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Feedback archiveFeedback 2015

Questions about Mormon theology

Published: 7 February 2015 (GMT+10)

In response to our archived article from 1985, The Mormon Creation according to Joseph Smith, a reader with the initials S.S. questioned several aspects of its claims.

Below are responses CMI’s Scott Gillis made to comments by S.S. and following that is how CMI’s Shaun Doyle answered further objections that S.S. raised.

Dear S.S.,
You may want to consider some of our responses to your comments about, The Mormon Creation according to Joseph Smith.

As a believer in Christ and the Bible

Do you agree with the Mormon 9th article of faith that states that the Bible needs further revelation “We believe all that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal, and we believe that he will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God”, and that the Bible is subordinate to more recent revelation? “In addition to these four books of scripture, the inspired words of our living prophets become scripture to us. Their words come to us through conferences, Church publications, and instructions to local priesthood leaders.” (Gospel Principles, p. 51-52) This is not consistent at all with orthodox Christianity, the foundation of which is the Bible as the exclusive Word of God the Creator.

(and Mormon) I would like to add perspective. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” Gen 1:1 (only Bible ref. made) then follows “let us make man in our image.” Gen1:26 (plural use several times in OT) ‘I created a company’ doesn’t mean no one else involved.

I am not sure what is being stated or asked here. The Godhead, and specifically, the person of Jesus Christ, as stated later in the Gospels, is the Creator.

 “One of the firstborn spirit children was Jesus … ”. The first born of the Father, our Savior, and assigned creation—Colossians 1:13-15 Hebrews 1:1-6, Hebrews 12:9, Romans 8:17
The Trinity is an essential doctrine of Christianity—it delineates the identity of the God we worship.

Your statement is vague, and it makes more sense to construe it as logically equivalent with what you quote than with the orthodox Christian understanding of Jesus’ ‘firstborn’ status. Moreover, the passages you cite do not support the typical Mormon take on Jesus’ ‘firstborn’ status. First, Hebrews 12:9 and Romans 8:17 are irrelevant, as they don’t even mention anything about Jesus’ status.

Second, there is the paradigm of Psalm 89:27, in which God calls David his “firstborn”, though David was not a firstborn son. Thus “firstborn” in the Davidic context is a messianic epithet that has no necessary reference to birth order. Colossians 1:15 and Hebrews 1:6 clearly use ‘firstborn’ in this messianic sense, though the contexts of use add some new connotations to ‘firstborn’ for Jesus that it didn’t have for David. They say that all things, including angels, were made through and for Jesus (Colossians 1:16–17), and that the angels should worship Jesus (Hebrews 1:6) as “God” (Hebrews 1:8) and Yahweh, the eternal creator (Hebrews 1:10–12). Therefore, “firstborn” in the NT still retains the messianic thrust of Psalm 89:27, but it has ‘transformed’ into an epithet stressing Jesus’ divine messianic status.

A pushback to this is that since Jesus created everything, he is still God’s “firstborn” in some literal sense. At this point, traditional Trinitarian theology would agree. However, we would stress that Jesus’ mode of ‘derivation’ from the Father is qualitatively distinct from anything in creation, and John 1:1 clearly implies that Jesus’ personal subsistence necessarily follows from the very fact of the Father’s existence. What is God without his Word?

Finally, there are some instances where chronological priority does play a role in understanding Jesus’ status as “firstborn” (Colossians 1:18, Revelation 1:5; cf. Acts 26:23, 1 Corinthians 15:20). However, these are only in reference to the resurrection, and both references are prefaced with comments stressing Jesus’ messianic pre-eminence:

  • Colossians 1:18: “the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent”,
  • Revelation 1:5: “the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth”.

In other words, Jesus’ status as “firstborn” primarily connotes Jesus’ messianic pre-eminence, and only occasionally does it also have something to do with chronological priority.

“ … We have many gods.”
We believe in God the Eternal Father

Although the Mormon God differs to the point of no recognition from the God of the Bible you claim to believe, since the Mormon God was not eternal, as you state, but born of another father “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” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:47) and “I know that God is a being with body, parts and passions … Man was born of woman; Christ, the Savior, was born of woman; and God, the Father was born of woman” (Deseret News, Church News, Sept. 19, 1936, p. 2).

and in His Son Jesus Christ and in the Holy Ghost. The ‘Godhead’ (Acts 17:29). We do not believe in other Gods

Yet in a covenant marriage, we can become gods? “ … if a man marry a wife, and make a covenant with her for time and for all eternity … they shall [have] … a continuation of the seeds [children] forever and ever. Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, … Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, … and continuation of the lives, … [endless procreation of spirit children]” (Doctrine and Covenants Section 132:18-22)”, so there clearly are other gods in Mormon doctrine.

though ‘gods’ (sml ‘g’-in Bible) has other contexts. We don’t believe in the “Trinity” (not in Bible).

Please read this article for a biblical defence of the Trinity.

An alternate interpretation, disputed long before LDS. The Bible says ‘the Father and Son are one’, but also says ‘we are to be one as the Father and Son are One’ (‘one in purpose’) Jesus speaks repeatedly of distinctness of the Father.—Luke 22:42, John 17:3, Matthew 28:19, 2 Corinthians 13:14, Psalms 82:6, John 17:21-22. “Satan As Hero:” In no way reflects our faith.

By “hero” the author is referring to Satan needing to assist with the Fall for procreation of physical birth to spirit babies.

“Totally ridiculing … Christianity”. Christianity (which we consider ourselves part of) yet, for some of the reasons stated, and many more, does not even stand in harmony with the Bible is not mentioned in our temple presentation, though Satan is depicted as using false religion

It is interesting that a former Mormon who commented on this article mentioned that in the play they witnessed the Genesis serpent as being portrayed as a person with a clerical collar. This represents another artistic expression of a plain-reading of the Bible, and I’m sure no one would argue that there is too much of that going on currently.

 to lead man astray. A position I’m sure no one here is arguing.

by ,

CMI


S.S. made some further comments (in red) which are interspersed with Shaun Doyle’s responses:

Thank you for your reply. I’m grateful that you took the time to address my response. Though I recognize and respect that you don’t accept a number of the beliefs of our church to be true (like modern revelation) and I recognize a number of our Biblical interpretations are not held by the majority of our fellow Christians (like the ‘Godhead’ vs ‘Trinity’).

The Trinity is an essential doctrine of Christianity—it delineates the identity of the God we worship. Deviation from that amounts to worshipping a different deity. This is why most historic orthodox Christians refuse to call Mormons ‘Christians’—it’s not because we’re trying to be mean in excluding Mormons, but if we call Mormons ‘Christians’ then it empties the term of any theologically significant meaning.

joseph-smith

Joseph Smith by unknown painter circa 1842.

My concerns with the post and your response here is that you say the Bible is your evidence but you don’t use Bible references to refute our beliefs, you just say of our belief differ from yours and thereby must be wrong.

This is false, at least with respect to the Trinity. We offered a link that gives a biblical defence of the doctrine of the Trinity. Nonetheless, here is another: Our Triune God.

The many different sects within Christianity are evidence that interpretation of the Bible varies.

So? This doesn’t tell you how they vary, or how important those differences are. On issues like the Trinity, the Incarnation, ex nihilo creation, and God’s eternality; historic Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox all agree despite our stark differences in other areas.

And certainly we would agree that ‘the majority rules’ is not a very defendable position when dealing with the truth about God

Very true, but that doesn’t mean we can disregard the majority opinion without consideration.

(there are more Catholics and they’ve been around longer than other Christian sects, but that doesn’t make all their beliefs more true).

The papacy rules an ancient institution, but many of the beliefs the papacy currently espouses have not been around as long as the papacy or the institution it rules.

Even if ‘we Christians’ become the minority it won’t change the truth that Jesus is the Christ.

But what does it mean to say “Jesus is the Christ”? Again, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestants agree on the basic meaning of that statement—the Chalcedonian Definition provides a basic exposition of our agreement, and our article The Incarnation: Why did God become Man? provides a basic defence of that view from Scripture.

My other concern with the article is that I believe it skews our beliefs. Many things are out of context. As example we do believe God is eternal (has no beginning or end but we do believe He acquired a body at a certain point in time.

There is certainly justification for the notion that God has no beginning or end in the Book of Mormon: “For I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity [emphasis added]”. (Moroni 8:18; see also Mosiah 3:5; Alma 13:7; Moroni 7:22) and the Doctrines and Covenants: “By these things we know that there is a God in heaven, who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God, the framer of heaven and earth, and all things which are in them [emphasis added]” (D&C 20:17). However, this contrasts with Joseph Smith’s 1844 King Follett Discourse: “I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see [emphasis added]”.

To most people, this just sounds like Joseph Smith flatly contradicted himself. However, the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) offered this attempted harmonization: What do Latter-day Saints mean when they say that God was once a man? They say that the biblical “from everlasting to everlasting, you are God” language is a metaphor for God’s extreme yet finite age: “Because he has held his exalted status for a longer period than any of us can conceive, he is able to speak in terms of eternity and can state that he is from everlasting to everlasting.” Clearly they do not believe that God is literally “without beginning”. Now, I personally don’t find this solution very appealing; the biblical evidence in favour of God’s eternality is eminently clear (see esp. Psalm 90:2 and Isaiah 43:10), and even the BoM and D&C statements strike me as just as clear in context. Besides, what language could possibly distinguish the typical Mormon doctrine of the literal eternality of matter from the metaphorical eternality of God if even the passages cited above are metaphorical? The FARMS ‘solution’ seems contrived, but I suspect it would satisfy many if not most Mormons. But you seem to believe—with mainstream Christianity—that God is literally without beginning. So I ask you: what do you think of the FARMS solution?

The Savior is evidence of that … He is God, and existed eternally as God (and with God) before He took on a body 2014 years ago.

This is precisely how the Nicene Trinitarian would summarize the teaching of John 1:1,14, which is precisely the problem. What do you mean by “God”? What do you mean by “with God”? What do you mean by “eternal”? This is a consistent barrier to communication between Mormons and Christians; we use the same terms, but Mormons define them in radically different ways from Christians. “God” for Christians is not someone who became God, but is someone who of necessity has always been God—all-knowing, all-powerful, everywhere present, all-good, eternal, etc. “With God” for Christians does not mean that Jesus was a spirit baby of the Father; it means “intrinsic to God’s identity”, i.e. God cannot be God apart from the Word. And by “eternal” we do not mean “so old that nobody can fathom his beginning”, but literally “without beginning (or end)”.

He also said he did nothing except that which he saw the Father do.
The ‘God’ of LDS teaching is not the God of 1 Timothy 6:16 and John 1:1–3 because he is not an eternal, transcendent, tripersonal entity.

No, John 5:19 says: “the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing [emphases added]”. Note the present tense; this is important in light of vv. 16–17: “And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working [emphases added]’. ” The present tenses that refer to what the Father and the Son are doing are referring to continual actions that are currently in the process of being done on the Sabbath. This was scandalous in the light of Jesus’ ‘violation’ of the Sabbath; he’s working at the same things God is working at on the Sabbath. He ‘refutes’ the accusation of working on the Sabbath by claiming to do on the Sabbath what only God can do (and points out that the works he does back up his claims—John 5:36)! In other words, the grammar and context of this passage only make sense in the light of the Son participating in the Father’s present continuous work, and not copying some past completed work, such as the Father’s mortal life would have to be. As such, the Mormon reading of this passage makes no sense of either the grammar or the context.

Though I respect your right to interpret that differently you can’t say it’s not in the Bible.

We can … if we do our exegetical work properly.

Many of our beliefs like that can be defended with the Bible as easily as refuted by it (included modern revaluation).

I’m sure someone could put together a defence of the notion that the book of Jonah is actually an ancient cookbook, but that doesn’t mean such a defence is any good. The Bible can’t be made to mean just anything—the authors convey a delimitable meaning.

And a clearer understanding of our belief would give a far more reasonable context. It seems to me that too often some Christians seem to work so hard to find out of context apparent differences or so quickly accept some other critics summation of us and make so little effort to get clarity from us before judging, or to embrace our common ground which at the very least is the lessons the Savior teaches on ‘what manner of men we ought to be’ … “even as I am” (behaving in a Christ like fashion).

As you can see above, I have not done that; I sought out a Mormon response to one of the issues at hand (the eternality of God) and showed how they denied it.

I believe many of our critics have no idea how close our teachings really are to theirs (not withstanding some of the theological differences).

I wonder if many modern Mormons have become so blinded by the current push by the Mormon church to legitimize itself as ‘Christian’ that they no longer see the contradictions between historic, orthodox Christianity and Mormonism on core theological issues.

Through the many discussion I have had with my many non-Mormon Christian friends, I have found that after we get past some of the out of context characterization of our faith we find far more common ground that we can promote in our communities (which are being seriously threatened).

The similarities are only skin deep—many common ethical causes and such. The theological structure of belief is so different that I’m sometimes surprised that Mormonism came out of Christianity.

It is not necessary to agree on all fronts to respectfully recognize we are fighting on the same side. (Luke 9:49-50, Mark 9:38-40).

The ‘God’ of LDS teaching is not the God of 1 Timothy 6:16 and John 1:1–3 because he is not an eternal, transcendent, tripersonal entity. Therefore, as harsh as it may sound, we are not fighting on the same side.

I would be happy to address other individual issues but I wanted to address principle first and recognize I have already been long winded. Thank you for your time and patience with me.
S.S.

Thank you,

by

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Readers’ comments
Marc K., Australia, 7 February 2015

In haste I only skimmed the article and so I hope you haven't mentioned the following point.

LDS believe the Bible only as "far as it has been correctly translated". In discussions with senior Mormon academics I've found that that statement is an attempt to get them off the hook when you push them into a corner e.g. biblical texts which rule out their polytheism.

Jeff R., United States, 7 February 2015

This was a very interesting communication between the Mormon believer (S. S.) and the CMI writers who responded. I feel that both Shaun Doyle and Scott Gillis presented themselves and defended their biblical views quite well in accordance with 1 Timothy 3:15, 16 during this conversation. One day I hope that the Lord will allow me to be able to witness to unbelievers and the misguided in such a way that glorifies and exalts the One and only true God and Jesus Christ whom he sent (see John 17:3). Thank you all at CMI for such an inspiring and educational ministry.

David C., United States, 8 February 2015

Thanks for the time and thoroughness of your response to this person trapped in Mormonism. In discussion with a Mormon co-worker, I took up the challenge to read the Book of Mormon. There were so many errors in its first book, I wrote a response focusing on 1 Nephi, the foundation for the rest of the volume. The response has since morphed into greater detail and length in hopes of accurately reaching others.

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