By Sharon Lindbloom
18 April 2017
The LDS Church has recently released new scripture-themed coloring and activity books for children. One is an updated version of an older Book of Mormon coloring book, while the other is based on the Mormon scripture volume, Pearl of Great Price. Both are available to download for free.
The books are intended to not only entertain, but also to teach children about the doctrines and history of Mormonism. As would be expected, these teachings are very simplified with their young patrons in mind. Even so, it’s a bit surprising that the page in the Pearl of Great Price book that depicts the story of creation found in the Book of Abraham chapters 4 through 5 (wherein “the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth” -Abraham 4:1), chooses to limit that creation to the work of just one God.
The text at the top of the coloring book’s page reads, “God planned the earth’s Creation in a council (meeting) in heaven. Draw your favorite things that God created.” Beneath a picture of two look-alike heavenly beings, the children are encouraged to do further study with the question, “How did God plan the creation of the earth?”
In the LDS scripture cited, “the Gods” planned creation. “The Gods” organized and formed the heavens and earth, “the Gods” said “Let there be light,” “the Gods” organized the earth to bring forth grass, “the Gods” separated day from night, and “the Gods” went down and organized man “in their own image.” In Abraham 4-5, “the Gods” are referred to more than 40 times.
Two years after the first publication of the Book of Abraham, Mormonism’s founding Prophet Joseph Smith said,
“I will preach on the plurality of Gods. I have selected this text for that express purpose. I wish to declare I have always and in all congregations when I have preached on the subject of the Deity, it has been the plurality of Gods. It has been preached by the elders for fifteen years.” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 370)
This wasn’t strictly true, as up until 1839 Joseph held to a belief in but one God. Nevertheless, in 1844, perhaps thinking of Abraham 4-5, Joseph preached,
“In the beginning, the head of the Gods called a council of the Gods; and they came together and concocted a plan to create the world and people it.” (King Follett Discourse, Journal of Discourses 6:5)
Joseph’s preaching informed Brigham Young, the second prophet and president of the Church, who said,
“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 passing through. That course has been from all eternity, and it is and will be to all eternity.” (Journal of Discourses 7:333)
Brigham Young’s teaching informed John Taylor, the third prophet and president of the Mormon Church, who said,
“John says: ‘And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads.’ (Revelation 14:1.) Their ‘Father’s name,’ bless me! that is GOD! Well done for Mormonism; one hundred and forty four thousand GODS, among the tribes of Israel, and, two living Gods and the Holy Ghost, for this world! Such knowledge is too wonderful for men, unless they possess the spirit of Gods.” (The Gospel Kingdom, 29)
And on it went. In the mid-20th century, LDS apostle Bruce R. McConkie wrote,
“Three separate personages — Father, Son, and Holy Ghost — comprise the Godhead. As each of these persons is a God, it is evident, from this standpoint alone, that a plurality of Gods exists. To us, speaking in the proper finite sense, these three are the only Gods we worship. But in addition there is an infinite number of holy personages, drawn from worlds without number, who have passed on to exaltation and are thus gods.” (Mormon Doctrine, 576-577)
Later, in 1989, Brigham Young University (BYU) professor Rodney Turner explained,
“A plurality of gods and inhabited worlds is essential to the validity of the [LDS] doctrine of exaltation wherein millions of men and women from this one earth will reign as kings and queens over their endless posterities—posterities that will inhabit the endless earths yet to be organized.” (“The Doctrine of the Firstborn and Only Begotten,” The Pearl of Great Price: Revelations From God, H. Donl Peterson and Charles D. Tate, eds., 103)
The doctrine of a plurality of true Gods remains part and parcel of official Mormonism even today, though it isn’t much talked about. BYU Professor Charles Harrell explains,
“One of the most distinctive doctrines of Mormonism is the belief in a plurality of Gods. This is generally understood to mean that there are innumerable Gods besides (and above) the God that we worship, all of whom are creators of worlds and objects of worship. Furthermore, these Gods were all once human, and just as they attained Godhood, so can we. This view goes beyond the traditional Christian doctrine of human divinization or theosis in which the righteous are partakers of the nature of God through the indwelling of God’s Spirit” (BYU Professor Charles R. Harrell, ‘This is my Doctrine’: The Development of Mormon Theology, 114).
Why the Pearl of Great Price coloring book passes over this standard Mormon doctrine is puzzling, but maybe a reason can be found in Brigham Young’s teaching on God:
“Now hear it, O inhabitants of the earth, Jew and Gentile, Saint and sinner! 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. He is MICHAEL, the Archangel, the ANCIENT OF DAYS! about whom holy men have written and spoken—HE is our FATHER and our GOD, and the only God with whom WE have to do.” (Journal of Discourses 1:50)
If Mormons have nothing to do with all of the other Gods — this plurality of Gods that, according to Mormonism, together planned and created the world, comprising Joseph Smith’s council of the Gods – why introduce this multiplicity of Gods to children? It could only be confusing. Especially so when the Bible is so clear that there is only one true God in existence, coupled with the fact that Christianity itself has always been defined by worship of that one and only true God. Really, exposing children (and others) to Mormonism’s plurality of Gods could very well be like the mythical Pandora opening her box.
“…as soon as [Zeus] was out of sight [Pandora] took off the lid, and out swarmed all the troubles of the world, never to be recaptured…”