By Eric Johnson
God the Father can have several different names in Mormonism, including Heavenly Father or Elohim. A good picture of this version of God can be seen in founder Joseph Smith’s statement from what is known as the King Follett Discourse:
I will go back to the beginning before the world was, to show what kind of being God is. What sort of a being was God in the beginning? Open your ears and hear, all ye ends of the earth, for I am going to prove it to you by the Bible, and to tell you the designs of God in relation to the human race, and why He interferes with the affairs of man. God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret, if the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible,—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with him, as one man talks and communes with another (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345. Italics in original. See also Achieving a Celestial Marriage, p. 129).
He also said,
We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see. These are incomprehensible ideas to some, but they are simple. It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God 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, pp. 345-346. Italics in original. See also Gospel Principles, 1997, p. 305).
Indeed, D&C 130:22 declares “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s” (D&C 130:22). A church manual explains:
The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches that man is an eternal being, made in the image and likeness of God. . . . These truths are generally well understood by Latter-day Saints. Less well understood, however, is the fact that God is an exalted man who once lived on an earth and underwent experiences of mortality. The great prophet Joseph Smith refers to this as “the great secret” (Achieving a Celestial Marriage, 1976, p. 129. Ellipsis mine).
Church leadership even agrees that Mormonism’s version of God is incompatible with Christianity:
The truths taught in Doctrine and Covenants 130:22-23 may seem natural and logical to long-time members of the Church. However, this doctrine is very different from the beliefs of most other Christian churches. List and explain three ways that your life—such as your thoughts, behavior, and prayers—is different because you know what the Godhead is really like (Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Student Study Guide, 2001, p. 147).
Seventy Milton R. Hunter describes a turning point in the theology of Joseph Smith:
In June, 1840, Lorenzo Snow formulated the following famous couplet: “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.” This doctrine, when first announced by the Prophet and later restated by Elder Snow, was astounding to Christendom, since the teachers as well as the laity had long ago ceased to regard man as a being of such magnitude. Even today it is still a doctrine understood primarily by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (The Gospel through the Ages, 1950, pp. 105-106).
The idea that God has a glorified body and was not always “God” as well as that humans can become as God differs from much of the earlier 1830s teaching in the Standard Works. For instance, consider several passages in the Book of Mormon:
And the king said: Is God that Great Spirit that brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem? And Aaron said unto him: Yea, he is that Great Spirit, and he created all things both in heaven and in earth. Believest thou this? And he said: Yea, I believe that the Great Spirit created all things, and I desire that ye should tell me concerning all these things, and I will believe thy words (Alma 22:9-11).
For I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity” (Moroni 8:18).
Meanwhile, the Doctrine and Covenants teaches,
By these things we know that there is a God in heaven, who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God, the framer of heaven and earth, and all things which are in them; And that he created man, male and female, after his own image and in his own likeness, created he them; And gave unto them commandments that they should love and serve him, the only living and true God, and that he should be the only being whom they should worship (D&C 20:1719).
From eternity to eternity he is the same, and his years never fail (D&C 76:4).
What Does Christianity Teach
The Bible teaches that:
- God has always been God (Psalm 90:2)
- God does not change (once a human, now God) (Mal. 3:6, James 1:17)
- God had no God before Him nor will there will a God after Him (Is. 43:10)
- God knows of no other gods (Is. 44:6,8)
- God is above our thoughts (Is. 55:8-9)
Therefore, the God of the Bible is incompatible with the teachings of the LDS Church.
Verses used by some Mormons to support their view of God
- Genesis 1:26-27: Gods?
- Exodus 33:11: Seeing God
- Exodus 33:20: Seeing God
- Numbers 23:19: God changes His mind
- Psalm 82:6: Ye are Gods
- Matthew 3:15-17: Three gods
- John 10:34: Ye are gods
- Romans 8:16-17: Heirs with God
- 1 Corinthians 8:5: Other gods
Other articles to consider
Check out these other short videos on God:
Test your Understanding
- Based on the Lorenzo Snow couplet (“As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become”), what is NOT a possible explanation of this teaching?
A) All people have the potential to be exalted and become as God
B) God once was a man
C) God has a tangible body of flesh and bone
D) God has always been God
E) All of the above are true
2. Which scripture agrees with Smith’s assessment that God is a physical being?
A) Book of Mormon B) Bible C) Doctrine and Covenants D) All of the above agree
3. Which verse could a Christian use in an evangelism situation to show that God has always been God and there never was a time that He was not God?
A) John 3:16 B) Moroni 10:4-5 C) D&C 130:22 D) Moroni 8:18
4. What is the major problem Christians have with the LDS teaching on the nature of God?
A) It corrupts the very nature of God, which is blasphemous
B) It makes Christians sad that Mormons have a chance for godhood if they can remain obedient
C) The LDS view is close enough to the biblical position of who God is
D) Christians shouldn’t have a problem with the LDS view because at least Mormons believe in God
5. Mormons often like to point to biblical verses to support their view of God. How should a Christian respond?
A) Tell the Mormon they have no idea what they’re talking about
B) Tell the Mormon they can’t become as God unless they stop criticizing Christians
C) Tell the Mormon that these verses are out of context and be willing to look at each one to show this to be true
D) Tell the Mormon that the Bible is only true as far as it is translated correctly, so obviously those verses were not translated properly
Answers to the quiz
- C (specifically D&C 130:22)