The Encyclopedia of Mormonism
Before we conclude our examination, I would like to call one last witness to the stand. In 1992 a major publication appeared in LDS bookstores called The Encyclopedia of Mormonism. This major work represented the work of numerous LDS scholars and writers. Does it, likewise, speak of these doctrines? It most assuredly does. One of the plainest sections comes from the pen of Dr. Stephen Robinson of Brigham Young University. Speaking of God the Father, Robinson wrote:
The Father, Elohim, is called the Father because he is the literal father of the spirits of mortals (Heb. 12:9). This paternity is not allegorical. All individual human spirits were begotten (not created from nothing or made) by the Father in a premortal state, where they lived and were nurtured by Heavenly Parents. These spirit children of the Father come to earth to receive mortal bodies; there is a literal family relationship among humankind. Joseph Smith taught, “If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves” (TPJS, p. 343). Gods and humans represent a single divine lineage, the same species of being, although they and he are at different stages of progress. This doctrine is stated concisely in a well-known couplet by President Lorenzo Snow: “As man now is, God once was: as God now is, man may be” (see Godhood). . . . The important points of the doctrine for Latter-day Saints are that Gods and humans are the same species of being, but at different stages of development in a divine continuum, and that the heavenly Father and Mother are the heavenly pattern, model, and example of what mortals can become through obedience to the gospel (see Mother in Heaven).
Robinson is hesitant to affirm much about the pre-exalted state of Elohim, the Father, but his emphasis upon God being of the “same species of being” as man should not be missed. Earlier, in writing a section on “LDS Doctrine Compared with Other Christian Doctrines,” Robinson wrote:
Just as God organized preexisting matter to create the universe, so he organized preexisting intelligence to create the spirits that eventually became human beings. Consequently, Latter-day Saints do not view God as the total cause of what human beings are. Human intelligence is uncreated by God, and therefore independent of his control.
What about the Godhead? We read,
Unique to LDS theology in modern times is a view of the Godhead as consisting of three separate beings, two possessing bodies of flesh and bone and one possessing a spirit body. An official declaration concerning the Godhead states: “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit” (D&C 130:22). Latter-day Saints take the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, in a literal, anthropomorphic sense, attributing to God both a human form and emotions. They accept both a “oneness” and “threeness” of the Godhead as taught in the Bible. However, they reject the traditional doctrine of the Trinity, and believe instead that the Godhead is one in mind, purpose, and testimony, but three in number.
Is God a man, according to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism?
Latter-day Saints perceive the Father as an exalted Man in the most literal, anthropomorphic terms. They do not view the language of Genesis as allegorical; human beings are created in the form and image of a God who has a physical form and image (Gen. 1:26). The Prophet Joseph Smith explained, “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit” (D&C 130:22). Thus, “God is a Spirit” (John 4:24) in the sense that the Holy Ghost, the member of the Godhead who deals most often and most directly with humans, is a God and a spirit, but God the Father and God the Son are spirits with physical, resurrected bodies. Latter-day Saints deny the abstract nature of God the Father and affirm that he is a concrete being, that he possesses a physical body, and that he is in space and time.
Such plain statements, then, complete our investigation with a modern testimony on a scholarly level to the abiding validity of the concepts announced by Joseph Smith nearly 150 years earlier.
But is the Church Backing Away from this Doctrine?
Recent comments by Mormon Prophet Gordon Hinckley have added fuel to the fires of speculation that the LDS Church is, at the very least, de-emphasizing at least part of the doctrine that we have seen has been plainly taught from the very inception of the LDS Church. Many have commented on the fact that Mormonism has been seeking a wider acceptance as a “Christian” Church while maintaining a unique identity. Recent comments by the President of the Mormon Church, Gordon Hinckley, seem to indicate that this observation has a real basis. Some point out that Hinckley worked for many years in “public relations,” coordinating the LDS Church’s media contacts, and hence may be more “sensitive” to the issue of “appearance” than previous (and following) Presidents of the Church. I hesitate to even address these statements, since they do not appear in any kind of official publication of the Church. Indeed, they would not qualify for our previous study, since they are not found in LDS publications, but found in non-LDS, popular media! Mormons would rightly object to the citation of these sources to define their belief. Yet, since these statements have been widely circulated, we need to briefly consider what has been said.
Shortly after the April, 1997 General Conference of the LDS Church, an article appeared in the San Fransisco Chronicle (April 13th edition). A reporter was interviewing Gordon Hinckley:
Q: There are some significant differences in your beliefs. For instance, don’t Mormons believe that God was once a man?
A: I wouldn’t say that. There was a little couplet coined, “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.” Now that’s more of a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about.
Q: So you’re saying the church is still struggling to understand this?
A: Well, as God is, man may become. We believe in eternal progression. Very strongly. We believe that the glory of God is intelligence and whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the Resurrection. Knowledge, learning, is an eternal thing. And for that reason, we stress education. We’re trying to do all we can to make of our people the ablest, best, brightest people that we can.
The person who has read the preceding documentation might be more than a little surprised by the statement, “That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about.” And we note that Hinckley only affirms the second half of Lorenzo Snow’s couplet, that being that we can become like God. The assertion that God was once a man is left in a state of ambiguity.
A few months later a PBS program aired that again contained another interview with Hinckley. Richard Ostling is quoted:
RICHARD OSTLING: President Gordon Hinckley says the concept of God having been a man is not stressed any longer, but he does believe that human beings can become gods in the afterlife.
PRESIDENT GORDON HINCKLEY: Well, they can achieve to a godly status, yes, of course they can, eternal progression. We believe in the progression of the human soul. Ours is a forward-looking religion. It’s an upward-looking religion. We believe in the eternity and the infinity of the human soul, and its great possibilities.
Hinckley’s words sound very much the same as in the previous statement. We are not provided with the basis, in Hinckley’s own words, for Ostling’s summary that “the concept of God having been a man is not stressed any longer.” But we can guess on the basis of his words found in the August 4th, 1997 issue of Time Magazine. Here we are given more of a direct quotation than in the preceding sources:
And not just the converts. In an interview with TIME, President Hinckley seemed intent on downplaying his faith’s distinctiveness. The church’s message, he explained, “is a message of Christ. Our church is Christ-centered. He’s our leader. He’s our head. His name is the name of our church.” At first, Hinckley seemed to qualify the idea that men could become gods, suggesting that “it’s of course an ideal. It’s a hope for a wishful thing,” but later affirmed that “yes, of course they can.” (He added that women could too, “as companions to their husbands. They can’t conceive a king without a queen.”) On whether his church still holds that God the Father was once a man, he sounded uncertain, “I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it… I understand the philosophical background behind it, but I don’t know a lot about it, and I don’t think others know a lot about it.”
Again, I stress that these are not in any way official sources. If these words were found in the Ensign, the official LDS magazine, they would carry far more weight than they do. If Hinckley were to say he “doesn’t know a lot about” God being a man in a General Conference address, we would have some real reason to wonder. But even given the sources, it is hard to avoid asking a rather simple question: how can the President of the LDS Church say that he doesn’t know a lot about a doctrine that we have traced through every level of LDS teaching, and through ever era of the Church’s existence? While one could hope that these scattered statements in non-LDS sources bodes a change in the direction of the Mormon Church’s theology, eventually leading to a renunciation of the concept of eternal progression, such a conclusion would be very premature. Even if Gordon Hinckley were to be found less than firm in his conviction of this doctrine (a fact that would raise all sorts of questions concerning the consistency of LDS teachings, the nature of truth in Mormonism, etc.), it would take a wholesale repudiation of the authority of the previous prophets and apostles who so plainly taught eternal progression to give us a true turn-about in LDS doctrine. Such a repudiation has yet to appear.
Official Mormon teaching is clear. God and man are of the same species. The difference between them is a matter of exaltation and progression over aeons of time. God was once a man, a mortal, just as we. He lived on another planet in a condition very similar to ours, and gained exaltation on the same principles that are made available to men today. The worthy Mormon man who is sealed for time and eternity to his wife in the LDS Temple, and who continues faithful to the end in obedience to gospel ordinances and principles, will be exalted, in due time, to the status of a God. He will have “eternal increase,” beget spirit children, and be worshipped as the God and creator of other worlds. In those worlds he will raise up his spirit children so that they, too, might become exalted. This is the eternal law of progression, the concept of exaltation to godhood, and as we saw over and over again, in Mormonism, this is the gospel.
 Daniel H Ludlow, ed. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1992).
 Ibid., Volume 2, “God the Father,” LDSCL.
 Ibid, Volume 1, “Doctrine,” LDSCL.
 This article has been removed since publication from the website which hosted it.
 A transcript of the report can be found here.
 The article has been removed since publication from the website which hosted it.