An essay on Becoming Like God was added in early 2014 in the topical guide of the LDS.org website. The essay discusses the LDS doctrinal concept of becoming gods. It is found here: Becoming Like God
A MormonThink editor responds to the essay below.
One of the main guiding principles of MormonThink is to evaluate claims made by the Church and see how that compares to historical facts and to what was taught by the Church. For the most part, we avoid truly religious faith issues like "did God have sex with Mary to create Jesus?" because frankly no one can prove them right or wrong. We are only interested in examining historical issues about which there is some evidence to examine.
Likewise, no one can provide any real evidence that men can become gods or that men cannot become gods. Therefore, we at MormonThink (MT) have not analyzed or critiqued this belief in any of the topics presented on our website.
However, although MT does not object to the belief that men can become gods and does not use this as any sort of evidence for or against the truth claims of the LDS Church, we do take exception to this essay for omissions made and some misleading statements that give the belief more substance than perhaps it should have.
Although many of us do not necessarily support the views of tradition Christian theologians, we think their views should also be given as many Latter-day Saints only know the LDS view of these issues and might be interested in what other Christians have to say on the topic.
1) Bible support for men becoming gods and plurality of gods. Essay states:
What does the Bible say about humans' divine potential?
Several biblical passages intimate that humans can become like God. The likeness of humans to God is emphasized in the first chapter of Genesis: "God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." After Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil," God said they had "become as one of us," suggesting that a process of approaching godliness was already underway.
Non-LDS theologians respond to this argument as follows:
"Let us make man"
It is alleged by Mormons that the use of the plural in this verse implies a multiplicity of "gods." However, an examination of the context reveals that the doctrine of the Trinity is being conveyed (see Leupold, 1942, 1:86ff.).
The Holy Spirit was active at the Creation, "hovering over the face of the waters" (1:2). "Hovering" refers to attentive participation (cf. Deuteronomy 32:11). Elsewhere, the Bible makes clear that Jesus also was present at the Creation, in active participation with Deity's creative activity (John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2; 2:10). Hence, when God spoke of "Us," He was referring to Himself and the other two members of the divine Essence [cf. "Godhead" (theotes) in Colossians 2:9, "divine" nature (theios) in Acts 17:29 and 2 Peter 1:3-4, and "divinity" (theioteis) in Romans 1:20. The first term (theotes) differs from the third term (theioteis) "as essence differs from quality or attribute" (Thayer, 1901, p. 288; cf. Vine, 1966, pp. 328-329; Warfield, 1939b, 2:1268-1270)]. Some (e.g., Archer, 1982, p. 74) have suggested that God was including the angels in the "us," since "sons of God" sometimes can refer to the angels (e.g., Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; cf. Psalms 29:1; 89:6), and "sons of God" can be shortened to "God" while still referring to angels (e.g., compare Psalm 97:7 with Hebrews 1:6, and Psalm 8:5 with Hebrews 2:7,9). In either case, the fact remains that the Bible presents a consistent picture that there is only one God, and that this divine essence includes three—and only three—persons.
The essay goes on to quote Bible verses suggesting men can become gods:
Later in the Old Testament, a passage in the book of Psalms declares, "I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High."
Mainstream Christianity respond thusly:
"Ye shall be as Gods"
Another verse that has been brought forward to substantiate Mormon polytheism is the comment made on the occasion of Adam and Eve being tempted to eat the forbidden fruit: "For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5—NKJV). The King James Version says, "ye shall be as gods." Four points of clarification are in order on this verse. In the first place, Satan made this statement—not God. Satan's declarations are never to be trusted, since he is "a liar and the father of it" (John 8:44).
In the second place, the uncertainty conveyed by the various English translations in their differing treatment of the verse (i.e., whether "God" or "gods") is the result of the underlying Hebrew term elohim. This word is not to be confused with Yahweh, the formal name for God throughout the Old Testament. Elohim is a generic term used some 2,570 times in Scripture, and generally refers to the one true God, but also is used to refer to pagan gods, and even can refer to judges or rulers and, as noted previously, to angels (Harris, et al., 1980, 1:44-45). Though the word is plural in form, it is used in both the plural and singular sense [cf. "face" (panim)—Genesis 50:1; Exodus 34:35 and "image" (teraphim)—1 Samuel 19:13]. English shares a similar phenomenon with its plural nouns like "deer," "seed," "sheep," and "moose." The same form is used, whether referring to one or to many. Hebrew, like most other languages, matched the number (whether singular or plural) of verbs and adjectives with the noun. In the case of elohim, with only rare exception, the verbs and adjectives used with it are either singular or plural in conformity with the intended meaning (Ringgren, 1974, p. 272). Fretheim noted that its use in the Old Testament for Israel's God is "always with singular verbs" (1997, 1:405; cf. Archer, 1982, p. 74).
Some Hebrew scholars maintain that the plural form used to designate the one true God is the pluralis majestatis or excellentiae—the plural of majesty—or the plural of intensification, absolutization, or exclusivity (e.g., Fretheim, 1:405; Gesenius, 1847, p. 49; Harris, et al., p. 44; Mack, 1939, 2:1265; Reeve, 1939, 2:1270), although others question this usage (e.g., Grudem, 1994, p. 227; Jenni and Westermann, 1997, p. 116). In the case at hand, Satan was tempting Eve with the prospect of being like God—Whom she knew, and from Whom she (or at least her husband) had received previous communication (Genesis 2:16-17; 3:3). She knew nothing of other "gods"—pagan or otherwise. Since the term elohim occurs 58 times in the first three chapters of Genesis and is consistently rendered "God," and since Satan himself used the term earlier in the same verse as well as four verses earlier (vs. 1) to refer to the one God, no contextual, grammatical, or lexical reason exists for rendering it "gods" in verse five. In fact, most of the major English translations properly render it "God" (e.g., NKJV, ASV, NASB, NIV, RSV). [See also the discussion in Clarke, n.d., 1:50, who noted that the ancient Syriac version rendered the term correctly].
Third, elohim in this verse has an attached prefix (Biblia Hebraica, 1967/77, p. 4)—what Hebrew scholars call an "inseparable preposition" (Weingreen, 1959, p. 26). In this case, the prepositional prefix is the eleventh letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the kaph, and means "like" or "as." Satan was not saying that Eve would become God or a god; He was saying she would become like God. This realization brings us to a fourth point: the context stipulates in what way Eve would become like God. In the very verse under consideration, an explanatory phrase clarifies what Satan meant: "You will be like God, knowing good and evil" (emp. added). This meaning is evident from subsequent references in the same chapter. When they disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit, "the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew…" (verse 7, emp. added). God commented: "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil" (verse 22, emp. added). In other words, Adam and Eve became like God in the sense that they now were privy to a greater breadth of awareness, understanding, and insight: "They now had a sufficient discovery of their sin and folly in disobeying the command of God; they could discern between good and evil; and what was the consequence? Confusion and shame were engendered, because innocence was lost and guilt contracted" (Clarke, p. 51). As Keil and Delitzsch summarized: "By eating the fruit, man did obtain the knowledge of good and evil, and in this respect became like God" (1976, 1:95, emp. added).
New Testament passages also point to this doctrine. When Jesus was accused of blasphemy on the grounds that "thou, being a man, makest thyself God," He responded, echoing Psalms, "Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?" In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commanded His disciples to become "perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." In turn, the Apostle Peter referred to the Savior's "exceeding great and precious promises" that we might become "partakers of the divine nature." The Apostle Paul taught that we are "the offspring of God" and emphasized that as such "we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ." The book of Revelation contains a promise from Jesus Christ that "to him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne."
Non-LDS theologians respond:
Mormons allege that Jesus here endorsed the notion that men can become "gods." But, of course, Jesus did no such thing. On this occasion, He appealed to an Old Testament context to deflect the barb of His critics. Psalm 82 is a passage that issued a scathing indictment of the unjust judges who had been assigned the responsibility of executing God's justice among the people (cf. Deuteronomy 1:16; 19:17-18; Psalm 58). Such a magistrate was "God's minister" (Romans 13:4) who acted in the place of God, wielding His authority, and who was responsible for mediating God's help and justice (cf. Exodus 7:1). In this sense, they were "gods" (elohim)—acting as God to men (Barclay, 1956, 2:89). Hebrew parallelism clarifies this sense: "I said, 'You are gods, and all of you are children of the Most High'" (Psalm 82:6, emp. added). They did not share divinity with God—but merely delegated jurisdiction. They still were mere humans—although invested with divine authority, and permitted to act in God's behalf.
This point is apparent throughout the Torah, where the term translated "judges" or "ruler" is often elohim (e.g., Exodus 21:6; 22:9,28). Take Moses as an example. Moses was not a "god." Yet God told Moses that when he went to Egypt to achieve the release of the Israelites, he would be "God" to his brother Aaron and to Pharaoh (Exodus 4:16; 7:1). He meant that Moses would supply both his brother and Pharaoh with the words that came from God. Though admittedly a rather rare use of elohim, nevertheless "it shows that the word translated 'god' in that place might be applied to man" (Barnes, 1949, p. 294, emp. in orig.). Clarke summarized this point: "Ye are my representatives, and are clothed with my power and authority to dispense judgment and justice, therefore all of them are said to be children of the Most High" (3:479, emp. in orig.). But because they had shirked their awesome responsibility to represent God's will fairly and accurately, and because they had betrayed the sacred trust bestowed upon them by God Himself, He decreed death upon them (vs. 7). Obviously, they were not "gods," since God could and would execute them!
Jesus marshaled this Old Testament psalm to thwart His opponents' attack, while simultaneously reaffirming His deity (which is the central feature of the book of John—20:30-31). He made shrewd use of syllogistic argumentation by reasoning a minori ad majus (see Lenski, 1943, pp. 765-770; cf. Fishbane, 1985, p. 420). "Jesus is here arguing like a rabbi from a lesser position to a greater position, a 'how much more' argument very popular among the rabbis" (Pack, 1975, 1:178). In fact, "it is an argument which to a Jewish Rabbi would have been entirely convincing. It was just the kind of argument, an argument founded on a word of scripture, which the Rabbis loved to use and found most unanswerable" (Barclay, 1956, p. 90).
Jesus identified the unjust judges of Israel as persons "to whom the word of God came" (John 10:35). That is, they had been "appointed judges by Divine commission" (Butler, 1961, p. 127)—by "the command of God; his commission to them to do justice" (Barnes, 1949, p. 294, emp. in orig.; cf. Jeremiah 1:2; Ezekiel 1:3; Luke 3:2). McGarvey summarized the ensuing argument of Jesus: "If it was not blasphemy to call those gods who so remotely represented the Deity, how much less did Christ blaspheme in taking unto himself a title to which he had a better right than they, even in the subordinate sense of being a mere messenger" (n.d., p. 487). Charles Erdman observed:
By his defense Jesus does not renounce his claim to deity; but he argues that if the judges, who represented Jehovah in their appointed office, could be called "gods," in the Hebrew scriptures, it could not be blasphemy for him, who was the final and complete revelation of God, to call himself "the Son of God (1922, pp. 95-96; cf. Morris, 1971, pp. 527-528).
This verse teaches the exact opposite of what Mormons would like for it to teach! It brings into stark contrast the deity—the Godhood—of Christ (and His Father Who "sanctified and sent" Him—vs. 36) with the absence of deity for all others! There are no other "gods" in the sense of deity, i.e., eternality and infinitude in all attributes. Jesus verified this very conclusion by directing the attention of His accusers to the "works" that He performed (vs. 37-38). These "works" (i.e., miraculous signs) proved the divine identity of Jesus to the exclusion of all other alleged deities. Archer concluded: "By no means, then, does our Lord imply here that we are sons of God just as He is—except for a lower level of holiness and virtue. No misunderstanding could be more wrongheaded than that" (1982, p. 374). Indeed, the Mormon notion of a plurality of gods is "wrongheaded," as is the accompanying claim that humans can become gods.
The essay goes on to summarize:
These passages can be interpreted in different ways. Yet by viewing them through the clarifying lens of revelations received by Joseph Smith, Latter-day Saints see these scriptures as straightforward expressions of humanity's divine nature and potential. Many other Christians read the same passages far more metaphorically because they experience the Bible through the lens of doctrinal interpretations that developed over time after the period described in the New Testament.
The essay acknowledges that 'These passages can be interpreted in different ways'. That is key as 99.8% of the world population does not interpret these Bible passages the same way as the LDS Church does. The essay suggests Joseph Smith's interpretation via revelation is the correct way. Of course neither side can be proven correct or incorrect.
2) Bible verses omitted that do not support men becoming gods and the plurality of gods.
The essay states that there are references in The Holy Bible that seem to support the concept of men becoming gods and therefore multiple gods exist. That is true. That is one interpretation of some of the Biblical verses as shown above.
However, there are also many verses from the Bible, not mentioned in the essay, that do not support the concept of multiple gods like these quotes from Isaiah (emphasis added):
You are my witnesses, says the Lord, and my servants whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He, before Me there was no God formed, nor shall there be after Me (Isaiah 43:10).
I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: (Isaiah 45:5)
For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else. (Isaiah 45:18)
Mainstream Christianity provides equally compelling arguments that support that there is only one God and that men cannot become literal gods.
According to non-LDS theologians; The New Testament recognizes the nonexistence of deities beyond the one God Who exists in three persons. Paul reminded the Galatian Christians of their pre-Christian foolish belief in other deities: "Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods." (4:8, emp. added). By definition, the "gods" that people claim actually exist are not gods. In his lengthy discussion of whether Christians were permitted to eat foods that had been sacrificed to pagan deities, Paul clarified succinctly the Bible position on the existence of so-called gods:
As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.
For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)
But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.(1 Corinthians 8:4-6, emp. added).
Their reasoning continues; in this passage, Paul declared very forthrightly that idols, and the gods they represent, are, in fact, nonentities. The RSV renders the meaning even more clearly: "We know that an idol has no real existence, and that there is no God but one" (emp. added).
Mainstream Christians continue to explain Paul's comments:
Of course, Paul recognized and acknowledged that humans have worshipped imaginary, nonexistent gods in heaven (like Greek mythology advocated) and on Earth (in the form of idols). He used the figure of speech known as "metonymy of the adjunct," where "things are spoken of according to appearance, opinions formed respecting them, or the claims made for them" (Bullinger, 1898, p. 597; Dungan, 1888, p. 295; cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4). He spoke of "gods" as if they existed, simply because many people of his day had that opinion. But Paul knew "there is no God but one." As Allen observed: "The gods (i.e., the so-called divine beings contemplated by the pagans) represented by the images did not exist.…[T]hey were nothing as far as representing the deities envisioned by the heathen" (1975, p. 98, emp. added; cf. Kelcy, 1967, p. 38; Thomas, 1984, p. 30).
Paul continued his discussion of idols two chapters later, and again affirmed the nonexistence of any deities besides God: "What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything?" (1 Corinthians 10:19). For Paul, it was technically permissible for a Christian to eat food that had previously been used in a pagan ceremony as an offering to a "god." Why? Because such "gods" did not, and do not, actually exist—except in the mind of the worshipper (cf. 8:7-8)! Thus, the food used in such ceremonies was unaffected. However, the person who really thinks there are "gods," and who then worships these imaginary "gods," is, in actuality, worshipping demons (10:20)! Paul said there are only two possibilities: "But I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons" (10:20-21). Paul envisioned no class of beings known as "gods." There is only the one true God, and then there are the demons and forces of Satan (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:15-16). This bifurcation of the spiritual realm (i.e., God versus Satan and his forces) is the consistent portrait presented throughout the Bible. The Bible simply admits no knowledge or possibility of "gods."
3) Mainstream Christian responses to the above LDS arguments.
The following two websites explain the mainstream Christian response to the LDS belief that men can become gods. Some of the quotes above are taken from here but many points are not. In order to really understand their viewpoint and to see and judge the strength of their point of view, see:
Note: We are not experts on mainstream Christianity so there may be better sites to explain the typical Christian perspective.
1) Book of Mormon evidence that men can become gods.
It is obvious from the analysis above by LDS and mainstream Christians that the Bible is not very definitive on whether men can become gods or the multiple gods concept. This is reinforced by the essay's statement 'These passages can be interpreted in different ways'. So it makes sense to look at what the Book of Mormon says on the topic as the BOM was translated more plainly and perfectly so there should not be such confusion as in the Bible.
Unfortunately, the Book of Mormon does not say anywhere that men can become gods or that multiple gods exist. This is very strange for the book that is the 'keystone of our religion' and the one meant to clarify the confusion in the Bible. To the contrary, the BOM contradicts the idea of multiple gods (not mentioned in the essay) - (emphasis added):
Amulek contended with the diabolical Zeezrom: "And Zeezrom said unto him: 'Thou sayest there is a true and living God?' And Amulek said: 'Yea, there is a true and living God.' Now Zeezrom said: 'Is there more than one God?' And he answered, 'No' " (Alma 11:26-29, emp. added).
2) Requirements to become a god.
This essay at first glance comes across as pretty benign, but then you are required to consider the rest of the story. It's not as though LDS doctrine teaches that everyone is going to become like God simply by following the teachings of Christ. The essay implies this type of progression. What they fail to mention is that you must meet the following criteria:
A) Baptized as member of the LDS church.
B) Receive the Melchizedek priesthood if you are male.
C) Be endowed in an LDS temple and learn all the signs and tokens that will enable you to pass the angels who stand as sentinels on your way to exaltation.
D) Be sealed to a spouse via the Eternal Covenant of Marriage in an LDS temple. Participate in Polygamy in the eternities if you believe the teachings of past prophets.
E) Obey the temple covenants and turn over all your time talents and possessions to the LDS church if required. This of course includes being 'temple worthy' which includes being a full-time tithe payer to the LDS Church.
3) Concept of eternal families.
At the core of this idea of progressing to become a god is the belief that faithful Latter-day Saints will be part of an eternal family. The man will become a god and his wife (or wives) will become goddesses. This is mentioned in the temple ceremony. Also, the children of the man and wife will be sealed together to them as an eternal family unit.
On the surface, the concept of an eternal marriage and eternal family is appealing and comforting. It all sounds so nice and tidy. If the Jones family is sealed together in a LDS temple, then the Jones family will all be together in the Celestial Kingdom. However, when you actually look at the details and problems involved, it seems fraught with issues.
In the real world in which we live, there are uncounted scenarios in which the "eternal family" concept won't work.
A) Unworthy spouse: It isn't enough for people to get into the Celestial Kingdom to have an eternal family. One must make it into the top 1/3 of the Celestial Kingdom. The odds are pretty low that the average church member would make it to the top 1/3 of the Celestial Kingdom. My stake president estimated that maybe only 1 in 10 church members would (he gave that in a stake talk chastising the stake members for not being better people). So how many families would have one spouse worthy of the top 1/3 of the CK, but the other spouse only makes it to the middle 1/3 or even to another kingdom.? Those people would have to then be separated, regardless of the devotion of the one that made it to the top.
B) Less Worthy children: In a typical LDS family of say 4-5 children, what are the chances that both spouses and all the children (and their spouses) will be of the same worthiness level? We know of very few members that even have all active immediate family members, let alone Celestial Kingdom-bound members.
C) Grandparents and grandchildren: What defines an eternal family? To us, we of course think of our parents on one end and our children on the other so we have grandparents, us and our children. But what about our parents? Since they are children themselves, their version of the eternal family is their parents and us. So what about their parents? Well, our grandparents would want their children for their eternal family, and their parents (our great grandparents). Our great grandparents would want them (our grandparents) for their eternal family, etc. The never-ending chain doesn't really make sense to break it into families because one family is part of another. And of course, many of these people wouldn't make it to the top 1/3 of the CK anyway.
D) Homosexuals: What about gay people? Well of course they can't make it to the top of the CK without a spouse of the opposite sex, so I guess they are out of luck - and their families will just have an empty chair in the CK. Also, is their sexual orientation all of a sudden going to change in the next life - basically a huge part of their identity and personality will just be 100% reversed? It is really so unrealistic to expect a gay person to live the "Celestial Law' all their lives, alone and celibate because of the way they were born.
E) Polygamy: What about the husband that gets sealed to another woman after his first wife dies (such as in the case of apostles Nelson and Oaks)? Now what if the first wife doesn't like this arrangement in the next life? Can she boot the second wife out of her husband's eternal marriage to her? Then what does she do - just get another man assigned to her because they are all interchangeable? We don't really think that everyone will just accept polygamy in the next life, despite some member's claims.
F) Divorce: When marriages dissolve that causes many potential problems in the eternal family concept. What happens to the children of divorced couples? Do they go to the mom or dad? Which one does not get their children in their own eternal family? With the divorce rate so very high, this would effect a huge number of potential eternal families.
G) Sealings of first marriage not cancelled: If Ann & John are married in the temple and they don't have any children and end up getting divorced, but never get their sealing cancelled (which happens for several reasons such as one spouse dies, one spouse refuses to cancel the sealing or the church simply won't allow it, etc). Then Ann marries Paul. They aren't allowed to be sealed unless Ann has her first sealing cancelled, which she can't do. So all of the children that Ann & Paul have are actually sealed to Ann & John, even though they are Paul's children. I know people that this has happened to and her first husband doesn't even know that his ex-wife had children that are now sealed to him. It makes little sense.
H) In-laws: How many people would even want to live with their parents, their children, their in-laws, their children's spouses, etc.? The simple fact is that many "good" people don't really want to be that close with their in-laws and non-blood relatives in this life, let alone the next one.
So it seems that the eternal family only really works for a very limited number of people living in ideal families, which especially these days, is not the norm.
4) God was once a man.
The belief that man can become a god is only half of the belief. The other half is that our God was once a man. The essay only says this about the concept of our God once being a man (emphasis added):
Since that sermon, known as the King Follett discourse, the doctrine that humans can progress to exaltation and godliness has been taught within the Church. Lorenzo Snow, the Church's fifth President, coined a well-known couplet: "As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be." Little has been revealed about the first half of this couplet, and consequently little is taught. When asked about this topic, Church President Gordon B. Hinckley told a reporter in 1997, "That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don't know very much about." When asked about the belief in humans' divine potential, President Hinckley responded, "Well, as God is, man may become. We believe in eternal progression. Very strongly."
The essay did reference the Follett discourse but left out the following key part that Joseph Smith taught:
"God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man…you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man…I am going to tell you how God came to be God…that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did, and I will show it from the Bible." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith, p. 345-346, Deseret Book, 2006.See also, the first edition of the official History of the Church, vol. VI, ch. XIII, pp. 300-307, published by Deseret News, 1912. )
Logically, if it's true that man can one day progress to become a god then this process has undoubtedly been going on for some time so our God was once a man and his God was at one time just a man and so on and so on...ad infinitum. It boggles the mind to think of the billions (actually countless) numbers of gods inhabiting the universe or some unknown dimensions.
Nor do they mention how the temple plays into this, and Smith's teaching on that. The prophet Joseph Smith taught (emphasis added):
"Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith, p. 346, Deseret Book, 2006.See also, the first edition of the official History of the Church, vol. VI, ch. XIII, pp. 300-307, published by Deseret News, 1912.)
Per President Wilford Woodruff:
GOD IS INCREASING IN KNOWLEDGE. If there was a point where man in his progression could not proceed any further, the very idea would throw a gloom over every intelligent and reflecting mind. God Himself is increasing and progressing in knowledge, power, and dominion, and will do so, worlds without end.
The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 3
LDS teaching designates the primary location of God's throne as existing in a specific part of the universe: "Kolob is after the reckoning of the Lord's time; which Kolob is set nigh unto the throne of God" (Abraham 3:9). The location of a place named Kolob, however, is never specified. (Note: this is hardly different than what the Bible would call "Heaven" and how it attempts to define it and locate it above us.)
But where would the countless other gods that proceed our God be located? Is Kolob some sort of Mt. Olympus where all the Gods that ever existed are located or is this unique to our God and they all live in similar places somewhere in the vastness of the cosmos?
Will every planet essentially be the same?
Also not covered in the essay, is the commonly taught Mormon belief that every world will have a God the Father and a Jesus Christ.
In the section on Polytheists, the essay assures the readers that Mormons do not believe in or worship multiple gods. From the essay:
For some observers, the doctrine that humans should strive for godliness may evoke images of ancient pantheons with competing deities. Such images are incompatible with Latter-day Saint doctrine. Latter-day Saints believe that God's children will always worship Him. Our progression will never change His identity as our Father and our God. Indeed, our exalted, eternal relationship with Him will be part of the "fulness of joy" He desires for us.
The essay is saying that even though when in the next life we mortals will eventually become gods, we will still worship our God (Heavenly Father). What that also implies, but some may find disturbing, is that our God must then worship another God, the god that he worshipped when he was once a man. The concept of our God having evolved and will continue to evolve is unnerving to many mainstream Christians and completely avoided in the essay except this acknowledgement:
Since that sermon, known as the King Follett discourse, the doctrine that humans can progress to exaltation and godliness has been taught within the Church. Lorenzo Snow, the Church's fifth President, coined a well-known couplet: "As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be." Little has been revealed about the first half of this couplet, and consequently little is taught. When asked about this topic, Church President Gordon B. Hinckley told a reporter in 1997, "That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don't know very much about." When asked about the belief in humans' divine potential, President Hinckley responded, "Well, as God is, man may become. We believe in eternal progression. Very strongly.
They left out any discussion of Satan. For example, Satan's greatest sin was to elevate himself to God's throne, and be like God himself (D&C 76:26-28)
They forgot to teach Satan is a literal spirit brother to Jehovah (Jesus in the pre-earth life), this because Satan and Jesus are both spirit sons of God the Father according to Mormon theology. (See Moses 4:1-4; Abraham 3:27-28.)
The Book of Mormon teaches that God would cease to be God if there were no opposition (evil): "For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so…righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad.…And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God" (2 Ne 2:11-13). Additionally that if there were no sin, and hence no justice, then "the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God" (Alma 42:22).
So in addition to a Heavenly Father and a Jesus Christ, each world created by future gods will have a Satan as well.
7) Heavenly Mother
The essay somewhat bravely mentions 'Heavenly Mother'. Kudos to the author for doing so as Latter-day Saints are generally instructed to avoid any discussion of her as it is almost considered sacrilegious to do so. From the essay:
Latter-day Saints have also been moved by the knowledge that their divine parentage includes a Heavenly Mother as well as a Heavenly Father. Expressing that truth, Eliza R. Snow asked, "In the heav'ns are parents single?" and answered with a resounding no: "Truth eternal / Tells me I've a mother there." That knowledge plays an important role in Latter-day Saint belief. As Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote, "Our theology begins with heavenly parents. Our highest aspiration is to be like them"
Critics often lampoon this concept referring to a "Mrs. God". However, if the concept of progressing to becoming a god is true then it should equally apply to women as well as men.
However, what the Church is not so open about is the concept of our God having multiple wives or goddesses.
Brigham Young said (emphasis added):
"When our father Adam came into the garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body, and brought Eve, one of his wives, with him. He helped to make and organize this world." Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 1, p. 50).
Note: Young refers to Adam as father Adam when he was teaching the Adam-God doctrine.
Apostle and early Church leader Orson Pratt was very blunt about this (emphasis added):
"We have clearly shown that God the Father had a plurality of wives, one or more being in eternity, by whom He begat our spirits as well as the spirit of Jesus His first Born, and another being upon the earth by whom He begat the tabernacle of Jesus (Mary - ed.), as his only begotten in the world. We have also probed most clearly that the Son followed the example of his Father, and became the great Bridegroom to whom kings' daughters and many honorable wives were to be married. We have also proved that both God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ inherit their wives in eternity as well as in time…If you do not want your morals corrupted, and your delicate ears shocked and your pious modesty put to the blush by the society of polygamists and their wives, do not venture near the New Earth; for polygamists will be honored there, and will be among the chief rulers in that Kingdom," LDS Apostle Orson Pratt, The Seer, p. 172.
"If none but Gods will be permitted to multiply immortal children, it follows that each God must have one or more wives,"
LDS Apostle Orson Pratt, The Seer, p. 158
The concept of a Heavenly Mother can be a bit strange for some people to accept but the idea of Heavenly Mothers (plural) is very unnerving. Logically, if God has multiple wives then although everyone has the same Father-in-Heaven, most people would have different 'Mothers-in-Heaven'. Perhaps that's one reason we're told not to pray to our Mother-in-Heaven as we wouldn't know which one.
Furthermore, as the Church believes that at least some men will be practicing polygamy in the next life, that means that when they become gods themselves, they will also have multiple 'Mothers in Heaven' for the worlds and people they have dominion over.
Although the essay barely discusses the concept of Latter-day Saints getting to create their own planet in the next life, this is what is often reported in the media and used in such non-LDS outlets as the Book of Mormon musical which states that Mormons will get their own planets in the next life.
Regarding this, the essay only uses the word 'planet' two times (emphasis added):
Since human conceptions of reality are necessarily limited in mortality, religions struggle to adequately articulate their visions of eternal glory. As the Apostle Paul wrote, "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." These limitations make it easy for images of salvation to become cartoonish when represented in popular culture. For example, scriptural expressions of the deep peace and overwhelming joy of salvation are often reproduced in the well-known image of humans sitting on their own clouds and playing harps after death. Latter-day Saints' doctrine of exaltation is often similarly reduced in media to a cartoonish image of people receiving their own planets.
A cloud and harp are hardly a satisfying image for eternal joy, although most Christians would agree that inspired music can be a tiny foretaste of the joy of eternal salvation. Likewise, while few Latter-day Saints would identify with caricatures of having their own planet, most would agree that the awe inspired by creation hints at our creative potential in the eternities.
As Latter-day Saints, we believe that people can become gods and goddesses and essentially have all the powers our God has so that would include the ability to make planets. That is not in dispute. It is the phrase "making your own planet" that is deemed objectionable by defenders of Mormonism even if it is essentially true.
The essay does not answer the question directly. It merely equates the concept of getting your own planet as 'cartoonish'. Why can't the essay be more plain?
We are especially disturbed that this essay does not appear to be in harmony with other statements found on the LDS Church website.
From the FAQ section of the LDS public relations website:
Do Latter-day Saints believe that they will "get their own planet"?
No. This idea is not taught in Latter-day Saint scripture, nor is it a doctrine of the Church. This misunderstanding stems from speculative comments unreflective of scriptural doctrine. Mormons believe that we are all sons and daughters of God and that all of us have the potential to grow during and after this life to become like our Heavenly Father (see Romans 8:16-17). The Church does not and has never purported to fully understand the specifics of Christ's statement that "in my Father's house are many mansions" (John 14:2).
The Church said a very clear "No". But that's not what has and is taught.
What do the prophets say about it getting your own planet?
The following are quotes from Conference talks and Church magazines demonstrating the believe that Latter-day Saints will one day get to create their own worlds (emphasis added):
Prophet Spencer W. Kimball:
Brethren, 225,000 of you are here tonight. I suppose 225,000 of you may become gods. There seems to be plenty of space out there in the universe. And the Lord has proved that he knows how to do it. I think he could make, or probably have us help make, worlds for all of us, for every one of us 225,000.
The training you get in the universities, while excellent, is limited. It is but a very tiny percentage of the total knowledge. We encourage knowledge and its proper use, but we know there will be a thousand years to study about things, and compared to the years spent in universities, that great learning period is relatively limitless. When we're ready to create our own worlds and give leadership thereto, we will have great knowledge.
'Marriage Is Honorable', BYU devotional, 1973
Desirable as is secular knowledge, one is not truly educated unless he has the spiritual with the secular. The secular knowledge is to be desired; the spiritual knowledge is an absolute necessity. We shall need all of the accumulated secular knowledge in order to create worlds and to furnish them, but only through the 'mysteries of God' and these hidden treasures of knowledge may we arrive at the place and condition where we may use that knowledge in creation and exaltation.
Conference Reports, October 1968, p. 131.
Each one of you has it within the realm of his possibility to develop a kingdom over which you will preside as its king and god. You will need to develop yourself and grow in ability and power and worthiness, to govern such a world with all of its people.
". . . the Matter of Marriage" Address delivered at University of Utah Institute of Religion, 22 Oct. 1976.
We educate ourselves in the secular field and in the spiritual field so that we may one day create worlds, people and govern them.
The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball , p. 386.
The real life we're preparing for is eternal life. Secular knowledge has for us eternal significance. Our conviction is that God, our Heavenly Father, wants us to live the life that He does. We learn both the spiritual things and the secular things 'so we may one day create worlds [and] people and govern them.'
The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball , p. 386.
Peter and John had little secular learning, being termed ignorant. But they knew the vital things of life, that God lives and that the crucified, resurrected Lord is the Son of God. They knew the path to eternal life. This they learned in a few decades of their mortal life. Their righteous lives opened the door to godhood for them and creation of worlds with eternal increase.
President Kimball Speaks Out , 91. (See Ensign, November 1997, p. 60)
New Era articles:
I decided if I made it to the highest kingdom and was able to create my own worlds, this is what mine would look like.
Michelle Bagley, "View from Celestial Ridge, New Era, June 1996.
A favorite theme of Brigham Young was that the dominion God gives man is designed to test him, to enable him to show to himself, his fellows, and all the heavens just how he would act if entrusted with God's own power; if he does not act in a godlike manner, he will never be entrusted with a creation of his own, worlds without end.
Hugh Nibley, "Man's Dominion," New Era, October 1972.
Apostle Henry B Eyring:
As we walked out, my brother and I went to the car together, smiled, and looked up at the mountains. We remembered how Mother had always said she loved the mountains so much. He and I laughed and guessed that if the celestial worlds are really flat, like a sea of glass, she would be eager to get away to build her own worlds, and the first thing she'd build would be mountains.
'Gifts of Love,' BYU Devotional, Dec 1980.
Mormon.org website This shows what the average member (Dylan) has been taught:
The church also teaches that we are here on Earth to become more like our Father in Heaven, and that we have the opportunity to become like Him and have worlds of our own. We grow up physically to become like our parents, why wouldn't we grow up to be like our spiritual parents as well?
LDS Lesson Manual:
The Latter-Day Saint Woman 2000: President Lorenzo Snow taught: "When two Latter-day Saints are united together in marriage, promises are made to them concerning their offspring that reach from eternity to eternity. They are promised that they shall have the power and the right to govern and control and administer salvation and exaltation and glory to their offspring, worlds without end. And what offspring they do not have here, undoubtedly there will be opportunities to have them hereafter. What else could man wish? A man and a woman, in the other life, having celestial bodies, free from sickness and disease, glorified and beautified beyond description, standing in the midst of their posterity, governing and controlling them, administering life, exaltation and glory worlds without end.
Apostle Dieter Uchtdorf:
This is a paradox of man: compared to God, man is nothing; yet we are everything to God. While against the backdrop of infinite creation we may appear to be nothing, we have a spark of eternal fire burning within our breast. We have the incomprehensible promise of exaltation—worlds without end—within our grasp. And it is God's great desire to help us reach it.
Worlds without number, August 2013 Ensign.
To be able to live in this part of the celestial kingdom, people must have been married in the temple and must have kept the sacred promises they made in the temple. They will receive everything our Father in Heaven has and will become like Him. They will even be able to have spirit children and make new worlds for them to live on, and do all the things our Father in Heaven has done.
Prophet Joseph Fielding Smith:
To become like him we must have all the powers of godhood;…There is no end to this development; it will go on forever. We will become gods and have jurisdiction over worlds, and these worlds will be peopled by our own offspring.
Doctrines of Salvation 2:48, quoted in Achieving a Celestial Marriage Student Manual, 1976, p.132.
That great blessing of celestial glory could never have come to us without a period of time in mortality, and so we came here in this mortal world. We are in school, the mortal school, to gain the experiences, the training, the joys, and the sufferings that we partake of, that we might be educated in all these things and be prepared, if we are faithful and true to the commandments of the Lord, to become sons and daughters of God, joint heirs with Jesus Christ; and in His presence to go on to a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever, and perhaps through our faithfulness to have the opportunity of building worlds and peopling them.
"Adam's Role in Bringing Us Mortality," General Conference, Oct. 1976, reprinted in Liahona, Jan. 2006.
Prophet Lorenzo Snow:
The time will come when some of these boys, through their faithfulness to the gospel, will progress and develop in knowledge, intelligence and power, in future eternities, until they shall be able to go out into space where there is unorganized matter and call together the necessary elements, and through their knowledge of and control over the laws and powers of nature, to organize matter into worlds on which their posterity may dwell, and over which they shall rule as gods
Improvement Era, June 1919, 658–59.
When two Latter-day Saints are united together in marriage, promises are made to them concerning their offspring that reach from eternity to eternity. They are promised that they shall have the power and the right to govern and control and administer salvation and exaltation and glory to their offspring, worlds without end. And what offspring they do not have here, undoubtedly there will be opportunities to have them hereafter. What else could man wish? A man and a woman, in the other life, having celestial bodies, free from sickness and disease, glorified and beautified beyond description, standing in the midst of their posterity, governing and controlling them, administering life, exaltation and glory worlds without end
Lorenzo Snow, Deseret News, 13 Mar. 1897; quoted by Spencer W. Kimball in The Miracle of Forgiveness , 246; See also Lesson 10 of The Latter-day Saint Woman: Basic Manual for Women, Part A.
Prophet Brigham Young:
"All those who are counted worthy to be exalted and to become Gods, even the sons of God, will go forth and have earths and worlds like those who framed this and millions on millions of others.
Journal of Discourses 17:143
Having fought the good fight we then shall be prepared to lay our bodies down to rest to await the morning of the resurrection when they will come forth and be reunited with the spirits, the faithful, as it is said, receiving crowns, glory, immortality and eternal lives, even a fulness with the Father, when Jesus shall present His work to the Father, saying, 'Father, here is the work thou gavest me to do.' Then will they become Gods, even the sons of God; then will they become eternal fathers, eternal mothers, eternal sons and eternal daughters; being eternal in their organization they go from glory to glory, from power to power; they will never cease to increase and to multiply, worlds without end. When they receive their crowns, their dominions, they then will be prepared to frame earths like unto ours and to people them in the same manner as we have been brought forth by our parents, by our Father and God
Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 283; Journal of Discourses 18:259, October 8, 1876
Clearly it has been taught by the Church and continues to be taught in modern times that faithful Latter-day Saints can be exalted and get to create their own worlds/planets.
For some reason, the Church seems to deny this on their website (as shown above) and deny it or at least try to downplay it in the media. But becoming gods and creating worlds and populating them with your own creations is a core belief of the LDS afterlife.
The 1984 Melchizedek Priesthood Study Guide Lesson 21, “Man May Become Like God,” was the last time that real Mormon polytheistic theology was published completely in written form in the study guide format (the LDS Church does it about once every 25 years), “Search These Commandments.” Gordon B. Hinckley was the Mormon apostle in the LDS First Presidency, under Spencer W. Kimball, who assembled the 1984 study guide.
The guide is availabe to be read here: 1984 Melchizedek Priesthood Study Guide Lesson 21, “Man May Become Like God”
There have been several articles from major online news sources about the Church's "Becoming Like God" essay:
"Mormons say faithful aren't taught they get their own planets"
"No, People Don't Get Own Planets in Afterlife Like in 'Book of Mormon'"
"Mormons explain: Believers won't get their own planets in afterlife"
"Mormon Church reveals people do NOT get their own planets in the afterlife... despite what The Book of Mormon claims"
"Mormon Church Dispels Planet Afterlife Misconception Fostered By 'Book Of Mormon' Broadway Show"
"Mormon church pushes back planet misconceptions from Broadway show"
"Mormons: People don't get own planets"
"Mormon Church: Followers don't get their own planet"
Every article referenced above claims the LDS Church is refuting the idea that Mormons believe people get their own planets in the afterlife. But what does the Church's "Becoming Like God" essay actually say?
Latter-day Saints' doctrine of exaltation is often…reduced in media to a cartoonish image of people receiving their own planets.…While few Latter-day Saints would identify with caricatures of having their own planet, most would agree that the awe inspired by creation hints at our creative potential in the eternities.
These are the only sentences in the essay that come close to disagreeing with the idea that people will get their own worlds. But these sentences do not refute the Church's teachings about this concept. What they do say is that the media ignores other aspects of exaltation and focuses on just the idea that people will receive their own planets. They also say that Latter-day Saints wouldn't identify with caricatures (the cartoonish representation) of the teaching, not the teaching itself.
Additionally, the words, "awe inspired by creation" leads one to believe that this earth is being discussed. The awe inspired by this earth "hints at our creative potential in the eternities". What creative potential would the earth inspire other than humans creating a similar earth?
However, without a close and careful reading of these sentences, one is led to believe, as the titles of the news articles above indicate, that the Church is distancing itself from such a peculiar teaching.
This appears to be a clever misdirection. The Church releases an article that implies that they don't believe the 'crazy idea' that people get their own planets. Articles are published trumpeting that the Church is refuting a misconception, and this makes the Church appear more mainstream.
Why doesn't the essay explicitly state that exalted humans will have their own planet? Because the Church still accepts it as a core doctrine. It has been taught repeatedly throughout the history of the Church as shown above.
One thing that we find objectionable is the 'couching' language that permeates this essay. It constantly uses terms like 'become like god' instead of become a god. Even the title of the essay is 'Becoming like God'. Why isn't it called 'Becoming a God'? It seems that the Church is still uncomfortable speaking very plainly about this belief. Some of us think that the belief is defensible but we're not sure why the Church often seems embarrassed by it to the point that they 'sugarcoat' the belief so it doesn't seem that foreign to non-Mormons. It has gotten to the point that even many traditional Latter-day Saints don't completely understand what the teaching is.
We would respect the Church more if it was simply more open about their beliefs to the inquisitive public (and potential converts). For example, in 1997 when Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley was asked by Larry King on national TV if it was true that Mormons believe that God was once a man, he responded "That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don't know very much about". Why didn't he simply say 'Yes', and then explain the teaching?
Getting your own Planet
While it is clear that Mormons are taught the doctrine doctrine privately, it is also equally apparent that they deny it publicly. The LDS Church has a web site designed to answer Frequently Asked Questions. One question is, "Do Latter-day Saints believe that they will "get their own planet"? It answers in part, "No. This idea is not taught in Latter-day Saint scripture, nor is it a doctrine of the Church. This misunderstanding stems from speculative comments unreflective of scriptural doctrine."
How can they say these are speculative comments unreflective of doctrine when we have just examined numerous official Mormon teaching manuals and quoted prophets which state the opposite? The Church realizes that this doctrine is difficult for people to accept so rather than explain it, they simply deny it - at least publicly.
World vs Planet?
In writing this review, I noticed that every LDS Church reference uses the term 'world' instead of 'planet'. Obviously they are synonyms but for some reason the Church immediately reacts negatively when the the media reports that Mormon in the next life will get their own planet, yet the cite in their teaching manuals that they will be able to create worlds in the next life. What's the difference? Similarly, the Church always will refer to the 'urim & thummim' as a 'stone' but never as a 'rock' and having multiple wives is referred to as 'plural marriage' and not polygamy.
Whether or not men can become gods in the next life is something we'll never know until the next life. However, we wish the LDS Church would be more open and transparent about it's beliefs and not mislead people by saying it does not teach beliefs that they actually do. Many people may actually like the the belief as what could be more appealing than to become a god, make planets and populate them with your celestial mate? Of course, the other issues inherent in this belief need to be accepted as well such as our God we worship was once a man and so was the god he worshipped, countless gods, saviors and satans exist thoughout the universe, polygamy in the next life, etc.
Further Reading"People on Other Worlds", New Era, April 1971