Criticism of Mormonism/Video/Search for the Truth DVD/Who is God


Jesus Christ/Joseph Smith or Search for the Truth DVD

Who Is God?

Claim: According to Joseph, "The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's; the Son also..." (D&C 130꞉22) However in John 4:24 we are told "God is Spirit..."

President Gordon B. Hinckley recently addressed this very old criticism:

In the account of the Creation of the earth, "God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (Genesis 1:26).
Could any language be more explicit? Does it demean God, as some would have us believe, that man was created in His express image? Rather, it should stir within the heart of every man and woman a greater appreciation for himself or herself as a son or daughter of God....
I remember the occasion more than 70 years ago when, as a missionary, I was speaking in an open-air meeting in Hyde Park, London. As I was presenting my message, a heckler interrupted to say, "Why don't you stay with the doctrine of the Bible which says in John, 'God is a Spirit'?"
I opened my Bible to the verse he had quoted and read to him the entire verse:
"God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24).
I said, "Of course God is a spirit, and so are you in the combination of spirit and body that makes of you a living being, and so am I."
...Jesus's declaration that God is a spirit no more denies that He has a body than does the statement that I am a spirit while also having a body.
I do not equate my body with His in its refinement, in its capacity, in its beauty and radiance. His is eternal. Mine is mortal. But that only increases my reverence for Him. I worship Him "in spirit and in truth."
—Gordon B. Hinckley, "First Presidency Message: In These Three I Believe," Ensign (July 2006): 2–

It is interesting to note that some early Christians actually used John 4:24 as a proof text to support the notion that God has a body. While Origen (De Principiis, 242 off-site) didn't approve, he admits "I know that some will attempt to say that, even according to the declaration of our own scriptures, God is a body, because. . .they find it said in the Gospel according to John that 'God is a spirit, and they who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.'. . .Spirit according to them [is] to be regarded as nothing less than a body."

Tertullian (Against Praxeus, Chapter 7 off-site) believed "This for certain is He who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, In what form of God? Of course he means in some form, not none. For who will deny that God is a body although God is a spirit? (John 4:24). For spirit has a bodily substance of its own kind, in its own form."

While evangelical scholar Paul Copan off-site views Tertullian's belief in God's corporeality as anti-intellectual and influenced by stoicism, he writes that in Augustine's time "North African Catholics typically believed [in God's corporeality]." Copan indicated that "neo-Platonist Christians in Milan" helped Augustine adopt a belief in an incorporeal God.

The concept of God which Joseph Smith claimed to restore through revelation is clearly a match for the common beliefs of the early Christians—and, that early perspective was later altered and corrupted by philosophical innovations.

To read more:

Claim: God has existed for eternity. But Joseph Smith taught "He was once a man like us, yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did." Dr. Phil Roberts says, "In Mormonism God is simply an exalted man. He was born as a man, he was conceived in a natural way and by adherence to a system of Mormonism in a previous world and a previous life through his good works in accordance with that system he became God."

Very little is known about these matters in LDS doctrine, but Dr. Roberts manages to distort what is known.

There is no official doctrine on the method by which Christ's mortal body was conceived—apart from that which we are told in scripture (see Matthew 1:, Matthew 1:20, and Luke 1:35)—despite speculation by some early members. Latter-day Saints do not deny that God has existed for eternity—they believe all intelligence is eternal and uncreated (see D&C 93꞉29). Latter-day Saints do not accept the late, non-biblical Trinitarian creeds. Thus, they see God the Father and Jesus Christ as separate beings, as described by a "plain reading" of the Bible.

Jesus Christ was:

  • born as a mortal
  • conceived with a literal, physical body to a literal, physical mother
  • lived as a man/mortal
  • died
  • was resurrected and glorified

Given that Christ was the only one to lead a sinless life, one might agree with Dr. Roberts that "through his good works," He completed His mortal life and was exalted to divine status.

In the non-canonical King Follet Discourse, Joseph Smith simply taught that the Father went through the same process as Christ.

Although Christ shared aspects of the mortal experience with us, to argue that He was "simply a man" who became exalted is to distort LDS teaching beyond recognition. Jesus Christ has divine status and exaltation by merit and right. By analogy, we presume—but do not know—that the Father proceeded similarly. Exaltation of all other mortals is through the grace, mercy, and atonement of Christ, following the Father's plan.

To read more:

Claim: "...the Mormon teachings about many gods is false." – Floyd McElveen

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ believe in more than one divine personage. Any Christian who does not embrace the late, non-biblical Trinitarian creeds will understand there to be more than one "God," in the sense of "divine person."

Latter-day Saints and scripture often use the term "God" to denote what may be more properly called "the Godhead." This is the divine unity of love, purpose, and will possessed by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, who are "one God," while remaining distinct divine personages.

While recognizing that more than one being may have divine status, Latter-day Saints reject any attempt to worship any other being, or assume that any other being has greater power than the God of the Bible.

Elder Boyd K. Packer taught:

The Father is the one true God. This thing is certain: no one will ever ascend above Him; no one will ever replace Him. Nor will anything ever change the relationship that we, His literal offspring, have with Him. He is Elohim, the Father. He is God. Of Him there is only one. We revere our Father and our God; we worship Him.
—Boyd K. Packer, "The Pattern of Our Parentage," Ensign (November 1984), 69. off-site

To read more:

  • Godhead and the Trinity
  • David L. Paulsen, "The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph Smith: Defending the Faith" FAIR link
  • 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).

Claim: Paul says in 1 Corinthians 8:4–5 there is only one God, and the rest are simply imaginary (see remarks by Dr. John Whitcomb).

Mr. McElveen ignores scriptural context and scholarship in his interpretation. The verses in question read:

As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.
For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)

This is followed by a verse not cited by Mr. McElveen:

But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. (1 Corinthians 8:4-6)

Mr. McElveen would like us to conclude that because idols are mentioned in verse 4, the "gods many, and lords many" mentioned in verse 5 also refer to idols. It is clear, however, that Paul makes the distinction in verse 5. He says that while there are those that are "called gods," it is true, but he clarifies and distinguishes his meaning in two separate ways.

First, Paul follows this statement, referring to those that are called gods, with the words, "whether in heaven or in earth..."—it is unlikely that idols would be found in heaven!

Secondly, Paul acknowledges that "there be gods many, and lords many." Then he brings the point home in the next verse, though it is not cited by Mr. McElveen, since it undermines his interpretation.

Paul says that "to us," however, "there is but one God" and "one Lord." He clarifies his point: We are only to worship one God, not many gods, although they do exist. We only follow one Lord, not many Lords, although they do exist.

This is not merely a Latter-day Saint supposition. Origin (A.D. 185–ca.254), head of the Christian Church in Alexandria, wrote:

There are some gods of whom God is god, as we hear in the prophecy, "Thank ye the God of gods," and "The God of gods hath spoken, and called the earth." Now God, according to the Gospel, "is not the God of the dead but of the living." Those gods, then, are living of whom God is god. The Apostle, too, writing to the Corinthians, says: "As there are gods many and lords many," and so we have spoken of these gods as really existing. Now there are, besides the gods of whom God is god, certain others.
–Origen, "Commentary on John," in Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers (1886-1890; reprint, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978-1981), 10:315. (emphasis added)

Thus, Paul distinguishes between two groups of things:

  1. non-existent gods (idols)
  2. other divine beings that exist, but are not to be worshipped

Mr. McElveen has similar problems interpreting Old Testament scripture in context, discussed below.

Claim: (cont.) "The Bible says 'before me there were no gods formed (Isaiah 43:10) neither shall there be after me.' That means that all the Mormon teachings about many gods is false. It means there was never a God before this God." - Floyd McElveen.

Mr. McElveen's interpretation of these passages also ignores much context and Biblical scholarship.

In this portion of Isaiah, Jehovah warned Judah to trust in him alone and not to trust in false gods who had no power to deliver them. The passages portray this as a contest between Jehovah and the gods of other nations.

Consider the passage in Isaiah 43:10-11, where the Lord says

Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no saviour.

The context is clear in verse 12, which omitted (as is typical for critics who try to use this proof-text against the Latter-day Saints) from the quotation:

I have declared, and have saved, and I have shewed, when there was no strange god among you: therefore ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, that I am God. (italics added)

"Strange god" refers to a false god, an idol.

Likewise for 44:6, 8 — this passage is followed by extensive discussion of "graven images" (Isaiah 44:9-17).

These and similar passages in Isaiah (e.g. Isaiah 43:10-11; Isaiah 44:6,8; Isaiah 45:5-6; Isaiah 45:21-22; and Isaiah 46:9-10) cannot be called upon to disprove LDS beliefs in separate Gods in the Godhead or human deification (see below).

As Dr. Richard Mouw of Fuller Theological Seminary observed:

Most OT scholars see the early stages of OT thought as henotheistic, i.e., the view that there are many Gods but that Jehovah is the supreme deity before whom we should place no other. Similarly, Paul in Colossians seems to suggest that there are many powers, but we should not placate them, because everything holds together in Jesus Christ. I think the important thing is that we acknowledge that only the God and father of JC is worthy of our worship and obedience.
—AOL on-line discussion, cited here. (emphasis added)

In sum, the goal of these verses is to encourage Israel to leave off their idols and worship Jehovah alone. Any other use of them distorts Isaiah's meaning and intent.

To read more:

It also means that Mormon men will never become gods. - Floyd McElveen.

Mr. McElveen's analysis up to here has been superficial and flawed.

LDS doctrine teaches that believers are deified through the grace of Christ. This is a belief common among ancient and modern Christians, though it applies to both men and women—Mr. McElveen fails to mention the latter.

As one example among many, the early Christian Irenaeus (A.D. 180) wrote:

We were not made gods at our beginning, but first we were made men, then, in the end, gods.
—Henry Bettenson, The Early Christian Fathers: A Selection from the Writings of the Fathers from St. Clement of Rome to St. Athanasius (London: Oxford University Press, 1956), 94. ISBN 0192830090.

Non-LDS scholar Ernst W. Benz penned a line that responds well to Mr. McElveen's superficial grasp of Christian theology and history:

One can think what one wants of this doctrine of progressive deification, but one thing is certain: with this anthropology Joseph Smith is closer to the view of man held by the ancient Church than the precursors of the Augustinian doctrine of original sin.
—Ernst Benz, "Imago dei: Man as the Image of God," FARMS Review 17/1 (2005): 223–254. off-site

It would seem the Latter-day Saints are closer than Mr. McElveen may want to admit.

To read more:

Claim: Becoming a God was the lie that the serpent told to Eve in the Garden of Eden. Dave Hunt is quoted saying, "So Mormonism takes the lie of the serpent, it's based on the saying that the lie of the serpent is the truth."

Mr. Hunt might want to read a bit further in his Bible:

And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. (Genesis 3:4-5.)

At first glance, it appears Mr. Hunt is right. But if Mr. Hunt had bothered to turn the page in his Bible he would have found that he was spectacularly wrong. After Adam and Eve partake of the forbidden fruit, God declares:

And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.... (Genesis 3:22.)

So God says the man is become "as one of us." Is Mr. Hunt trying to contradict God?

The serpent did lie, but the lie wasn't what Mr. Hunt claims. The Serpent lied when he said, "Ye shall not surely die." Man did become mortal and God restricted his access to the tree of life.

Claim: "God would never condone lying. Yet in the Pearl of Great Price, Abraham is told by God to 'Let her say unto the Egyptians, she is thy sister, and thy soul shall live.' (Abraham 2:24) This contradicts what is in the Bible. Why would God give us the Bible for instruction and life-molding and later give us another testimony of Jesus Christ only to contradict each other? Does God make mistakes?"

This remark betrays an ignorance of extra-Biblical materials, LDS scripture, and the Bible.

In the ancient Genesis Apocryphon text, Abraham has the same motives described in the Pearl of Great Price as delivered by Joseph Smith. He tells Sarah that God has given him a dream in which she saves him from being killed. He then tells her:

[Say to them] of me, 'He is my brother,' and because of you I shall live, and because of your my life shall be saved...'
And Sarai wept that night on account of my words..."
—Geza Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English (Penguin Press, 1997), 453–454. See also: (off-site.)

How did Joseph produce this authentic ancient detail, with this text not available until 1948?

The perspective offered by the Book of Abraham and the Genesis Apocyphon does not contradict the Bible—the Bible simply does not tell us why Abraham and Sarah claimed she was his sister (Genesis 20:2). God expresses no displeasure at their choice, and even speaks to the king in a dream to save Sarah. Given Abraham's nobility of character, it is hard to picture him taking this course if he felt God would disapprove.

During Israel's captivity in Egypt, God blessed the Egyptian midwives' decision to lie to Pharaoh about their failure to murder Hebrew infants (see Exodus 1:19-20.)

However, there is an even more dramatic Biblical example of God commanding deception for the greater good—Moses himself.

The Lord speaks to Moses and says:

And I have said, I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt unto the land of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, unto a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:17)

The Lord announces His intention to liberate the Israelites from slavery. But, in the very next breath, He tells Moses what to tell Pharaoh:

And they shall hearken to thy voice: and thou shalt come, thou and the elders of Israel, unto the king of Egypt, and ye shall say unto him, The LORD God of the Hebrews hath met with us: and now let us go, we beseech thee, three days' journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God. (Exodus 3:18)

The "public stance" of Moses and the Israelite leaders is to be that they only want to go three days' journey to sacrifice. So, here the Lord is advocating some degree of deception. This extends to even deceiving their Egyptian neighbors:

And I will give this people favour in the sight of the Egyptians: and it shall come to pass, that, when ye go, ye shall not go empty:
But every woman shall borrow of her neighbour, and of her that sojourneth in her house, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment: and ye shall put them upon your sons, and upon your daughters; and ye shall spoil the Egyptians. (Exodus 3:21-22)

Because they are just going to make sacrifices, in the public version, the Israelites are to "borrow" valuable goods from the Egyptians. But, the true intent is clearly spelled out: they are to "spoil" (i.e. "loot") the Egyptians. (See Exodus 11:2, Exodus 12:35-36.)

Anti-Moses authors could have a field day—they could mock Moses' "ethical lapse" here, and insist that he did it all for the money. They could contrast his behavior here with the "thou shalt not covet," "thou shalt not bear false witness," and "thou shalt not steal" commands given later at Sinai, and point out that "borrowing" when you don't ever intend to come back looks a lot like "stealing."

Yet, Moses did exactly what the Lord told him to do, according to the Bible. It is therefore not inconsistent with the Bible for God to have Abraham cloud his relationship with Sarah for their own protection.

This claim by the producers and cast of The DVD regarding deceit serves as a double edged sword against them. The many misrepresentations of LDS beliefs in this video begs the question of whether or not their deceit is sanctioned by God whereas the deceit of Abraham as recorded in the Pearl of Great Price should be condemned.

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