Saturday, February 5, 2011

An In Depth Look at the Mormon Doctrine on the Eternality of God

Hello, and welcome to the first discussion with our new series that will focus on Mormonism. This new series will focus on Mormonism's doctrines that are taught in their official canon, what their church leadership teaches, and what past prophets and apostles have said about the subject. We will look at what the Bible then says in contrast, and see if the two are in unison, or contradiction to one another.  We will also ask the question, who is correct? The Mormon apologist? Or the church leaders? We will also look at what the members of the Mormon church must do, if they disagree with their official church teachings.

So to start of, we begin with the topic of God, and what Mormonism teaches regarding God being eternal. For this topic, we will use all available resources for Mormonism’s teaching about this subject.

  1. What Mormon Doctrine Teaches About the Eternality of God -

    In the canonized Mormon scripture, Doctrines and Covenants, Joseph Smith talks about the “being” of God. That is to say, the substance of God. In section 130:22, Smith writes, “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s.”

    This passage clearly states that God has a literal, physical body, as tangible as you or I have. In fact, this is echoed by Joseph Smith himself in his vision. On this topic, the Encyclopedia of Mormonism states, “In Church theology, the doctrine of the nature of God is established more clearly by the First Vision of the Prophet Joseph Smith than by anything else. Here, Joseph Smith saw for himself that the Father and the Son were two separate and distinct beings, each possessing a body in whose image and likeness mortals are created. For Latter-day Saints, no theological or philosophical propositions about God can override the primary experience of the Prophet”

As we continue, we look to Moses 6:57, which states, “57Wherefore teach it unto your children, that all men, everywhere, must repent, or they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God, for no unclean thing can dwell there, or dwell in his presence; for, in the language of Adam, Man of Holiness is his name, and the name of his Only Begotten is the Son of Man, even Jesus Christ, a righteous Judge, who shall come in the meridian of time.”

The phrase, “Man of Holiness” is a Mormon name (one of many) that is used to describe God the Father. So in this verse, we see that this scripture would again attest to God being a man.

In fact, Moses 7:35 says, “Behold, I am God; Man of Holiness is my name; Man of Counsel is my name; and Endless and Eternal is my name, also.” This verse coincides with the verse mentioned above, and tells the reader, that “Man of Holiness” is God.

However, they also claim to believe in an eternal God, (Moroni 8:18, Moses 7:35), and that he is unchangeable (Doctrines and Covenants 20:17-19). While tempting to bring up a rebuttal, we are simply giving the Mormon argument.

However, in a strange twist, they also claim that God is a spirit:

Alma 18:26-28, “And then Ammon said: Believest thou that there is a Great Spirit? And he said, Yea. And Ammon said: This is God. And Ammon said unto him again: Believest thou that this Great Spirit, who is God, created all things which are in heaven and in the earth?”

Alma 22:8-11, “And now when Aaron heard this, his heart began to rejoice, and he said: Behold, assuredly as thou livest, O king, there is a God. And the king said: Is God that Great Spirit that brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem? And Aaron said unto him: Yea, he is that Great Spirit, and he created all things both in heaven and in earth. Believest thou this? And he said: Yea, I believe that the Great Spirit created all things, and I desire that ye should tell me concerning all these things, and I will believe thy words.”

So here, we see that God is presented in the Mormon canon as a man, and yet some how, as a spirit. Though this list is not at all exhaustive, we will leave it at this, as this point is not disputed amongst Mormons. It is, as we will see, one of the absolute core doctrines of their church.

So in summary, the Mormon perspective on God in Mormon doctrine is that, God is:

A) A man
B) A Spirit
C) Unchangeable in His ways
D) Eternal

2. What Did Joseph Smith Teach About the Eternality of God?

The next area to look at is Joseph Smith’s teaching on God. As the founder of the Mormon church, what he taught is vital.

Let us begin with the teaching of Joseph Smith in his own words. We go straight to Smith himself, in his own teaching, without adding anything to his words.  

“I will go back to the beginning before the world was, to show what kind of being God was. . . . God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens . . .  it is necessary we should understand the character and being of God and how he came to be so; for I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and suppose that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see. These are incomprehensible ideas to some, but they are simple. It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did; and I will show it from the Bible. Here then, is eternal life--to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priest to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one. . . . (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith)”

Smith states also that, “That which is without body or parts is nothing. There is no God in heaven but that God who has flesh and bones.” (Teaching of the Presidents of the Church, Joseph Smith, page 42.)

Smith continues, “Here, then, is eternal life-to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to become Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 346-347)

Smith writes, “If Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and John discovered that God the Father of Jesus Christ had a Father, you may suppose that He had a Father also. Where was there ever a son without a father? And where was there ever a father without first being a son? Whenever did a tree or anything spring into existence without a progenitor? And everything comes in this way. Paul says that which is earthly is in the likeness of that which is heavenly, Hence if Jesus had a Father, can we not believe that He had a Father also?” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 373).

While there are vast amounts of discussions that could break off from these quotes, and these points alone, and while there are many, many more quotes from Smith on this subject, it is safe to say Smith taught that God is:

A) A Man
B) Not a Spirit
C) Not eternally God, but exalted to Godhood
D) A God who also has a father
E) Changed from being a mortal man who was in need of salvation, to an eternal God.

Quickly, just to summarize, what we have read above from Smith himself, is his own words. These writings are not taken from “anti-Mormon” literature, but are the words of the “prophet”. I have tried strongly to state the Mormon position fairly, and accurately.

3. What Did Past Mormon Prophets Teach About the Eternality of God:

Brigham Young –

“The idea that the Lord our God is not a personage of tabernacle is entirely a mistaken notion. He was once a man. Brother Kimball quoted a saying of Joseph the Prophet, that he would not worship a God who had not a Father, and I do not know that he would if he had not a mother; the one would be as absurd as the other. If he had a Father, he was made in his likeness. And if he is our Father we are made after his image and likeness. He once possessed a body, as we now do; and our bodies are as much to us, as his body to him. Every iota of this organization is necessary to secure for us an exaltation with the Gods.” (Brigham Young, February 23, 1862. Journal of Discourses 9:286).

“Some would have us believe that God is present everywhere. It is not so. He is no more every where present in person that the Father and Son are one in person.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, pp. 23-24. See also Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, p.29).

“What, is it possible that the Father of Heights, the Father of our spirits, could reduce himself and come forth like a man? Yes, he was once a man like you and I are and was once on an earth like this, passed through the ordeal you and I pass through. He had his father and his mother and he has been exalted through his faithfulness, and he is become Lord of all. He is the God pertaining to this earth. He is our Father. He begot our spirits in the spirit world. They have come forth and our earthly parents have organized tabernacles for our spirits and here we are today. That is the way we came.” (The Essential Brigham Young p. 138)

Wilford Woodruff –

If there was ever a point where man in his progression could not proceed any further, the very idea would throw a gloom over every intelligent and reflecting mind. God Himself is increasing and progressing in knowledge, power, and dominion, and will do so, worlds without end.” (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, p. 3)

Lorenzo Snow –

“As man is now, God once was; as God is now, man may be” (The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, p.2, See also The Life and Teachings of Joseph Smith and His Apostles manual 1979, p.59)

Joseph F. Smith –
It is said that God is a spirit, and they who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. But he is a spirit possessing the tabernacle of flesh and bones, as tangible as a man’s and therefore to be like God and Jesus all men must have a body” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine 1986, pp. 453,454)

“I do not believe in the doctrines held by some that God is only a spirit and that He is of such a nature that He fills the immensity of space, and is everywhere present in person or without person, for I can not conceive it possible that God could be a person if He filled the immensity of space and was everywhere present at the same time. It is a physical, a theological, an unreasonable, inconsistency to imagine that even God the Eternal Father would be in two places, as an individual, at the same moment. It is impossible. But His power extends to all His creations, and His knowledge comprehends them all, and He governs them all and knows all. It is a scriptural truth, that this is life eternal to know the only true and living God and Jesus whom thou hast sent. I believe that the Latter-Day Saints, through the teachings of the scriptures and through the revelations that have come to them by the voice of the Prophet Joseph Smith, are able to learn the true and living God and know Him and also His Son whom He has sent into the world, whom to know is life eternal.” (Joseph F. Smith, Conference Reports, April 1916, p. 4)

George Albert Smith –

“The Lord has blessed us with a knowledge that he lives, and has a body, and that we are created in his image. We do not believe that he is some kind of essence or that he in incomprehensible” (George Albert Smith, Conference Reports, October 1921, p. 39)

Joseph Fielding Smith –

“The Prophet taught that our Father had a Father and so on. Is not this a reasonable thought, especially when we remember that the promises are made to us that we may become like him?” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:12)

“Our Father in heaven, according to the Prophet, had a Father, and since there has been a condition of this kind through all eternity, each Father had a Father, until we come to a stop where we cannot go further, because of our limited capacity to understand” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 2:47)

“Where has the Lord ever revealed to us that he is lacking in knowledge? That he is still learning new truth; discovering new laws that are unknown to him? I think this kind of doctrine is very dangerous. I don’t know where the Lord has ever declared such a thing. It is not contained in any revelation that I have read.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1:8)

Gordon B. Hinckley –

Don Lattin (religion editor, interviewing Gordon B. Hinckley, San Francisco Chronicle, April 13, 1997, p 3/Z1)
Q: There are some significant differences in your beliefs [and other Christian churches]. For instance, don't Mormons believe that God was once a man?

Hinckley: I wouldn't say that. There was a little couplet coined, "As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become." Now that's more of a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don't know very much about. [emphasis added]

Q: So you're saying the church is still struggling to understand this?

Hinckley: Well, as God is, man may become. We believe in eternal progression. Very strongly. We believe that the glory of God is intelligence and whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the Resurrection.   ...that's one thing that's different. Modern revelation. We believe all that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal, we believe he has yet to reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God. 

Gordon B. Hinckley, as quoted in Time Magazine, Aug 4, 1997:
"On whether his church still holds that God the Father was once a man, [Hinckley] sounded uncertain, `I don't know that we teach it. I don't know that we emphasize it... I understand the philosophical background behind it, but I don't know a lot about it, and I don't think others know a lot about it.'" [emphasis added]

"At first Hinckley seemed to qualify the idea that men could become gods," according to Time, "suggesting that ‘it’s of course an ideal. It’s a hope for a wishful thing,’ but later he added, ‘yes, of course they can.’"
"Is it possible that President Hinckley is not intimately aware of these distinctive doctrines of Mormonism?"

On whether the LDS Church holds that, "God the Father was once a man, he sounded uncertain, ‘I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it ... I understand the philosophical background behind it, but I don’t know a lot about it, and I don’t think others know a lot about it,’" Hinckley told Time.

Summary – Through the reading of the past prophets teachings, we see they taught that

A)    A Man
B)     Not a Spirit
C)    Changeable in his ways (changed from man to God)
D)    Had a father and a mother God
E)     God is growing in knowledge
F)     God is not growing in knowledge and that is dangerous to say
G)    It may not be taught, and if it is, people don’t know much about it
H)    Joseph Smith taught the doctrine, according to other prophets


The church allows members to worship God according to there own conscience or interpretation. This is because it's not clear one way or another, it's very vague and nothing is really emphasize.

Cults or heresies in general are difficult to leave because before you know it, all your friends, all your human connections are wrapped up in the cult/heresy. So, then even if a person does begin to see the errors they are reluctant to leave because it will destroy their "life" least the life they had. See more about my own departure from the cultic heresy of hyperpreterism: The Recovery Room