Nineteenth 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.