Response to René Alexander Krywult
Rejoinder by John Divito
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.
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
The Christian church has used the above statement, the Nicene Creed, for centuries as a summary of basic Christian beliefs. Yet in his First Vision account when Joseph Smith asked which church he ought to join, he was told that he “must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: ‘they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.'”
Since Smith reported that “all their creeds were an abomination” in the sight of God, there are different concepts of God between the church that Smith had founded (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, hereafter LDS) and the historic Christian faith. Because Christianity understands God in Trinitarian terms, Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson deal with this doctrine inMormonism 101. A response to this book, called the Mormonism 201 project, has been produced, and René Alexander Krywult responded to chapter three of McKeever and Johnson’s work, “The Trinity.” In Krywult’s reply, he seeks to defend the LDS concept of God over and against the historic Christian concept of the Trinity.
In response to Krywult, I will begin by defining the Trinity. It is only when this concept is clearly understood that an accurate analysis is possible. Next, Krywult’s criticism of this doctrine will be analyzed. How correct is his assessment of the Trinity? Finally, given the different understandings of the two faiths regarding the relationship between God and humanity, a comparison will be made between the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of theosis and the LDS belief in deification.
The Trinity Defined
Krywult begins his response by maintaining, “There is no doctrine in the whole of Christianity that is so much misunderstood by its believers as the doctrine of the Trinity.” While it is true that there are many Christians today who do not have a correct understanding of the Trinity, how is this relevant to the discussion? The question is not whether certain individuals in Christianity correctly comprehend the Trinity. Rather, the question is whether the historical doctrine of the Trinity is biblical and true.
To look at his method from a different angle, should I base my evaluation of Mormon doctrine upon what I have heard the average Mormon say? There are many things LDS members have said that the LDS church has never taught nor endorsed. If the best method of proving or disproving religious doctrine is through the official avenues of authority, we should not begin evaluating the doctrine of the Trinity based on the beliefs of average Christians. This is certainly why McKeever and Johnson utilize the vast majority of their quotes in Mormonism 101 from recognized LDS general authorities.
An individual should begin an honest inquiry into the concept of the Trinity by defining this teaching. Theologian James White provides this clear and concise definition: “Within the one Being that is God, there exists eternally three coequal and coeternal persons, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” From this definition, three facts are established: 1) there is only one being that is God, 2) God exists as three persons (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost—also called the Holy Spirit), and 3) these persons are coequal and coeternal. If any of these three foundations are neglected or denied, then there is distortion.
The first statement addresses the ontology of God. Ontology is a philosophical term that is defined as “the branch of metaphysics that studies the nature of existence or being as such.” In essence, when referring to the ontology of God, an individual seeks to understand God’s being, existence, or essence. Consequently, the doctrine of the Trinity maintains that there is one God ontologically—there is only one being that is God. This is also known as monotheism. The New Encyclopaedia Britannica states, “Monotheism is the belief in the existence of one god, or, stated in other terms, that God is one… The God of monotheism is the one real god that is believed to exist or, in any case, that is acknowledged as such.” Thus, monotheism is an ontological belief.
The second fact regarding the Trinity refers to personhood, which is “the state or fact of being a person.” There are three persons in the one being that is God. These three persons are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The danger and error of many in understanding the Trinity is to confuse personhood with ontology. This is an error often made by those in the LDS Church, but there is no reason to assume that ontology must directly correspond to personhood. They are two different concepts. As a result, there is no logical fallacy when saying that one God exists as three persons.
Lastly, these three persons are coequal and coeternal. White explains, “Each of the persons is said to be eternal, each is said to be coequal with the others as to their divine nature. Each fully shares the one Being that is God. The Father is not 1/3 of God, the Son 1/3 of God, the Spirit 1/3 of God. Each is fully God, coequal with the others, and that eternally. There never was a time when the Father was not the Father; never a time when the Son was not the Son; never a time when the Spirit was not the Spirit. Their relationship is eternal, not in the sense of having been for a long time, but existing, in fact, outside the realm of time itself.”
So, the relationship between the three persons has always existed, and they are all equally God. This foundation, along with the other two, forms the basis for understanding the Trinity. Yet Krywult never provides a clear definition. Without such a starting point, it becomes difficult to analyze the concept itself.
Is the Trinity True?
The reason Krywult never provides a clear definition of the Trinity is because he believes such a definition does not exist: “The informed reader will know that there are differences in beliefs about the Trinity.” He then gives a short summary of Christian history regarding the development of the doctrine, pointing to its late formulation after the time of the apostles. After looking at the concept of the Trinity through church history, he concludes: “So, from common usage and from Gregory’s argument, and also from the writings of other Early ChurchFathers we see that it is fully correct and Christian to talk about a plurality of gods in the Trinity.” Krywult determines that the concept of the Trinity can still be held while rejecting the first foundation given above—the ontological unity of God is not essential in the definition of the Trinity.
While this conclusion will be discussed further below, another issue arises that must be addressed. On what basis is the Trinity proven true or false? The Trinity’s validity is not based on church history; rather, it is based on God’s revelation of Himself. Therefore, before a person can look at the development of historical doctrinal beliefs, he or she must begin by understanding how Christians know what is true. This is established by the famous phrase Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone — Scripture here meaning the 66 books that make up the Holy Bible).
A good summary of this view was given by the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. Members summarized Sola Scriptura this way: “We reaffirm the inerrant Scripture to be the sole source of written divine revelation, which alone can bind the conscience. The Bible alone teaches all that is necessary for our salvation from sin and is the standard by which all Christian behavior must be measured. We deny that any creed, council or individual may bind a Christian’s conscience, that the Holy Spirit speaks independently of or contrary to what is set forth in the Bible, or that personal spiritual experience can ever be a vehicle of revelation.
All doctrine, beliefs, and theories need to be measured by the Bible to see if they are true or false. The early Church Fathers’ beliefs should only be accepted as correct if they are biblical. Christians do not believe in the Trinity because certain Christians in the past believed the doctrine or because the Council of Nicea produced a creedal summary. Instead, the Trinity is believed because the doctrine accurately summarizes the truth God has revealed about Himself in His Scripture, the Bible.
When beginning with the Bible, we see the first tenet of the Trinity, monotheism, throughout Scripture. One such passage is Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD.”Here, it specifically says the God is the one LORD. But Krywult argues against this conclusion by saying, “Some try to assert that Monotheism is written in the Bible with gigantic letters. As proof texts they quote passages like the Sh’ma Yisrael [Deuteronomy 6:4-9]. The problem, however, is that this central proof-text of monotheism cannot only be translated as it is in the King James version (Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God [is] one LORD), but also as ‘Hear, O Israel: The LORD [is] our God, the LORD alone.’ This is not exactly monotheistic, isn’t it [sic]?”
To begin by directly answering his question, if the second translation is granted, it would neither prove nor deny monotheism. Nevertheless, Krywult gives no evidence as to why the second translation should be preferred. The New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis maintains that the first translation is more accurate: “The Shema (Deut 6:4-9) is a central theological text in Deut ( –> Shema: Theology). The syntax of the verbless sentence is disputed, but analogy with other uses of “the LORD our God” in Deut suggests that the traditional syntax should be retained (‘The LORD our God, the LORD [is] One’). ‘One’ is not a title or name of God, but an adjective of quality… [I]n the broader context of Deut and the OT it can imply unity, uniqueness, and monotheism.”
Just because something has been translated a certain way does not mean that the text should be translated in that particular way. Biblical scholars prefer the first rendering, as demonstrated in the numerous Bible translations that translate it in the traditional manner.
Moreover, on what basis can Krywult defend the translation of a non-King James text? According to the LDS Church, the King James Version is the best possible translation in English. This is why the church will only produce and use this version of the Bible. To so flippantly disregard the KJV rendering of the verse runs counter to the way countless members of the LDS faith uphold the KJV over other translations. In addition, the Joseph Smith Translation (also known as the Inspired Version) itself renders the text in the same way: “Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord.”
Arguably, the clearest example of monotheism in Scripture comes from Isaiah chapters 43-45. McKeever and Johnson specifically point to the following verses:
43:10 Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.
44:6 Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.
45:5-6 I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else.
45:14 Thus saith the LORD, The labour of Egypt, and merchandise of Ethiopia and of the Sabeans, men of stature, shall come over unto thee, and they shall be thine: they shall come after thee; in chains they shall come over, and they shall fall down unto thee, they shall make supplication unto thee, saying, Surely God is in thee; and there is none else, there is no God.
45:21-22 Tell ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? have not I the LORD? and there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me. Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.
46:9 Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me.
Through all of these verses, Isaiah is arguing for the existence of one being that is God. There are no others. To use the philosophical terminology, Isaiah is arguing for the ontological exclusivity of God.
While we cannot cover the exegesis of these significant chapters, looking at Isaiah 44:6 should be enough to establish Isaiah’s understanding of God. Old Testament scholar John D.W. Watts explains the context of this verse by saying, “44:6-8 is the third Yahweh [LORD] speech, introduced by a herald’s announcement (v 6a) and closed by the witnesses’ confession (v 8d) which Yahweh demands… It is in fact a challenge to Israel in its Babylonian setting to affirm again the First Commandment (Exod 20:3-4). They are challenged to bear witness in that pagan setting that Yahweh alone is God.”
When referring directly to the last portion of verse 6, Watts states, “This verse with its counterpart in v 8d states the essential core of Israelite faith. Israel had to listen and assent to this in order to enter into covenant with Yahweh (Exod 20:2-4 and Deut 6). So now she must affirm that Yahweh alone is God; he is unique. There is nothing and no one with which to compare him.” This passage teaches that one God alone exists.
How does Krywult respond? He redirects the discussion by asking, “If the Father and the Son are one being, how can Jesus say: ‘Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and [to] my God, and your God.’ [John 20:17]”? First, it must be noted that this question has nothing to do with the context of Isaiah. No exegesis is offered of the actual text. Nevertheless, in response to his question, we must distinguish between ontology and personhood. Krywult confuses the two when he asks the question, assuming that being and person are the same thing.
Next Krywult moves to Galatians 3:19-20 and Hebrews 9:15, still not dealing with the Isaiah passage. He says, “Galatians 3:19-20 talks about mediatorship and then tells us ‘Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one.’ So, if there’s a mediator, there have to be two parties, and the mediator is not party himself. Hebrews 9:15 calls Jesus the mediator of the New Covenant.” If Krywult is suggesting that Jesus is the mediator referred to in Galatians 3:19-20, then he is committing a basic exegetical fallacy. Just because Jesus is described as a mediator elsewhere does not mean that he is a mediator in every instance! Krywult is correct to note that Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant, but the question must be raised: which covenant is Paul dealing with in Galatians 3:19-20? It is not the New Covenant in Christ, but the Old Covenant Law (v. 17). The context must be taken into account to correctly interpret this passage. As theologian Timothy George explains: “But this meaning [of Christ as the mediator in v. 20] does great violence to the context that portrays Christ as the Seed of the Abrahamic covenant (vv. 16, 19), not as the middle man of the Mosaic one. Here the mediator could only be Moses whom Paul could elsewhere refer to quite positively as a type of Christ. Here, however, Moses stands as a contrastive figure to Christ. As Paul would explain more fully in 2 Cor. 3:17-18, the ministry or covenant negotiated by Moses is characterized by death, condemnation, and evanescence—it is ‘fading away.’ On the other hand, the new covenant that Christ has ushered in is marked by life, justification, and a radiance of ‘ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.’Moses was the mediator of the law referred to in this passage. And while there have been many other interpretations offered to this text, contextually it is clear that Christ is not the mediator under consideration.
Regardless, Krywult could be claiming that Galatians 3:20 is a general truth. In other words, what is true for the Mosaic Covenant is true for all of God’s covenants. Krywult would then be arguing that Christ, the mediator of the New Covenant, must be separate from God, who is only one. However, this conclusion would once again be a misinterpretation of the verse. When taking the context into account, a person sees that Paul was differentiating between the nature of the Abrahamic Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant. George says, “Paul’s point was this: the promise to Abraham came directly from God, not through angels, nor by means of a merely human mediator such as Moses.” While Paul was not denigrating Moses, he was arguing for the transitory nature of the Old Covenant. George continues: “For Christians the implication of this foundational truth is astounding. Through Jesus Christ we may approach the throne of grace with boldness. In the Holy Spirit we can know God with the same kind of immediacy that Abraham enjoyed. But how can this be? Because in Jesus Christ, God did not send a substitute or a surrogate, no angelic mediation, no merely human go-between. In Jesus Christ, God, the one and only God, came himself.” What a glorious truth! This text could not be used to argue biblically against the Trinity—the unity of God is maintained.
After sidetracking the discussion with these New Testament passages, Krywult finally asks, “How, though, can the LDS reconcile their view with those scriptures in Isaiah?” He replies by pointing to Isaiah 44:6-8. He dismisses the statement “I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God” (v. 6) by stating, “We already talked about this ‘besides’ business,”referring to an earlier assertion he made that “besides me” does not deal with monotheism. Rather, he argues that this phrase instructs believers to direct their undivided love and worship to the God of Israel. He never does defend his interpretation exegetically. Instead, he asks, “The question here is: Who has revealed himself to the world? Which God has ever communicated with man? Who has revealed the future? Who but He who brought up this future? The answer is: None. There is no one, and neither the Israelites nor God knows any other god that had revealed himself but the God of Israel. Again, this says nothing about monotheism. It just talks about revelation, and wholeheartedly we recognize Isaiah’s argument as valid.”
While it can be agreed that no other God has revealed Himself, it is wrong to conclude that this passage has nothing to do with monotheism. The entire basis upon which Isaiah’s arguments rest is there being only one God in existence—the God of Israel. It should be clear that Krywult’s interpretation does not adequately explain Isaiah’s conception of God.
In addition to monotheism, the Bible also explains God as existing as three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Virtually everybody agrees that the Father is God. This is explicitly stated in such passages as 1 Corinthians 8:6 (“But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him”) and 2 Peter 1:17 (“For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”). In the first passage, the Father “is but one God,” and in the second verse He is called “God the Father.” The Father is God.
The Son is also God. John 1:1 is one of the clearest verses to state this: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” We also see the Apostle Thomas admitting this truth in John 20:26-28, “And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My LORD and my God.” Jesus never rebukes Thomas for this admission but rather commends him for it.
Finally, the Holy Ghost is God. In Acts 5, Ananias lies about how much money he has given. Peter replies in verses 3 and 4: “But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.” Notice in verse 3, Ananais lied “to the Holy Ghost,”while in verse 4 Ananias lied “unto God.” The Apostle Peter knew the Holy Ghost was God, using the words interchangeably.
Those of the LDS faith will not deny that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are all called God in the Bible. The problem is that they deny that these three persons are all one God in being. Yet one cannot biblically deny monotheism. Without holding this truth together with the three persons, an error of understanding God will inevitably result.
All three persons are equally and eternally God. Matthew 28:19-20 demonstrates the equality of the persons in the baptismal formula: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” Note that in this passage “the name” is singular, although three persons are included in it. Second Corinthians 13:14 also equates the three: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.” While the three persons have different functions, they are all equally God.
They are also all eternally God. As theologian Millard J. Erickson says, “While all other beings have their life in God, he does not derive his life from any external source. He is never depicted as having been brought into being… John 5:26 says that he has life in himself. The adjective eternal is applied to him frequently, implying that there never was a time when he did not exist. Further, we are told that ‘in the beginning,’ before anything else came to be, God was already in existence (Gen. 1:1).”So God was already existing “in the beginning.” The same truth is also argued for Jesus Christ—the Word—in John 1:1 (quoted above). As White says, “John gave us some very important information about the time frame he has in mind when he says ‘in the beginning.’ That information is found in the tense of the verb en [English=”in”]. You see, as far back as you wish to push ‘the beginning,’ the Word is already in existence. The Word does not come into existence at the ‘beginning,’ but is already in existence when the ‘beginning’ takes place… What is John’s point? The Word is eternal. The Word has always existed. The Word is not a creation.”
Given these truths, it is easy to conclude the same eternality regarding the Holy Ghost. All three are eternally and equally God. However, we must not forget that we will never be able to fully comprehend God. This is called the incomprehensibility of God, which theologian Wayne Grudem defines in the following way: “Because God is infinite and we are finite or limited, we can never fully understand God. In this sense God is said to be incomprehensible, where the term ‘incomprehensible’ is used with an older sense, ‘unable to be fully understood.’ This sense must be clearly distinguished from the more common meaning, ‘unable to be understood.’ It is not true to say that God is unable to be understood, but it is true to say that he cannot be understood fully or exhaustively.”
While we can truly understand God as He has revealed Himself, we cannot fully understand God. The Bible does reveal God as the Trinity, but we will not understand the full implications of this truth. To suggest that we must be able to do so is to demand that finite created beings completely understand the infinite creator God.
What did the Early Christians Believe?
Since the Bible teaches the doctrine of the Trinity, we see the development of this concept over time in church history. However, Krywult gives several historical examples that he believes demonstrates many early church fathers not adhering to the basic tenets of what came to be known as the Trinity. The evidence simply does not justify his case. J.N.D. Kelly, who Krywult himself states is “the expert on old Christian Creeds and their development,” maintains, “The classical creeds of Christendom opened with a declaration of belief in one God, maker of heaven and earth. The monotheistic idea, grounded in the religion of Israel, loomed large in the minds of the earliest fathers; though not reflective theologians, they were fully conscious that it marked the dividing line between the Church and paganism.” Kelly continues by saying, “These ideas derive almost exclusively from the Bible and latter-day Judaism, rarely from contemporary philosophy.”Monotheism was firmly held by the earliest fathers. This belief came from the Bible and Judaism, not philosophy.
Kelly continues to express the theological issues that the early church faced: “The problem for theology was to integrate with it, intellectually, the fresh data of the specifically Christian revelation. Reduced to their simplest, these were the convictions that God had made Himself known in the Person of Jesus, the Messiah, raising Him from the dead and offering salvation to men through Him, and that He had poured out His Holy Spirit upon the Church.”
Therefore, the early church was struggling over how to understand the relationship between the three within the one God; they were not questioning the unified essence of God. Hence, Kelly speaks of the early Apologists who“… were the first to try to frame an intellectually satisfying explanation of the relation of Christ to God the Father. They were as we have seen, ardent monotheists, determined at all costs not to compromise this fundamental truth.” To summarize the Apologists’ beliefs about God and Christ, he states, “That the Logos [Christ] was one in essencewith the Father, inseparable in His fundamental being from Him as much after His generation as prior to it, the Apologists were never weary of reiterating.”
Consequently, it became the ongoing concern of Christianity to adhere to the ontological unity of God while at the same time recognizing the distinction between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Some in this period of church history were closer to the biblical truth than others, but most of these disagreements were resolved at the Council of Nicea in AD 325, with further refinement at the Council of Constantinople in AD 381. This finalized creed, which is a summative expression of the church’s beliefs at that time, is the Nicene Creed (see above).
How does Krywult defend his historical understanding? He gives three examples to prove that there is nothing wrong with speaking of a plurality of gods in the Trinity: the Epistle of Diognetus, Justin Martyr, and Gregory of Nyssa. However, Krywult’s first example, the Epistle of Diognetus, does not address the ontology of God. The author of the epistle is drawing an illustration between God sending His Son and a king sending his son. No Christian would have a problem with this example. By making the direct comparison between a king and his son as two separate beings, so God and His Son are two separate beings, Krywult is reading far too much into the text.
Krywult’s use of Justin Martyr does not fare much better. Justin Martyr was one of the Apologists who (as has already been pointed out) believed that Jesus Christ was one in essence and being with the Father. This is verified when looking at the context in which Justin Martyr gives the quote that Krywult cites. There, Justin Martyr is seeking to persuade Trypho that He who appeared to Moses is to be distinguished from God the Father, yet he is also God. In the same chapter Krywult quoted, Justin says, “Reverting to the Scriptures, I shall endeavour to persuade you, that He who is said to have appeared to Abraham, and to Jacob, and to Moses, and who is called God, is distinct from Him who made all things,-numerically, I mean, not [distinct] in will. For I affirm that He has never at any time done anything which He who made the world-above whom there is no other God-has not wished Him both to do and to engage Himself with.”
While Justin does distinguish numerically between the Father and Jesus Christ, he also refers to a unity of will that is much more than just a unity of purpose. As Kelly points out, “Elsewhere Justin uses the analogy of the impossibility of distinguishing the light from the sun which is its source in order to argue that ‘this Power [Christ] is indivisible and inseparable from the Father,’ and that His numerical distinction from the Father does not involve any partition of the latter’s essence.” Justin’s rudimentary understanding of numerical distinction within God was the beginning of the difference that was eventually made between ontology and personhood.
Krywult also mentions Gregory of Nyssa as one who “… reasons that the unity of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost lies primarily in their nature. Just as there is only one human nature of which every human being is a representative, there is only one divine nature of which every person of the Godhead is a representative.” Hence, just as human beings are separate beings but all members of one human nature, so Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are separate beings united in one divine nature. However, this was not Gregory of Nyssa’s intent of the analogy. As Kelly says, “In his anxiety to evade the tritheistic implications of likening the Triad to three men sharing the same ousia of manhood, Gregory of Nyssa is forced to conclude that in strictness of language we should not speak of a multiplicity of men but of one man. Yet the fathers themselves were fully conscious of the deficiencies of the analogy… The fundamental point which should be remembered is that for these writers the ousia of Godhead was not an abstract essence but a concrete reality.”
Again, those who seek to understand the historical context in which Gregory of Nyssa wrote realize that Gregory of Nyssa (along with the other Cappadocians) was firmly monotheistic, believing that there is one being that is God.
Nevertheless, when referring to Justin Martyr, Krywult asks, “So Justin calls Jesus ‘another God and Lord.’ If we then can talk of a ‘god distinct from the Father,’ are we not right in saying they are two gods?” The answer is obviously no. Justin was living in a different time and with a different theological vocabulary than we have today. Yet he was clearly a monotheist. As a result, it would be fine today to speak about Jesus Christ as distinct from the Father when referring to them as persons, but we cannot deny that they are united in being. To say they are two gods is to say that there are two beings in existence. This is the problem McKeever and Johnson point to when Mormon President Gordon B. Hinckley says, “He [Jesus Christ] is a separate being,” which is quoted in their book. It is also why Mormon Apostle John A. Widtsoe is incorrect when he says,“The Bible, if read fully and intelligently, teaches that the Holy Trinity is composed of individual Gods.”
It should be noted that Widtsoe makes the common error of not properly distinguishing ontology from personhood when he attempts to explain the Christian understanding of Jesus praying to the Father: “Yet at the same time they ignored the clear evidence in the prayer that Jesus was on earth, at that time, speaking to a Being elsewhere; and the equally clear meaning of the prayer that he did not propose that his disciples should be fused into one personage, but that they should be of one mind with him and his Father.” Widtsoe connects being and person as if they are the same thing. With God, they are not. The importance of distinguishing between ontology and personhood cannot be overemphasized.
What about Theosis?
Krywult eventually shifts his discussion to the LDS concept of deification. This belief has been made memorable by the famous couplet of Lorenzo Snow, fifth president of the LDS Church. He said, “As man now is, God once was; As God now is, man may become.” With this idea in mind, Krywult states: “What does the doctrine of eternal progress, or deification have to do with the Trinity? It’s quite easy to understand McKeever and Johnson’s false reasoning in that case, too: If the Trinity does not consist of multiple personages, which deserve to be called God, then how could we ever hope to become gods ourselves?”
The problem with Krywult’s assessment is that he does not understand McKeever and Johnson’s position. When Krywult says, “First of all, as we have shown so far, the premise is false: The Trinity, even the semi-Sabellianistic Psychological Trinity affirms three personages,” he is misrepresenting McKeever and Johnson. They do not deny that God exists as three persons. Instead, the problem they have with LDS teaching is that “personages” and “beings” mean the same thing when referring to God. As a result, Krywult’s first point is a straw man argument.
Krywult continues, “And second, McKeever and Johnson fail to understand that deification, or theosis, was the main doctrine of Christianity during the first centuries, it is still firmly taught in Orthodoxy, and even Catholicism has retained some belief in deification.” For support of this, he points to 1 John 3:2, Puritan Matthew Henry, Origen, and a master’s thesis by Eastern Orthodox priest Jordan Vajda.
However, all of the support he provides is based upon an unwarranted presupposition. As James White demonstrates: “The simple reason that LDS scholars are in error in pointing to these passages is that a fundamental, definitional aspect of their own beliefs is completely missing from the faith of the early Fathers. That is, there is no parallel to the LDS belief in eternal progression because the early Fathers believed something fundamentally different about the nature of God, making any parallel impossible. What did the Fathers believe that the Mormons do not? Or, what do the Mormons believe that the early Christians did not? The answer is simple: The early Christians believed that God had always been God, and they did not believe that God had once been a man who lived on another planet and progressed to godhood.”
For the early Church Fathers (and all of historic Christianity for that matter), God is different in kindfrom His creation. He is the Creator and we are His creation. On the other hand, for the LDS faith,“The idea that men can become ‘gods’ is based upon the idea that God and men are of the same ‘species.'” Mormon leaders have insisted that God and man are different only in degree, whereas Christianity holds to a differentiation of kind. Without taking this difference into account, any conclusions from church history will be flawed.
It is easy to see that 1 John 3:2 is not referring to believers’ eventual deification; rather, it is referring to Christians’ glorification. All true believers will share in the glory of Christ, but they will never share in the nature of Christ. This difference of kind never changes. God will always be God, and we will always be his creatures who were created to glorify Him. As a result, Matthew Henry is simply summarizing Christian belief when he says, “The sons of God will be known and be made manifest by their likeness to their head: They shall be like him—like him in honour, and power, and glory. Their vile bodies shall be made like his glorious body; they shall be filled with life, light, and bliss from him.” Despite Krywult’s assertion to the contrary, Henry is not teaching a kind of theosis.
Krywult’s presuppositions also cause problems in his understanding the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of theosis (or divination). What is the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of theosis? According to theEncyclopedic Dictionary of Religion, “Theosis in its orthodox form is the doctrine that man (or all creation) becomes God literally and intrinsically, but in a finite way, by participating in God’s activites (energy, energies) and characteristics without confusion of substance, hence without the loss of personal identity.”
While theosis is not the vocabulary (nor necessarily the concept) used by those outside of the Eastern Orthodox faith, it nevertheless does not parallel LDS doctrine. As Bishop Timothy Ware, Spaulding Lecturer in Orthodox Studies at Oxford University, reveals, “The idea of deification must always be understood in the light of the distinction between God’s essence and His energies. Union with God means union with the divine energies, not the divine essence… Man does not become God by nature, but is merely a ‘created god’, a god by grace or by status.” Elsewhere, he continues to explain what it means in relation to Mormonism:
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.
Ware is hardly the only Orthodox scholar to demonstrate this difference. Richard N. Ostling and Joan K. Ostling asked Yale professor emeritus Jaroslav Pelikan about the early church fathers and deification. They report: “Queried about whether the early church fathers support the Mormon doctrine of deification, Yale professor emeritus Jaroslav Pelikan pointed to his discussion and definition of theosis in his Gifford Lectures (1992-1993). In this, according to Pelikan, ‘It was an essential for theosis as it was for the incarnation itself not to be viewed as analogous to Classical Greek theories about the promotion of human beings to divine rank, and in that sense not to be defined by natural theology at all; on such errors they pronounced their ‘Anathema!'”
As a result, it is invalid to point to a connection between LDS doctrine and the beliefs of the early fathers and the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Those in the LDS faith must either reject the Trinity as true or they must redefine the Trinity so that it does not include God’s ontological unity. Either way, they must deny who God has revealed Himself to be. Their case cannot be substantiated on biblical grounds, through church history, or through the Eastern Orthodox belief in theosis. Despite all claims to the contrary, the god(s) they believe in are simply not true. The Trinity is a biblical doctrine. We can say in full confidence that “within the one Being that is God, there exists eternally three coequal and coeternal persons, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
John Divito is a former Mormon who currently volunteers as a research associate for Mormonism Research Ministry. He is a graduate of Southwest Missouri State University (B.S., 1999) and is currently attending The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div. student). He is married to Jennifer; together they have two daughters.
Nicene Creed, http://www.ccel.org/creeds/nicene.creed.html, accessed August 7, 2003.
Throughout this response, Christianity will refer to the historic, orthodox Christian faith, and Christians as those who hold to this faith. Many Mormons claim that they are Christians, but this ignores the fundamental differences between the two faiths. To better understand this, consult James R. White, Is the Mormon My Brother?: Discerning the Differences Between Mormonism and Christianity (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1997).
Joseph Smith—History 1:19
René Alexander Krywult, “Mormonism 201: The Trinity,”http://www.fairlds.org/apol/morm201/m20103.html, accessed August 7, 2003. Hereafter referred to as Krywult, “TT.” This article is also listed on the http://www.anti-mormonism-revealed site and was published there in 2002, but sometime in the fall of 2002 and continuing through 8/2003 the article was taken down and remains inactive. Kevin Graham, the creator of the anti-mormonism-revealed site, told Eric Johnson that he took the article down because he did not agree with Krywult’s points. He said he suggested that Krywult make some modifications. We assume this must not have been done to Graham’s satisfaction.
Ibid. 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.
James R. White, The Forgotten Trinity: Recovering the Heart of Christian Belief (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1998), 26.
Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, 2nd ed. (New York: Random House, 1997), 1355.
The New Encyclopaedia Britannica: Macropaedia, vol. 26, 15th ed. (Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 2002), 560.
Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, 1446.
White, The Forgotten Trinity, 27-28.
A portion of this section was taken from my Response to Mormonism 201: Preexistence and the Second Estate.
“The Cambridge Declaration of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals,”http://alliancenet.org/intro/CamDec.html, accessed July 24, 2002.
Willem A. VanGemeren, ed., New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 350.
McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 53.
John D.W. Watts, Isaiah 34-66, vol. 25 in Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987), 143.
Timothy George, Galatians, vol. 30 in The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1994), 257-258.
See Ronald Y.K. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians, in The New International Commentary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), 161-162; Richard N. Longenecker, Galatians, vol. 41 in Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1990), 141-142.
George, Galatians, 258.
Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 297. Emphasis in original.
White, The Forgotten Trinity, 51.
Wayne Grudem, Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith, ed. Jeff Purswell (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 69.
J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, rev. ed. (Peabody, MA: Prince Press, 2003), 83.
Ibid., 101. Emphasis added.
Justin Martyr, “Dialogue of Justin,” chapter LVI, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1,http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-01/anf01-48.htm, accessed August 11, 2003.
Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 98.
Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 267-268.
Church News, 4 July 1998: 2, quoted in McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 52.
John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960), 58. Quoted in Krywult, “TT.”
White, Is the Mormon My Brother, 208. Emphasis in original.
See Romans 8:17-19, Philippians 3:21, Colossians 3:4.
Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 6 (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, n.d.), 1074. Quoted in Krywilt, “TT.”
Paul Kevin Meagher, Thomas C. O’Brien, and Sister Consuelo Maria Aherne, eds., Encyclopedia Dictionary of Religion, vol. O-Z (Washingtom DC: Corpus Publications, 1979), 3507.
Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1963), 237. Emphasis in original.
Timothy Ware, letter dated March 30, 1999, quoted in Richard N. Ostling and Joan K. Ostling,Mormon America: The Power and the Promise (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999), 311.
Ostling and Ostling, Mormon America, 312.
White, The Forgotten Trinity, 26. Quoted previously.