"As man now is, God once was;
as God now is, man may be."
~ Lorenzo Snow, Mormon prophet, Sept 18, 1898
The main thrust of what makes Christianity different from every other religion is what Christianity teaches about Jesus and God. Therefore it’s necessary to focus some time on what Mormon doctrine teaches about God and Jesus.
To know where I’m coming from and why I’m doing this, and to see previous posts in this series, click the graphic below to be taken to the introductory post for this series.
To get a full picture of what Mormonism teaches about God and Jesus, we’ll have to piece together information from various places. As we covered in the post on Mormon writings, Mormon theology comes from multiple sources. But again we can start with Joseph Smith.
Joseph Smith began this concept that was fully developed by later leaders in the Mormon church.
“God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted Man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens. That is the great secret... It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the character of God and to know...that he was once a man like us. Here, then, is eternal life--to know that only wise and true God, and you have got to learn how to become Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you. .. God himself, the father of us all dwelt on an earth the same as Jesus Christ…I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea and take away the veil so that you may see.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith)
Yes, you read that correctly. Joseph Smith taught that God “was once a man like us.” And since God was once a man, we can “learn how to become Gods.”
We could just stop there. To anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Christianity, it should be obvious that this is not compatible with Biblical teaching. But, “Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” (2 Corinthians 13:1) So let’s hear from some other Mormon authorities on this issue.
“What, is it possible that the Father of Heights, the Father of our spirits, could reduce himself and come forth like a man? Yes, he was once a man like you and I are and was once on an earth like this, passed through the ordeal you and I pass through. He had his father and his mother and he has been exalted through his faithfulness, and he is become Lord of all. He is the God pertaining to this earth. He is our Father. He begot our spirits in the spirit world. They have come forth and our earthly parents have organized tabernacles for our spirits and here we are today. That is the way we came.” (Brigham Young, The Essential Brigham Young)
“As shown in this chapter, our Father in heaven was once a man as we are now, capable of physical death. By obedience to eternal gospel principles, he progressed from one stage of life to another until he attained the state that we call exaltation or godhood. In such a condition, he and our mother in heaven were empowered to give birth to spirit children whose potential was equal to that of their heavenly parents. We are those spirit children.” (Achieving a Celestial Marriage)
"The Gods who dwell in the Heaven . . . have been redeemed from the grave in a world which existed before the foundations of this earth were laid. They and the Heavenly body which they now inhabit were once in a fallen state . . . they were exalted also, from fallen men to Celestial Gods to inhabit their Heaven forever and ever.” (Orson Pratt, The Seer)
“God the Father and His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, are glorified, exalted, resurrected beings, and from the moment of the appearance of the Father and the Son to Joseph Smith, we have known their true nature." – (Ensign, June 1998, Apostle Russell Ballard, "Building Bridges of Understanding")
“I had a direct revelation of this. It was most perfect and complete. If there ever was a thing revealed to man perfectly, clearly, so that there could be no doubt or dubiety, this was revealed to me, and it came in these words: "As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be." This may appear to some minds as something very strange and remarkable, but it is in perfect harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ and with His promises." (Prophet Lorenzo R. Snow, “Unchangeable Love of God,” Sunday, September 18, 1898.)
As you can see, from the time of Mormonism’s beginning until now, official Mormon leaders and publications have taught and affirmed that God was once a regular guy who eventually progressed to become God, and remains God to this day. And, since all of us must “learn how to become Gods,” it logically follows that the God Smith and the others are talking about is not unique. For example:
“If we should take a million of worlds like this and number their particles, we should find there are more Gods than there are particles of matter in those worlds.” (Apostle Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses,vol.2 p.345)
Now I want to be clear: While Mormon theology obviously teaches the belief in the existence of many gods, Mormons consider themselves monotheistic because they only worship one god, the god of this world. That’s a pretty fine distinction but it is an important one.
So, what does that mean with regards to Jesus? Again I’ll quote:
"God the Father had a plurality of wives, one or more being in eternity, by whom He begat our spirits as well as the spirit of Jesus His First Born." (Orson Pratt, The Seer, p. 172).
"Jesus Christ is not the Father of the spirits who have taken or yet shall take bodies upon this earth, for He is one of them. He is The Son, as they are sons and daughters of Elohim." (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, vol.4, Appendix 4).
"Three separate personages---Father, Son, and Holy Ghost---comprise the Godhead…As each of these persons is a God, it is evident from this standpoint alone, that a plurality of Gods exists. To us…these three are the only Gods we worship." (Bruce McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p.576-7).
"Among the spirit children of Elohim, the first-born was and is Jehovah, or Jesus Christ, to whom all others are juniors." (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p.70).
"Long before you were born a program was developed by your creators ... The principal personalities in this great drama were a Father Elohim, perfect in wisdom, judgment, and person, and two sons, Lucifer and Jehovah." (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 32-33). [Notice the separation of the Jehovah and God the Father as different beings]
"The appointment of Jesus to be Savior of the world was contested by one of the other sons of God. He was called Lucifer…this spirit-brother of Jesus desperately tried to become the Savior of mankind." (The Gospel Through the Ages, p.15, 1945).
"The contention in heaven was...Jesus said there would be certain souls that would not be saved; and the Devil said he could save them all, and laid his plans before the grand council, who gave their vote in favour of Jesus Christ. So the Devil rose up in rebellion against God, and was cast down." (Joseph Smith, Journal of Discourses, vol. 6, p. 8).
So, to sum up:
God the Father, called Elohim, is only the god of this planet we inhabit. He was once a man – a mortal – like you and me, but achieved godhood (we’ll explore that in depth later). Then he went to Heaven and proceeded to have a lot of “spirit children,” which are the souls of every person ever born on earth. Two of those children were Jesus (also called Jehovah) and Lucifer, who are our brothers. Elohim saw that mankind needed redemption, and asked the “grand council” of gods how that should happen. Lucifer presented a plan to remove mankind’s free will. Jesus said mankind should have free will and be allowed to choose good or evil. The council of the gods voted and Jesus won. So Lucifer rebelled and was cast out, along with those who fought alongside him.
I can’t say this enough – when it comes to this or any other topic: don’t take my word for it. I’ve done my best to compile only authoritative Mormon sources for this post. Fact-check me. Search and see for yourself whether or not these Mormon leaders and documents really say what they say. Look up the names of the men I’ve listed above and read about them and their lives and influence on the Mormon church.
For Part 2, we’ll follow the exhortation of Brigham Young that is the theme for this series: We’ll take all the statements we just explored and compare them to what the Bible teaches.