By Eric Johnson
In 2 Corinthians 11:4, the apostle Paul declared that it was possible for a religion to have a “different Jesus” than the Jesus of the Bible. He explained,
For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.
In Mormonism, Jesus can certainly be found in the church’s name: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For many Latter-day Saints, this fact alone is reason to say that the Jesus worshiped in this religion must be true. Many outsiders assume the same thing, as this is the image the church wants to give. For instance, if you attend any public open house LDS temple event and walk through the hallways, you will see more paintings of Jesus (mostly from Bible stories) than anything else, including Joseph Smith! At one open house, I counted more than 40 different portrayals of Jesus and only 2 of Joseph Smith!
In May 2020, the church’s First Presidency
directed local lay leaders to place artwork that depicts Christ himself—or Jesus ministering to others—in all church foyers and entryways. That will be the only art allowed in those prime spots. Banished to other parts of the buildings will be landscape paintings, portrayals or pictures of Latter-day Saint leaders, bulletin boards, tables easels, missionary plaques and other displays.
The First Presidency, which also provided local leaders with a list of 22 approved church paintings, wrote,
To testify further of our central belief in Jesus Christ, we desire our meetinghouses reflect an attitude of reference for the Savior. . . . Framed artwork that focuses on the Savior should always be displayed. (Salt Lake Tribune, “LDS leaders want art of Jesus exclusively in church foyers,” 5/14/2020, p. A9).
Why are critics of Mormon theology such as I so skeptical about the motive of this new policy? Could it be that the church wants to be seen as “Christ’s church” more than “Joseph Smith’s church”? This seems logical from a public relations standpoint, as the polygamous, seer-stone-in-a-hat Smith is not as readily accepted by outsiders as a sanitized soft olive-skinned Jesus is. I’m sure this is a good reason why the church decided to recently include the Christus statue of Jesus in its new symbol, which is displayed at the top.
Yet Mormons do believe in Jesus, I have no doubt, and that’s not my gripe. Rather, the question is, which Jesus is the Jesus of Mormonism? Below are 10 reasons why the Jesus of Mormonism is different from the Jesus of the Bible. Check out the suggested articles at the end of each point for more analysis.
1. LDS leaders have agreed that Mormonism teaches another Jesus
Jesus is not the same Jesus as what has been taught for two millennia is something agreed upon by several church leaders. For instance, Seventy Bernard P. Brockbank told a general conference audience:
It is true that many of the Christian churches worship a different Jesus Christ than is worshipped by the Mormons or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“The Living Christ,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1977, p. 26).
Fifteenth President Gordon B. Hinckley agreed with Brockbank:
In bearing testimony of Jesus Christ, President Hinckley spoke of those outside the Church who say Latter-day Saints “do not believe in the traditional Christ.” “No, I don’t. The traditional Christ of whom they speak is not the Christ of whom I speak. For the Christ of whom I speak has been revealed in this the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. He together with His Father, appeared to the boy Joseph Smith in the year 1820, and when Joseph left the grove that day, he knew more of the nature of God than all the learned ministers of the gospel of the ages” (“Crown of Gospel is Upon Our Heads, Church News, June 20, 1998, p. 7).
A few years later he was singing the same song:
As a church we have critics, many of them. They say we do not believe in the traditional Christ of Christianity. There is some substance to what they say (“We look to Christ,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2002, p. 90).
Meanwhile, Apostle Bruce R. McConkie mocked Christians for their “mythical Jesus”:
And virtually all the millions of apostate Christendom have abased themselves before the mythical throne of a mythical Christ whom they vainly suppose to be a spirit essence who is incorporeal uncreated, immaterial and three-in-one with the Father and Holy Spirit (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p. 269).
The rest of this article isn’t even needed to show that general authorities don’t believe that Christians worship the same Jesus as they teach. For more on this, check out “LDS Leaders Speak More of Jesus”
2. The Virgin Birth doctrine according to Mormonism is not the “Virgin Birth” of the Bible
While the terms are the same, Mormonism’s Virgin Birth explains how God the Father—with a body of flesh and bones—literally had physical relations with Mary who, according to LDS theology, was His daughter in the preexistence. Consider what 13th President Ezra Taft Benson said:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaims that Jesus Christ is the Son of God in the most literal sense. The body in which He performed His mission in the flesh was sired by that same Holy Being we worship as God, our Eternal Father. Jesus was not the son of Joseph, nor was He begotten by the Holy Ghost (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 7. See also the Church News, December 18, 2004, p. 16).
He also explained,
Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He came to this earth at a fore-appointed time through a royal birthright that preserved His godhood. Combined in His nature were the human attributes of His mortal mother and the divine attributes and powers of His Eternal Father (Sermons and Writings of President Ezra Taft Benson, p. 2).
The image to the right was published in a 1972 church manual to help Mormon parents explain the Virgin Birth to their children at Family Home Evening. This is a blasphemous graphic and is not a correct portrayal of this important Christian doctrine. If you would like to see the whole page in context, click here.
The Virgin Birth according to Christianity is a miraculous event. There was nothing physical about it. As Matthew 1:18 summarizes the teaching, “This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.”
For more on the Virgin Birth, check out one of the following articles:
3. Humans and even Satan himself are directly related to Jesus in Mormonism
While Christians hold that Jesus was eternally God before the creation of the world, LDS leaders teach that there was a time when all spirits existed (preexistence) before they became humans; this included Jesus and everyone on the earth, which means that everyone is directly related to Jesus. Second President Brigham Young even called Jesus our “Elder Brother”:
The Apostles and Prophets, when speaking of our relationship to God, say that we are flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone, God is our Father, and Jesus Christ is our Elder Brother, and both are our everlasting friends. JOD 6:332” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 25).
Sixth President Joseph F. Smith explained,
The Father of Jesus is our Father also. Jesus Himself taught this truth, when He instructed His disciples how to pray: “Our Father which art in heaven,” etc. Jesus, however, is the firstborn among all the sons of God—the first begotten in the spirit, and the only begotten in the flesh. He is our elder brother, and we, like Him, are in the image of God” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 1998, p. 335).
There is no relationship, in a “spirit world” before mortality or anywhere else, between Jesus and Satan and humans. He was, after all, God in the flesh, which is our next point. For more on this topic, check out “The Relationship Between Jesus and Lucifer in a Mormon Context”
4. The Jesus of Mormonism is not eternally God
There was a time when Jesus was not God since He was created as a spirit child of God the Father and Heavenly Mother.Thus, He became perfect sometime before His birth while He was in the preexistence, as described in the previous point. Apostle Richard G. Scott told a general conference audience:
Jesus Christ possessed merits that no other child of Heavenly Father could possibly have. He was a God, Jehovah, before His birth in Bethlehem. His beloved Father not only gave Him His spirit body, but Jesus was His Only Begotten Son in the flesh. Our Master lived a perfect, sinless life and therefore was free from the demands of justice. He was and is perfect in every attribute, including love, compassion, patience, obedience, forgiveness, and humility (“The Atonement Can Secure Your Peace and Happiness,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1997, p. 53).
Yet the Bible teaches that Jesus was always God and never came into being as a god, whether in the “preexistence” or this world. John 1:1-3, 14 says,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. . . . 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
For more on this, check out an article titled “Does the Bible Really Say that Jesus is God?”
5. The Jesus of Mormonism had to be obedient in order to become a god
Jesus had to “qualify” for godhood by obeying “all the laws of God,” just as Mormon believers are expected to do. Thirteenth President Ezra Taft Benson explained,
To qualify as the Redeemer of all our Father’s children, Jesus had to be perfectly obedient to all the laws of God. Because He subjected Himself to the will of the Father, He grew from grace to grace, until he received a fulness’ of the Father’s power. Thus He had “all power, both in heaven and on earth” (D&C 93:13,17)” (Sermons and Writings of President Ezra Taft Benson, p. 3).
This meant that Jesus was not always perfect. Sixth President Joseph F. Smith stated:
Even Christ himself was not perfect at first; he received not a fulness at first, but he received grace for grace, and he continued to receive more and more until he received a fulness (Gospel Doctrine, 1986, p. 68. See also Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, p. 153).
Apostle Bruce R. McConkie wrote,
Our Lord revealed anew some of the writings of John – writings which explained how Christ himself had worked out his own salvation, finally receiving all power in heaven and on earth – and then he said: “I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness” (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p. 849).
And Seventy Milton R. Hunter provided this sentence in a book that was used as an official church manual:
Jesus became a God and reached His great state of understanding through consistent effort and continuous obedience to all the Gospel truths and universal laws (The Gospel Through the Ages, p. 51).
While Jesus did not reach godhood through His obedience, according to the Bible He did need to learn obedience as a human. Philippians 2:5-11 says that Jesus was “in very nature God” but “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” Instead, he voluntarily became man in order to become the perfect sacrifice. (See Hebrews 9:11-14.) For more on this topic, see John Piper’s article “Why did Jesus need to learn Obedience?”
6. The Jesus of Mormonism paid for sins at the Garden of Gethsemane
When it comes to the atonement, the Garden of Gethsemane is emphasized over the cross in Mormonism. Thirteenth President Ezra Taft Benson stated,
It was in Gethsemane that Jesus took on Himself the sins of the world, in Gethsemane that His pain was equivalent to the cumulative burden of all men, in Gethsemane that He descended below all things so that all could repent and come to Him (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 14).
He also wrote,
To possess a testimony of Jesus is to know that He voluntarily took upon Himself the sins of all mankind in the Garden of Gethsemane, which caused Him to suffer in both body and spirit and to bleed from every pore. All this He did so that we would not have to suffer if we would repent. (See D&C 19:16, 18.) (Sermons and Writings of President Ezra Taft Benson, p. 12).
Christians of all persuasions hold that it is the cross where the atonement took place. In fact, except in the passage depicting Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Garden is never mentioned in relationship to the atonement. Yet the cross is. For instance, 1 Corinthians 1:17-18 says, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Colossians 1:20 says, “And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” And Galatians 6:14 says, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” See, the atonement did not come about through the perspiration of the sacrifice but through its expiation. The price for sins of all believers was paid through the blood shed in the cross and not the Garden.
For more on this topic, see “Calvary or Gethsemane? The Atonement According to Mormonism.”
7. According to LDS teaching, the Jesus of Christianity was invented at church councils
Mormon leaders claim there was a “Great Apostasy” and that all authority was lost. Many point to the fourth century council at Nicaea as the climax for early Christianity falling into total error. Twelfth President Spencer W. Kimball wrote,
Men with keen intelligence got together… [at] Nicea and created a God. They did not pray for wisdom or revelation. They claimed no revelation from the Lord. They made it just about like a political party would do, and out of their own mortal minds created a God which is still worshiped by the great majority of Christians” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 426. Ellipsis and brackets in original).
Sixteenth President Thomas S. Monson agreed, adding,
In times past, great things journeyed in the crusades of Christianity, felling that, if only the Holy Land could be secured from the infidel, then Christ would be found in their lives. How mistaken they were. Thousands upon thousands perished. Many others committed heinous crimes in the very name of Christianity. Jesus will not be found by crusades of men. Still others searched for Jesus in councils of debate. Such was the historic Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. There, with the help of the Roman Emperor, the delegates did away in Christianity with the concept of a personal God and a personal Son–the two separate and distinct Glorified Beings of the scriptures. The Creed of Nicea, the ‘incomprehensible mystery’ of which its originators seemed so proud precisely because it could not be understood, substituted for the personal God of love and for Jesus of the New Testament an immaterial abstraction. The result was a maze of confusion and a compoundment of error. Jesus will not be found in councils of debate (“The Search for Jesus,” Conference Report, October 1965, pp. 143-143. Cited in Teachings of Thomas S. Monson, pp. 154-155).
His successor Gordon B. Hinckley agreed:
When the emperor Constantine was converted to Christianity, he became aware of the divisiveness among the clergy concerning the nature of Deity. In an attempt to overcome this he gathered the eminent divines of the day to Nicaea in the year 325. Each participant was given opportunity to state his views. The argument only grew more heated. When a definition could not be reached, a compromise was made. It came to be known as the Nicene Creed, and its basic elements are recited by most of the Christian faithful. Personally I cannot understand it. To me the creed is confusing. How deeply grateful I am that we of this Church do not rely on any man-made statement concerning the nature of Deity. Our knowledge comes directly from the personal experience of Joseph Smith, who, while yet a boy, spoke with God the Eternal Father and His Beloved Son, the Risen Lord” (“The Things of Which I know,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2007, p. 83).
Rather than inventing apostasy and creating a Jesus that wasn’t taught in the Bible, these early church councils were beneficial in looking at the Bible and defining the authentic Jesus. For more on this important topic, check out:
8. The Jesus of Mormonism had the potential to sin
Leaders have claimed that Jesus, because He was not eternally God, had the potential to sin. Apostle James Talmage wrote,
A question deserving some attention in this connection is that of the peccability or impeccability of Christ–the question as to whether He was capable of sinning. Had there been no possibility of His yielding to the lures of Satan, there would have been no real test in the temptations, no genuine victory in the result (Jesus the Christ, p. 134).
However, if Jesus was by nature God (Phil. 2:5-7), then it would have been impossible for Him to actually sin, even if He had limitations and, in points of weakness, thought he could have sinned. Jesus was still authentically tempted even if He could have never fallen to the temptations (Hebrews 4:15).
For more on this issue, see an article at carm.org titled “Could Jesus Sin?”
9. Some LDS leaders have taught that Jesus was married and had a family
While it is a doctrine not talked about by LDS Church leaders today (whether pro or con), early leaders taught that Jesus must have been married to several women and even had children. This would be necessary, they thought, if Jesus wanted to qualify for exaltation in the celestial kingdom. For example, Apostle Orson Hyde explained,
It will be borne in mind that once on a time, there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and on a careful reading of that transaction, it will be discovered that no less a person than Jesus Christ was married on that occasion. If he was never married, his intimacy with Mary and Martha, and the other Mary also whom Jesus loved, must have been highly unbecoming and improper to say the best of it (Journal of Discourses 4:259).
Hyde also told a general conference audience that Jesus had children:
Now there was actually a marriage; and if Jesus was not the bridegroom on that occasion, please tell who was. If any man can show this, and prove that it was not the Savior of the world, then I will acknowledge I am in error. We say it was Jesus Christ who was married, to be brought into the relation whereby he could see his seed, before he was crucified (Conference message, October 6, 1854, Journal of Discourses 2:82).
Apostle Orson Pratt believed the same thing:
One thing is certain, that there were several holy women that greatly loved Jesus — such as Mary, and Martha her sister, and Mary Magdalene; and Jesus greatly loved them, and associated with them much; and when He arose from the dead, instead of showing Himself to His chosen witnesses, the Apostles, He appeared first to these women, or at least to one of them — namely, Mary Magdalene. Now it would be natural for a husband in the resurrection to appear first to his own dear wives, and afterwards show himself to his other friends. If all the acts of Jesus were written, we no doubt should learn that these beloved women were His wives (The Seer, p. 159).
There is no reason to believe that Jesus was married or had children, as this would have been an important fact that the Gospel writers certainly wouldn’t have missed. If he did, they must have been homeless for Jesus said in Luke 9:58 that “foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”For more on this topic, check out “Was Jesus Married?”
10. The work Jesus did on the cross in Mormonism is not enough by itself for a person to receive forgiveness of sins
According to Mormonism, the atonement of Jesus is important, but one’s obedience to good works is also required in order to qualify for the celestial kingdom. In a church manual, tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:
Through obedience to those commandments which are set forth in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and by continuance therein, we shall receive immortality, glory, eternal life, and dwell in the presence of God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ, where we shall truly know them (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, 2013, p. 237).
In his classic book The Miracle of Forgiveness, twelfth President Spencer W. Kimball stated,
Your Heavenly Father has promised forgiveness upon total repentance and meeting all the requirements, but that forgiveness is not granted merely for the asking. There must be works—many works—and an all-out, total surrender, with a great humility and “a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” It depends upon you whether or not you are forgiven, and when. It could be weeks, it could he years, it could be centuries before that happy day when you have the positive assurance that the Lord has forgiven you. That depends on your humility your sincerity, your works, your attitudes (pp. 324-325).
However, the Bible teaches that a person is justified by faith alone and not by works. Forgiveness of sins is provided as a free gift through the work done on the cross by Jesus. As Romans 3:28 states, “For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” A person who thinks Jesus + Anything (i.e., baptism, attending church, doing good to neighbors, paying tithes, etc.) = eternal life is sadly mistaken.
Church leaders can fill their temple walls and church foyers with as many paintings, statutes, and portrayals of Jesus as they wish. However, this does not mean this Jesus is the Jesus as portrayed in the Bible.
- A 2-part TV series in September 2020 with Doris Hanson discussing this article Part 1 Part 2
- For an overview of the Jesus as taught in Mormonism, we encourage you to visit “Crash Course Mormonism: Jesus“
- For 10 Reasons Why a Person ought to consider becoming a Christian, click here
- For more 10 Reasons articles, click here