Jesus Christ/The "Mormon" vs. the "Christian" Jesus

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The "Mormon" and the "Christian" Jesus

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Question: Do Latter-day Saints believe in a "different" Jesus than "mainstream" Christians?

"Mormon Beliefs About Jesus" versus "Christian Beliefs About Jesus": Mormons worship the Jesus Christ of the Bible

It would be enlightening for any Latter-day Saint to read this description of the "Mormon Jesus" in the left column and see just how much of this is recognizable as church doctrine. The list is taken from page One Nation Under Gods, p. 378 (PB). This claim is repeated in the author's later work Becoming Gods—The "Mormon Jesus" versus the "Traditional Jesus".

The "mainstream Christian" author's misrepresentation of "Mormon Beliefs About Jesus" Jesus Christ, as He is actually viewed by Latter-day Saints For more information...
A literal son (spirit-child) of a god (Elohim) and his wife.
  • Latter-day Saints believe that everyone is a spirit child of Heavenly Father, including Jesus. What is a spirit child? We don't have the details.
  • Our eternal nature was organized into a spirit person, whatever that is. We don't know the details. We don't know the process by which we became a spirit person.
  • The difference between us is that Jesus is divine, while the rest of us are not.
  • Why the emphasis on the word "literal"? Apparently, to once again call attention to the subject of "Celestial Sex."
The elder brother of all spirits born in the pre-existence to Heavenly Father.
  • Latter-day Saints do not claim to know by what method a spirit is "born."
  • Christ is the "eldest," but what this means is also not clear. Is it a question of temporality? (i.e., He came first in time) Is it a rank? Does it describe His relationship to us? We simply don't claim to know, since time is only measured unto man.
  • Latter-day Saints do believe that Christ was not created ex nihilo at some moment; He is eternally self-existent.
A polygamous Jewish male.
  • This is not a belief among Latter-day Saints, and is based entirely upon non-doctrinal statements made by Orson Hyde and Orson Pratt.
  • It is surprising that this claim is still in the paperback edition of One Nation Under Gods. It was, however, removed from Becoming Gods.
One of three gods overseeing this planet.
  • There is only one God. Christ is one of three divine beings in the Godhead. They are one in purpose, not one in person. John 17:3, John 17:20-22
  • Regardless of this, a creedal Christian ought not to have a problem with one God consisting of more than one Person.
Atoned only for Adam's transgression by sweating blood in Gethsemane.
  • This statement is completely false.
  • The Book of Mormon teaches that Christ's sacrifice was "infinite and eternal." (2 Nephi) It could not be exceeded in any sense. Christ suffered for the sins, griefs, and pains of all humanity (Alma 7), whether or not they repent.
  • The benefits of that atonement are restricted if we refuse to do that which He asks of us to accept it (i.e. have faith, repent, be baptized, receive the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end.)
  • Note that this statement was changed in Becoming Gods—The "Mormon Jesus" versus the "Traditional Jesus" to "Atoned only for Adam's transgression, thereby providing the opportunity for us to obtain "eternal life" by our own efforts. The change, however, didn't really do anything to correct this falsehood.
The literal spirit brother of Lucifer.
  • Again, note the emphasis on the word "literal." Latter-day Saints do not consider Jesus in any way to be Satan's "peer."
Jesus' sacrificial death is not able to cleanse some people of all their sins.
  • Latter-day Saints believe that only those who reject the atonement cannot be cleansed from all their sins. If one doesn't accept the atonement, then the atonement can't save him or her. But, that is a reflection on the sinner, and does not imply that Christ's atonement was "not able" to cleanse our sins.
  • This is probably alluding to blood atonement.
  • Jesus Christ Himself taught that blasphemy against the Holy Ghost was an "unforgivable sin." Matthew 12:31-32
There is no salvation without accepting Joseph Smith as a prophet of God.
  • Latter-day Saints believe that there is no salvation without accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior and Redeemer. Salvation is obtained by receiving Jesus and his atoning sacrifice. The statement presented in the book is nonsense. All save the sons of perdition are saved. All will be resurrected.
  • A fullness of salvation requires accepting the words of ALL the prophets--including those who wrote the Bible, and including Joseph Smith.
  • If one believes that you have to accept the Bible witness to be saved, then how can one fault Latter-day Saints for believing that another prophet's witness must also be accepted? LDS doctrine saves infidels and non-Christians in a resurrection of glory, and provides for their evangelization after death.


Question: How does the Mormon view of the Atonement compare to the evangelical Christian view?

The way that evangelical Christians view the Mormon approach to the atonment

It is claimed that the LDS view of the Atonement is as follows:

  1. The atonement "provides everyone with a general resurrection and cancellation of the consequences of Adam's transgression;"
  2. It "took place primarily in the Garden of Gethsemane;"
  3. It "was possible before Christ had died and was raised;"
  4. The atonement "is not complete unless the individual demonstrates total obedience."

The four positions of the Christian theory, which by definition must be correct, are:

  1. The atonement "provides for the salvation of only those who have faith in Christ;"
  2. It "took place on the cross alone;"
  3. It "was possible only after Christ's death;"
  4. It "is complete for the believer by the grace of God."[1]

The Latter-day Saint meaning of "salvation" is different than the evangelical Christian meaning of the word

As is so frequently done, the critics here are attempting to compare apples and oranges. They are contrasting "resurrection" on the LDS side with "salvation" on the other side. They are contrasting "cross only" with "garden and cross." They are rejecting the possibility of the Israelites having any knowledge whatever of the works of the future Messiah, and therefore being saved by their faith in the future Messiah. And do they really want to contrast "obedience" to the Gospel with the "grace of God?" Does God require nothing at all of us after that grace has entered our life? The Lord had something to say about those who cry Lord, Lord, but do not what He says. The restoration of the Gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith actually makes the two positions most compatible, at least from the perspective of the members of the Church of Jesus Christ. It is really only the critics who have a problem reconciling the two positions. The LDS position is a broader concept, based on further light and knowledge, i.e., revelation from God.

The Latter-day Saints teach a principle of exaltation, beyond the ordinary salvation mentioned by evangelical critics, which makes both systems compatible on the first point. Salvation is a free gift of grace provided for by the atoning death and resurrection of the Savior; however, the specific type of resurrection is based on one's own life activity: we will be judged according to our works; (John 5:29) Jesus Christ is the "author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him." (Hebrews 5:9) The "Great Commission" of Jesus to the Apostles at the end of Matthew says that they are "to teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:20) The word 'primarily' in the second point of differences opens up the door for reconciling the two positions on the issue of Gethsemane vs. Calvary. As has been seen, there is no such issue for the Latter-day Saints: the atonement begins in the Garden (or before creation, 'before the foundations of the world were laid'), and ends on the Cross (or perhaps is still continuing, with Christ continuing to intercede for us with the Father).

Latter-day Saints basically agree that until the atonement and resurrection had actually taken place, there was no opportunity for anyone

The Latter-day Saints basically agree with the third critical position point, in the sense that until, or unless, the atonement and resurrection had actually taken place, there was no opportunity for anyone, before or after that event, to receive the benefits of it. All this really means however is that there was no resurrection prior to the resurrection of the Savior Himself, and, therefore, no possibility of anyone being brought back into the presence of God the Father. Heaven was only a dream until the atonement and resurrection made its attainment a real possibility. As for the forgiveness of sins: since it is based on the atonement by Jesus Christ, that could be accomplished, because of the foreknowledge of the Father: He knew that His Son would follow through with the Atonement, thereby redeeming all from the individual effects of the Fall. The belief in the possibility of receiving a forgiveness of one's sins prior to the birth and death of the Savior is also contingent upon the belief in Prophets being 'truly' called of God. One must believe that God can really and truly call to His service an individual and proclaim to them what will be in the future. If we believe with Paul that the "gospel was preached beforetime to Abraham," or that the "Israelites were baptized to God in a cloud," we must do so completely. If the gospel was preached to them, then we have to admit that they were, at least to some degree, taught about the future Savior and His atoning sacrifice. We must believe that, not only would He not leave their souls in hell, but that He would make a way possible for them to confess their sins and repent of them. If this is true, then a certain amount of salvation was possible before the birth of the Savior. However, it still required His atonement and resurrection to make the fullness of that salvation possible.

Latter-day Saint accept that the atoning sacrifice of the Savior was an act of grace

The fourth position point deals with the principle of grace, which Latter-day Saints accept, if understood properly. The atoning sacrifice of the Savior was an act of grace; no one forced Him to go through with it; nor did we, on the basis of anything we had done, merit its occurrence. Christ atoned for the sin of Adam, and for our individual sins, because He loved us. But we have to accept it if it is going to be meaningful in our lives. All will receive that aspect of the atonement that applies to the resurrection of the body; only those who accept Jesus Christ and follow His commandments are going to receive the fullest benefits of that sacrifice.


Question: Why do Latter-day Saints not pray directly to Jesus Christ?

Despite the fact that some may have prayed directly to Jesus Christ in the past, Latter-day Saints accept the Lord's Prayer as a divine pattern which was reinforced and clarified in modern scripture

Latter-day Saints are criticized for not praying directly to Jesus Christ. [2]

Despite the fact that some may have prayed directly to Jesus Christ in the past, Latter-day Saints accept the Lord's Prayer as a divine pattern which was reinforced and clarified in modern scripture. We trust the Lord's word as revealed in both ancient and modern times and will continue to pray to our Heavenly Father as Jesus Christ our Savior and Redeemer directed.

Overview

The critical claim is made by the Institute for Religious Research (IRR) in a YouTube video and on their web site. Some of IRR's YouTube video criticism seems to be based on what Bruce R. McConkie wrote in his Doctrinal New Testament Commentary regarding Stephen's request while being stoned, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." (Acts 7:59) Elder McConkie explained:

To whom did Stephen pray? Sectarian commentators say he prayed to Jesus and not to the Father, and they accordingly claim this instance as justification for the apostate practice of addressing prayers to the Son. From the day of Adam, through all ages, however, the true order of prayer has been to “call upon God in the name of the Son.” (Moses 5:8) The only scriptural instances in which prayers were addressed directly to the Son were when—and because!—that Holy Being, as a resurrected personage, was standing before the petitioners. (3 Nephi 19:18-36)[3]

IRR challenges McConkie's response by citing other Old and New Testament cases where people appear to be praying to Jesus Christ (Old Testament prayers to Jehovah, John 14:14 ESV; Acts 1:21-26; Acts 9:14, Acts 9:21; Acts 22:16; Romans 10:9-14; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 12:8-9; 2 Timothy 2:22; 1 John 5:13-15). The critics also state that "The Bible is clear: the gospel offers forgiveness of sins to those who turn to Jesus Christ in faith and appeal to him in prayer to save them (Acts 2:21, Acts 2:38; Acts 4:12; Acts 5:31; Acts 22:16; Romans 10:12-13)."

We could discuss these scriptures in detail, however, we would be quibbling over what some would consider questionable examples of true prayers. Many seem to be cries for help or references to "calling on the Lord," which could also be describing prayers to God the Father in Christ's name. The critics are really questioning Elder McConkie's assertion that these verses are being used as "justification for the apostate practice of addressing prayers to the Son." Elder McConkie's assertion should be considered an authoritative LDS opinion, but not LDS doctrine. The scriptures, on the other hand, are considered doctrine and do answer this criticism, but we need to examine the content of a few scriptures not cited by the critics.

The Scriptural pattern for prayer

The Bible gives us the pattern for our prayers in the Lord's Prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. In these accounts the Lord teaches us to address our prayers to "Our Father which art in heaven." The Lord also instructed us on several occasions to ask in his name:

"And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it." John 14:13-14.

"Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you." John 15:16.

And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. John 16:23-24.

In the Book of Mormon Jesus also taught the Nephites to pray to our Heavenly Father in his name:

"Therefore ye must always pray unto the Father in my name; And whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you." (3 Nephi 18:19-20)

"And they shall believe in me, that I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and shall pray unto the Father in my name." (3 Nephi 20:30-31)

And verily I say unto you, whatsoever things ye shall ask the Father in my name shall be given unto you. (3 Nephi 27:2, 3 Nephi 27:28-29)

Latter-day Saints do not pray directly to Jesus because we would be ignoring the Lord's specific instructions cited above. (See also James E. Faust, “The Lifeline of Prayer,” Liahona, Jul 2002, 62, 67–69)

The IRR Youtube video completely ignores the scriptures cited above. We would ask those who criticize our prayers, why should we do as the critics recommend when it clearly goes against Jesus Christ's teachings in the New Testament and especially in the Book of Mormon? We would also be ignoring the specific instructions the Lord has given us by modern revelation. It is this modern revelation that distinguishes us from Christians that rely solely on the Bible. The scriptures indicate that "to obey is better than sacrifice" (1 Sam. 15:22). This same principle could apply to prayers addressed to Jesus.

Additionally, praying directly to Jesus seems unnecessary as he has taught us that he is our mediator and advocate with the Father (see 1 John 2:1; 1 Timothy 2:5; DC 29:5; DC 32:3; DC 45:3; DC 110:4) and as such hears our prayer.

Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that:

Jesus is our Advocate with the Father... The word advocate comes from Latin roots meaning a “voice for” or “one who pleads for another.” Other related terms are used in scripture, such as mediator (see 1 Timothy 2:5, 2 Nephi 2:28; DC 76:69). From the Book of Mormon we learn that this responsibility to mediate, or make intercession, was foreseen before His birth: Jesus “shall make intercession for all the children of men; and they that believe in him shall be saved” (2 Nephi 2:9).[4]

Statements made by early Christians

Finally, we might cite many early Christians such as Origen [ca. A.D. 250 ] who wrote that "only God the Father is worthy of receiving prayer and adoration; not even the Son, though we pray in the name of Christ."[5] And also “the Father alone is ho theos; the Son is simply theos…. Prayer can be offered only to the Father; prayer directed to the Son is not prayer in the fullest meaning of the word.”[6]

Athanasius (A.D. 300-373) stated that we do not pray to the Great Unoriginate in the name of the Originated One, but rather to the Father, in the name of the Son. He wrote: “’Father’ was made known to us by our Lord…, who knew whose Son he is…. When he taught us to pray he did not say, ‘When you pray, say ‘O God Unoriginate….,’ but rather ‘Our Father….’ And he did not call us to baptize ‘in the name of the Unoriginate and the Originate…’ but ‘in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit….’ Those who name God ‘Unoriginate’ name him only from his external works…, but those who name God ‘Father’ immediately signify in him also the Son…, naming him from the intimate issue of his own being.’” [7]

The Council of Carthage, North Africa, held in A.D. 397 wrote:

“In prayer one should not put the Father in the place of the Son, nor put the Son in the place of the Father; when standing at the altar one should always address the prayer to God the Father.”[8]

LaCugna also records that the A.D. 393 Council of Hippo stated:

“At the service of the altar, prayer shall always be addressed to the Father,"</ref>LaCugna, 126. </ref>

Jesuit Frans Jozef van Beeck refers to the same Council and makes the same point: “The classic liturgical prayers were exclusively addressed to the Father ‘through’ Christ living and reigning with the Father—a practice proposed as normative at the Council of Hippo in A.D. 393,”[9]


Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb: The "sameness of Jesus" and humanity

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb wrote:[10]

Mormonism can be a controversial topic for many non-Mormon Christians, but I have come to the conclusion that no theology has ever managed to capture the essential sameness of Jesus with us in a more striking manner. [11]:83

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Notes

  1. Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101. Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), Chapter 10. ( Index of claims )
  2. Institute for Religious Research, Youtube Video "Gospel Principles Chapter 8 Part 1" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z400sx6RQyQ; Institute for Religious Research, An IRR web site article at: http://www.irr.org/mit/GP-BSG-8-Praying-to-God.html. The web site article provides additional Old and New Testament cases beyond the video, where it appears individuals are praying directly to Jesus Christ.
  3. Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 Vols. (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1965–1973), 2:79.
  4. Russell M. Nelson, "Jesus the Christ: Our Master and More," Ensign (Apr 2000), 4.
  5. Johannes Quasten, Patrology (Christian Classics, n.d.; 1st Holland 1950) 2.67, citing Origen, On Prayer 16.1 [translation in Ancient Christian Writers, volume 19, 1953].
  6. Citing Comm. John 2.2; and Contra Celsum 5.4; first published Journal of Theological Studies 13 (1962): 339-347. Maurice Wiles, “In Defence of Arius,” in Wiles, Working Papers in Doctrine (London 1976), 28-37, see p. 31.
  7. See Robert W. Jenson, The Triune Identity: God According to the Gospel (Philadelphia, 1982), 18; citing Epistle on Decrees of Nicaea 31; Contra Arianos 1.34; Epistle to Serapion 4-6. Also in R. S. Franks, The Doctrine of the Trinity (London 1953), 111.
  8. Catherine Mowry LaCugna, God For Us: The Trinity and Christian Life (Harper Collins, 1993), 141, note 88; quoting J. Mansi, ed., Sacrorum Conciliorum (Paris, 1901), 3:347-409.
  9. van Beeck, God Encountered, Volume I (1989), 228-9; see also Josef A. Jungmann, S.J., The Early Liturgy to the Time of Gregory the Great (University of Notre Dame 1959), 201.
  10. "Webb is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. He is a graduate of Wabash College and earned his PhD at the University of Chicago before returning to his alma mater to teach. Born in 1961 he grew up at Englewood Christian Church, an evangelical church. He joined the Disciples of Christ during He was briefly a Lutheran, and on Easter Sunday, 2007, he officially came into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church."
  11. Stephen H. Webb, "Godbodied: The Matter of the Latter-day Saints (reprint from his book Jesus Christ, Eternal God: Heavenly Flesh and the Metaphysics of Matter (Oxford University Press, 2012)," Brigham Young University Studies 50 no. 3 (2011).