Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Guessing About God: Mormonism's Inability to Resist the Onslaught of Modernistic Skepticism (Part 7)
05/02/2011 - James WhiteI continue my response to Daniel McClellan's blog post, found here. Please note that with this article I am breaking from the order of Mr. McClellan's article. I will seek to respond to the material skipped in the next installment. I sincerely apologize for the sheer length of this single segment, but I am truly attempting to transcend the normal fodder one finds in "blog wars" and provide something of value to a wider audience, while at the same time showing Mr. McClellan his due respect. I hope to invest as much time in the discussion of Deuteronomy 32, but as this has already consumed far more time than I have to invest, I will have to be brief in the rest of my comments.
Paul states in 1 Cor 8:5 that there are many that are called gods in heaven and on earth and immediately qualifies the statement by saying, “indeed, there are many gods and many lords.” He continues, “but for us there is one God, the Father, from which comes all, and to whom we belong.” Notice he states that there are indeed many gods, but “for us there is one God.”
The history of the a-contextual and eisegetical reading of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 8:5-6 in Mormon history is long indeed, and the story continues to be written by Mr. McClellan. It goes back to Joseph Smith’s first misunderstanding of the text, enshrined amidst the many other amazing things he said about the text of the Bible (things that you do not find most Oxford trained LDS apologists bringing up very often). Note his use of the text from 1843:
The Doctrine of the Godhead
There is much said about God and the Godhead. The scriptures say there are Gods many and Lords many, but to us there is but one living and true God, and the heaven of heavens could not contain him; for he took the liberty to go into other heavens. The teachers of the day say that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God, and they are all in one body and one God. Jesus prayed that those that the Father had given him out of the world might be made one in them, as they were one [one in spirit, in mind, in purpose]. If I were to testify that the Christian world were wrong on this point, my testimony would be true.
Peter and Stephen testify that they saw the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God. Any person that had seen the heavens opened knows that there are three personages in the heavens who hold the keys of power, and one presides over all.
If any man attempts to refute what I am about to say, after I have made it plain, let him beware. (TPJS 311-312, 1843).
This text has likewise brought forth a fascinating discussion of how to be a “Christian polytheist” from Eugene England of BYU (BYU Studies, Summer 1989, 29:3, p. 33):
He begins his discussion with a quotation from 1 Corinthians 8:5-6: There be gods many and lords many. But to us there is but one God the Father. Despite the context of this scripture--a discussion by Paul of belief in idols--Brigham Young, B. H. Roberts, Joseph Fielding Smith, and many others have used it as a brief explanation of how it is possible to be both a Christian polytheist (technically a henotheist) and a monotheist: how we can talk sometimes in an adventuresome mode about multiple orders of godhood, and how we can consider the advanced spheres that exist in the infinities, and yet at the same time, without contradiction, we can talk in a worshipful mode about our one God and his perfect knowledge and supreme redemptive power in the sphere of our world.
Likewise, Donl Peterson and Charles Tate, The Pearl of Great Price: Revelations From God, (Religious Studies Center Monograph Series, Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1989), p.102, interestingly note:
Mormonism is simultaneously monotheistic, tri-theistic, and polytheistic. There is but one God, yet there is a Godhead of three, and beyond them, gods many, and lords many (1 Cor. 8:5). But regardless of the multiplicity of personages bearing divine titles, they are one in that priesthood which governs throughout the eternities.
It would be useful to enter into the role of the concept of priesthood in relationship to the status of godship, but I simply do not have time to do so, outside of noting this amazing statement, and how far removed it is from anything that could remotely be identified as Christian. This is from a conversation that takes place between an older, mature Mormon, and a younger Mormon, regarding the eternal marriage ceremony, being “sealed for time and eternity.” This is a study course the LDS Church used for years for those preparing to be married in the temple. As such, it represents the LDS church’s leadership’s understanding of its own theology:
"What is this law of exaltation of which you keep speaking?"
"Well, it involves the whole of the gospel law. Everything required of us by God is associated with this law, but the major crowning point of the law which man must obey is eternal marriage. Therein lies the keys of eternal life, or, as the Doctrine and Covenants puts it, 'eternal lives.' In other words, an eternal increase of posterity."
"Then what you're saying is that God became God by obedience to the gospel program, which culminates in eternal marriage."
Then there is a subtitle provided, “Through Obedience to Law We Can Become Like Our Father in Heaven,” and the conversation continues:
"Yes. Do you realize the implications of this doctrine as far as you are concerned?"
"I think so. If God became God by obedience to all of the gospel law with the crowning point being the celestial law of marriage, then that's the only way I can become a god."
"Right. And it is the law that assists us in reaching that potential. It tells us what we must do to gain the ultimate freedom. In fact, it is by obedience to law that we have progressed to our present position."
"You mean we have always been governed by law?"
"Always. You are an eternal being. You were never created and you cannot be destroyed, but you can advance, progress, and develop by obedience.
"Then Hamlet's question 'to be or not to be?' is not the question?”
"Right, not in the ultimate sense, at least. Order means law, and that law is the law of the celestial kingdom. Any who come unto that kingdom must obey that law. (See D&C 88:24-29.)"
"But I thought godhood meant freedom. If I have to do things to become God, am I really free?"
"You have got it wrong. It was the Savior who said, 'If ye continue in my word,' that is, obey the law, 'ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.' (John 8:31,32.) So by obedience to law, we learn truths by which we become free -- but not free from the law. Can you see that?"
"I think so. I can be a god only if I act like God."
"Exactly right. Can you imagine the state of the universe if imperfect gods were allowed to spawn their imperfections throughout space, if beings who did not have law under their subjection were free to create worlds?"
"I guess that would be pretty disastrous. But I'm not sure I see why celestial marriage becomes the crowning apex of this progression. Marriage doesn't seem directly related to the creation of the universes."
"Oh, but don't be limited by your mortal perspective. God himself has declared his own reasons for existing. Remember, he said, 'For this is my work and my glory....' "
"I see his purpose is 'to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.' " (Moses 1:39).
"Which involves giving birth to spirit children and setting them on the road to exaltation. And if that is to be done, you must have an exalted man and..."
"An exalted woman."
"Exactly, an exalted man and woman who have been joined together in an eternal marriage. If this man and woman were obedient to all gospel laws except celestial marriage, what would be the result?"
"They still could not be gods. Now I understand. Celestial marriage is the crowning ordinance of the gospel."
"Right," I said with a smile. "And with that comment I think we can end the discussion." (Achieving a Celestial Marriage: Student Manual, Copyright 1992 by Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pp. 4-5).
I pause only long enough to comment that the sentiment expressed in the words, “You are an eternal being. You were never created and you cannot be destroyed, but you can advance, progress, and develop by obedience,” may well be the most fundamentally anti-Christian sentiment I have ever read in Mormon writings. This is the complete reversal of Christian belief, where God is unique, God is God and man is His creature. This entire section, with its promotion of a law that exists above God, and exalted him to his current position, and which creates many gods procreating offspring through the “universes,” is one of the clearest testimonies to the completely non-Christian nature of Mormonism I know. As long as words have meaning, and as long as the Bible remains in the possession of the inhabitants of earth, any religion promoting a “theology” like this will be, of necessity, excluded from the Christian faith.
Moving beyond the use/abuse of 1 Corinthians 8:5-6 in LDS history, I wish to offer a Scripture-based refutation of Mr. McClellan’s use of this text, first to bless God’s people through the examination of His divine truth, found in holy Scripture, and secondly as a means of passive refutation of the unfounded and unsupported assertion, repeated by Mr. McClellan, that he is responding to mere dogmatism rather than “logic” or “academics” or the like. The fact is, Mormonism has been in existence now for just over one hundred and eighty-one years (founded, formally, April 6, 1830), and in that nearly two centuries of existence, it has yet to produce the first modicum of serious (biblical) exegetical biblical literature. Oh, surely, some modern LDS scholars have put together some class projects whereby they have cobbled together a wide range of citations on various subjects from disparate and contradictory sources, while some others have fallen headlong into the unbelieving liberalism/naturalism that marks the majority of Old Testament studies today, but the reality is Mormonism is so fundamentally separated from the ethos and worldview of the Christian scriptures that any attempt at commentary upon them becomes an exercise in futility. The Bible is a book of repetitive monotheism, and Mormonism, at its heart, its root, is its denial. And so it is right here, when we actually come to the serious exegesis of the texts in their original languages, that Mormonism always falters. Such is surely the case here.
The text is not difficult to translate (i.e., the translational questions are few), and there are almost no meaningful textual variants to work through or to get in our way. The earlier manuscripts read οὐδεὶς θεὸς εἰ μὴ εἷς at 8:4, while the bulk of later Byzantine texts include ἕτερος, but this hardly impacts the translation, the first reading “there is no God but one,” while the latter, “there is no other God but one.” The sense is not materially altered. P46 does not include the connective/adversative ἀλλ᾿, which again does not impact the meaning to any great extent. It is quite interesting to note that 1881, an important minuscule, includes a Trinitarian expansion at the end of the creedal formulation, καὶ ἓν πνεῦμα ἅγιον, ἐν ᾧ τὰ πάντα καὶ ἡμεῖς ἐν αὐτῷ.
The Apostle is here addressing a situation that was causing division in the fellowship in Corinth. Some in the fellowship, the “stronger” brethren, recognized that there was no problem in eating meat that had been sacrifice to an idol (one of the primary sources of meat in Corinth in that day). This “knowledge” they had was true, and the Apostle acknowledges this. But he is seeking to preserve harmony in the body, and he exhorts the supremacy of love, not over truth, but as the necessary companion and compatriot to, knowledge and truth. The key theological information found in verses 4 through 6 is by way of illustration and concession as to what “we” (the apostles and the stronger brethren) “know.” I would render the text,
Therefore, concerning the eating of (εἰδωλοθύτων) things sacrified to idols, we know (οἴδαμεν) that an idol has no worldly existence, and that there is no God but one. For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords,”
but for us there is one God,
from whom are all things and we for Him;
and one Lord,
Jesus the Messiah,
through whom are all things and we through Him.
The Apostle, having extolled the centrality of love for God as the means by which we are “known by God,” turns to the practical matter of what is causing division. Some have no problems simply going into the meat market, buying meat, and not asking, or being concerned about, where the meat came from. They can do so because they know that an idol “has no worldly existence,” i.e., is nothing in this world, or as the ESV renders it, “has no real existence.” They know there are no gods behind the idols, and that “there is no God but one.” Some commentators believe these are the direct statements, quotations, of the stronger brethren, and the ESV clearly follows this understanding by inserting quotation marks around each statement. This could very well be the function of the repeated ὅτι before both negations. On the other hand, these could simply be two fundamental assertions with which the Apostle is in agreement, as both are rooted firmly in the monotheistic views of Second Temple Judaism which moves directly into the New Testament revelation. In either case, the Apostle is agreeing with the theological content of both negations, as the following verse demonstrates.
I have placed verse 6 in poetic form to match the underlying editorial construct of the Nestle-Aland 27th edition, which sees this as an early creedal/hymnic fragment. It also helps, greatly, to see the clear parallels in the two strophes concerning the Father and the Son, or, to use the specific terms in the text, the one God (εἷς θεὸς) and the one Lord (εἷς κύριος). If indeed this is an early creedal statement, as is widely recognized by exegetes, its importance must be fully appreciated. Placing the two halves in parallel we have:
|εἷς θεὸς||ὁ πατὴρ||ἐξ οὗ τὰ πάντα||καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς αὐτόν,|
|εἷς κύριος||Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς||δι᾿ οὗ τὰ πάντα||καὶ ἡμεῖς δι᾿ αὐτοῦ|
The parallel structure is easily seen, even in translation, but the richness of the koine prepositions should be carefully noted. These same prepositions are used, without a differentiation in the divine persons, in Romans 11:36:
ὅτι ἐξ αὐτοῦ καὶ δι᾿ αὐτοῦ καὶ εἰς αὐτὸν τὰ πάντα·
αὐτῷ ἡ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας, ἀμήν.
The Creator/creation distinction is often summed up by Paul in his use of “all things,” τὰ πάντα. God is maker of, not dependent upon, τὰ πάντα. All things from ex (ἐξ) Him, from Him, as in origin and source; all things are through (δια) Him, by means of Him, by His creative power and will; and all things are for (εἰς) or unto Him, for His purpose, His glory, His ends. In communicating the exhaustiveness of Christ’s creative work, Paul likewise presses these prepositions into service in writing to the Colossians (1:16-17):
ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη τὰ πάντα
ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς,
τὰ ὁρατὰ καὶ τὰ ἀόρατα,
εἴτε θρόνοι εἴτε κυριότητες
εἴτε ἀρχαὶ εἴτε ἐξουσίαι·
τὰ πάντα δι᾿ αὐτοῦ καὶ εἰς αὐτὸν ἔκτισται·
καὶ αὐτός ἐστιν πρὸ πάντων
καὶ τὰ πάντα ἐν αὐτῷ συνέστηκεν,
All three prepositions are used here, along with “before” (πρὸ) though here used with πάντων rather than τὰ πάντα. The exhaustiveness of the range of Christ’s creative work is emphasized here (in contrast to the proto-gnostic dualism and limitations of the false teachers moving into Colossae).
But only in the creedal fragment of 1 Corinthians 8:5-6 do we have the unique use of prepositions combined with the highly charged terminology to be found in Paul’s use of God and Lord, his “Trinitarian names” of the Father and the Son. While Paul does, rarely, use God of Jesus (Romans 9:5, Titus 2:13, possibly Acts 20:28), he normally uses this term of the Father. Likewise, the exalted κύριος, Lord, is so often associated with the name of Jesus that “Lord Jesus” becomes the common Christian confession. In fact, one can only say Κύριος Ἰησοῦς (Jesus is Lord) by means of the agency of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). Clearly, this does not merely involve the mere enunciation of words, but a commitment of the heart, a submission to the lordship inherent in the term Κύριος (compare the exhortation to set the Messiah apart as Lord in one’s heart in 1 Peter 3:15). But in 1 Corinthians 8, Paul draws directly from his Jewish heritage in expressing the proper relationship of Father and Son as the objects of Christian worship (Christian worship requiring knowledge of the one worshipped). Note the LXX rendering of the Shema, the great prayer of Jewish identification of the covenant God of Israel, Yahweh (Deu. 6:4):
Ἄκουε, Ισραηλ· κύριος ὁ θεὸς ἡμῶν κύριος εἷς ἐστιν·
It can hardly be a coincidence that all of the key phrases found here appear in the creedal fragment in Paul’s letter. This leads us to the amazing conclusion that here the Apostle (or, his predecessors in the faith, if this is part of the heritage he himself received and was common property of the saints) is giving us a “Christian Shema,” the Christian self-understanding of how the monotheism of the Jewish Scriptures is to be interpreted in light of the incarnation of Jesus the Messiah. Note the extended explanation offered by NT scholar Richard Bauckham:
Paul has in fact reproduced all the words of the statement about YHWH in the Shema’ (Deut. 6:4: 'The LORD our God, the LORD, is one'), but Paul has rearranged the words in such a way as to produce an affirmation of both one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ. It should be quite clear that Paul is including the Lord Jesus Christ in the unique divine identity. He is redefining monotheism as christological monotheism. If he were understood as adding the one Lord to the one God of whom the Shema’ speaks, then, from the perspective of Jewish monotheism, he would certainly be producing not christological monotheism but outright ditheism. The addition of a unique Lord to the unique God of the Shema’ would flatly contradict the uniqueness of the latter. The only possible way to understand Paul as maintaining monotheism is to understand him to be including Jesus in the unique identity of the one God affirmed in the Shema’. But this is in any case clear from the fact that the term 'Lord', applied here to Jesus as the 'one Lord', is taken from the Shema’ itself. Paul is not adding to the one God of the Shema a 'Lord' the Shema' does not mention. He is identifying Jesus as the 'Lord' whom the Shema' affirms to be one. Thus, in Paul's quite unprecedented reformulation of the Shema', the unique identity of the one God consists of the one God, the Father, and the one Lord, his Messiah. Contrary to what many exegetes who have not sufficiently understood the way in which the unique identity of God was understood in Second Temple Judaism seem to suppose, by including Jesus in this unique identity Paul is certainly not repudiating Jewish monotheism, whereas were he merely associating Jesus with the unique God, he certainly would be repudiating monotheism.
Whereas the first and third lines of the formulation divide the wording of the Shema' between God and Jesus, the second and fourth lines…similarly divide between God and Jesus another Jewish monotheistic formula, one which relates the one God as Creator to all things. The description in its undivided, unmodified form is used elsewhere by Paul, specifically in Romans 11: 36a: 'from him and through him and to him [are] all things'. Here the statement simply refers to God, whereas in 1 Corinthians 8:6 Paul has divided it between God and Christ, applying to God two of the prepositions that describe God's relationship as Creator to all things ('from' and 'for' or 'to') and the third of these prepositions ('through') to Christ. Although Paul's formula in Romans 11:36 does not appear precisely in this form elsewhere, there are enough Jewish parallels to make it certain that Paul there simply quotes a Jewish formulation. That God is not only the agent or efficient cause of creation ('from him are all things') and the final cause or goal of all things ('to him are all things'), but also the instrumental cause ('through him are all things') well expresses the typical Jewish monotheistic concern that God used no one else to carry out his work of creation, but accomplished it alone, solely by means of his own Word and/or his own Wisdom. Paul's reformulation in 1 Corinthians 8:6 includes Christ in this exclusively divine work of creation by giving to him the role of instrumental cause (Richard Bauckham, God Crucified: Monotheism & Christology in the New Testament, 1998, 38-39).
I can name numerous NT scholars representing a wide and diverse range who provide a similar reading of this text, including NT Wright (The Climax of the Covenant (1991), 120-136, Joseph Fitzmyer (First Corinthians in The Anchor Yale Bible (2008), 32:341-344, and Paul Owen (The New Mormon Challenge (2002), 285-286. [For Dr. Owen’s comfort, I looked up his comments after writing this portion of my response, not before. I would not wish him to feel besmirched by our coming to the same conclusions, but this only illustrates how clearly the text speaks to this particular issue.]
So in conclusion, this text exists completely outside of any context that can be made amenable to the views of Joseph Smith. It lives and breathes Second Temple Judaism, and it takes as a divine revelation the reality of the Shema. This raises all sorts of issues relating to our view of Scripture that I can only touch upon briefly here. Specifically, I am a biblical conservative, one who actually believes the claims of the Bible to be a consistent, God-breathed, divine revelation, and I reject all forms of interpretation that atomize the text, tear it to pieces and set it in contradiction to itself, simply because the One I believe created me and everything else walked this earth and never gave an iota of evidence that He viewed His Scriptures in that fashion. Why anyone would want to claim to “follow” Him and yet reject His own view of Scripture, I cannot understand. The reason I make this point here is simple: if the Shema was, as Jesus saw it, and as Paul saw it, a divine revelation of transcendent truth, an insight into the truth about the God who is the creator of all things, then Paul’s reformulation of it in light of the incarnation (or, as noted, the Christian community’s earlier adaptation thereof, here given apostolic approbation), carries final authority for anyone who would call himself or herself a Christian. For us there is but one God. For the pagans there may be many. For Joseph Smith, there may be an unlimited number of gods. But for Christianity, there is but one. Monotheism. End of story.
Oddly, near the end of the video, James criticizes Mormonism for believing in a God that is “the only true God for us.” James’ rhetoric is departing from, and criticizing, the rhetoric of the Bible. This becomes necessary when one’s ideology is based not on the Bible alone, but on centuries of tradition and philosophical and political debate. No religion is based exclusively, or even primarily, on the Bible. James states that the Book of Mormon contradicts the Bible in numerous places, but he himself contradicts the Bible, as does the very Bible itself. It is not univocal. It contains numerous different, and not uncommonly contradictory, viewpoints. James disagrees with this, of course, but he cannot defend his dogmatism on an academic or intellectual level.
I was pretty amazed at this part of Mr. McClellan’s argument. Here is the exact portion of the video to which he is making reference:
Notice the vast difference between the point and application of Paul, seen above, and mine. Paul is talking about so-called gods, the idols of the peoples, and the ignorance of those outside of Christ concerning the true nature of deity. To us, i.e., to believers, we know our God, and that He has been manifest in a particular fashion. We know there is only one true God, creator of all things, unlike the pagan worshippers who worship in ignorance. But was I criticizing Mormons for saying the same thing? Surely not. I was pointing out that Mormons say “there is one God for us” in the context of saying “but there are other gods out there.” Remember, it was a Mormon Apostle who, musing upon the foundations of his own religion, uttered words like these:
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. (Orson Pratt, The Seer, p. 132, September, 1853).
So the context of my statement is the limitation of the assertion of some kind of monotheism to this particular planet (or portion of the cosmos or universe, depending on which Mormon you are talking to), whereas the assertion of Paul is that that monotheism is true, en toto, for all! Mr. McClellan has completely missed the point of Paul, and my point in the video, all in a single paragraph.