I stumbled upon a Mormon blog run by a man by the name of Rusty Lindquist. I posted a response to something he wrote concerning the Mormon belief in God. Here will be my response to his response.
Wonderful comments for a fascinating conversation. Let me address this in parts…, the latter of which you’ll hopefully find helpful in understanding how we find our belief in the nature of god, the separate entities of the Trinity, and theosis supported by true traditional Christianity.
Part 1 – Monolatry vs Henotheism:
I’m not sure that you would call us henotheists, but perhaps more accurately monolatrists, for while Henotheism worships only one God, but accepts that others can worship other Gods, monolatry sanctions only the worship of one God.
What’s more, monolatry is what has been recognized by scholars as most likely practiced in ancient Israel, which then gave way to monotheism as they later demoted the gods of the pantheon to angels. Additionally scholars have surmised that the Deuteronomic Code taught monolatry.
Hey Rusty. I think that what I meant by “henotheism” you mean by monolatry. I don’t think we differ there. I think you’re a bit more particular about the terms you use. For instance, henotheism and monolatry are polytheistic, for they both profess belief in the existence of multiple gods. That’s all polytheism is, the belief in the existence of many gods (without regard to how they ought to be worshiped). But henotheism, or perhaps I should say henotheistic polytheism, or monolatric polytheism, is the belief in the existence of many gods, only one of which is due worship. So if I call Mormonism “polytheistic” I in no way mean to imply that Mormons worship lesser gods.
And Jews at the time of Christ were not monotheists. They believed in monolatry, or the worship of one god, with the existence of others. And it’s important to distinguish the two for the Bible tacitly refers to the existence of many gods, while only sanctioning the worship of one.
There’s a lot of ambiguity here which I would like to have cleared up before one can actually say that Jews of the time were henotheists. For instance, that Jews believed in the existence of other “gods” does not mean that they believed these gods to be ontologically identical to the God of Israel. That is what is at stake, and I doubt very much that Jews would have admitted such a thing. Further, there is also the question of what Jews generally believed and what Sacred Scripture teaches.
For instance, the Book of Psalms 86:8 “Among the gods there is none like unto thee, O Lord; neither are there any works like unto thy works”.
Verses such as these really don’t do much to bolster polytheism. The verse is primarily denying the likeness of the pagan “gods” to Israel’s God. It emphasizes difference both ontologically and with regards to God’s works. For this reason it doesn’t bolster the polytheism of the type which you profess. Namely, that all spirits are ontologically similar inasmuch as they have the same nature. In fact, the Hebrew Scriptures seem to countenance this.
Other scholars also postulate that Exodus 7:11-13 seems to demand a non-monotheistic explanation.
That’s nice of them. :)
1 Corinthians 8:5-6 The Apostle Paul says “For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ,”
Again, there are many that are “called” gods.
I’m not exactly what your point is, perhaps that you think that the Scriptures are here calling the Father (to the exclusion of the Son) the “one God” who must be worshiped. But it must be recognized that that is not an adequate interpretation. For instance, the very following clause, “and one Lord” is not said so as to call the Son “Lord” to the exclusion of the Father. For both the Father and the Son are Lord, and so too both the Father and the Son are God.
This appears to be another clear indication of monolatry rather than monotheism.
Honestly, it doesn’t seem that way to me. Paul doesn’t even call them ‘gods’ like the OT often does, he says they are ‘called gods.’ This is a development and clarification which shows that in the light of Christ what was murky and veiled (the status of other gods vis-a-vis Israel’s God) is now becoming sharper and more manifest (namely, that these ‘gods’ are no gods at all).
Part 2 – Separate entities, and the Nature of God
Having said that, the scenario you describe where our belief that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are entirely different entities, doesn’t therefore indicate hard polytheism, but rather further supports monolatry.
Only if you accord worship solely to the Father. I need an explicit answer to my questions. Do you worship the Son? Do you worship the Spirit?
In fact the concept of theosis, or the deification of man, I find supportive of not only the concept of monolatry, but also enlightening in understanding the nature of god and supporting the belief that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are three separate entities.
As you mentioned, traditional Christianity teaches “God became man that man might become God”, and as St Thomas said “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods”, and St. Athanasius of Alexandria: “God became human so humans would become gods”.
So we know a man can become a god (theosis – a traditional Christian belief), and in so stating, do we not describe the nature of a god – an exalted man; hence as you reference from the King Follett discourse “as man is God once was”.
You’re jumping to all of your conclusions all at once. Let’s take this slowly.
You say, “so we know a man can become a god (theosis- a traditional Christian belief), and in so stating, do we not describe the nature of a god- an exalted man; hence as you reference from the King Follett discourse “as man is God once was”.
The problem is that you’ve missed what the traditional Christian belief on theosis means. It means that man, who by nature is created and a human being, becomes by grace what God is in His nature. But he still remains in his nature a human being, and created.
You cannot conclude from this that “do we not describe the nature of god- an exalted man.” For we are not saying that the one God was once like man. That’s not even contemplated. We’re saying something in the opposite direction, namely that man who is by nature created, becomes by grace a participator in God’s uncreated being. It is always postulated that God is uncreated, eternal and changeless. Man on the other hand is always, even after his divinization, created by nature. He participates in God’s uncreatedness in a way similar to how a hot iron participates in the heat of fire. Although by nature the iron remains iron, it in some sense becomes ‘fire’ (heat) by participation in the fire. It never, however, changes its nature nor does it become independent of the fire (as soon as it is removed, it cools down).
For this reason, it’s simply a non sequitur to conclude that this somehow sanctions “as man is God once was.” That is nowhere in the traditional doctrine, neither explicitly nor implicitly. Only Mormon eisegesis– and strained eisegesis at that– can manage to see it in there.
Hence we believe the nature of God and Man are identical, one being in an exalted state, and the other with merely the potential for exaltation, or Godhood, for we were created in his very image.
Does God the Father then also have a potential for losing his Godhood?
You introduce potentiality into the Godhead in a dubious way. For whatever has potentiality can in no way be purely actual except some being which is purely actual first raise it to full actuality. Now, Mormon belief seems to assert this as regards God the Father who exalts human beings. That is, the belief that our current ‘god the father’ was once a man who was exalted (by the ‘god the father’ in relation to him). However, the problem is that every being which is not purely actual must be raised to pure actuality by a being who is purely actual. But if this is the case, and if it is also the case that all gods were originally mixes of potentiality and actuality, then there cannot have possibly been a ‘first mover’ who reduced what was only in potentiality to pure actuality to pure actuality. Hence, it is impossible (according to Mormon terms) that there could be any “God the Father” who was able to exalt any god to full theosis (in the Mormon sense) in the first place. ]For it would require an infinite regress of ‘god the fathers’ but would lack any first ‘god the father’ to exalt the next one. But if there is no first mover, there is no intermediate cause in the chain. And if there is no intermediate cause in the chain, then there cannot be the last effects.
Hence, either the Mormon belief is absurd or we must admit there is at least one God who was not “like man” originally.
This concept is further supported by Paul in saying that we can become joint heirs with him. Unless one believes that somehow that inheritance precludes the ability to have spiritual offspring, create planets, and do all the other things we learn that God has done, then we can naturally see that there’s no contradiction with the teaching that God is an exalted man, and as exalted men, we can become gods.
We become joint heirs with Christ because we become adopted sons. Note that. We become adopted sons. Jesus Christ is a Son of God by nature. We are only sons of God by adoption. That’s why Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, and can never lose His Sonship, whereas we who are adopted sons may lose our sonship. If it were by nature it could not be lost. This is another indication that Jesus Christ and we are different ontologically.
As to joint heirs needing to be able to do all of that– I think Christians would generally agree with you that our glorified bodies will have marvelous creative powers, subject to our ruling reason. But we don’t know exactly what that means or entails. It certainly doesn’t necessitate that God was once a creature, for creativity does not necessarily mean that one must be corporeal.
Besides, you haven’t examined what “joint heirs” means. I doubt it means what you think it does. Paul says “and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17). It’s clear here that we are speaking about heirs in glorification. So just as Jesus Christ was glorified in His human nature after His obedient suffering and death, so to, we who share in His suffering and death will be glorified with Him. This is relatively uncontroversial, and in no way is a point which somehow proves Mormonism over and against traditional Christianity.
And if this is the case, then we learn not only about the nature of God, but also find an immediate inconsistency with the teaching that he is somehow anything other than of flesh and bones, or that he is somehow three beings in one.
Rusty, quite frankly I can’t even follow your train of thought here. I don’t see how any of this which you are saying rightly follows from what we were originally discussing. Perhaps you mean in regard to glorification– but glorification in no way proves that God is eternally a man. Rather, the biblical texts on Christ’s flesh indicate that he took on human nature at a point in time, and prior to that He was eternally pre-existent.
Admittedly, this teaching of three distinct beings and this revelation of the nature of God flies in the face of much of modern Christianity, but then much of Modern Christianity also flies in the face of the early church and it’s doctrine as established by Christ (which I explore here). In fact, in the very Harper’s Bible Dictionary it is recorded that “the formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the New Testament”.
Not explicitly, but it is the only way to organize in an orthodox way all of the data of revelation. This is hardly a serious objection to a Catholic Christian. We are neither partisans of sola scriptura nor do we deny the proper development of doctrine. As to the Harper’s citation– it hardly proves anything. First, because no one is staking their claim on formal equivalence of the later creedal formulations with the earlier biblical texts, but rather the material equivalence of the two. Second, the conclusion of what (supposedly is) a scholarly opinion is only worth as much as the sources, reasoning and expertise which lie behind it. So in this case it is pointless to merely quote the conclusion but to omit the premises and evidence. But if you want to discuss those, we can.
In fact, it wasn’t until the various creeds, beginning with the Nicene Creed, established over 125 years and 4 major councils beginning with the Council of Nicea by Constantine, which was meant specifically to address (among other things) the growing issue of God’s alleged “trinity in unity”, did this concept of the all-in-one trinity take form.
Big bad evil Constantine. I can’t help but think of Da Vinci Code-esque histories when I hear his name in regard to alleged doctrinal innovations at Nicea. But let it be said, there is no absolute novelty in Nicea, but indeed clarification of doctrine and pruning of certain errors. The Church always held both to monotheism and to Christ’s divinity, but it did take some time to fully recognize the import of this doctrine formally in the Trinity.
But it was a departure from original doctrine, and find that belief self-evident from from concepts such as theosis, and monolatry, but also from numerous biblical scripture, like “This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent”, the baptism at the hands of John where there were three distinct presences (Jesus in the water, the Holy Ghost descending, and the voice of God from heaven), or the experience on the Mount of transfiguration, or the martyrdom of Stephen, just as a few illustrations.
I’m not sure how you spin the baptism of Jesus to be a refutation of traditional Trinitarian doctrine. It is taken as an epiphany of the Triune God by Christians. We freely believe and joyfully proclaim that God is three persons. The baptism might refute modalism, but certainly not trinitarianism, for we do confess that the Persons are distinct although we utterly deny that they are separate.
Christ said “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do”. Does that not indicate that God, at one time, was in the position of the Son now, and that the two are separate and distinct. He also said “I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.”
How? Why does it imply that? It just means that Christ is of one will with the Father. They are distinct persons, again, we do not disagree there. But how does it mean that the Father was once in the position of the Son? You must be quite literalist about this passage. Do you interpret it to mean that the Son only does what He sees the Father do with His eyes? That’s absurd. The Son isn’t watching the Father with His physical eyes because the Father isn’t visible physically– and even for Mormons, the Father certainly isn’t currently visible on earth. It’s about the Son ‘seeing’ the Father with His intellect and conforming His will to the Father’s.
Perhaps above all, the deferential subordination to His Father when Jesus said “Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is God. And his statement “I go unto my Father, for My father is greater than I”.
Or to whom was Jesus pleading when he said “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me”, or “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me”.
He was pleading with the Father. I think that’s pretty obvious.
But as to the alleged problems to traditional doctrine.
1. Why callest thou me good.
This is a problem here. As St. Ambrose points out, He does not say “there is none good but the Father” but only “there is none good but God.” And so to deny that Jesus Christ is Good is not to deny that He is the Father (and He certainly in not the Father) but rather to deny that He is God (who He certainly is). And who would dare deny that He is God? Not even the Mormons, although they do deny His unity in essence with the Father.
17. The Son of God is certainly speaking as man, and speaking to a scribe,—to him, that is, who called the Son of God “Good Master,” but would not acknowledge Him as God. What he believes not, Christ further gives him to understand, to the end that he may believe in God’s Son not as a good master, but as the good God, for if, wheresoever the “One God” is named, the Son of God is never sundered from the fulness of that unity, how, when God alone is said to be good, can the Only-begotten be excluded from the fulness of Divine Goodness? The Arians must therefore either deny that the Son of God is God, or confess that God is good.
18. With divinely inspired comprehension, then, our Lord said, not “There is none good but the Father alone,” but “There is none good but God alone,” and “Father” is the proper name of Him Who begets. But the unity of God by no means excludes the Godhead of the Three Persons, and therefore it is His Nature that is extolled. Goodness, therefore, is of the nature of God, and in the nature of God, again, exists the Son of God—wherefore that which the predicate expresses belongs not to one single Person, but to the [complete] unity [of the Godhead].
19. The Lord, then, doth not deny His goodness—He rebukes this sort of disciple. For when the scribe said, “Good Master,” the Lord answered, “Why callest thou Me good?”—which is to say, “It is not enough to call Him good, Whom thou believest not to be God.” Not such do I seek to be My disciples—men who rather consider My manhood and reckon Me a good master, than look to My Godhead and believe Me to be the good God.
As to the second.
2. My Father is greater than I.
59. It was due to His humanity, therefore, that our Lord doubted and was sore distressed, and rose from the dead, for that which fell doth also rise again. Again, it was by reason of His humanity that He said those words, which our adversaries use to maliciously turn against Him: “Because the Father is greater than I.”
The statement “the Father is greater than I” must be in regards to Christ’s human nature. For only in Christ’s human nature was he made low and emptied of glory. His divine nature is and remains supremely glorious and eternal. The epistle to the Philippians says that Jesus Christ, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8). And that similar structure is repeated throughout the Scriptures. Jesus, who is His very form is equal with God, emptied Himself of glory inasmuch as He took on suffering human flesh. But note– He can only ‘empty himself’ if He already possesses glory. Hence also the epistle to the Hebrews that, ” You made him for a little while lower than the angels” (Heb 2:7). For He only descended below the angels by first being above them. And so when the Scriptures testify to Christ’s self-emptying, they cannot do so without concurrently testifying to His equality to the Father. For He could not have been lowered unless He was already on high as God.
Hence Ambrose continues:
61. How, indeed, can He be a lesser God when He is perfect and true God? Yet in respect of His humanity He is less—and still you wonder that speaking in the person of a man He called the Father greater than Himself, when in the person of a man He called Himself a worm, and not a man, saying: “But I am a worm, and no man;“ and again: “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter.”
62. If you pronounce Him less than the Father in this respect, I cannot deny it; nevertheless, to speak in the words of Scripture, He was not begotten inferior, but “made lower,” that is, made inferior. And how was He “made lower,” except that, “being in the form of God, He thought it not a prey that He should be equal with God, but emptied Himself;”. not, indeed, parting with what He was, but taking up what He was not, for “He took the form of a servant.”
63. Moreover, to the end that we might know Him to have been “made lower,” by taking upon Him a body, David has shown that he is prophesying of a man, saying: “What is man, that Thou art mindful of him, or the son of man, but that Thou visitest him? Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels.“1989 Ps. viii. 5, 6. And in interpreting this same passage the Apostle says: “For we see Jesus, made a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honour because that He suffered death, in order that apart from God He might taste death for all.”
64. Thus, the Son of God was made lower than, not only the Father, but angels also. And if you will turn this to His dishonour; [I ask] is then the Son, in respect of His Godhead, less than His angels who serve Him and minister to Him? Thus, in your purpose to diminish His honour, you run into the blasphemy of exalting the nature of angels above the Son of God. But “the servant is not above his master.”1991 S. Matt. x. 24. Again, angels ministered to Him even after His Incarnation, to the end that you should acknowledge Him to have suffered no loss of majesty by reason of His bodily nature, for God could not submit to any loss of Himself,1992 For if that were so, God might cease to be God. whilst that which He has taken of the Virgin neither adds to nor takes away from His divine power.
65. He, therefore, possessing the fulness of Divinity and glory,1993 Col. ii. 9. is not, in respect of His Divinity, inferior. Greater and less are distinctions proper to corporeal existences; one who is greater is so in respect of rank, or qualities, or at any rate of age. These terms lose their meaning when we come to treat of the things of God. He is commonly entitled the greater who instructs and informs another, but it is not the case with God’s Wisdom that it has been built up by teaching received from another, forasmuch as Itself hath laid the foundation of all teaching. But how wisely wrote the Apostle: “In order that apart from God He might taste death for all,”—lest we should suppose the Godhead, not the flesh, to have endured that Passion!
Indeed. One can only say that Jesus was speaking as regards His human nature, which was indeed lower than the Father, and lower than the angels even. But He is not speaking as regards His divine nature. Although you quote St. John so as to prove that, the evangelist himself refutes you. For he tells us that “because he not only broke the sabbath but he also called God his own father, making himself equal to God.” (John 5:18). And not only this, the Son is to be honored and glorified equally with the Father. So he says that the Father hands over all judgment to the Son, ” so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father” (John 5:23). This is why the elders fall down in worship, giving equal honor and glory to the Son even in the heavenly liturgy (see Revelation 4-5). But there is no place for this in Mormon theology– you haven’t yet said that you worship the Son and glorify Him equally with the Father, for you’ve been trying to prove that Mormons are monolatrists, and Scriptures teach monolatry. But the Scriptures do teach equal worship, glory and honor to the Son. And this is in virtue of His divine nature where He is and remains equal to the Father.
3. My God, my God.
This is simple. He addresses the Father, as from His human nature. For the Father is only Christ’s “God” inasmuch as the Father is the God of His human nature. And so He addresses the Father as regards the abandonment of His human nature to suffering and death. Orthodox Trinitarian theology says that the Father and the Son are distinct persons. This does not in any way violate our theology.
4. Father, if it is possible.
Again, the Father and the Son are distinct persons. Hence, it is possible for Him to address the Father in this way. Note that this passage from the Garden of Gethsemane ought to be interpreted in accord with what John reports of Jesus’ words. Jesus says, “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour” (John 12:27). So we must interpret Gethsemane not as Christ’s will in the proper sense deliberating about not following the Father’s will, but rather interpret Gethsemane as Christ expressing how his lower will, i.e., His affections and emotions, were protesting against undergoing suffering and death, when however His human will in the proper sense was always perfectly aligned with the Father’s (as evidenced by the John passage).
There is no unanswerable objection to the traditional Christology and Trinitarian theology.
These scriptures make no sense under the fourth and fifth century, post-creedal view of the Godhead, but for the original Christian followers, and for Mormons (having fully restored the original doctrine of Christ from a state where doctrine was decided by men in creeds, and not by Christ), it not only make sense, but harmonizes as you’d expect with the teaching of theosis, or human deification.
So it should be seen that the belief by Mormons in the physical nature of God, and the distinct individuality of the Godhead, while first realized by the Prophet Joseph Smith in vision in 1820 where he saw the two standing together, is not solely based upon this revelation alone, but abundantly supported by scripture and doctrine.
With all due respect Rusty, not at all. We know from Jesus that ” God is Spirit” (Jn 4:24) and that “because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have” (Luke 24:39). The Father does not have a body, nor do any of the Persons of the Trinity from eternity. The Son took on a body in time. The proofs you have urged for God having a body eternally could easily be parodied by the many anthropomorphisms of Scripture, which also assert that we have refuge “under the shelter of His wings” (see Ps. 57:1). There is no good case for God having a body as regards His divine nature.
Thank you for your response. I look forward to how you will interact with this. God bless.