Whereas Christianity has, throughout the centuries, defined salvation as synonymous with eternal life, Mormonism makes eternal life synonymous with becoming a god. According to sixth President Joseph F. Smith,
The object of our earthly existence is that we may have a fulness of joy, and that we may become the sons and daughters of God, in the fullest sense of the word, being heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ [see Romans 8:14–17], to be kings and priests unto God, to inherit glory, dominion, exaltation, thrones and every power and attribute developed and possessed by our Heavenly Father. This is the object of our being on this earth. In order to attain unto this exalted position, it is necessary that we go through this mortal experience, or probation, by which we may prove ourselves worthy, through the aid of our elder brother Jesus (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, p. 150).
It ought to be the goal of every faithful Latter-day Saint to aspire to a similar position which God himself now holds. In his 1844 sermon known as the King Follett Discourse, Joseph Smith declared:
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, p. 346).
President Brigham Young stated:
The Lord created you and me for the purpose of becoming Gods like Himself … The Lord has organized mankind for the express purpose of increasing in that intelligence and truth, which is with God, until he is capable of creating worlds on worlds, and becoming Gods, even the sons of God (Journal of Discourses 3:93).
Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a member of the First Presidency, declared at a general conference,
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 (“You Matter to Him,” Ensign, November 2011, p. 20).
In order to reach this state, there are requirements that must be met, as explained in a general conference talk given by Seventy Robert C. Gay:
This is the exchange the Savior is asking of us: we are to give up all our sins, big or small, for the Father’s reward of eternal life. We are to forget self-justifying stories, excuses, rationalizations, defense mechanisms, procrastinations, appearances, personal pride, judgmental thoughts, and doing things our way. We are to separate ourselves from all worldliness and take upon us the image of God in our countenances (Robert C. Gay, “What Shall a Man Give in Exchange for His Soul?” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2012, p. 35).
Seventy Allan F. Packer provided more information:
Qualifying for exaltation is like entering another country. We must each obtain our spiritual passport. We do not set the requirements, but, individually, we must meet all of them. The plan of salvation contains all of the doctrines, laws, commandments, and ordinances needed for all to qualify for exaltation. Then, “through the Atonement of [Jesus] Christ, all mankind may be saved.” The Church helps but cannot do it for us. Qualifying for exaltation becomes a quest of a lifetime (“The Book,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2014, p. 99).
Another requirement is getting married and “sealed” in the temple. Russell M. Nelson, who now serves as the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said, “Eternal life is to gain exaltation in the highest heaven and live in the family unit” ( “Prepare for the Blessings of the Temple,” Ensign Special Issue Temples, October 2010, p. 49). A church handbook explains, “Exaltation in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom can be obtained only by those who have faithfully lived the gospel of Jesus Christ and are sealed as eternal companions” (2010 Church Handbook of Instruction, Handbook 2, p. 3). Quoting Joseph Fielding Smith, another church manual reports,
In order to fulfill the purposes of our Eternal Father, there must be a union, husbands and wives receiving the blessings that are promised to those who are faithful and true that will exalt them to Godhood. A man cannot receive the fullness of the blessings of the kingdom of God alone, nor can the woman, but the two together can receive all the blessings and privileges that pertain to the fullness of the Father’s kingdom (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, p. 197).
In that same manual Smith also said,
Those who receive the exaltation in the celestial kingdom will have the “continuation of the seeds forever.” They will live in the family relationship. We are taught in the gospel of Jesus Christ that the family organization will be, so far as celestial exaltation is concerned, one that is complete, an organization linked from father and mother and children of one generation to the father and mother and children of the next generation, and thus expanding and spreading out down to the end of time” (Ibid., p. 68).
The fruit of exaltation is attaining godhood, as the church manual Gospel Principles puts it:
These are some of the blessings given to exalted people: 1. They will live eternally in the presence of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ (see D&C 76:62). 2. They will become gods (see D&C 132:20–23). 3. They will be united eternally with their righteous family members and will be able to have eternal increase. 4. They will receive a fulness of joy. 5. They will have everything that our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have—all power, glory, dominion, and knowledge (see D&C 132:19–20) (Gospel Principles, 2009, p. 277).
What will the gods be doing all day long?
Creating new worlds will be among the jobs of those who reside in the Celestial Kingdom. Henry B. Eyring, a member of the First Presidency, stated,
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 (“Education for Real Life,” Ensign, October 2002, p. 21).
Not only will exalted humans be forming and ruling over worlds, but they will also have the ability to procreate throughout eternity. This doctrine is known as eternal increase. A church manual declares,
Mortal persons who overcome all things and gain an ultimate exaltation will live eternally in the family unit and have spirit children, thus becoming Eternal Fathers and Eternal Mothers. (D&C 132:19–32.) Indeed, the formal pronouncement of the Church, issued by the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve, states: “So far as the stages of eternal progression and attainment have been made known through divine revelation, we are to understand that only resurrected and glorified beings can become parents of spirit offspring” (Eternal Marriage Student Manual: Religion 234 and 235, p. 167, quoting Bruce R. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine, p. 517).
Apostle Orson Pratt said that “the inhabitants of each world are required to reverence, adore, and worship their own personal father who dwells in the Heaven which they formerly inhabited” (The Seer, p. 37). There is a great responsibility, as Spencer W. Kimball wrote,
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” (Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual: Religion 430-431, p. 29).
A 2004 LDS student manual recounts a story about President Lorenzo Snow (1814–1901), who, while visiting a kindergarten class in Provo, Utah, saw several children making clay “spheres.” Snow told the school official accompanying him,
These children are now at play, making mud worlds, 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 (Presidents of the Church Student Manual: Religion 430-431, p. 29).
Citing Spencer W. Kimball, Apostle L. Tom Perry said,
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. For this they would probably need, eventually, a total knowledge of the sciences . . . Secular knowledge, important as it may be, can never save a soul nor open the celestial kingdom nor create a world nor make a man a god (“The Tradition of a Balanced, Righteous Life,” Ensign, August 2011, p. 51).
References to exalted beings forming and ruling over their own worlds, as well as engaging in eternal increase, are numerous. (For example, see Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 300-301; Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 2:48; and Achieving a Celestial Marriage, pp. 129, 132, 135.)
Despite the many quotes that can be found given by LDS leaders and church manuals pointing to the possibility of Mormons being able to make and rule over their own worlds, the Mormon Church posted a statement on its official Newsroom Web site relegating such comments to nothing more than mere speculation. Answering the question “Do Latter-day Saints believe that they will ‘get their own planet’?” the statement answered, “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.” The statement appears to use semantics to cover up teachings made by past LDS leaders who speak of Mormons making and ruling worlds and earths.
It is not uncommon for a Latter-day Saint to tone down the impact of this teaching by emphasizing that Mormons can merely become “like God,” as if this somehow means there is a distinction between what the LDS God is now and what Latter-day Saints hope to become. Though Mormons assume that exalted humans will always be subordinate to God, to insist that exalted beings will be merely “like God” suggests there will always be, to a certain degree, a substantial difference in quality and attributes between Elohim and his offspring. If this is so, is the Mormon Elohim also dissimilar from the God(s) who preceded him? In other words, if every generation of gods lacks in any degree the power, might, and dominion of the gods who preceded them, then it must be assumed that the God worshipped by present-day Mormons is also lesser in power, might, and dominion than the myriad of gods who were exalted before him. This means that the Mormon God is subordinate as well as inferior to the gods who preceded him.
Can Humans Really Become “Gods”?
Mormon apologists often compare exaltation with the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of deification, or theosis, meaning “union with God.” While speaking about a desire or perceived ability to seek God’s holiness, this idea never attempts to undermine the biblical truth that God is one or to give hope to believers that they can expect to become, in an ontological sense, a god. Theosis does not support the notion that Christians will ever achieve the essence or being of God. Still, this has not stopped Mormons from misusing the writings of some early church fathers,19 as well as Christian philosopher C. S. Lewis, in an attempt to give Smith’s teaching a bit of historical authenticity. Orthodox Bishop Kallistos (Timothy) Ware, Bishop of Diokleia, refutes such a comparison:
It is clear to me that C. S. Lewis understands the doctrine of theosis in essentially the same way as the Orthodox Church does; indeed, he probably derived his viewpoint from reading such Greek Fathers as Athanasius. On the other hand, the Mormon view is altogether different from what Lewis and the Orthodox Church believe. Orthodox theology emphasizes that there is a clear distinction—in the current phraseology “an ontological gap”—between God the Creator and the creation which He has made. This “gap” is bridged by divine love, supremely through the Incarnation, but it is not abolished. The distinction between the Uncreated and the created still remains. The Incarnation is a unique event. “Deification,” on the Orthodox understanding, is to be interpreted in terms of the distinction between the divine essence and the divine energies. Human beings share by God’s mercy in His energies but not in His essence, either in the present age or in the age to come. That is to say, in theosis the saints participate in the grace, power, and glory of God, but they never become God by essence (Quoted in Mormon America, p. 311).
Though some of the language used when speaking of exaltation and theosis may sound similar, the concepts are not. It is misleading, if not outright deceptive, for Mormons to continue making this comparison.
The Most High God
Israel praised God as the “Most High,” recognizing that there is none like Him (cf. Pss. 7:17; 9:2; 83:18). He is God alone. Isaiah 43:10 declares, “I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.” If Mormonism is true, this verse quickly becomes meaningless since countless numbers of gods must have preceded Elohim before he achieved his personal exaltation. Furthermore, Isaiah makes it clear that no gods are forthcoming. The argument that this speaks only to man-made idols must be rejected since every idol was made “after” God. In Isaiah 44:6, 8 the omniscient God of the Bible says there are no other gods. He also adamantly declares in Isaiah 45:5, “There is no God beside me.” From eternity past to eternity future, there will never be a “most high” God other than the one presented in the Bible. Still, the Bible does refer to “gods” throughout its pages. Whether this term refers to heavenly beings or representatives (such as angels) or false gods, it is never implied that these “gods” share equality with God the “Most High.”
John 10:34 often is cited to connect sinful man with potential godhood. In this account, Jesus stood at the famous “porch of Solomon” and responded to the blindness of the religious leaders of His day. He rebuked their unbelief by quoting from Psalm 82:6, “I have said, Ye are gods.” Does this offer hope of eventual exaltation as understood by Latter-day Saints? The problem with this interpretation is that Jesus did not say, “Ye can become gods.” Instead, the text reads, “Ye are [present tense] gods.” Not even Mormons believe that they are gods right now. At best, they are what many LDS leaders have called “gods in embryo” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 286).
Apostle James Talmage—a well-respected authority to Latter-day Saints even today—explained that Jesus was referring to divinely appointed human judges in John 10:34: “Divinely Appointed Judges Called ‘gods.’ In Psalm 82:6, judges invested by divine appointment are called ‘gods.’ To this the Savior referred in His reply to the Jews in Solomon’s Porch. Judges so authorized officiated as the representatives of God and are honored by the exalted title ‘gods’” (Jesus the Christ, p. 501). The LDS First Presidency appointed Talmage to write this book and, when completed, it was reviewed by a committee of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Some modern Mormon apologists, however, have rejected Talmage’s interpretation in favor of one that allows for the gods of Psalm 82:6 to be understood as a divine council of heavenly beings. In doing so, they reject the guidance of the First Presidency. While some Latter-day Saints give the impression that Talmage’s conclusion has little scholarly support, his interpretation agrees with that of many Hebrew and Old Testament scholars.
While other views could be entertained, many Bible commentators see this view as perfectly plausible. For example, Old Testament scholar Derek Kidner explains that “gods” could refer to human judges, “principalities and powers,” or to the gods of the heathen. Regarding this last possibility, he writes, “It is true that 1 Corinthians 10:20 speaks of pagan worship as the worship of demons, but this is to make the point that idolatry is never neutral but a surrender to Belial and his hosts; it is not an acceptance by Paul of heathen mythologies. Likewise the Old Testament never wavers in its abhorrence of heathen gods. For Yahweh to authenticate their claim with the words, ‘I say, “You are gods,”’ would be totally out of character” (Psalms 73-150: A Commentary, pp. 296-97). Whether Mormons agree with their apostle, along with the First Presidency, or reject his interpretation for one that allows for a divine council of heavenly beings makes little difference. Neither position consistently supports the LDS view that men can progress to become gods that are ontologically similar to the most high God of the Bible.
Another verse Mormons often use to support their case is 1 John 3:2, which says, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” To be “like him” is taken by Mormons to mean that humans could possibly end up having all of the attributes of God Himself, including omnipotence, or “all-powerfulness.” President Spencer W. Kimball said as much when he wrote, “To this end God created man to live in mortality and endowed him with the potential to perpetuate the race, to subdue the earth, to perfect himself and to become as God, omniscient and omnipotent” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 2).
However, since only one being could hold “all power,” having more than one omnipotent being defies the very meaning of the word. In his commentary on 1 John, Christian theologian Simon J. Kistemaker writes, “Scripture discloses that at the coming of Christ we will be glorified in body and soul. ‘We shall be like him.’ The Bible nowhere states that we shall be equal to Christ. Instead it tells us that we shall be conformed to the likeness of the Son of God. We share his immortality. However, Christ has the preeminence, for the Son of God is ‘the firstborn among many brothers’ (Rom. 8:29)” (New Testament Commentary: James, Epistles of John, Peter, and Jude, 295). Mormonism’s version of who God once was and what man may become hardly concur with the descriptions found in the Bible. This is no small issue.
For more on this topic, consider the following resources:
- Becoming Like God: A Review of the Gospel Topics Essay
- Ceaseless praise that has no end
- Are Families Forever?
- Will Exalted Mormons Get Their Own Worlds?
- Godhood and Theosis
- Celestial Marriage and Eternal Exaltation
- Who are the Sons of Perdition?
- Heaven and Hell
- Second Chance Theory and Progression Between Kingdoms
- Eternal Progression: Mormonism vs. Christianity
- Mormons Yawn at Christian Heaven (Blog)
- Building an Eternal Marriage Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 July 7-11, 2014
- Billions of Planets November 26, 2013
- Worlds and Earths November 14, 2011
- Godhood (Rob Bowman) November 1, 2011
- Families are Forever Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 September 26-28, 2011