Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Mormonism 101: Second Level Statements: The King Follett Discourse (#2)
05/30/2007 - James WhiteGod is an Exalted Man
God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible,I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in formlike yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with him, as one man talks and communes with another.
There are few passages in all of LDS literature more often cited, quoted, and discussed, than this one. This, and the two paragraphs that follow, rank right next to the First Vision in their impact upon LDS theology to this very day. The first phrase, God himself was once as we are now, has been so often repeated that it has become a given in LDS teaching. This, and the saying of Lorenzo Snow that we will examine later, "As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become," have attained a status in Mormon theology that ranks them as carrying as much authority as any other statement about God.
God himself was once as we are now. The full impact of this statement must be understood. Here we have a man who is claiming to stand as a prophet of God, as a Christian prophet, who is proclaiming that God once existed in a corporeal, human state. God was once a man like us. A number of things must then be true. First, God has not eternally been God. From this we develop the idea of exaltation, a process that even God Himself has undergone. Secondly, if God has not eternally been God, then obviously there must have been a God or gods before Him (unless one embraces the idea that the universe sprang into existence without divine assistance).
"God is an exalted man." From this assertion we see the coming together of the thought process we observed in the earlier sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, that being the exaltation of man to a high status. God and man are the same species, the same kind of being, differing in level of exaltation. We are not yet exalted; God has undergone this process, and this is why He differs from us. But, since He was once where we are, obviously the door is opened for us to undergo the same process and hence, someday, become a God as He is.
God has a physical body, for He is an exalted man, just as the 1838 edition of the First Vision had asserted. This physical body is not just an unnecessary addition or accessory. It is definitional of God Himself, just as our body is vital to what it means to be a human.
These statements would have been enough, but Joseph Smith was just warming up. He leaves us with no room for misunderstanding his intent.
In order to understand the subject of the dead, for consolation of those who mourn for the loss of their friends, 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 supposed 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.
When speaking of the character of God, Smith insists that God came to be God. This continues the idea that God was once something other than what He is today. Smith then strikes directly at the heart of Christian orthodoxy---at a belief held by Christians from the very beginning---in saying that he will refute the idea that God has been God from all eternity (Psalm 90:2). Obviously, then, it is perfectly permissible to understand Smith as positively saying that God has not eternally been God. How else could it be? The drive to make it possible for man to become exalted must of necessity result in this kind of assertion about God Himself. The God of Christian orthodoxy, because He is eternal, unchanging, and exhaustive of every category of perfection, power, and being, simply leaves no room for the kind of future Smith envisioned for man. Hence, the God of Christian orthodoxy had to be refuted.
We cannot lightly pass over Smith's assertion that it is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know . . . that he was once a man like us. I have often heard LDS say that we shouldn't discuss such deep issues as exaltation to godhood, yet Smith says it is the first principle of the Gospel. It is clear that Joseph Smith did not view this as an optional belief at this point in his life and teaching. This is not just a side-issue upon which we may or may not agree with him. This is doctrine, pure and simple, and it is not something upon which a person can disagree and remain a follower of the Prophet.
Further, we cannot miss the emphasis upon the similarity of the pre-exaltation existence of God with our own current earthly lot. Smith insists that God's time as a man is parallel to the life of Christ here upon earth. Obviously, then, Smith means what he says: God was a man like we are men, human beings, going through the same experiences of life that we are. Some modern LDS are uncomfortable with the clarity and force of such statements. Some wish to pull the veil back across the Prophet's teachings so as to not have to defend such doctrine. But this is his teaching, without question.
 Ibid., p. 345. Italics in the printed edition.
 Many Christian philosophers have pointed out the obvious flaw in such a concept: if every God was once a man, then, what about the first God? If the law is inviolable, did not this God have to be a man before becoming a God? Some LDS have said that there was never a first, but that the regression is eternal. But such an argument is irrational on many grounds. The simplest means of demonstrating this is to point out that the number of exalted beings is increasing as time passes. If the number increases with the passing of time, and cannot then decrease (Gods don't cease to be Gods, do they?), then as we go back in time the number decreases. Eventually, one must come to the first God who began the process. That this idea has been found in LDS writings is fairly simple to document. Mormon Apostle Orson Pratt noted in his book, The Seer, p. 132 (from September of 1853):
We were begotten by our Father in Heaven; the person of our Father in Heaven was begotten by a still more ancient Father and so on, from generation to generation, from one heavenly world to another still more ancient, until our minds are wearied and lost in the multiplicity of generations and successive worlds, and as a last resort, we wonder in our minds, how far back the genealogy extends, and how the first world was formed, and the first father was begotten. But why does man seek for a first, when revelation informs him that Gods works are without beginning? Do you still seek for a first link where the chain is endless? Can you conceive of a first year in endless duration? . . . The Fulness of Truth, dwelling in an endless succession of past generations, would produce an endless succession of personal Gods, each possessing equal wisdom, power, and glory with all the rest. In worshipping any one of these Gods we worship the whole, and in worshipping the whole, we still worship but one God; for it is the same God who dwells in them all; the personages are only His different dwelling places.
It seems to me that Pratt here goes well into the realm of speculation, though again, the Mormon is left to deal with the difficulty of an Apostle teaching on religious truth and yet, in so doing, not providing authoritative counsel and doctrine.
 Ibid., pp. 345-346. Italics in printed edition.
 Hence, when one sees LDS writers referring to God as eternal, they are normally referring to God's existence en toto, that is, on the same level as being able to say, as Mormons do, that man is eternal as well.
 K. Codell Carter, writing on the subject Godhood in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1992), Latter-day Saints believe that God achieved his exalted rank by progressing much as man must progress and that God is a perfected and exalted man. He then cites from the King Follett Discourse as evidence of this belief.
Mormonism 101: Second Level Statements: The King Follett Discourse (#1)
05/29/2007 - James WhiteI have been providing portions from my book, Is the Mormon My Brother?, which define, from exclusively LDS sources, the teachings of Mormonism regarding the central definitional doctrine of any theistic religion: the doctrine of God. Given the presidential aspirations of Mitt Romney, a Mormon, this topic is once again in the public eye, and sadly, the general ignorance of LDS teaching on the part of the public at large is simply absymal.
The idea of latter-day revelation opens up for us a second level of authoritative teachings from which we can glean a great deal of information about the LDS doctrine of God. We have seen the words of the LDS Scriptures and of the living Prophet. We now turn to second level statements, those coming from Joseph Smith, the prophet of the restoration itself, from the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and from the LDS Temple Ceremonies. We begin with Joseph Smith.
The King Follett Discourse
It is quoted hundreds of times by LDS General Authorities in their sermons and books. So often is one section of it cited in Mormon history that even Stephen Robinson, a Mormon scholar who insists that critics of Mormonism stick to a narrow spectrum of official teachings of the Church, admits that this one statement has been repeated so often that its authority cannot be questioned, even though it has not been canonized. It is quintessential Mormonism.
It first appeared in print August 15, 1844 in the Mormon publication Times and Seasons. It was reported by a host of qualified sources, including Willard Richards, Wilford Woodruff (who became Prophet of the Church later in life), Thomas Bullock and William Clayton--none of whom had any reason to be unfriendly in their recording of the preaching of Smith that April morning. It was the Conference of the Church, but it was also combined with the funeral of one Elder King Follett, who had passed away. The Prophet rose to speak, and what he said has formed the very heart of the LDS theology of God ever since. We will look extensively at his words. I strongly encourage the reader to pay close attention to Smith's claims in light of what we have already seen. Smith began by asserting that he was being inspired by the Holy Spirit to dwell on his subject that day:
Beloved Saints, I will call the attention of this congregation while I address you on the subject of the dead. The decease of our beloved brother, Elder King Follett, who was crushed in a well by the falling of a tub of rock, has more immediately led me tothat subject. I have been requested to speak by his friends and relatives, but inasmuch as there are a great many in this congregation who live in this city as well as elsewhere, who have lost friends, I feel disposed to speak on the subject in general, and offer you my ideas, so far as I have ability, and so far as I shall be inspired by the Holy Spirit to dwell on this subject.The Prophet then went on to ask for God's help to speak the truth, and then asserted that he intended to "edify you with the simple truths from heaven." Smith starts at the beginning, so to speak, the very beginning of creation:
In the first place, I wish to go back to the beginning--to the morn of creation. There is the starting point for us to look to, in order to understand and be fully acquainted with the mind, purposes and decrees of the Great Elohim, who sits in yonder heavens as he did at the creation of this world. It is necessary for us to have an understanding of God himself in the beginning. If we start right, it is easy to go right all the time; but if we start wrong, we may go wrong, and it be a hard matter to get right. . . . If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves. I want to go back to the beginning, and so lift your minds into a more lofty sphere and a more exalted understanding than what the human mind generally aspires to.
At this point we can only agree: if we start off in error regarding having an understanding of God himself, we will indeed go wrong. And so we see that Smith is intent upon introducing his audience to the very character and nature of God. He goes on to ask his audience to consider what kind of being is God? He reminds them of Jesus words, "This is life eternal that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." He then informs the assembly that his first object is to "find out the character of the only wise and true God, and what kind of a being he is." This is encouraging to us, for that is exactly what we wish to know, and there is hardly a better source to turn to than the founding Prophet of Mormonism for the LDS answer to that question. One can detect some petulance on the part of the Prophet, however, for it seems that there had been many who opposed his doctrine of God:
. . . and if I am so fortunate as to be the man to comprehend God, and explain or convey the principles to your hearts, so that the Spirit seals them upon you, then let every man and woman henceforth sit in silence, put their hands on their mouths, and never lift their hands or voices, or say anything against the man of God or the servants of God again.After this Smith makes some comments concerning freedom of religion, and then returns to his main subject:
I will prove that the world is wrong, by showing what God is. I am going to enquire after God; for I want you all to know him, and to be familiar with him; and if I am bringing you to a knowledge of him, all persecutions against me ought to cease. You will then know that I am his servant; for I speak as one having authority.
There can certainly be no question, then, of how serious Smith is in his preaching on this day. These are not off-hand remarks made in passing: he is intent upon addressing the very issue that has drawn our interest in this study.
I will go back to the beginning before the world was, to show what kind of being God is. What sort of a being was God in the beginning? Open your ears and hear, all ye ends of the earth, for I am going to prove it to you by the Bible, and to tell you the designs of God in relation to the human race, and why He interferes with the affairs of man.Such claims are indeed sweeping. Here we have the first President and Prophet of the LDS Church telling us what kind of being God is, and asserting he will prove this from the Bible! Gods designs in relation to mankind, and His purposes in this world, will now be laid out for us. The preliminaries are over. Now Joseph Smith provides some clear answers.
 This being the statement that God is an exalted man. Craig L. Blomberg and Stephen E. Robinson, How Wide the Divide? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), p. 85.
 James R. Clark, Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [1833-1951], 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-1975), 1:209, LDSCL, notes not only the tremendous importance of this sermon, but sheds valuable lightupon it as well:
The King Follett Sermon to the General Conference of the Church in April and the one following in this compilation given at a meeting in the Grove, east of the Temple in Nauvoo, Illinois June 16, 1844 constitute the final summary of Joseph Smith before hisdeath of the Mormon doctrine of God. Because both of these sermons as they stand in the DHC are not stenographic reports the editor of the DHC felt it wise to make some explanatory remarks concerning certain statements in the sermons. These footnotes wehave also included in the documents as we publish them here. The Mormon doctrine of the Godhead began with the First Vision of Joseph Smith in 1820 when God the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to Joseph Smith. From that time until 1844 Joseph Smiths direct contacts with heavenly messengers and beings seems never to have ceased. Much of what he sets forth in these two famous sermons he quite likely learned from his personal contacts with Deity and His messengers. He also says in the June 16, 1844, sermon that he learned some of the concepts of God found in the sermon by translating the papyrus which is now in my house. The reference here is to the papyrus rolls of Abraham found in Egypt in 1821 and which Joseph Smith obtained in 1835, a partial translation of which appears in the Book of Abraham in The Pearl of Great Price. The sermons also give evidence of Joseph Smiths acquaintance with other ancient scriptures and of his study of Hebrew with a Jewish Rabbi in 1835-1836. Perhaps only one other doctrinal exposition of the Godhead in official L.D.S. literature will stand alongside these two sermons and that is the Doctrinal Exposition by The First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles entitled: The Father and the Son issued June 30, 1916.
 Joseph Fielding Smith, ed., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Press, 1938), p. 342, LDSCL. All following citations of the King Follett Discourse likewise come from this source.
Mormonism 101 Continued
05/28/2007 - James WhiteBut how can men become gods? This is answered in probably the most famous portion of the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 132. This portion, put to paper on July 12th, 1843, speaks directly to the issue by introducing the covenant of eternal marriage. This concept is vitally important to Mormons, and while plural marriage (which was intimately connected with the eternal covenant of marriage) is not currently practiced in official Mormonism (many Mormons looking forward to the day when it is re-instituted, honestly believing it is God's highest will for marriage), it is still central to understanding the means by which the LDS Church teaches men can be called gods. Here is the key passage, verses 19-20:
19 And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood; and it shall be said unto them---Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection; and if it be after the first resurrection, in the next resurrection; and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths---then shall it be written in the Lamb's Book of Life, that he shall commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, and if ye abide in my covenant, and commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, it shall be done unto them in all things whatsoever my servant hath put upon them, in time, and through all eternity; and shall be of full force when they are out of the world; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.Later the same passage says, "Abraham received concubines, and they bore him children; and it was accounted unto him for righteousness" (v. 37), and in the same verse, we are told that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have entered into their exaltation, according to the promises, and sit upon thrones, and are not angels but are gods.
20 Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.
Many sermons have been delivered by the General Authorities of the LDS Church on this passage and what it means, but we will have to look at those comments later, as they fall into a different category of authority. For the moment, we note that these scriptural passages assert that men can become gods by abiding in the covenant, and that as a result, they will be gods, being from everlasting to everlasting, and that they will have all power and that the angels are subject unto them. When we combine these statements with the previous ones, we can see the general outline of LDS theology today regarding God, the Gods (from the Book of Abraham), the idea that God the Father has a physical body, and that man may become a "god" and have "all power."
But if these were all the passages we had, we would be hard put to come up with a very clear concept of the Mormon doctrine of God. But, Mormonism is not limited to merely these passages. The concept of continuing revelation, which gave rise to these passages in the first place, throws much light on what is meant in these sections. But before we move to second level statements, we briefly note the words of the current living Prophet of the LDS Church.
THE LIVING PROPHET
At the General Relief Society Meeting, held September 23, 1995, in Salt Lake City, President Gordon B. Hinckley, the current LDS Prophet, read the following pronouncement. Since it was read by the Prophet, and specifically names the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve as making a "solemn proclamation," we can safely view it as representing the viewpoint and teaching of the current Prophet:
We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children.
All human beings--male and female--are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, andeternal identity and purpose.
In the premortal realm, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshiped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize his or her divine destiny as an heir of eternal life. The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.
I note the use of the phrase heavenly parents in asserting that we are all created in the image of God. This results in our having a divine nature and destiny. Such terminology will become more important when we encounter even clearer official explanations of what this involves.
Mormonism 101: More on the LDS Scripture's View of God
05/22/2007 - James WhiteThe end result of having canonized revelations that span the period of Smith's doctrinal development is simple inconsistency. LDS apologists and theologians normally interpret the earlier monotheistic and traditional statements in light of the later, more unique statements. The First Vision story becomes the lens through which all else is seen, so that the unity of the Godhead envisioned in various early passages from Joseph Smith is understood to be a unity of purpose only, rather than a unity of being. It is logical, of course, if one believes in on-going revelation in the LDS fashion, to think that the later pronouncements of a prophet are to be taken as having more authority than the earlier ones, even if those later revelations are contradictory to the prior ones. A prophet has the right, we are often told, to interpret his own messages, and adjust as necessary.
What do we do with the inconsistencies inherent in the LDS Scriptures? Surely such a fact should be allowed to speak to the question of the inspiration of those Scriptures, but for our purposes at the moment, we need to focus upon those passages that have had the greatest impact upon later generations and the teachings of the General Authorities of the LDS Church.
The Testimony of the Book of Abraham
Certainly the most unique section of LDS Scripture is found to be the Book of Abraham, contained in the Pearl of Great Price. This work, Translated from the papyrus, by Joseph Smith is allegedly A Translation of some ancient Records, that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt. The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus." The story of the Book of Abraham is fascinating, but beyond our scope. Its importance to our study lies in the final chapters of the book. Here we find what amounts to a rewrite of the opening chapters of the book of Genesis in the Old Testament. Only this time, the fact that Joseph Smith's theology has changed a good bit is only too clear.
Joseph worked on the Book of Abraham during two major periods, and the second period came later in his life (1842), after he had begun introducing the idea of a plurality of gods into the LDS Church. It is hardly surprising, then, that in translating the Egyptian papyri, Joseph discovered that Abraham himself had taught a plurality of gods. The reader is directed to chapters four and five of the Book of Abraham for a full accounting, but the first few verses are enough to give a flavor of the passage:
1 AND then the Lord said: Let us go down. And they went down at the beginning, and they, that is the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth.
2 And the earth, after it was formed, was empty and desolate, because they had not formed anything but the earth; and darkness reigned upon the face of the deep, and the Spirit of the Gods was brooding upon the face of the waters.
3 And they (the Gods) said: Let there be light; and there was light.
4 And they (the Gods) comprehended the light, for it was bright; and they divided the light, or caused it to be divided, from the darkness.
5 And the Gods called the light Day, and the darkness they called Night. And it came to pass that from the evening until morning they called night; and from the morning until the evening they called day; and this was the first, or the beginning, of that which they called day and night.
6 And the Gods also said: Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and it shall divide the waters from the waters.
7 And the Gods ordered the expanse, so that it divided the waters which were under the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so, even as they ordered.
8 And the Gods called the expanse, Heaven. And it came to pass that it was from evening until morning that they called night; and it came to pass that it was from morning until evening that they called day; and this was the second time that they called night and day.
By my count the phrase "the Gods" appears forty-six times in only two chapters of text here in the Book of Abraham, each time in capitalized form. Given the obvious dependency upon the text of the book of Genesis, Joseph's point is all too clear and understandable. He would only two years later claim that the Hebrew term translated God in Genesis is mistranslated, and should be rendered in the plural. Whatever else we may say about the Book of Abraham, one thing is for certain: it presents the plurality of gods very, very clearly.
The Doctrine and Covenants
The student of Mormonism is well aware of the fact that the primary source of doctrinal teaching in the LDS Scriptures themselves is to be found in the Doctrine and Covenants. While the Book of Mormon is widely read, it does not present the vast majority of the unique, definitional doctrines of the LDS faith. Instead, the D&C (as it is often abbreviated in LDS sources) is the real source of most of modern LDS theology. And it is here we find the clearest presentations regarding the nature of God, especially in reference to God's relationship to man and the concept of deification. ...
[Click Here to Continue Reading]
Mormonism 101: The First Vision Continued
05/19/2007 - James WhiteThe absence of the concept of a plurality of gods from the earlier accounts of the First Vision leads us to an important point in our examination of LDS doctrinal material: Joseph Smith's development of what is today orthodox LDS belief concerning God. We are again faced with a factor that complicates our task, in that it is almost self-evident that Joseph Smith's theology evolved radically between 1829 and his death in 1844. In fact, the reason we can find passage after passage in the earlier writings of Smith (such as the Book of Mormon and the earlier sections of the Doctrine and Covenants) that consistently affirm the truth that there is only one true God is that Joseph Smith, in those early years, believed in only one true God. However, somewhere between 1834 and 1836 or so, this changed, and by June of 1844, Smith was saying,
I will preach on the plurality of Gods. I have selected this text for that express purpose. I wish to declare I have always and in all congregations when I have preached on the subject of the Deity, it has been the plurality of Gods. It has been preached by the Elders for fifteen years.
Yet, we find in the Book of Mormon statement after statement that does not even begin to fit in the mold of preaching a plurality of gods. The Testimony of the Three Witnesses (Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer) printed in the front of theBook of Mormon records them saying, And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen. Here are just a few representative samples from the text of the Book of Mormon itself:
. . . wherefore they both shall be established in one; for there is one God and one Shepherd over all the earth. (1 Nephi 13:41)
And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen. (2 Nephi 31:21)
And he hath brought to pass the redemption of the world, whereby he that is found guiltless before him at the judgment day hath it given unto him to dwell in the presence of God in his kingdom, to sing ceaseless praises with the choirs above, unto the Father, and unto the Son, and unto the Holy Ghost, which are one God, in a state of happiness which hath no end. (Mormon 7:7)
In the same manner, the early revelations of Joseph Smith speak of there being only one true God. The 20th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants, given April, 1830, speaks often of this fact:
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. (D&C 20:17)
Which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end. Amen. (D&C 20:28)
In fact, it seems Smith tried to explain God in trinitarian categories even in the Book of Mormon. However, he, like many Christians today, erred, and ended up presenting the ancient error known as modalism, the idea that the Father is the Son, the Son is the Spirit, and the Spirit is the Father. Note this section from the Book of Mormon, Mosiah 15:1-5:
AND now Abinadi said unto them: I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people. 2 And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son--3 The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son--4 And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth. 5 And thus the flesh becoming subject to the Spirit, or the Son to the Father, being one God, suffereth temptation, and yieldeth not to the temptation, but suffereth himself to be mocked, and scourged, and cast out, and disowned by his people.
Studies have been published which address the issue of the development of Joseph Smiths concept of God over time. A clear example of this can be found by accessing the book, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith. This work compiles doctrinal teachings of Smith in chronological order. The fair investigator cannot help but be struck by the fact that if one starts at the beginning and reads through to the end, the progression and evolution of Smith's thought is clear and striking. What he teaches in 1829 is not what he is teaching in 1844. But a scriptural example is provided by comparing the above cited story of the First Vision with a section from a revelation given in September of 1832 in Kirtland, Ohio, D&C 84:21-22:
And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh; For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.
This section describes the authority of the priesthood and insists that no man can see God the Father without the priesthood and live. Yet, according to Mormon theology, Joseph did not receive the priesthood until 1829, yet the First Vision story says he saw God the Father in 1820. Why didn't Joseph Smith see a conflict in 1832 when he claimed that no man can see God the Father without the priesthood and live? The answer is simple: he had not claimed to have seen God the Father at that time. The First Vision story had not yet evolved to the point where two separate and distinct gods are presented, hence, there was no contradiction to be had in making the statement he did. Only later, as he developed his concept of a plurality of gods, does this section require some very intriguing explanation.
 Joseph Fielding Smith, ed., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Press, 1938), p. 370, LDSCL.
 These include G.B. Arbaugh, Revelation in Mormonism, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1932), Boyd Kirklands article, Elohim and Jehovah in Mormonism and the Bible (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 19 : 77-93, and Van Hales article The Doctrinal Impact of the King Follet Discourse in BYU Studies, 18  Number 2, 213ff, LDSCL.
 A concept that likewise developed over time in Smith's theology, it being absent from the time period encompassing the founding of the Church itself.
 For example, Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957-1963), 3:155, LDSCL.
Mormon History and Jerald (and Sandra) Tanner
05/14/2007 - Jeff DownsThe latest edition of the Salt Lake City Messenger, #108, May 2007 (which I just received in the mail today) is online. The featured article, which appears to be at least two parts (second part forthcoming), is by Ronald V. Huggins titled Jerald Tanner's Quest for Truth.
This article is similar to listening to Wesley Walters as he discusses the Mystery of Mormon History.
Huggins is the author of a few articles online such as:
Joseph Smith and the First Verse of the Bible
C. S. Lewis Misquoted In Robert L. Millet’s A Different Jesus?: The Christ of Latter-day Saints? and
"Lorenzo Snow’s Couplet: ‘As Man Now Is, God Once Was: As God Now Is, Man May Be’: ‘No Functioning Place in Present-Day Mormon Doctrine?’ A Response to Richard Mouw." Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Vol. 49, No. 3 (September 2006). (Article not currently online).
Mormonism 101: Badly Needed in our Culture Today
05/12/2007 - James WhiteFor anyone who has studied the theology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, listening to talk radio of any kind during this political season is proving painful. Being even a conservative talk show host obviously does not impart to you even the slightest bit of theological or historical knowledge. The flood of utter ignorance of LDS beliefs that I have heard flying out of my radio speakers has been breathtaking. "Mormons are just a different kind of Christian" seems to be about as deep as most people want to go, and one thing is for sure: if you dare try to address the fundamental differences between Mormonism and Christianity, you will not be given the time of day. No one is interested. Now, I must admit, I have heard a few make the attempt who never should have, either. You need to know what you are talking about if you are going to try to make the case with clarity
It is to that end that I would like to provide you with some basic information regarding the LDS doctrine of God. My sources will be LDS. I am drawing from my book, Is the Mormon My Brother, which we are seeking to put back into print. The current political campaign has opened up the opportunity for dialogue. The door is not wide open, but, if the Christian is prepared, knowledgable, and has a clear direction in mind, he or she has an opportunity to speak a word in due season, to God's glory.
The First Vision
Without question the key revelation in Mormon Scripture regarding the nature of God is to be found in what is known as the First Vision of Joseph Smith. The vision itself is fundamental to all of LDS theology. Mormon Apostle Bruce R. McConkie described the vision:
That glorious theophany which took place in the spring of 1820 and which marked the opening of the dispensation of the fulness of times is called the First Vision. It is rated as first both from the standpoint of time and of pre-eminent importance. In it Joseph Smith saw and conversed with the Father and the Son, both of which exalted personages were personally present before him as he lay enwrapped in the Spirit and overshadowed by the Holy Ghost.
This transcendent vision was the beginning of latter day revelation; it marked the opening of the heavens after the long night of apostate darkness; with it was ushered in the great era of restoration, the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. (Acts 3:21.) Through it the creeds of Christendom were shattered to smithereens, and because of it the truth about those Beings whom it is life eternal to know began again to be taught among men. (John 17:3.) With this vision came the call of that Prophet who, save Jesus only, was destined to do more for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it. (D. & C. 135:3.) This vision was the most important event that had taken place in all world history from the day of Christ's ministry to the glorious hour when it occurred.(1)
And Mormon Prophet Ezra Taft Benson said,
Joseph Smith, a prophet of God, restored the knowledge of God. Joseph's first vision clearly revealed that the Father and Son are separate personages, having bodies as tangible as mans. Later it was also revealed that the Holy Ghost is a personage of Spirit, separate and distinct from the personalities of the Father and the Son. (See D&C 130:22.) This all-important truth shocked the world even though sustained by the Bible. (2)
How is it that the creeds of Christendom were shattered to smithereens and the knowledge of God was restored by this one vision? While the story is as familiar to Mormons as John 3:16 is to Christians, we present Joseph Smith's own recounting of the story in full, taken from the LDS Scriptures (and hence carrying canonical authority). However, we note that the account that appears in the LDS Scriptures was written in 1838, eighteen years after the events described:
14 So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally.
15 After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon bysome power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.
16 But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction---not to an imaginary ruin, but to the powerof some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any beingjust at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
17 It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, callingme by name and said, pointing to the otherThis is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!
18 My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)--and which I should join.
19 I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong;(3) and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.
20 He again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time. When I came to myself again, I found myself lying on my back, looking up into heaven. When the light had departed, I had no strength; but soon recovering in some degree, I went home. And as I leaned up to the fireplace, mother inquired what the matter was. I replied, Never mind, all is wellI am well enough off. I then said to my mother, I have learned for myself that Presbyterianism is not true. It seems as though the adversary was aware, at a very early period of my life, that I was destined to prove a disturber and an annoyer of his kingdom; else why should the powers of darkness combine against me? Why the opposition and persecution that arose against me, almost in my infancy? (Joseph Smith History 1:14-20).
What does this vision, recorded in LDS Scripture, teach concerning God? First and foremost, it presents to us the concept of a plurality of gods. This arises from the fact that God the Father is a separate and distinct physical entity from Jesus Christ, His Son. God the Father is possessed of a physical body, as is the Son. This is why McConkie can claim the creeds of Christendom were smashed to smithereens, for the vision has always been interpreted by the LDS leadership to teach that God the Father is a separate and distinct person and being from the Son. The unity of Being that is central to Christian theology is completely denied by Joseph Smith in the First Vision. Hence, you have one God, the Father, directing Smith to another God, the Son.
While it is not our intention to critique these teachings at this point, it should be noted that there are a number of problems with the First Vision, and with the entire development of the LDS concept of God as well. As we noted, this version of the First Vision was not written until 1838. Previous versions, however, differed in substantial details from this final and official account. Most significantly, the presence of both the Father and the Son as separate and distinct gods is not a part of the earlier accounts.(4)
(1) Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine,2nd ed., rev. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), pp. 284-285, LDSCL.
(2) Ezra Taft Benson, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988), p. 4, LDSCL. On page 101 of the same book, we read this strong statement:
The first vision of the Prophet Joseph Smith is bedrock theology to the Church. The adversary knows this and has attacked Joseph Smith's credibility from the day he announced the visitation of the Father and the Son. You should always bear testimony to thetruth of the First Vision. Joseph Smith did see the Father and the Son. They conversed with him as he said they did. Any leader who, without reservation, cannot declare his testimony that God and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith can never be a true leader, a true shepherd. If we do not accept this truthif we have not received a witness about this great revelationwe cannot inspire faith in those whom we lead.
(3) One of Mormonism's leading scholars, James Talmage (and a General Authority), said the following in the General Conference of April, 1920:
This Church, therefore, from its beginning, has been unique, for the organization of the Church was forecasted in this declaration that at the time of Joseph Smiths first vision there was no Church of Jesus Christ upon the earth; and I do not see why people should take issue with us for making that statement (CR1920Apr:103).
(4) I noted a number of the historical problems with Mormonism in Letters to a Mormon Elder, pp. 88-106. For a fuller treatment of this issue, see H. Michael Marquardt and Wesley P. Walters, Inventing Mormonism (Salt Lake: Smith Research Associates, 1994), pp.1-41, and Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Mormonism: Shadow or Reality? (Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1982), pp. 143-162.