Question: Was the Latter-day Saint concept of deification derived from Greek philosophy?

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Question: Was the Latter-day Saint concept of deification derived from Greek philosophy?

The question of the nature of divine things or of God was never settled by the Greeks

Evangelical Christians claim that the Latter-day Saint idea of "deification" was derived from pagan Greek philosophy. The simple answer to this question is "No." Why? Greek philosophy was an attempt to discover the First Things. What is it that is behind the multiplicity of things we encounter? Some said water, others argued for fire--building on Ionian notions. Still others argued for numbers. In doing this they began to deal with three issues, or what were called the "parts" of philosophy. The first two parts involved theoria (theory), and included two issues: physis (from which we get the word "physical") and logos (from which we get the word "logic"). Put in question form, the Greeks debated about the nature of reality and how we can know, or not know, the answer to this question. The third part of philosophy—praxis (from which we get the word "practical," meaning for the Greek philosophers the question of how, given the limits on our knowledge and what we can know of the nature of things, how ought we to behave?). The question of the nature of divine things or of God was never settled.

Plato is an especially useful instance of what might be called "theoretical atheism" in his physics, while in his practical or moral philosophy he has a rather large place for God as a kind of "noble lie," since believing in divine punishments is a way of controlling children or childish adults—that is, most humans most of the time. It is also true that in Plato's dialogues there are many instances in which a wise saying by one of the participants will draw forth from one of the others expressions such as "oh divine man" or "worthy of being a God" and so forth. This may merely be a way of indicating that wisdom is the highest attainment of human nature, and not anything like theosis (deification) in the sense that word was used by early Christians.

When Latter-day Saints refer to the Hellenizing of Christianity, they are following the lead of Protestant authors who have used that expression. What that label often means, for the Saints, is that the authors of the great ecumenical creeds borrowed categories, which they only half understood, from pagan sources—that is, from Greek philosophy. In doing this they seem to have corrupted both Greek philosophy and Christian faith. This may not have caused the apostasy, but may have instead been a desperate attempt on the part of really passionate believers to sort of issues that were tearing the church to pieces.

For further information, see: Louis Midgley, "Directions That Diverge (Review of The Ancient State: The Rulers and the Ruled)," FARMS Review of Books 11/1 (1999): 27–87. off-site

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