Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
The Only Begotten of the Father in the Flesh: Mormonism's Embarrassing Theology (#2)
11/29/2007 - James WhiteNineteenth Century Teachings
Since it is said that this doctrine is primarily found in the nineteenth century, we should take the time to find out if those LDS leaders that modern apologists admit speculated on this topic were, in fact, saying, This is my speculation and opinion only, or whether in fact they taught this doctrine as a divine truth, consistent with the rest of LDS theology. However, as we will see, the vast majority of the statements presenting this doctrine come from the twentieth century!
The most vocal proponent of the idea that God the Father, possessing a physical body, begat the physical body of Jesus Christ, was Brigham Young, second Prophet and President of the LDS Church. We have already noted earlier that President Young stated that if he was given the chance to correct a sermon (i.e., proofread the transcript) when it was recorded, it was then as good Scripture as the people deserved. What did President Young say about this doctrine?
He [God] created man, as we create our children; for there is no other process of creation in heaven, on the earth, in the earth, or under the earth, or in all the eternities, that is, that were, or that ever will be. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, ed. George D. Watt, 26 vols. (Liverpool: F.D. Richards, et al., 1854-1886), 11:122, LDSCL.
The birth of the Saviour was as natural as are the births of our children; it was the result of natural action. He partook of flesh and blood was begotten of his Father, as we were of our fathers. Ibid., 8:115, LDSCL.
When the Virgin Mary conceived the child Jesus, the Father had begotten him in his own likeness. He was not begotten by the Holy Ghost. . . . Now, remember from this time forth, and for ever, that Jesus Christ was not begotten by the Holy Ghost. I will repeat a little anecdote. I was in conversation with a certain learned professor upon this subject, when I replied, to this idea if the Son was begotten by the Holy Ghost, it would be very dangerous to baptize and confirm females, and give the Holy Ghost to them, lest he should beget children, and be palmed upon the Elders by the people, bringing the Elders into great difficulties. Ibid., 1:50-51, LDSCL.
When the time came that His first-born, the Saviour, should come into the world and take a tabernacle, the Father came Himself and favoured that spirit with a tabernacle instead of letting any other man do it. The Saviour was begotten by the Father of His spirit, by the same Being who is the Father of our spirits, and that is all the organic difference between Jesus Christ and you and me Ibid., 4:218, LDSCL.As this is one of Young's plainest statements, we should note some particulars. Young says God favored his first-born, the Savior, with a tabernacle. The term first-born in LDS theology refers to the idea that Jesus Christ is the first begotten spirit child of God (Elohim) in the spiritual pre-existence. Once Elohim became a God, his first-born spirit offspring was Jesus, also known (in modern LDS theology) as Jehovah. This is a concept that developed after Joseph Smith's life, as Smith referred to the Father as Jehovah. Mormon theology regarding the names Elohim and Jehovah is quite muddled, as the Bible uses the two terms of the one true God. The term first-born needs to be differentiated from only-begotten in Mormon teaching. In biblical terminology, the two terms are very closely related, and both refer to the unique relationship of Father and Son. First-born refers to pre-eminence and authority, while only-begotten is better rendered unique, and likewise speaks to the special relationship between Father and Son. If one listens carefully to the leaders of the Church, and even to the missionaries who visit in your home, you will note the use of a short, three word modifier when Mormons refer to only-begotten. They consistently say, "Jesus is the only-begotten in the flesh." It took me some time to realize what this meant, but it goes back to this very concept. As we have seen, Mormons believe that Elohim has begotten literally billions of spirit offspring in heaven. Hence, how can he be said to have an only-begottenSon? The key is recognizing that Jesus Christ is the only human being who was physically begotten by God the Father. This will become more and more clear as the citations stack up.
. . . the Father came down from heaven, as the Apostles said he did, and begat the Saviour of the world, for he is the only-begotten of the Father, which could not be if the Father did not actually beget him in person. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 1:238, LDSCL.
This matter was a little changed in the case of the Savior of the world, the Son of the living God. The man Joseph, the husband of Mary, did not, that we know of, have more than one wife, but Mary the wife of Joseph had another husband. On this account infidels have called the Savior a bastard. This is merely a human opinion upon one of the inscrutable doings of the Almighty. That very babe that was cradled in the manger, was begotten, not by Joseph, the husband of Mary, but by another Being. Do you inquire by whom? He was begotten by God our heavenly father. Ibid., 11:268, LDSCL.It is certainly striking that the Mormon Prophet would say that Mary had another husband, and that husband was God our heavenly Father. In the same way, note the parallelism between Jesus not being begotten by Joseph, but instead being begotten by Elohim. And the reader should keep in mind throughout these passages the statement of LDS Scripture: The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as mans (D&C 130:22). How, then, does a God who has a body of flesh and bones beget a child?
Mormon Apostle Heber Kimball likewise addressed this topic:
In relation to the way in which I look upon the works of God and his creatures, I will say that I was naturally begotten; so was my father, and also my Saviour Jesus Christ. According to the Scriptures, he is the first begotten of his father in the flesh, and there was nothing unnatural about it. Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses, 8:211, LDSCL.Kimball claims that Jesus was begotten just as he, Kimball, was begotten. There was nothing unnatural about it. Certainly this is what Orson Pratt had in mind when he wrote the following startling, and indeed, highly offensive, section:
. . . but it was the personage of the Father who begat the body of Jesus; and for this reason Jesus is called the Only Begotten of the Father; that is, the only one in this world whose fleshly body was begotten by the Father. There were millions of sons and daughters whom He begat before the foundation of the world, but they were spirits, and not bodies of flesh and bones; whereas, both the spirit and body of Jesus were begotten by the Father the spirit having been begotten in heaven many ages before the tabernacle was begotten upon the earth. The fleshly body of Jesus required a Mother as well as a Father. Therefore, the Father and Mother of Jesus, according to the flesh, must have been associated together in the capacity of Husband and Wife; hence the Virgin Mary must have been, for the time being, the lawful wife of God the Father: we use the term lawful Wife, because it would be blasphemous in the highest degree to say that He overshadowed her or begat the Saviour unlawfully. It would have been unlawful for any man to have interfered with Mary, who was already espoused to Joseph; for such a heinous crime would have subjected both the guilty parties to death, according to the law of Moses. But God having created all men and women, had the most perfect right to do with His own creation, according to His holy will and pleasure; He had a lawful right to overshadow the Virgin Mary in the capacity of a husband, and beget a Son, although she was espoused to another; for the law which He gave to govern men and women was not intended to govern Himself, or to prescribe rules for his own conduct. It was also lawful in Him, after having thus dealt with Mary, to give Mary to Joseph her espoused husband. Whether God the Father gave Mary to Joseph for time only, or for time and eternity, we are not informed. Inasmuch as God was the first husband to her, it may be that He only gave her to be the wife of Joseph while in this mortal state, and that He intended after the resurrection to again take her as one of his own wives to raise up immortal spirits in eternity. Orson Pratt, The Seer, p. 158.Such blunt language certainly causes us to consider a rather obvious problem: in LDS theology, Mary was Elohim's spirit child. Yet, a Mormon apostle speaks of Mary as being Elohim's wife so that the procreative act would be licit. It is this very idea that has caused some LDS of my acquaintance to utterly reject as preposterous and blasphemous the idea that God the Father would impregnate one of his own spirit daughters. The term incest has been used by those who rejected this view even as Mormons. Yet, this is what Pratt taught. Even if one, in the face of the evidence yet to be presented, rejects the doctrine as being truly representative of Mormon theology (a difficult thing to do), it still follows that those who taught such things are, beyond question, heretics in the true sense of the word. How a person then deals with the fact that Mormon apostles have taught heresy from the pulpit and in print is another issue.
If these were all the statements we could present on this topic, we could understand the strong language of Dr. Peterson, Dr. Ricks, and Dr. Robinson. We could hardly hold the modern LDS Church accountable for a small number of statements, especially if we found repeated affirmations of the virgin birth of Christ in later authoritative writings. But is this what we actually find? No. Instead, we find the vast majority of the clearest statements on this topic in the twentieth century and in official LDS Church publications! To those sources we now turn.
The Only Begotten of the Father in the Flesh: Mormonism's Embarrassing Theology
11/28/2007 - James WhiteMormonism continues to show great shame for its own roots and its own history, resulting in the (dishonest) rewriting of its own history. One of the most embarrassing teachings of the LDS Church and its leaders has to do with the teaching that Jesus is the physical offspring of Elohim, the Father, who likewise has a physical body. That is, that Jesus was physically begotten in a sexual union between the Father and Mary. So prevalent was this teaching that to our very day you can hear LDS missionaries speak of Jesus as "the only begotten of the Father in the flesh." Given that Mormons believe God the Father has many celestial wives, and that we are all offspring of Elohim and one of these wives, the phrase "only begotten of the Father" in the King James Version does require some explanation on the part of Mormon theology. The explanation has been consistent down through the decades, and to this day I do not know of a single official denial of this doctrine from the leadership of the LDS Church. However, you will find lots of unofficial denials coming out of BYU. The most recent I find in the new book from Robert Millet and Gregory Johnson, the next installment in the "compromise the gospel for the sake of false unity" campaign, titled Bridging the Divide (2007). This small book (it could have been made into a booklet, its margins are so wide) carries endorsements by the usual suspects such as Richard Mouw of Fuller Seminary (who has done more to end meaningful evangelism amongst Mormons than anyone else I know of). Others likewise wrote words of commendation, though with care (I personally think many who did so should have stayed far, far away, but have allowed the spirit of our age to cloud their thinking). Once again, the person familiar with the LDS faith and its historical teachings will find this "dialogue" maddeningly shallow and missing the heart of the issue. But as soon as I received the book, my eyes fell upon the following words, and I simply had to take the time to demonstrate how far from the truth the "dialogue" has wandered.
Some time ago a colleague and I were in Southern California speaking to a group of about 500 people, both Latter-day Saint and Protestant. During the question and answer phase of the program, someone asked the inevitable: "Are you really Christian? Do you, as many claim, worship a different Jesus?" I explained that we worship the Christ of the New Testament , that we believe wholeheartedly in His virgin birth, His divine Sonship, His miracles, His transforming teachings, His atoning sacrifice, and His bodily resurrection from the dead. I added that we also believe in the teachings of and about Christ found in the Book of Mormon and modern revelation. After the meeting an LDS woman came up to me and said, "You didn't tell the truth about what we believe!" Startled, I asked, "What do you mean?" She responded: "You said we believe in the virgin birth of Christ, and you know very well that we don't believe that." "Yes, we do," I retorted. She then said with a great deal of emotion: "I want to believe you, but people have told me for years that we believe that God the Father had sexual relations with Mary and thereby Jesus was conceived." I looked her in the eyes and said: "I'm aware of that teaching, but that is not the doctrine of the Church; that is not what we teach in the Church today. Have you ever heard the Brethren teach it in conference? Is it in the standard works, the curriculum materials, or the handbooks of the Church? Is it a part of an official declaration or proclamation?" I watched what seemed like a 500-pound weight come off her shoulders, as tears came into her eyes, and she simply said: "Thank you, Brother Millet."We see here the full-on overthrow of a clear and consistent teaching of the leadership of the LDS Church, not only in written form, but in the curriculum of the LDS Church and in the General Conference as well. Evidently, the staff of BYU have taken over the leadership of the LDS Church, and they can now dismiss the historical teachings of the leadership by their own authority.
I will begin today providing full documentation on this vital subject. It is vital not only because it touches on the LDS teachings concerning Christ, but even more so today because it documents so plainly the willingness of modern LDS writers to rewrite history and play with the facts. As we will see, this teaching has, in fact, been plainly presented in General Conference, in the curriculum materials published by the LDS Church itself for its own people, etc. Millet wishes to insist that this teaching, while once taught, is no more. Really? Upon whose authority? I would very much like to see the official proclamation that retracts the words of the previous prophets and apostles and that likewise then explains why we should continue to believe these men are apostles of Jesus Christ when they come from a line that they themselves claim is taught falsehoods in the name of Christ. Millet tries to tie Luther into his defense, but anyone who knows the LDS doctrine of priesthood authority knows such a connection is invalid. So with these things in mind, I provide the following information in substantiation of the assertion that the leadership of the LDS Church has taught, as official doctrine, even to the point of placing the teaching in the priesthood manuals and other materials written by the church for use by Latter-day Saints in their studies, the doctrine that Elohim, God the Father, sired, or begat, Jesus Christ, so that Christ is the "only begotten of the Father in the flesh."
One of the tasks of some of the modern proponents of the LDS cause seems to be to remake Mormonism in a mold that fits better in the modern setting. Whether purposefully or not, modern defenders of Joseph Smith are often found softening, or even directly denying, doctrines and teachings that have been taught within the LDS Church since its inception. And, of course, if this doctrine is referred to in anti-Mormon literature, it is claimed that the authors of such works are acting in bad faith, purposefully misrepresenting the LDS faith.
One such doctrine that is now identified as mere speculation rather than a teaching of the LDS Church, is the doctrine that God the Father (Elohim) in a physical body begat, literally, the body of Jesus Christ here on earth. The physical parentage of Jesus Christ has often been a focus of attack on the part of Christians who seek to respond to the claims of Mormonism. Yet, if one is to believe the current crop of LDS apologists, it is a doctrine that is nothing more than speculation, and certainly not representative of the official teaching of the LDS faith.
In their 1992 book, Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints, BYU professors Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks attempt to respond to the historical teaching of the LDS Church regarding the physical parentage of Christ. Note their own words:
We will ignore the fact that these scattered nineteenth-century speculations were never canonized by the Mormon Church, and that no comparable statements occur in Latter-day Saint scripture. We will pass over the unfairness of holding Mormons to statements that they and their own leaders have never deemed authoritative and binding (and we will deprive ourselves of the great entertainment that would ensue were we to call our Protestant critics to account for every speculation advanced by their pastors and reformers of the past five centuries). . . . The speculations that most incense the critics are simply literalistic interpretations of the divine paternity alluded to in the title, Son of God.While certain early Mormon leaders may occasionally have reinterpreted the concept of virgin birth,they never for a moment suggested that Jesus was begotten by a mortal man, nor that his father was any other personage than God. . . . And for a denial, it cannot be repeated too often, that the Latter-day Saints have never accepted as official doctrine. (129-131)In a footnote Peterson and Ricks cite numerous Christian critiques of Mormonism that note this doctrine. They focus upon Walter Martin, saying he finds these rare and isolated speculations shocking and vile,and makes the obligatory allusions to Greek mythology. From the above citation, then, we can conclude that the idea that God the Father physically begat Jesus Christ is a mere scattered nineteenth century speculation that was never canonized by the Mormon Church. These speculations have never been considered authoritative and binding. They were merely literalistic interpretations of the divine paternity based upon the title Son of God. They amount only to a reinterpretation of the virgin birth, and have never been accepted as official doctrine.
A colleague of Peterson and Ricks, Dr. Stephen Robinson, likewise downplays this doctrine. In How Wide the Divide? Robinson makes these comments:We can add, then, to the conclusions of Peterson and Ricks, the following from Robinson: this doctrine is again a speculation, based primarily in the nineteenth century opinions of certain unnamed LDS leaders and members.These opinions have never been included among the official doctrines of the LDS faith, and have not appeared in any official church publications during the lifetime of Stephen Robinson. Those who say otherwise (which would include this author) are misrepresenting Mormonism.
Unfortunately, popular speculations on the LDS side have sometimes also been tasteless and indelicate. . . . While it is true that certain LDS leaders (mostly in the nineteenth century) have offered their opinions on the conception of Jesus, those opinions were never included among the official doctrines of the church and have, during my lifetime at least, not appeared in official church publications lest they be taken as the view of the church. Yet those who would misrepresent the LDS Church (and also a vocal minority of its own eccentrics) continue to insist on the unofficial speculations of nineteenth-century members rather than on the official views of the church then or now. Craig L. Blomberg and Stephen E. Robinson, How Wide the Divide? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), pp. 135-136.
For most Mormons, and for most Christians who have not read widely in LDS sources, such should be sufficient. Three LDS scholars, Ph.D.s all, have pronounced the idea that God the Father literally and physically begat the Son in the flesh a mere nineteenth century speculation. What more could be said?
The problem is, history stands unalterably opposed to every single claim made by all three authors. As we will now document, this doctrine has been taught consistently by every single General Authority of the LDS Church who has addressed this topic up to this present day! What is more, we will find numerous official LDS publications written within the past thirty years that likewise teach this very doctrine. And just as important, we will not find a single LDS General Authority denying this doctrine. I will leave the reader to determine the issue of motivations, misrepresentation, and simple honesty in debate, that arise when faced with the kind of documentation that follows.
( continued tomorrow! )
The Christian-Mormon "Dialogue"
11/27/2007 - Jeff DownsRobert Millet seems to be the new man on the block to make Mormonism more palatable.
If you have not read it yet, don't miss Gary L.W. Johnson's chapter The Reformation, Today's Evangelicals, and Mormons: What Next? in By Faith Alone: Answering the Challenges to the Doctrine of Justification (Crossway, 2007).
In Johnson's chapter, he corrects Millet's communication of a meeting that took place between Robert Millet, Haddon Robinson and David Wells. You can hear Millet tell the story in this audio from 2005.
Johnson ends his chapter by stating "After a careful reading of Millet's book [A Different Jesus], I am more than ever convinced that Millet's Jesus would not be recognized by our evangelical forefathers (like a Calvin, a Wesley, or a Spurgeon) and that Mouw would think otherwise is inexplicable. Having said that, I am forced to admit that developments over the last few decades in what goes by the name evangelical would make it difficult not to allow Mormons in under the big top of today's evangelical circus (after all, if antitrinitarian "oneness Pentecostals" like T. D. Jakes and the rebarbative "Word of Faith" prosperity teachers are considered members of today's evangelicalism, then why not Mormons like Millet?). In fact, given the present state of today's evangelicalism and the tendency to let people define for themselves what it means to be an evangelical, this morphosis is not all that surprising."
See also Robert Bowman, Jr.'s recent review of Gerald McDermott and Robert Millet's new book.
Major News from Salt Lake City
11/18/2007 - James WhiteThis is some of the biggest news I've seen coming out of Mormonism in quite some time. Here is the Salt Lake Tribune article (ht: TC). Changing a single word in the introduction to the Book of Mormon may not seem like a huge thing to most folks, but it is the word that is changed that says a lot. For those not familiar with the situation, let me summarize it.
There is truly no question that Joseph Smith believed the Book of Mormon story took place all across the United States, including upstate New York. That is, the battles and armies described in the book were not tiny affairs hidden away in some yet-to-be-discovered valley in the jungle of Meso-America. The fact that Smith identified some bones found during one of his journeys as a "Lamanite" proves this (and the excuses offered by LDS apologists on this account ring very hollow).
It is very clear that the leadership of the LDS Church until very recently believed firmly that the Book of Mormon is a historical document that explains where the American Indians came from. The fact that leaders as well known as Spencer W. Kimball made it clear they believed that native American converts to Mormonism would see lighter and lighter offspring (as the "curse of Cain" was lifted) once again proves this to be the case. It was the claim of the Book of Mormon that a dark skin was a curse placed upon the Lamanites for their unrighteousness (a curse not placed upon the white and delightsome Nephites). The long history of racist views amongst the leaders of Mormonism is, likewise, well documented. Indeed, the fact that blacks were not admitted to the LDS priesthood until 1978 (though the theology behind that ban was not changed, but has been swept under the rug) again shows that the viewpoints expressed by Joseph Smith, flowing from the worldview predominant amongst unlearned Americans of the early 1800s in that area of the world continued to determine LDS theology right into the modern day.
But with the advent of DNA studies, the LDS faith has once again been challenged to its roots. Previous elements of Smith's supposed revelations have already been proven false at their core. The Book of Abraham is an albatross draped across the neck of LDS apologists, an obvious fraud defying rational defense. And as LDS apologists have strained to give credence to Smith's revelations in the Book of Mormon, they have had to draw his claims in ever smaller circles, doing all they can to minimize the huge target that they are called to defend. So much is this the case that modern LDS apologists are want to limit the Book of Mormon story to a 40 square mile area, so small that it could be plausibly argued that modern archaeological research could miss it...forever. But when DNA studies began to prove what critics have been saying all along, namely, that the American Indians are anything but the descendants of Jews who fled to the Americas under God's guidance around 600 B.C., the LDS apologetics community was pressed beyond its limits.
Surely, attempts have been made to deflect the weight of these studies, but they are truly little more than O.J. Simpson style excuses, concocted to allow those who wish to continue to believe to do so, but little more. Those who are seriously seeking evidence of Smith's prophethood are now faced with serious, fair, and weighty evidence on all hands that demonstrate conclusively that Smith, and the religion he founded, while a fascinating study in human nature, is anything but divinely instituted.
The change that has been made is a clear sign that, just as the smoke screen blown out by Hugh Nibley after the discovery of the Joseph Smith papyri was nothing but damage control, a rear-guard action, likewise the flurry of "it doesn't necessarily mean that" papers thrown out by LDS apologists have simply given the church some plausible excuses while they try to find another path to follow.
Now, before we get too excited, let's realize something: the introduction is still making historical claims that have no foundation whatsoever. And, if one is cynical (as I tend to be), this could be little more than a signal of the new apologetic: that the BoM story is so small, so minor, that it did indeed take place in a very small area, and hence the offspring of the Lamanites would be a very small minority percentage of the actual heritage of the modern native Americans, hence, would be next to undetectable in the gene pool. The approach to the major problems with Smith's supposed revelations in the past have been handled in similar fashion, with the hopes that the apologetic excuses are enough to keep the bleeding, membership wise, to a minimum. This kind of argument, which again seeks to minimize the prophetic claims of Smith and hence offer a smaller "target," would fit into Salt Lake's consistent paradigm. So while this change may well indicate that some of the leadership is leaning toward a less strident view of Smith's claims to prophethood, we can not at yet know for sure.
Which leads me to speculate: what if future generations of Mormons adopt the "Smith wrote a nice book of parables for us called the Book of Mormon" paradigm? Could Mormonism survive such a transition? I normally try to avoid such theoretical speculation, but in today's situation, it is hard not to ponder the possibilities. It is well known that Mormonism's growth has "gone soft." The numbers indicate little more than "natural growth," not the massive explosion seen in the 1970s and 80s. Mormonism has lost its way, and it cannot get traction in post-modern Western culture. On the one hand, this may be due to Mormonism trying to follow in the "don't offend anyone, just share your story" mold. The Mormonism of old was bold and clear in its claim to be the "One True Church," and that is attractive to many. Surely the reasons for the change in its growth rate are many and complex. But one thing is for sure: the hard core of Mormonism in central and southern Utah is not ready to turn Smith into a religious fiction writer. The farther Salt Lake slides toward that viewpoint, the more growth you will see in the "fundamentalist cults" (as Salt Lake sees them) in Utah, Idaho, and Arizona. At the same time, Mormonism's over-seas numbers reflect a wide range of challenges to the religion as well. How they will handle the continuing secularization of the West, coupled with the challenge of Islam all over the world (Mormonism, as a religion, simply doesn't have the depth of theology and tradition to survive long in dhimmi status under Islam), is anybody's guess.
So this change is certainly to be noted, especially if more changes of a similar nature begin appearing under the auspices of the leadership of the religion. Keep your eyes open, and continue to pray for opportunities to share the life-giving gospel of Christ with Mormons you may meet. Remember, even when religions undergo major changes, most of those who become disillusioned and leave do not end up in Christ-honoring churches. I have met many LDS now who have left the faith and are now skeptical about any religion at all. Pray that God will bring honor and glory to Himself by revealing His truth to those in the LDS faith, bringing them to faith in the one true and eternal God.