• Joe Harper

Latter Day Saints (Mormon) Doctrine Examined: Achieving Godhood

By Joe Harper

There is perhaps no distinctive doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) more foundational to their religion than the belief that Latter Day Saints can achieve the status of godhood. The LDS doctrine simply stated is that God was once man like us and achieved godhood in the distant past. Humanity, who are the spirit children of God, are able to follow in the footsteps of God and achieve godhood themselves through obedience to the teachings of the LDS faith. This doctrine may be shocking to those with little understanding of the LDS faith, but this has been the unquestionable teaching of the LDS Church from the time of Joseph Smith until today.

In recent times there has been a deceptive effort from the LDS Church to present itself as acceptable to the rest of professing Christianity by covering up or minimizing its controversial doctrines and history in order to present itself as simply another Christian Church or denomination. As a result of this deception, many professing Christians have come to believe either that the LDS Church is a true Christian Church or that it is at least moving theologically towards mainstream Christianity. One prominent example of this ecumenical effort comes from the LDS apologist Robert Millet. Robert Millet is a faculty member at Brigham Young University (BYU) who has engaged in ecumenical dialogue with a number of Evangelical leaders. He has written a large number of books on the LDS faith and LDS theology. His book A Different Jesus? makes the claim that the LDS Church and Christianity are both believing in the same Jesus Christ. Millet uses both LDS sources and Christian authors to attempt to prove his point. Millet’s book shows the attempts of the LDS Church to present itself as mainstream to Christianity.

The LDS teachings on God once being a man and the ability of man to become gods are doctrines that the LDS Church has tried to cover up or minimize in the eyes of the outside Christian world. However, these doctrines are still clearly taught to the LDS faithful once they have been securely brought into the core of the LDS Church. Millet’s book, A Different Jesus, for example, minimizes the teaching that God was man as we are. He only spoke of the doctrine sparsely and did so vaguely when it is mentioned. Millet at one point says,

“We really do not know more than what was stated by Joseph Smith, and that is precious little. Insights concerning God’s life before Godhood are not found in the standard works, in official declarations or proclamations, in current handbooks or curricular materials, nor are doctrinal expositions on the subject delivered in general conference today. This topic is not what we would call a central or saving doctrine, one that must be believed (or understood) in order to hold a temple recommend or be in good standing in the Church. (qtd. in White 9.)[1]”

This claim by Millet that a LDS member could receive a temple recommend without holding to such a core doctrine of the LDS faith is simply not true. In order to receive a temple recommend a candidate must be able to affirm the authority of the leadership of the LDS Church and also affirm the teachings of the LDS Church. Another example of confusion regarding LDS doctrine comes from former Fuller Seminary President Richard Mouw. Mouw has engaged continual ecumenical dialogue with LDS leaders and has collaborated closely with Robert Millet. Mouw claims that Evangelicals have misrepresented current day LDS teaching on man becoming gods. Mouw in his written defense of address given at the Mormon Tabernacle states,

“On a more technical point, I have received emails in the past few days where evangelicals have said that Mormonism teaches that God was once a human being like us, and we can become gods just like God now is. Mormon leaders have specifically stated that such a teaching, while stated by past leaders, is something they don’t understand and has no functioning place in present day Mormon doctrine. Bob Millet has made the same point to many of us, and Stephen Robinson insisted, in the book he co-authored with Craig Blomberg, that this is not an official Mormon teaching, even though it can be found in non-canonical Mormon” (qtd. in White p. 2)[2]

Mouw’s and Millet’s claims that these teachings are not LDS doctrine is simply not true. It is found all throughout LDS teaching including their sacred writings and their Prophets. These teachings have never been formally denounced by the LDS Church. These doctrines are the center of their entire religious system and therefore these claims of theological change are simply falsehoods.

LDS Doctrine Defined and Documented

The Cosmology of the LDS Church teaches that there are trillions of inhabited worlds in the universe, each with their own god ruling over them. It must be understood that the LDS religion is inherently polytheistic and teaches that more gods are being continually created. The LDS teaching that the spirit of man is eternal and is able to move upward toward godhood is called eternal progression. These gods and goddesses then procreate spirit children who are then given human bodies and can become gods themselves through obedience to LDS teachings. According to LDS teaching, the god of this world is called Elohim and he hails from a planet orbiting the star Kolob. Elohim was born as a spirit child to a god and goddess father and mother. He then was given a body and was a man like us. Elohim eventually achieved godhood and created spirit children himself with his goddess wives. Two of his spirit children were Lucifer and Jesus who are brothers according to LDS theology. Elohim’s many spirit children were eventually sent to Earth in human bodies, which is the human race today. This was decided by the council of heaven where Elohim and the other gods in the council decided on the plan of salvation for Elohim’s spirit children. Two plans were presented to the council: one by Lucifer and another by Jesus. Lucifer’s plan was to force everyone to obey Elohim in everything and become gods while Jesus’s plan was for everyone to have freewill with the ability to eventually become gods. The rejection of Lucifer’s plan caused him to be outraged and rebel with a third of the spirits. Lucifer then became Satan or the Devil and he led the rebellion in heaven. These spirits were cast out of heaven to the earth and they are now demons. The rest of the spirit children were allowed to come to Earth and receive mortal bodies.

The question may be asked at this point: how does one achieve godhood according to LDS teaching? Two things are necessary to become gods or goddesses, obedience to the “law of the gospel” of the LDS Church and celestial marriage. The terminology of obedience to the “law of the gospel” is seen continually in LDS literature. This emphasis on obedience to the law shows that the LDS faith is a works-based religion which is antithetical to Christianity, which teaches that salvation comes from grace alone by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. LDS belief that deification must be achieved by obedience to the law takes a terrible toll on many LDS members who face feelings of inadequacy as they wonder whether they can be good enough to achieve godhood. False religion always leads devout participants to either self-righteousness or despair. The second requirement of achieving godhood is celestial marriage, which is also called eternal marriage. The LDS Church has always taught that celestial marriage is indispensable to achieving godhood and is the highest ordinance of the “gospel.” Celestial marriage is the belief that marriage between a husband and wife can last forever in heaven. The LDS conception of heaven is for men and women who have achieved godhood to be eternally married and eternally procreating children together. For there to be celestial marriage an LDS couple must participate in a ceremony in the LDS temple called a sealing. In order to be eligible to take part in the sealing ritual a couple must attain a temple recommend, which most LDS members never acquire in their lifetimes. To receive a temple recommend an LDS member must be approved by their bishop or stake president. To be approved, an LDS member must be able to display their devotion to the LDS Church and approval of the teachings and leadership of the Church. Those who are not sealed in celestial marriage will never achieve godhood, which makes those who do an “elite” in the LDS Church.

The teaching that God was once man like us and that man has the ability to become gods has been taught by the LDS Church all throughout its history. Although this doctrine as stated earlier has been minimized by the leadership of the LDS Church, it can be shown to have been taught by the Church for all of its history by pointing to LDS Scripture, the teachings of the Prophets including Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, and reliable sources such as the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. There are four books that are considered Scripture by the LDS Church. The Bible (as correctly translated), The book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price. Of the four books, the Doctrine and Covenants shows the distinctive doctrine of the LDS Church most clearly. The Doctrine and Covenants is a collection of revelations which come mostly from Joseph Smith. The book clearly teaches both that God was once a man and that mankind has the ability to become gods. D & C 130:22 says,

“The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us.[3]”

This revelation of Joseph Smith shows his belief that God was once a man as we are now, complete with a body of flesh and bones. This belief destroys the biblical and historic Christian understanding of the doctrine of God. The Doctrine and Covenant also shows Smith’s belief that man could become gods. D & C 132:19-20,

132:19 “And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood; and it shall be said unto them—Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection; and if it be after the first resurrection, in the next resurrection; and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths—then shall it be written in the Lamb's Book of Life, that he shall commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, and if ye abide in my covenant, and commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, it shall be done unto them in all things whatsoever my servant hath put upon them, in time, and through all eternity; and shall be of full force when they are out of the world; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.”
132:20 “Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.”[4]

Joseph Smith’s belief in the ability of men to become gods is clearly seen here. However, the Doctrine and Covenants is not the only place where Smith’s views can be seen. Smith’s famous King Follet Discourse also shows his views of God once being a man and mankind’s ability to become gods themselves. The King Follet Discourse says,

“The scriptures say it, and I defy all the learning and wisdom and all the combined powers of earth and hell together to refute it. 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.”[5]

Smith’s views are once again undeniable. It’s important to realize that the King Follet Discourse has been quoted in LDS literature by Church authorities countless times over the years as a premier example of LDS theology as taught by the first prophet of the Church. Smith’s successor, Brigham Young, also clearly taught that men become gods. In a sermon by Young given at the Mormon Tabernacle on June 8, 1873 he declared,

“The devil told the truth… I do not blame Mother Eve. I would not have had her miss eating the forbidden fruit for anything in the world…. They must pass through the same ordeals as the gods, that they may know good from evil. (qtd. in Decker p.37)”[6]

Brigham Young’s statement is shocking. He clearly states that Eve eating of the forbidden fruit was necessary to become gods and therefore should not be condemned. Young’s statements are reminiscent of what is taught in the New Age movement today, that certain knowledge will raise up mankind into the status of godhood. This line of thinking is occultic and completely at odds with Christianity. The teachings of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young on humanity becoming gods has been repeated by Church presidents up to present times, but space does not allow an exhaustive list of quotations here. One more modern source will show that there has been no change on LDS teaching here. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, which includes many entries by LDS Church leaders and is universally accepted as a reliable source on LDS teaching, also shows the LDS belief in men becoming gods. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism says,

“Logically and naturally, the ultimate desire of a loving Supreme Being is to help his children enjoy all that he enjoys. For Latter-day Saints, the term "godhood" denotes the attainment of such a state—one of having all divine attributes and doing as God does and being as God is. Such a state is to be enjoyed by all exalted, embodied, intelligent beings (see Deification; Eternal Progression; Exaltation; God; Perfection). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that all resurrected and perfected mortals become gods (cf. Gen. 3:22; Matt. 5:48). They will dwell again with God the Father, and live and act like him in endless worlds of happiness, power, love, glory, and knowledge; above all, they will have the power of procreating endless lives. Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus Christ attained godhood (see Christology) and that he marked the path and led the way for others likewise to become exalted divine beings by following him (cf. John 14:3).”[7]

The Encyclopedia of Mormonism was published in 1992 and is an excellent resource regarding LDS beliefs. These quotations, which are not close to being exhaustive, show the LDS doctrines that God was once a man and that humanity can achieve godhood. A thorough list of LDS sources on these doctrines can be found in James R. White’s book Is the Mormon My Brother? Discerning the Differences Between Mormonism and Christianity. White’s book documents the continuity of LDS doctrine and shows that despite all claims to the contrary there have been no changes in LDS teaching in these areas.

Historic Christian Orthodoxy

The LDS doctrine on achieving godhood is controversial because it goes against two thousand years of Christian Orthodoxy and is easily refuted from the Scriptures. Christianity has always understood the Scriptural teaching that there is only one true God who has created the universe. The LDS faith is polytheistic, which contradicts the monotheistic faith of Christianity. LDS doctrine also destroys the traditional doctrine of God which teaches that God is a spirit who has eternally existed. The Church has always understood that God is a spirit and not man as we are. God does not have like passions as we do, which eliminates the idea of God procreating children. Mankind also can never become completely like God in the sense that we become gods ourselves or that we bridge the gap between the creator and creature. Orthodox Christian doctrine has always taught what is called the “creator-creature distinction.” Even in glory, although the Christian will be perfect and free from sin, he will not become a god himself. God is like no other and this is not changed by the Christian doctrine of glorification. The historic confessions and creeds can easily show the clear difference in belief between LDS and Christianity. The 1689 London Baptist Confession (LBC) is one clear example of historic Christian teaching. 1689 LBC, Chapter 2, Paragraph 1 says,

“The Lord our God is but one only living and true God;1 whose subsistence is in and of Himself,2 infinite in being and perfection; whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but Himself;3 a most pure spirit,4 invisible, without body, parts, or passions, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto;5 who is immutable,6 immense,7 eternal,8 incomprehensible, almighty,9 every way infinite, most holy,10 most wise, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will,11 for His own glory;12 most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him,13 and withal most just and terrible in His judgments,14 hating all sin,15 and who will by no means clear the guilty.[8]”

The 1689 LBC’s paragraph, which is identically worded in the Presbyterian Westminster confession of faith, is an excellent summary of historic Christian teaching on the doctrine of God.


The confession states that God is a most pure spirit who has no body, parts or passions. God does not have a body as men do and also does not have the physical passions of men. God is also eternal and immutable or unchanging. This clear Christian teaching completely contradicts LDS doctrine that God was once a man as we are. Another example of this is the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC). WLC Questions 7 and 8 states,

Q. 7. What is God? A. God is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, everywhere present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.
Q. 8. Are there more Gods than one? A. There is but one only, the living and true God.[9]

The Westminster Larger Catechism largely restates the same points as the 1689 LBC. The catechism gives a helpful succinct summary of who God is. Once again, we see that God is a spirit that is eternal and unchangeable. If God is eternal then he could not have been created as a spirit child of a god and goddess father and mother. If God is unchanging then he could not have gone from being a man to being a god as LDS teach. The Catechism also says that there is only one God, which contradicts the idea of countless gods in the universe. The theology that is summarized in the 1689 LBC and the WLC is representative of Christianity’s universal teaching on God’s attributes. Christian denominations that have historically disagreed on other points of theology have all universally affirmed the attributes of God that are stated in 1689 LBC and the WLC. Christian creeds and confessions can be very helpful tools in refuting heresy. Unfortunately, Evangelical Christianity today has come to see confessions as archaic, and churches today often have doctrinal statements that are increasingly watered down in their content. When this is combined with a climate of Scriptural illiteracy, it becomes very easy for heresy to take root in churches. However, the usefulness of confessions is measured only by how biblical their theology is. A number of Scriptures can be referenced at this point to support the confessions and refute LDS doctrine. The Scriptures will be listed below with brief underlying commentary.

Scripture

Isaiah 43:10-11, “Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. 11 I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no saviour.”

Scripture teaches that there is only one God and not multiple ones. There were no gods either before or after him, which refutes the idea of new gods coming into being.


Isaiah 44:6, “Thus saith the Lord the King of Israel, and his redeemer the Lord of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.”

The verse reinforces the idea that there is only one God.


John 4:24, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

God is a spirit and not a man.

1 Timothy 1:17, “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

God is eternal which means he was not created and could not have been a spirit child birthed by parents. He is the only God.

Malachi 3:6, “For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.”

God does not change, which makes it impossible for God to have gone from being a man to a god, as this would be a change.

James 1:17, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”

Once again, God does not change. This contradicts God once being a man.

Conclusion

Examination of LDS doctrine shows the true nature of the LDS Church. This teaching is in stark contrast to the historic teaching of Biblical Christianity. The LDS Church is not a Christian denomination but is in reality a cult which undermines the teachings of the Bible. LDS members must look to the true gospel of Jesus Christ alone for their salvation and look to the Bible alone for correct doctrine which contradicts the doctrines of the LDS Church at every turn. Evangelical Christians must understand that true Christianity is incompatible with the LDS Church and that clear separation must be maintained for the good of the gospel. Although maintaining separation maybe unpopular in our age of religious openness, it is crucial to reaching members of the LDS Church with the true gospel.



[1] James R. White, Is the Mormon My Brother. (Birmingham: Solid Ground Christian Books, 1997), p. 9

[2] James R. White, Is the Mormon My Brother, (Birmingham: Solid Ground Christian Books, 1997), p. 2

[3] Doctrine and Covenants 130:22

[4] Doctrine and Covenants 132:19-20

[5] Joseph Smith, King Follet Sermon, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1971/04/the-king-follett-sermon?lang=eng

[6] Ed Decker & Dave Hunt, The God Makers, (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 1997), P. 37

[7] Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Article on Godhood, https://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Godhood

[8] 1689 LBC, Chapter 2 Paragraph 1

[9] WLC Q. 7 and 8


Bibliography

Decker, Ed and Hunt Dave. The God Makers: A Shocking Expose of What the Mormon Church Really Believes. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 1997

Ludlow, Daniel H, ed. (1992), Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing, ISBN 0-02-879602-0 , OCLC 24502140 .

Smith, Joseph. "The King Follet Discourse Sermon." https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1971/04/the-king-follett-sermon?lang=eng

The Baptist Confession of Faith First Put Forth in 1643; Afterwards Enlarged, ... of Delegates (from the Churches in Great Britain) Met in London July 3, 1689; ...

The Doctrine and Covenants of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981. Section 5.

Vos, Johannes Geerhardus, and G. I. Williamson. The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub, 2002.

White, James R. Is the Mormon My Brother? Discerning the Differences Between Mormonism and Christianity. Birmingham: Solid Ground Christian Books, 1997


Recommended Reading

  1. The Kingdom of the Cults, 6th Edition by Walter Martin

  2. Is the Mormon My Brother? Discerning the Differences between Mormonism and Christianity by James R. White

  3. The God Makers: A Shocking Expose of What the Mormon Church Really Believes by Ed Decker and Dave Hunt.


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