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

Jesus Christ/Joseph Smith or Search for the Truth DVD

Who Is Jesus?

What do the Latter-day Saints believe about Jesus Christ?

The video avoided quoting any of the many LDS statements about Jesus Christ which would allow the LDS and their scriptures to speak for themselves. Instead, the DVD focused on a few ideas out of context, while assuming that the non-biblical (extra-biblical) creeds—to which the producers and contributors apparently subscribe—are the proper (and only) interpretation of the Bible.

The LDS believe that Jesus Christ's role is central to our Heavenly Father's plan. Christ is unique in several respects from all other beings and spirit children of God:

To read more:

Claim: "There can be no greater contrast than the Jesus of the Bible with the Jesus of Mormonism." – Dr. Phil Roberts (President, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary)

Mormons believe in the Biblical Jesus. There is a great contrast, however, between the non-biblical creeds describing the nature of God and the scriptural record of God in the Bible as understood by the Latter-day Saints. The Saints have no quarrel with the Bible—they love and revere it as part of God's word to His children. They do not accept, however, the later additions of the creeds.

Just because the Saints' interpretation of some biblical passages does not match those of some other denominations does not mean that Mormons are not Christian or that they do not worship Jesus of the Bible. Were this the case, there could be no Christians, since every Christian faith differs from some other group in the interpretation of some Bible passages.

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Claim: "In the Bible, and according to history as we believe and the actual work of Jesus Christ, He was God in the flesh, He was eternal with God, coequal uncreated." – Dr. Phil Roberts (President, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary)

This claim illustrates the source of the critics' attack on the Church, which has nothing to do with the Bible itself. Dr. Roberts and the video's producers are creedal Christians. That is, they accept beliefs which were formulated by councils of men hundreds of years after Christ's resurrection in an attempt to define the nature of God and Christ. The Latter-day Saints do not accept many of these creeds because they:

  1. are not found in the Holy Bible or other scripture
  2. were not taught or believed by Jesus or the early Christians
  3. were developed only with the addition of non-scriptural ideas and concepts (e.g., Greek philosophy)

Dr. Roberts believes that his creedal beliefs are scriptural (based on a particular interpretation of Bible verses), thus his appeal to later Christian history as authority in the above statement. The Latter-day Saints and many Christian scholars of religious history believe otherwise—they realize and admit that non-scriptural ideas had to be added to the Bible to formulate the creeds.

Latter-day Saints accept the witness that Jesus was God in the flesh and eternal with God, for this is the testimony of scripture. They do not accept the later additions of being "coequal uncreated," (though they understand 'uncreated' in a different sense than the creeds, as mentioned below).

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Claim: "Nothing existed prior to the creator, which is Christ.... Jesus created all things and nothing existed prior to that creation." – Jon McCartney (Pastor, First Baptist Church of Tooele, Utah)

Pastor McCartney demonstrates that, once again, the video's quarrel is not that the Latter-day Saints do not believe the scriptures, but with the Latter-day Saints' reluctance to accept the creedal interpretation of scripture.

Pastor McCarney advocates the doctrine of creation out of nothing—sometimes called creatio ex nihilo. This doctrine holds that only God existed, and He created all other beings and things out of absolute nothingness.

This doctrine is not biblical, but draws again on the influence of Greek thought in later Christian centuries—the Latter-day Saints therefore do not accept biblical interpretations which rely on later creeds.

To read more:

Claim: Mormons don't believe Jesus was the creator of all things.

As noted above, this claim arises out of a commitment to the creed of creatio ex nihilo, not the Bible itself.

The LDS believe that some things simply cannot be created—"intelligence" and matter (see D&C 93:29). Thus, the LDS believe that God created all things that required creation, through Jesus Christ.

Under the ex nihilo creed, God cannot be created, so He exists necessarily. Creedal Christians see no contradiction in saying God created all things, even when He did not create Himself. Likewise, LDS Christians see no contradiction in claiming Jesus created all things, even if there are some things (like God) which are eternal and require no creation.

Latter-day Saints believe that, through the power of the Father, Christ is the creative agent behind everything that was, is, or will be created.

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Does Colossians 1:17 teach that Jesus created all things and even the angels (including Satan) out of nothing?

Creedal Christians believe in the post-Biblical doctrine of creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing). Because this is how they understand the idea of creation, they read it into these verses.

Latter-day Saints have no quarrel with the doctrine taught in Colossians. They emphatically believe that the Father created all things by Jesus Christ. The video is misleading to suggest otherwise.

As one author observed, the Greek text does not teach ex nihilo, but creation out of pre-existing raw materials, since the verb ktidzo "carried an architectural in 'to build' or 'establish' a city.... Thus, the verb presupposes the presence of already existing material."(Griffith, 72 FAIRWiki link.)

One must not overlook 2 Corinthians 4:18, which states that "the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal"—suggesting that aspects of the created "unseen world" are eternal, despite the exercise of God's creative power upon them.

LDS doctrine sees creation as an act of organizing pre-existing, eternal matter and intelligence. (See D&C 93:29, D&C 131:7.)

Thus, Jesus certainly participated in the creation of all created things—but He worked with preexisting chaotic materials. The angelic ranks of "thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers" were also created by Christ, for these beings did not assume their angelic status or form without divine creative power, even though some aspect of their "intelligence" pre-dated God's creative acts in their behalf.

Each of us, along with Jesus and Lucifer, are children of our Father in Heaven. Our personality and character were developed during the long pre-mortal existence. During this time the Savior, as the first born of the Father, developed the attributes that allowed God the Father to trust Jesus with the creation of all things that would be created and to assume the divine role of The Son. With that same process Lucifer developed the attributes that led him into sin and rebellion.

The difference between Jesus and Lucifer is so great that we cannot fully understand it. The rest of God's children are somewhere in between these two extremes. Because of Jesus' role in the creation Satan's premortal powers and status were dependent upon the creative power and authority of God, exercised through Jesus Christ.

The difference between those who followed the Father and those who followed Lucifer is in part dependent upon the eternal aspect of each individual. This may help to explain Satan's antipathy toward Jesus, and his desire to usurp the power and authority of God possessed by Christ (see Moses 4:1).

The claim, then, that Jesus and Satan were merely peers, misunderstands and misrepresents the LDS doctrine of creation, and Jesus' pre-eminent role in it.

To read more:

  • Creation in Colossians 1:16
  • Donald Q. Cannon, Larry E. Dahl, and John W. Welch, "The Restoration of Major Doctrines through Joseph Smith: The Godhead, Mankind, and the Creation," Ensign 19 (January 1989), 27–33. off-site
  • Barry R. Bickmore, "The Doctrine of God and the Nature of Man:Creatio Ex Nihilo," in Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity (Redding, CA: Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, 1999).
  • Keith Norman, "Ex Nihilo: The Development of the Doctrines of God and Creation in Early Christianity," Brigham Young University Studies 17 no. 3 (1977), 291–318. off-site
  • Blake T. Ostler, "Bridging the Gulf (Review of How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation)," FARMS Review of Books 11/2 (1999): 103–177. off-site
  • 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

What are the implications of claiming that Jesus/God created Satan out of nothing?

The DVD opines that "there is an infinite chasm between Jesus Christ, creator God, and Satan, creature who has sinned."

This conclusion reflects the creedal conviction that God is totally 'other'—i.e., He is completely different in all aspects from His creations, including humanity. However, the video does not explore the implications of the claim that God created Satan out of nothing. If God did, as claimed, create Satan ex nihilo, then God could have created Satan differently. Satan (and all mankind) could have been created with a nature that would not predispose him to commit sin.

If God could have created Satan (or a mortal) in a different way, then in some sense God is responsible for their evil natures. The sins and evils committed by fallen beings become God's fault, because He could have made things differently, but did not. How is it then just to judge or punish a sinner for sin if the sinful nature was created by God out of nothing?

This is a major philosophical problem for those who embrace creatio ex nihilo. The LDS view, in which God creates by organizing eternal matter and intelligence, does not have these problems. Satan sinned because of his eternal nature: he made free choices based on who he has always been. Likewise, mortals cannot blame God for their sins, because their core nature was not created by God.

A Latter-day Saint Christian would argue that it does not lessen God for Him to allow other beings to make free choices and receive the consequences. Rather, they believe that there is a "vast gulf" between the loving God of the Bible and a belief that God willfully creates degenerate, fallen, and sinful beings and then punishes them for natures which He gave them.

Satan's potential role in God's plan misrepresented

The video does not accurately portray all of the LDS ideas regarding the "council in heaven" which are necessary for full understanding. The video correctly notes that two spirit children of God (Jesus and Satan) offered to play a role in God's plan for human happiness. However, it neglects to mention that Satan's offer was not welcome or anticipated. Satan's plan, and his offer to implement it, was never consistent with God the Father's plan of salvation, and if accepted it would have meant the end of any future opportunities for His children. Therefore, God would never have countenanced the implementation of Satan's offer. God says that Jesus' role was determined from the beginning: "my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me—Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever" (Moses 4:2).

To read more:

Claim: "The Bible also teaches that Jesus has eternally been God, while Joseph Smith teaches that Jesus had to achieve Godhood."

Latter-day Saint scripture teaches that Jesus is the Eternal God, Alpha and Omega, from everlasting to everlasting. Despite Christ's divinity, He nevertheless was obedient to God His Father, and "received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness" (D&C 93:13).

The Saints thus accept the biblical witness that Jesus "increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man" (Luke 2:52). If Jesus increased in wisdom, then there was a time when He had less wisdom than He now has. The Saints also accept the biblical witness that Jesus "learned obedience by the things he suffered" (Hebrews 5:8) and "was in all points tempted as we are" (Hebrews 4:15).

As Paul taught, Jesus meekly obeyed the Father in all things, and accepted a status below the role of God to which He was entitled:

[Jesus] being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6-11)

Jesus himself in John 5:19-20 declared that, "The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do; for what things soever [the Father] doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son and showeth him all things that himself doeth....” What did Jesus do? He was born of a woman, lived a sinless life, and after atoning for our sins, was glorified with a resurrected body of "flesh and bones" (Luke 24:36-39). If Christ followed the example of his Father, then the implication is clear.

Jesus humbled Himself in obedience to the Father, and was exalted thereafter (Hebrews 1:8-9).

Did President Hinckley admit that the Church does not worship the Biblical Jesus?

The video makes much of a statement by Church President Gordon B. Hinckley:

No I don't believe in the traditional Christ. The traditional Christ of whom they speak is not the Christ of whom I speak. For the Christ of whom I speak has been revealed in this the dispensation of the Fullness of Times.
—President Gordon B. Hinckley, Deseret News (20 June 1998): 7. Screenshot

It should be emphasized that the "traditions" alluded to by President Hinckley are the non-Biblical creeds. But, members of the Church do not reject the Biblical witness—it is partly because the creeds are not Biblical that the LDS do not use them.

President Hinckley continues to explain that revelation teaches more about God than philosophical speculation, and insists that he is a Christian, but the video does not quote this material:

[Jesus], together with His Father, appeared to the boy Joseph Smith in the year 1820, and when Joseph left the grove that day, he knew more of the nature of God than all the learned ministers of the gospel of the ages.
Am I Christian? Of course I am. I believe in Christ. I talk of Christ. I pray through Christ. I'm trying to follow Him and live His gospel in my life.

President Hinckley elsewhere made it clear that we differ with other Christians over the creeds, not over the scriptural witness:

As a Church we have critics, many of them. They say we do not believe in the traditional Christ of Christianity. There is some substance to what they say. Our faith, our knowledge is not based on ancient tradition, the creeds which came of a finite understanding and out of the almost infinite discussions of men trying to arrive at a definition of the risen Christ. Our faith, our knowledge comes of the witness of a prophet in this dispensation who saw before him the great God of the universe and His Beloved Son, the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. They spoke to him. He spoke with Them. He testified openly, unequivocally, and unabashedly of that great vision. It was a vision of the Almighty and of the Redeemer of the world, glorious beyond our understanding but certain and unequivocating in the knowledge which it brought. It is out of that knowledge, rooted deep in the soil of modern revelation, that we, in the words of Nephi, “talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that [we and] our children may know to what source [we] may look for a remission of [our] sins” (2 Nephi 25:26).
—Gordon B. Hinckley, "We Look to Christ," Ensign (May 2002),

To read more:

  • Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, "Comparing LDS Beliefs with First-Century Christianity," Ensign (March 1988),
  • Stephen E. Robinson, "Are Mormons Christians?," New Era (May 1988),

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