Criticism of Mormonism/Books/Mormonism 101/Chapter 1

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Response to claims made in "Chapter 1: God the Father"

A FairMormon Analysis of: Mormonism 101, a work by author: Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson

Response to claims made in Mormonism 101, "Chapter 1: God the Father"

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Response to claim: 23 - the God proclaimed by the Mormon Church is not the same God who is worshiped by millions of Christians today

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

Men with keen intelligence got together ... [at] Nicea and created a God. They did not pray for wisdom or revelation. They claimed no revelation from the Lord. They made it just about like a political party would do, and out of their own mortal minds created a God which is still worshiped by the great majority of Christians.
President Spencer W. Kimball,
Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 426.

If the above quote from Mormonism's twelfth president is correct, then the God proclaimed by the Mormon Church is not the same God who is worshiped by millions of Christians today. Few would debate that the concept of God is paramount in any belief system. If two people hope to consider themselves of the same faith, they need to agree on their definition of the Almighty God. If they cannot agree on this vital point, they would be deceiving themselves and others to say that their faiths are the same.

Despite Kimball's claim, many laypeople in the Mormon Church insist that the God they worship is the same God worshiped by millions of Christians throughout the world. The problem with this assumption is that it does not concur with many statements made by the LDS leadership.

Author's sources:
  1. Spencer W. Kimball, Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 426.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The authors' use ambiguous terminology. They wish to confuse a differing understanding of who God is with worshipping another god altogether. To understand the tactic used by the authors, consider the city of Cleveland, Ohio. One of the historical black marks against the city was the pollution quite evident in Lake Erie. Cleveland certainly became a different city once the lake was cleaned up. By the reasoning of the authors, one would conclude that Cleveland, Ohio became Cleveland, Tennessee once Lake Erie was cleaned up.

Logical Fallacy: Begging the Question—The author presents a circular argument in which the starting assumption requires the conclusion to be true.

The authors beg the question by assuming that doctrines first canonized in the Nicene and related creeds (with which President Kimball profoundly disagreed) were entirely biblical. Leaving aside the truth or falsehood of those creeds, this reviewer has yet to read any biblical text that equates nonbelievers in the creeds with nonbelievers in Christ.

Question: Do Mormons meet the definition of the word "Christian"?

The attempt to define "Christian" in such a way as to exclude Latter-day Saints is really the recent work of a minority group within Protestantism

Some Christians claim that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not "Christian." A related claim is that the Church has only recently begun to portray itself as "Christian" in order to gain adherents.

Critics often use unnecessarily narrow and self-referential definitions of "Christian" to exclude Latter-day Saints. They ignore the fact that many other Christians over the millennia would have disagreed with them on the same points, yet this does not disqualify these other believers from the family of "Christians."

While Mormons realize that there can be honest disagreement regarding definitions, the church encourages its members, as followers of Christ, to exhibit civil dialogue:

There has been no end to opposition. There are misinterpretations and misrepresentations of us and of our history, some of it mean-spirited and certainly contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ and His gospel. Sometimes clergy, even ministerial organizations, oppose us. They do what we would never do. We do not attack or criticize or oppose others as they do us...Strangest of all, otherwise intelligent people claim we are not Christian. This shows that they know little or nothing about us. It is a true principle that you cannot lift yourself by putting others down.[1]

The assertion that Latter-day Saints are not Christian has at its base the idea that the Latter-day Saints don't meet the definition of the word "Christian." But the meanings of words are determined by usage and acceptance. If a definition is widespread (used by many people), persistent (used over a long period of time), and established (accepted by individuals and organizations that are respected and assumed to be knowledgeable) then we can confidently state that the definition is correct and accurate.

The attempt to define "Christian" in such a way as to exclude Latter-day Saints (and many other groups that are generally considered to be some kind of Christian denomination or religion) is really the recent work of a minority group within Protestantism. The nearly-universal and nearly-2000-year-old usage of the word "Christian" has clearly included unorthodox groups that disagree, sometimes sharply, with the teachings and practices of those who claim to be able to define Latter-day Saints out of the Christian fold.

The following are some organizations and resources that classify The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as Christian

The following are some organizations and resources that classify The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as Christian. The range of sources from encyclopedias to media outlets to government organizations supports the fact that the definition of "Christian" includes Latter-day Saints.

  • Yahoo Directory: "Christian Denominations and Sects" off-site
  • adherents.com: "Largest Branches of Christianity in the U.S." off-site
  • beliefnet: "Faiths and Practices" index off-site
  • MSN Encarta encyclopedia: "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" off-site
  • RSN (Religion New Service): Religion Backgrounders off-site
  • PBS (Public Broadcasting Service): "The Church: A Brief History" off-site
  • BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) off-site
  • World Council of Churches (WCC): Churches off-site
  • National Council of Churches (NCC): National Council of Churches’ 2005 "Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches." off-site
  • United States Department of State: International Religious Freedom Report 2004 (Tonga) off-site


Response to claim: 24 - LDS leaders have stated that "worship of the God of Christianity's creeds will not result in salvation"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

*LDS leaders have stated that "worship of the God of Christianity's creeds will not result in salvation." Joseph Smith described these creeds as "an abomination in his sight."

Author's sources:
  1. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed. p. 270.
  • Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, p. 55.
  • Bruce R. McConkie, "Our Relationship with the Lord," speech given at BYU devotional, 2 March 1982, p. 3.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Mormons worship the Jesus of the Bible.


Question: Do Mormons worship a "different Jesus"?

LDS Christians and other Christians agree on the vast majority of points on Jesus' nature, mission, and indispensable role in salvation

Some Christians claim that despite the Saints' witness of Christ, they worship "a different Jesus" and so are not entitled to consider themselves "Christians." Rather than illuminating LDS Christians' or non-LDS Christians' beliefs about Jesus, this accusation is simply an attempt to spread discord and confusion.

LDS Christians and other Christians agree on the vast majority of points on Jesus' nature, mission, and indispensable role in salvation.

The LDS differ from other Christians only in that they tend to believe additional things about Jesus

The LDS differ from other Christians only in that they tend to believe additional things about Jesus, since they have other scriptures (such as the Book of Mormon) which provide them with further information. This information complements the Biblical beliefs which they share with the whole Christian world.

The most important recent document to discuss the beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regarding our Lord and Savior is found in "The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles." [2]

Latter-day Saints believe the following:

A protester at the April 2003 LDS General Conference attempts to convince others that members of the Church do not believe in the Biblical Jesus.  Members of the Church may believe some different things about Jesus, but this does not mean they worship a different being than the protester.
  • Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah
  • Jesus of Nazareth is the Only Begotten Son of the Father
  • Jesus was born of a virgin birth to Mary
  • Jesus is perfect, without sin
  • Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father, but by Him
  • Jesus performed miracles. He:
    • healed the sick
    • opened eyes of the blind
    • opened ears of the deaf
    • forgave sins
    • cast out demons and evil spirits
    • changed water into wine
    • multiplied loaves and fishes
    • raised the dead
  • Jesus was foreshadowed by, and fulfilled, the law of Moses
  • Jesus suffered and died for the sins of all humanity
  • Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, died, was buried, and rose again
  • Jesus appeared in resurrected form to Mary, Thomas, the apostles, five hundred brethren at once
  • Jesus ascended to the Father to sit down on the right hand of His power
  • Jesus converted Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus
  • Jesus will come again to reign in glory with all the faithful

To be sure, there are doctrinal differences between some Christians and the Latter-day Saints. But, this is true of virtually all Christians:

Christians have argued, often passionately, over every conceivable point of Christian doctrine from the filioque to the immaculate conception. There is scarcely an issue of worship, theology, ethics, and politics over which some Christians have not disagreed among themselves. [3]

Latter-day Saints have no quarrel with the idea that some of their beliefs about Jesus may differ from those of other Christians

Latter-day Saints have no quarrel with the idea that some of their beliefs about Jesus may differ from those of other Christians. If there were no differences in belief at all, it would make little sense to have the hundreds of Christian denominations which exist.

But, it is insulting and unfair to insist that the LDS do not worship the "same" Jesus as other Christians. By analogy, a Protestant might consider Martin Luther an inspired instrument in the hands of God to reform the wayward Christian Church. A Catholic might rather consider Luther to be a wayward priest who was gravely mistaken. Clearly, the opinions about Luther may differ, but it would be absurd to insist that Catholics and Lutherans are each talking about a different Luther.


Response to claim: 25 - "To be sure, historical Christianity has never advocated the belief in a tangible deity"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors make the following claim:

"To be sure, historical Christianity has never advocated the belief in a tangible deity."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources


Question: Why do the Latter-day Saints believe God has a body?

Latter-day Saints believe God has a body in human form simply because our scriptures and our prophets unanimously testify on this point

One thing that sets Latter-day Saints apart from nearly all of the rest of Christianity is the doctrine that God the Father possesses a body in human form. In fact, many of our Christian brothers and sisters see this belief as positively strange, and some even question our claim to the title “Christian” because of it.

“The Father has a body of flesh and bones, as tangible as man’s; the Son also” (DC 130:22).

In other words, if we want to know what kind of being God is, who better to believe than those who have actually seen Him? There are multiple Biblical examples, such as:

  • the prophet Ezekiel, who described his vision of God by saying he saw “high above all, upon the throne, a form in human likeness” (Ezekiel 1:26, New English Bible.).
  • Stephen, whose last words were, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56.).
  • John, who saw God sitting on the throne in heaven (Revelation 4:2).
  • Moses was not allowed to see God’s face in one vision (God was angry at the Israelites at the time), but God said he would “cover thee with my hand while I pass by; and I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen” (Exodus 33:22-23).
  • Moses did see God previously, however: “the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend” (Exodus 33:11).
  • Jacob “wrestled a man” one night in the wilderness, and after this encounter “Jacob called the name of the place Peniel [Hebrew for “the face of God”]: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved” (Genesis 32:24-32).

Some of these references may refer to visions of God the Son, but some of them, like Stephen’s and John’s, certainly refer to the person of the Father.

Edmond LaB. Cherbonnier of Trinity College (a non-Mormon scholar) summarizes this phenomenon as follows:

In short, to use the forbidden word, the biblical God is clearly anthropomorphic (i.e. “in the form of man”)—not apologetically so, but proudly, even militantly.[4]

Christopher Stead (another non-Mormon scholar) of the Cambridge Divinity School agrees that

The Hebrews…pictured the God whom they worshipped as having a body and mind like our own, though transcending humanity in the splendour of his appearance, in his power, his wisdom, and the constancy of his care for his creatures.[5]

The LDS doctrine of God’s embodiment rests primarily on eyewitness testimony. We believe God has a body in human form because everyone who has seen Him has described Him in this way.


Question: What are the common objections to a belief in God's corporeality?

Most other Christians interpret the Bible differently than we do on this point

Obviously, most other Christians interpret the Bible differently than we do on this point, and they put forward several standard objections to this kind of “anthropomorphism.” However, these objections do not hold up under close scrutiny. This will be shown for several common objections to the LDS doctrine, most of which can be found in a tract published by Catholic Answers, Inc., entitled, Does God Have a Body?[6]

Objection: “Being ‘in the image of God’ means humans have a rational soul.”

“And God said, Let us make man in our image [Hebrew tselem], after our likeness [Hebrew demuth]” (Genesis 1:26). This statement in the first chapter of the Bible seems pretty clear to Latter-day Saints. However, our fellow Christians will often say that this is to be interpreted figuratively, in the sense that humans have “rational souls,” which set us apart from the animals. However, just a few chapters later the author of Genesis repeats "God created man, in the likeness [Hebrew demuth] of God made he him" and then adds some interesting commentary about the birth of Adam's son Seth: "And Adam lived an hundred thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness [Hebrew demuth], after his image [Hebrew tselem]; and called his name Seth” (Genesis 5:1-3).

Adam was created in God’s image and likeness, and one of Adam’s sons had Adam’s image and likeness. Exactly the same words were used to describe both scenarios by the same prophetic author only one verse apart. Either Adam looked like God, or Seth was the only one of Adam’s sons who possessed a “rational soul.” If there is a good reason to interpret one passage in one way, and the other in another way, the critics must provide it. Only a prior commitment to refusing to see man in the form of God (or God in the form of a man) would lead one to interpret the terms differently.

Objection: “The Bible also says God has wings, etc. ”

Of course, it is true that the Biblical writers employed numerous metaphors when talking about God. However, just because some statements about God are metaphorical doesn’t mean that every statement is. When the Psalmist speaks of God covering us with His feathers, and giving refuge under His wings, the metaphor is completely clear. As Jesus said, “How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matthew 23:37.) Exactly what is the metaphorical interpretation of God’s “back parts” that Moses saw? When Stephen reported his vision, the text gives no clue as to any metaphorical interpretation; he simply reported what he saw, as did the others.

Objection: John 4:24 says, “God is a Spirit."

See also: FAIR Wiki article God is a Spirit

There are several problems with this objection. First, Paul wrote, “But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:17). To say that God is “a spirit” is grammatically equivalent to the statement that a man joined to the Lord is “one spirit,” and yet, Christians obviously have bodies as well as spirits.

Second, there are no indefinite articles (“a” or “an”) in ancient Greek, so the passage can be translated “God is a Spirit” or “God is Spirit.” Most modern translations have chosen the latter, because John’s statement “God is Spirit” is parallel to two passages in his first epistle, “God is light” (1 Jn 1:5) and “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). In context, all of these passages seem to be referring to God’s activity toward men rather than to the nature of His “Being,” and of course we would never say that God is “a love” or “a light.”

Furthermore, Christopher Stead of the Cambridge Divinity School (another non-Mormon scholar) explains how such statements would have been interpreted within ancient Judaism:

By saying that God is spiritual, we do not mean that he has no body … but rather that he is the source of a mysterious life-giving power and energy that animates the human body, and himself possesses this energy in the fullest measure.[7]

It must always be remembered that the Bible was written by Hebrews, and the New Testament writers were all Jews. We saw at the beginning of this article that the Hebrews consistently pictured God in human form.

As another commentator noted:

That God is spirit is not meant as a definition of God's being—though this is how the Stoics [a branch of Greek philosophy] would have understood it. It is a metaphor of his mode of operation, as life-giving power, and it is no more to be taken literally than 1 Jn 1:5, "God is light," or Deuteronomy 4:24, "Your God is a devouring fire." It is only those who have received this power through Christ who can offer God a real worship.[8]

Finally, Latter-day Saints do not believe that “spirit” is incorporeal (i.e. “without substance”), and neither did the earliest Christians. The great Protestant historian, Adolf von Harnack, wrote,

God was naturally conceived and represented as corporeal by uncultured Christians, though not by these alone, as the later controversies prove.[9]

For instance, the great Christian writer, Tertullian (ca. 200 A.D.) wrote,

For who will deny that God is a body, although ‘God is a Spirit?’ For Spirit has a bodily substance of its own kind, in its own form.[10]

Why did Christians start believing otherwise? J.W.C. Wand, a historian and former Anglican bishop of London, writes that one of the Greek philosophical schools (Neoplatonism), which was popular in the days of the Roman Empire, exerted a particular influence in this respect. (See below for more information about the influence of the Greek philosophers.):

It is easy to see what influence this school of thought [Neoplatonism] must have had upon Christian leaders. It was from it that they learnt what was involved in a metaphysical sense by calling God a Spirit. They were also helped to free themselves from their primitive eschatology and to get rid of that crude anthropomorphism which made even Tertullian believe that God had a material body.[11]

Objection: Christians have always believed that God is an unchangeable, simple, immaterial spirit essence.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Origen (circa A.D. 225) wrote,

For it is also to be a subject of investigation how God himself is to be understood—whether as corporeal, and formed according to some shape, or of a different nature from bodies—a point which is not clearly indicated in our teaching.[12]

Origen (who did not believe in corporeality) nevertheless admitted there was considerable confusion among Christians of that era about this very question, but why?

Origen gives us another clue in a sermon on the book of Genesis:

The Jews indeed, but also some of our people, supposed that God should be understood as a man, that is, adorned with human members and human appearance. But the philosophers despise these stories as fabulous and formed in the likeness of poetic fictions.[13]

The Jews, and Christians who followed the standard Jewish interpretations, believed that God had a body in human form. Why did Origen reject this? Simply because the philosophers thought it was silly. For instance, the Middle Platonist philosopher Plutarch wrote the following:

Socrates and Plato held that (God is) the One, the single self-existent nature, the monadic, the real Being, the good: and all this variety of names points immediately to mind. God therefore is mind, a separate species, that is to say what is purely immaterial and unconnected with anything passible [i.e. changeable].[14]

Another Greek philosopher, Empedocles (ca. 444 B.C.) claimed that God

does not possess a head and limbs similar to those of humans…[He is] a spirit, a holy and inexpressible one.[15]

Greek converts to Christianity wanted to make their faith more appealing to people in their own culture, and so they adopted a definition of God from the Greek philosophers, whose thought was widely respected at the time. The temptation is always there to make one’s faith more popular by “modernizing” it, but the Apostle Paul had warned against exactly this kind of thing. “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8). What was the “philosophy” current in Paul’s day? Greek philosophy. Similarly, Father Jean Daniélou, a Catholic historian and later a Cardinal, wrote that,

If we now examine the forms of thought and philosophical systems current at the time when Christianity first made its appearance in the world, it is clear that they were by no means ready to assimilate this Christian conception: on the contrary, they were wholly antagonistic thereto.[16]

However, within a few generations that had all changed, and philosophy ruled Christian theology.[17] Latter-day Saints understand this process as one consequence of the Great Apostasy.

Objection: John 1:18 says, “No man has seen God at any time.”

See also: FAIR Wiki article: No_man_has_seen_God

Some mainstream Christians object that the passages in the Bible that describe God’s human form must be taken figuratively, because Jesus said, “No man has seen God at any time” (John 1:18). Similarly, God told Moses, “there shall no man see me, and live” (Exodus 33:20). Of course, God said that to Moses right before he told him that He would pass by so Moses could see His “back parts,” but not his face (Exodus 33:21-23), and God was angry at the time, so it may have been a special circumstance. Still, this presents an odd problem, considering the number of times the Bible reports that people did see God. Samuel Meier, Associate Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Semitics at Ohio State University, writes of this problem:

A deity’s physical manifestation is seen by human beings. The appearance of gods and their involvement with humans are common motifs in ancient Near Eastern and classical mythology. That similar phenomena are found in the Bible seems problematic at first, for a persistent tradition in the Hebrew Bible affirmed that death comes to any human who sees God (Genesis 16:13; Genesis 32:30; Genesis 24:10-11; Genesis 33:20; Deuteronomy 5:24-26; Deuteronomy 18:16; Judges 6:22-23; Judges 13:22; cf Exodus 20:19; Isaiah 6:5). In most of these contexts, however, the narration undermines this sentiment by depicting the pleasant surprise of those who survive. The text presents this perspective as a misperception to which human beings subscribe, for no humans in the Bible ever die simply because they have seen God. On the contrary, throughout the Bible God wants to communicate intimately with humans. The problem of how God can adequately show himself to humankind without harm is a conundrum that is never really resolved in the Bible.[18]

Latter-day Saints can harmonize these passages with those that describe visions of the Father by referring to Moses’ vision of God, as described in the Pearl of Great Price. “And he saw God face to face, and he talked with him, and the glory of God was upon Moses; therefore Moses could endure his presence … [Moses said] For behold, I could not look upon God, except his glory should come upon me, and I were transfigured before him” (Moses 1:2,14). An identical solution is offered by Peter in an early (second or third century) Jewish Christian work called the Clementine Homilies:

For I maintain that the eyes of mortals cannot see the incorporeal form of the Father or Son, because it is illumined by exceeding great light … For he who sees God cannot live. For the excess of light dissolves the flesh of him who sees; unless by the secret power of God the flesh be changed into the nature of light, so that it can see light.[19]

In the same document, another conversation between Peter and Simon Magus is reported:

And Simon said: ‘I should like to know, Peter, if you really believe that the shape of man has been moulded after the shape of God.’ And Peter said: ‘I am really quite certain, Simon, that this is the case … It is the shape of the just God.[19]

The point of these passages is not that no one has or will have a vision of God’s person, but rather that men cannot see God as He is. We must be changed and protected by the grace of God to withstand His presence, and even then we cannot fully comprehend His majesty. However, this will not always be the case. As John further wrote, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn:3).


Response to claim 25-27 - "the LDS Elohim sexually created spirit children with his heavenly wives"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

*The authors assert the Mormons do not believe that God is "Eternal," citing Joseph Smith's King Follett discourse. This is interpreted by the authors as describing "the limitations that Mormon leaders place on God."
  • In endnote 8, page 286, the authors also make the following claim:

"Being a polygamist, the LDS Elohim sexually created spirit children with his heavenly wives. All spirit beings in existence were produced this way. The Heavenly Mother doctrine finds no scriptural support within any of the four LDS scriptures."

Author's sources:
  • Joseph Fielding Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345.
  • Orson Pratt, The Seer, p. 132.
  • Orson Hyde, Journal of Discourses 1:123.
  • James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith, p. 430.
  • Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 3:93.
  • Spencer W. Kimball, Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 26.
  • Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 2.
  • Ensign (June 1993), p. 10.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The authors quote from Joseph Smith's eulogy of Elder King Follett, yet they fail to mention Smith's quote of John 5:19, 26 where the Savior states that He can do nothing but what He saw His Father do.[20]


Question: Do Latter-day Saints believe in a practice called "celestial sex," and that this is the manner in which "spirit children" are formed?

It is the critics of the Church that invented and use the offensive term "celestial sex"

This is not a term used by Latter-day Saints. It has, in fact, never been used by Latter-day Saints. The use of the term "celestial sex" by critics is intended to be demeaning and shocking to Latter-day Saints or interested readers. The use of such tactics may say much about the mainstream culture's preoccupation with sexual behavior. However, it says nothing about the actual beliefs of Church members.

Critics of the Church twist LDS beliefs into a form that makes them look ridiculous. Quotes made by early LDS leaders are often used to support the claim that Latter-day Saints believe in “Celestial sex.” It should be noted, however, that LDS leaders have never used the term "Celestial sex." This phrase was coined by critics of the Church, likely for its “shock value” in portraying the following concepts in LDS belief:

  1. The belief that God the Father has a physical body.
  2. The belief that there exists a Heavenly Mother who also possesses a physical body.
  3. The belief that our Heavenly Father and Mother together are capable of creating “spirit children.”

Critics take these ideas and combine them, leading to a declaration that Latter-day Saints therefore believe in “Celestial sex.” Various anti-Mormon works then use this idea to mock LDS beliefs or shock their readers—though this claim does not describe LDS beliefs, but the critics' caricature of them.

One of the earliest uses of the term "celestial sex" was in the anti-Mormon film The God Makers

For example, the 1982 anti-Mormon film The God Makers makes reference to “engaging in celestial sex with their goddess wives." One woman in the film, who is claimed to have once been a Latter-day Saint, expresses the idea that the primary goal of women in the Church is to "become a goddess in heaven" in order to "multiply an earth" and be "eternally pregnant." The claim that Latter-day Saints expect to have "endless Celestial sex" in order to populate their own planet is very popular among critics of the Church, though members themselves would not explain their beliefs in that way.

The critics' assumptions simply take what we know about our physical world and naively apply it to the afterlife. When one examines the critics’ point further, a key question ought to be raised: How does the union of two immortal beings in a physical manner produce spirit offspring? Latter-day Saint belief is that “spirit children” only receive a physical body upon being born on earth.

This question, of course, cannot be answered. It is pointless to speculate on the exact manner in which “spirit children” are produced, and to assume that this occurs through “Celestial sex” and being "eternally pregnant" is to apply a worldly mindset to a spiritual process. The bottom line: Latter-day Saints do not know the mechanism by which “spirit children” are produced, and no LDS doctrine claims that "celestial sex" and being "eternally pregnant" are the means.


Question: Do Latter-day Saints believe in a female divine person, a "Heavenly Mother" as counterpart to God, the Heavenly Father?

Latter-day Saints infer the existence of a Heavenly Mother through scripture and modern revelation

Because LDS theology rejects the doctrine of creation out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo) as a post-Biblical addition to Christian belief, and because they see God as embodied in human form while rejecting creedal Trinitarianism, having a female counterpart to Our Heavenly Father seems logical and almost inevitable. This is especially true given the LDS embrace of the doctrine of theosis, or human deification. Thus, the Heavenly Mother shares parenthood with the Father, and shares His attributes of perfection, holiness, and glory.

There is evidence for this doctrine in ancient Israel,[21] and within the Book of Mormon.[22]

As early as 1839, Joseph Smith taught the idea of a Heavenly Mother.[23] Eliza R. Snow composed a poem (later set to music) which provides the most well-known expression of this doctrine:[24]

In the heav´ns are parents single?
No, the thought makes reason stare!
Truth is reason; truth eternal
Tells me I´ve a mother there.
When I leave this frail existence,
When I lay this mortal by,
Father, Mother, may I meet you
In your royal courts on high?

In 1909 the First Presidency, under Joseph F. Smith, wrote that

man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father [as an] offspring of celestial parentage...all men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity....[25]

The 1995 statement issued by the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles, entitled The Family: A Proclamation to the World, states that all men and women are children of heavenly parents (plural), which implies the existence of a Mother in Heaven.[26]

All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.


Response to claim: 28 - The authors ask if it is the Church's position that God did not know whether Adam and Eve would transgress His commandment

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors ask if it is the Church's position that God did not know whether Adam and Eve would transgress His commandment.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Such a question rather ridiculous, since the Evangelical interpretation of the biblical text implies that the Atonement of Jesus Christ was an afterthought to undo the ill effects of Adam's sin.[27] The LDS position, most succinctly stated in the Pearl of Great Price, is that God counseled with His spirit children concerning the plan and that Jesus Christ's Atonement is not "Plan B." (Moses 4: and Abraham 3:)


Question: What to Latter-day Saints believe regarding the concept of "original sin"?

Latter-day Saints believe that "original sin" as commonly understood in many branches of western Christianity was not a doctrine taught by the Bible, Jesus, or the apostles

The Second Article of Faith states that "We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression." There is a form of "original sin" in LDS theology, but it is a matter that has been resolved through the atonement of Christ:

And our father Adam spake unto the Lord, and said: Why is it that men must repent and be baptized in water? And the Lord said unto Adam: Behold I have forgiven thee thy transgression in the Garden of Eden. Hence came the saying abroad among the people, that the Son of God hath atoned for original guilt, wherein the sins of the parents cannot be answered upon the heads of the children, for they are whole from the foundation of the world. (Moses 6:53-54, emphasis added.)

Thus, LDS theology explicitly rejects the idea that Adam's "original sin" results in a condemnation of the entire human race. Efforts to insist that all of humanity is thereby tainted, all desires are corrupted, or all infants are damned without baptism are untrue. Because of temptation and the instinctive desires of physical bodies, human beings wrestle with the desire to sin (Matthew 26:41; Mosiah 3:19), but Adam's actions in the Garden of Eden have no bearing on this.

As Wilford Woodruff taught:

What is called the original sin was atoned for through the death of Christ irrespective of any action on the part of man; also man's individual sin was atoned for by the same sacrifice, but on condition of his obedience to the Gospel plan of salvation when proclaimed in his hearing.” [28]

Concluded Elaine Pagels:

Astonishingly, Augustine’s radical views prevailed, eclipsing for future generations of Western Christians the consensus of the first three centuries of Christian tradition. [29]

Original sin is the innovation. It is a post-biblical novelty without scriptural support.

Given that the doctrine is explicitly repudiated by modern revelation, the Saints feel no need to accept it.

Clearly, any effort to exclude the Church from Christendom because they reject original sin must also exclude several hundred million Eastern Orthodox and Anabaptists. Clearly, such a standard would be nonsensical.


Response to claim: 31 - "Mormonism's view of God is both implausible and unbiblical"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors claim that

"Mormonism's view of God is both implausible and unbiblical. It is also illogical since it raises several questions as to how the first intelligence was able to elevate himself to the position of diety."

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources


Question: Does the doctrine that God has a physical body contradict the Bible?

It is incorrect to imply that God cannot be in human form, since a fundamental doctrine of Christianity is that Jesus is God, made flesh

Mormons believe that God has a physical body and human form. Does scripture which says that "God is not a man" (e.g. Numbers 23:19, 1 Samuel 15:29, Hosea 11:9) contradict this idea?

These scriptures read (emphasis added):

  • "God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man [i.e., a human being], that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?" - Numbers 23:19
  • "And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent." - 1 Samuel 15:29
  • I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee: and I will not enter into the city. - Hosea 11:9

The first passage, in Numbers, not only says that "God is not a man", but it also says that God is not "the son of man." If a Christian were to claim from this passage that God is not a man, they would have to consistently claim that God is also not a "son of man." This of course contradicts many New Testament statements about Jesus (who is God) to the contrary. Though there are many examples, one should suffice. Jesus says, "For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Matthew 12:40 Therefore, we know that the passage from Numbers is not suggesting that God is fundamentally not a "son of man", but rather that God is not a "son of man" in the sense that God doesn't have need for repentance. The next logical step requires us to conclude that the passage is not suggesting that God is fundamentally "not a man", but that God is not a man in the sense that God does not lie.

These verses say nothing about the nature or form of God—they merely assert that God is not like man in certain ways

God will not lie or change his declared course, unlike humans. As the NET translation of 1 Samuel says, "The Preeminent One of Israel does not go back on his word or change his mind, for he is not a human being who changes his mind.”

It is incorrect to imply that God cannot be in human form—the fundamental doctrine of Christianity is that Jesus is God, made flesh. One would have to assume that these verses also apply to Jesus, when they clearly do not. Jesus may be in human form, but he will not sin, or change his mind from doing his father's will.


Response to claim: 32 - The authors compare their idea of LDS theology with the Evangelical doctrine of God's transcendence

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors compare their idea of LDS theology with the Evangelical doctrine of God's transcendence:

God is distinct from His creation and the universe. When discussing the transcendence of God, we need to consider a number of aspects. Not only is the 'person' of God unlike human beings, but His moral character is also unique. He is infinitely exalted above that He has ever created.

Author's sources:
  • Hunter, The Gospel Through the Ages, 107.
  • Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology: A Voice of Warning, 21.
  • Orson Whitney, quoted in Collected Discourses, ed. Brian H. Stuy, 4.
  • Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, 35.
  • Don Lattin, "Musing with the Prophet," San Francisco Chronicle, 13 April 1997, sec. Z1, p. 3.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The authors implicitly criticize President Gordon Hinckley's quote of Lorenzo Snow's couplet. By this, they ignore I John 3:1-3. Do the authors disbelieve that Christians will be like Jesus?

The authors disdain alleged LDS disbelief in God's omnipotence. Can God lie? If not, then He is not omnipotent. If He can, why are there scriptures that state that He cannot? (Titus 1:2) It is only in this sense that members of the Church disbelieve God's absolute omnipotence. Members of the LDS Church do not question whether God is mighty enough to create the universe, or to effect the Atonement.

Logical Fallacy: Strawman—The author sets up a weakened or caricatured version of the opponent's argument. The author then proceeds to demolish the weak version of the argument, and claim victory.

The authors' create a straw man argument implying that Latter-day Saints gainsay that God is infinitely exalted above any and all mortal humans, yet they ignore the Book of Genesis, which states that man is created in God's image. (Genesis 1:27) Is it logical to think that man has zero in common with the Creator who chose to make mankind in His image?

Response to claim: 33-34 - The authors state that Gordon B. Hinckley "made it not clear on whether such a concept was part of Mormon belief"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

*The authors state that Gordon B. Hinckley "made it not clear on whether such a concept was part of Mormon belief."

Author's sources:
  1. Don Lattin, journalist from the San Francisco Chronicle in an interview with President Hinckley in 1997.
  • David Van Biema, Time, 4 August 1997, p. 56.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources


Question: What was Gordon B. Hinckley's opinion about the King Follett Discourse?

Some Christians claim that, in an effort to appear more "mainline" Christian, the Church is downplaying the importance of some doctrines taught late in Joseph Smith's lifetime

Some Christians claim that, in an effort to appear more "mainline" Christian, the Church is downplaying the importance of some doctrines taught late in Joseph Smith's lifetime. Prominent among these is the doctrine of human deification. To bolster their argument, they usually quote from a 1997 Time magazine interview with President Gordon B. Hinckley.

On whether his church still holds that God the Father was once a man, he [Hinckley] 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.[30]

A combination of an ambiguous question, a complicated and little-understood doctrine, and TIME's incomplete representation of both the question and the answer contributed to the confusion.

It is amusing, though, to see anti-Mormons scramble to find fault—as if President Hinckley would announce a change of doctrine in a magazine interview!

Hinckley considered it's subject a "grand and incomparable concept"

In 1994, Gordon B. Hinckley emphasized the importance of the King Follett Discourse:

On the other hand, the whole design of the gospel is to lead us onward and upward to greater achievement, even, eventually, to godhood. This great possibility was enunciated by the Prophet Joseph Smith in the King Follet sermon and emphasized by President Lorenzo Snow. It is this grand and incomparable concept: As God now is, man may become!

Our enemies have criticized us for believing in this. Our reply is that this lofty concept in no way diminishes God the Eternal Father. He is the Almighty. He is the Creator and Governor of the universe. He is the greatest of all and will always be so. But just as any earthly father wishes for his sons and daughters every success in life, so I believe our Father in Heaven wishes for his children that they might approach him in stature and stand beside him resplendent in godly strength and wisdom.
(Gordon B. Hinckley, “Don’t Drop the Ball,” Ensign, Nov 1994, 46)

Note that President Hinckley is talking about how man may become like God. Note also that he makes no comment about God once being a man. In this Ensign article, he does not comment on the statements made by Joseph Smith or Lorenzo Snow that God was once a man, but he does emphasize what these two men said about man becoming like God.


Question: Why does TIME's report make it appear the Pres. Hinckley is downplaying Joseph Smith's statements in the King Follett Discourse?

TIME omitted the portion of Hinckley's remarks that clarified what he was saying

It is important to note thatTIME's report did not include the entire citation, and President Hinckley was not denying or downplaying Joseph Smith's statements in the King Follett Discourse. It is important to note which question was being asked. Lorenzo Snow's famous "couplet" on deification reads as follows: "As man is now, God once was; as God is now man may be."[31]

There are two parts of the couplet:

  • As man is now, God once was
  • As God is now, man may be.

President Hinckley was asked about the first part of the couplet, as the citation above demonstrates. (The second part of the couplet is typically the focus of LDS doctrine and practice, since it is something over which mortals have some degree of influence.)

The exact question asked was:

Q: Just another related question that comes up is the statements in the King Follet discourse by the Prophet.
A: Yeah.
Q: ...about that, God the Father was once a man as we were. This is something that Christian writers are always addressing. Is this the teaching of the church today, that God the Father was once a man like we are?

President Hinckley's complete response was:

A: I don't know that we teach it. I don't know that we emphasize it. I haven't heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don't know. I don't know all the circumstances under which that statement was made. I understand the philosophical background behind it. But I don't know a lot about it and I don't know that others know a lot about it.
[The portion in italics was omitted from TIME's reporting.]

He did not deny or renounce the doctrine. Quite simply, President Hinckley asserted that:

  • we don't emphasize it.
  • we don't tend to teach it much in public discourse.
  • he doesn't know much about this topic, though he understands the philosophical underpinnings.
  • no one else in the Church has much information on it either.

Ambiguity

The question is also somewhat ambiguous. TIME says they asked "whether his church still holds that God the Father was once a man." But, the actual question was "Is this the teaching of the church today, that God the Father was once a man like we are?" {emphasis added)

"Teaching" can be understood in at least two senses:

  • "doctrine"/"belief," in the sense of "does the church still hold this belief?"
  • "something that is taught or preached," "actively taught"

The reporter seems to have meant the question in the first sense; President Hinckley seems to have responded in the second sense—the first part of his answer was "I don't know that we teach it" (emphasis added). That is, it is not topic upon which the Church or its leaders spend much time, simply because very little is known about it. This misunderstanding of the sense it which "teach" is understood is a good example of the logical fallacy of amphibology at work.

Furthermore, President Hinckley seems to have understood the question as he did because of the reporter's prelude to the question. The interviewer noted that "[t]his is something that Christian writers are always addressing." I suspect that he meant that "This is a point of LDS doctrine which always troubles non-LDS Christian authors, and they write a lot about it."

President Hinckley's reply that "I don't know that we emphasize it" seems a clear response to this idea—other writers or other denominations may spend a lot of time on the issue, but we don't. Again, this shows that he understood "teaching" in the second sense, and not the first.


Question: Why didn't Gordon B. Hinckley say more about the King Follett Discourse in the TIME Magazine interview?

t should be remembered that this doctrine requires a great deal of "background" to understand even the little that the Church does know

Providing that background in an interview for the general public is virtually impossible. Anti-Mormon authors are always quick to pounce on "strange" things they can use to alienate other Christians from LDS theology; one might suspect that President Hinckley did not want to confuse matters by attempting what probably would have been an unsatisfactory explanation of the doctrine.

Also the responses a reporter receives in an oral interview are, by the nature of the interview itself, unprepared and off-the-cuff. Frequently, interviewees will give hasty answers that reflect a misunderstanding of the question or are the result of not expecting certain questions in the first place. Had the reporter submitted his questions in writing and asked for written responses, it's quite likely that President Hinckley's response to this question would have been clearer.

President Hinckley responds

Clearly aware of the controversy that his comments had engendered, President Hinckley raised the subject in October 1997 General Conference:

The media have been kind and generous to us. This past year of pioneer celebrations has resulted in very extensive, favorable press coverage. There have been a few things we wish might have been different. I personally have been much quoted, and in a few instances misquoted and misunderstood. I think that's to be expected. None of you need worry because you read something that was incompletely reported. You need not worry that I do not understand some matters of doctrine. I think I understand them thoroughly, and it is unfortunate that the reporting may not make this clear. I hope you will never look to the public press as the authority on the doctrines of the Church.[32]

President Hinckley quotes Lorenzo Snow

Finally, any claim that President Hinckley did not believe the King Follett Discourse or the Lorenzo Snow couplet has to deal with this contemporary public statement from a talk he gave in October 1994 General Conference:

...[T]he whole design of the gospel is to lead us onward and upward to greater achievement, even, eventually, to godhood. This great possibility was enunciated by the Prophet Joseph Smith in the King Follet sermon and emphasized by President Lorenzo Snow. It is this grand and incomparable concept: As God now is, man may become! Our enemies have criticized us for believing in this. Our reply is that this lofty concept in no way diminishes God the Eternal Father. He is the Almighty. He is the Creator and Governor of the universe. He is the greatest of all and will always be so. But just as any earthly father wishes for his sons and daughters every success in life, so I believe our Father in Heaven wishes for his children that they might approach him in stature and stand beside him resplendent in godly strength and wisdom.[33]

Although he did not mention the other half of President Snow's statement ("As man is, God once was"), it's quite clear from the context that President Hinckley was aware of and agreed with it.


Response to claim: 35- The authors claim that Mormons believe that "God could stop being God"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

*The authors claim that Mormons believe that "God could stop being God."

Author's sources:
  1. W. Cleon Skousen, The First 2,000 Years, p. 355-56.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

The claim is absurd. Cleon Skousen's work hardly represents LDS doctrine. The authors had to look pretty far from the standard works in order to make such a claim.


Response to claim: The authors claim that "Mormonism has reintroduced polytheism to the modern world"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors claim that "Mormonism has reintroduced polytheism to the modern world."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The authors make it sound as if Mormons worship a collection of gods. Mormons worship the God of the Bible. They are no more "polytheists" than any religious person who believes in the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.


Question: Are Mormons polytheists because they don't accept the Nicene Creed?

Latter-day Saints are not polytheists in any reasonable sense of the term that does not also exclude most other Christians who deny the Modalist heresy

Some Christians say Mormons are polytheists because they believe humans can become gods. Is this an accurate characterization of LDS belief? Trying to reduce LDS thought to a simple term or "slogan" in this way distorts LDS doctrine.

Latter-day Saints worship one God

The Saints worship one God. There are no competing divinities in whom they put their trust. LDS scripture contains such language (1 Nephi 13:41, 2 Nephi 31:21, Mosiah 15:1-5, Alma 11:26-37, Mormon 7:7, DC 20:28, Moses 1:20), but it is qualified in somewhat the same way that Creedal Christians have found a way of saying "three"—as in Trinity—and yet also one.

Almost invariably when someone claims Mormons are polytheists, they are not seeking a clear explanation of Mormon thought on the nature of God, but are simply using a word with negative connotations in our religious culture as a club to intimidate or confuse others. Consider, for example, a conversation that Evangelical Christian author Richard Abanes, in his book Becoming Gods (pp. 107-8), claims to have had with a LDS bishop:

Abanes: "Don't you believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost?"
Bishop: "We certainly do, and they are one God."
Abanes: "Don't you believe the Father is a god?"
Bishop: "Yes, of course."
Abanes: "And the Son is a god?"
Bishop: "Yes"
Abanes: "And the Holy Ghost is a god."
Bishop: "Yes"
Abanes: "That's three gods."
Bishop: "No, they're one God."

The author goes on to describe that he felt he had entered some sort of Twilight Zone scenario, and goes on to declare all Mormons "polytheists." Yet, any Latter-day Saint, upon reading the conversation outlined above, would recognize the creation of a simplified version, or "strawman," of LDS belief. One might also seriously consider how an Evangelical Christian would answer these same questions. The reality is certainly more complex than the "strawman" above would lead us to believe.

There really is not a single word that adequately captures LDS thought on the nature of God. Pertinent key technical terminology includes the following:

  • Monotheism (belief that there is only one God)
  • Tritheism (understanding the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost as distinct Gods)
  • Polytheism (worship of, or belief in, more than one God)
  • Henotheism (worship of one God without denying the existence of other Gods; also called Monolatry)
  • Trinitarianism (belief that God consists of three Persons in one substance)
  • Social Trinitarianism (belief that the oneness of the three Persons is not one of substance but is social in nature [e.g., unity of thought, etc.])
  • Modalism (belief that there is only one God that does not exist as three separate Persons but rather manifests itself in three different "modes" [i.e., as Father, Son, or Holy Ghost])

Usually the very same people who are pressing the case that Mormons are polytheists are some stripe of Evangelical Christians who claim to be monotheists. But Trinitarians are not Monotheists by definition (just ask a Jew or Muslim).

The facts that the LDS do not believe the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are one in substance, and believe in deification/theosis (that humans may eventually become deified and become partakers in the divine nature), has been used to paint Mormons as polytheists. When we examine the technical terminology above, though, it becomes clear that a key point of demarcation is worship versus acknowledgment of existence. If members of the Church worshiped an extensive pantheon like the Greeks or Romans, then the label would be appropriate. In the context of doctrinal differences over the relationship among the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, however, or the doctrine of deification (which is a profoundly Christian doctrine and not just a Mormon one), use of the word "polytheistic" as a pejorative is both inaccurate and inappropriate.

Instead of using a single-word label, one must actually articulate the belief (using fully-developed sentences or paragraphs). The single-word label that will adequately describe the full breadth of LDS thought on the nature of God has yet to be coined.

Human deification and monotheism

The Bible contains language indicating human beings can put on the divine nature and be called "gods" (see John 10:33, 34; Ps. 82:6, Deut. 10:17, etc.). They are instructed to become one with Jesus just as he is one with his Father. The key point to realize is that any existence of other beings with godly attributes has no effect on who Latter-day Saints worship. According to Jeff Lindsay, a popular LDS online apologist:

We worship God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ - not glorious angels or Abraham or Moses or John the Baptist, no matter how great they may be in the kingdom of heaven as sons of God who have become "like Christ" (1 Jn 3:2). The only reasonable definition of polytheism requires that plural gods be worshiped - but the beings that Christ calls "gods" are not who we worship at all. In terms of worship, we are properly called monotheists.[34]

Additionally, there is abundant evidence of deification being taught by various commonly accepted Christians. If belief in theosis makes one a polytheist, many Christians would have to be so labeled - including such figures as C. S. Lewis and John Calvin. Clearly, this is not the way in which the term "polytheist" is normally used, but critics of the Church are often willing to be inconsistent if the Church can be made to look alien or "unchristian."

"Monotheism" is sufficiently broad to include the kind of oneness enjoyed by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as well as that promised to those who become one with them when fully sanctified.


Response to claim: 36 - The authors claim that the "Mormon God" is limited to creating only out of existing matter

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

*The "Mormon God cannot create ex nihilo, or out of nothing." The authors claim that the "Mormon God" is limited to creating only out of existing matter.

Author's sources:
  1. John Widtsoe, A Rational Theology, p. 12.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The authors wish to make it appear that Mormons feel that God is limited in some way. Mormons do not believe that God is "limited."


Question: How did the mainstream Christian view that God created the universe out of nothing originate?

The concept of Creatio ex nihilo appeared suddenly in the latter half of the second century

Mainstream Christianity teaches that God created the universe from nothing (ex nihilo), while Mormons teach that God organized the universe from pre-existing matter. The LDS God is therefore claimed to be "less powerful" than the God of mainstream Christianity, or "unbiblical."

One non-LDS scholar's conclusion is apt:

Creatio ex nihilo appeared suddenly in the latter half of the second century c.e. Not only did creatio ex nihilo lack precedent, it stood in firm opposition to all the philosophical schools of the Greco-Roman world. As we have seen, the doctrine was not forced upon the Christian community by their revealed tradition, either in Biblical texts or the Early Jewish interpretation of them. As we will also see it was not a position attested in the New Testament doctrine or even sub-apostolic writings. It was a position taken by the apologists of the late second century, Tatian and Theophilus, and developed by various ecclesiastical writers thereafter, by Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen. Creatio ex nihilo represents an innovation in the interpretive traditions of revelation and cannot be explained merely as a continuation of tradition.[35]

The concept of Creatio ex nihilo is not taught in the Old or New Testaments, or by the early Christian Fathers

Creatio ex nihilo is not taught in the Old or New Testaments, or by the early Christian Fathers, unless one assumes it. The doctrine was a novel idea that altered the beliefs and doctrines of the Jews and early Christians.

The problem of a pre-existent 'something'

The reason why most of modern Christianity demands ex-nihilo creation stems from arguments dealing with the sovereignty of God. If something exists apart from God—i.e., pre-exists the first act of creation, it must be co-eternal with God (and by extension, perhaps co-equal, or potentially co-equal). Likewise, LDS scripture teaches that there exists something which is co-eternal with God and potentially co-equal with God in the Book of Abraham. Is God absolutely transcendent over the material with which he works? Is there only one that pre-exists creation (God) or is there more than one?

The Old Testament makes no direct statement of ex-nihilo creation

The Old Testament makes no direct statement of ex-nihilo creation, and so the creation account is scrutinized for clues. Much of the debate over ex-nihilo creation stems from the first few verses of Genesis. And the controversy starts with the very first word: bereshit. The interpretation of Genesis 1:1 faces two questions. 1) Is Genesis 1:1 an independent sentence or a dependent clause, introducing the first sentence? And 2) What is the relationship of verse 1 to verse 2 (and even the remainder of the creation narrative in Genesis chapter 1)?

The Hebrew word roshit occurs some 50 times in the Old Testament. The vowels in the word indicate that is a construct form - that it means "beginning of" and not just "beginning". Of the other 50 occurrences, 49 of them follow this pattern. The exact same construction with the prefix be- occurs in four other places (Jer. 26:1; 27:1; 28:1; 49:34), and in each instance is generally translated as "In the beginning of the reign of ..." The other instances of roshit follow this construct pattern except for one in Isaiah 46:10, where we read: "I am God ... declaring the end from the beginning." Here there can be little doubt that the word cannot be read as a construct. And this one occurrence is often used to justify reading bereshit in Genesis 1:1 as an absolute and not a construct. To which we respond, is a grammatical error in one location reason to justify an adoption of a similar reading here? Why should we adopt the reading favored by one example over the dozens of alternatives?

If beroshit is a construct state, then verse 1 and verse 2 are both subordinate clauses describing the state of everything at the moment which God begins to create, and the beginning of verse 3 becomes the main clause for the first sentence of the Bible. Read this way, the beginning of the Bible reads:

When God began to create the heavens and the earth (the earth being without form and void, and darkness was on the surface of the deep, and the spirit of God moved upon the surface of the waters), God said, "Let there be light".

The first act of creation then is the command for light to exist. And all the rest - the earth as a desert and a wasteland (terms that imply an absence of both plant and animal life), the darkness, the deep, and so on, all exist prior to that first act of creation - and by definition are pre-existent.

Apart from this passage, there is often discussion over the meaning of the word bara - "to create". The Hebrew term bara itself is rather indifferent to the question of ex-nihilo creation. Often the claim is made that the word is used exclusively of God, but this clearly isn't the case (see for example Ezekiel 21:19). The meaning of bara here is dependent entirely on how we read the rest of the first line of the Old Testament.

In the absence of any Old Testament expressions of ex-nihilo creation, it seems preferable to follow the view that Israelite religion had not developed this theology. Joseph Smith resolved the interpretive crux in Genesis 1:1 in a rather unique fashion. In the Book of Moses, rather than defining creation in absolute terms (either from nothing or from something), he limits the description of creation in Genesis to a particular place and time. Creation is no longer universal:

And it came to pass, that the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 'Behold, I reveal unto you concerning this heaven and this earth; write the words which I speak. ... Yea, in the beginning I created the heaven and the earth upon which thou standest. (Moses 2:1,3)

The New Testament doesn't provide much additional help in resolving the issue

The New Testament doesn't provide much additional help in resolving the issue. It relies heavily on the language of the Old Testament when discussing creation. And the same sorts of ambiguities arise. As James Hubler's Ph.D. dissertation on this very issue noted:

Several New Testament texts have been educed as evidence of creatio ex nihilo. None makes a clear statement which would have been required to establish such an unprecedented position, or which we would need as evidence of such a break with tradition. None is decisive and each could easily be accepted by a proponent of creatio ex materia...The punctuation of [John 1:3] becomes critical to its meaning. Proponents of creatio ex materia could easily qualify the creatures of the Word to that "which came about," excluding matter. Proponents of creatio ex nihilo could place a period after "not one thing came about" and leave "which came about" to the next sentence. The absence of a determinate tradition of punctuation in New Testament [Greek] texts leaves room for both interpretations. Neither does creation by word imply ex nihilo...as we have seen in Egypt, Philo, and Midrash Rabba, and even in 2 Peter 3:5, where the word functions to organize pre-cosmic matter. [36]


Question: What were the early Christian beliefs about the creation?

A belief in ex nihilo creation was not shared by the first Christians

Contrary to the critics' claims, their belief in ex nihilo creation was not shared by the first Christians. The concept of creatio ex nihilo

began to be adumbrated in Christian circles shortly before Galen's time. The first Christian thinker to articulate the rudiments of a doctrine of creatio ex nihilo was the Gnostic theologian Basilides, who flourished in the second quarter of the second century. Basilides worked out an elaborate cosmogony as he sought to think through the implications of Christian teaching in light of the platonic cosmogony. He rejected the analogy of the human maker, the craftsman who carves a piece of wood, as an anthropomorphism that severely limited the power of God. God, unlike mortals, created the world out of ‘non-existing’ matter. He first brought matter into being through the creation of ‘seeds’, and it is this created stuff that is fashioned, according to His will, into the cosmos.[37]

Thus, the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo was first advanced by a Gnostic (a heretical branch of Christianity), and did not appear until more than a century after the birth of Christ.

The idea of God using pre-existing material in creation was accepted by at least some of the early Church Fathers

The idea of God using pre-existing material in creation was accepted by at least some of the early Church Fathers, suggesting that beliefs about the mechanism of creation altered over time, as Greek philosophical ideas intruded on Christian doctrine. Justin Martyr (A.D. 110—165) said:

And we have been taught that He in the beginning did of His goodness, for man's sake, create all things out of unformed matter; and if men by their works show themselves worthy of this His design, they are deemed worthy, and so we have received-of reigning in company with Him, being delivered from corruption and suffering.”[38]

Justin continues elsewhere with such examples as:

  • “by the word of God the whole world was made out of the substance spoken of before by Moses.”[39]
  • [the earth,] “which God made according to the pre-existent form.”[40]
  • “And His Son, who alone is properly called Son, the Word who also was with Him and was begotten before the works, when at first He created and arranged all things by Him, is called Christ, in reference to His being anointed and God's ordering all thing; through Him...”[41]

Justin was not the only Father to reject ex nihilo creation. Clement said in his "Hymn to the Paedagogus":

Out of a confused heap who didst create This ordered sphere, and from the shapeless mass Of matter didst the universe adorn....[42]

And, Blake Ostler comments on 1 Clement:

Clement stated: "Thou . . . didst make manifest the everlasting fabric of the world. Thou, Lord, didst create the earth." The terms used here by Clement are significant. He asserts that God did "make manifest" (ἐϕανεροποίησας) the "everlasting fabric of the world" (Σὺ τὴν ἀέναον του κόσμου σύστασιν). He is referring to an eternal substrate that underlies God's creative activity. Clement is important because he is at the very center of the Christian church as it was then developing. His view assumed that God had created from an eternally existing substrate, creating by "making manifest" what already existed in some form. The lack of argumentation or further elucidation indicates that Clement was not attempting to establish a philosophical position; he was merely maintaining a generally accepted one. However, the fact that such a view was assumed is even more significant than if Clement had argued for it. If he had presented an argument for this view, then we could assume that it was either a contested doctrine or a new view. But because he acknowledged it as obvious, it appears to have been a generally accepted belief in the early Christian church.[43]


Question: How was the doctrine of creation altered to "creatio ex nihilo"?

Some Greek philosophical ideas influenced the change to "creatio ex nihilo"

Non-LDS author Edwin Hatch noted the influence of some Greek philosophical ideas in the change to creatio ex nihilo:

With Basilides [a second century Gnostic philosopher], the conception of matter was raised to a higher plane. The distinction of subject and object was preserved, so that the action of the Transcendent God was still that of creation and not of evolution; but it was "out of that which was not" that He made things to be . . . . The basis of the theory was Platonic, though some of the terms were borrowed from both Aristotle and the Stoics. It became itself the basis for the theory which ultimately prevailed in the Church. The transition appears in Tatian [ca. A.D. 170][44]


Response to claim: 37 - "God of Mormonism cannot be personally present everywhere because he dwells in a finite body"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

According to the authors, the "God of Mormonism cannot be personally present everywhere because he dwells in a finite body." They quote Brigham Young:

Some would have us believe that God is present everywhere. It is not so.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

The authors are implying that Mormons deny God's omnipresence. This is incorrect.


Question: Since Mormons believe that God possesses a physical body, does that mean that He cannot be omnipresent?

God is omnipresent, just not personally

Brigham Young stated,

Some would have us believe that God is present everywhere. It is not so. He is no more everywhere present in person than the Father and Son are one in person. The Bible teaches that doctrine precisely as it is.

Orson Pratt clarifies the concept of God's omnipresence:

He is omnipresent. Not personally; this would be impossible, for a person can only be in one place at the same instant, whether he be an immortal or a mortal personage; whether he be high, exalted, and filled with all power, wisdom, glory, and greatness, or poor, ignorant, and humble. So far as the materials are concerned, a personage can only occupy one place at the same moment. That is a self-evident truth, one that cannot be controverted. When we speak, therefore, of God being omnipresent we do not mean that His person is omnipresent, we mean that His wisdom, power, glory, greatness, goodness, and all the characteristics of His eternal attributes are manifested and spread abroad throughout all the creations that He has made. He is there by His influence—by His power and wisdom—by His outstretched arm; He, by His authority, occupies the immensity of space. But when we come to His glorious personage, that has a dwelling place—a particular location; but where this location is, is not revealed. Suffice it to say that God is not confined in His personal character to one location. He goes and comes; He visits the various departments of His dominions, gives them counsel and instruction, and presides over them according to His own will and pleasure. (Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 14:234.)


Notes

  1. Boyd K. Packer, "A Defense and a Refuge," Ensign (November 2006), 85–88.
  2. Twelve Apostles, "The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," Ensign (December 2004), 4. off-site
  3. David Steinmetz, "Christian Unity: A Sermon by David Steinmetz," News and Notes 5/6 (April 1990); cited by Stephen E. Robinson, Are Mormons Christians? (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1993),36–37. off-site FairMormon link
  4. Edmond LaB. Cherbonnier, "In Defense of Anthropomorphism," in Truman G. Madsen (editor), Reflections on Mormonism: Judaeo-Christian parallels : papers delivered at the Religious Studies Center symposium, Brigham Young University, March 10-11, 1978 (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center , Brigham Young University and Bookcraft, 1978), 162, compare G.E. Wright, God Who Acts (London: SCM Press, 1952), 49–50. ISBN 0884943585.
  5. Christopher Stead, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 120.
  6. "Does God Have a Body?," Catholic Answers tract, 1996. Since this article was first written, the title of the tract was changed to “God Has No Body."
  7. Christopher Stead, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 98.
  8. J. N. Sanders, A Commentary on the Gospel According to St. John, , edited and completed by B. A. Mastin, (New York, Harper & Row, 1968), 147–148.
  9. Adolf von Harnack, History of Dogma, tr. Neil Buchanan (New York: Dover, 1961), 1:180 n.1.
  10. Tertullian, "Against Praxeas," in 7 Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)3:602. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  11. J.W.C.Wand, A History of the Early Church to A.D. 500 (London: Methuen & Co., 1937), 140.
  12. Origen, "On First Principles," in Preface, 9 Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)4:6. ANF ToC off-site This volume Direct jump off-site
  13. Origen, "Homilies on Genesis," in 3:1 Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)?:??. ANF ToC off-site This volume[citation needed]
  14. Plutarch, quoted in Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel, 14:16. off-site Direct jump off-site
  15. Empedocles, in Karl Jaspers, The Great Philosophers (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1981), 3:51.
  16. Jean Daniélou, The Lord of History: Reflections on the Inner Meaning of History, translated by N. Abercrombie (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1958), 1.
  17. For more information on this topic, see Barry R. Bickmore, "The Doctrine of God and the Nature of Man," in Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity (Redding, CA: Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, 1999).
  18. Samuel A. Meier, “Theophany,” in Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, eds., The Oxford Companion to the Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 740. The citations of Genesis 24:10-11 and Genesis 32:20 should be to Exodus 24:10-11 and Exodus 33:20.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Clementine Homilies, 17:16. off-site In Ante-Nicean Fathers 8:223–347. off-site Direct jump off-site
  20. Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 346. off-site
  21. Alyson Skabelund Von Feldt, "Does God Have a Wife? Review of Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel," FARMS Review 19/1 (2007): 81–118. off-site wiki
  22. See Daniel C. Peterson, "Nephi and His Asherah: A Note on 1 Nephi 11:8–23," in Mormons, Scripture, and the Ancient World: Studies in Honor of John L. Sorenson, edited by Davis Bitton, (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1998). [191-243] direct off-site A shorter version of this article is also available in Daniel C. Peterson, "Nephi and His Asherah," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9/2 (2000): 16–25. off-site wiki
  23. Elaine Anderson Cannon, "Mother in Heaven," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), :961. off-site
  24. This is Hymn #292 in the current LDS hymnal ("O My Father"). Written at Joseph Smith's death, the poem was originally published as Eliza R. Snow, "Invocation," Times and Seasons 6 no. 17 (15 November 1845), 1039. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.) (See Terryl L. Givens, People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture (Oxford University Press, 2007), 168. ISBN 0195167112. ISBN 978-0195167115.)
  25. Messages of the First Presidency, edited by James R. Clark, Vol. 4, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1970), 205–206. GL direct link (italics added). Originally in First Presidency, "[Evolution:Primary_sources:First_Presidency_1909 The Origin of Man]," Improvement Era 13 (November 1909), 61–75.
  26. The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "The Family: A Proclamation to the World," Ensign (November 1995), 102. (Statement issued by President Gordon B. Hinckley on 23 September 1995.) off-site
  27. John F. MacArthur, Jr., The Vanishing Conscience; Drawing the Line in a No-Fault, Guilt-Free World (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1995), 109-115.
  28. Wilford Woodruff, "Fulfillment of Ancient Prophesy," in Brian H. Stuy (editor), Collected Discourses: Delivered by Wilford Woodruff, his two counselors, the twelve apostles, and others, 1868–1898, 5 vols., (Woodland Hills, Utah: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987–1989), 1:344. [Discourse given on Sept 1, 1889.]
  29. Elaine Pagels, “The Politics of Paradise: Augustine’s exegesis of Genesis 1-3 versus that of John Chrysostom,” Harvard Theological Review 78 (1985): 68.
  30. David van Biema, "Kingdom Come," TIME Magazine (4 August 1997): 56, ellipsis in original.
  31. Lorenzo Snow, Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, compiled by Clyde J. Williams, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1984), 2. ISBN 0884945170.
  32. Gordon B. Hinckley, "Drawing Nearer to the Lord," Ensign (November 1997), 4–6.
  33. Gordon B. Hinckley, "Don't Drop the Ball," Ensign (November 1994), 46–49.
  34. Jeff Lindsay, "If you believe the Father and the Son are separate beings, doesn't that make you polytheistic?" JeffLindsay.com (accessed December 2007). off-site
  35. James N. Hubler, "Creatio ex Nihilo: Matter, Creation, and the Body in Classical and Christian Philosophy through Aquinas" (PhD diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1995), 102; cited in Blake T. Ostler, "Out of Nothing: A History of Creation ex Nihilo in Early Christian Thought (review of Review of Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, "Craftsman or Creator? An Examination of the Mormon Doctrine of Creation and a Defense of Creatio ex nihilo," in The New Mormon Challenge: Responding to the Latest Defenses of a Fast-Growing Movement, edited by Beckwith, Mosser, and Owen)," FARMS Review 17/2 (2005): 253–320. off-site
  36. James N. Hubler, "Creatio ex Nihilo: Matter, Creation, and the Body in Classical and Christian Philosophy through Aquinas" (PhD diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1995), 107–8; cited in Blake T. Ostler, "Out of Nothing: A History of Creation ex Nihilo in Early Christian Thought (review of Review of Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, "Craftsman or Creator? An Examination of the Mormon Doctrine of Creation and a Defense of Creatio ex nihilo," in The New Mormon Challenge: Responding to the Latest Defenses of a Fast-Growing Movement, edited by Beckwith, Mosser, and Owen)," FARMS Review 17/2 (2005): 253–320. off-site
  37. Gerhard May, Schoepfung Aus Dem Nichts: Die Entstehung Der Lehre Von Der Creatio Ex Nihilo (Arbeiten Zur Kirchengeschichte, Vol 48) (Walter De Gruyter Inc, 1978), 63-85. ISBN 3110072041; as quoted in Robert Louis Wilken, The Christians as the Romans saw Them (Yale University Press, 2003), 88–89. ISBN 0300098391.
  38. Justin Martyr, "First Apology of Justin," in Chapter 10 Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)1:165. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  39. Justin Martyr, "First Apology of Justin," in Chapter 59 Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)1:182. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  40. Justin Martyr, "Hortatory to the Greeks," in Chapter 30 Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)1:286. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  41. Justin Martyr, "First Apology of Justin," in Chapter 10 Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)1:165. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  42. Clement, "Hymn to the Paedagogus," in ? Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)2:296. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  43. Blake T. Ostler, "Out of Nothing: A History of Creation ex Nihilo in Early Christian Thought (review of Review of Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, "Craftsman or Creator? An Examination of the Mormon Doctrine of Creation and a Defense of Creatio ex nihilo," in The New Mormon Challenge: Responding to the Latest Defenses of a Fast-Growing Movement, edited by Beckwith, Mosser, and Owen)," FARMS Review 17/2 (2005): 253–320. off-site; citing 1 Clement 60, in J. B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, ed. J. R. Harmer (1891; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book, 1956), 1:176. Lightfoot translates this text as: "Thou through Thine operations didst make manifest the everlasting fabric of the world" (1:303). See Oscar de Gebhardt and Adolphus Harnack, Patrium Apostolicorum Opera: Clementis Romani (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1876), 1:100.
  44. Edwin Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages upon the Christian Church, 195–196.


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