I’m about to share a troubling excerpt from a rather annoying blogger. This writer has compiled a list of “shocking statements” in the LDS scriptures that are clearly at odds with mainstream Christianity, for they point to the divine potential of humans and hint at some deep doctrines about which we actually know very little (you know, doctrines involving terms such as “gods”). LDS folks and investigators exploring the LDS scriptures might run into these passages and be confused, so by presenting them here with my response, I hope I will just be inoculating people. Using some advanced apologetic techniques and even a touch of logic, I intend to show that these passages, troubling and revolutionary as they may seem, are in some ways compatible with the Bible, when viewed through the right lens and given the right framework for understanding. It may seem like an impossible task, but stick with me on this one. So here’s the excerpt:
Shocking Statements in the Mormon Scriptures about “Gods” and the “Divine Potential” of Humans
The Mormon scriptures contain numerous disturbing statements strongly at odds with several established doctrines of modern normative Christianity regarding what Mormons call “the divine potential” or “divine nature” of human beings. Rather than give my spin, I will let the Mormon scriptures–the “standard works” that form the foundation of official Mormon doctrine–speak for themselves. I will also present a few quotes from widely recognized and respected Church leaders affirming these doctrines. Then I will ask Mormons if they can explain why their doctrines are so out of whack with the rest of Christianity.
From the official Mormon Scriptures (all references use the Mormon Church’s 1979 printing of the Mormon “Standard Works”):
- “I said, Ye are gods? . . . he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came.” – Spoken by the Mormon Jesus. The LDS Church has never questioned this verse, never repudiated it, and still prints it and teaches it. Enough said! (Mormon Standard Works, Vol. 2, p. 1346)
- “[We are] the sons of God, and . . . when he [Christ] shall appear, we shall be like him.” – Like him?? Like Jesus, the Son of God? (Vol. 2, pp. 1557-8)
- “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” – Humans sitting with Christ in his throne? (Vol. 2, p. 1569)
- “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.” The text then speaks of “the glory which shall be revealed in us.” – Joint heirs? Glorified together? Folks, I’m not interpolating – this is what the Mormon scriptures say! (Vol. 2, p. 1426)
- “God is God of gods, and Lord of lords” – Once again, enough said! (Vol. 1, p. 271)
- “[T]here be [those] that are called gods . . . (as there be gods many, and lords many)” – This verse of officially canonized Mormon scripture came from an early Church leader. (Vol. 2, p. 1447)
- “Thou hast made him [mortal man] a little lower than the angels [originally “gods”!], and hast crowned him with glory and honour.” – This example nicely illustrates the principle of change in the Mormon scriptures. The word “gods” was used in the original version of this verse, but some felt that the use of “gods” in this verse was just too controversial, and so it was later “translated” to give a more socially acceptable result: “angels.” As shameful as this kind of scriptural cover-up is, even the watered-down version reinforces the lofty status of mortals as potentially divine beings, linked to angels and destined for glory and honor in Mormon doctrine. But I say we should hold Mormons accountable for what this verse originally said: “gods”! (Vol. 1, p. 718)
- “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.” – No wiggle room here! (Vol. 1, p. 768)
- In one passage of Mormon scripture, Jesus prays that his followers “may be one as we [Christ and the Father] are”! Shortly after that, he prays “that they also may be one in us” and then offers this zinger: “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.” Again, the LDS Church refuses to repudiate this passage. It is a core part of what Mormons are asked to believe, being in one of their cherished “standard works” and commonly used. If this passage doesn’t expose the monumental gap between the norms of modern Christianity and LDS theology, I don’t know what does. Absolutely shocking. What’s even more shocking is that most Mormons don’t even see the problem with this kind of doctrine or recognize how far it strays from the rest of Christendom. (Vol. 2, p. 1345-6)
- “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” – Honestly, I’m not making this up! (Vol. 2, p. 1489)
- “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness . . . Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature. . .. Wherefore . . . give diligence to make your calling and election sure.” (Vol. 2, p. 1551) This troubling passage also reminds us of the Mormon idea, typically found in the context of many of the previous passages, that diligence or obedience is needed in the quest to receive the gift of “the divine nature” or “godliness.”
There are further passages in these volumes of scripture that reinforce these doctrines. Mormons will tell you that they don’t know much about it, which is true, but there’s no denying that it is taught in the Mormon scriptures and that it is far removed from the acceptable standards of normative Christianity. Mormons will say that it is not part of the core teachings that are discussed in their classes, their General Conferences, and Church publications, but it is there, indisputably, and Church leaders have frequently referred to it. Here are some quotes from respected Church leaders and theologians:
- “Jesus Christ . . . become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.”
- “Do we cast blame on him [God] because we were not made gods from the beginning, but were at first created merely as men, and then later as gods? Although God has adopted this course out of his pure benevolence, . . . he declares, ‘I have said, ye are gods; and all of you are sons of the Most High.'”
- “The Word of God became a man so that you might learn from a man how to become a god.”
- One leader taught that in the beginning men were “made like God, free from suffering and death,” and that they are thus “deemed worthy of becoming gods and of having power to become sons of the highest.”
- “But he himself that justifies also deifies, for by justifying he makes sons of God. . . If then we have been made sons of god, we have also been made gods.”
- “The Word was made flesh in order that we might be enabled to be made gods…. Just as the Lord, putting on the body, became a man, so also we men are both deified through his flesh, and henceforth inherit everlasting life.”
- “He [Christ] became man that we might be made divine.”
So, Mormon teachings in official scriptures and the teachings of early Church leaders and theologians, are far different from normative Christianity today. So how do you account for the huge gap between what you Mormons believe and teach, and what the rest of the established Christian world has? Your doctrine regarding the “divine potential” of human beings is simply shocking, disturbing, and unacceptable from the standards of normative religion, and this fact needs to be faced and understood.
Well, I hope that hasn’t shaken your faith too bad. Hang on folks, because I’m going to apply my skills as a Mormon apologist to show that these shocking doctrines aren’t entirely remote from the Bible and original Christianity. Hold on just a second while I get my spinnamometer out and, uh, let’s see. I can bear my testimony of the Gospel . . . trust that warm feeling you’re getting now . . . well then, turn up the heat — any better? Not working? OK, let me try this. Let’s check out the sources cited above. Ah, that’s it. Let’s see, the 1979 printing of the LDS standard works, volumes 1 and 2 – ah, that would be the Old Testament and the New Testament.
So here are the chapter and verse citations, instead of the page numbers from the LDS printing of the King James Bible, given in the same order presented above: John 10:34; 1 John 3:2; Revelation 3:21; Romans 8:16-18; Deut. 10:17; 1 Corinthians 8:5; Psalm 8:4-5; Psalm 82:6; John 17: 11, 20-23; Philippians 2:5-6; and 2 Peter 1:3-4,10. Others could be cited. In Psalm 8, by the way, the Masoretic (Hebrew) text has “gods” but the King James translators decided to put down “angels” instead.
As for the Church leader quotes, well, it turns out they are all from the early Church of Jesus Christ, from men recognized and respected by modern mainstream Christianity as genuine early Christians, not heretics or apostates. (Hey, this whole thing looks rigged! Talk about annoying!) The quotes, in order, come from Irenaeus (two quotes), Saint Clement of Alexandria, Justin Martyr, Saint Augustine, and Saint Athanasius (two quotes). The quotes were compiled by Stephen Robinson in Are Mormons Christians? (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1991, pp. 60-70), with a slight correction on the first quote from Irenaeus. The relevant excerpt from Robinson with sources for the quoted early Christian leaders are given on my LDSFAQ page, “Theosis, the Divine Potential of Mankind: LDS and Early Christian Perspectives.” So who was that annoying blogger I mentioned?
Boy, that was a close call! Instead of having to do a lot of hand-waving to make the quotes from the LDS scriptures somehow appear consistent with the Bible, I just had to point out that they actually were from the Bible, the largest source of LDS scripture. Whew! And the wacko quotes from Church leaders, in this case, turn out to be wacko quotes from early Christianity, whose doctrines are sometimes remote from the socially acceptable standards of today, but in this case appear to be remarkably close to that of the Bible and strangely close to some controversial doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Wow, it’s almost like some sort of Restoration occurred. But that’s just one possible explanation. I’ll leave it to you to sort things out.
Sorry if I shook anyone’s faith, but sometimes it’s best to face these important theological issues head on.
I should also add that we really don’t know much about this doctrine and what it really means. I would be more comfortable if the scriptures said our destiny was to be glorious angels or something, but that jarring word “gods” is hard to avoid. But being godlike Beings does not detract from the glory of the Father but adds to it. We do know that all glory is to the Father and that we are and always will be subservient to Him. We are the fallen, weak mortals who are saved by a perfect and always sinless Savior, acting on behalf of His even greater Father (John 14:28: “My father is greater than I”). See also John 5:19. I see no scriptural or logical basis for the allegation that we think that people will one day worship us or that we somehow replace God. We worship God the Father and always will. Those who do inherit all things from the Father and sit with Christ in his throne and become “like him” nevertheless–and of course–worship God and give glory to Him (and the Savior). Consider Doctrine and Covenants 76:
92 And thus we saw the glory of the celestial, which excels in all things–where God, even the Father, reigns upon his throne forever and ever;
93 Before whose throne all things bow in humble reverence, and give him glory forever and ever.
Even those beings the Lord chooses to call “gods.”
Jan. 31 Update: I should note, as I have in the comments already, that I don’t think the early Christian fathers whose writings are extant were just early Mormons who saw everything the way we do. The philosophical issues they faced and debated were much different than those relevant today, and the assumptions and paradigms that they had, in addition to the revealed word of God, surely affected their viewpoints in many ways. They were also writing in a time when the Hellenization of Christianity was well underway and apostolic leadership had already been lost. However, there are persistant references to human deification or theosis that at least appear to reinforce what we understand the scriptures to teach on this topic. My reading of their writings suggests that when they talk of mortals becoming “gods,” it is a reference to participating in the grace of Christ and being made, by grace, more like Him, for we are sons and daughters of God with the potential to receive the divine nature. This, however, is what I believe is the core of the LDS doctrine: a recognition that we are actual children of God (see Acts 17: 28-29 and Heb. 12:9) with the potential to become somehow “like” Jesus and more like the Father, sharing in their fullness. They are the Creators and sources of grace, life, and salvation, and we are the grateful recipients of their mercy, but in receiving these blessings, we become more like them and thus the scriptures dare use the term “gods” to describe an intrinsic potentiality in mortal man, enabled by the grace of the Messiah. We are sons and daughters of God, undeserving recipients of grace and mercy, allowed to share in the blessings of Eternal Life and become “joint heirs” with Christ, having that intrinsic divine potential revealed through Christ, thereby becoming what the scriptures and some early Christians called “gods”–I find that fully compatible with LDS doctrine and believe that the early Christian fathers, in spite of seeing some things differently, would see an awful lot of common ground with modern LDS views on the divine potential of human beings.