Offenders for a Word – Part 1 – Is Jesus God?

May 10, 2008
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I love words – I love to read, write, talk – but I think words leave out almost everything. That [is] frustrat[ing]… feeling that what we can share with other people is so much more limited than what we actually experience… (link)– Jaron Lanier

Oh, Lord, deliver us in due time from the little, narrow prison, almost as it were, total darkness of paper, pen, and ink; – and a crooked, broken, scattered and imperfect language. — Joseph Smith (History of the Church 1:299)

I’ve thought a lot about the confines of language in the last several years. Having a thought and expressing that thought such that another person understands it perfectly are two very different things.

I have grown concerned over the years at what I see as intentional or unintentional “stumbling” or “getting stuck” on a word. Isaiah 29:21 speaks of being “offenders for a word” and I think this is a similar idea.

It’s hard to not be offenders for a word because we think with words, so thinking about words themselves is like thinking about thinking. It’s hard to do.

Worse yet, there are strong incentives to want to be “offenders for a word.” We often define our self and group identity by the very words we use. Mormons and non-Mormons alike are guilty of doing this. [1]

But for someone serious about understanding another group, there is no substitute for ridding oneself of “word-offense” or “wordism” as I sometimes call it. [2]

Consider this list of questions:

  1. Do Mormons worship Jesus or do they not worship Jesus?
  2. Was polygamy rescinded or suspended in the LDS Church?
  3. Was polygamy a central doctrine or peripheral doctrine to the LDS Church?
  4. Is polygamy “doctrinal” in the LDS Church today?
  5. Do Mormons “practice polygamy in their temples” today?
  6. Do Mormons believe in predestination?
  7. Are Mormons monotheists, polytheists, tri-theists, or henotheists?
  8. Do Mormons believe in an “Eternal” God?
  9. Do Mormons believe in a finite or infinite God?
  10. Do Mormons believe God is a man?
  11. Do Mormons believe man can become God?
  12. Do Mormons believe in an omnipresent God?
  13. Do Mormons believe Jesus is God?
  14. Do Mormons believe the “oneness” of the Godhead/Trinity is a “oneness of purpose?”
  15. Do Mormons believe they are justified by grace and works or justified by grace and not works?
  16. Do Mormons believe it’s possible to earn salvation?
  17. Do Mormons believe baptism is required for salvation?
  18. Is the LDS Church a cult?

I have thought a lot about questions like the above and I’ve come to the realization that I can honestly answer those questions any way I choose because it all depends on how one defines the terms being used.

Indeed, I believe that 80%+ of all anti-Mormon issues and a large percentage of disaffected Mormon issues are really simple word-offense: a refusal to try to understand the underlying thought the speaker was attempting to express through words.

Now call me crazy, but I suspect that the underlying thought the person is trying to express is probably more important than the specific words chosen to express it. How could anything but the underlying thought matter?

Case Study 1: The Meaning of the Word “God”

Let’s take a seemingly simply example. Is Jesus God? What’s the answer to this question? The problem is that I can’t answer this question without assuming or applying some sort of context to the words being used.

Mormons often use the word “God” as a name for the Father. So if I’m talking to another Mormons and I say “Jesus is not God” I probably simply mean “Jesus is not the Father” – a point no Christian of any denomination I know of would argue with me. [3] So at least in one sense of the word “God,” Jesus is not God.

But I know from sad personal experience that I have to be careful when saying something like that in front of a Born Again Christian for fear of setting them off into an attack about how Mormonism doesn’t teach Jesus is God. But Mormons do believe Jesus is God. 2 Ne 26:12 states “And as I spake concerning the convincing of the Jews, that Jesus is the very Christ, it must needs be that the Gentiles be convinced also that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God” To borrow Catholic language to express myself more clearly, Mormons believe Jesus is not just “the Son of God” but He is “God the Son.”

So Mormons both believe Jesus is God and isn’t God. A contradiction? Hardly. I will prove it:

Do a little exercise with me. Grab a dictionary and pick a word at random. Nearly any word will work, though a few won’t. Here is the word I picked: Justice

Notice how there are little numbers under the word, each with a separate definition. It turns out the word “justice” has multiple meanings – just like almost every word has multiple meanings. [4] Recognizing that words have multiple meanings is the key to healing our word-offense ways.

In truth, the meaning of words can shift a little or a lot between groups/cultures, over time, and even for a single individual based on the context of the conversation. (See also link)  A failure to acknowledge this truth is at the heart of all word-offense.

Despite having thought about “word-offense” for years now, I still constantly find myself falling into it. I’ve found that it’s easy to get confused over use of a word in a different way that I am used to. And it’s easy to become offended over that “misuse” of a word because, of course, I assume my definition of a word is the “correct” one and so if someone else uses the word differently, they must be trying to deceive me.

Let’s use a related real life example: let’s suppose that Mormons were to define the word “God,” from their religious context, like this (in order of usage frequency): [5]

God

  1. The Divine Nature or Godhead (Godhead means “divine nature”) as a single unit that is made up of three persons: the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost
  2. The Father
  3. Any other member of the Trinity or Godhead individually
  4. The whole group of exalted beings that have become “one” with the Godhead.
  5. Any individual exalted being that has reached “oneness” with the Godhead.

So are Mormons monotheists, polytheist, tri-theists, or henotheists?

If I concentrate on definition #1, Mormons are definitely monotheists. If I ignore definition #1 and concentrate on #2 and #3, now Mormons seem more like henotheists. If I concentrate on definition #3 alone Mormons are tri-theists. If I concentrate on definition #5 to the exclusion of all other definitions, Mormons might technically be called polytheists. In other words, Mormons are all of the above, depending on which definition of “God” you are referring to. (Their protests aside, this is also true of all Trinitarian Christians as well. [6])

Using John 1:1 as an example. A Mormon would likely read this verse as “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God (definition #2), and the Word was God. (definition #3)” To have any chance of understanding what a Mormon, or anyone of any religion, – or for that matter scripture itself – means when they say “God” one must first make an attempt to understand how the writer used the word. [7]

Joseph Smith put it this way:

“I have a key by which I understand the scriptures. I enquire [sic], what was the question which drew out the answer, or caused Jesus to utter the parable? … To ascertain its meaning, we must dig up the root and ascertain what it was that drew the saying out of Jesus.” (Teaching of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 276 – 277)

But the Words Get In the Way

So now that I’ve openly admitted that Mormons (and all Christians) are, in some sense, polytheists, you might wonder why I so strongly deny this and actively argue against referring to Mormons (or other Christians) as polytheists.

The reason is that while Mormons might truthfully be termed polytheists (or henotheist, or tritheist) in a limited sense, these words do not express the truth about Mormon beliefs in equal weight and understanding.

For example, when most people think of “polytheism” they think of classic Greek polytheism where there are multiple gods with separate wills that are at cross purposes. These polytheistic gods fight with each other over dominion and attempt to assert their will on each other. Mormon theology is night and day from classic polytheism and has much more in common with Trinitarian beliefs. So calling a Mormon a “polytheist” will inevitably cause serious a misunderstanding about Mormon beliefs unless a lot of care is taken to explain the full nuanced belief.

By comparison, calling Mormons “monotheists” gives a pretty good approximation of exactly what Mormons believe. So I assert that it’s appropriate to call Mormons monotheists but inappropriate to call them polytheists except with the greatest of care to clarify your meaning.

Self Definition Vs. Labeling or Defining Others

And then I believe there is a moral issue here too.  The moral demands of self definition are very different than the moral demands of how we define others.

To explain myself better I will use the example of Muslims referring to Catholics and Protestant Christians as polytheists. Are Muslims correct to refer to Christians as polytheists? Based on my arguments above, clearly in a sense Christians are polytheists and in another sense they are monotheists. But when Muslims make such an assertion, do they bother to explain that very important nuance? To me, that’s the important point. Since Muslims do not typically take the time to explain in what sense a Christian might be called a polytheist or in what sense they might be called monotheists — and more over they do not explain that Christians are primarily monotheists and self define as monotheists! — I am forced to assume the real intent is to mislead, not clarify, and as such is an act of intolerance. Is it the Muslims who don’t believe as the Christians do who gets to decide which words best convey an undestanding of the Christian religion? [8]

In part 2, we’ll tackle if Mormons worship Jesus or not.

Notes:

[1] I tried a real life experiment that I think is worth repeating for yourself, if you are curious. See if you get the same results I did.

Try asking a group of “orthodox” Christians if they believe they have to have good works to be saved. The answer will be likely be an overwhelming “no way!” Now ask the same group if they have to “be bringing forth good works to be in the state of being saved.” Now you may find that you get an overwhelming “absolutely!” And yet that’s actually the same question worded in two ways. The real difference is that the first question used the catch phrase “good works to be saved” which orthodox Christians have been trained to deny as part of their group identity.

You can play the same trick on Mormons. Ask a Mormon if they are saved by the “grace (or graciousness) of God alone.” “Not on your life!” you’ll likely be told, because “we have to have works to be saved!” Now ask that same group of Mormons if God owes them salvation if they do good works. “God doesn’t own me anything!” you’ll probably be told. It would seem that denying the catch phrase “grace alone” is part of Mormon group identity.

[2] I invented the word “wordism” to describe someone that gets caught up in a word or phrase to the point of denying others with it. I also called such a person a “wordist” because they often based their intolerance of others on what words another person uses. But it turns out that these terms were actually coined before by Bob Whitaker, though he used the terms a differently than I do. Specifically he saw “wordism” as uniting around a certain set of words in the same way nationalism is uniting around everyone being from one nation. I’m not sure I want to be associated with Whitaker and besides my using the same terms differently then he will only lead to further wordism – so I’m going to use the term “word-offense” to replace “wordism.”

[3] After all, Paul often uses “God” to refer to specifically the person of the Father. (1 Cor 1:30; Rom 15:6; Rom 5:1; Rom 7:25; Rom 10:9; etc.) And of course Jesus spoke the same way without the slightest blush. (John 8:42; Matt 19:17; etc.)

[4] I once mentioned to a friend in my carpool that it’s hard to get through a Sunday school lesson about how “God is just” because no matter how much effort you put into defining your terms upfront, some people in the class will assume you mean “God is good” (as per definitions 1 to 4) while others in the class will assume you mean God metes out punishments equally” (as per definition 5-6) while others will assume you actually meant that God will handle people appropriately according to their circumstances (the correct word here is “equity” but people often use “justice” for this. See also definition 11.)

My friends eyes suddenly went wide. He told me that the day before, in his Sunday school class, there was a gentleman who kept insisting that “God is just.” But when people in the class agreed that God did indeed mete out punishment according to law, the gentleman would get confused and again insist “No, God is just!”

[5] I ultimately take full responsibility for this definition. I am a believing Mormon and this is how I define the word “God.” Other Mormons might have a slightly different definition or might feel the order of usage is different. In particular, I think many Mormons might feel they’d like to see the order of definition #1 and #2 inverted.

[6] All Trinitarian Christians could be considered polytheists through equally selective use of their definitions of the word “God.” In fact, this is the very reason why Muslims call Christians polytheists

The Athanasius creed bans referring to the members of the Trinity separately and numerically as “God” because Christians don’t want to be polytheists in any sense of the word. (The end result is a provable logical contradiction.) Muslims don’t buy this argument and call Christians “polytheists” anyhow, which is what Christians are in a very limited sense. But in a more correct sense, Christians are monotheists too. However, I’m uncomfortable with Muslims calling Christians polytheists, for reasons I’ll explain later in my article.

[7] Now a creedal Christian might be tempted to say “well I have only one definition of ‘God’.” But that isn’t true. Look carefully at Matt 19:17: “And [Jesus] said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God…” It is not possible to make sense of the Bible without a clear understanding that the word “God” has more than one meaning depending on context. This is just a true for a Catholic as for a Protestant as for a Mormon. As a Mormon I ask only for the same courtesy all Christians give themselves.

Another exercise for the reader: given the flexibility of the Mormon definitions of the word “God,” try to find any scripture in the Bible that disproves the Mormon believe in a plurality of gods. It can’t be done. All such attempted arguments are actually a form of word-offense. They are merely a refusal to admit to all possible understandings of the Biblical text.

Some verses even unexpectedly assist Mormon theology once we look at the original language. Consider Deut 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God (definition #1, #2, or #3?) is one Lord:” It turns out that the word translated “one” is the Hebrew word “echad” which literally means “one unity” (though as with most words, it can carry more than one possible meaning.) Thus this verse, in the original Hebrew might be literally rendered “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God (definition #1) is one unity.”

[8] Of course orthodox Christians will argue that the difference between themselves and Mormons is substance theology, and that since they  believe in substance theology they believe in “one God” in some sense more so than Mormons believe in “one God.” As I’ve explained elsewhere, I don’t buy this argument at all. Bottom line for me: Mormons, Catholics, and Protestants all define “God” as being multiple persons. There is no logical basis for claiming that substance theology somehow enhances that “oneness” in a meaningful and scriptural way.

So in the end, this is the very same moral issue as with Muslims defining Christians. Our Protestant and Catholic neighbors are often guilty of intolerance towards us in this manner just as Muslims are often intolerant to Christians in this manner. No group has a right to define another group differently then how they define themselves unless they take great care to clarify the nuances of meaning. Simply refering to Mormons as “polytheists” with no explanation (or without a sincere attempt to understand) is immoral behavior.

Of course, to be fair, Mormons are often guilty of intolerance to other Christians by mispresenting Trinitarian beliefs, so I’m claiming no special righteousness for Mormons here.

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73 Responses to Offenders for a Word – Part 1 – Is Jesus God?

  1. AmeliaG
    May 10, 2008 at 6:48 am

    Very very interesting post. Do you think its possible to create a new word for the true Mormon nuanced understanding of God as many and one, or is there value in explaining ourselves in others’ pre-existing terms, working with all the connotations as well as denotations that come along with “old” words?

  2. AmeliaG
    May 10, 2008 at 6:57 am

    By the way, don’t think I missed your point, that the underyling thought is more important than the words chosen to express it. I definitely agree there, but I am just exploring the idea of getting rid of catch-phrases that make people uptight by creating a new word that no one already has a judgment for our against, and must form a new understanding of.

  3. Bruce Nielson
    May 10, 2008 at 6:58 am

    Amerlia,

    >>> Do you think its possible to create a new word for the true Mormon nuanced understanding of God as many and one?

    Boy, I wish I could come up with such a term. I’ve tried and tried and wracked my brain and I have failed to do so so far. But then I’m a non-scholar layman and probably not well situated to make up new words for something like this. So far, the best word I’ve found is “Social Trinitarian” but I realize that’s not an exact fit.

    >>> or is there value in explaining ourselves in others’ pre-existing terms, working with all the connotations as well as denotations that come along with “old” words?

    Yes, I do think there is value in expressing ourselves using words others understand even if the fit is only approximate. But then again, ALL words are just approximate fits to some underlying thought.

    If I suddenly decided to make up the word “george” as a way of describing the nuances of my beliefs (i.e. “I believe God is george”) I would assume this would just confuse the situation for the most part. Instead saying “God is one” seems like a really good starting point for expressing my beliefs. If the person is giving me the time of day I will follow up with “but I believe God is not ‘one’ in the way other Christians think of it. Do you want to hear more?” :P

  4. AmeliaG
    May 10, 2008 at 7:55 am

    I just looked up “social trinitarian” on wikipedia. I can see where it could be appealing, but honestly it was confusing to me. But it linked me to the LDS Godhead entry (still on wikipedia) which I thought was fair and fairly straight-forward. Would saying “I believe in a Godhead” give people any frame of reference, or is that just another way of saying “I believe God is george?”

    Just for the record, I don’t believe God is george, and I especially don’t believe George (Bush) is God :)

  5. Bruce Nielson
    May 10, 2008 at 8:04 am

    >>> Would saying “I believe in a Godhead” give people any frame of reference, or is that just another way of saying “I believe God is george?”

    I think this is what most Mormons do say and I think it’s terribly confusing to other Christians. Go look up the word “Godhead” in dictionary.com and you’ll see what I’m saying.

    There does seem to be a drive in the Church to co-op “Godhead” as the word describing our beliefs. I think using a pre-existing word like that that already has a different meaning to everyone else is probably a bad idea for inter-faith conversations.

    That being said, when we are amongst only Mormons I think “Godhead” is the perfect word to explain our beliefs.

  6. May 10, 2008 at 8:12 am

    Oh, Lord, deliver us in due time from the little, narrow prison, almost as it were, total darkness of paper, pen, and ink; – and a crooked, broken, scattered and imperfect language.

    That was such a powerful theme of Joseph Smith’s and Brigham Young’s. I think every time we try to make each other offenders for a word we need to remember the weakness of the words we use and that we, ourselves, are children.

  7. Kent
    May 10, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned Blake Ostler’s books, since he defines and answers just about every point you put in your list. His latest book, Of God and Gods (of which I am half way through), is excellent in defining not just a Mormon view of God, but reframing the way we look at the issues. I think that anyone who ignores Blake Ostler’s works is really missing out.

  8. Bruce Nielson
    May 10, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    Kent, it’s on my list. :)

  9. Bruce Nielson
    May 10, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    Err… I mean… it is now. ;)

  10. Ray
    May 10, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    I’m out of time, so let me just say that this is a wonderful post.

  11. MJH
    May 10, 2008 at 4:23 pm

    Thank-you for a very insightful analysis. I don’t think I’ll bristle as much when someone begins a sacrament talk by readinga definition of the principal word they will be speaking on out of the dictionary. Regarding the misunderstanding of terms–I believe pride is one factor that keeps different parties from making an effort to understand the true meanings of others words.

  12. May 10, 2008 at 5:50 pm

    Your last points, about self-labeling versus labeling others, reminds me of an experience my wife had when she was doing the Nauvoo BYU semester a few years ago. They had the opportunity to meet with and apostle of the Temple Lot LDS in Independence, MO, who gave a presentation or a Q&A or something on their sect. Basically, it was a laundry list of Mormon doctrines they don’t believe in–a type of negative self-labeling by labeling another.

    On another note, I often have somewhat heated arguments with my grandfather, for instance on faith. I’ve finally realized that it’s because about halfway through he changes his definition of faith, and I don’t think he realizes that the twain are different.

    Great thoughts. Writing on the web seems to be even more two-dimensional than speech, even. At least, I normally cringe to see what I wrote later.

  13. Bruce Nielson
    May 10, 2008 at 6:56 pm

    Neal said: “it was a laundry list of Mormon doctrines they don’t believe in–a type of negative self-labeling by labeling another.”

    Insightful, Neal. Not that I’m not guilty of this myself on occaision… er, or more often than that. :) This is a hard topic for us puny humans, this self-labeling vs. labeling others thing.

    Neal said: “I’ve finally realized that it’s because about halfway through he changes his definition of faith, and I don’t think he realizes that the twain are different.”

    Bruce said: “In truth, the meaning of words can shift a little or a lot between groups/cultures, over time, and even for a single individual based on the context of the conversation

    Guess I didn’t go far enough. ;) I have to admit I’ve seen this too. A person can be inconsistent within a single coversation without even realizing it.

  14. Ray
    May 10, 2008 at 9:48 pm

    “A person can be inconsistent within a single conversation without even realizing it.”

    In his best Mister Rogers voice, “Can you spell blogging?” :)

    As I have said multiple times on multiple sites, I am a hardcore parser. I want to be judged by what I actually say, not what someone assumes I say, so I try very hard to do unto others that same way. If I have to define certain words I use to make my meaning more clear, I am happy to do so; it just bothers me to no end when someone takes what I say and claims I have said something else. Therefore, I try VERY hard to avoid doing that to others.

    Fwiw, I believe that one of the biggest downsides inherent in internet communication is the tendency for people to comment too quickly and in the emotion of the first impression. I generally try to read through someone else’s comment and my own response at least twice before I submit my comment – just to make sure that what I have written actually addresses what I am attempting to address and to make sure I wouldn’t be offended if it was said to me. There are still times that misunderstanding occurs, but I have found this approach cuts down tremendously on the silly arguments that flow so often in the world of blogging.

  15. hawkgrrrl
    May 10, 2008 at 9:56 pm

    Jacques Derrida said that language is meaningless because of its complete relativism: it’s impossible to define a word without using other words; therefore, language will always be inadequate to express meaning. IOW, we can never truly communicate our intent in a consistently reliable manner. This was the basis of the postmodernist movement in literature, writing fiction specifically designed to expose its fictionality in the course of the work, or to continually remind the reader of the artifice.

    In addition to the limits of language, I also see the deliberate highjacking of certain words and phrases that is particularly thorny as you point out. Like AmeliaG I can’t call God george, but I think you’re on the right track. Good post!

  16. May 10, 2008 at 10:47 pm

    @hawkgrrrl

    Of course, Wittgenstein claimed that no such thing as a private language exists. In other words, he believed that words as such acquired their significance from the social discourse, or that if we adopted a personal meaning and never divulged it outside of our own heads, we would never be sure on coming back to it if it had still the same meaning. Thus are we not only trapped inside of inadequate words, we are trapped inside of inadequate words that are forever outside of us. Kind of throws another layer on the postmodernism; “language” is certainly a social construct and not an intensely subjective semiotic dialectic. Or so I interpret him–tho’ I certainly don’t insist that sign-systems in themselves cannot be intensely subjective.

  17. Rigel Hawthorne
    May 10, 2008 at 11:33 pm

    Thanks for taking on this topic. Words do indeed have different meaning to different individuals and this creates divisions where there should be understanding. When a conversation progresses in a non-contentious manner to the point of that understanding, it is like a light goes on. There are certain hymns that are favorites in the wards in Japan that are rarely sung here. When I got back from the mission, I looked them up and wanted to use them more often, but they just weren’t the same. The translation into Japanese had captured a beauty of doctrinal imagery that the English hadn’t. So, I tried to translate them back to English from Japanese using the nuances that made the hymns more special to me. It was partly successful, but my knowledge of the two languages and of poetry was inadequate to really do it justice.

  18. Bruce Nielson
    May 11, 2008 at 10:45 am

    Rigel,

    Which hymn was it?

  19. May 11, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    You know, a man who does a lot of explaining has a lot of explaining to do. You know what you mean by ‘God’ and ‘Jesus’ as a Mormon. As a former Mormon who is now an evangelical Christian I know what you mean. You also know what I mean when I say ‘God’ and ‘Jesus’ and you and I both know that the one has nothing to do with the other. It is an old and tired trick to pretend that it is all down to misunderstandings, especially on the part of those you are pleased to call ‘born-again Christians’.

    Maybe Mormons should stop playing word games, characterising critics as ‘anti’ ‘bitter’ and ‘disaffected’ with base, misguided and hidden motives and just say what they believe. The Mormon god is an exalted man; their Jesus is a lesser god who is the son of an exalted man, as are we all; Mormons aim to become gods ‘like their father in heaven’ and the god Mormons worship is simply the latest in an endless line of gods, the product of an infinite regression of men/gods. It doesn’t take a degree in theology or a bent for semantics to work out that this is not the God worshipped by Christians for 2,000 years.

    Unfortunately Mormons know how unorthodox this all is and so they produce ‘nice’ explanations to make Mormonism more acceptable to a more astute and discerning 21st century audience that has access to the internet and sources of information as never before.

  20. Ray
    May 11, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    #19 – Would that it were so simple.

  21. Rigel Hawthorne
    May 11, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    Re #19 “and the god Mormons worship is simply the latest in an endless line of gods, the product of an infinite regression of men/gods”

    This statement is a perfect example of the exact them of this post.

    1. Anyone feel free to share with me a source (from LDS prophets) that describes exactly how Elohim was born and raised by mortal parents on a planet somewhere, was converted or baptised, married/sealed in a temple and, after living a mortal life, was ressurrected and received exaltation. That does not come from one couplet of 12 words. It is true that we have many teachings about how man may BECOME exalted and another teaching that if we were to see God, he would have the appearance of an exalted man. How do you go from there to attaching a biography of God? One of Brigham Young’s discourses?

    2. This use of the words “exalted man” is frequently used in a negative sense by critics, but if you were to say a Personage in who’s image man was created… who is omniscient (including knowledge of every frailty and sorrow that can be experienced by a mortal)…and omnipotent (including the power of creation of earth/light/spirit), then this description of God would be widely acceptable. Again, words.

    3. The “endless line of gods” theory implies a temporal nature to Elohim, whereas the Book of Mormon states that time is only measured unto man and all is as one day with God. (Alma 40:8) (Also, see John Hamer’s post about time). Our earth has a scientific history that goes back millions of years. As mortal existence has a beginning and an end, the earth on which created beings were placed should have a temporal line for a mortal test to be complete. If we try to understand God by using an earthly model of linear regression, then we are limiting that understanding by the parameters of mortality. If a prophet who had a glimpse of learning through an eternal perspective was approached by someone who did not yet have that experience and was presented with a couplet that provided a primitive model for thinking about eternal progression then it would probably be best to say, “you’re on the right track”.

    Bruce, I saw that in a few hymns, but the one that I think had the best “improvement” with translation was “Oh What Songs of the Heart”.

  22. Doug G.
    May 11, 2008 at 11:06 pm

    I truly hope that I am not guilty of being an offender for a word. I completely agree with Bruce’s premise that many people get caught up in what words actually mean from their perspective. We all have our own paradigms that shape beliefs and our ability to express those beliefs is difficult at best.

    A good Catholic friend of mine recently told me that even they don’t claim to understand the nature of the Godhead. As God is well above our understanding, I don’t believe we have the ability to comprehend a being or beings that bear all the attributes of God. No wonder it’s easy to get offended for a word.

    For those reasons I’ve learned that arguing theology is pointless, as most everyone is convinced that his/her faith is the correct one. As I’ve been taught time and time again, people’s perceptions are their realities. Most missionaries also learned this lesson when trying to teach someone who was already convinced they belonged to the true church. Challenging them to pray about their beliefs only reinforced their conviction and bible bashing just brought contention.

    So what is worth discussing in open forms such as this? For me, it’s the opportunity to study the history of the church through all your perspectives. When I first delved into the uncorrelated history, I couldn’t believe how blinded I had been and thought that if everyone actually knew the facts, they would abandon the faith and move on. Through discussion groups like this one, I’ve discovered that some of you are very well aware of most of the historical problems with the church and are still very TBM. For me, I can’t make myself jump through all those hoops, but I respect that others can and do.

    Interesting post Bruce, but I wonder how many people here are actually disaffected due to some theological belief difference (offender for a word) or is it, as in my case, more of an interpretation of history from my their own bias?

  23. Ray
    May 12, 2008 at 12:08 am

    Doug, fwiw, I think for most it’s a matter of unrealistic expectations. I don’t think it’s much more complicated than that.

    It’s very late. Perhaps I will try to explain tomorrow, but suffice it tonight (this morning) to say that those who just don’t care about stuff like many of the things we discuss assume they aren’t important. When they teach that (or other things in black and white terms) – subtly or directly – to others (especially their kids), those others often internalize expectations that simply don’t fit their own perspectives. Thus, they have unrealistic expectations, and, when they realize those expectations are unrealistic, they often can’t reorient in a way that allows them to remain “faithful” – even as they see others who can.

  24. Ray
    May 12, 2008 at 12:12 am

    One more quick, related point:

    It’s VERY easy for us who care about these things to attempt to impose our own unrealistic expectations on others who just don’t care like we do – to juxtapose a different black and white in the name of seeing gray. If we insist that ALL need to see the gray, that really is just another black and white viewpoint.

    Something to consider. I don’t want to threadjack this discussion too far, but that might be an interesting thread of its own.

  25. Benjamin O
    May 12, 2008 at 7:16 am

    Mike (#19)

    There’s already been one very cogent response (Rigel #21) to your points, let me take a slightly different approach, bearing in mind the need for precision in definition and understanding of what is meant by words. I think that there are likely some members of the LDS faith who would read your description of our beliefs, nod their heads and say very simply, “Sure, and why is that a problem?”

    They simply wouldn’t understand why that characterization might put them at odds with our Christian brothers, or why it’s not an entirely accurate summation of the available doctrinal statements (as explained by Rigel (#21)). The point is, as I understand it, that in LDS theology, from what I can glean from reading the D&C alone (I don’t have, unfortunately the time or resources to do a lot of extra-scriptural reading, and in some ways I think this is a good thing occasionally), time is so separate from eternity that you cannot compare the two. Once a being enters into the eternities as an exalted being, it is done. There is no ‘as if it had always been so’ language necessary, because that would imply a level of causation and ordering that does not necessarily apply in the eternities. Our conception of Christ, therefore, means that even though he spent time as a Mortal on this earth, His Exaltation as God is Eternal. Eternity transcends time. It encapsulates it in a manner that defies ordering in the way that we perceive. Not that it defies physics, but that it defies our understanding of physics. Much in the same way that quantum mechanics defies our understanding of Newtonian mechanics.

    Let me give an example that may clarify this (and if there are any physicists out there, I apologize for the clumsiness of this–I am not a physicist). In Newtonian physics, outcomes of causes are deterministic. If I do A, then B always occurs. You push on a lever, and the other end of the lever always moves in a predictable fashion. Sometimes these are quite complicated mechanics, and chaos theory shows just how complicated these systems can be (and hard to predict–changing even the smallest of the inputs can have massive implications for the output, but the output is still deterministic).

    Quantum physics is different, as my physics PhD buddy explained to me. In certain QM situations, it is well known that the results of certain inputs are not deterministic at all but probabilistic. So you input A, and there is a 25% chance of B. And a 25% chance of either C, D, or E. Until you do the experiment you don’t know what will happen.

    To me, this is illustrative of how different Eternity is from Time. Not that things in Eternity are non-deterministic, but that we simply don’t have a good understanding of it, and that once someone enters the eternities as God, it no longer has value to speak of them as having once been mortal except to illustrate certain points about our own experience or potential. It has no bearing on their divinity. Period. It is simply irrelevant. It does not impinge on the eternal nature of their divinity. Divinity, once bestowed is eternal. That’s simply how it works.

    Likewise it makes no sense to speak of any potential genealogy of Gods, though any Mormon who hasn’t heard this has been hiding a bit, I suspect. The ultimate question of how did everything ultimately begin, which Christians attack us a bit for allegedly pushing back even further by stating that Heavenly Father is an Exalted man is also irrelevant. If you accept, as the Christian community supposedly does, that God is Eternal, then the universe did not have a beginning. EVERY answer to that question that I have seen indicates the same thing–there has never been a point where there was no existence of anything. Reality is eternal. The form of reality is chaotic and changing. God is unchanging but adaptive. (Which also how I see the gospel–unchanging core doctrine but adaptive to the needs of its adherents, which is why the need for prophets is real).

    I’m beginning to ramble. I’ll stop now.

  26. John Nilsson
    May 12, 2008 at 9:10 am

    Benjamin O,

    How does the Big Bang theory fit in to your view that the universe is eternal?

  27. Missionary Stu
    May 13, 2008 at 6:48 am

    “Oh, Lord, deliver us in due time from the little, narrow prison, almost as it were, total darkness of paper, pen, and ink; – and a crooked, broken, scattered and imperfect language.” — Joseph Smith (History of the Church 1:299)

    Yeah I guess words are so imprisoning that JS couldn’t come right out and say, “I saw God, The Father and His Son Jesus Christ, The Resurrected Lord standing in front of me in the air. I saw the prints of the nails in The Savior’s hands and feet as he stood before me and told me that all other Christians on the earth were wrong and that I should do everything in my power to build up a true church unto Him so that His return to the Earth could be ushered in through the power of the Priesthood.”

    I guess “Personages” was as close as JS could get.

  28. Ray
    May 13, 2008 at 6:55 am

    Sarcasm like that doesn’t help anyone in any way, Stu. It’s simply mean-spirited and offensive, even in an open forum like this.

  29. Missionary Stu
    May 13, 2008 at 7:18 am

    I’d say exposing JS for the fraud that he was helps all who seek the truth about mormonism.

  30. Missionary Stu
    May 13, 2008 at 7:26 am

    JS-H 1:19 “I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight;”

    By this time, eighteen years after the fact, JS must have had an inkling that this PERSONAGE speaking to him was Jesus Christ (or so we are LEAD to believe). Why refer to him as “the Personage who addressed me”? Why not say, “I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and Jesus said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight;”?

    Even saying “The Savior” would be better than “the Personage who addressed me”.

    Talk about being an offender for a word. JS offends and insults us all by not being straight forward with his own account.

  31. Rigel Hawthorne
    May 13, 2008 at 6:41 pm

    I actually like the word personage in this telling of the grove experience. To me, he is telling for new listeners the wonder of an incredible experience first and teaching doctrine second. If he had said he saw Jesus, then people would visualize the paintings of Jesus during his earthly sojourn. If he said he saw the Savior, then they may have visualized the paintings of the resurrected Jesus. The brightness and glory of the Personage he saw defied all description! Joesph wouldn’t learn about the glory of the Celestial Kingdom for years to come. Even if he is making this account after he had learned of the Celestial Kingdom, if it is geared to a new listener, then it would be kept simple so that the listener would feel the same wonder that he experienced without being bogged down by numerous descriptive details.

    The first Personage could have said, “I am Elohim and this is Jesus”, but the formal pattern of introductions in other scriptures was followed with “Beloved Son”. He could have provided more description of physical features…eye color, hair color, robe, whether or not a crown was worn, but those are left for each of us to fill in with our own mental imagery as we read the account.

    When Missionary Stu states, “Yeah I guess words are so imprisoning that JS couldn’t come right out and say, “I saw God, The Father and His Son Jesus Christ, The Resurrected Lord standing in front of me in the air,” I find it striking how similar his request is to what is given in D&C 76:19-23, about a different vision at a different time:

    19 And while we meditated upon these things, the Lord touched the eyes of our understandings and they were opened, and the glory of the Lord shone round about.
    20 And we beheld the glory of the Son, on the bright hand of the Father, and received of his fulness;
    21 And saw the holy angels, and them who are sanctified before his throne, worshiping God, and the Lamb, who worship him forever and ever.
    22 And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!
    23 For we saw him, even on the bright hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—

    Now the difference in the responses to these words by Mish Stu and me exemplifies “wordism” or “uniting around a certain set of words in the same way nationalism is uniting around everyone being from one nation.” I read them with hope and faith; Stu reads them with doubt and cynicism.

  32. Ray
    May 13, 2008 at 7:57 pm

    I debated all evening whether or not to respond to #30; I really struggled with it. I am trying very hard right now to not judge – to be more merciful, and the central part of that is not inflicting harm when I have the power to do so. I have thought and thought and thought about how to phrase what I want to say, and I hope I will be able to do so the way I want to do so.

    It never ceases to amaze me that people who have never seen or spoken with God feel qualified to critique how someone else chooses to describe their experiences with God. Whether Joseph’s First Vision was real or imagined or completely fictitious is not my fundamental concern in this comment; the method of and justification for denial of it is.

    I have had some extremely powerful spiritual experiences in my life, and I share them rarely and with hesitancy specifically because of how I have seen people respond to others who share extremely personal, spiritual experiences. I have seen the way people nit-pick and obsess over the tiniest, most irrelevant aspects and reject entire experiences for what amounts to nothing of significance.

    How do I say I have seen God weep for the sins of His children, without making it seem like I am claiming to have had a vision? How do I encapsulate a conversion story from my mission into a concise narrative without making it seem shallow and formulaic – like I simply copied details and descriptions from other stories? How do I describe a deeply, intensely spiritual experience in such a way that someone who has never had such an experience will “get it” – and how in the world do I share it in a short enough narrative that readers don’t lose interest as the story drags on and on and on? Finally, how do I summarize an experience with the Holy Ghost in such a way that someone who knows nothing of the Holy Ghost will understand what I mean?

    Take my struggles and multiply them exponentially to encompass a visit from deity. The account Joseph wrote wasn’t for the Christian world. It was for humanity at large. It was told in a tone of awe and astonishment – in a way that describes inexpressible wonder. “I saw two personages” is a PERFECT description of what initially must have hit Joseph’s brain – BEFORE he had any idea of who the personages were. There is NO indication anywhere that Joseph expected to see God, the Father, and Jesus, the Christ, when he entered the woods. There is NO reason to think that, upon seeing them, he immediately thought, “Cool, this is the Father and the Son.” Again, “personages” describes perfectly what he must have seen and thought as they appeared. It only was AFTER “the first spoke, calling me by name, and said, pointing to the other, ‘This is my Beloved Son. Here Him,’” that Joseph must have begun to comprehend what was happening to him. Given my own experiences with overpowering spiritual experiences, I’m fairly certain he walked out of that grove with his head spinning – literally reeling from what had happened.

    Therefore, Stu, my response is very simple. Stating your disbelief in Joseph’s account is one thing; ridiculing his choice of words to describe it is quite another. It is juvenile and immature. Your response literally made Joseph an offender for a word, and it did so by focusing on a word that was perhaps the most appropriate word he possibly could have chosen. His account, for the purpose it served then and now, is MUCH more appropriate and powerful and comprehensive and “inspired” than yours – and it’s not even close.

    As you know from a previous thread, I have looked closely (minutely, with dictionary in hand) at JSH 1:19 to try to understand what it actually says, and I can say with confidence that I have never read a more concise yet comprehensive description of the apostasy and its practical effects than that verse. Contrary to what many have claimed, both inside and outside the Church, it is quite measured and focused – and brilliantly precise. I have read lengthy treatises on the topic, by Mormons scholars and by Protestant theologians (though the Protestant theologians obviously didn’t use the word “apostasy”), and in all their writings I have not once read as powerful and comprehensive a treatise as I see in that one small verse. He who wrote it was an uneducated farmer, so I choose to believe he was summarizing deity.

    Everyone knows we disagree on this central belief. I accept it; you do not. That is clear. I will never ask you to change your belief simply because it is different than mine. Never. I will ask you, however, in a forum like this, with people of many different perspectives, that you abstain from patently offensive and simplistic attacks. “I’d say exposing JS for the fraud that he was helps all who seek the truth about mormonism” is exactly that type of comment on this type of blog. You know it is highly offensive to many who blog here; you know we have considered and reconciled things that are MUCH more complex and nuanced than Joseph’s use of the word “personage”; you know that such a statement won’t do anything whatsoever to contribute to shared understanding or insight; it is gratuitous bile in the truest sense of the word.

    I have no authority on this blog, and I would NOT encourage anyone who does to do anything “official” in such instances. First, it’s not my right, and, second, I wouldn’t want it anyway. My request is nothing more than a personal one that you are free to ignore with impunity and with no concern for “punishment” of any kind. I will not ridicule your lack of belief; please do not ridicule my belief. Critique it in context of each thread if you must; just don’t deign to dictate how I and others decide to express our experiences with divinity.

  33. Bruce Nielson
    May 13, 2008 at 8:12 pm

    Rigel and Ray,

    Well said.

    I think we have some good examples right here on this forum of the very things I wrote about in this post.

  34. Ammon Rye
    May 13, 2008 at 9:59 pm

    Ray said, “Given my own experiences with overpowering spiritual experiences, I’m fairly certain he walked out of that grove with his head spinning – literally reeling from what had happened.”

    And after 18 years JS was still reeling from the experience to the point he couldn’t write the account using more direct verbiage? Give me a break.

    Given JS’s account of 1832, I would say that the first vision account was a “work (of fiction) in progress”. Had JS immediately made some notes in 1820 and simply “rounded out” the story as time went by, we might not be having this discussion.

  35. Ray
    May 13, 2008 at 10:17 pm

    “And after 18 years JS was still reeling from the experience to the point he couldn’t write the account using more direct verbiage? Give me a break.”

    *Sigh* Did you even read the entire comment?

    I’m done with this topic. It’s not going anywhere, and it won’t no matter how hard any of us try. We simply see things differently.

  36. hawkgrrrl
    May 13, 2008 at 10:48 pm

    Ray – thanks for your responses. This is one of the more ironic threadjacks I’ve seen.

  37. Missionary Stu
    May 14, 2008 at 6:42 am

    Ray,

    I’ve noticed that when a challenge to mormonism is made, you revert to this “I’ve-had-intense-spiritual-experiences-in-my-life” type of argument. I’m not going to discount your spiritual experiences, but I wonder how the spiritual experiences of the Muslim, Jew, or Buddhist measure up to yours? Just because a person wants to believe in something, doesn’t mean that something is True.

    Having said that, defenders of mormonism like to point out that JS was this simple farm boy with little to no formal education. Seems to me that someone so simple would be straight forward in his manner of describing SIGNIFICANT events from his life rather than some nuanced, round about way of speaking.

    We know JS is capable of referring directly to Jesus and God, The Father from other visions JS supposedly had. Why is this one any different?

    I guess the bottom line is this: NO ONE can prove the first vision actual happened and NO ONE can prove that it didn’t happen. However, the evidence and JS’s own contradictory accounts give rise to the likelihood that if SOMETHING happened among the trees of Upstate NY, the 1838 account is probably not even close to an accurate account and most likely a lie.

  38. Missionary Stu
    May 14, 2008 at 6:50 am

    Hawkgrrl,

    Threadjack? Are you serious? The first vision is right at the heart of mormonism and whether JS was a true prophet of God or a fraud.

    All my life I have heard leaders of the church try to teach that we know more about the nature of God because of the first vision and how great it is to have this knowledge. Since JS is unable to keep his own story straight or offer up a definitive description of the events by using terms that are unequivocal, we are left to spend all this time and energy debating over an event that never occurred (except in JS’s imagination.)

  39. Ray
    May 14, 2008 at 8:33 am

    #37 – Stu, I will try one more time to answer your specific statement about me.

    “I’ve noticed that when a challenge to mormonism is made, you revert to this “I’ve-had-intense-spiritual-experiences-in-my-life” type of argument.”

    I “reverted” to that “type of argument” specifically because your comment turned the conversation to that type of experience. I spoke of my experiences because YOU mocked the way Joseph described his. If you go back and read what I have written on this blog and others, I RARELY talk of my intense spiritual experiences – and I do so only when they are relevant to the conversation. This is one such case; discussions of the priesthood ban is another. In context, my mention of them in this thread was appropriate and on tangent to what YOU said. Iow, I didn’t “revert” to that “type of argument”; you turned it in that direction.

    “I’m not going to discount your spiritual experiences, but I wonder how the spiritual experiences of the Muslim, Jew, or Buddhist measure up to yours?”

    I have said over and over and over again that others can have spiritual experiences just as I do. I have NEVER ONCE said otherwise.

    “Just because a person wants to believe in something, doesn’t mean that something is True.”

    I have NEVER ONCE made that claim. (Btw, you once accused me of not having my experiences because I used the phrase “even if I am wrong”. You can’t have it both ways – criticizing me when I say I believe something, then criticizing me when I say there is a chance I am wrong.)

    I don’t like being asked to answer what I haven’t said. It’s easy to skim what others write and assume it must say what you have heard others say. It’s just not considerate, and I try very hard only to address what someone else actually says. I try to give you that consideration; all I ask is that you do the same for me.

    “Having said that, defenders of mormonism like to point out that JS was this simple farm boy with little to no formal education. Seems to me that someone so simple would be straight forward in his manner of describing SIGNIFICANT events from his life rather than some nuanced, round about way of speaking.

    We know JS is capable of referring directly to Jesus and God, The Father from other visions JS supposedly had. Why is this one any different?”

    Again, you are putting your expectations on others, when there are perfectly good responses to your question. I already gave one – essentially, that Joseph tried to write an official version that reflected his actual experience at the time. When they first appeared to him, he could not have known who they were. At that moment, all he could know was that they were “personages”, so he used that word to describe them in the official account. That word fits the actual experience perfectly – again, even if you don’t believe the experience was real.

    **Even if you don’t believe the account, I just don’t understand how in the world such an easily explainable thing – with no mental gymnastics required at all – can be such an issue for you.** I understand other concerns and “faith-testers”, but I simply don’t get that one. It’s just too easy to explain.

    Now I really am done. As I said, we each know where the other stands. I’m really not interested in discussing such a minor point any further, since I think both of us have made our beliefs known about it – and neither one of us is going to change the other’s mind. Feel free to have the last word, if you want.

    (Btw, this is a threadjack since the First Vision doesn’t address the actual thread in any way, shape or form. Not every conversation about the Church is relevant to each and every thread posted on a Mormon-themed blog.)

  40. hawkgrrrl
    May 14, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    Stu – my threadjack comment is because this post is not about the First Vision. It’s about making others an offender for a word through deliberately or even unintentionally misunderstanding them. The irony is that you are parsing the words of a man who died a hundred fifty years ago and claiming it as part of your litany of proof that he was a liar and a fraud, despite the fact that many who frequent this side see it differently and revere the man you revile. That’s an ironic threadjack.

    “All my life I have heard leaders of the church try to teach that we know more about the nature of God because of the first vision and how great it is to have this knowledge.” All they refer to is the fact that God looks like us and is a separate person from Jesus. You obviously don’t believe, but for those who do, that is a substantial piece of information about the nature of God.

  41. Joe P.
    May 22, 2008 at 9:47 am

    Jesus is most definately God. The one and only God. The bible never says otherwise. Your discussion of the meaning of the word God is rediculous. It sounds like the Bill Clinton’s definition of what “is” is.

    Why do you disect John 1:1 to match the teachings of the LDS faith… Why not simply read it for what it is?

    John 1
    1In the beginning was the Word [Christ], and the Word [Christ] was with God, and the Word [Christ] was God.

    2The same was in the beginning with God.

    3All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

    4In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

    5And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

  42. Ray
    May 22, 2008 at 10:39 am

    Joe P., how many times is the word “WITH” mentioned in the verses you just quoted?

  43. Joe P.
    May 22, 2008 at 11:36 am

    2

    If God and Jesus were both “with” each other in the “beginning” before ANYTHING was made… What is the difference? God and Jesus are two persons in one God.

    To say that Christ is the literal Son, a spirit child, of God is not biblical.

    Read the entire passage. How can you honestly say that Jesus isn’t God. How can you honestly say he was born later, when he was there in the BEGINNING OF EVERYTHING?

    I would suggest that you don’t twist the scriptures to what the LDS faith believes. Read it for yourself and decide, study the original Greek, etc…

  44. Ray
    May 22, 2008 at 12:11 pm

    Joe, you are misrepresenting what Mormons believe. Read the actual post and all the comments. We believe Jesus is God, the Son – the second member of the Godhead – the Creator, Redeemer, Savior, Judge, God of the Old Testament, God of Israel, King of Kings, Spiritual Father, etc. Our own terminology is that God and Jesus and the Holy Ghost are three persons in one God.

    Again, the answer to the question of the post (both in the post and from the vast majority of the commenters) is, “YES, Jesus is God.”

  45. Joe P.
    May 22, 2008 at 5:05 pm

    Ray. Am I really misrepresenting what mormons believe? Or are you?

    “I will preach on the plurality of Gods…. I wish to declare that I have always and in all congregations when I preached on the subject of the Deity, it has been the plurality of Gods. It has been preached by the Elders for fifteen years. I have always declared God [the Father] to be a distinct personage, Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and the Holy Spirit was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods. If this is in accordance with the New Testament, lo and behold! We have three Gods, anyhow, and they are plural; and who can contradict it?” (Joseph F. Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 370)

    “How many Gods there are, I do not know. But there never was a time when there were not Gods and worlds, and when men were not passing through the same ordeals that we are now passing through. That course has been from all eternity, and it will be to all eternity.” (Brigham Young, in Discourses of Brigham Young arranged by John A. Widtsoe, pp.22-23)

  46. Bruce Nielson
    May 22, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    Joe P asks: “Ray. Am I really misrepresenting what mormons believe? Or are you?”

    You are mispresresenting, Joe. You’re also doing a darn good job of demonstrating the kind of behavior I was writing about.

    If Ray, as a Mormon, says he believes that “God and Jesus and the Holy Ghost are three persons in one God” you’ll have to forgive me, but I think your insisting he is lying is rather rude and speaks much about your real intent and sincerity to have a dialog with him about his Mormon beliefs.

  47. Ray
    May 22, 2008 at 7:02 pm

    Joe, I will try one more time to be VERY clear:

    First, the base – Orthodox Christianity does NOT agree on how best to explain what it means to be “God” – not does it agree on how to describe God. *Anyone*, regardless of denomination, who has studied the words of the Christian fathers understands that.

    Since there is no agreement **even in orthodoxy**, it is far-fetched to claim that what is considered heterodoxy must “agree with the orthodox belief”. That simply is an impossible standard – a moving target.

    MANY Christians express their belief in “the Trinity” as three Gods in one God; Mormon phrase it as three Gods in one Godhead – united completely in purpose and intent. Jesus prayed that His disciples could be one with Him and His Father as they are one with each other. That more than implies that “oneness” is NOT a matter of integrated physicality (however that is interpreted), but rather a matter of the type of unity expressed in the command for two to leave all others and “become one” in marriage. In fact, a marriage is the symbolism that Jesus used for his directive to be united with Him. A marriage can be termed “two parents in one parenthood”, just as orthodox Christianity has termed the phrase “three Gods in one God”. (BTW, Joe, you wrote “two Gods in one God”. In all my studies among a wide variety of Christians, I have never heard that common phrase used to exclude the Holy Ghost from the person of God.)

    So, you can argue lucidly that the Mormon conception of God is different than yours – and I wouldn’t argue at all. To claim that Mormons don’t believe that Jesus is God, however, is simplistic and ignorant – or calculated and uncaring. I will give you the benefit of the doubt and attribute it simply to being ignorant.

  48. Ray
    May 22, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    #47 – One more point, since your last comment posted while I was typing mine:

    The post and my comments were NOT addressing the concept of “One God”. I was addressing your statement that Mormons are lying when we say we believe that Jesus is God. I won’t keep addressing a shifting target. I’m not interested in those games. We disagree, but I am not lying or misrepresenting Mormon belief. Let’s leave it at that.

  49. Bruce Nielson
    May 22, 2008 at 7:39 pm

    Joe says:
    >>> I agree with him on the concept of three persons in one God. However, to say that this is what the LDS faith teaches is totally false

    Joe, here is what Mormons teach from the Book of Mormon:

    Mosiah 15:1-4
    1 And now Abinadi said unto them: I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people.
    2 And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son—
    3 The Father, abecause he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son—
    4 And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth.

    2 Ne. 26: 12
    12 And as I spake concerning the convincing of the Jews, that Jesus is the very Christ, it must needs be that the Gentiles be convinced also that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God;

    It would appear that you are either misinformed or lying. Please enlighten us which it is.

    Oh, and from this moment forward, you are no longer misinformed. So if you continue to speak as you do and put words and beliefs into the mouths Mormons you are now lying. Thank you for your time.

    And thank you for the wonderful example of what this post was about.

  50. Bruce Nielson
    May 22, 2008 at 7:42 pm

    Oh, and Joe, please explain to me how Jesus, the Holy Ghost, and the Father are “one God” from your point of view. I’ve already explained it at length from my point of view, so I think this is a fair question to you.

    Do you mean that they are each 1/3 of God?

    Do you mean that Jesus is only 1/3 divine?

    If you mean Jesus is fully God, then please explain how Jesus — being fully “God” by Himself — and the Father — being also fully “God” by Himself — are not the same person.

    But if Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Ghost are all separate persons, but also all fully God by themselves, then please explain in what sense you don’t believe in three Gods? (because it sure sounds to me like that formula would numerically be three Gods.)

    I’ve already explained that the word “God,” for me, has more than one meaning. This easily solves the questions I just asked you because I use different senses of the word. (I, in fact, already answered them in my post above, indirectly.)

    You are the one claiming that the word “God” has only one meaning for you. So those questions are logically valid for you and you should be able to explain them to me without having to have multiple definitions of the word “God.” So please, go ahead and explain.

  51. Bruce Nielson
    May 23, 2008 at 6:55 am

    Joe P says: “The LDS concept of God is not consistent” (Then goes on a very very long rant, that at least proves he’s not ignorant of Mormon beliefs.)

    Joe P also says: “Any explanation saying Mormons believe there is only one God is a complete misrepresenation of the LDS faith.”

    Joe, please reconcile those two statements for me. Your second statement required that Mormons had a consistent teaching of polytheism to be true. Now you are admiting that actually Mormon scripture and theology does teach monotheism (at least part of the time.) So I no longer understand how you can justify your statement that Mormons consistently teach polytheism and that they are lying if they say otherwise. Don’t we at least get to pick which part of our (you claim) inconsistent teachings we feel best represents us?

    And since you’ve now proven you aren’t ignorant, please explain how you justify bearing false witness of LDS people like you are doing. This isn’t a small issue, Joe P. What you are now doing is immoral.

    Joe P says: “The answer your 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 question is simple. Jesus is both fully God and fully man”

    Hmm… so let me do a little bit of math… Jesus is fully God by Himself. The Father is fully God by Himself. The Holy Ghost is fully God by Himself.

    1+1+1 = ?

  52. Joe P.
    May 23, 2008 at 9:41 am

    As I said earlier. When Joseph Smith began his religion he started off teaching there is only one God. Then he twisted the beliefs of the LDS faith to teach polytheism (and the fact that man can become a God). Now, even today, the LDS faith teaches there are multiple Gods and you can become a God.

    How can you possibly say that the LDS faith teaches both monotheism and the fact that man can become a God. This makes absolutely no sense. You can not deny that the LDS faith teaches that you can receive Godhood (equally with the Father and the Son). The official LDS website states the following:

    Blessings of Exaltation
    Our Heavenly Father is perfect. However, he is not jealous of his wisdom and perfection. He glories in the fact that it is possible for his children to become like him. He has said, “This is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).

    Those who receive exaltation in the celestial kingdom through faith in Jesus Christ will receive special blessings. The Lord has promised, “All things are theirs” (D&C 76:59). These are some of the blessings given to exalted people:

    1. They will live eternally in the presence of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ (see D&C 76).

    2. They will become gods.

    3. They will have their righteous family members with them and will be able to have spirit children also. These spirit children will have the same relationship to them as we do to our Heavenly Father. They will be an eternal family.

    4. They will receive a fulness of joy.

    5. They will have everything that our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have—all power, glory, dominion, and knowledge. President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote: “The Father has promised through the Son that all that he has shall be given to those who are obedient to his commandments. They shall increase in knowledge, wisdom, and power, going from grace to grace, until the fulness of the perfect day shall burst upon them” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:36).

    Here is a link to the website.

    So man can become a God. Having all the all the power, glory, dominion, and knowledge of the Father and Jesus Christ. They can have spirit children with the same relationship that we have to to the Father… This sounds like multiple Gods under the same definition of “God” that is given to the Father. This is a complete abomonation of the Gospel. Man can not become God, and never will be God.

    In explaining the Trinity I’ll be the first to admit it is a complex subject hard to understand. Looking at God from our human persepective is very difficult. You can’t drag God down to the human level of understanding and explain him at human terms.

    Now that you admit I’m not ignorant on the LDS faith perhaps you should study the concept of the Trinity? From reading your responses it appears you are ignorant on this particular subject.

    Bruce said: Hmm… so let me do a little bit of math… Jesus is fully God by Himself. The Father is fully God by Himself. The Holy Ghost is fully God by Himself. 1+1+1 = ?

    Yes that is exactly what I’m saying. Do you not think an all powerful God that can speak all creation into existance could also live in three different entities (all 100% at the same time)?

  53. Bruce Nielson
    May 23, 2008 at 9:53 am

    >>> As I said earlier. When Joseph Smith began his religion he started off teaching there is only one God. Then he twisted the beliefs of the LDS faith to teach polytheism…

    Joe, you aren’t getting this. Even if I assume you are right (which I do not believe you are) that Joseph Smith taught contradictory things over time, you are still lying and misrepresenting *modern day Mormons* if you insist they don’t believe in monotheism — since they do indeed believe in the monotheism of the Book of Mormon.

    Clearly, from your point of view (which you explained adequetly), Mormons are both monotheist and polytheist and they have a contradiction on their hands (as do you with your beliefs in God as a Trinity.) But that would no more make Mormons polytheists then it makes you one.

    >>> Yes that is exactly what I’m saying. Do you not think an all powerful God that can speak all creation into existance could also live in three different entities (all 100% at the same time)?

    Sure I do. But I also recognize that logically that means you, in a numerical sense, believe in three gods since there are three entities that all separate from each other but also each fully God. And thus you are a polytheist in the same sense that you are accusing Mormons of being. (For, as per my post, that is exactly what I said: Mormons believe in both one God in one sense of the word and three Gods in a different sense of the word.)

    I am not asking for you to accept the label “polytheist.” I am only expecting you to apply your standards to which you hold yourself to Mormons as well and to stop lying/misrepresenting by claiming Mormons are lying/misrepresenting.

    Your refusal to let Mormons define their own beliefs — for that is what you are doing — is intolerant and is leading you to immoral behavior.

    It’s also time for someone living a glass house, as you are, to stop throwing stones at Mormons. For you said: “In explaining the Trinity I’ll be the first to admit it is a complex subject hard to understand. Looking at God from our human persepective is very difficult. You can’t drag God down to the human level of understanding and explain him at human terms.”

    And yet, isn’t that what you are doing with the Mormon understanding of God? Yes, it is. You are taking a “complex subject hard to understand” in Mormon beliefs about God and dragging it down to your level and then spouting it back out in an unrecognizable form. Your judgments are the standard by which you should judge others. For what measure you mete…

  54. Joe P.
    May 23, 2008 at 10:11 am

    Okay if you insist on defining the Trinity as polytheistic I don’t mind. Call it whatever you want. Giving you the full benefit of the doubt you are limited to three Gods.

    Why did you avoid answering my question on how you can simultaneously believe in one God, and that man can become God (just like the Father and Christ)?

    Bruce said: Your refusal to let Mormons define their own beliefs — for that is what you are doing — is intolerant and is leading you to immoral behavior.

    Am I refusing to let you define your beliefs? No. I’m asking you to explain the contradictions in your belief structure. I’m also standing up and saying your original post is a complete falsehood. Jesus Christ is my best friend. If you saw someone totally misrepresenting your best friend wouldn’t you say something?

  55. Bruce Nielson
    May 23, 2008 at 10:56 am

    >>> Am I refusing to let you define your beliefs? No. I’m asking you to explain the contradictions in your belief structure

    No, actually, you are defining my beliefs for me by putting words into my mouth.

    If you were asking for me to explain my contradictions you’d approach it very differently than you currently are. For starters you’d recognize that though you may disagree with my individual beliefs (detailed in full in the post), they are certainly not contradictory.

    But now that we are on the subject of contradictory beliefs, are yours contradictory? Please explain this seeming contradiction to me within your belief structure: “Okay if you insist on defining the Trinity as polytheistic I don’t mind. Call it whatever you want. Giving you the full benefit of the doubt you are limited to three Gods.”

    So please explain why if you believe in three Gods (in a numerical sense at least) why there would be a limit at three? Why not 4? Why not 5? Why not 1,000,000,000?

    Do you not think an all powerful God that can speak all creation into existance could also exist in 1,000,0000,000 different entities (all 100% at the same time)?

    And that, my friend, IS the explanation of the very question you asked (“Why did you avoid answering my question on how you can simultaneously believe in one God, and that man can become God”) and why Mormons are monotheists as much as you are.

    While you may not personally believe it could be more than 3, there is certainly no logical contradiction in Mormons believing otherwise — as per your own arguments. If you are going to claim there can be three persons that are one God, the Mormon belief that humans can become additional persons in that one God (via the Grace of God alone) should cause you no logical issues at all — lest you apply a double standard (which is what you are doing.)

  56. Joe P.
    May 23, 2008 at 11:18 am

    Bruce said: So please explain why if you believe in three Gods (in a numerical sense at least) why there would be a limit at three? Why not 4? Why not 5? Why not 1,000,000,000?

    Because the bible tells me so. I’m not wishy washy in what I believe. I don’t need a church to interpret the bible for me with modern revelations. My personal faith is in Christ and his Word.

    I have a pop-quiz question for you. Where did the concept of becoming a God originate? Where is it spoken of in the bible, and who spoke it?

  57. Joe P.
    May 23, 2008 at 11:19 am

    Clarification… I never said I believe in three Gods…

  58. Bruce Nielson
    May 23, 2008 at 11:36 am

    Joe P:

    Actually you already admited that in a sense you believe in three Gods in the way I’m using the term: “Okay if you insist on defining the Trinity as polytheistic I don’t mind. Call it whatever you want.” So that’s what I’m doing. You see, I believe in both 1 God and 3 Gods — in different senses of the word as I use it. According to my senses of the word, so do you.

    That’s the whole issue here, Joe P. You are taking word-offense. You are saying that you don’t believe in multiple Gods but Mormons do. But if we uniformly apply your defintion of “God” Mormons don’t either. And likewise, if we uniformly apply the Mormon definitions of “God” you believe in multiple Gods too. It’s that simple.

    >>> Because the bible tells me so.

    Ah, well, now we’ve reached the real truth. (As I knew it would eventually come out.)

    After who knows how many words of you arguing that Mormons don’t believe in monotheism, that they are lying if they say otherwise, and that they believe contradictions (once the first two assertions were proven wrong)… it turns out that what you ACTUALLY meant from the very beginning is that you read and interpret the Bible differently then Mormons do so you think 3 Persons that are 1 God is okay, but 1,000,000,000 Persons that are 1 God isn’t. Very well. But apparently you’ve been misrepresenting up to this point. And apparently there was never anything contradictory about Mormon beliefs — as per your own arguments.

    Why didn’t you just start this whole discussion with “I read the Bible to mean there are only 3 persons in one God and that will never change, and if Mormons believe in more than 3 persons in that one God then I disagree with them!”?

    Now that would have been an accurate and tolerant (i.e. non-misrepresenting/lying) way to discuss our beliefs and differences. And we’d actually be having a discussion by now where we learn from each other.

    But unfortunatly you opted for bearing false witness instead. Leaving me the perfect opportunity to show everyone what I was talking about when I said

    And then I believe there is a moral issue here too. The moral demands of self definition are very different than the moral demands of how we define others.

    The truth is that I’ve know from the beginning that this was actually just a difference in the number of persons we feel “God” can be made up of. (And also how we explain that paradox: you through substance theology, Mormons through moral will theology.) I simply kept this up this long because I was waiting for you to finally admit it was really just about how you interpret the Bible and the rest of what you were arguing was slandering Mormons and their beliefs.

    At this point, I think there is nothing else for me to say. You’ve proven my point so well and so much better than my own words did.

  59. Joe P.
    May 23, 2008 at 11:54 am

    Where did I lie?

  60. May 26, 2008 at 9:54 pm

    Joe P:
    “Where did the concept of becoming a God originate? Where is it spoken of in the bible, and who spoke it?” I’ve been meaning to write a post on this for quite some time, I just keep getting sidetracked on more pertinent things like charity and grace. I’ll get there though. And we’ll have a nice discussion. :)

    “read the bible with an open mind, avoiding the negative influence of the LDS false teachings.” I think this is a completely subjective view. Who can tell someone else that they have the correct interpretation of Biblical teachings? Only God, right? I suppose that is a topic for another thread as well, lol.

  61. Ray
    May 26, 2008 at 10:34 pm

    Joe P., Adam can tackle the answer to your question if he wants to do it, but becoming like God is one of the most central principles of the Bible. It’s stated in so many places so clearly that it’s amazing to realize sincere people don’t see it.

    Let me rephrase that:

    Every Christian I have ever met believes that the Bible says it when you point out the verses that say it; they just don’t believe it actually can happen. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation, pointed out dozens of verses and passages that CLEARLY state that becoming like God is the entire purpose of life, and had them say, “That’s figurative. We can’t REALLY become like God.” (You know, the whole “form of godliness, but deny the power thereof” concept.)

    Remove the concept of becoming like God, and you might as well throw the entire tome in the trash. At this point, I’ve almost given up on people who are so convinced by the post-Biblical scholars (the “Christian fathers”) that they rationalize away the Bible they claim to believe.

  62. Bruce Nielson
    May 27, 2008 at 6:59 am

    Joe P:

    Even if we assume Mormons entirely disbelieve the Bible (your assumption, not mine) you are still lying if you claim Mormons believe something that Mormons say they don’t believe. This is what you are doing! That is immoral and, if done knowingly (which you now are) it’s a lie.

    Whether or not Mormons believe in the Bible is another matter altogether and irrelevant to the discussion you’ve held so far. You are changing subjects now from being a discuss about “what Mormons believe” to whether or not those beliefs can be found in the Bible — without settling the first question.

    But you have yet to allow me to self-define my beliefs as I am allowing you to do — thus I see no reason to continue any conversations with you. In fact, I doubt anyone will have dialog with you until you stop being intolerant towards others. It’s clear you are just here to misrepresent and lie about us. Until you can at least accept that you don’t get to decide “what Mormons believe” and it is the Mormons that get to decide that, you are not even beginning to have dialog with us.

    I have shown here that using your own questionable tactics, I can just as easily show you are a polytheist. I have shown here that your argument that multiple persons can be in one God means you must logically accept Mormons as monotheists (for that is what we believe too, that there are multiple persons in one God, each fully God) or you are being inconsistent. Please note that neither of these arguments that you made — and that I put down logically — has anything to do with the Bible. Your arguments were purely philosophical and logic based.

    Before I’d even consider changing subjects to discuss whether or not the Bible allows for the idea that God will make us like Him you’d have to at least acknowledge to me what my real beliefs are, and admit that you misunderstood my beliefs up to this point. You haven’t done this, so I believe this conversation is over.

    To be honest, I think your approach and attitude speaks for itself and is nicely captured here now.

  63. Joe P.
    May 27, 2008 at 9:16 am

    Bruce: You continue to say I lie because, “I claim Mormons believe something that Mormons say they don’t believe.” It would help me greatly if you would summarize specifically what I’ve said that Mormons don’t believe.

    I don’t know how to make it more clear than I already have. You personally believe you can someday become a God. I say the trinity is limited to three persons in one God. This is a drastic difference in theology.

    This is the only reference in the bible I’m aware of that speaks of man becoming a God:

    Genesis 3
    1Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?

    2And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:

    3But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.

    4And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:

    5For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

  64. Bruce Nielson
    May 27, 2008 at 9:56 am

    Joe P asks for examples of where he has (intentionally or unintentionally) misrepresented Mormons:

    Joe P says:

    Ray. Am I really misrepresenting what mormons believe? Or are you?

    Joe P says:

    Ray can believe whatever he wants. I agree with him on the concept of three persons in one God. However, to say that this is what the LDS faith teaches is totally false. [Note: Joe later admits that the Book of Mormon teaches monotheism. Was Joe here discounting the Book of Mormon as being part of Mormon theology? Or was Joe intentionally misrepresenting Mormonism by taking only part of our teachings?] This conversation appears to be a twist on the LDS belief to say, “Oh yeah… We believe in the trinity, just like the other Christians.” This is not what LDS doctorine teaches.

    Joe P says:

    “However, Mormons do not believe that there is only one God. Any explanation saying Mormons believe there is only one God is a complete misrepresenation of the LDS faith. [note: This said right after demonstrating the Book of Mormon teaches of one God and Joe admitting this was true. Does Joe not see his own inconsistency here? Does Joe think it's okay to try to hold us to only certain of our beliefs?] Mormons are polytheists. Not monotheists. [note: I have never in my life heard any Mormon refer to themselves as a polytheist. But apparently Joe thinks if we don't call ourselves that, we are lying.]“

    And yet here are two Mormons (myself and Ray) claiming that Mormons are monotheists and that we believe in (as you do) in multiple persons that make up that one God each of which is fully God also. If this makes us polytheists, it logically makes you one too. This is basic logic, Joe. Asking for you to be consistent is not asking much of you.

    Joe P says:

    Am I refusing to let you define your beliefs? No. I’m asking you to explain the contradictions in your belief structure. [Note: ah, now we have an open admission from Joe that Mormons DO believe in monotheism and that we (in his view) have contradictory beliefs to that. But that is a world apart from the quotes above where he was claiming it was "totally false" that we teach monotheism. So which is it, Joe, it it totally false that we teach monotheism, or do we teach contradictory doctrines -- half of which are monotheism? Either way now, you logically have to admit to a lie or a misrepresentation.]

    We definitely understand that multiple persons in God differently than you do. (See my article here for further explanation.) But you don’t get to decide that just because you disagree with our explanation that this means we’re the same as polytheists. Period. (Any more than Muslims get to decide the same for you. Do Muslims properly represent you when they call you, as a creedal Christian, a polytheist? I’m only asking you to be consistent, Joe.)

    You are either going to agree with us that — from our point of view — we are monotheists and that we are properly representing our theology as we understand it, or you are going to continue to claim we are lying or misrepresenting. Since we aren’t lying or misrepresenting and have proved this to you now, there is now a question of whether or not you are lying and no longer just unintentionally misrepresenting.

    Asking you to stop calling us liars and let us speak for ourselves is proper for any conversation. Not discussing it with you further if can’t be matured about it is also proper. It’s like the little kid that calls all the other kids names and keeps hitting them. You eventually have to just not play with him lest you devolve to his level.

    And now I really am done, Joe, until you take back that we are misrepresenting our beliefs and allow us to speak for ourselves.

  65. May 27, 2008 at 10:04 am

    I have to agree with Bruce on this Joe. We should all be able to state our own beliefs, not those of another faith. You can speak for yours and we can speak for ours, but you are telling people of another faith what their religion teaches.

  66. Ray
    May 27, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    Joe P., This is a sincere question:

    Ignore the discussions of lying and misrepresenting. Interpretations aside, if I can show you even as low as 10-12 references IN THE BIBLE where it says that we are to become like God, will you accept that the Bible says this? Again, we can interprest these verses and passages differently, but will you adnmit that it is a “Biblical” teaching?

    If so, I will pursue this. If not, I am done.

  67. Bruce Nielson
    June 15, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    I wanted to capture this quote for posterity:

    Bruce Milne says in Know the Truth: A Handbook of Christian Belief:

    Christian writers use the word ‘God’ in two ways; sometimes they mean the Father in particular, at other times, the entire Godhead…. Many sects miss this important distinction and so fall into difficulties with biblical teaching concerning the full Godhead of the Son and Spirit.

    As quoted in How Wide the Divide? by Craig Blomberg, p. 212 in footnote 14. So here we have an open admission that all Christians religions must accept multiple defintions of the word ‘God’ to make sense of the Bible.