Mormonism and the nature of God/Deification of man

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Mormon belief in the deification of Man

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Gospel Topics: "Latter-day Saints see all people as children of God in a full and complete sense"

"Becoming Like God," Gospel Topics on

Latter-day Saints see all people as children of God in a full and complete sense; they consider every person divine in origin, nature, and potential. Each has an eternal core and is “a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents.” Each possesses seeds of divinity and must choose whether to live in harmony or tension with that divinity. Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, all people may “progress toward perfection and ultimately realize their divine destiny.” Just as a child can develop the attributes of his or her parents over time, the divine nature that humans inherit can be developed to become like their Heavenly Father's.[1]—(Click here to continue)

Pre-existent Jesus and divinized humanity

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb wrote:[2]

Mormons go so far as to insist that God was once a man just like us, which can sound confusing, but it is, in a way, the flipside to the belief that we will become, in the afterlife, just like him. There is a grand and cosmic circularity that connects Jesus with humanity, and it never stops rolling, like a dance with countless changing partners and yet everyone always comes around to dancing with him.[3]:88–89

Question: Do Latter-day Saints believe that they will one day 'supplant' God?

A belief in human deification does not mean that the LDS believe that they will worship anyone other than God

Some Christians claim that the doctrine of human deification is unbiblical, false, and arrogant, and that Latter-day Saints believe that they will one day "supplant God".

The first thing we must realize when we study this principle is that

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. [4]

A belief in human deification does not mean that the LDS believe their worship is or will be properly directed at anyone but God the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ.

Said the Church when asked about the doctrine of deification of man:

We believe that the apostle Peter’s biblical reference to partaking of the divine nature and the apostle Paul’s reference to being 'joint heirs with Christ' reflect the intent that children of God should strive to emulate their Heavenly Father in every way. Throughout the eternities, Mormons believe, they will reverence and worship God the Father and Jesus Christ. The goal is not to equal them or to achieve parity with them but to imitate and someday acquire their perfect goodness, love and other divine attributes. [5]

In response, it is proper to cite Origen:

Now it is possible that some may dislike what we have said representing the Father as the one true God, but admitting other beings besides the true God, who have become gods by having a share of God. They may fear that the glory of Him who surpasses all creation may be lowered to the level of those other beings called gods. ... [However], as, then there are many gods, but to us there is but one God the Father, and many Lords, but to us there is one Lord, Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 8:5-6). [6]

To be sure, some may dislike this doctrine, but it is ancient, Biblical, and true.

The doctrine of deification was present in the early Church

Non-LDS church historian Ernst Benz insisted that the doctrine of deification was present in the early Church, and pointed out a potential risk for those who do not understand it:

Now this idea of deification could give rise to a misunderstanding—namely, that it leads to a blasphemous self-aggrandizement of man. If that were the case, then mysticism would, in fact, be the sublimist, most spiritualized form of egoism. But the concept of imago dei, in the Christian understanding of the term, precisely does not aspire to awaken in man a consciousness of his own divinity, but attempts to have him recognize the image of God in his neighbor. Here the powerful words of Jesus in Matthew 25:21-26 are appropriate and connected by the church fathers to imago dei...

Hence, the concept of imago dei does not lead toward self-aggrandizement but rather toward charity as the true and actual form of God's love, for the simple reason that in one's neighbor the image of God, the Lord himself, confronts us. The love of God should be fulfilled in the love toward him in whom God himself is mirrored, in one's neighbor. Thus, in the last analysis, the concept of imago dei is the key to the fundamental law of the gospel—"Thou shalt love . . . God . . . and thy neighbor as thyself" (Luke 10:27)—since one should view one's neighbor with an eye to the image that God has engraven upon him and to the promise that he has given regarding him. [7]

Common misrepresentation: Joseph Smith does not teach polytheism or "supplanting God" with his doctrine of human divination

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb wrote:[2]

Two corrections of common misrepresentations of Smith’s theology need to be made at this point....[The] [s]econd [is that] even though Smith says that believers will become gods, he also says that

they will be kings and priests to God, a phrase that qualifies his alleged polytheism. Clearly, the faithful are meant to share in the divine power and glory, and thus they too will have mastery over life and death, in the sense of being able to creatively participate in the creation, sustenance, and governance of life. Divine power seems to be the universal constant in this teaching, but it is not so diffuse that it has no source. God’s power will be shared, but it will still be God’s.[3]:96–97

Question: What were the views of early Christians on the deification of man?

A review of Christian history illustrates that this doctrine was and is a common belief of many Christians

Some Christians insist that the doctrine of theosis is unBiblical and unChristian. However, a review of Christian history illustrates that this doctrine was and is a common belief of many Christians.

Irenaeus (ca. AD 115-202)

Saint Irenaeus, who may justly be called the first Biblical theologian among the ancient Christians, was a disciple of the great Polycarp, who was a direct disciple of John the Revelator. [8] Irenaeus is not a heretic or unorthodox in traditional Christian circles, yet he shares a belief in theosis:

While man gradually advances and mounts towards perfection; that is, he approaches the eternal. The eternal is perfect; and this is God. Man has first to come into being, then to progress, and by progressing come to manhood, and having reached manhood to increase, and thus increasing to persevere, and persevering to be glorified, and thus see his Lord. [9]

Like the LDS, Irenaeus did not believe that this belief in any way displaced God, Christ, or the Holy Ghost:

there is none other called God by the Scriptures except the Father of all, and the Son, and those who possess the adoption....Since, therefore, this is sure and stedfast, that no other God or Lord was announced by the Spirit, except Him who, as God, rules over all, together with His Word, and those who receive the Spirit of adoption. [10]

Yet, Irenaeus—whom it would be perverse to exclude from the ranks of orthodox Christians—believed in theosis in terms which agree with LDS thinking on the matter:

We were not made gods at our beginning, but first we were made men, then, in the end, gods. [11]


How then will any be a god, if he has not first been made a man? How can any be perfect when he has only lately been made man? How immortal, if he has not in his mortal nature obeyed his maker? For one's duty is first to observe the discipline of man and thereafter to share in the glory of God. [12]


Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, of his boundless love, became what we are that he might make us what he himself is.” [13]


But of what gods [does he speak]? [Of those] to whom He says, "I have said, Ye are gods, and all sons of the Most High." To those, no doubt, who have received the grace of the "adoption, by which we cry, Abba Father."” [14]

And, Irenaeus considers the doctrine clearly Biblical, just as the LDS do:

For he who holds, without pride and boasting, the true glory (opinion) regarding created things and the Creator, who is the Almighty God of all, and who has granted existence to all; [such an one, ] continuing in His love and subjection, and giving of thanks, shall also receive from Him the greater glory of promotion, looking forward to the time when he shall become like Him who died for him, for He, too, "was made in the likeness of sinful flesh," to condemn sin, and to cast it, as now a condemned thing, away beyond the flesh, but that He might call man forth into His own likeness, assigning him as [His own] imitator to God, and imposing on him His Father's law, in order that he may see God, and granting him power to receive the Father; [being] the Word of God who dwelt in man, and became the Son of man, that He might accustom man to receive God, and God to dwell in man, according to the good pleasure of the Father. [15]

Further quotes from Irenaeus available here.

Said one Protestant theologian of Irenaeus:

Participation in God was carried so far by Irenaeus as to amount to deification. 'We were not made gods in the beginning,' he says, 'but at first men, then at length gods.' This is not to be understood as mere rhetorical exaggeration on Irenaeus' part. He meant the statement to be taken literally. [16]

Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-215)

Clement, an early Christian leader in Alexandria, also taught the doctrine of deification:

yea, I say, the Word of God became a man so that you might learn from a man how to become a god. [17]


...if one knows himself, he will know God, and knowing God will become like God...His is beauty, true beauty, for it is God, and that man becomes god, since God wills it. So Heraclitus was right when he said, "Men are gods, and gods are men." [18]

Those who have been perfected are given their reward and their honors. They have done with their purification, they have done with the rest of their service, though it be a holy service, with the holy; now they become pure in heart, and because of their close intimacy with the Lord there awaits them a restoration to eternal contemplation; and they have received the title of "gods" since they are destined to be enthroned with the other "gods" who are ranked next below the savior. [19]

Origen (ca. AD 185-251)

And thus the first-born of all creation, who is the first to be with God, and to attract to Himself divinity, is a being of more exalted rank than the other gods beside Him, of whom God is the God, as it is written, "The God of gods, the Lord, hath spoken and called the earth." It was by the offices of the first-born that they became gods, for He drew from God in generous measure that they should be made gods, and He communicated it to them according to His own bounty. The true God, then, is "The God," and those who are formed after Him are gods, images, as it were, of Him the prototype. [20]

The Father, then, is proclaimed as the one true God; but besides the true God are many who become gods by participating in God. </ref>Origen in Bettensen, Henry. The Early Christian Fathers, 324.</ref>

Origen also defined what it means to "participate" in something:

Every one who participates in anything, is unquestionably of one essence and nature with him who is partaker of the same thing. [21]

Justin Martyr (d. ca. AD 163)

Justin the Martyr said in 150 A.D. that he wishes

to prove to you that the Holy Ghost reproaches men because they were made like God, free from suffering and death, provided that they kept His commandments, and were deemed deserving of the name of His sons... in the beginning men were made like God, free from suffering and death, and that they are thus deemed worthy of becoming gods and of having power to become sons of the highest... [22]


[By Psalm 82] it is demonstrated that all men are deemed worthy of becoming “gods,” and even of having power to become sons of the Highest. [23]

Hippolytus (AD 170-236)

Now in all these acts He offered up, as the first-fruits, His own manhood, in order that thou, when thou art in tribulation, mayest not be disheartened, but, confessing thyself to be a man (of like nature with the Redeemer,) mayest dwell in expectation of also receiving what the Father has granted unto this Son...The Deity (by condescension) does not diminish anything of the dignity of His divine perfection having made you even God unto his glory. [24]


In 347, Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria and participant in the council of Nicea, said:

the Word was made flesh in order that we might be enabled to be made gods....just as the Lord, putting on the body, became a man, so also we men are both deified through His flesh, and henceforth inherit everlasting life...[we are] sons and gods by reason of the word in us. [25]

For as Christ died and was exalted as man, so, as man, is He said to take what, as God, He ever had, that even such a grant of grace might reach to us. For the Word was not impaired in receiving a body, that He should seek to receive a grace, but rather He deified that which He put on, and more than that, gave it graciously to the race of man. [26]

He also states that Christ "became man that we might be made divine." [27]

Augustine (AD 354-430)

Augustine, considered one of the greatest Christian Fathers, said

but He himself that justifies also deifies, for by justifying He makes sons of God. For He has given them power to become the sons of God, (John 1:12). If then we have been made sons of God, we have also been made gods. [28]

Jerome (AD 340-420)

Jerome also described the deification of believers as an act of grace, which matches the LDS understanding precisely:

“I said 'you are gods, all of you sons of the most high.’" let Eunomius hear this, let Arius, who say that the son of God is son in the same way we are. That we are gods is not so by nature, but by grace. “but to as many as receive Him he gave power to becoming sons of God” I made man for that purpose, that from men they may become gods. We are called gods and sons!...[Christ said] "all of you sons of the Most High," it is not possible to be the son of the Most High, unless He Himself is the Most High. I said that all of you would be exalted as I am exalted. [29]

Jerome goes on to say that we should

give thanks to the God of gods. The prophet is referring to those gods of whom it is written: I said ‘you are gods’ and again ‘god arises in the divine assembly’ they who cease to be mere men, abandon the ways of vice an are become perfect, are gods and the sons of the most high... [30]

Modern Christian exegesis

The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology describes "deification" thusly:

Deification (Greek Theosis) is for orthodoxy the goal of every Christian. Man, according to the Bible, is ‘made in the image and likeness of God’ is possible for man to become like God, to become deified, to become God by grace. This doctrine is based on many passages of both O.T. and N.T. (Psalms 82: (81) .6; 2 Peter 1:4), and it is essentially the teaching both of St. Paul, though he tends to use the language of filial adoption (Romans 8:9-17, Galatians 4:5-7) and the fourth gospel (John 17:21-23). [31]

Joseph Fitzmyer wrote:

The language of 2 Peter is taken up by St. Irenaeus, in his famous phrase, ‘if the Word has been made man, it is so that men may be made gods; (adv. Haer v, pref.), And becomes the standard in Greek theology. In the fourth century St. Athanasius repeats Irenaeus almost word for word, and in the fifth century St. Cyril of Alexandria says that we shall become sons ‘by participation’ (Greek methexis). Deification is the central idea in the spirituality of St. Maximus the confessor, for whom the doctrine is corollary of the incarnation: ‘deification, briefly, is the encompassing and fulfillment of all times and ages’,...and St. Symeon the new theologian at the end of the tenth century writes, ‘he who is God by nature converses with those whom he has made gods by grace, as a friend converses with his friends, face to face...’

Finally, it should be noted that deification does not mean absorption into God, since the deified creature remains itself and distinct. It is the whole human being, body and soul, who is transfigured in the spirit into the likeness of the divine nature, and deification is the goal of every Christian. [32]

According to Christian scholar G.L. Prestige, the ancient Christians “taught that the destiny of man was to become like God, and even to become deified.” [33]

William R. Inge, Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote:

"God became man, that we might become God" was a commonplace of doctrinal theology at least until the time of Augustine, and that "deification holds a very large place in the writings of the fathers...We find it in Irenaeus as well as in Clement, in Athanasius as well in Gregory of Nysee. St. Augustine was no more afraid of deificari in Latin than Origen of apotheosis in Greek...To modern ears the word deification sounds not only strange but arrogant and shocking. [34]

Yet, these "arrogant and shocking" doctrines were clearly held by early Christians!

This view of the early Christians' doctrines is not unique to the Latter-day Saints. Many modern Christian writers have recognized the same doctrines. If some modern Christians do not wish to embrace these ancient doctrines, that is their privilege, but they cannot logically claim that such doctrines are not "Christian." One might fairly ask why modern Christians do not believe that which the ancient Christians insisted upon?

LDS doctrine rejects Neo-Plantonic accretions, but this does not make them automatically false

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb wrote:[2]

Mormon arguments deserve to be examined on their own grounds for internal consistency and biblical adequacy. Not being Platonic is not equivalent to not being rational. [3]:92

Mormons have "picked up" discarded beliefs of early Christians

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb wrote:[2]

Perhaps the most complicating factor for creedal dialogue with Latter-day Saints is that Mormons, unlike other restorationists, were not content to flounder in suspicion of the way the early Church absorbed Greek metaphysics. Instead, Mormons put the Platonization of Christianity at the heart of their critique of the ossification and corruption of Christianity. Something went terribly wrong after the age of the Apostles, they argue, and that something has to do with the theological turn toward a metaphysics of immaterialism. Far from ignoring early church history, then, Mormons are committed to an interrogation of the relationship of theology to philosophy that objects to nearly every development that led to the ecumenical creeds. They do not just raise objections, however. It is as if, as they follow the road orthodox theologians took to the creeds, Mormons pause to pick up the detritus that was jettisoned along the way. They recycle these discarded beliefs into a shining, novel creation of their own. [3]:86

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

Question: What Biblical scriptures discuss the doctrine of the deification of man?

Theosis or deification is discussed in the following biblical scriptures

In regard to the Mormon doctrine, non-LDS scholar Ernst W. Benz has observed:

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. [35]

For more quotes about theosis see: Primary sources:Theosis

Question: If a person faithfully practices Mormonism during this life, do they become a god after they die?

Exaltation may be qualified for in mortality but completed in a process that extends far beyond this life

Exaltation may be qualified for in mortality but completed in a process that extends far beyond this life. The notion of progression to the same state as our Father in Heaven may take millenniums of millenniums to complete. We simply do not know or understand the process, but if we look at this life as a model, Heavenly Father adds responsibility upon responsibility for our young priesthood holders wherein they begin with simple tasks of a temporal nature and then progress to even greater responsibility and into a more spiritual nature. If this is a model for how Heavenly Father develops us, then we can expect that there is a process of graduation from where we are when we leave mortality towards what we will eventually become when we achieve complete exaltation. Moroni is undoubtedly somewhere along that path of progression and should be expected to be fully exalted when prepared even though he has qualified in mortality to begin the process.

If you compare it to becoming a doctor, you may qualify in college to enter medical school, but that doesn't make you a doctor the day you enroll.

Acting in a "lesser role" does not in any way diminish one's eternal progress toward exaltation

The prophet has all the priesthood keys available and can therefore act as the head of the church, as well as pass the sacrament as a deacon. If he were to exercise his priesthood authority as a deacon, this activity does not in any way diminishe his priesthood authority as the prophet. For example, when Moroni acted as a messenger when he visited Joseph Smith: We don’t know where Moroni is on his personal progress toward exaltation, but it is entirely reasonable that he could act as an angel without diminishing his personal progression if it has increased beyond that of an angel.

Joseph Smith taught:

When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil [died] before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave”[36]

Question: Do Mormon men believe that they will become "gods of their own planets" and rule over others?

Mormons believe in human deification, but what this doctrine means or entails is beyond human comprehension

It is claimed by some that Mormons believe that they can push themselves higher in a type of 'celestial pecking order.' This is often expressed by the claim that Latter-day Saint men wish to become "gods of their own planets." One critic even extends this to our "own universe,"

Mormons teach that by obedience to all the commandments of Mormonism, a Mormon may attain the highest degree of heaven and ultimately become a god, creating and ruling over his own universe. Do you believe that? Is this your ultimate personal goal?

Members of the Church—like early Christians—believe in human deification or theosis. They assert that this doctrine is taught in the Bible and by modern revelation. However, what this doctrine means or entails is beyond human comprehension anyway. "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him," taught Paul (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Most members of the Church realize that they have enough on their plates to do and become through Christian discipleship and keeping their covenants. They do not spend much time concerned about the details of their future state. They are simply confident that they will be happy, in families, and back in the presence of God where they will continue to do His will.

Certainly we can have the end in mind, remembering the relationship of Father to child is crucial. He will always, through all eternity, be our Father and our God. Still, it would be unwise to jump the gun and assume we are practically almost there; we have plenty to do in the meantime, and an eternal and abiding need for the grace of Christ to compensate for our manifest inadequacies.

The critics' accusations along these lines are a caricature of LDS belief, and omit virtually everything of importance in their discussion of this doctrine.

The caricature: Mormons wishing to "get their own planet"

Mormons, along with many other Christian denominations, believe in deification or theosis, based on the teaching that we can become heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). Little is known, though much might be speculated, about the specific details of our potential under this doctrine. Reducing it to ruling a planet caricatures a profound and complex belief. The use of the word “planet” makes Mormons seem more like sci-fi enthusiasts than devout Christians.

This isn’t just a quibble about semantics. Claims that Mormons hope for “their own planets” almost always aim to disrespect and marginalize, not to understand or clarify. The reality is that we seek eternal life, which we consider to be a life like that of our Father in Heaven. We consider our immediate task on Earth to learn to understand and obey the Gospel of Jesus Christ, rather than speculate on what life might be like if we achieve exaltation. Specifics about the creation of worlds and the ability to govern them upon achieving eternal life are not clarified in Latter-day Saint scripture. Attempts to portray these concepts as simply wanting to “get our own planet” are a mockery of Latter-day Saint beliefs.

The reality: Latter-day Saints wishing to become like their Father in Heaven

Much criticism of Joseph Smith and the Church in general stems from a teaching regarding the eternal potential of mankind.[37] The Church believes that men and women are the "offspring" of Heavenly Parents (see Acts 17:28-29) composed of the same eternal substance (see DC 93:33-35) and hence we have divine possibilities through the grace of Christ. Latter-day Saints believe that they can achieve a life like that of our Father in Heaven. This implies that one can eventually participate in similar works, among which would be the creation of worlds. In 2001, Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles noted,

The real life we’re preparing for is eternal life. Secular knowledge has for us eternal significance. Our conviction is that God, our Heavenly Father, wants us to live the life that He does. We learn both the spiritual things and the secular things “so we may one day create worlds [and] people and govern them” (Henry B. Eyring, quoting Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, October 2002.)

Elder's Eyring and Kimball are not the only ones to make such references. Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball and Joseph Fielding Smith all associated becoming like our Heavenly Father with the creation of worlds, and the populating of these worlds with spirit children.

However, there are many names for (and many interpretations of) this belief in and out of the Church. There are various schools of thought on what it might mean for a person to become a "god" after this life. On this view, Brigham Young didn't teach of countless gods doing their own thing in countless universes, each out for their own concerns. According to Brigham, there will be no such separate kingdoms of personal power yourself, by yourself, and for yourself, regardless of every other creature.

But the truth is, you are not going to have a separate kingdom; I am not going to have a separate kingdom; it is not our prerogative to have it on this earth. If you have a kingdom and a dominion here, it must be concentrated in the head; if we are ever prepared for an eternal exaltation, we must be concentrated in the head of the eternal Godhead...If we fancy that we have an independent interest here and in the world to come, we shall fail in getting any of it.

Your interest must be concentrated in the head on the earth, and all of our interest must center in the Godhead in eternity, and there is no durable interest in any other channel.[38]

Along these lines, consider the interesting sermon by Heber C. Kimball from 1856. In this discourse, President Kimball tangentially referred to deification, not as a glorious declaration that we will become gods or godlike, but to remind his listeners not to put the cart before the horse. We ought to consider becoming true "Saints" before focusing too much on being gods.

Heber said:

Many think that they are going right into the celestial kingdom of God, in their present ignorance, to at once receive glories and powers; that they are going to be Gods, while many of them are so ignorant, that they can see or know scarcely anything. Such people talk of becoming Gods, when they do not know anything of God, or of His works; such persons have to learn repentance, and obedience to the law of God; they have got to learn to understand angels, and to comprehend and stick to the principles of this Church.

…I bear testimony of this, and I wish you would listen to counsel and lay aside every sin that doth so easily beset you, and turn to the Lord with full purpose of heart.</ref>

Similarly, during the King Follett discourse, Joseph Smith is said to have taught:

When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the Gospel--you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil [died] before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.[39]

The need for divine grace

Main article: Neglecting grace?

Christ said "be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect" (see Matthew 5:48) and members of the Church tend to take that charge literally. The trouble is, some Saints might feel they can or even must achieve this impossible goal through their own efforts. In conversations about grace and works Mormons are quick to quote: "faith without works is dead," (see James 2:20), often in reaction to extreme conservative Protestantism's claims that one can be saved by faith alone without a concurrent change in behavior and life wrought by that faith. In this respect, the Latter-day Saints share far more with the early Christians than they do with modern conservative Protestantism.

Members must also remember, however, that works without faith is also dead, and Heber seems to be trying to express that message.

Here we see an early example of a Church leader discussing "grace," though he still maintains a perspective in which works are essential. It is for us, today, to focus on today, and retain a remission of sins relying on Christ, as the light grows brighter and brighter until the perfect day, when the rest of this doctrine can be figured out more clearly. In the meantime, our probation continues, and Heber had a few pieces of advice to impart:

We cannot become perfect, without we are assisted by our heavenly Father. We must be faithful and of one heart, and one mind, and let every man and woman take course to build up and not pull down. See that you save your grain, that you may save yourselves from the wicked of the world. Try to take care of every thing that is good to eat, for this is the work of the Lord God Almighty, and we shall have times that will test the integrity of this people, that will test who is honest and who is not.

Omitting prayer is calculated to lead the mind away from those duties which are incumbent upon us; then let us attend to our prayers and all our duties, and you will know that brother Brigham and his brethren have told you of these things...

There are trying times ahead of you, do you not begin to feel and see them? If you do not, I say you are asleep. I wish that the spirit which rests upon a few individuals could be upon you, everyone of you, it would be one of the most joyful times that brother Brigham and I ever saw with the Saints of God upon this earth.[40]

Question: If God was once like us, does that mean that God was once a sinner?

The idea that God may once have been a sinner is speculation

The idea that God may once have been a sinner is speculation. Many Latter-day Saints find the idea impossible, while others consider it a possibility. Latter-day Saints do not generally speculate on events that happened prior to the war in heaven.

The details of God's mortality and existence before the war in heaven are largely unknown and have not been revealed. We do not have an exact answer to this question. For some, however, the idea that God may have once been a sinner like us gives added hope and faith in the atonement, and its ability to ultimately make us without sin regardless of what we may have done.

But the question to ask is: "Does it really matter all that much?" Whether it is true or it is not, does anything change? Knowing details of God's previous mortality doesn't change the fact that our Heavenly Father is still our Heavenly Father, who loves us very much. He has perfect knowledge, flawless character, and all power, and we can therefore have perfect faith in his ability to save and exalt his children. He sent His first born son, Jesus Christ, to sacrifice Himself for us. He wants us to be "heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ."

Question: What do Mormons believe regarding the nature of angels?

Both the Greek angelos and its Hebrew counterpart, malak, simply mean "messenger"

Critics of Mormonism reject the LDS concept that angels were once mortal, claiming that angels are a special creation of God and that humans can never become angels. [41] They quote Psalm 148:2 and 5:

"Praise ye him, all his angels: praise ye him, all his hosts...Let them praise the name of the Lord: for he commanded, and they were created."

It's all too easy to be tempted to look up Psalms 148:2 and Psalms 148:5 and see what's in the intervening verses. And in fact when one actually opens up one's Bible, rather than just throwing it upon the rostrum and thumping it for emphasis,[42] one learns that verses 3 and 4 include the exhortation to praise God to the sun and the moon and the stars of light, the heavens of heavens, and the waters that are above the heavens. God created everything, including us, and including angels and including the physical universe. There is no one-to-one relationship here that suggests that angels are not human species, merely humans at a different stage of development or playing a different role. That many today believe angels to be a different species of some kind is not an original Christian doctrine, nor is it an original Jewish doctrine.

Dahood explains that in the OT, "'his ministers' [is] another expression for the angels, described as ministerial servants ready to execute the sovereign will."[43] Angels were messengers sent with a divine mission, and the parallelistic pair-structures of Psalms 148:2 indicate that in this case the angels in question were soldiers. McKeever and Johnson, as is typical of much of the modern North American Biblicist tradition that has arisen in the past century, anti-intellectual, anti-scholarly and deliberately cut off from exposure to centuries of European biblical scholarship, are confusing a general term with a specific, a title with the titleholder, so to speak.

Both the Greek angelos and its Hebrew counterpart, malak, simply mean "messenger." Ancient Jewish custom did borrow some rather bizarre imagery from Assyrian sources for some of its demi-divine beings such as cherubim, but cherubim-which are artistic conventions common to temple worship throughout the ages, and therefore symbolic and abstract-aren't angels, who are "real" beings. In any case, it is difficult to see how a scripture such as Psalms 148:2 would somehow limit God's capability to create angels at will, and however He will. But Biblicists have never let their belief in a naive omnipotence stop them from contradicting themselves when simple common sense would lead them to obviously inconsistent interpretations (because their interpretations are based on inconsistent assumptions).

Hickenbotham[44] demonstrates how the LDS concept of angelology is more Biblical, ironically, than is the Biblicist view:

The scriptures often identify angels with ministering spirits. Psalms 104:4 rhetorically asks, "Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire...?" (see also Heb. 1:7) and Hebrews 1:13-14 reads, "But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool? Are they not all ministering spirits; sent forth to minister for them who shall be the heirs of salvation?" As has already been shown previously, we all existed as spirits before birth (see Matt. 18:10; note angels in this verse should be spirits). And men like angels often act as messengers of God (Hag. 1:13; Mal. 2:7; 3:1; Matt. 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27). That angels are in appearance as men and were actually called men by inspired writers is also attested to in scripture (Gen. 18:1-2; 19:1, 15; Ezek. 40:1-4; Matt. 28:2-6; Mark 16:5; Luke 24:3-4; John 20:1-12; Acts 1:10; Heb. 13:2; Rev. 21:17). We are likewise instructed that we are not to worship angels (Col. 2:18; Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9; see also Jud. 13:15-16). It is only when we read the account of an angel's appearance to John the Revelator that this injunction is explained. John records, "And when... I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel... Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren the prophets..." (Rev. 22:8-9). The angel thus identifies himself as a righteous man who had returned as an angelic messenger even as Moses, Elias, and others have done (Matt. 17:2; Mark 9:4; Lk. 9:30). He was not just man's equal but a spirit brother (Rev. 19:10) and a son of God as man is (Num. 16:22; 27:16; Acts 17:22-24; Eph. 4:6; Heb. 12:9). Some Christians mistakenly conclude that angels are "sexless" because Matthew 22:30 seems to support this belief. This scripture implies nothing about the ability of angels to procreate but only states that they are unmarried (single). Since marriage and procreation are only part of mortal life and exaltation, it seems clear that unexalted angels, whether pre-existent spirits or resurrected beings will necessarily be single (See D&C 132:15-17).[45]

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


  1. "Becoming Like God," Gospel Topics on (25 February 2014)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 "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."
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 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).
  4. Boyd K. Packer, "The Pattern of Our Parentage," Ensign (November 1984), 69. off-site
  5. Fox News, "21 Questions Answered About Mormon Faith," (18 December 2007). off-site
  6. Origen, Commentary on John, Book II, Chapter 3.
  7. Ernst W. Benz, "Imago Dei: Man in the Image of God," 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), 215–216. ISBN 0884943585. Reprinted in Ernst Benz, "Imago dei: Man as the Image of God," FARMS Review 17/1 (2005): 223–254. off-site Note: Benz misunderstands some aspects of LDS doctrine, but his sketch of the relevance of theosis for Christianity in general, and Joseph Smith's implementation of it, is worthwhile.
  8. 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),16–17. ISBN 0192830090.
  9. 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.
  10. Irenaeus, "Against Heresies," in Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886). ANF ToC off-site This volume
  11. 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.
  12. 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),95–96. ISBN 0192830090.
  13. 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), 106. ISBN 0192830090.; Citing Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.38 cp. 4.11.
  14. Irenaeus, "Against Heresies," in Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)1:419, chapter 6. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  15. Irenaeus, "Against Heresies," in Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)1:450, chapter 6. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  16. Arthur C. McGiffert, A History of Christian Thought, Vol. 1—Early and Eastern: From Jesus to John of Damascus (New York: Scribner's Sons, 1932), 141.
  17. Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Greeks, 1. off-site
  18. Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, 3.1 see also Clement, Stromateis, 23.[citation needed]
  19. 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),243–244. ISBN 0192830090.; Stromata 7:10 (55–56).
  20. Origen, Commentary on John, Book II, Chapter 2.
  21. Origin, De Principiis, 4:1:36 in Ante-Nicene Fathers 4:381.
  22. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 124.
  23. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 124.
  24. Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 10:29-30, in Ante-Nicene Fathers 5:152.
  25. Athanasius, Against the Arians, 1.39, 3.39.
  26. Athanasius, Against the Arians, 1:42, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, 4:330-331.
  27. Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 54.
  28. Augustine, On the Psalms, 50:2.
  29. Jerome, The Homilies of Saint Jerome, 106–107.
  30. Jerome, The Homilies of Saint Jerome, 106–353.
  31. Alan Richardson (editor), The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology (Westminster: John Knox Press, 1983). ISBN 0664213987. (emphasis added).
  32. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Pauline Theology: a brief sketch (Prentice-Hall, 1967), 42. AISN B0006BQTCQ.
  33. G.L. Prestige, God in Patristic Thought (London Press, 1956), 73.
  34. William Ralph Inge, Christian Mysticism (London, Metheun & Co., 1948[1899]), 13, 356.
  35. Ernst W. Benz, "Imago Dei: Man in the Image of God," 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), 215–216. ISBN 0884943585. Reprinted in Ernst Benz, "Imago dei: Man as the Image of God," FARMS Review 17/1 (2005): 223–254. off-siteNote: Benz misunderstands some aspects of LDS doctrine, but his sketch of the relevance of theosis for Christianity in general, and Joseph Smith's implementation of it, is worthwhile.
  36. Joseph Smith, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 268.
  37. This article was based on a blog post, Blair Hodges, "Becoming Saints before gods," (8 February 2008), last accessed (28 December 2008) off-site (used with permission). Due to the nature of a wiki project, the text may have been subsequently modified.
  38. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 4:26-28.
  39. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 6:306–307. Volume 6 link
  40. Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses 4:1-7.
  41. Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101. Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), 178. ( Index of claims )
  42. Although this is couched in stronger language than the author would use himself, and it talks only about Southern Baptists, this tendency to use the Bible almost as a magic talisman brings to mind a quote by the modern Renaissance scholar, Harold Bloom, in his famous book The American Religion (New York: Touchstone, 1992), 222:

    Even as Fundamentalists insist upon the inerrancy of the Bible, they give up all actual reading of the Bible, since in fact its language is too remote and difficult for them to begin to understand. What is left is the Bible as physical object, limp and leather, a final icon or magical talisman. To read Criswell [an anti-intellectual leader of the Fundamentalist faction of the Southern Baptist Convention] or any other Fundamentalist clergyman on the Bible is almost a literal impossibility, at least for me, because they are not writing about the text, in any sense whatsoever of text, or of that text. They write about their own dogmatic social, political, cultural, moral, and even economic convictions, and biblical texts simply are quoted, with frenetic abandon, whether or not they in any way illustrate or even approach the areas where the convictions center. They are quoted also as though they interpreted themselves and were perfectly transparent in their meanings.

  43. Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms III: 101-150. Anchor Bible, Vol. 1970 (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1970), 13.
  44. Incidentally, an evangelical Christian who goes under the pseudonym J.P. Holding, gave Mormonism 101 a less than sterling rating, even though one would assume they're all on the same side. One of the reasons was the authors' failure to come to grips with the new generation of amateur (that is, non-BYU professors, nor General Authorities) LDS apologists that has cropped up.
  45. Michael W. Hickenbotham, Answering Challenging Mormon Questions: Replies to 130 Queries by Friends and Critics of the LDS Church (Bountiful, Utah: Horizon Publishers, 1995), #54.