Response to Richard Hopkins
Rejoinder by Keith Walker
In order to make this review easier to read, all original quotes from the Mormonism 201 rebuttal are boldfaced and italicized to separate these from the rest of the rejoinder.
Through the years that I have known Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, there are two constant thoughts that come to my mind in describing how they handle the error of Mormonism: One, they understand the tremendous need to reach out to the LDS and evangelize them for the true gospel of Jesus Christ. Two, whenever describing what Mormonism teaches, they go through great efforts to be fair and accurate. They realize that it does them no good to misrepresent what Mormonism teaches. This is what confuses me the most about Richard Hopkins’ review.
Regardless of how many quotes from LDS authorities and verses from the Standard Works that McKeever and Johnson give, Hopkins still claims that they misunderstand. The first paragraph in the Hopkins review states: “Commentaries on LDS theology that reflect the kind of jumbled misunderstanding apparent throughout this chapter of Mormonism 101, by Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, indicate the distance Latter-day Saints (Mormons) have yet to travel in their effort to communicate with those who come from a background in the orthodox Christian faith.”
Hopkins admits that if there is a misunderstanding on the part of McKeever and Johnson, then part of the responsibility in bridging this communication gap belongs to the Mormons. In order to do that, Mormons need to try to understand the arguments presented in Mormonism 101 from the authors’ point of view instead of being so quick to condemn the book. This is part of the reason why McKeever and Johnson spend so much time quoting LDS authorities. They are attempting to present Mormonism from its own perspective before they critique it. In my response to Hopkins, I will attempt to clarify some of McKeever and Johnson’s arguments and correct some of the misunderstandings that Hopkins has made regarding Christianity and its contrast to Mormonism.
The opening quotation of this chapter is the basis for the whole argument presented. McKeever and Johnson quote LDS President Spencer W. Kimball in an attempt to prove that Mormon leaders have claimed to worship a completely different god than that of Christians today. Kimball wrote: “Men with keen intelligence got together…[at] Nicea and created a God.[c] 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.”
McKeever and Johnson then state, “If two people hope to consider themselves of the same faith, they need to agree on their definition of the Almighty God.” Hopkins takes exception to this by claiming,“Mormons and Evangelicals are not ‘of the same faith,’ any more than Lutherans are ‘of the same faith’ as Catholics.”
Hopkins seems to misunderstand McKeever and Johnson’s point. The sentence “if two people hope to consider themselves of the same faith, they need to agree on their definition of the Almighty God”is not referring to simple denominational differences. Evangelicals, Lutherans, and Catholics agree on their definition of the Almighty God. Mormonism is the “odd man out.” Just as Islam is not Christianity, Mormonism is an entirely different faith with a completely different god.
The main point that McKeever and Johnson make is that the God of Mormonism is not just described differently than the God of the Bible. He is an entirely different God. Kimball himself stated twice that those at Nicea “created a God.” Kimball said, “Many men with no pretense nor claim to revelation, speaking without divine authority or revelation, depending only upon their own brilliant minds, but representing as they claim the congregations of the Christians and in long conference and erudite councils, sought the creation process to make a God which all could accept.”
Note that Kimball called this a “creation process” and not a redefinition of the same god. In spite of this clear declaration, Hopkins claims that Mormons and Christians believe in the same god, just with different characteristics. If this is true, then the burden of proof demands Hopkins to do two things: First, explain (in context) what Kimball really meant, and second, prove it from other authoritative LDS sources. Hopkins does neither.
Instead, Hopkins attempts to explain how these two gods really are the same. He writes, “They each worship God the Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, but Mormons and orthodox Christians understand these persons, and the term ‘God’ applied to them as a whole, differently. It is important, however, to understand that Mormons only disagree with orthodox Christians on matters stated in their creeds, such as the one adopted at Nicaea. They do not disagree on matters stated in the Bible, though they interpret some Bible passages differently and they view the teachings of the Bible in a light undisturbed by the Greek philosophical assumptions mentioned above.”
If we disagree on interpretations, then we disagree on what the Bible says. If we agree on what the words are, yet disagree on what they mean, we are no closer to an agreement than two children saying the same thing about one toy, “It’s mine!” They have the exact same words, but with opposite meanings.
The primary concern Hopkins seems to have is with the concept of the Trinity. He states, “Indeed, it portrays a God so different from man that it contradicts scripture (e.g., Gen. 1:26-27) and marks God as utterly incomprehensible, not just as to His thoughts (Isa. 55:8-9) but as to His very nature, his ontology.”
I am happy to see that Hopkins understands exactly how different Christians believe the God of the Bible is from man. We believe that God is “wholly other” and that scripture supports it. Christian apologist James White notes, “The Trinity is a truth that tests our dedication to the principle that God is smarter than we are. As strange as that may sound, I truly believe that in most instances where a religious group denies the Trinity, the reason can be traced back to the founder’s unwillingness to admit the simple reality that God is bigger than we can ever imagine.”
I have had similar conversations with Jehovah’s Witnesses who reject the Trinity because they also believe this doctrine is unreasonable. I once asked a JW if God was limited by a person’s ability to comprehend Him. The obvious answer is, no. My next question stumped the JW and made him really think about why this organization rejects the Trinity. “If God wanted to exist as a Trinity, could He?” Surely He can. Our inability to understand the nature of God should, in no way, limit Him.
White goes on to say, “When we encounter new thoughts, new ideas, it is natural for us to fit them into preexisting categories by comparing them with past experiences or facts. This process works fine for most things. But for unique things, it doesn’t. If something is truly unique, it cannot be compared to anything else, at least not without introducing some element of error… The problem is, of course, God is completely unique. He is God and there is no other. He is totally unlike anything else, and as He frequently reminds us, “To Whom then will you liken Me?” (Isaiah 40:25). There is no answer to that question, because to compare God to anything in the created order is, in the final analysis, to deny His uniqueness.”
Hopkins shows that he misunderstands the image of God in which man was created. Genesis 1:26-27 does not refer to physicality. This verse is usually the first one that Mormons will use in an attempt to “prove” that God has a physical body. The reasoning goes like this: “If we are physical beings and created in God’s image, then He must be physical too.” The major problem with this interpretation is the obvious inconsistency with Mormon theology. Who is God the Father speaking to when He says, “Us” and “Our image”? According to the LDS scripture Pearl of Great Price, “And I, God, created man in mine own image, in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him; male and female created I them. This verse clearly shows the Father speaking to the Son. Since Jesus had not yet become man at this time, He therefore did not have a physical body. If neither the Father nor the Son had a physical body in common (as Mormons imply) when man was created, then the image that man was created in cannot be referring to physicality.
In this section of His critique, Hopkins cleverly attempts to answer the question of whether or not the Father progresses by trying to explain away several public faux pas made by President Hinckley in recent years.
Hopkins states: “Actually, the idea that God progresses is not at all foreign to the Bible…[He gives two verses, Proverbs 8:22 and Hebrews 5:8] However, it should be noted that these passages relate to Christ. There is, therefore, a major caution that should be raised with regard to all the speculation quoted above by McKeever and Johnson. The details of this doctrine are largely unknown. That is especially true when it comes to God the Father. President Gordon B. Hinckley, the current prophet and president of the LDS Church has taken great pains recently to point this out in exchanges that McKeever and Johnson cite as some kind of backpedaling or lack of forthrightness on his part. That is not the nature of it at all. Pres. Hinckley is wisely pointing out that we know very little about this doctrine and cannot be sure our speculations on the subject are accurate.”
It is interesting to note that Hopkins did not provide these faux pas here for examination. The question that President Hinckley was asked is basic to Mormon theology. The first one comes from the San Francisco Chronicle.
Q: There are some significant differences in your beliefs. For instance, don’t Mormons believe that God was once a man?
A: I wouldn’t say that. There was a little couplet coined, “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.” Now that’s more of a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about.
Q: So you’re saying the Church is still struggling to understand this?
A: Well, as God is, man may become. We believe in eternal progression. Very strongly. We believe that the glory of God is intelligence and whatever principle of intelligence we attain in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. Knowledge, learning, is an eternal thing. And for that reason, we stress education. We’re trying to do all we can to make our people the ablest, best, brightest people that we can.
The second faux pas was from the August 4, 1997 edition of Time magazine. On page 56, reporter David Van Biema makes an interesting observation: “In an interview with TIME, President Hinckley seemed intent on down playing his faith’s distinctiveness… At first, Hinckley seemed to qualify the idea that men could become gods, suggesting that ‘it’s of course an ideal. It’s a hope for a wishful thing,’ but later affirmed that ‘yes of course they can.’…On whether his church still holds that God the Father was once a man, he sounded uncertain, ‘I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it… I understand the philosophical background behind it, but I don’t know a lot about it, and I don’t think others know a lot about it.'”
In both of these interviews, the same question is asked. Was God once a man? Joseph Smith answers that question himself: “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 himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did; and I will show it from the Bible.”
Why did President Hinckley have such trouble answering a question that Joseph Smith said, was the “first principle of the gospel?” Even Dallin Oaks realizes that this principle is foremost and primary to understanding the major tenets of LDS faith. He said: “When Joseph Smith was asked to explain the major tenets of our faith, he wrote what we now call the Articles of Faith. The first article states, ‘We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.’ The Prophet later declared that ‘the simple and first principles of the gospel’ include knowing ‘for a certainty the character of God’ (“Conference Minutes,” Times and Seasons, 15 Aug. 1844, p. 614). We must begin with the truth about God and our relationship to him. Everything else follows from that.”
In light of what Smith has said, there is no such intimation that Hinckley is “wisely pointing out that we know very little about this doctrine.” It is simply dishonest for Hopkins to suggest this.What Hopkins calls “speculation” is found in official LDS Church Education System publications. The copyright for “Achieving a Celestial Marriage” is “The Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” That title alone holds all the authority any Mormon would ever need as an assurance that what is taught within the pages of that book is official LDS Church doctrine. Why couldn’t President Hinckley just provide the answer that Smith has already given since it already appears in official LDS Church publications? The answer is obvious.
Hopkins’ next idea concerning God’s infinite nature is confusing at best. He writes: “To answer this question and understand the Hebrew concept expressed in the word ‘everlasting,’ it will help to understand something about the mathematical concept of infinity. An infinite period of time is so long that it can be divided into any number of individual periods of time, each of which is also of infinite duration. Thus, it is theoretically possible that, at an infinite time in the past, God progressed to His current standing as God. That progression could itself have occupied an infinite period of time. Thus it would be completely accurate to say that God has been God for an infinite period of time and will continue to be so eternally in the future, while at the same time recognizing that He spent and (sic) infinite period of time achieving that status. There would still be infinite periods of time, past and future, during which He has been and will continue eternally to be the unchanging God of the scriptures.”
Hopkins’ idea of infinity is nonsense. The wording of the above quote makes the idea impossible. The use of the phrase “an infinite period of time” is an oxymoron. Infinity cannot be contained within a “period of time.” If it can be contained to a certain period, then it isn’t infinite. To say that God “progressed” toward godhood is an admission that He was not there when He started progressing toward it. If His progression toward godhood occupies an infinite period of time, then He is not—and never will be—God. He will only continue progressing.
Let’s bring these lofty ideas of infinity down to our present situation. The man Richard Hopkins istrying to become a god. Notice the word “trying.” This means, as Hopkins himself would certainly agree, he is not yet there. He is not an exalted man (i.e. a god). Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Mormonism is correct and that Hopkins will one day achieve exaltation. Will he be able to say of himself that he has always been a god? If he cannot say this of himself, and God was once a man like Hopkins, how can God say that he is eternally God?
Consider Dr. Francis J. Beckwith’s words on the “Philosophical Problems with the Mormon Concept of God”: “Imagine that I planned to drive on Interstate 15 from my home in Las Vegas to the Mormon temple in Salt Lake City. The distance is 450 miles. All things being equal, I would eventually arrive in Salt Lake. But suppose the distance was not 450 miles, but an infinite number. The fact is that I would never arrive in Salt Lake, since it is by definition impossible to complete an infinite count. An ‘infinite’ is, by definition, limitless. Hence, a traversed distance by definition cannot be infinite. Consequently, if I did eventually arrive in Salt Lake City, this would only prove that the distance I traveled was not infinite after all. That is to say, since I could always travel one more mile past my arrival point, arriving at any point proves that the distance I traveled was not infinite.”
Hopkins then alludes to Psalm 90:2, which says, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.” He states: “The passages above do not use the word ‘everlasting’ in the same way that we, with our upbringing immersed in Greek thought, understand that term. The term does not necessarily refer to something infinite. Rather, it refers to a kind of practical eternity, a time that exceeds all recorded history.”
I am confused as to why Hopkins would even state this. He just tried to argue that God is eternal, yet now he is saying that this term really means a limited eternity. If this is true, then Hopkins needs to be consistent with this idea and follow this argument to its logical conclusion. If the word “eternal” really means a finite period of time, then Psalm 90:2 should read this way: “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from a finite period of time to a finite period of time, thou art God.” Do you see the problem here? God ceases to be God at some undetermined point in the future!
Numerous times in his critique, Hopkins mentions that certain words do not appear in the Bible. He seems to think that because words like self-existent, infinite, immutable, and omnipresentcannot be found, this somehow means that God cannot be described by these characteristics. This kind of reasoning is simply false. The word “theocracy” is found nowhere in scripture, yet the word is used by Christians and Mormons alike to describe a government ruled by God. Neither are the common LDS words “ward,” “Heavenly Mother,” “standard works,” or “Word of Wisdom.” Should the fact that these words are missing from scripture mean that none of these concepts are true? McKeever and Johnson are just using the words they deem best to describe certain characteristics about God.
After trying to discount the concept, Hopkins again tries to redefine the words they use:“Mormons definitely teach that God is self-existent (though not in the Greek sense noted above). But they also teach that man is self-existent (though totally dependant on God for all that they have or enjoy in this life and throughout eternity).”
How can man be self-existent yet totally dependant on God? The terms are mutually exclusive. This statement reminds me of a report I once saw on CNN. A journalist who was in San Francisco taking a survey on homosexual activity interviewed one gay who said, “It’s really not fair to call all of us gay. We’re really just men having sex with other men.” I immediately turned to a friend sitting next to me and said, “Jeffrey Dahmer really wasn’t a murderer; he just liked killing people in cold blood.” If words and definitions mean anything, then Jeffrey Dahmer is a murderer and the man being interviewed on CNN was gay. If it weren’t for the fact that Hopkins continues to contradict McKeever and Johnson, they would be saying the same thing. It is impossible for man to be dependant upon God and yet somehow be self-existent.
Hopkins continues: “McKeever and Johnson then go on to quote a myriad of Mormon speculation on the subject of God’s origins. The truth is that, however much Mormons believe this speculation, and however likely it is that this speculation is true, it is just speculation. That is, it is the reasoning of men based on scripture. Mormons have a high degree of confidence in this particular speculation because it comes from some very inspired sources, but it is nevertheless speculation. There is no specific scriptural statement delineating the doctrines quoted.”
This is a very interesting paragraph. Hopkins accuses McKeever and Johnson of quoting “a myriad of Mormon speculation on the subject of God’s origins.” What Hopkins calls a “myriad” is really only four quotes. As for speculation, did McKeever and Johnson really stoop so low as to quote mere “speculation” instead of an authoritative source? Let’s look at one of the quotes and investigate the matter.
McKeever and Johnson’s first quote is from the second volume of Doctrines of Salvation. While Hopkins uses the word “speculation” six times in this one paragraph, it is interesting to note that Smith only used it twice in the whole book. In both instances Smith is accusing others of speculation concerning completely different subjects. Smith never calls this work “speculation.” The comments in the preface of the second and third volumes of Doctrines of Salvation are worthy of note, with my emphasis in underline: “This second volume in the Doctrines of Salvation series has one central theme: Salvation-What it is; How to gain it; and the Laws which pertain to it, (sic) For nearly half a century President Joseph Fielding Smith, true to his apostolic anointing, has traveled (sic) in the Church and throughout the world bearing special witness of Christ, raising the warning voice, and teaching the ‘Doctrines of Salvation’ in plainness and simplicity. He is universally esteemed as the chief doctrinal authority of the Church. No teachings are of greater worth to man than those revealing the truths about salvation, ‘for there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation’;and there is no one better qualified to teach these truths than President Smith…”
“In Doctrines of Salvation, Volume II, the gospel student will find plain and authoritative explanations to virtually every important phase of salvation, the degrees of glory, exaltation, celestial marriage, the Holy Spirit of Promise, salvation for the dead, spiritual life and death, the resurrection, and much more. The devout seeker after salvation will turn to these teachings with an intense desire to master them.”
It never ceases to amaze me how Mormons can call such emphatic claims “speculation” in light of what these quotes state. President Smith was the doctrinal authority, not Hopkins. No one is better qualified to teach this doctrine, including Hopkins. The student, especially Hopkins, should find authoritative explanations and turn to these teachings. President Smith states: “We are informed that there are many earths or worlds which have been created, and were created by the Son for the Father. This was, of course, before he was born a Babe in Bethlehem. Evidently his Father passed through a period of mortality even as he passed through mortality, and as we all are doing. Our Father in heaven, according to the Prophet, had a Father, and since there has been a condition of this kind through all eternity, each Father had a Father, until we come to a stop where we cannot go further, because of our limited capacity to understand.”
There is a curious footnote for this paragraph in the original work. Joseph Fielding Smith quotes from the first Mormon prophet: “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 himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did; and I will show it from the Bible….The Apostles have discovered that there were Gods above, for John says God was the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. My object was to preach the scriptures, and preach the doctrine they contain, there being a God above, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ….
“If Abraham reasoned thus—If Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and John discovered that God the Father of Jesus Christ had a Father, you may suppose that He had a Father also. Where was there ever a son without a father? And where was there ever a father without first being a son? Whenever did a tree or anything spring into existence without a progenitor? And everything comes in this way. Paul says that which is earthly is in the likeness of that which is heavenly, Hence if Jesus had a Father, can we not believe that He had a Father also? I despise the idea of being scared to death at such a doctrine, for the Bible is full of it.”
Obviously Joseph Fielding Smith views Joseph Smith Jr. as an authoritative source and who very clearly had specific belief concerning the subject of the Mormon god’s origins. Hopkins’ criticism that “there is no specific scriptural statement delineating the doctrines quoted” is a red herring. Why do you need scriptural statements when you have prophets? Are these men trustworthy or not? Why claim to sustain your leaders if you are trying to discount the doctrines they teach as “speculation”?
Hopkins concludes this section: “Mormons believe in the existence of the Father as God, the Son as God and the Holy Ghost as God, yet they no more believe in three separate Gods than do orthodox Christians.”
This is another amazing claim. Do Mormons not believe in three gods? What does Joseph Smith, Jr. have to say about this? “I have always declared God to be a distinct personage, Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and that the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods. If this is in accordance with the New Testament, lo and behold! we have three Gods anyhow, and they are plural; and who can contradict it?”
Meanwhile, Apostle Boyd Packer also seems to contradict Hopkins’ bold assertion: “Anyone who believes and teaches of God the Father, and accepts the divinity of Christ and of the Holy Ghost, teaches a plurality of Gods. When the early Apostles were gone it was not long until those who assumed the leadership of the Church forsook revelation and relied on reason. The idea of three separate Gods offended them, for it appeared to contravene those scriptures which refer to one God. To solve that problem they took verses from here and there and ignored all else that bears on the subject. They tried to stir the three ones together into some mysterious kind of a composite one.”
What doctrine was the leadership of the early Church supposedly offended by? According to Packer, it is the fact that there are “three separate Gods.”
After reading and thinking through Hopkins’ ideas about God’s transcendence, it seems as if he limits the definition to that of “just being higher.” This greatly reduces and insults the nature of God. He accuses McKeever and Johnson of not supporting their definition of God’s transcendence with passages from the Bible. According to Hopkins, there are no specific verses that describe it; instead, there are only verses that seem to suggest it if one interprets the passages differently than he does. Admittedly there is no particular verse in the Bible that states, “God is transcendent above His creation and He exists outside of space and time.” But this does not mean that the concept is not there.
If God created all things, as Colossians 1:16-17 says, then it follows that He is distinct from and exists above and beyond all creation. This would include time and space. The only other apparent possibility would be for God to be part of creation. If that were the case, then He couldn’t have created all things. Although the passage quoted above is specifically referring to the Son, this poses no problem for the Trinitarian. It does, however, pose more of a problem for the Mormon. Did the Son create the world on which His Father went through His mortal probation?
In spite of the Colossian passage, Hopkins states: “It [the doctrine of God’s transcendence] was arrived at by making assumptions and deductions based on other Bible passages. It is, therefore, speculation, but since it came from the second century Apologists, orthodox Christians have lost sight of its speculative nature and have come to accept it as a biblical fact. It is not, however, and Mormons, while they fully accept the truthfulness of the Bible passages that led to that speculation, do not join orthodox Christians in accepting the speculation itself.”
The same could be said of Mormonism’s insistence that God is a man. There are no passages in the Bible that teach it. In fact, there are passages that specifically say He is not a man! For instance, Hosea 11:9 states, “I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee: and I will not enter into the city.” Numbers 23:19 adds, “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent.” God is clearly stating that He is God and not man. Words like “not” and “but” are words that show contrast. There is an obvious contrast between the nature of God and the nature of man.
Let us assume for the sake of argument that the passages that refer to God having a face, hands and feet, etc. are to be taken literally, as Mormonism insists. This still does not necessitate the idea that God is an exalted man. Where does the Bible say he is a man or exalted man? This, as Hopkins accuses McKeever and Johnson, is a theological construct. Mormon authorities have interpreted these passages to say something they do not say. If God really has body parts, then where in the Bible does it say these parts belong to a man? Granted, man is created in God’s image, but we have already answered that objection above.
Hopkins continues, “Then there are the words of Paul in Romans 8:16-17, which sound as though they came from an LDS author (and Mormons would aver that they did!), for they not only attest to man’s origin as a literal child of God.”
One major problem with quoting this passage is that Hopkins omits verses fourteen and fifteen. The context will give us a clearer understanding. They read, “14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. 15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.”
Note first that only those who are led by the spirit of God are His sons. This does not apply to all of mankind. The passage does say that “the sons of God” are God’s children, but in what sense? Verse fifteen is very clear that the only reason we have a right to call God our Father is because we have been adopted by Him. What Father has to adopt his own children? In addition, the same Paul that Hopkins sites makes it clear in the following chapter of Romans (9:8) that “those who are the children of the flesh these are not the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.” It appears obvious that Paul was not teaching that we are God’s children by nature.
Hopkins begins this section by contradicting himself in two ways. First he says, “All LDS leaders teach that God… is omnipotent in the same sense that orthodox Christians believe He is omnipotent.” Then in the next paragraph he says, “However, Mormons give God a bit more power than orthodox Christians in that regard.” If Mormons give God more power than orthodox Christians do, how is it that we have the same definition of omnipotence? It’s almost like saying, “Mormons believe in the concept of mathematical infinity just like orthodox Christians do. However, Mormons believe in more numbers.” Just as it is impossible to add a number to infinity, so it is impossible to add power to omnipotence.
If this first contradiction isn’t baffling, then the next one is. Hopkins states: “They (Mormons) also believe that He does not do anything contrary to His nature. However, Mormons give God a bit more power than orthodox Christians in that regard. They acknowledge that He does have the power to behave in a way contrary to His nature.”
So does God act outside of his nature or not? What if God decided to do that? How comforting can it be to know that, at any moment, a fickle God like the one worshipped in Islam could arbitrarily toss you into outer darkness just for the fun of it? If He is not bound by His nature, what would keep Him from doing so?
The next concept that Hopkins misunderstands is, as he puts it, “the principle of voluntary submission.” McKeever and Johnson quote Orson Hyde: “There are Lords many, and Gods many, for they are called Gods to whom the word of God comes, and the word of God comes to all these kings and priests. But to our branch of the kingdom there is but one God, to whom we all owe the most perfect submission and loyalty; yet our God is just as subject to still higher intelligences, as we should be to him.”
Hopkins then shifts attention from what this quote states by asserting that Jesus “subjected himself to ‘still higher intelligences,’ namely God the Father.” It needs to be pointed out that if the Son is a lesser intelligence than the Father, then His subjection is not voluntary but rather necessary. It is redundant to subject yourself to someone to whom you are already subjected. To say that the Father is a “higher intelligence” than the Son is to say that the Father is more advanced (i.e. of more worth) than the Son.
The verse that Hopkins quotes to establish this idea (1 Cor. 15:27-28) does not state that the Father is a “higher intelligence” at all. It merely states that the Son will be subject to the Father. While Hopkins is correct in stating that the Son voluntarily subjects Himself to the Father, he is incorrect in asserting that the Father is a “higher intelligence.” John 5:18 says, “Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.” John’s inspired narrative is clear that the Son is equal to and of the same worth as the Father. John 5:23 emphasizes this same point: “That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.”
Hopkins then states that Hyde’s quote is speculative yet “is solidly based on the biblical principle of voluntary submission.” It seems that he missed McKeever and Johnson’s footnote (No. 33) that mentions this fact, “According to Andrew Ehat and Lyndon Cook, the book’s authors, there was ‘probably no clearer statement of Joseph’s theology’ than this editorial by Orson Hyde.”
If the authors of the book are correct, how can Hopkins label this quote as mere speculation? It seems as if Hopkins is using any means at hand to try to cast suspicion on the source material used in Mormonism 101. Throughout the whole process of his argument, he fails to grasp McKeever and Johnson’s major emphasis. The argument isn’t whether or not the Son voluntarily subjects Himself to the Father, but whether or not God the Father is subject to anyone other than Himself.
For the sake of argument, let us again assume that Mormonism is correct and that Hopkins attains exaltation. As a mortal man, Hopkins is not equal to God. He will not be equal to God even after being exalted. He will still be subject to God (i.e., not as advanced as or of less worth than God). He will always be worth less than God. That is the major point. If Hopkins is worth less than his God, then who is God less than in worth? If he is worth less (of a lesser advanced status) than any other being, then he isn’t omnipotent.
Hopkins delves into a little Hebrew to attempt to prove that God cannot create “ex-nihilo,” or out of nothing. While he is correct in stating that Bara means “fashion, form, or create,” he does not detail the full extent of the word. “‘Bara’; to create, form, make, produce; to cut, to cut down; to engrave, to carve. This word occurs in the very first verse of the Bible (Gen. 1:1). Bara emphasizes the initiation of the object, not manipulating it after original creation. The word as used in the Qal refers only to an activity which can be performed by God. Entirely new productions are associated with bara’ (Ex. 34:10; Num. 16:30; Ps. 51:10; Is. 4:5; 41:20; 48:7; 65:17, 18; Jer. 31:22). The word also possesses the meaning of ‘bringing into existence” in Is. 43:1; Ezek. 21:30; 28:13, 15. Therefore, it is not surprising that it is used in Gen. 1:1, 21, 27; 2:3. There is every reason to believe that bara’ was creation ex nihilo (out of nothing). ..”
Hopkins again makes the mistake of stating that the word omnipresent “appears nowhere in the Bible. It has never been used in scripture to describe God. Hence, to say that Mormons do not believe God is ‘truly omnipresent’ fails to describe any aspect of Mormon theology that is contrary to the Bible.”
Again, as I mentioned earlier, just because the word is not there does not mean that the concept is not clearly portrayed in the Bible. The same can be said of the word “omnipresent.” It is confusing as to why Hopkins would try to cast doubt on the concept of omnipresence and then say, “They (Mormons) believe that both the Father and the Son have glorified, resurrected bodies…and that such bodies have power and capabilities beyond the imagination of orthodox Christian theologians, namely the attributes described in the scriptures. This includes the attribute commonly described using the word “omnipresence.”
On one hand Hopkins seems to say, “You can’t criticize Mormons for believing that their God is not omnipresent because the word isn’t in the Bible.” On the other hand, he says, “We believe that the bodies of the Father and Son have attributes commonly described as omnipresence.” So is the Mormon God omnipresent or not? What are the attributes that Hopkins is referring to when he uses this word?
Hopkins goes on to say, “…if God were ‘truly omnipresent,’ as McKeever and Johnson put it, Christians would be pantheists… In fact, it is hard to distinguish the orthodox Christian’s notion of omnipresence from the pagan notion of pantheism (God is in everything).”
One of three things must be true before it would be possible for Hopkins to make this statement. One, he misunderstands the concept of omnipresence; two he misunderstands pantheism; or three, he misunderstands both. There is a huge difference between God being in every place at once (omnipresence) and God being everything (pantheism). The first sentence in McKeever and Johnson’s “transcendence” heading says, “God is distinct from His creation and the universe.”
If God is distinct from the universe, He cannot be the universe. In the last portion of Hopkins’ above quote, he demonstrates his lack of understanding of pantheism when he states, “God is in everything.” This is not pantheism but rather panentheism. Dr. Norman Geisler explains the difference between these two terms: “Pan-en-theism is not to be confused with pantheism, although they have some things in common. Panentheism is the belief that God is in the world the way a soul or mind is in a body; pantheism is the belief that God is the world and the world is God.”
Before one compares pagan world views with one of the attributes of God, it would be wise to understand the definitions of the terms that are used. Personally, I am hoping that Hopkins made a simple typographical error.
McKeever and Johnson go on to state, “When Solomon dedicated the Jerusalem temple, he fully recognized that such a building could never actually house the person of God.” They then quote the dedicatory prayer of Solomon in 1 Kings 8:27 (“Behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded?”) Hopkins responds: “This statement fails to take into account 1 Kings 8:13 from the same dedicatory prayer, which says, ‘I have surely built thee an house to dwell in, a settled place for thee to abide in for ever.’ See also, 2 Sam. 22:7; Psalm 11:14; 18:6; and Hab. 2:20… This is an oft misunderstood passage because it is seldom exegeted in congruence with those passages mentioned above, all of which clearly state that God does, in fact, enter and dwell in His temples. (Cf, Mal. 3:1.)”
Of the five verses that Hopkins cites, none of them has the possibility of being consistently applied to his interpretation.
2 Sam. 22:7: “In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried to my God: and he did hear my voice out of his temple, and my cry did enter into his ears.” David said these words before Solomon built the first temple.
Psalm 11:14- (This is an error and should be listed as Psalm 11:4) “The LORD is in his holy temple, the LORD’s throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men.” This was also written before Solomon’s temple. It is obvious from what the verse says that the temple spoken of is not an earthly one, but is in heaven.
Psalm 18:6- “In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears.” Being yet another Psalm of David, it is pre Solomon’s temple.
Habakkuk 2:20- “But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.” One major problem with using this verse is that the verse says that the LORD (Jehovah) is in His temple. It does not say this about Elohim. At the time this verse was written, Jesus had not yet become a man and was not dwelling in any earthly temple.
Malachi 3:1- “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.” This is an obvious prophecy of the coming of Christ and does not refer to God the Father at all. Jesus, as the God-man, did fulfill this prophecy.
Of all the verses that Hopkins quotes, I’m left wondering what difference it makes if Hopkins can prove that God dwells in earthly temples. God, being omnipresent, not only dwells in these temples but everywhere else also. There is not one single verse in the Bible that says God’s presence is limited to these temples. Hopkins gives the following explanation for 1 Kings 8:27: “If interpreted in context with these and other passages, and in its own context within the dedicatory prayer, it becomes apparent that this statement by Solomon is an expression of respect he used to recognize the inadequacy of any house that men can make for God.”
Hopkins’ interpretation falls short of what Solomon actually said. Notice that Solomon did not say that the house was inadequate. He said that the house could not contain God. There is a huge difference between saying that a house isn’t good enough for someone and that it cannot contain Him.
Hopkins’ next attempt at explaining his view of omnipresence is just plain silly. He writes: “It is possible, given today’s technology, for men to spy on one another from satellites in space. Yet, none would claim that the men who are involved in such surveillance are personally present in every location they watch.”
It is simply amazing that Hopkins would even go in this direction. There is no comparison between the technology of today and the omnipresence of God. The reason why men who are involved in this kind of surveillance would never claim to be omnipresent is because they realize that there is a difference between being able to monitor many places at once and being at every place at once!
He then writes, “Neither is it necessary to attribute God’s omnipresence to anything more mysterious than unimaginably advanced surveillance technology, the ability to travel instantaneously to any location in the universe.” If God has to travel to a location in the universe, then He isn’t present in that place of the universe until He arrives. This is not omnipresence. God is everywhere present, at all times.
Hopkins says, “As noted above, even people that have mortal bodies can handle technology today that gives them a measure of omnipresence. Especially in light of today’s communication technology.” A measure of omnipresence? If omnipresence is “everywhere present,” how can you have a measure of it? It would be similar to describing an expectant mother as “somewhat pregnant.” You are either pregnant or you are not. God is either in every place at once or He is not. There is no in-between.
Hopkins then states: “Nevertheless, McKeever and Johnson turn to John 4:24 for support. That passage states, in part ‘God is a Spirit.’ Unfortunately, that passage doesn’t help them in the slightest because nowhere in the Bible does it say that a spirit is immaterial, metaphysical, or outside time and space, as they suppose God is based on this scripture. This passage in the original Greek says ‘God is spirit,’ which is really a very different statement. The passage also requires men to worship God ‘in spirit,’ suggesting that both men and God have a similar spiritual nature, which men must emphasize in order to please God. Since men and God share this nature, it is clear this verse has nothing to do with God being incorporeal. There is nothing in this passage that contradicts the description of Christ’s physical body in Luke 24:36-39.”
In all fairness, McKeever and Johnson did accurately quote John 4:24 in footnote 44, However, I always find it interesting when dealing with certain religious groups that are able to provide the correct answer in their rebuttal and completely miss the fact that they did so. Hopkins graciously provides for us the reference of Luke 24:36-39, which says, “And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.”
While Hopkins claims that John 4:24 has nothing to do with “God being incorporeal,” he cannot say this of Luke 24:39. The part that we need to focus on is where Jesus says “a spirit hath not flesh and bones.” The disciples supposed that Jesus was a spirit, but Jesus refutes this by showing them physical proof: His hands and feet. He offers them additional proof by eating a piece of fish and some honeycomb. This is important to remember as we look at John 4:24. If we take the Luke 24:39 statement and put it together with “God is a spirit” in John 4:24, we come up with an interesting find. If God (The Father) is a spirit and spirits do not have flesh and bones, then God (the Father) does not have a body of flesh and bones. This is known as the transitive property of equality. If A=B and B=C, then A=C.
Hopkins ends his chapter, as do McKeever and Johnson, with a contrast between the God of Mormonism and the God of Christianity. I do not wish to go through Hopkins critiques point by point (I have already done that), but there is one section with which I would like to close. Hopkins writes: “The God of the Bible (and of Mormonism): • Was not always God (Matt. 5:48). At the very least this is true of Christ, who came down from the heavens to live amongst men (Phil. 2:5-8). Christ, who is the very image of God (Heb. 1:3), was exalted to His position in the Godhead after learning wisdom and overcoming all things. Phil. 2:9-11; Psalm 45:6-7; Heb. 1:8-9; Prov. 8:22; Phil. 2:9-11; Rev. 3:21.”
Hopkins claims that God was not always God. This is a very interesting admission, especially in the light of Hopkins’ previous argument regarding God’s eternal nature. He goes on: “… it is theoretically possible that, at an infinite time in the past, God progressed to His current standing as God. That progression could itself have occupied an infinite period of time. Thus it would be completely accurate to say that God has been God for an infinite period of time and will continue to be so eternally in the future, while at the same time recognizing that He spent an infinite period of time achieving that status.”
How is it possible that God “was not always God” and He “infinitely progressed to His current standing as God,” but He “has been God for an infinite period of time”? This is utter and complete nonsense. Hopkins’ ideas about the eternal nature of God are contradictory and confusing at best. Granted, he qualifies his statement by saying that this is at least true of Christ, but this is in total contrast to what John 1:1 says about Jesus, which says, “In the beginning WAS the word…the word WAS God!” Hopkins has Christ becoming God after His resurrection in spite of clear biblical instruction to the contrary.
I believe that any honest reader who reads Mormonism 101 along with Hopkins’ critique and this rejoinder will come to the same conclusion. We are not engaging in mere semantics. Despite Hopkins’ valiant attempt to prove otherwise, the God of Mormonism is not the God of the Bible.
Keith Walker was saved in 1988 at a Billy Graham Crusade in Rochester, NY. He immediately attended a solid church and was discipled. He attended Emmaus Bible College from 1989-1992 and graduated with a three-year associate degree in Biblical Studies. Keith and his wife Becky founded Evidence Ministries in 1995 as a missionary outreach to the San Antonio, TX Area. Its threefold purpose is to REACH Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons for Christ, to TEACH Christians the differences between these two cults and Biblical Christianity, and to WARN the community about the dangers of these groups. Keith has been a full-time missionary since September of 1999.
Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball (Bookcraft), p. 426
Ibid, p. 425
The Forgotten Trinity (Bethany House, 1999), p. 20
Ibid, p. 25, emphasis his. I greatly encourage the reading of White’s book. It is written from the perspective of teaching Christians the doctrine of the Trinity rather than defending it against heresy. Hence, it cannot be construed as “anti” anything. It is completely pro-Trinity.
Don Lattin, “Musings with the Prophet,” San Francisco Chronicle, 13April 1997, sec. Z1, p.3.
Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected and arranged by Joseph Fielding Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976], 345.
Dallin H. Oaks, “Apostasy and Restoration,” Ensign, May 1995, 84
http://www.equip.org/free/DM410.htm Going even deeper into this topic is the chapter written by William Lane Craig in The New Mormon Challenge, edited by Beckwith, Moser, and Owen. It is highly recommended to show the impossibility of Hopkins’ idea.
It should be pointed out that the title of this series of books is not Speculations of Salvation.
Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3 vols., edited by Bruce R. McConkie [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954-1956], 2: 47.
Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected and arranged by Joseph Fielding Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976], pp. 345-346, 370,373
Ibid, p. 370.
Boyd K. Packer, Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1991], 291, emphasis mine
“For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.”
AMG Complete Word Study Bible and Reference CD
Christian Apologetics, p.193, emphasis in original.
In Mormonism Jehovah is the pre-incarnate Jesus and distinct from Elohim who is the Father.