If that’s the path, somehow women don’t qualify for the God track or at least our earlier theologians never conceived of women as being anything but fundamentally different (and ineligible) creatures.

  19. ” We will then be of the same substance as both God the Father and Jesus Christ (as they are already of the same substance with each other).” from john f

    The return of the “homoousios” discussion from the Nicene Creed to an LDS context. Interesting.

  20. I claim that, koan like, we are supposed to grasp the meaning of the atonement. In some way this is the Mormon equivalent of enlightenment. Having achieved this enlightenment we become true Children of the Father, able to inherit from God, able to converse with God, able to become one with God and his Christ.

    If this is the case, we do not have to literally become the Lamb of God because we have become the Lamb of God, just as meaningfully, in a figurative sense. And, having comprehended the atonement, can truly worship, truly love, God and his Christ.

    We all have our gifts and callings and all are necessary. Christ’s was the principle one upon which we depend, as vines on the stalk. Can not the vine share in the life of the stalk? Where would the stalk be without the vines? Having performed well in our gifts is sufficient to lead to this ultimate relationship. We share in this life and grow from grace to grace.

  21. I think you guys are overanalyzing this. I prefer to look at this through the lens of “Eternal Progression.” God and Jesus are both progressing, as are we. Where They are in the progressive process is a matter for speculation. We do know that they are way ahead of us.

  22. J. Stapley says:

    Angela, that view of progression bears some similarity to BY’s (multiple incarnations), but yeah, everything has been focused on men. I think that is why ERS took to BY’s model. With Eve there was a tangible connection and a biography of female God.

  23. The Other Clark says:

    I guess I believe in a progressing god theory, although I don’t go so far as to believe the “just-some-guy” theory.

    If we accept the -interpretation that Jehovah is Jesus–which I believe is fairly orthodox–, then clearly JC was a God before he received a physical body. BUt to be perfect (i.e. “complete”) he had to obtain a perfect resurrected body. (Well, perfect except for the scars he kept on his hands, feet and side). Does this show progression? And will the Holy Ghost go through this same progression?

    Personally, I have a hard time reconciling the wrathful, jealous god of the OT with the forgiving, patient God of the NT. They see to different to be an unchanging God. So either (1) God progressed and became more, um, “Christlike,” or (2) Jehovah as JC is not true, or (3) it is man’s interpretation of God that has changed. But if (3) is true, of what use is the OT?

    In short, this is something that’s interesting to think about, but not a topic I have a testimony of one way or the other.

  24. I actually had an interesting disagreement over the idea of God progressing with a friend who is more orthodox than I am. He insisted that God is now and always was as he is. I said God is eternally progressing, and that as man is God once was. He vehemently disagreed. I think this is a fundamental difference in belief because if my view is right, I do have a completely different (and more relatable) version of God. His God is essentially another species. Either way, rogerdhansen is right that the difference between me and God at any point in my life is going to be pretty far, but in one view, it’s aspirational. In the other, it’s protectionist. Who we are as humans changes radically depending on one’s view of this.

  25. J. Stapley says:

    Angela, I think that it is interesting that you categorized your friend as more Orthodox. There is just so much flexibility. That said, your narrative is fairly common, I think. Where does Jesus fit in your view?

  26. Wow, lots of great thoughts here. For me, “God” is a job title, and a temporary one at that. It was used for whomever helped create this planet and now for whomever is in charge of this planet. So Adam/Michael was one of the “Gods” who helped create this planet, but no longer had that title or power when he came to Earth. God the Father, God the Mother, God the Christ all retain their titles (no idea if they will no longer at some point). “Savior”/”Christ” is also a temporary title, one given to Jesus when he volunteered and retaining as long as He has care of this planet. (Yes, also believe there is a Savior for each world, our first judge in the afterlife)

    Father and Mother are not temporary titles, but one that describe our relationship with Them. They are the ultimate Gods for us, having been the whole force of creation, existence, and ultimate judgment.

    I think some of the confusion comes when we have such an expanded idea of what “God” is. To us, anyone who can create a planet would be considered a God. To some, a person who can determine when the next solar eclipse could be just below a God. The same with our definitions of time. “Eternity”, “Always”, “Infinite” aren’t measurements, they’re descriptors for measurements we can’t envision the size of.

  27. I haven’t dived ad deep into the Nauvoo cosmology as you, J, but the KFD seems to speak truth to my soul when Joseph talks about the eternal nature of our spirits. I think the key terms are “adoption” and “organize,” in regards to us becoming spirit children of God, not creation or spirit birth. Too much of our other foundational doctrines and our limited formal theology go by the wayside when we start thinking about a spirit birth out of undefined spiritual matter or impersonal elements, particularly the concept of agency.

    I, too, have wondered more in recent years about the nature of God and Christ, and also Mother in Heaven, and even the familial relationship of the eternities. As you point out, the scriptural record on some of these items is limited or almost completely missing, and we resort to various forms of rational thought and promote theories that are limited in scriptural backing as well. Or to paraphrase, “We do not know what we will become, but when we do we will see we are like Him.”

  28. I love this, J, of course. That the Father was a man the way the Son was a man is so much better than the standard formulation (that He was a man like you are a man). However, how do you answer the question of redundancy? Why was God a man *twice*? Why not once or fifty times? If the atonement is not infinite and the incarnation not singular, why do the Father and the Son both need to condescend?

    This is where I betray my appreciation for the Oneness of God (a thoroughly Book of Mormon idea): the Father was very much a man because the Son was a man, because they are One. Whilst this is not your crime (indeed, you wisely counteract it), I find the Nauvoo doctrine generally creates more problems than it solves.

  29. it's a series of tubes says:

    I believe there is a Savior for each world,

    Frank, how do you reconcile that concept with Moses 1:32-33 and D&C 76:41-43?

  30. isaotubes – D&C doesn’t seem to need reconciling. Every time it says “the world”, I’d read it as more “this world”. The Moses passage can mean any number of worlds, not necessarily those inhabited by those given to Him by the Father.

    Much of my understanding of this comes from the Temple, when they talk about “what has been done in other worlds” I believe that in other worlds, when it was not taken by that worlds’ Adam & Eve, the fruit was given by the person who would be the God of that world, in our case, Jesus the Christ. It was part of the plan for them to eat the fruit eventually, when they were prepared for it. It also explains Satan’s cheerfulness supposing he’s the “God of this world”. He did the giving this time, so now he thinks he’s in charge.

    So it works out – fruit eaten, sin introduced, savior provided. Seems nice and neat to me, but I’m always glad to hear different perspectives.

  31. J. Stapley says:

    RJH, those are some fundamentally important questions. And taking a empathetic view of the atonement it is even more complicated, I think. If I were a calvinist who believed in a particular atonement and penal substitution, then the atonement could be quantified and in essence limited. My personal reading of an empathic atonement is that it is infinite, somehow encompassing the full set of human experience. I think that there are a number of ways to deal with an archetypal Father in that system. I don’t suggest that any are correct, but some may be more interesting than others. E.g., the atonement of Christ is general for all those who agreed before the world was to accept it. We suppose that there are as yet innumerable creations yet to be made, and what of those souls who have not as yet become the children of God?

  32. “the other clark” my answer to your dilemma about the OT is to make it a minor scripture. Much of it is ahistorical, ascientific, and aNT. There is certainly good literature there: Job, Ecclesiates, Psalms, etc. But I don’t know how much of it is important to our “eternal salvation.”

    On the question of “Eternal Progression,” I think that is the only thing that really accurately describes the multiuniversese we live in (cosmos). The Process Theologists, JS, and BY got this right. Everything is in a state of flux, including God, Christ, and the planet earth. This model works for me, and I grew up thinking this was an important doctrine of Mormonism. Somehow a static God doesn’t work for me. However, JFS and BRM would strongly disagree with me. But I think their ideas come dangerous close to emulating fundamental Christians.

  33. Angela C says:

    J Stapley: “Angela, I think that it is interesting that you categorized your friend as more Orthodox. There is just so much flexibility. That said, your narrative is fairly common, I think. Where does Jesus fit in your view?” In calling him more orthodox, I had two reasons: 1) he’s kind of a JFS/BRM type whereas I am decidedly not, and as we had this disagreement, I couldn’t help but remember the wording of the missionary discussions which sounded a lot like his static version of God rather than my evolving God.

    Where Jesus fits in (this probably requires multiple mortal probations, BTW, although I’m not quite ready to call it reincarnation), he progressed to the point that the next step for him to achieve Godhood was to become a Savior (there is a Bodhisaatva parallel possible here). Once his atonement was complete, he advanced to Godhood. I assume he eventually becomes a God the Father.

    Like I said, though, it all falls apart because of the lack of women Jesuses (not to mention the MLM overtones). But the God to you is always your God, even if there is a God to Him. Only the God to you is the relevant God (or at most, the Savior + God the Father/Mother). I still like this concept more than I like the BRM static God concept.

  34. g.wesley says:

    My guess is that these days most of us take it for granted that Jesus was the Jehovah of the OT (who somehow became God as a spirit or the like), and that’s about it. If we’re still aware of the idea that the Father was born as a human on an earth somewhere too, we don’t consider the implications for Jesus, etc. I have met a few people, though, who do consider them and end up speculating that Jesus’ incarnation was a reincarnation, and that there has been and will be more than one savior. The speculation seems to be perennial in Mormonism but may have always been limited to a few. I once pulled together some info here that could be relevant, or not:

  35. J. Stapley says:

    g.wesley, Whitney pops up in some the Q12 diaries in the 1890s with concern over some of those ideas. When LS was Q12 president no less. Such an interesting time.

  36. Katie M. says:

    I greatly appreciate this post and the perspective it offers. I grew up Catholic and investigated the church in my youth, and when I first came across the KFD and the idea that God the Father was just a random fallen dude, I felt greatly disturbed, to the point I did not know if I could ultimately embrace the Mormon faith. When I took my concern to my bishop, who gave me the “as god is…” couplet, and described Godhood as a job title, I felt even more disturbed. While there is surely something to be said for the kinship and aspirational nature provided by the god-as-fallen-man/Christ-as-another-brother model, such a conception of deity admittedly left me cold, even a bit repulsed. To me it felt bereft of the kind of awe, wonder, mystery, and reverence that were a prerequisite to worship. Why worship a being that is just farther along the same journey that I am on? Eventually I made peace with the issue, telling myself the whole dynamic was akin to the difference between a redwood seed and a redwood tree; that is, that God the Father was so wholly ahead and different than me that I could indeed worship Him. But the idea never gave me much peace or joy, and I did not know there might be a different way of interpreting the KFD, until now.

    The ironic thing is that my closeness to God as suggested by the fallen man theory actually kept me more distant from God, as I wasn’t sure I believed about Him what I thought I had to believe.

    Anyway, my question then is, are there theories as to how the Father and Christ came to be different beings, not in species, but in perfection?

  37. J. Stapley says:

    Hi Katie, thanks for commenting. Blake Ostler has written a lot about that in his theology books. He takes the position that it is a matter of free will and choice. They have always chosen to be one. I’m not sure that does it for me, because it seems to me that there is difference in capacity as well (Abraham 3 has influenced my thinking here). I have to admit that I read more history (and more primary sources) than theology, though. I don’t know if Adam Miller and some of the younger theologians have hit on this or not. I also can’t remember if Givens hits on it. It seems to me that most of the theology around this area has focused on theodicy and the problem of evil.

  38. Ben Britton says:

    To the author: thanks for posting your thoughts on this. I personally consider this concept to be fundamental to the my faith in the both Christ and his Father.

    Someone asked earlier if Christ will be a Father. Joseph smith did leave a couple hints:

    “But the holy ghost is yet a Spiritual body and waiting to take to himself a body. as the Savior did or as god did or the gods before them took bodies for the Saviour Says the work that my father did do i also & those are the works he took himself a body & then laid down his life that he might take it up again”


    “Joseph also said that the Holy Ghost is now in a state of Probation which if he should perform in righteousness he may pass through the same or a similar course of things that the Son has.”

  39. It strikes me that for all the talk of Christ, Mormons seem to miss the significance of the Incarnation. I understand the desire to want God to be of the same species as humans; it’s a noble humanistic impulse and would seem to elevate our status. However, one need not imagine what it means for God to have been a human — he already was! He is called Jesus. That does honour to us enough. “I marvel that he would descend from his throne divine.”

    We hang too much on the thinnest of Nauvoo threads when the solution, worked out centuries ago, is staring us in the face. Space doctrine is fun but unnecessary.

  40. Jason K. says:

    It’s interesting to hear shades of Marcionism in this this thread (he being the 2nd-century teacher who thought that the Creator God of the Hebrew Scriptures was evil and had to be replaced by a new God, whose messiah was Jesus). When Jesus talked about the two great commandments–love God and love your neighbor as yourself–he was quoting passages from the Hebrew Scriptures that remain central to Jewish worship (the first verse in question being recited daily). Furthermore, the notion of God’s wrath plays a very important part in the epistle to the Romans (including the bit about vessels fitted for destruction in chapter 9). It’s not as easy to separate the two gods as we might like to think.

    The idea that Jesus is Jehovah is very old. Instead of saying the divine name, Jews would say “Adonai” (Lord), which in the Hellenistic period became the Greek “Kurios.” Scholars of Christian credal development consider the phrase “Iesous Kurios” (Jesus is Lord), which shows up a couple of times in the NT, to be the earliest creed. In other words, Christians have been invested for millennia in the idea that Jesus is the God of the OT. (Or, at least the Christians who won the contests over which texts got canonized have been invested in this idea for millennia.)

  41. Villate says:

    I guess I’m one of those Mormons who always thought that God was some random fallen dude, though I don’t see why you need to put it so crudely. I mean, having my own planet seems fun and all (actually it doesn’t seem that fun), but making light of it that way makes it too ridiculous to contemplate. I suspect that although we can joke about (or dread) eternal pregnancy and celestial in-laws, etc., the reality will be much different than what we imagine – this life is only a pattern, after all.

    In terms of the history of Jesus, I thought that Jesus chose to fulfill the calling of being the Savior and that another could have done it if Jesus had for some reason chosen not to – Lucifer obviously thought he would be capable. Perhaps others thought so as well and we just never heard about them. I don’t even know if it’s important that Jesus was the firstborn – I’m not sure what that means. Was he literally “born” first? I guess, thinking about it now, I think it might be literal or it might be a title. I don’t think it’s important, actually. Perhaps he was given the opportunity because he was “the firstborn.” Or maybe we just don’t have a full comprehension of the way relationships worked there, which seems more likely. Practically speaking, however he came to be in the position, Jesus had power in this life because of his priesthood and also because he was somehow biologically different from us. I’m not sure of the mechanics of how that worked, but I’m not troubled by it. If it’s true that he was somehow different from us in this life, it is reasonable to me that he was able to perform miracles and I take the descriptions of the miracles in the New Testament pretty literally, especially the resurrection. We call him God because of what he did and our “worship” comes from gratitude. This is different from how we “worship” the Father. I guess I believe in penal substitution, then? Frankly, I think the miracle of the Atonement cannot be described or really comprehended, only felt, and that’s why we are asked to ponder its effect in our own lives.

    I take it pretty much at face value that we are children of God – not sure about the mechanics of that either, but if our lives here are patterned after “where we used to live,” then that really does indicate some kind of marital and parental relationship. I’m not sure why Mother in Heaven is not more present. It bothers me a little, but not a lot. I don’t buy that she needs to be “protected”. Perhaps there is more than one of her? Honestly, that doesn’t bother me either if it’s true, but I don’t think it has to be. God our Father was once like us – I’ve heard some people say that he was a Savior on another world, but I don’t see why that has to be the case. In fact, if it does have to be the case, that’s rather alarming in lots of ways, some of which other commenters have touched on. It always confuses me when people get upset that we believe (or I guess it’s just me that believes this?) that we can be like our Heavenly Parents or that it somehow diminishes them to believe that. Without meaning to dismiss her beliefs, I guess I’m the opposite of Katie, above. Why do we need to approach God with “awe, wonder, mystery, and reverence”? Why would God want their children to remain in an infantile state? So we can sit on clouds and say how great they are? It would be truly horrifying to me if we are just mirrors that God made to admire themselves in. I don’t want my children to “worship” me, I want them to grow up and become who they are and see the amazing beauty of existence, and I want to try to help them do that. And if it’s true that only those who atone for the sins of a world can become as God, then what is our entire doctrine of sealing all about? Why bother with polygamy or childbearing? Why bother with anything at all? I thought my beliefs were pretty straightforward, but maybe I’m just being naïve or simplistic.

    Thinking it through now, I’m really not sure where I came up with all this – I guess just from my own head, mingled with scripture and things I’ve read over the years (and I’ve read a lot). My father was a great admirer of Bruce R. McConkie’s thinking about a lot of things, and I suppose I have a little of that mixed in there too, but I reject a lot of Elder McConkie’s speculation about a lot of things, so I don’t know. My dad also liked a lot of what Brigham Young and Orson Pratt had to say, but I guess we don’t really believe that after all, so I don’t know where to go about that.

  42. “It strikes me that for all the talk of Christ, Mormons seem to miss the significance of the Incarnation.”

    Ironic, that, since the incarnation is arguably the main message of the Book of Mormon.

    I mean, you start off with Lehi who is righteous and god-fearing, but doesn’t seem to say much about Jesus, then he reads the Brass plates and begins to prophesy about a savior, a prophet like unto Moses, but doesn’t say that this savior is the Son. It’s easy for us to miss this point, because we are so used to using savior as a synonym for Jesus, that we think Lehi must be thinking of Jesus, with the same understand we have of him, when he uses the word savior. But if you read Lehi closely, he doesn’t say much about the savior being divine.

    The he has this vision of the tree of life, and then Nephi has his own experience with the vision, where the answer given to him about the meaning of “the tree that bore the fruit” is a vision of the incarnation, or to use the Book of Mormon phrase, “the condescension of God.” After that, you see Nephi prophesying not just about a prophet or a savior, but specifically identifying that savior as “the Son of the Everlasting God.” And from that point on, almost all the Book of Mormon prophets speak of Christ as God, most notably Abinadi and Alma, who both use the phrase “God himself,” to describe Jesus. In fact, that was the very teaching for which Abinadi was made a martyr.

    My working theory is that Nephi’s vision of the incarnation was the theological turning point of the Book of Mormon. Before that vision, there were the seeds of Christianity in Lehi’s teaching, but after that vision Lehi’s children (at least the ones that the Book of Mormon identifies as righteous) go from proto-Christians to full-blown orthodox Christians, and the Book of Mormon goes from being an Old Testament text to a thoroughly New Testament text. I don’t think it is accidental that the thing that arguably causes that shift is a vision of the incarnation. In fact, the climax of the Book of Mormon, Jesus’ visit to the children of Lehi, can be read as the exclamation point to the incarnation: not only did the word become flesh in a theoretical way, in a far distant land, but the word made flesh condescended to visit all his people in a real, practical way. Reading Jesus’ visit to the later Nephi as the emphasis to the earlier Nephi’s vision of the incarnation creates a coherent message that runs through the entire Book of Mormon: Jesus, the man, is God himself. And it turns out, that just happens to be the message that Moroni identifies as at least one of the purposes of the Book: “the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.” Without the incarnation, Jesus might still be the Christ, but he could never be the Eternal God.

  43. I understand the desire to want God to be of the same species as humans; it’s a noble humanistic impulse and would seem to elevate our status.

    I understand it too, but I really can’t relate to it. I’m rather uncertain how we could “elevate our status” relative to God and His origin without essentially demeaning Him.

    I find the Nauvoo doctrine generally creates more problems than it solves….We hang too much on the thinnest of Nauvoo threads when the solution, worked out centuries ago, is staring us in the face. Space doctrine is fun but unnecessary.

    It is comments like these which make me an enthusiastic Ronanite.

  44. Russ,
    I’ll sign you up.

    That’s a great comment.

  45. Villate says:

    Russell and others: Why is it important to you that God and Jesus be elevated above us? What is demeaning about us being of the same species or origin? I’m genuinely confused and curious about this. I feel like I have misunderstood something very vital about my relationship with God.

  46. There is something different about Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, and us, God’s children. None of us is God’s Only Begotten Son, only Jesus is. Do you really view that differently?

    Do you have the power in yourself to atone for anyone else’s sins? To resurrect yourself? Is your salvation and exaltation not entirely dependent on the grace of Christ as a result of his eternally internally present power to atone for the sins of all, thereby doing with exactness the will of the Father?

    That is different than you or I, Villate.

  47. Villate says:

    Yes, I think I see what you mean. The point of departure may be the “eternally internally present power,” is that right? In my mind, if the question is what does it mean that Jesus is God, then my answer is that Jesus is God because the Father gave him a calling that no one else had. Perhaps the difference is that if he was always God, no one else could do it? Perhaps there was something special about him from the beginning, i.e., he was already a God? Is that what you’re getting at? Abraham 3 could be interpreted both ways, I think (v. 23 – “like unto God” and then v. 27 – “I will send the first”). I’m not convinced that someone else couldn’t have been the Savior, but I am convinced that he is the one who did, so it really comes to the same point. Maybe that’s where the difference is? That I think that any of our Father’s spirit children could potentially have performed the Atonement if called to it (I’m not sure I really think that, given the variety of personalities and talents)? I think that before Jesus had this calling, he was a spirit like the rest of us, though perhaps his talents were unique so that he could do what he did. (If he wasn’t a spirit like the rest of us, what was he? And what are we? How is he our Elder Brother? Did our Heavenly Parents “make” him in a different way than they “made” the rest of us? Again, that’s a crude way of putting it, and I don’t mean to be crude. But it doesn’t make sense to me that that would be the case.) As a result of being chosen to be the Savior, the Father gave him responsibilities in the premortal life and abilities or power (priesthood?) in this life that the rest of us did not have. For the earthly ministry part, that’s what we mean when we say that he was the Only Begotten. Again, I’m not sure about the mechanics of this – what does it mean that Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Ghost? And again, I’m not sure that it matters, though it’s interesting to think about.

    However, what does all of this mean for us in the eternities? Do we become like our Heavenly Parents through Christ’s Atonement or not? If not, what are we and what are we to become? Perhaps I’m just skipping a step that you guys are considering or looking at the Atonement differently than you are. Or I’m just accepting that it is something that needs to be done without looking more deeply into WHY it needs to be done (e.g., we are a lower being). OK, I get that. But if we are a lower being, then what is Jesus now? Will he receive an inheritance like the rest of us or is he something altogether different? I thought that exaltation was supposed to be that we become as our Father in Heaven is, and that Jesus would be exalted first as he performed the Atonement and through him, all could be exalted. What do John and Moroni mean when they say that when he shall appear we shall be like him, purified as he is pure? My brain is starting to hurt. I used to think about this sort of thing quite a lot in college, when all my friends were philosophy majors and atheists. I felt like I had come to some sort of understanding of the structure of things in my own mind, but perhaps I misunderstood, or my understanding is too shallow.

  48. J. Stapley says:

    Vilate, my sense is that you are not the only one to have followed that line of reasoning. And you are getting at some the fundamental questions I asked in the original post of folks who take a different position than I do. Personally, I was focusing on Abraham 3:27-28. From the position outline in my post, where there is no spirit creation, some of your questions go away, but perhaps not all.

    I do think that the idea of Christ and his atonement as a calling that any number of us mortal folks could have done is inconsistent with most facets of restoration thought and scripture.

  49. I think the title Only Begotten means that there is something different between the pre-mortal Jesus and the other pre-mortal spirits. The fact that that title is applied by the Father to the premortal Jesus–the Book of Moses is the example that comes to mind–suggests to me that only begotten means more than just only begotten in the flesh. Sure, you could say that the title is just forward looking, but it isn’t a very convincing reading to me. Stapely mentions Abraham 3:27-28, which I think supports his reading, but personally, I think Moses 1 and Moses 4 are even more emphatic that there is something special about Jesus. Not to mention the Book of Mormon, which repeatedly describes Jesus as having been God “from all eternity to all eternity.”

  50. Villate says:

    To clarify, I don’t think that “any number of us mortal folks” could have done it. And I think “calling” is the wrong word, but I’m not sure what the correct word is. (Obligation, maybe? No, that’s not right, either. Maybe a combination of duty and privilege?) I think there was something unique about the spirit that we know as Jesus Christ that caused him to be chosen/volunteer/whatever happened. I’m just not sure that it was a difference between his substance and our substance. If it was that kind of difference, then the whole idea of us as spirit children of our Heavenly Parents – not created or made, but born – is called into question, at least in my mind, and I thought that really was a foundational doctrine or belief of the restoration. But I may be wrong about that. I was both dismayed and perplexed at President Hinckley’s “I don’t know that we teach that” some time ago.

    In any case, thinking of this has made me open up my scriptures and do some pondering in a way I haven’t for a while, and I appreciate that.

  51. Steve S says:

    I believe the Nauvoo teachings (including no viviparous spirit birth, etc.) and subscribe generally to Angela C’s viewpoint, although with a modified view of the atonement that I believe resolves her concern for females obtaining God[dess]hood. Which is to say I accept your statement about Jesus but widely differ in that I see eternity to eternity as some mortally-incomprehensible but finite period of time both ways.

    I strongly believe we are of the same kind as the Father and Son, and that this does not diminish them in any way.

  52. Not to mention the Book of Mormon, which repeatedly describes Jesus as having been God “from all eternity to all eternity.”

    Exactly JKC. We need to start taking the Book of Mormon more seriously on this issue (Jesus’ oneness with the Father) and many other issues. The distance between how we view the biblical “Godhead” and how creedal Christians view the extra-biblical “Trinity” is or at least should be very small. And this “distance” is just semantically speaking, of course, because “Godhead” is a biblical term based on Wycliffe’s invention of it for use in his translation and its subsequent retention in Tyndale and therefore the King James Version, whereas “Trinity” is an extra-biblical term, arising from the philosophical gloss of the period.

    Some technical points of difference will probably always remain, such as homoousios (“same substance”), simply because as Mormons our low church tradition doesn’t tie in to philosophical roots and our Church leaders are not educated in these matters (and neither was Joseph Smith, perhaps leading to the language he used in the King Follett discourse, not intended to undermine the fundamental trinitarianism of the Book of Mormon, e.g. Mosiah 15). But the Book of Mormon is clear about the oneness of Jesus and the Father in a way that is barely distinguishable if at all from the “Trinitarian” conception of it — that God the Father was incarnated as God the Son (Mosiah 15:1-4) and that Jesus is God from eternity to eternity.

    To the extent some twentieth-century Church leaders have tried to create a circuitous explanation about the separateness of God the Father and Jesus Christ that undermines or contradicts Mosiah 15:1-4, we as Church members need to be willing to measure such statements against the content of canonized scripture. Perhaps they made such statements out of a perceived need to differentiate from creedal Christians and perhaps out of a belief that doing so somehow clarifies Joseph Smith’s King Follett discourse or his First Vision account of seeing two separate beings. It would seem appropriate that if a Church leader is going to make a statement that contradicts or attempts to change an accepted and facially evident meaning of scripture then it should be done with an explicit statement that new revelation has been received that changes the scriptural information. Otherwise the default authority should be the canonized scriptural statement, a source of authority that should bind Church leaders to the same extent as lay members (the two being one and the same in Mormonism, after all), unless new revelation is given and received that explicitly changes it.

    As Mormons we are proud that we have Church leaders who are ordained as Apostles and called to speak as prophets, seers, and revelators when the Lord has a specific message to reveal or inspired guidance to communicate. When such an instance occurs of a Church leader being moved upon by the Holy Spirit and speaking by revelation, and the information that is communicated substantively alters, modifies, or changes accepted scriptural text on its face or the commonly accepted interpretation of seemingly clear scriptural text, then the new explanation should be accompanied by a “thus saith the Lord” type pronouncement to explicitly state that new revelation is the source of authority to change clear scriptural text. That is the only conservative way that information can possibly flow from the heavens to maintain God’s house as one of order.

  53. If it was that kind of difference, then the whole idea of us as spirit children of our Heavenly Parents – not created or made, but born – is called into question, at least in my mind, and I thought that really was a foundational doctrine or belief of the restoration.

    Do you believe that we as spirits were born as spirit babies through some kind of process of sexual intercourse between resurrected beings with bodies of flesh and bone and birth, and then grew up? (Or perhaps born as spirit babies without sexual intercourse as the mechanism for creating spirit babies? But does Heavenly Mother have a body of flesh and bone? If so, why are the babies born to her purely spirit? Is she a spirit then?)

    Or do you believe that our spirits weren’t created but rather “organized” by God out of some kind of preexisting spirit matter?

    Which one is the “foundational doctrine or belief of the restoration”? If Joseph Fielding Smith or Bruce R. McConkie preferred one over the other, does that trump the model preferred by an earlier Church leader musing on the question?

  54. kevinf says:

    I was reminded by all of this of BRM’s talk at BYU about not worshiping the Christ over the Father. In rereading that, here are some excerpts I thought interesting:

    Christ worked out his own salvation by worshiping the Father.
    After the Firstborn of the Father, while yet a spirit being, had gained power and
    intelligence that made him like unto God; after he had become, under the Father, the Creator of worlds without number; after he had reigned on the throne of eternal power as the Lord Omnipotent—after all this he yet had to gain a mortal and then an immortal body….He received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace;
    And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness.
    Finally, after his resurrection,
    he received a fulness of the glory of the Father;
    And he received all power, both in heaven and on earth, and the glory of the Father was with him, for he dwelt in him. [D&C 93:12–14, 16–17]
    We worship the Father and him only and no one else.
    Christ worked out his own salvation by worshiping the Father.
    After the Firstborn of the Father, while yet a spirit being, had gained power and
    intelligence that made him like unto God; after he had become, under the Father, the Creator of worlds without number; after he had reigned on the throne of eternal power as the Lord Omnipotent—after all this he yet had to gain a mortal and then an immortal body.
    After the Son of God “made flesh” his “tabernacle,” and while he “dwelt among the sons of men”; after he left his preexistent glory as we all do at birth; after he was born of Mary in Bethlehem of Judea—after all this he was called upon to work out his own salvation.
    Of our Lord’s life while in this mortal probation the scripture says:
    “He received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace;
    And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness.”
    Finally, after his resurrection, he received a fulness of the glory of the Father;..
    And he received all power, both in heaven and on earth, and the glory of the Father was with him, for he dwelt in him. [D&C 93:12–14, 16–17]
    Note it, please, the Lord Jesus worked out his own salvation while in this mortal probation by going from grace to grace, until, having overcome the world and being raised in immortal glory, he became like the Father in the full, complete, and eternal sense.
    All men must worship the Father in the same way Christ did in order to gain salvation.
    Thus spake the Lord: “I give unto you these sayings”—those we have just quoted which tell how Christ gained his salvation by worshipping the Father—
    I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness.
    What a wondrous concept this is! We too can become like the Father,

    “For if you keep my commandments”, the Lord continued, “you shall receive of his fulness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace.” [D&C 93:19–20]

    This seems to be quite a different view than we have in Mosiah 15:1-4. Ironic, because one of the things that we most remember Elder McConkie for is his final testimony of Jesus Christ.

  55. kevinf says:

    Sorry, looks like the cut and paste job duplicated major portions of that excerpt. I hope you can make sense of it.

  56. Yes, there was a period in the mid to late twentieth century that Church leaders, particularly BRM, tried to downplay Jesus in a certain sense and tried to explain away scriptures like Mosiah 15:1-4 in favor of the interpretations they were offering at the time. That talk is the prime example. It seems to have been motivated by a perceived need to differentiate between creedal Christians and Mormons. The result was a conception of Christ not very different from that if the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    If you read D&C 93, it is easily apparent that BRM’s reading in that BYU devotional is not mandated by the text itself. We rightly give extreme deference to the ideas and teachings of Church leaders, especially apostles, including BRM. But we need to have a baseline of revealed truth, and we do, the scriptures. And they bind the pronouncements of Church leaders to the same extent as lay members so that if a new interpretation is going to undermine or restate or revise or change a plainly evident meaning from the face of the scriptural text (e.g. Mosiah 15:1-4), then for the sake of doctrinal conservatism and order in our understanding, such a new interpretation or teaching should be accompanied by a statement that new revelation is the basis for the new interrogation that displaces the facial meaning of the scriptural text.

  57. “Interpretation” not “interrogation” at the end of that comment — I don’t recommend trying to type substantive comments on an android phone with the current state of its autocorrect.

  58. kevinf says:

    john f, I share your autocorrect pain. It is interesting that in the introduction of that talk, BRM pretty plainly states that it should be considered the specific doctrine supported by the First Presidency and the Apostles, and alternate views are bordering on apostasy. If I recall, it was a response to thoughts and publications like Robinson’s Believing Christ, among others. After all this discussion, I am not sure where I come down on the nature of Christ and God, but I am pretty committed to the eternal nature of our spirits, uncreated and without beginning, as in the KFD. Lots to ponder here.

  59. J. Stapley says:

    I think that it is pretty clear that the church leaders and broader bureaucracy has moved away from BRM on this. The church currently clearly teaches that Mormons worship Jesus.

  60. Villate says:

    john f. – Yes, I do think that there is some kind of organization or birth process by which an exalted man and woman, sealed in marriage, produce spirit children. If it were not so, there seems to be no purpose in having two sexes and requiring sealing as a prerequisite to exaltation. Like I said before, I don’t know what the mechanics of that are. I remember being taught that before we were organized (my dad’s word) into spirit bodies, we were “intelligences” with some aspects of our personalities already established, and this is what is meant by “not created or made.” We have always existed in some form (D&C 93). My dad even went so far as to say that we were already male and female – the Proclamation on the Family seems to hint at this as well. I don’t have a problem believing that, though it gets tricky in the real world we live in now. I don’t know what resurrected, celestial bodies are capable of or how they work. I also don’t know what spirit bodies are really like. It’s not particularly important to me at this point – I was very concerned about it for a while and thought about it quite a lot, and the answer I felt I received was that although relationships and behaviors will follow familiar patterns, the reality will be quite different from what we experience here. So I don’t believe that the whole having sex, getting pregnant, spirit diapers, etc. will apply there. It’s also why the absence of Heavenly Mother doesn’t bother me as much as it might. My dad was pretty literal about it all and I think believed that the celestial kingdom is a sort of glorified home life. I seem to remember being taught this in Primary as well (late 1970s-early 1980s) – and definitely in seminary (mid-late 1980s). My mother also took it pretty literally, but ended up not liking where that got her. She left the church eventually and was very contemptuous of this particular version of celestial life, to my father’s despair.

    To apply this to Jesus, if he is going to be as the Father is, is he also sealed to a woman? If he is supposed to be like God the Father, then he would have to be, right? And that seems perfectly reasonable to me and not in the least bit upsetting or demeaning to his glory – if it seems so to you, I apologize for being offensive. But if he is something different from the rest of us, then how does that work? And how can he still be our exemplar? Like someone mentioned above, the Church leaders don’t seem to be talking about this as much as they used to, and I’m not sure what that means.

  61. I know two very conservative members: one is a bishop’s wife who finds the “we shall be gods just like God” approach so disconcerting she can’t really attend the temple without it damaging her faith. The other member believes God was like us, we get to be a god just like him with our own planet making spirit children. I think the majority of people I know fall into this camp.

    I don’t believe in “spiritually birthing children.” We were intelligences before we were organized. I think we project our understanding of mortality on immortality with the family relations and in laws and making babies because we just can’t conceive of it being done differently. Our human brains can’t comprehend it. I like your KFD summary, it makes sense to me – esp in light of the new “become like God” essay.

  62. My sense is that it is fairly common in Mormon circles to build a big picture cosmology on the model of Father-Mother-Family, and to build a relatively smaller localized Christology around a particular Son in a particular place and time. (This is not Incarnational Christianity as I understand it, to be clear.) Most conversations are separate. Today’s lesson is cosmology, or today’s lesson is Christology, but seldom both. On those rare occasions when we are forced to bring them together we get several mostly clumsy seldom satisfying reconciliations.
    In saying this about “common in Mormon circles” it is fair to say that I am biased and may not understand or see very well. My lens is essentially incarnational, and from that platform a lot of this looks like confusion rather than insight.

  63. John Mansfield says:

    Some above are using “only begotten of the father” as some spiritual quality of a particular spirit. Why the word “begotten” to describe that quality? Is this spiritual quality something in addition to the physical quality that Jesus was “the Only Begotten Son in the flesh” as solemnly testified by the LDS apostles jointly fifteen years ago, or only an aspect of being a (metaphorical?) Firstborn (and Lastborn?) of the Father prior to mortality?

  64. Niklas says:

    “Is it just coincidence that Jesus was the first born of God the Father?”

    J, how do you yourself understand this? You reject the notion of the spirit birth, right? So what does it mean to be first born? ‘First’ implies that there are others who follow. Are we the second and third born or are there more beings like Jesus? If it us, does the title firstborn just reflect that Jesus had been a god all eternity, bu we can be gods to – somehow overcoming the ontological gap? If so, then Father might as well be some random fallen dude, and it is just a coincindence that He is not.

    This is were I, too, am at a loss.

  65. See, this is why our theological amateurism is so lamentable. It’s pure zeal without knowledge, to borrow from Nibley’s brilliant observation. I know we take pride in being stupid, but it’s pride all the same.

    “Only begotten” is a formulation that comes from the Greek monogenēs. Our imagination is limited by our adherence to the King James translation and a literal interpretation of the English “to beget” as in “to sire” or similar. Thus, “Only Begotten in the flesh” sounds like Jesus is simply the only human that the Father physically sired, which leads to all the space doctrine and Godmakers-style crap I’m reading above.

    One need not even know any Greek* to know that monogenēs is a disputed term in a NT context (see: Google). For example, the lexical entry has it as “the only member of a kin or kind” or “unique.”

    Jesus is One with the Father and thus when in the flesh, being also wholly God, was “the only member of a kin or kind.” He is “unique.” Pretty straightforward and straight out of the Book of Mormon. It’s fine to be heretical if your heresy is true. In this case, alas, it’s based on ignorance, pure and simple.


    *Although we should take a leaf out of Joseph Smith’s book and at least have a go at learning the languages of the Bible if we are going to deign to talk about their English renderings, given that the word of God was not first received in 1611 A.D. in Cambridge.

  66. J. Stapley says:

    Kristine, that is really interesting as I believe that temple actually doesn’t teach that. People often bring it with them (perhaps like Luke in the Cave…or not–no dark side in the temple). The temple is all about priestesses and priests and kings and queens.

    christian, I think that is a pretty important point. It is easier to maintain when worlds don’t collide.

    John, “…in the flesh” seems to me to be of a certain category of theological neologism (like “divine investiture of authority” and perhaps even, “trinity”) that people employ to solve certain problems. “…in the flesh” is particularly problematic, I think, for the reasons Ronan lays out (thanks, Ronan).

    Niklas, I take an adoptive framework. If Jesus has always been one with the Father he is necessarily the firstborn. I think I’m going to through a post together on “the children of God,” because the rise of viviparous spirit birth has almost made it impossible to render historical comments, narrative, and scripture sensibly.

  67. g.wesley says:

    J.Stapley, thanks for the info above re: OFW in diaries. Sounds like those concerns would be a fun read.

  68. Kevin Barney says:

    For an old post of mine on the expression “only begotten son,” see this:

  69. I don’t see a point of conflict here between your always spirits interpretation of the KFD and the mormon orthodox teaching of Elder Christofferson this conference: “Prophets have revealed that we first existed as intelligences and that we were given form, or spirit bodies, by God, thus becoming His spirit children—sons and daughters of heavenly parents.”

    Jesus as an intelligence was as much of a capital G God in His own right as an intelligence as He was when He was as a spirit before He was born to Mary. (Doesn’t matter if there was an actual Firstborn spirit birth that took place before His mortal birth or not).

    Am I missing something?

  70. J. Stapley says:

    jpv, I’m not sure how orthodox the tripartite model is. Besides the preserving viviparous spirit birth, I’m not sure what it adds, and has all the baggage of that comes with creation. Perhaps more importantly for me, I think, the tripartite reading is acontextual as it was formulated over half a century after the restoration scripture and JS’s teachings were delivered. That is not a problem for new developments in theology (I have beliefs that are later developments), but I don’t believe it is wise to read it backwards into texts.

    That is a great post, Kev.

  71. For the record, “ViviparousSpiritBirther” would be a good commenter name.

  72. I guess that was my point, I suppose there are a few that don’t believe spirits/souls/intelligences existed until after “spirit birth”, but my point was that to answer your question, most “spirit birthers” accept Roberts tripartate model, which doesn’t conflict with the eternal spirits interpretation (for this question at least).

    I do agree if for those whom identify doesn’t exist until after “spirit creation” the question of Jesus’s eternal godhood is an issue.

    As far as reading things back, it really depends on whether your epistemology allows the revelator to reveal things that he doesn’t fully understand in their entirety and context or not. Givens’ view on JS and the teachings contained in the Book of Mormon vs. only teaching/revealing that which is fully understood. This view gets complicated when you look at how New Testament texts cite the Hebrew Bible.


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