THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
Two LDS authorities figure prominently in teaching the literal physical parentage of Jesus Christ by the Father in the twentieth century, James Talmage and Bruce R. McConkie. We will look at their statements first, and then provide other confirmatory proclamations by other LDS leaders. Finally, we will look at books published by the LDS Church that also contain and promulgate this doctrine, and we will finish by looking at the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.
James Talmage addressed the paternity of Christ at the April General Conference in 1915. Note especially his use of the term “Sire” of God the Father:
We belong to the Church of Jesus Christ, and much has been said concerning His proprietorship, His mastership, in the Church, the Church that bears His name. I take it to be a plain and simple principle that we cannot worship intelligently, and therefore acceptably unto the Lord, unless we know something of the attributes and of the will of Him whom we profess to worship. The relationship of the Christ to the Eternal Father has been set forth in such plainness that I do not think any wayfaring man amongst us can fail to understand. We recognize in Jesus Christ the Son of the Eternal Father, both in spirit and in body. There is no other meaning to attach to that expression, as used by the Eternal Father Himself-“Mine Only Begotten Son.” Christ combined within His own person and nature the attributes of His mortal mother, and just as truly the attributes of His immortal Sire. By that fixed and inexorable law of nature, that every living organism shall follow after his kind, Jesus the Christ had the power to die, for He was the offspring of a mortal woman; and He had the power to withstand death indefinitely, for He was the son of an immortal Father. This simplicity of doctrine has shocked many, but the truth is frequently shocking just because of its simplicity and consequent grandeur. We must know something of the attributes of the Eternal Father, that we may the more fully comprehend His relationship to His Only Begotten Son.
Note well the words of this General Authority of the LDS Church, for many LDS today continue to believe as he did. Jesus Christ had the power to die, he claims, because he was the son of a mortal mother, Mary. But, he had the power to withstand death, and take up his life again, because he was the son of an “immortal Sire.” Talmage admits this doctrine “shocks” many. First, Talmage, an authority of the Church, calls it “doctrine,” not “speculation.” He would seemingly be in a better position to know than modern LDS scholars who are not even authorities in the Church. Second, in reference to it being “shocking,” why would it be, if, in fact, it is merely a “reinterpretation” of the virgin birth, and is not to be taken literally? So here have a twentieth century General Authority preaching in the General Conference-hardly a “rare” nineteenth century “opinion.”
Talmage’s book, Jesus the Christ, likewise refers to this belief often. We noted in an earlier chapter that Jesus the Christ has been published by the LDS Church itself in various of its editions. It is a widely read, generally accepted work that is considered completely “orthodox.” Yet, it also plainly teaches the very doctrine under discussion. For example, the same thought presented above regarding Christ possessing the attributes of both man and God is seen in this quotation:
As the Only Begotten of the Father and therefore the only Being born to earth possessing in their fulness the attributes of both Godhood and manhood; . . . What other man has lived with power to withstand death, over whom death could not prevail except through his own submission? Yet Jesus Christ could not be slain until His “hour had come,” and that, the hour in which He voluntarily surrendered His life, and permitted His own decease through an act of will. Born of a mortal mother He inherited the capacity to die; begotten by an immortal Sire He possessed as a heritage the power to withstand death indefinitely. . . . Only such a One could conquer death; in none but Jesus the Christ was realized this requisite condition of a Redeemer of the world.
Probably the most often cited passage on this topic also comes from the pen of Talmage:
That Child to be born of Mary was begotten of Elohim, the Eternal Father, not in violation of natural law, but in accordance with a higher manifestation thereof; and, the offspring from that association of supreme sanctity, celestial Sireship, and pure though mortal maternity, was of right to be called the “Son of the Highest.” In His nature would be combined the powers of Godhood with the capacity and possibilities of mortality; and this through the ordinary operation of the fundamental law of heredity, declared of God, demonstrated by science, and admitted by philosophy, that living beings shall propagate-after their kind. The Child Jesus was to inherit the physical, mental, and Spiritual traits, tendencies, and powers that characterized His parents – one immortal and glorified – God, the other human – woman.
LDS apologists will forgive us if we simply believe what we are told by those with the authority to define LDS teaching. Since it is LDS leaders who use terms like “celestial Sireship” and “fundamental laws of heredity,” we can hardly accept the charge of “misrepresentation” when we allow these words to have their normal meaning.
Talmage returned to this same emphasis, and the reality of God the Father being the Son’s “immortal Sire,” later in Jesus the Christ:
For this cause was Jesus the Father’s Beloved Son-that He was ready to lay down His life for the sake of the sheep. . . . A natural effect of His immortal origin, as the earth-born Son of an immortal Sire, was that He was immune to death except as He surrendered thereto. The life of Jesus the Christ could not be taken save as He willed and allowed. The power to lay down His life was inherent in Himself, as was the power to take up His slain body in an immortalized state.
I have personally had many LDS priesthood holders-individuals who are widely read in LDS materials and books-affirm this teaching, and the reason for it, that is here presented by Talmage. To identify this doctrine as “mere speculation” and “opinion” is to completely ignore mountains of clear teaching by duly appointed leaders.