My Problem With the Couplet

March 12, 2013 | 133 comments
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lorenzo-snow-2013In 1840, almost nine years before being called as an LDS apostle, while he was listening to a friend read from the scriptures, Lorenzo Snow experienced a sudden enlightenment that he apparently regarded as a revelation from God. He summarized his enlightenment in this well known verse (which I’ll call the Couplet):

As man now is, God once was:
As God now is, man may be.

Neither the Couplet, nor any alternative account of Lorenzo Snow’s pre-apostolic claimed revelation, has been canonized. It is not scripture. The first part of the Couplet in particular encourages the belief by rank and file Mormons that, once upon a time, God the Father was just some mortal guy on a planet near Kolob, but that he grew up to be God. This view is contrary to LDS scripture, yet many Mormons have been taught something like this while growing up and seem to assume it is part of the LDS gospel. Now Chapter 5 of the current priesthood manual comes along and, by highlighting the Couplet with no additional commentary on the meaning or limits of the first clause, effectively confirms this questionable and problematic understanding for some readers. Isn’t this the sort of problem that Correlation is supposed to fix?

First, let’s restate the implicit argument of the Couplet in a way that makes its reasoning (Lorenzo Snow’s reasoning) more apparent by inverting the clauses. It goes like this:

As God is, man may be.
[Therefore,] As man now is, God once was.

There are a couple of missing premises to this argument: First, that individual humans and God are essentially identical types of beings, so that analogies between man and God of the sort that Snow employs may be freely drawn; second, that the process being described works retrospectively, in reverse, as well as prospectively. If either of these unstated premises fail, then Lorenzo Snow’s conclusion (what follows “therefore” in a valid argument) that God was once a guy like one of us does not follow.

Another way to flesh out the implicit argument of the Couplet is using the doctrine of theosis. “As God is, man may become” applies theosis to us, looking forward. That use of theosis, which has a long and venerable history in Christian theology, is largely unobjectionable. [Note 1] “As man now is, God once was” applies the doctrine of theosis to God, looking backwards, sort of making it into a doctrine of untheosis. That view argues that God was once a nondivine mortal (“as man now is” — we are nondivine mortals). This does not follow at all from the doctrine of theosis without the addition of the two controversial premises identified in the prior paragraph.

So what exactly are my problems with this seemingly popular LDS idea that, once upon a time, God the Father was just some nondivine mortal guy on a planet near Kolob? Briefly:

1. It contradicts LDS scripture. “For I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity” (Moroni 8:18). “By these things we know that there is a God in heaven, who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting, the same unchangeable God, the framer of heaven and earth, and all things which are in them” (D&C 20:17). [Note 2]

2. It is not established by the Couplet because the Couplet was never canonized. Spencer W. Kimball received what he thought was a revelation while he was President of the Church, then put in the work required to secure the assent of his fellow apostles, then presented a text conveying the revelation to the membership of the Church, where it was accepted and canonized. Lorenzo Snow was not President of the Church when he received his claimed revelation, he did not secure the assent of his fellow apostles when he later became President of the Church, and he never formally presented a text conveying his claimed revelation to the membership of the Church.

3. It is not established by the Couplet because no modern LDS leaders present and affirm the conclusion as an LDS doctrine. As I noted earlier, the doctrine many LDS leap to from the first line of the Couplet is actually the conclusion of a chain of reasoning that relies upon additional assumptions or premises. No modern LDS leader that I know of has publicly stated and affirmed those additional assumptions. No modern LDS leader that I know of has publicly stated and affirmed the conclusion, with or without supporting reasoning or argument. [Note 3] If no modern LDS leader is making the argument or affirming the conclusion, why do so many LDS nevertheless accept this disputed doctrine?

4. It damages the Church. As shown in Note 2, the Couplet is often Exhibit 1 in a Christian argument that LDS doctrine is outside the bounds of Christian belief. Those are not “anti-Mormon” arguments — they are sincere arguments made by reasonable Christians with legitimate questions about why Mormons would apparently accept and affirm such a questionable and problematic doctrine. Highlighting the Couplet, as the current Lorenzo Snow manual does, supports that Christian argument against the Church. Thanks, manual writers. Great job, Correlation. [Note 4]

I could end here, but the following long quotation from Stephen Robinson should help the discussion along by supporting some of the points I have made above, as well as showing there is LDS support for the view I’m arguing against. After citing LDS and Biblical scripture on the doctrine of theosis, Robinson explains that “I am only trying to sort out what is canonical from what is homiletical for the benefit of non-LDS readers ….” He then continues:

To the scriptural passages above, I would add Lorenzo Snow’s epigram and Joseph Smith’s statements in the funeral address for King Follett that God is an exalted man. Neither statement is scriptural or canonized in the technical sense, and neither has been explained or elucidated to the church in any official manner, but they are so widely accepted by Latter-day Saints that this technical point has become moot. Each of these two quasi-official statements asserts flatly that there was once a time before the beginning of our creation when God was human, just as there will be a time after the final resurrection and judgment when exalted humans will be gods. One element in Jesus’ ambiguous title “Son of Man” is his role as Son of the archetypical, heavenly Man in whose image all other men are created.

What do Latter-day Saints mean by “gods”? Latter-day Saints do not, or at least should not, believe that they will ever be independent in all eternity from their Father in heaven or from their Savior Jesus Christ or from the Holy Spirit. Those who are exalted by his grace will always be “gods” (always with a small g, even in the Doctrine and Covenants) by grace, by an extension of his power, and will always be subordinate to the Godhead. In the Greek philosophical sense — and in the “orthodox” theological sense — such contingent beings would not even rightly be called “gods,” since they never become “the ground of all being” and are forever subordinate to their Father. Any teaching beyond this involves speculation without support from either the Bible or the LDS Scriptures, and these are waters I refuse to swim in. I grant that some LDS do indulge in speculation on this point (it is a favorite jumping-off place for LDS fundamentalists) — but they go beyond the teaching of the LDS Church and the advice of LDS leaders when they do.

In truth, what God did before the beginning and what humans may do after the end are unfortunately not the subjects of biblical information. [Note 5]

Thank you, Professor Robinson.

Notes:

  1. See Robert L. Millet’s “‘We Shall Be Like Him’: Explorations into the LDS Doctrine of Deification,” in Jacob L. Baker, ed., Mormonism at the Crossroads of Philosophy and Theology (Greg Kofford Books, 2012), p. 255-75 for a full discussion of both the LDS and Christian versions of theosis.
  2. As Stephen E. Robinson states in the first line of his extended argument against this very idea in Chapter 2 of How Wide the Divide? A Mormon & an Evangelical in Conversation (InverVarsity Press, 1997): “In the LDS view God is omniscient, onmipotent, onmipresent, infinite, eternal and unchangeable.” Later in the same chapter, in his criticism of the LDS view “that God was once a human being,” the first thing Craig L. Blomberg does is quote the Couplet. Is there a better illustration of the damage that modern LDS affirmation of the Couplet has done to Christian perception of LDS beliefs?
  3. Millet, “We Shall Be Like Him,” p. 271, responding directly to the Couplet: “[W]e know little or nothing about God’s life before he was God.”
  4. This questionable doctrine was also affirmed in Chapter 4 of the earlier Brigham Young priesthood manual, where a suggested question at the end of the lesson includes this choice statement: “The doctrine that God was once a man and has progressed to become a God is unique to this Church. How do you feel, knowing that God, through His own experience, ‘knows all that we know regarding the toils [and] sufferings’ of mortality?”
  5. Robinson, How Wide the Divide?, p. 85-86.

133 Responses to My Problem With the Couplet

  1. Nathaniel Givens on March 12, 2013 at 9:37 am

    Thanks for posting about this interesting and important topic. I disagree with your first position, however.

    In that position–the strong rejection of the couplet–you say that it “contradicts LDS scipture” and provide two quotes (both from the Book of Mormon) to support this claim.

    In the weaker rejection of the couplet, you cite Professor Robinson who says “In truth, what God did before the beginning and what humans may do after the end are unfortunately not the subjects of biblical information.”

    The two views are mutually contradictory, unless you believe that it is specifically LDS scripture (e.g. the Book of Mormon quotes) that clarify the matter. I don’t think they do. The problem is twofold. First, matters related to time and religion are always complicated. Secondly, exclusively LDS scriptures significantly compound the already substantial mystery by explicitly using terms like “eternal” and “endless” in ways that contradict their ordinary meaning (D&C 19).

    As a result, I think Professor Robinson’s statement is more accurate: the Snow couplet (and King Follet discourse) are extra-canonical, but they are not contradicted by the canon. I think Mormons can reasonably embrace or reject these doctrines in their own personal view without running afoul of the canon in either case.

  2. Sam Brunson on March 12, 2013 at 9:38 am

    Thanks, Dave; I appreciate the context of the Couplet; it may be, if we flesh out the assumptions implicit in it, that the Couplet provides some (historical, at least) value to us but, as you so ably demonstrate, it doesn’t have any material doctrinal significance.

  3. Nathaniel Givens on March 12, 2013 at 9:46 am

    One other thing I’d like to add: right or wrong, the nature of the questions Snow and Smith address is essentially Mormon. A willingness to venture beyond the well-trodden terrain of presently revealed scripture and engage in risky but sincere speculation is at the heart of a Mormon attitude toward religion.

  4. Julie M. Smith on March 12, 2013 at 10:13 am

    Good post. I’m not what I think of this issue, but I did want to call attention to Pres. Hinckley’s take on the issue. You can see it here:

    http://www.fairlds.org/authors/fordham-michael/does_president_hinckley_understand_lds_doctrine

    I was very surprised to see the couplet so prominently in that manual, given Pres. Hinckley’s position. It would be pretty hard for him to say now that we don’t teach it or emphasize it!

  5. Dave on March 12, 2013 at 10:20 am

    Nathaniel (#3), the problem is that those Mormons, both lay and leadership, who engage in “risky but sincere speculation” are not generally aware that is what they are doing. It would be more accurate to say that confusion between established or official doctrine and “risky but sincere speculation” is at the heart of a Mormon attitude toward religion. I would say that is one of the problems with the Mormon approach. The recent Bott affair highlights this problem: even long-time CES instructors can’t tell the difference between their own screwy ideas and official doctrine.

  6. Keri Brooks on March 12, 2013 at 10:30 am

    Great post. When thinking about the couplet and how it could be accurate without believing that God the Father was once a mortal (which I don’t believe), I realized that by interpreting the word “God” differently, it works.

    In the scriptures, Jesus Christ has on occasion referred to Himself as God. (I have a bit of a trinitarian bent, so I think “God” can properly refer to either the Godhead as a whole, or any member of the Godhead.) If we interpret “God” in this couplet to refer to Jesus, then it works.

    As man now is, [Jesus] once was. (i.e. We’re mortal and subject to human experience, just as Jesus was when He lived on earth.)
    As [Jesus] now is, man may be. (i.e. Jesus is exalted at the right hand of the Father and has received all that the Father has. Through the atonement, we can receive that same blessing.)

    It’s probably not what Lorenzo Snow intended by the couplet, but I like it anyway.

  7. Nathaniel Givens on March 12, 2013 at 10:33 am

    Dave-

    You are absolutely right that the confusion between personal ideas and official doctrine is perilous, but that’s logically distinct from the question of whether or not the couplet contradicts LDS scripture. I agree that it is extra-canonical, but I disagree that it is contra-canonical.

    You raise another issue, however: what is official Mormon doctrine? There’s no such thing. We have an official canon, but not an official interpretation of it.

    You characterize this as a problem with the Mormon approach, and I agree, but it doesn’t come without its benefits. The foremost being that Mormons–despite a famously rigid hierchy–actually enjoy an incredible degree of freedom in their private religious lives. Examples such as the Bott affair, while individually lamentable, seem to me to be merely the cost of religion that puts a great emphasis on private religious liberty/responsibility.

    The only real problem with the Bott affair was the misperception that he spoke with some kind of authority. The remedy is not to work towards more accurate authoritative statements. It is to clarify that such statements have no authority. I would not trade 100 non-authoritative Bott affairs for the freedom we enjoy from creeds.

  8. Stan on March 12, 2013 at 10:34 am

    I would have liked to hear your explanation of what the church teaching of “We can become like God” means in this context.

    Also, an implication of your post is that an Apostle of God, sustained as a Prophet, Seer and Revelator in the church cannot tell the difference between inspiration or revelation and his own, apparently wayward, thinking. This has profound implications.

  9. Dave on March 12, 2013 at 10:37 am

    Nathaniel (#1), thanks for your observations. D&C 19 contributes to the Mormon tendency to redefine words to accomplish a desired doctrinal outcome rather than engage in the difficult and challenging task of actually thinking through the sources and the doctrines. The resulting confusion that often plagues our LDS doctrine is partly a result of this unfortunate preference for word games over theology. But it’s not really a proper excuse to avoid thinking or a proper critique of any Mormon who tries to do some thinking on a particular topic. (I am confident there are plenty of other more responsible avenues open to anyone who wants to critique me.)

    Robinson was, in fact, distinguishing between biblical references and those in the uniquely LDS part of our canon. He was engaging in conversation with Blomberg, a Christian theologian, so the distinction carried more weight for that discussion than for a strictly LDS discussion. But note the similar observation by Millet quoted in Note 3.

    Perhaps a summarizing statement that would resolve the apparent contradiction would be this: to the extent the scriptures say anything about the natural history of God (and they do say something), they indicate he is unchanging and unchangeable, so to that extent the first line of the Couplet contradicts the scriptures. There is nothing scriptural that supports that first line of the Couplet or the popular LDS view built upon it.

  10. Nathaniel Givens on March 12, 2013 at 10:44 am

    Perhaps a summarizing statement that would resolve the apparent contradiction would be this: to the extent the scriptures say anything about the natural history of God (and they do say something), they indicate he is unchanging and unchangeable, so to that extent the first line of the Couplet contradicts the scriptures.

    I think that’s a pretty good summary.

    I left off the last line deliberately, but that will be a matter for another time.

    Thanks again for the excellent post.

  11. Dave on March 12, 2013 at 10:54 am

    Keri (#6), that is an excellent point. Millet (in the cited article) made essentially the same point, and emphasized it by restating the Couplet as follows:

    As man is, Christ once was.
    As Christ is, man may become.

    Most Christians would find that formulation much less objectionable.

    Just as an aside, Millet also quotes the Couplet using slightly different language, citing Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, ed. Clyde J. Williams (Bookcraft, 1996):

    As man is, God once was.
    As God is, man may become.

    The wording I used in the post is from Chapter 5 of the Lorenzo Snow manual, which cites Eliza Snow’s 1884 biography of Lorenzo Snow as well as a 1901 Deseret Evening News article.

  12. Dave K on March 12, 2013 at 10:56 am

    This is a very helpful summary Dave. Thank you. I have heard statements similar to Robinson’s from Robert Millet and others who are trying to bridge the divide between LDS and other christian denominations. I believe this is a growing an important trend. But it is also starting to bother a number of church members, including in my own family.

    Could you speak more to how you belive the latter part of the couplet can be maintained if the first part is dismissed? Specifically, you say it is “largely unobjectionable” that “As God now is, man may be.” Yet a few sentences later you quote Robinson who says humans may only become gods (lowercase), not God.

    The $64,000 question is still unanswered: can humans really become God (uppercase)? If so, what do we mean by God(s) being “unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity”, as obviously we are not God now. And if we cannot become God, then why not? How is he substantively different from us in a way that we cannot bridge? Why can he be independent if we cannot? Why must a God (uppercase) have always been a God, but a god (lowercase) can mature into that position? And where does that leave Christ? He is God or god?

    In short, isn’t it true that by dismissing the first part of the couplet, you necessary dismiss the latter part? Snow did not teach that man may become god. He taught that man may become God. That’s the hangup many members have with this explanation.

    FWIW, I don’t have a great answer to the quandry. But I’d love the hear your thoughts. One possible explanation is that God’s “unchangeableness” only relates to the time in which we have known him. He could have changed prior to our knowing him. Something along the lines of how I can tell my daughter “I’ve loved you forever”. Not literally true, but still true in a very important sense.

    Another possibility is Orson Pratt’s teaching that God (uppercase) is simply the sum of all truth and that all beings who fully embrace all truth become gods (lowercase). In that sense, God is unchangeable and different from us. But the embodied being who appeared to Joseph is only a god, not the God we worship.

  13. Dave on March 12, 2013 at 10:57 am

    Eric over at Small and Simple also posted a short discussion of the Couplet.

    http://smallsimple.wordpress.com/2013/03/10/lorenzo-snow-manual-lesson-5-long-live-the-couplet/

  14. Grant Hardy on March 12, 2013 at 11:07 am

    Interesting post, Dave. I have two questions.

    Concerning point #1 – Is it possible that Nephite prophets spoke with limited understanding? After all, there isn’t much in the Book of Mormon about pre-mortal existence, temple covenants, or eternal families either. Perhaps revelations to LDS prophets after 1830 broadened our understanding of the eternities, with something like the relationship between non-Euclidean and Euclidean geometries. Or the way that the authors of Genesis imagined a much smaller, cozier universe than what we now perceive.

    On point #4 – I don’t see how LDS doctrines of God that are outside mainstream Christian belief damage the Church. Certainly they put distance between Mormons and other Christians, and may even increase tensions, but the whole notion of apostasy and restoration has the same effect. And I’m not sure that teachings about how God was once human are any more shocking than our doctrine that God has a wife. Perhaps we don’t say much about our Heavenly Mother to avoid uncomfortable conversations with other Christians, and the doctrine is not exactly spelled out in scripture, but it is nonetheless widely accepted by Latter-day Saints as a logical implication of our ideas of eternal progression, sort of like Lorenzo Snow’s couplet.

  15. Dave on March 12, 2013 at 11:07 am

    Dave K (#12), I do think the two lines of the Couplet are separable. I think the second paragraph of the long quotation I provided from Robinson helps distinguish between what we mean by God and what we mean by gods (small g) as it refers to the status of those who are saved in the next life.

    Millet provides a similar explanation at pages 269-70 of the cited article which you might find helpful. He writes:

    Not long ago I was traveling with a general authority of the LDS Church; there we met with about twenty prominent pastors in the area. … One of the questioners asked, “Is it true that you folks believe that you will one day be like God, create worlds, preside over those worlds, travel and govern throughout the cosmos, etc.?” The Church leader smiled and answered, “Well, I don’t know about that planetary stuff. What I do know for sure, and the scriptures confirm this, is that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the sanctifying power of the Spirit, we may develop and mature in Christ-like attributes, the divine nature, until we are prepared and comfortable to dwell in the presence of God and Christ, together with our families, forever. To me, that is eternal life or godhood.

  16. DavidH on March 12, 2013 at 11:13 am

    Regarding what does it mean that humans can become like God, the Church’s official position (at least the public one) is:

    Do Latter-day Saints believe they can become “gods”?
    Latter-day Saints believe that God wants us to become like Him. But this teaching is often misrepresented by those who caricature the faith. The Latter-day Saint belief is no different than the biblical teaching, which states, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together” (Romans 8:16-17). Through following Christ’s teachings, Latter-day Saints believe all people can become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).

    Do Latter-day Saints believe that they will “get their own planet”?
    No. This idea is not taught in Latter-day Saint scripture, nor is it a doctrine of the Church. This misunderstanding stems from speculative comments unreflective of scriptural doctrine. Mormons believe that we are all sons and daughters of God and that all of us have the potential to grow during and after this life to become like our Heavenly Father (see Romans 8:16-17). The Church does not and has never purported to fully understand the specifics of Christ’s statement that “in my Father’s house are many mansions” (John 14:2).

    http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/mormonism-101#C13

  17. DavidH on March 12, 2013 at 11:15 am

    I agree with Nathaniel in that I do not believe it is heretical to believe pretty much whatever one wants about the origin of “God” or the possible destinies of humans or other creations or beings.

  18. Dave K on March 12, 2013 at 11:17 am

    Dave, that’s just the point. In order to save the second line of the couplet, you have to rewrite it in a fundamental way. “God” is now “god”. That’s fine to do, but it doesn’t mean that the couplet as authored by Snow is separable. Again, Snow taught that man may become God, not that he may become god.

    I would still be interested in your thoughts on why man cannot become God (uppercase). I fully agree with the sentiments of Millet, Robinson and others who are trying to show where our beliefs match with other christians. Surely we believe that man can enter godhood. But does our scripture forbid the possibility that he can also enter Godhood? If not, why not? How is God different from me?

    To get to the point, I think it a very worthy goal to bridge the divide between mormons and evangelicals. But not if the cost is to create an inseparable divide between me and God.

  19. Thomas Parkin on March 12, 2013 at 11:17 am

    This post makes Baby Jesus cry. I wish I had the time to demolish it.

  20. Jonathan Green on March 12, 2013 at 11:22 am

    Dave, what would you expect of “Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow.” Lorenzo Snow certainly taught the idea you object to.

    Your point #3 is directly contradicted by the existence of the current manual. Do you seriously think that no apostle ever bothers to look at the manuals to be used for a year by the entire adult population of the church before they’re published? The manual committee who you think are failing at their jobs are going to include at the very least the approval by one of the twelve.

    Your first point, that God could not ever have been as man now is, assumes that prophetic teaching can’t go beyond what is canonized, although that’s precisely the point of prophetic teaching, and that the scriptures can be relied on for non-contradictory doctrine. But people have known about contradictions within scripture at least since the time of Augustine, who used those seeming contradictions as inspiration for his own writings. The challenge isn’t to remove the contradictions, but to note the tensions (within the scriptures, or between Lorenzo Snow and some Book of Mormon verses) and find some interesting way to resolve it.

    As for your point #4, are you seriously arguing that Mormon teachings rejected by non-Mormons damage the church and are therefore to be rejected? Since when did we make the UTLM the judge of what should be Mormon doctrine?

    Look, Lorenzo Snow’s couplet doesn’t particularly resonate with me. Some people find it deeply moving, while some don’t. But it’s based on a much more solid foundation than, say, teachings concerning Mother in Heaven, in that an actual apostle and prophet located the teaching in his own revelatory experience.

  21. Dave on March 12, 2013 at 11:43 am

    Thomas Parkin (#19): Put up or shut up.

    Jonathan (#20), thanks for the comments. We are told almost nothing about the writing, review, or approval process for manuals or other LDS curriculum materials. Granting them quasi-canonical status on the theory that LDS General Authorities give them a detailed reading followed by an official (if unpublicized) approval seems unwarranted. Dan Peterson tells the story of being on a writing committee and putting some outlandish questions in a lesson draft — they sailed right through! (He later withdrew them.) So it is entirely unclear who reviews the manuals, what guides their review, and with what level of intensity the reviews are performed.

    As to the PR angle, I’m not sure how to respond. The Church puts a lot of time and money into making sure the Church is accurately depicted in the media and in public. Preventing misrepresentation is a legitimate concern of the Church. You agree, right? I think the popular view built on the first line of the Couplet misrepresents LDS scripture, misrepresents the status of the Couplet, misrepresents LDS doctrine, and thereby *unnecessarily* harms the public image of the Church. That’s different than the case where LDS views are accurately represented and people take issue or disagree.

    As for how solid the teaching is, the only basis for the teaching is the Couplet (which was never canonized, and is thereby conveyed to us via secondary sources rather than official ones) and the King Follett discourse (which, likewise, has not been canonized, and is conveyed to us via several correspondents who recorded shorthand notes of the discourse which were never, to my knowledge, reviewed or corrected by Joseph Smith). There is certainly a lot of commentary and expansion on these questionable sources, but very little solid foundation.

  22. MC on March 12, 2013 at 11:43 am

    “Mormons, both lay and leadership, who engage in “risky but sincere speculation” are not generally aware that is what they are doing. It would be more accurate to say that confusion between established or official doctrine and “risky but sincere speculation” is at the heart of a Mormon attitude toward religion. I would say that is one of the problems with the Mormon approach.”

    Not sure if you’re wrong or right, but if you’re right, what implications does that have for Correlation? That means it’s probably necessary and good, right?

  23. Steve Smith on March 12, 2013 at 11:59 am

    Thanks for the post, Dave. I believe that you are pointing out a contradiction. How can God be unchangeable and then progressive at the same time? But I don’t believe that the promotion of such a doctrine damages the church, for the following reasons.

    1) The rank and file often believe many inherently contradictory doctrines, but don’t acknowledge them as contradictions. Mormons are a reconciliation-prone people and like to try to reconcile even ideas that are diametrically opposed. I taught an Elder’s Quorum class sometime ago in which mentioned the classic piece from the Improvement Era in which it is stated that when the prophet speaks the thinking is done. I then presented George Albert Smith’s rebuttal to that piece in which he quotes Joseph Smith saying, “I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.” The general reaction from the elder’s quorum was that both were right and that there was no contradiction in those beliefs. And we’re getting a similar reaction to your post in the comments.

    2) The rank and file aren’t typically dissuaded from critics who might use this seeming contradiction to try to steer people from the church. Critics’ criticism goes past the rank and file like water off of a duck’s back.

    3) The rank and file don’t often have time to engage in critical thinking about doctrines regarding the nature of God in order to be able to internalize the significance of such a contradiction. Their attachment to the church and church doctrine is somewhat tribal in nature and they are typically content to accept and mimic whatever doctrine is being emphasized at conference or in the lesson manuals. To question too much would be to go against the family/tribe. And that would cause too much social inconvenience.

  24. Dave on March 12, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    Grant (#14), thanks for the comments. Point #1 is certainly a valid point, but stepping behind canonized scripture to individually evaluate the credibility of each scriptural speaker would raise entirely different issues. That would probably require a book, not a blog post. I’m just using the simpler criteria of canonized scripture versus uncanonized and therefore nonbinding statements made by or attributed to various speakers. It has the advantage of being a largely objective distinction.

    On Point #2, I again emphasize the difference between objections to LDS doctrine that is accurately represented and objections to what are, in fact, misrepresentations. It is the second category that is the problem. Obviously, there are legitimate disagreements about what constitutes misrepresentations. The new wording to the prefatory material in Official Declaration 2 is very welcome but also instructive. Apparently it took LDS leaders over a century to determine that “Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice.” That makes me wonder whether *anyone* can make timely, authoritative, and accurate statements about the status of particular Mormon doctrines. Perhaps a better response would be that the Church should be putting a lot more resources into addressing those sorts of doctrinal issues. The professionalization and expansion of the Church History Department is a promising development — the upgrades to the 2013 edition show how productive their work has been. Now we just need to set up a Church Theology Department to complement their work.

  25. Chris on March 12, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    Thank you, Dave, for the well-written post. As I have observed the Church modify and change its position of blacks and the priesthood and the Atonement(as portrayed in Brad Wilcox’ book, “The Continuous Atonement,” which is published by Deseret Book), I hope the Church will eventually align its doctrine with the God described in scripture. Since the Church has rejected from the Adam/God theory that Brigham Young taught, perhaps it will some day reject Lorenzo Snow’s theory as well.

    Lorenzo Snow’s view of God having once been a man is not upheld in Scripture. Paul states in Hebrews that “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” Jesus was a God when he helped the Father create the earth, and is Jehovah, the Mighty God and Everlasting Father of the Old Testament. To say that Jesus needed to come to earth in order to become a God when he already was God defies common sense.

    Too often there is a lack of respect, reverence, and worship for Jesus in our Church. Some flippantly refer to Him as their Elder Brother, as though they are currently His equal. Others assume that they are going to become just like Him, ignoring the fact that He is and always has been perfect and without sin and we are not. Robinson and Millet’s quotes about President Snow’s theory make sense. As John wrote in Revelations, surely those who have been faithful and overcome the world will some day become “kings and priests” to God. Some may become gods, but we will forever worship God the Father and our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ eternally.

    We do not speak about, worship, and reverence God in our Church meetings as we should. He should be the focus of our lessons, talks, and worship. All other principle should be taught as they relate to the Atonement. When Elder Bednar was a stake president, he urged the members of his stake to do this. It would be wonderful if Church-wide we centered our teaching on the Savior as many Christian churches do. If we did so, our church would certainly appear more authentically Christian, and meetings would surely be more edifying and Spirit-filled.

    The original transcription of President Hinckley’s interview in the August, 4, 1997 Time magazine edition that discussed Lorenzo Snow’s couplet is this:

    Q: Just another related question that comes up is the statements in the King Follet discourse by the Prophet.

    Answer (President Hinckley): Yeah

    Q: …about that, God the Father was once a man as we were. This is something that Christian writers are always addressing. Is this the teaching of the church today, that God the Father was once a man like we are?

    A: I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it. I haven’t heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don’t know. I don’t know all the circumstances under which that statement was made. I understand the philosophical background behind it. But I don’t know a lot about it and I don’t know that others know a lot about it.

    Apologists say that although President Hinckley said the theory is not taught to discussed, he did not say it is not true. However, President Hinckley does dodge the issue and certainly does not defend it. As brilliant and articulate as he was, if he supported this theory, one would assume he would have said so.

  26. Nathaniel Givens on March 12, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    Dave-

    Now we just need to set up a Church Theology Department to complement their work.

    When I manage to pick my jaw up off the floor I’ll respond to this in more depth, but second only to the Priesthood authority the lack of a Church Theology Department is probably the most important institutional characteristic of our religion.

    This may warrant a post all it’s own (to explain why I’m horrified by this suggestion), but for now I’ll just quote Joseph Smith:

    …the most prominent difference in sentiment between the Latter Day Saints and sectarians was, that the latter were all circumscribed by some peculiar creed, which deprived its members of the privilege of believing anything not contained therein, whereas the Latter Day Saints have no creed, but are ready to believe all true principles that exist,a s they are made manifest from time to time.

    I think that you can’t have a Church Theology Department without having a defacto creed. What you view as a bug (“That makes me wonder whether *anyone* can make timely, authoritative, and accurate statements about the status of particular Mormon doctrines.”) I view as a feature. If we truly believe in ongoing revelation, than we must accept that nothing is final.

    I believe you would probably have in mind not a comprehensive theology (e.g. an explicitly closed canon) but merely a sort of skeletal framework of basic principles around which we all agree, but even that would, in practice, ammount to a denial of ongoing limitation. It would say that “No matter what happens, we know these things for certain.” That logically implies limits on what we may learn. It sets up an antagonistic relationship to future revelation: everything that comes later will be judged based on its compatibility with what we already have. If this is technically an open canon, it is also a crippled one.

    Freedom and responsiblity are inseparable. Freedom is boisterous, tempestuous, and risky, but in order for Mormons to authentically participate in their own salvation, they must be free (and thus: responsible) for their own doctrinal beliefs. We absolutely can’t afford to outsource our theological labors to an external institution. Not ever. Lesson manuals and correlation are already skirting the line, in my view, but are not technically canonical and so that’s OK. To start canonizing these materials would be fatal to the spirit of Mormonism and would essentially render the institution a dead fossil instead of a living organism.

  27. Stephen Wight on March 12, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    I taught the Lorenzo Snow Lesson #5 this last Sunday but unfortunately was only able to present about 1/10th of what I prepared. I thought it was interesting that Brother Snow was an elder and school teacher when he received the revelation in 1840. Nevertheless his description of it was most impressive: President Snow later recalled, “the Spirit of the Lord rested mightily upon me—the eyes of my understanding were opened, and I saw as clear as the sun at noonday, with wonder and astonishment, the pathway of God and man. I formed the following couplet which expresses the revelation, as it was shown me.” This is impressive to me because, off the top of my head, in the D&C there are 3 Sections in which this language is used and the revelations are among the most sublime ever given (Sections 76, 110, 138). True again, Brother Snow was not speaking as the President of the Church at the time, but he spoke of it later and can be quoted about a dozen times between 1886 – 1901 (as an Apostle and President of the Church). He clearly explained the revelation, the circumstances of receiving it, and supporting scriptures (usually from the Bible), and our responsibilities in regards to it on most of these occasions. Of all the impressive personal revelations of which he could have testified to the other Apostles, this is the one that he spoke of to them on the day (13 Sept 1898) he was sustained by them as President of the Church. In addition, on 12 Jun 1901, after President Snow testified of the revelation in public, Joseph F. Smith arose and also bore his testimony of it. I believe the teaching of this revelation, in couplet form as given, is true and inspirational. I don’t often think of it, as I am still struggling to be “be like the Savior” in the most elementary degree. The doctrine taught by President Snow, and Joseph Smith in the King Follett discourse and elsewhere, is indeed gospel “meat”. As such, I believe that is too sacred to discuss lightly or in most places and contexts. Thank goodness: I believe it has been more than 15 years since I have heard someone speak of “having their own planet” in testimony meeting. But to me, such frivolousness with such a deep teaching does not negate the truth of it.

    As far as President Hinckley’s comments to the Time magazine reporter in 1997 (and the subsequent chatter after), I do not think he could have given any better of an explanation of that Pearl, in that setting, at that time, than Mitt Romney could have given during the recent campaign to a reporter shouting out “was the Garden of Eden in Missouri” (and many like questions).

    Two more things, why would one think that this lesson was not part of correlation?

    Lastly, Joseph Smith at the end of his King Follett discourse of 1844(in which he affirms in great detail the revelation given earlier to Lorenzo Snow in 1840), bears testimony of what he had preached which rings as true to me as anything…and perhaps to many other members of the Church: “This is good doctrine. It tastes good. I can taste the principles of eternal life, and so can you. They are given to me by the revelations of Jesus Christ; and I know that when I tell you these words of eternal life as they are given to me, you taste them, and I know that you believe them. You say honey is sweet, and so do I. I can also taste the spirit of eternal life. I know it is good; and when I tell you of these things which were given me by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, you are bound to receive them as sweet, and rejoice more and more.”

  28. Nathaniel Givens on March 12, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    Apologists say that although President Hinckley said the theory is not taught to discussed, he did not say it is not true. However, President Hinckley does dodge the issue and certainly does not defend it. As brilliant and articulate as he was, if he supported this theory, one would assume he would have said so.

    If it is reasonable for a person to reject Joseph Smith’s King Follet discourse or Lorenzo Snow’s couplet because not eveything a prophet says is true, then it is surely equally reasonable to reject President Hinkley’s rejection of Joseph Smith under precisely the same grounds.

    Your scriptural arguments are another matter, but I think that before there’s a discussion on their merits there ought to be an understanding that faithful and reasonable Mormons can hold different views on these matters. I’m very, very leery of making anything that is not absolutely essential (like the divinity of Christ) into point of divisiveness.

  29. stephenchardy on March 12, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    I think that we can’t have a thorough conversation about the “couplet” without seeing it in its original context. Here is the entire poem, penned by Lorenzo Snow, addressed to John, after Lorenzo Snow read 1 John 3:1-3:

    1 Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.

    2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.

    3 And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.

    Here is the poem:

    Man’s Destiny, by Lorenzo Snow

    Dear Brother:

    Hast thou not been unwisely bold,
    Man’s destiny to thus unfold?
    To raise, promote such high desire,
    Such vast ambition thus inspire?

    Still, ’tis no phantom that we trace
    Man’s ultimatum in life’s race;
    This royal path has long been trod
    By righteous men, each now a God:

    As Abra’m, Isaac, Jacob too,
    First babes, then men- to gods they grew.
    As man now is, our God once was;
    As now God is, so man may be,-
    Which doth unfold man’s destiny.

    For John declares: When Christ we see
    Like unto him we’ll truly be
    And he who has this hope within
    Will purify himself from sin.

    Who keep this object grand in view,
    To folly, sin, will bid adieu,
    Nor wallow in the mire anew;

    Nor ever seek to carve his name
    High on the shaft of worldly fame;
    But here his ultimatum trace:
    The head of all his spirit-race.

    Ah well, that taught by you, dear Paul,
    Though much amazed, we see it all;
    Our Father God, has ope’d our eyes,
    We cannot view it otherwise.

    The boy, like to his father grown,
    Has but attained unto his own;
    To grow to sire from state of son,
    Is not ‘gainst Nature’s course to run.

    A son of God, like God to be,
    Would not be robbing Deity;
    And he who has this hope within,
    Will purify himself from sin.

    You’re right, St. John, supremely right:
    Whoe’er essays to climb this height,
    Will cleanse himself of sin entire-
    Or else ’twere needless to aspire.

    This poem was composed by President Snow in Brigham City, dated January 11, 1892.

  30. European saint on March 12, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    Truman madsen taught:

    Young Joseph Smith learned in the Sacred Grove that to see the Father is to see the Son, and vice versa.
    A deeper point is the relationship of these two beings. Joseph taught in the 1840s-and I think it was an extension of what he learned in the Grove that morning-that the statement of the Master about his doing nothing but what he had seen the Father do has infinite implications. How could Jesus have seen the acts of the Father as a witness? President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote: “The statement of our Lord that he could do nothing but what he had seen the Father do, means simply that it had been revealed to him what his Father had done. Without doubt, Jesus came into the world subject to the same condition as was required of each of us-he forgot everything, and he had to grow from grace to grace.”
    Again, the relationship is exact. If Christ himself was uniquely begotten and was the firstborn in the spirit, and if he was the Christ not only of this earth but also, as the Prophet taught later, of the galaxy, so before him the Father himself was a Redeemer, having worked out the salvation of souls of whom he was a brother, not a father. This is deep water. The conclusion is drawn by Joseph Smith in his King Follett discourse. Whatever else it may mean, and it is mind-boggling, it at least means this: The Father, by experience, knows exactly what his Son has been through. And the Son, by experience, knows exactly what the Father has been through. Therefore, when he says “I and my Father are one,” he is not expressing a metaphysical identity. He is speaking of oneness of spirit, harmonic throbbings of love and insight that can come only in the patterns of eternal redemption. Sown in the mind of a fourteen-year-old boy, that seed of insight blossomed and grew.
    Joseph Smith the Prophet by Truman G. Madsen, P. 12-13

    Thoughts?

  31. Nathaniel Givens on March 12, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    (#30) European –

    I think you illustrate the folly of beliving that matters involving the nature of God can be decided with clarity and finality. The Scriptures are full of enough seeming contradictions on this score to make the mere presence of apparent contradictions between individual verses and modern prophetic statements inconclusive. (For example: Mormons reject the Trinity, but also preach that there is “one God,” and the language about Father and Son is often confusing and apparently contradictory.)

  32. Stephen Wight on March 12, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    We know that Jesus Christ is the Savior of countless worlds, but to say he is the Savior of the “galaxy” is rather limiting, and we just do not know. But the idea does convey a good point, and I am just quibbling.

    Overall, I think the thoughts expressed by Brother Madsen ring true to me personally, and I love the way he has expressed them.

  33. Thomas Parkin on March 12, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    “Thomas Parkin (#19): Put up or shut up.”

    If I get time – but I stand by my post. I want to register the depths of my contradiction with this tendency in the church to Christianize. We’re about twenty years into it, now, and it’s been a disaster. If I wanted to be a Presbyterian, I’d go be one. This is only one front, but it is an important one. My first means will be to show, and it isn’t that tough, that words like “eternal” and “unchangeable” are problematic, are not at all plain, throughout the scriptures. Second I’d go after the whole idea that we should embrace or discard doctrines based on whether or not they damage the church – especially in the eyes of other Christians.

    Beyond that, I have to bow out because I genuinely don’t have time to be blogging.

    Best.

  34. Christopher Bigelow on March 12, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    I disagree wholeheartedly. Without the full concept expressed in the Couplet and King Follett, Mormonism would just be mere Christianity, nothing special. If God was never human, then we could never become God, in my opinion.

  35. OGolly on March 12, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    I guess I am about the only one who will write to disagree with your logic. You are offended and rail against things you do not understand. Your reasoning also is embedded with many assumptions which are false or incomplete at best.

    Firstly, your argument necessarily assumes that ‘time’ is the same everywhere, and that there was a ‘time’ when man shall be a man and when he may be elevated to some station, including godhood. But that reasoning must fall short, for it is clear that ‘time’ is a construct that is very fluid, and that the notion of time itself doesn’t even apply to God. If, as is clearly taught in the scriptures, God is the same “yesterday, today and forever,” our linear notions of time fall far short of a complete understanding of our relationship to our Father.

    The “beginning” is not simply a ‘time,’ but a place as well. Not only that, but it is apparently the very nature of diety since He has stated on many occasions that He is the “alpha and omega,” and the “beginning and the end.” He *is* the beginning, and as well is “below all things, … through all things … round about all things [and of all things].” (see D&C 88, especially v 6 and 41)

    D&C 93 makes it very clear that man was “also in the beginning with the Father,” and that the ‘intelligence’ of God and man was “not created or mad, neither indeed can be.”

    Not only that, but apparently the “end” and the “beginning” cannot be clearly understood by man at all, and that the “first shall be last, and the last shall be first,” and that the ways of God can best be described as “one eternal round.”

    Scripture teaches us plainly (as in Moses 7 and D&C 9) that our notions of time as well as such concepts as “endless” and “eternity” are at best incomplete and fall far short of true understanding.

    But above all is the word of our Savior Himself when he told the apostles “In my father’s house are many mansions. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you … And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I AM, THERE YE MAY BE ALSO.” (emphasis mine, see John 14)

    If these things are so, how can you or any man state with such conviction that the notion that “as man now is, God once was, and as God now is, man may become” is false? Doesn’t such a statement logically follow from what I have already shown to be scripture?

    Whether or not such a statement is “canonical” is entirely besides the point. “Truth” was never bound by man’s ideas of what or what is not “doctrinal” or “canonical.” The entire paradigm of creation and the nature of godhood must be understood on several levels, and cannot be bound by archaic and limited notions of time and eternity that some continue to subscribe to.

    If these things are so, how can you or any man state with such conviction that the notion that “as man now is, God once was, and as God now is, man may become” is false? Doesn’t such a statement logically follow from what I have already shown to be scripture?

    Whether or not such a statement is “canonical” is entirely besides the point. “Truth” was never bound by man’s ideas of what or what is not “doctrinal” or “canonical.” The entire paradigm of creation and the nature of godhood must be understood on several levels, and cannot be bound by archaic notions of time and eternity that some continue to subscribe to.

    Surely there are more productive areas of commentary than to rail on something said by Lorenzo Snow over a century ago.

    [Some scripture to affirm my arguments: see Psalms 90 especially v 4, and in the OT the story of Job; D&C 9 especially v 6 and 10; D&C 29; D&C 35: 1; D&C 63:59; D&C 88 especially verses 6 and 41; D&C 93 at least through v 33; Abraham 3, 4-10; Moses 7:35]

  36. Dave on March 12, 2013 at 1:57 pm

    In the spirit of providing additional helpful materials that bear on this topic (although this isn’t one I particularly agree with), here is a short article from the “I Have a Question” feature of the May 1982 Ensign, authored by none other than Gerald N. Lund, who was at that time a CES employee. You have to click down a couple of screens to get to it. The question was whether the Couplet was accepted as official doctrine by the Church.

    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1982/02/i-have-a-question?lang=eng

    The following disclaimer is prominently displayed at the top of the column: “Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy.”

  37. Bryce Haymond on March 12, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    One mention of the King Follett discourse in the OP, and that in a quote, I perceive is a bit of an oversight. Joseph Smith taught it several times in that sermon, which has been published in church history and its periodicals. It should be this discourse you take issue with, if anything, not the couplet. Joseph was much more thorough in his explanation than Lorenzo Snow was in the couplet.

    Some selections from the sermon (April 1971 Ensign):

    “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret…

    “…for I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see…

    “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…

    “Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power…”

    “…but they shall be heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. What is it? To inherit the same power, the same glory and the same exaltation, until you arrive at the station of a god, and ascend the throne of eternal power, the same as those who have gone before. What did Jesus do? Why, I do the things I saw my Father do when worlds came rolling into existence. My Father worked out His kingdom with fear and trembling, and I must do the same; and when I get my kingdom, I shall present it to My Father, so that He may obtain kingdom upon kingdom, and it will exalt Him in glory. He will then take a higher exaltation, and I will take His place, and thereby become exalted myself…”

  38. Adam G. on March 12, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    The couplet is bog-standard Mormonism if you remember that Christ is God.

    I give more weight to the couplet than you do because I give more weight to the sensus communis of the Saints than you do. But I agree that God [the Father] once having been non-divine creates a number of scripture and theological problems. The main attraction of the couplet is that the doctrine that we are of the same kind as the Father *is* scriptural and doctrinal and all that and important to the faith of a great many of us (including me) and its hard to see how that could be if He was never mortal but we are.

  39. Raymond Takashi Swenson on March 12, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    The most basic teachings we give to our children and to new members cite the evidence of the First Vision–that God the Father is embodied–and the fact that Christ the Son of God is also embodied and God, and assert that the purpose of our being born into mortal bodies is so we can become like God our Father, who is an embodied man, just like Christ. All of the epithets and titles that describe God as infinite and unchangeable and eternal apply to Jehovah as much as Elohim, yet we know that Jehovah is Jesus, that Jesus is the God who gave the Brother of Jared the shining stones to illuminate the Jaredite ships and promised he would be born into a physical body to a mortal mother to carry out the Atonement. We know from Jesus himself, as he spoke to the Nephite survivors from heaven, that he is the God who gave the tables of the law to Moses. Being God, Jehovah, infinite and eternal, did not prevent Christ from being born and dying. And one of the teachings of Joseph Smith was that we are all infinite beings who had some kind of existence backward in time with no beginning, and will therefore have no end. Every time we speak of God the Father, we are implying, to Mormons, that our relationship to him is literal in the most fundamental way.

    The current Catholic vogue is that the Big Bang of our universe marked the beginning of creation, of all energy and matter and time, that God existed not in some prior timeline but outside of time. But that relies on a stage of modern cosmology that has been left behind by scientists for twenty years, who are now proposing that the rapid inflation that took place in our early universe is something that happens over and over again, in a picture of an infinite chain of universes blooming into existence over an infinity of time. If the Father lived once as an embodied man on a world in a prior universe, puny mankind is hardly in a position to tell him he is not qualified for his job. I agree that the scriptures indicate that the Father was God before the creation of both our earth and our universe, but eternity and infinite space have room for a lot of things to have happened outside our current understanding and our current universe.

    If God did not live some kind of embodied, physical life, what is the point of his physical body? Why was Christ resurrected, and why are we promised resurrection? Some Christian churches don’t believe that the resurrection will involve physical bodies. They reject them for God and for us for much the same reason, that matter is not divine, by their definition. Yet for the Latter-day Saints, the embodied Father is represented by the embodied Son, and we are shown that our potential destiny is to become like them, embodied and eternal, not just to be with our Father but to be like our Father.

  40. Adam G. on March 12, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    Since I know that Salt Lake polls Timesandseasons thread to determine policy, let me register my vote against having a Church Theological Department.

    The ambiguity where a doctrine can appear in manuals and be widely accepted, but not be clearly endorsed by the modern church nor authoritatively harmonized with scripture, is a fruitful ambiguity. Unless and until the Almighty sees fit to clearly and explicitly lay down a line for the contemporary Church on this, I’m happy with where we are.

  41. Dave on March 12, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    Bryce, you should give a careful reading to J’s detailed two-part review of the sources and publication history of the KFD, in particular the efforts of the LDS First Presidency early in the 20th century to suppress publication of the KFD because of doubts about the authenticity of some parts of the sermon (or at least the text of the sermon as it was presented by B. H. Roberts) and concern that it conflicted with other revelations accepted by the Church.

    Part 1: http://www.splendidsun.com/wp/a-textual-history-of-the-kfd-part-i-sources-to-the-history-of-joseph-smith/

    Part 2: http://www.splendidsun.com/wp/a-textual-history-of-the-kfd-part-ii/

  42. Adam G. on March 12, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    **The current Catholic vogue is that the Big Bang of our universe marked the beginning of creation, of all energy and matter and time, that God existed not in some prior timeline but outside of time.**

    This isn’t really a “current Catholic vogue.” This is Augustine and Boethius. The only current innovation is identifying the act of creation with the Big Bang.

  43. Atom Gee on March 12, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    Here is another completely independent vote against having a Church Theological Department.

  44. John R. on March 12, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    The existential paradox found in the King Follett discourse is the assumption that God was not a God before he was a man. We know that Jesus was, and yet some assume from the King Follett discourse that Heavenly Father was not. This seems to contradict biblical teachings:

    Malachi 3:6 – “For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.”

    Heb.1:10 “And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands… and they shall be changed: but thou art the same.”

    Ps.90:2 ” From everlasting to everlasting you are God.”

    Genesis 21: 33 “Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the Lord, the Eternal God.”

    Book of Mormon title page: “And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations—”

    Is God eternal, or was he created? Was there a first God who created an earth and did not live on it? The King Follett Discourse raises a number of questions that cannot be easily answered.

  45. Christian on March 12, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    If one criteria for excluding the couplet is contradiction with the LDS canon, there’s a whole lot of self-contradictory stuff in there already that’d need some attention first. How about we look for ways to expand the canon rather than for ways to exclude things from it.

    How is an eternally progressing God unchangeable? Maybe in purpose God remains unwaveringly focused, but in every other aspect as well? Yet even in that purpose Jesus seemed to expect an expansion of that aspect of godhood by requesting in prayer that His disciples be allowed to join Him in the same type of unity Jesus enjoys with The Father in John 17:22. Does that passage conflict with Professor Robinson’s claim that there will always be a subordination of us to God? And yet in fact there must needs be some kind of subordination there that does not necessarily detract from godhood for the mortal aspects of our Brother Jesus share that subordination. But if we want to press the subordination thing one intolerably silly step too far… “President” Snow vs. “Professor” Robinson…. ’nuff said. But the Robinson quote and The Couplet seem more compatible to me than conflicting.

    Other thoughts:
    If we had a pre-existence and expect life after death the whole mortal/immortal distinction isn’t all that significant, is it?

    Exhibit #1 that LDS doctrine is outside the bounds of Christian belief came when God told Joseph Smith to not join with the rest of Christian belief and start over. Dumping the Couplet to appease a corrupted belief system wouldn’t be very effective… or appealing. I’ll take an approachable, actively inspirational, expansive God over a static one any day of the millennium.

    And while we’re getting nit-picky, according to LDS astrology/astronomy, Kolob’s a star, not a planet. And God hails from “near” there, not from actually there… or at least His throne is around there somewhere…which may or may not have anything at all to do with His home planet.

  46. Blake on March 12, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    OK – Time for a shameless plug (apologies to all). I address this issue at length in vol.3 of Exploring Mormon Thought. The couplet is not contradictory. If the Father was fully divine before becoming mortal, just as Christ was, and then became mortal, just like Christ did, then the Father was once as man now is just like Christ was.

    I believe that Keri, clear back in #6 got it right. The couplet is quite scriptural. God the Father/Son did become mortal — but was previously fully divine. Joseph taught in the KFD. He quoted John 5 to show that the Son only did what the Father had done — so it at least arguably has scriptural support. At least Joseph thought it did. I agree with him.

  47. Blake on March 12, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    John R re: # 44: You are probably aware that I have argued (at some embarrassing length in vols. 2 and 3 of Exploring Mormon Thought) that the KFD supports the view that the Father was already fully divine before becoming mortal — just like Christ was. Again sorry for the plug, but I have argued at such length and I hope adequate care that I could not possibly reproduce it all in a blog response.

  48. Allen on March 12, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    The couplet states that one who is finite can become one who is infinite. The scriptures teach that God is infinite. I don’t see a contradiction between the two.

  49. ji on March 12, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    Dave,

    Thanks for the original posting! I appreciate your thoughts and share many of your concerns.

  50. Bryce Haymond on March 12, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    It’s a good analysis of the KFD. There may be errors in the sermon, but this is not likely one of them. It is reported that Lorenzo Snow kept the couplet mostly to himself, even after confirming it with Joseph, until he heard the prophet teach it publicly (the King Follet Discourse), after which he felt he was free to teach it also.
    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1982/02/i-have-a-question?lang=eng

    It seems that the objection is that “God was once a man.” But isn’t that what Christ was and is? Jesus, a God as we know him now, was once a mortal man, able to pass through mortal death. This is quite certain from the scriptures. So is the difficulty in understanding how specifically the Father also could have been mortal? Christ once said that he did none else but that which he saw the Father do (John 5:19). If Christ passed through mortal death, then could not also the Father?

    If we can become like God (the part of the couplet that doesn’t seem to be at issue), then might it not be said of us someday that we were once mortal humans? This is a truism. As far as God once being a non-divine mortal guy, there is no such thing. We are not non-divine now as humans. We have divine parentage, which endows us with the divine even as mortals. I perceive there is no non-divine mortal, nor has there ever been. Immortality is something of divinity, which we all have through Christ. C. S. Lewis seems to have thought likewise:

    It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ‘ordinary’ people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whome we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. (The Weight of Glory)

    I believe individual humans and God are essentially identical types of beings, just of a much different scale of glory on a infinite spectrum of ability. God is an exalted man, whose exaltation continues to increase. This was one of the great revelations of the First Vision, the corporeal anthropomorphic nature of God. I also believe that theosis does have a retroactive nature that must be taken into account logically, as I noted above. If a seed grows into a tree, it must be reasonably said that the tree was once a seed.

  51. Mark N. on March 12, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    “Since the Church has rejected from the Adam/God theory that Brigham Young taught, perhaps it will some day reject Lorenzo Snow’s theory as well.”

    Or we could turn that on its head and say that since the Church has apparently accepted Lorenzo Snow’s theory that God was once a man, perhaps it will someday accept Brigham Young’s Adam/God theory as well.

  52. Steve Smith on March 12, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    I am fascinated with the differences in understandings about how doctrinally centralized Mormonism is supposed to be. Nathaniel is suggesting that Mormonism is defined by its method of inquiry than its doctrinal result: the idea of continuing revelation makes it so that “nothing is final.” By contrast, Dave is suggesting that Mormonism is more the doctrinal product than a mere method, attitude, or philosophy; one that might be enhanced with a Church Theology Department.

    1) Mormonism is a religious tradition originated by Joseph Smith, the boundaries of which were flexible at first but became increasingly rigid. So yes, Nathaniel is right in that “a willingness to venture beyond the well-trodden terrain of presently revealed scripture and engage in risky but sincere speculation” was at the heart of early Mormonism, but only early Mormonism. Because in order for Mormonism to survive beyond JS and BY (in other words at a time when it could no longer thrive as a sociopolitical movement due to increasing US intervention), it had to more carefully define the boundaries of what was doctrinal and what wasn’t.

    2) Bear in mind that the pursuit of political power was what was driving the development of carefully detailed theologies in early Christianity and the Protestant Reformation; it was an effort on the part of one group to undermine another by attacking its religious legitimacy and thereby eroding its support base. Mormonism arose in a time and place in which religion was decoupled from politics, and theology was no longer an effective tool that could be used by outsiders to undermine a particular religious-cum-sociopolitical movement. Mormonism gained popularity because of Joseph Smith’s prophetic claims which he substantiated with the Book of Mormon. To undermine Mormonism one needed not try to attack JS’s theological reasoning, but merely attack the Book of Mormon. Hence the development of a Church Theological Department is completely unnecessary. Mormon theology is a strictly philological pursuit that serves very little practical purpose. The glue that holds Mormonism is not its theological soundness (it never was). JS evolved in his positions as evidenced by the KF sermon, and this was tolerated (not by all, but by many) because it was JS. The concepts of JS being a prophet and the Book of Mormon being an ancient translated by JS are what held Mormonism together. The rank and file could care less about apparent contradictions in what is a very loose and undefined Mormon theology. All that matters to them is that the Book of Mormon is true and Joseph Smith is a true prophet.

  53. ji on March 12, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    Speaking of the King Follett discourse, I thought we weren’t supposed to take notes of what general authorities said at funerals? :-)

    And wasn’t the funeral sermon given in March 1844, and the Prophet Joseph Smith was called back to the other side only three months later?

    Oh, and we don’t have any reliable transcript of the talk, only notes which were cobbled together afterwards and even then at best only cover less than a third of the sermon?

    Didn’t the Prophet’s nephew, when the nephew was Prophet and President of the Church, refuse to allow the inclusion of the sermon in the Church’s 1902 History of the Church because of his discomfort with some ideas in the sermon popularized by the editor of the project, B. H. Roberts of the First Council of the Seventy?

    Just wondering…

    I appreciate the beauty of the tapestry of Mormon thought. But I have a hard time accepting every thread in the tapestry as absolutely true doctrine. Some do, and that’s fine with me. It isn’t bothersome to me that there are differences within the Church — I want to be like Paul in Romans chapter 14. For me, what is important is that Jesus is the Christ and the He has stretched forth his hand in these latter days to restore his gospel and priesthood.

  54. Steve on March 12, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    We should just canonize it already.

  55. Ben S. on March 12, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    I reject the claim that “unchangeable” undermines the idea of God progressing. I’m not arguing for it per se, but I don’t think those scriptures mean what people think they mean. Moreover, I don’t think “inconsistent with the scriptures” is a strong argument, since it presumes internally consistent scriptures. Such is demonstrably not the case, and leaves no room for greater light and knowledge, or line upon line.

  56. Waylon Covil on March 12, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    R. Gary,
    Thanks for links.

    All,
    I joined the Church in high school. The doctrine of becoming like God was taught to me early on – probably by the missionaries.
    How many missionaries have taught this doctrine? Can you think of any missionary that hasn’t taught this doctrine?
    Isn’t this a foundational belief of LDS members?
    I’d like to think that if I had a foundational rug ripped out from under me, I would continue to rely upon the Holy Ghost’s testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.
    Is it possible that the Lord would let such a profound doctrine continue within Mormon culture when it isn’t actually true? I would say that the answer might be ‘yes’ if it serves his purposes. How many doctrines do we believe in now that aren’t true. Call them “cultural doctrines”.
    In some ways, this subject is kind of a hassle. Now I have to go pray about this doctrine to see if it’s really true. But aren’t we supposed to be forced to our knees to find the truth? Now I actually have to do some work. So, thank you for the article.
    On the TimesAndSeasons.org, we have lot’s of interesting back and forth. But at the end of the day, it’s not the intelectual banter that will save us. Brigham Young said it’s obedience that will save us. Is that true? I guess that’s another thing I get to pray about and have the Spirit teach me.
    We talk about correlation and what comes out of Salt Lake, but what about the stuff that comes from Heaven?
    An intellectual exercise is valuable but if it stops there, it’s a waste of time and incomplete. If it’s not accompanied by the Spirit, there’s no power to change. Are we going home after church on Sunday and praying about the teachings and having the Spirit expand us and enlighten us?

  57. Charlie on March 12, 2013 at 7:59 pm

    Interesting post. I also disagree with your conclusions though as several have here (see Kent I read some comments). True that it isn’t canonized nor stated that clearly in scripture however the lesson actually lists many NT scriptures which teach us that we too can have all that God has. When that happens half that couplet will come true. The other half is just exercising our reasoning abilities, although it could be about God the Son as noted in #11

    But I’d say that Snow had more of a eureka moment of clarity which contributed to his personal testimony. I don’t think he meant it as a church wide revelation, as the lesson implies. But then again if they did canonize it (re #54) it would do any harm because today its an integral part of Mormon belief.

  58. Charlie on March 12, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    #57 Waylon,

    “Is it possible that the Lord would let such a profound doctrine continue within Mormon culture when it isn’t actually true? ”

    I’d say the answer to that is definitely no but the couplet is true.

  59. Jared on March 12, 2013 at 8:12 pm

    As I read this post I realized anew the validity, vitality, and power of the vision of the tree of life. Those LDS who are overly concerned about the attitudes, pointing fingers, and smirks of those in the great and spacious building shrink at some of the most beautiful and unique doctrines of the restoration.

    The good news is that many of those who commented didn’t buy into the need to make excuses for President Snow’s couplet.

  60. Jonathan Cannon on March 12, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    At least Abraham and many unnamed others were already Gods before they were men. This is canonized, so what’s the problem with God having been a man and also always a God. The little g big g distinction is useful for communication at times, but I see no evidence that it has some fundamental meaning. If scriptures are best understood in context, why is there so commonly no effort made at understanding what is meant by unchanging? Contradictions between unchanging and progressing only exist when we force absurd, absolutist meanings on words that never have such meanings when we apply them to anything other than God.

  61. Doug Hudson on March 12, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    If nothing else, this thread demonstrates that if the Church ever formally disavowed the Couplet, there would be a lot of disappointed Mormons.

  62. Daniel on March 12, 2013 at 10:03 pm

    In other words, Mormonism is just another man-made religion where nobody knows what is true or not. Mormons stick their fingers in the air, and if it’s an unpopular or strange doctrine, it’s just speculation or personal opinion. If it’s a feel-good doctrine, it really is a doctrine.

  63. Marc Bohn on March 12, 2013 at 11:15 pm

    FYI — Hinckley expressed uneasiness with the Lorenzo Snow couplet on more than one occasion. In a 1997 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, he said:

    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.

    (http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/SUNDAY-INTERVIEW-Musings-of-the-Main-Mormon-2846138.php)

  64. Cameron on March 13, 2013 at 12:22 am

    55 makes a good point.

    If God is unchangeable now, does that mean he is now as he has always been? Or did he arrive at an ‘unchangeable’ state by gradual changes until the perfect day of unchangeability?

    I do agree that it is extrapolating to say we know God’s origins and thus the couplet is perhaps not a constructive one. But such things get in the realm of eternal existence, which we are not capable of comprehending.

  65. R. Gary on March 13, 2013 at 3:08 am

    .

    Re: “Hinckley expressed uneasiness with the Lorenzo Snow couplet.”

    “Uneasiness” is probably the wrong word. The press articles were in the spring and summer of 1997. Keep in mind that Hinckley joined the Twelve in 1961 and the First Presidency in 1981. By 1997, he had served 36 years in the presiding quorums of the Church. I think his “we” could refer to the First Presidency and Twelve and his “public discourse” to general conference:

    “I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it. I haven’t heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse.”

    When Hinckley made that comment, it had been twenty years since the phrase “as man is, God once was” was even mentioned in General Conference. The most recent was Spencer W. Kimball’s talk, “Our Great Potential,” (Ensign, May 1977) which emphasizes the second line of the couplet, “as God is, man may become.” Kimball didn’t elaborate on the first line at all, much less emphasize it.

    Understandably, in the October 1997 General Conference, Hinckley said this:

    “None of you need worry because you read something that was incompletely reported. You need not worry that I do not understand some matters of doctrine. I think I understand them thoroughly, and it is unfortunate that the reporting may not make this clear. I hope you will never look to the public press as the authority on the doctrines of the Church.” (Ensign, Nov. 1997.)

    Sixteen Church publications that “teach it” (listed here) were approved for publication before Hinckley’s death in 2008.

  66. Ben S. on March 13, 2013 at 6:00 am

    In support of my #55, see this discussion here at T&S, esp. Faulconer’s comment 7. I’d add that these scriptures seem more about being able to rely upon God’s promises than about God’s ontological history, cf. Num 23:19, “God is not a human being, that he should lie, or a mortal, that he should change his mind. Has he promised and will he not do it? Has to he spoken, and will not fulfill it?” (Needs to be balanced somewhat with Amos 7:3 and such, but still applicable.)

    And let’s set aside the fact that neither Greek nor Hebrew vocabulary really means “eternal” or “forever.”

  67. Dave on March 13, 2013 at 9:25 am

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. It has been a spirited discussion, although I confess I find the general thrust of the comments rather disturbing.

    Thank you Daniel (#63, “If it’s a feel-good doctrine, it really is a doctrine.”) for showing why ignoring the doctrinal parameters established in the Church like canonization and living prophets (what they presently teach and what they presently don’t teach) leads to the easy acceptance of questionable doctrines.

    Thank you Gary (#56) for adding additional citations. The problem is worse than I thought. By the way, you should probably amend the title of your site to NDBFEG (No Death Before the Fall Except God). God being a mortal subject to death before the Fall of Adam, that’s fine. Anything else dying before the Fall of Adam, that’s false doctrine.

    Sometimes a helpful way to evaluate a doctrine is not by it’s inner logic or with reference to particular scriptural references (or, in this case, uncanonized second-hand accounts of what Joseph Smith might have said) but by the consequences of the doctrine. The consequences of accepting the Couplet at face value and running with it are something like classical polytheism. Do you really want to go there? In place of Zeus, Hera, Cronus, and Apollo (Son of Zeus) and his more-or-less siblings, most commenters here seem quite comfortable with a Mormon pantheon: Elohim for Zeus, Heavenly Mother for Hera, Father of Elohim (the one Elohim served when he was born, died, and resurrected on some unknown, unnamed planet in ages past) for Cronus, Jehovah for Apollo, and all of us humans (seen by most of you as no different than Jehovah or Jesus Christ our Elder Brother) for Athena, Artemis, Ares, and the whole endless pantheon of major and minor Greek divinities. Is this what you put in your Mormon.org profile? “Hi, I’m a polytheist, and I’m a Mormon.”

    How about Adam? If a closet fundamentalist shows up in your priesthood quorum and starts teaching a lesson on Adam-God next week, are you going to raise your hand and say, “No, we don’t believe Adam was God and we don’t worship him.” Really? You seem to be saying everyone is God with a big G. If that’s really your view of the LDS gospel, don’t think you have any basis for denying that Adam is God just like all the rest. This dynamic is the essence of Robinson’s warning in the middle paragraph of the long quotation at the end of the opening post: “I grant that some LDS do indulge in speculation on this point (it is a favorite jumping-off place for LDS fundamentalists) — but they go beyond the teaching of the LDS Church and the advice of LDS leaders when they do.”

  68. Michael H. on March 13, 2013 at 10:29 am

    By comparing a Mormon view of multiple G/gods to Greek mythology, I think you’re making a few very strange jumps in logic:

    1. That “polytheism” is an effective pejorative. Why?

    2. That Mormons aren’t already limited henotheists (worshiping three separate beings as Gods, or three physically separate beings as one God). Again, why bother trying to collapse this into monotheism – unless we’re trying to curry theological favor with traditional Christianity?

    3. That multiple Mormon gods/goddesses would be at all like the Greek system. When we talk about G/gods, we talk about beings that are united in purpose, not endlessly feuding. Further, is it not alright to believe that there are infinite gods, but we don’t know anything about them and are supposed to develop a relationship with our Divine (Nuclear) Family alone at this time?

  69. buraianto on March 13, 2013 at 11:00 am

    Ji #53, the King Follett Discourse, as we call it, was not a funeral sermon, but a General Conference talk. The recent death and funeral of King Follett was used as a starting point to the talk.

  70. buraianto on March 13, 2013 at 11:01 am

    Calling it the King Follett Discourse has unfortunately obscured the fact that it was a General Conference talk.

  71. Dave on March 13, 2013 at 11:39 am

    Michael H (#69), reread the post and my comments carefully. I am not ascribing these characterizations to LDS doctrine. I am describing the logical consequences of embracing “Couplet Doctrine” in order to show why that is a bad idea.

  72. Michael H. on March 13, 2013 at 11:57 am

    #72 – I understand what argument you were making. But I don’t get why abandoning the pretension of a traditional Christian monotheism by accepting the Couplet Doctrine 1) would be as a bad a thing as you make it out to be, or 2) would entail Greek-style theological consequences.

  73. Nathaniel Givens on March 13, 2013 at 11:58 am

    Dave-

    The problem people have with the Greek Pantheon is primarily the behavior of gods, not their amount. To link the plurality of Gods to the lies, theft, cruelty, murder, rape, and bestiality of the Greek Pantheon is neither helpful nor legitimate.

    In addition, I don’t believe that one of the consequences of doctrine that ought to be of fundamental importance is its popularity. I think that goes without saying in terms of principle, but even from a practical matter there are serious problems. Why should we be trying to evaluate Mormon doctrine in terms of orthodox Christianity as opposed to other faith traditions or even atheism and agnosticism? To rely too heavily on the opinion of one group as opposed to another contradicts the supposed aim of positive PR.

    While there’s no need to be confrontational or belligerent to our theological neighbors, I don’t think that using their beliefs as criteria for our own is the way to earn respect or build bridges.

  74. Michael H. on March 13, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    Or rather, to make my first and second points clearer: why is polytheism/henotheism so essentially *bad* that merely dropping that adjective is seen as defamatory?

  75. Nathaniel Givens on March 13, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    (Sorry, my comments in #74 mirror Michael H’s in #69 from 1.5 hours earlier. I started my response and was distracted before finishing, and didn’t realize he had posted in the interim. Feel free to ignore my response, Dave, since it adds little new.)

  76. Michael H. on March 13, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    I think both Nathaniel and I have points, though, as there are two separate reasons Christians deride the Greek pantheon that you (Dave), have seemingly irresponsibly conflated.

    1. Their behavior – which as Nathaniel points out is not logically entailed by a mere plurality of Gods.

    2. The plurality of Gods. Why is this bad per se? I can find no reason why this is in essence bad unless you believe, for some reason, that monotheism is logically/rationally superior (I do not believe it is) or, as I stated, you’re trying to curry favor with traditional Christianity (why?). If so, Mormons have to seriously deal with the consequences of having three separate and distinct Gods (or just one God in three persons?) without going full-bore Trinitarian.

  77. Mtnmarty on March 13, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    A few small points.

    Your number 4. Implies that LDS doctrines that conflicts with traditional Christianity damage the church. Hinckley’s October 2007 talk seems to make the opposite case. In addition to stating that the creed did not make any sense to him he uses the words “unique” and “singular” as we’ll as true for LDS doctrine as recorded in the first vision. It would seem from his recounting of the growth and mission of the church that he believed the differences not the similarities of LDS doctrine to traditional Christianity were responsible for its health and growth.

    The second point is that your quote of the scripture about God not being changeable does not specify what properties of God do not change. Obviously Jesus changed his form or we wouldn’t have had a baby Jesus. How do determine what else may not change?

    Also, I will half-heatedly add an opinion since I think theological arguments are not possible due to the undefinability of terms, that a strong form of agency implies that all things that have agency are gods because they are first causes in the world that is not constrained by natural laws or God to act in a certain way.

  78. Michael H. on March 13, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    To add a little force behind Mtnmarty’s (78) last suggestion: B.H. Roberts opined that an “intelligence” in LDS theology is something with moral agency; they are identical, and to “remove moral agency” would be either nonsensical or to destroy intelligences. Forasmuch as intelligences at different levels exist, they participate in different levels of agency – they are gods in embryo.

  79. Jonathan Green on March 13, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    Well, we did settle the whole polytheism = bad thing about 3000 years ago. No other gods before me, and so on. It’s a can of worms we really don’t want to open, and I think Dave’s right that it’s an alarming prospect to be concerned about. Where I disagree with Dave is seeing it as the only logical consequence, rather than a possible consequence to be avoided. I don’t know about couplet theology, but the couplet as a text is liable to many interpretations. I don’t think we need to renounce babies because they might result in bathwater.

  80. Dave on March 13, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Michael H (#75), the modern distinction between monotheism and polytheism rests not only on number but, as Nathaniel notes, also on the nature and character of the god or gods described. But it goes beyond the simple question of good divine behavior. Polytheistic systems have no trouble adding new or additional divine entities because, while deemed to be powerful beings, the gods with which they are populated are not held to be omnipotent in the way that the theistic God of modern monotheism is. Expanding the pantheon does not disrupt the logic of the polytheistic system, but multiplying divinities is inconsistent with monotheism. What the term “god” refers to in the two systems is different.

    One example is necessity versus contingency. Classically, God is deemed to be a necessary being. In other words, to the extent there are other possible worlds — that some events might have turned out differently — God is present in all of them. He is a necessary being in that sense. The view some Mormons embrace that God developed radically over time and (fortunately for us) ended up as God the Father does not really describe a necessary being but a contingent one that (fortunately for us) stayed the course and grew up to be God. It could have turned out differently. Do you see the difference? It is harder to explain why we owe worship to a contingent being, one who (fortunately for us) just happened to turn out to be God, than to a necessary being who is God by his very nature.

    Mormonism has always focused on ethics rather than theology. That is one of the secrets of our success. But there’s still a theological bill to be paid at some point. Trying to affirm the classical theistic God (as Mormon scriptures do) while at the same time multiplying divinities in the mode of a polytheistic system creates difficult problems. LDS thinkers are only beginning to address these difficulties (and it requires more than simply redefining the relevant attributes to solve it). I think in the end we will be better off paring down the Mormon pantheon than trimming down the character and nature of God.

  81. Blake on March 13, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    Dave #68: The way you conflate Greek polytheism with Christian pluralism of divine persons really is quite irresponsible. Since I have written a book regarding the philosophical implications of this issue, I sometimes forget that nonsensical associations like you make in your #68 are still sometimes suggested.

    More to the point, when was Zeus a mortal? Your issue has nothing to do with the couplet and but with the central issue of Christianity — that a fully divine being could become mortal. I happen to think that it is the supreme manifestation of a divine person’s love to become mortal to learn from the things suffered.

    Moreover, why shouldn’t Mormons be comfortable with an entire family of divine persons? We have Father, Mother, Son and Holy Ghost. What is wrong with that? Here is what appears to the problem as you see it. You suggest that somehow we should suspect such beliefs on reasoning like this:

    (1) Zeus, Athena and other Greek gods constitute polytheism;
    (2) Father, Son and Holy Ghost constitute a polytheism;
    (3) It is false that there is a Zeua, Athena and so forth;
    (4) Therefore it is false that there is a Father, Son and Holy Ghost as distinct divine persons.

    Anyone who cannot see the logical fallacies in that way of thinking probably ought not try to persuade others with arguments.

  82. Adam Greenwood on March 13, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    Dave,
    your anti-polytheism argument not only undermines the second part of the couplet, it undermines the first. At some point you’re undermining enough Mormon distinctives that maybe we should just admit that we don’t know how to reconcile the whole caboodle with the ‘classical theistic God,’ an entity that is not itself immune from insoluble or at least incomprehensible logic problems.

  83. Michael H. on March 13, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” isn’t so much an indictment of the belief in multiple gods but the commandment not to put others before Elohim/Jehovah – and nowhere am I claiming that a belief in multiple gods would ever threaten that precedent.

    I don’t think that allowing for the possibilities of other Gods necessitates a pantheon of ever-multiplying, radically limited Gods that we would interact with. For me it’s sufficient to say that you’ve got a singular Godhead, omnipotent within the reference frame of this world – and that’s the thing that’s relevant to humans on earth.

    And what if God is only generically necessary to conceive of our existence – that a God is necessarily present in all possible worlds, but not necessarily the individual God which we worship today? Our God, yes, could have turned out differently, but then he wouldn’t have been our God – another with Godlike attributes would be the one we’d worship.

  84. Blake on March 13, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    Dave#81: “Trying to affirm the classical theistic God (as Mormon scriptures do) while at the same time multiplying divinities in the mode of a polytheistic system creates difficult problems.”

    Dave, first there is no logical problem with several fully omnipotent beings as long as they have a rational mechanism for working disagreements among them. If the divine persons are necessarily agreed as one in order to be omnipotent (I prefer almighty) then there is no possibility of conflict of omnipotent divine beings. Problem solved.

    Moreover, if you think that Mormon scriptures adopt the view of the classical god, then I suggest that you have failed to grasp both the concept(s) of “the classical god” (as if there were only one) and also what is taught in Mormon scriptures (which come nowhere near teaching of a classical god in the sense of say Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Luis deMolina, Suarez et al.).

    However, I can see the concern about a being that “grew up” to be god after an eternity of being less than god. That is what I reject. Neither “the couplet” nor the KFD or even the Sermon in the Grove teach that God “grew up” to be divine after having not been previously divine. Just as Christ became mortal after having been fully divine before his mortal birth from all eternity, so the the Father did the same before him. God grows in the sense of learning what could not be know about the acts free persons, knowing how He (they the Godhead) would respond to each choice made and through experiences from which God learns and gains experiential knowledge (that can only be learned through experience). The fact that God grows or is in process does make God (the fully divine persons) any less God or less than fully divine.

  85. Michael H. on March 13, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    In this sense, God is contingent in the way humans are soteriologically contingent. To illustrate, it seems that you would say that humans must develop (with God’s help) certain characteristics in order to attain the celestial glory, but because they could have conceivably decided to aim for the terrestrial or telestial glory, they do not deserve the honor coincident with celestiality. I don’t see why only necessary beings would be worthy of honor or worship; if God exercised His (or Their, if you include Heavenly Mother) agency to become divine instead of being complacent at another level, should we not honor Him the more?

  86. Blake on March 13, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    Dave # 86: “It could have turned out differently. Do you see the difference? It is harder to explain why we owe worship to a contingent being, one who (fortunately for us) just happened to turn out to be God, than to a necessary being who is God by his very nature.”

    I think it is the other way around. Why worship a being that could not be any different? That did not become fully divine by completely expressing love and inspiring trust in every instance by being trustworthy? What is it about “necessary existence” that makes god more worthy of worship? Assume that there have always been necessary mathematical truths (as Platonists and Realists about numbers believe) — are they somehow worship-worthy, or more worship-worthy because they are necessary and not contingent?

    It seems to me that what makes God (the divine persons) worship-worthy is God’s (their) perfect love, the completion of power and glory that comes from being in union as one united in loving relationship with others.

  87. Michael H. on March 13, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    Of course, I also believe that Jesus’s Christhood/Messiahship was not logically necessary, either. I maintain that He became a God premortally when he was the first to volunteer to be the Savior while pledging Himself entirely to God’s will – making him the Firstborn. And since there was no need for another Savior after that, he remained the only one – the Only Begotten. So I admit I have some uncommon views.

  88. Nathaniel Givens on March 13, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    I’ll try to be brief to avoid the appearance of a pile-on:

    What the term “god” refers to in the two systems is different.

    I agree whole-heartedly that “god” means something different in poly- vs. monotheism. For me the biggest problem, however, is that you see these two approaches as the only alternatives. Your entire line of argument seems to be basically an attempt to transplant Mormonism into orthodox, which is to say neo-Aristotelean, Christianity. Why would we want to do such a thing?

    Your reasoning seems to be that we must in order to avoid worshipping Zeus, but that doesn’t actually follow. I would argue that one of the main reasons for the existence of Mormonism is that it fits in neither of these categories, and that the entire structure of your argument is thus a false choice. I don’t have to pick between Zeus and the God of the creeds.

  89. Dave on March 13, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    Blake (#82), thanks for your input. I’m not arguing for Mormon polytheism, I’m arguing against it. I’m not saying what you label the “Christian pluralism of divine persons” is equivalent to polytheism, I’m arguing that if you start adding additional divinities (Mother in Heaven, the father of God the Father, and so forth) then you are going well beyond “Christian pluralism.” Once you start adding divinities, it becomes difficult to stop. You have glibly added a Mother to the Mormon Godhead of three persons — and you think *I* am the one pushing Mormon polytheism?

    While the discussion has ranged well beyond my comments in the opening post, I made it quite clear there that I was not arguing against the LDS doctrine of deification, as taught by modern LDS leaders (which promises godhood with a small “g” in which we become “partakers of the divine nature,” 2 Peter 1:4, rather than Godhood with a capital G, in which we autonomous co-rulers of the Universe with the God whom we presently worship, as some Mormons seem to believe and which they read into the Couplet).

    The problem I’m addressing in the post is the facile assumption that the rather modest LDS doctrine of deification implies in a straightforward manner the idea that God the Father had some prior mortal existence in some prior age — that God was other than he is. There is no scriptural basis for this; what non-scriptural foundations there are for the doctrine are scarce and second-hand; the additional assumptions needed to get from deification to presumed events of God the Father’s earlier career are questionable; and no present LDS leaders are teaching anything like this. Maybe you laid out this argument in your second or third volume, in which case a reference would be appreciated. I didn’t run across such an argument in the first volume.

  90. Michael H. on March 13, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    Who says that “Godhood with a capital G” means that we would be “autonomous co-rulers of the Universe with the God whom we presently worship”? Your assumption of a singular universe is… interesting.

  91. Nathaniel Givens on March 13, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    Your assumption of a singular universe is… interesting.

    Or just Platonic. :-P

  92. Blake on March 13, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    Dave: I took you to be arguing against Mormon polytheism and not for it, so I don’t think I misunderstood you. I must have been unclear because I thought it was evident from what I wrote that I am defending Mormon polytheism and you are rejecting it. If I misunderstood you, I apologize.

    I agree with you that we do not become “autonomous” co-rulers of the universe. I believe that we become one with the Father, Son and Holy Ghost and in so doing partake of all of the power, glory and knowledge that they do as co-heirs to everything God (Father, Son and Holy Ghost share) is and has. I think the notion that we may fly off independently to some part of the universe that God hasn’t quite gotten around to organizing yet to organize and give divine rule to is nonsense and non-scriptural.

    What implies that the Father had a mortal existence in some other age is the King Follett Discourse and the Sermon in the Grove by Joseph Smith and his reasoning about John 5 that the Son only does what he saw the Father do. Given that God the Son became mortal after having been fully divine, fully God, I am quite sure that there cannot be a logical objection to the Father having done the same. We are in agreement that no scripture expressly teaches it — but Joseph Smith believed it was a fair implication of his reading of John 5.

    Check out the first and last two chapters of vol. 3 of Exploring Mormon Thought where I address these issues from an historical and logical point of view (sorry for the plug).

  93. Dave on March 13, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    Blake (#85), so is Mother, who in #82 you added as a fourth person of the Mormon Godhead, omnipotent? Is She then included in the rational mechanism that works out purported disagreements between the four? I’m not being flippant, just trying to assess the degree to which you think Mormon deification posits the emergence of divinities that are co-equal to God.

  94. Blake on March 13, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    Dave: I have no position on the Mother in Heaven and her status. I just threw her in because I have no objection whatsoever to a lot of humans being invited into the Godhead to share fully everything each divine person is. I argue that such divine union between humans and the divine persons is the consistent teaching of Mormon scripture and key works in the biblical documents. Indeed, I argue that Joseph Smith is building on the Lectures on Faith in his King Follett Discourse. I also argue that the Lectures on Faith, Lectures 5 and 7 are an attempting to exegete D&C 93.

    In addition, I don’t think that “divine persons” “emerge” — it is what we just are. We are of the divine kind in the same way that a baby human is of the human kind or an acorn is of the kind oak. However, we can “emerge” as “fully divine” in the sense that we come to partake of the fullness of divine glory and life by sharing fully in the light of God. We do that by becoming one with the divine persons in perfect love. That is the consistent teaching of all Mormon scriptures — at least as I see it.

  95. Adam Greenwood on March 13, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    “I’m not saying what you label the “Christian pluralism of divine persons” is equivalent to polytheism, I’m arguing that if you start adding additional divinities (Mother in Heaven, the father of God the Father, and so forth) then you are going well beyond “Christian pluralism.” Once you start adding divinities, it becomes difficult to stop. You have glibly added a Mother to the Mormon Godhead of three persons — and you think *I* am the one pushing Mormon polytheism?”

    Like the gal said about Saint Whatsit, who walked a mile to a shrine after being beheaded, in such a journey it is the first step that amazes–once you’ve conceded that there are more than one person in the Godhead, it really doesn’t matter too much if you cap it at three or four or an infinity.

    While the discussion has ranged well beyond my comments in the opening post, I made it quite clear there that I was not arguing against the LDS doctrine of deification
    I appreciate that you are not intending to argue against deification, and I credit you for it. Unfortunately, there is no particular reason outside fiat that most of your arguments against the second line of the couplet couldn’t be applied to the first.

  96. Adam Greenwood on March 13, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    Blake,
    I like your wrinkle on the Father having been a man, but two questions occur to me:
    1. Who was running the shop while the Father was mortal? Jesus growing from grace to grace suggests that part of the experience of mortality is not experiencing full godhood.
    2. If Jesus and the Father were fully divine before their mortal experience in a way that we weren’t, how can we be said to be of their kind?
    If there is a passage in your books that specifically discusses these questions, apologies, and you could just cite me to it.

  97. Doug Hudson on March 13, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    Dave, first you want to remove the Couplet, now you want to remove Heavenly Mother and the idea of a “Heavenly Family” from Mormonism?

    What third unique and cherished Mormon belief are you going to challenge for the hat trick?

    No wonder the thread is a little hostile!

  98. Adam Greenwood on March 13, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    Doug,
    in fairness to Dave B., a lot of the Mormon Heavenly Family teachings are quite easy to relate to and pastorally valuable, but cause problems when you try to think through the theological implications.

  99. Doug Hudson on March 13, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    Adam Greenwood (99), I agree, but I was mostly expressing surprise that Dave B. seems surprised at the tone of the thread. The Couplet and the Heavenly Family may not be vital to Mormonism, but people like them!

  100. Blake on March 13, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    Adam G. Good questions (and I loved your poem too).

    1. The Son and HG ran the show. They were still one Godhead. It cannot be a knock on God that he lacks some experiential knowledge since there is always an infinity of new experiences and knowledge to gain. To be fully divine does not entail that one has stopped learning from experience. God is always growing grace to grace.

    2. They were not fully divine in a way “we weren’t” but in a way we had not yet chosen. For example, I am fully an attorney. My son is not. That does not mean he is a different kind than I am or that he could not become fully an attorney some day. It is a difference, but not a difference in kind. Now I acknowledge that I was not always an attorney, unlike God who was always fully divine before mortality. Yet God (Jesus and the Father respectively) emptied himself of the fullness of divinity to become mortal and grow as a human.

    So God is not essentially (or necessarily) fully divine, but is fully divine by choice. We can also be fully divine once we learn to love fully and choose to do so. God (each of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost respectively) has always chosen in each moment to love fully. That is what makes him God or fully divine. We have not made that choice to love in each instance that we could. When we give less than love we are less than fully divine.

  101. Adam Greenwood on March 13, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    Now I acknowledge that I was not always an attorney, unlike God who was always fully divine before mortality. Yet God (Jesus and the Father respectively) emptied himself of the fullness of divinity to become mortal and grow as a human.

    So we can be of God’s kind because he meets us halfway by making himself of our kind? Sorta amping up the traditional Christian incarnational theoloogy? It’s Rube Goldbergian, but it saves the appearances. I’m not totally convinced, but I like it.

    Thanks for your kind words on the poem.

  102. Blake on March 13, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    Adam # 102 — Not exactly. We start out as the same kind as God — not become of the same kind. We have the potential to be perfectly loving in virtue of the kind of beings that we are — and in this potential to be just as God is. What is important to be like God is not for God to become like us, but for us to become like God. It is simply a matter of having made different choices. However, God in Christ became human for the same reason that we did — to grow from his experiences and learn how to succor his people by the things that he suffered. He also came to teach us what perfect love is like in concrete human action.

  103. Adam Greenwood on March 13, 2013 at 4:11 pm

    Blake,
    this may not be the right place for this, but I’ll say it anyway and you can choose to answer or not according to your lights.
    How can we be the same kind as God if we are men who can choose to become God, and he is God who can choose to become man? Those are some radically different life histories. Or are you saying that we are all Gods from the beginning but that most of us are radically fallen Gods in that we are Gods who chose to sin at some point, unlike the Father and the Son? That could make sense, though it has strange implications and isn’t a perfect fit with scripture–but my guess is that any consistent working out of the implications of Mormon that we are able to understand will have strange implications and not be a perfect fit with scripture.

  104. buraianto on March 13, 2013 at 4:17 pm

    Doug #100, the Couplet and the Heavenly Family may not be vital to Mormonism as an organization or as a community, but they are vital to some of its individual members and sub-communities. I am one who cherishes what I interpret the couplet to mean.

  105. buraianto on March 13, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    What I mean is that I cherish my interpretation of the couplet, and for me it is vital to my Mormonism.

  106. Blake on March 13, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    Adam G: What I am saying is that the difference between a fully divine being like God and a merely divine being like us is a matter of choice. In each instance where the F, S & HG could choose to be united in love, they have. We have not. We could have but did not choose to love in this same way whenever we had the choice. So there is no difference in the kinds of beings that we are with G, F & HG, the difference is one of choice and the consequences of those choices — not of kinds.

  107. Steve on March 13, 2013 at 6:55 pm

    Blake: I don’t understand exactly how that could be. How could there be a meaningful divergence in choice if two beings are the same when they encounter that choice. It seems that if presented with the same options, two beings equally capable will make equally good decisions relevant to their respective happiness. A difference in choice suggests a cause. Either that cause is internal, or it is external. If external, then how could one justly be accountable for following a path of imperfection while the other one remains/continues in perfection. If internal, then accountability is preserved, yet there is an in inherit internal difference–or in other words, one was more internally capable than the other when encountering the choice. This to me suggests one being was more intelligent then the other.

    So in your model, what is the cause that makes God/Christ choose to continue in full divinity, while others of the same kind leave (or never enter) this full divinity?

  108. Steve on March 13, 2013 at 6:58 pm

    *than the other.

  109. Mark N. on March 13, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    What I find to be interesting in this discussion is the near-universal agreement that Brigham Young was out of his mind on the Adam-God stuff, while Eliza R. Snow is correct on her Heavenly Mother stuff and Lorenzo Snow’s Couplet (since we’re finding it in our Priesthood/Relief Society manual) is also correct. To me, they all seem to come from the same general set of beliefs about eternal progression and the eternal nature of the family and just where we sit in the timeline of eternal progression. If Michael and Adam are the same being, and the temple includes Michael as an important being in the process of creating this here planet, it would seem to imply that other beings at other times in the grand timeline of eternal progression have been likewise important in the creation and organization of other planets. Why shouldn’t Adam already be a resurrected and exalted being (while apparently having been subjected to a memory wipe) upon his appearance here? He certainly seems to have done something to merit this special position.

    We just seem to be overly concerned with having a view of eternal progression that doesn’t make us look too weird when compared to our non-LDS Christian fellow believers. Are we better off dumbing down our theology just for the sake of not offending some people? Is that what it comes down to?

  110. ji on March 13, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    Mark N. (no. 110), Maybe it’s a matter of focusing on what is important and avoiding doubtful doctrinal disputations. One Latter-day Saint may believe deeply in the couplet, and treasure it as an essential part of Mormonism, and another Latter-day Saint might not embrace it. But it really doesn’t matter — whichever of those two, or both, or neither, finds a place in the celestial kingdom of our God will depend ZERO on his or her attitude towards the couplet and ALL on his or her faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, hope in the Lord Jesus Christ, and charity in the Lord Jesus Christ — that’s what really matters.

    I like Paul’s teachings in Romans chapter 14 — in this regard, I am one who is weak in the faith and I can’t absorb the couplet — hopefully, those who are stronger in the faith and certain and even adamant in their belief in the couplet will be mindful of my weakness, will act charitably towards me, and avoid putting a stumblingblock in my way — destroy me not with the couplet. I love Romans chapter 14 as a guide to Christian (and Mormon) discipleship.

  111. Steve on March 13, 2013 at 7:57 pm

    Mark N: I think LDS people are more inclined to disavow Adam-God because it is not widely accepted or taught, so on first encounter it is has way more of a shock factor. But it’s probably an analogous feeling to what many Christians who have a different concept of God might feel when they hear the suggestion that God was once a man. I agree that the 3 thoughts you mentioned are like innovations. The difference probably is that the saints trusted Joseph Smith’s innovations / claimed revelations more than Brigham Young’s, enough so that as a people they were able to get over the hump that is the initial impulse for rejection.

  112. Thomas Parkin on March 13, 2013 at 8:58 pm

    “But it really doesn’t matter”

    It most certainly does matter. The slow diffusion of the idea of the explicit person-hood of God radically changes the nature of our worship. We move from worship as emulation and becoming to a kind of religiosity characterized by things like praise and awe. God recedes, increasingly becoming a backdrop, a higher power, sitting atop a topless throne, large enough to fill the universe yet small enough to swell in our hearts, without body, parts, or (recognizably human) passions (except some nebulous concept of love), etc. God is increasingly unknowable – and in fact you see this claim, or something like it, all the time on the ‘naccle.

    If God is unknowable, in human terms, then it is impossible to evaluate in any way where we are in the process of becoming like Him. (One must know something about both ends … one must know something about God, and something about oneself. Of course, Joseph claimed that these were of the same kind of knowledge.)

    This is where this all leads, imho. I don’t think that one has to believe in the couplet in some precise way. But I think there is a grossly underestimated danger in the process of tossing these doctrines overboard.

  113. ji on March 13, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    Thomas (no. 113), I don’t think that not-fully-embracing the couplet necessarily means making God into the without body, parts, or passions description you provide. A good Latter-day Saint can choose not to embrace the couplet but still worship the God of Mormonism, and still find a place in the celestial kingdom of our God, if he or she has faith, hope, and charity.

  114. Adam Greenwood on March 13, 2013 at 9:35 pm

    ji,
    Paul’s advice was not meant to be a set of demands that we can make on others.

  115. Thomas Parkin on March 13, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    ji,

    I described an ongoing process.

  116. ji on March 13, 2013 at 10:01 pm

    Adam (no. 115) — Of course not — it was an earnest plea and a good teaching.

    Thomas (no. 116) — Yes.

    I suppose the difference is that for some, the couplet is part of the essentials of Mormonism; and for others, it is part of the esoterica.

  117. Bookslinger on March 13, 2013 at 10:28 pm

    The couplet, in relation to canonized scripture, makes sense to me in a Hawking style cosmology. IE., this universe, this space-time continuum, is a temporary bubble in a larger multidimensional multiverse, containing other universes.

    IMO, Father Elohim was God before this universe came into being. That is the “from eternity”. He will be God if/when this universe passes away “wrapt together as like a scroll”.. That is the “to eternity”.

    However, that leaves open His mortal probation in another universe within the bigger multidimensional multiverse. His ascension to godhood may have been some ascension to higher dimensions that allowed him to step outside/above the space-time continuum of his mortal existence, and “into eternity”.

    Thus “eternal” may not mean “clock time without end” , but actually a higher dimension that is above time. Even the theoretical cosmologists/physicists have said that “time is a _local_ phenomena”. It may be a feature of only lower dimensions, and not of the higher dimensions, but only as a subset.

    Yet from before the Big Bang, through after the Big Crunch, He was and will be “God”, and the _only_ God of this Universe.

    Thusly, the Hawking style cosmology of a multiverse of universes, may (possibly) be construed to allow for the LDS paradigm of generations of Gods and untold numbers for each generation.

    Add in planets, star systems, star clusters, galaxies, and galaxy clusters to allow for further refined degrees of progression.

  118. Blake on March 13, 2013 at 11:31 pm

    Adam #108 – You have implicitly adopted either causal determinism or character fixity determinism, both of which are incompatible with moral responsibility, free will and the ability to repent. What explains the difference are the free choices we make. In every instance where we freely choose, there were open alternatives open to us. We are free to act and not merely be acted upon.

    When you ask “what is the cause that makes God always choose what is good” you assume a form of causal that is inconsistent with doing anything good or praiseworthy at all. Thus, your assumption needs to be undone and the question unasked. There is no such cause. God chooses good because he sees with pellucid clarity that choosing the good is always the best option and expressive of choosing to love. Because God is rational, he always expresses his love in the choices he makes. We are not always rational.

  119. Steve on March 14, 2013 at 12:35 am

    Blake #119 – You say there is no such cause, but then go on to explain the cause “he sees with pellucid clarity that choosing the good is always the best option…” and “God is rational”. So I’m not sure what you mean. It seems to follow then that if we were the same as God at some time, we should have made the same rational choices as He. Something then must have distinguished us from God that made/makes Him perfectly rational, why we were/are not always rational.

    I reject the notion that causal determinism is incompatible with moral responsibility, free will, etc. On the contrary, it seems to me that any other system is inconsistent with doing anything good or praiseworthy at all. If for example choice were based on some principle of randomness, how could I truly claim my choices?

  120. Steve on March 14, 2013 at 1:12 am

    (Continued from #120) If you reject cause, then it seems you must reject the ‘because’ in your sentences. They would change to, “God chooses good… for no reason at all.”

    Or is there a reason (i.e. cause) in your model? I’m just trying to probe as clearly as I can, so I can understand where you are coming from.

  121. Adam Greenwood on March 14, 2013 at 9:54 am

    Adam #108 – You have implicitly adopted either causal determinism or character fixity determinism, both of which are incompatible with moral responsibility, free will and the ability to repent

    That’s Steve, my counterpart in the fabulous version of creation.

  122. Adam Greenwood on March 14, 2013 at 9:56 am

    Adam (no. 115) — Of course not — it was an earnest plea and a good teaching.

    Paul’s good teaching came to people who shared his point of view. It wouldn’t have been good teaching at all if he had used it as a roundabout way of suppressing discourse he didn’t like.

  123. ji on March 14, 2013 at 10:25 am

    Adam, Paul’s teaching was to all men and women who were part of the community of faith — it’s a good teaching, and it may be applicable here — but neither he nor I used it to suppress discourse we don’t like. He and I agree that each man should be fully persuaded in his own mind, and at the same time, that one shouldn’t throw a stumblingblock in front of his brother.

    In this discourse, there are some who are somewhat troubled by the couplet and they (we) suggested why it perhaps ought not be proclaimed so loudly — not banned, just not proclaimed so loudly. Others here insist on proclaiming it loudly, without regard to the sensibilities of fellow Saints or non-members. They might be the ones who are suppressing the discourse. The discourse was started by one who was troubled by the couplet — I joined the discourse to share my perspectives. No, I’m not trying to suppress discourse — here, those who are troubled by the couplet are the ones who are trying to encourage honest discourse.

    I think this is exactly the sort of circumstance that Paul’s teaching in Romans chapter 14 was intended for.

  124. ji on March 14, 2013 at 10:38 am

    My use of “we” above doesn’t suggest any relationship to the original poster — there is no privity between us — but he start a discussion that triggered an agreement in me, so I added my perspective to continue the discourse…

  125. Dave on March 14, 2013 at 11:14 am

    Thanks for agreeing, ji — by my count, that makes two of us. I really am surprised by the extent to which the speculative cosmic gospel of the Couplet has become grafted onto the proclaimed LDS gospel of the scriptures. To my mind, it is similar to how the speculative cosmic gospel of neutrality in the War in Heaven and God’s premortal choice to place those who were neutral in a disfavored lineage in this earthly life became grafted onto the LDS priesthood policy. That, too, was widely believed within the Church, by both the general membership and LDS leaders. It only took 100 years for LDS leaders to determine this strain of the speculative gospel was not, in fact, part of the LDS gospel, then issue a quiet disclaimer (via the LDS Newsroom — the disclaimer still has not been publicized to the general membership on LDS.org, in General Conference, or by way of First Presidency letter). It will probably take another 100 before they deal with this one. Maybe we have to wait for another critical New York Times story for a similar response by LDS leaders (which might disclaim or might endorse the doctrine — I don’t profess to know what LDS leaders are thinking or how they would be inspired to respond should they ever be moved to give the doctrine serious consideration).

    It should be noted that Chapter 5 of the Lorenzo Snow manual that started this whole discussion devoted all of its coverage and discussion to deification, the second line of the Couplet. There was not a word about God the Father’s alleged mortality in a prior era (although the reference in Note 4 of the OP does link to such a statement in the prior Brigham Young manual — I’m not cherrypicking sources). If that idea was something they (manual writers, Correlation, LDS leadership, hard to tell who really directs the curriculum) wanted to highlight or emphasize or even just refer to, this lesson in the Lorenzo Snow manual would have been the place to do it.

  126. Adam G. on March 14, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    There are also a large contingent to whom the couplet is central to their faith and their concept of the distinctiveness of Mormonism. My guess is that telling them that they have to marginalize it is a stumbling block to them (as seen by some of the reactions in this thread). Where is your concern for them? Noticeably absent. That’s my point about Paul’s teaching that you have missed. We are not supposed to conceive of ourselves as weak and advise everyone else on how they can conform themselves to our weakness. We are supposed to conceive ourselves as strong and see where we can gentle our strength to conform to others weakness.

    My honest opinion, being partway between both parties, is that no one in this thread has really been posing an obstacle to the faith of anyone else in this thread. There has been a vigorous expression of opposing views that I think both have something to be said for them and, in my opinion, ought to continue.

  127. Adam G. on March 14, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    Dave,
    comparing old-time couplet belief to wanting to exclude blacks isn’t very helpful. I don’t think its a good comparison anyhow–the pedigree of the couplet is far better than the stuff about neutrality in Heaven. But even if it were, that’s not the sort of thing to say if you are interested in engaging people who disagree with you instead of marginalizing them.

  128. Doug Hudson on March 14, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    “I really am surprised by the extent to which the speculative cosmic gospel of the Couplet has become grafted onto the proclaimed LDS gospel of the scriptures.”

    But Mormonism isn’t sola scriptura! That’s kind of the point, that the written gospels aren’t perfect, and need to be augmented by divine revelation, either to individuals or to the Brethren.

    Now, I’m not saying the Couplet is obviously divine revelation; but to assume that it isn’t, simply because it isn’t in the scriptures, is a false assumption.

  129. Ken on March 14, 2013 at 3:02 pm

    A careful study of the Church’s teachings about the Godhead reveals that Joseph Smith and other prophets had evolving and sometimes contradictory teachings about the role of Jehovah and the nature of the Godhead. Boyd Kirkland wrote a fascinating article about this here: https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/pdf/044-36-44.pdf

    Dave raises some interesting points that deserve consideration, even if we may not agree with him.

  130. Steve Smith on March 14, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    Thanks for the article Ken. I really think that JS’s concept of God undoubtedly evolved over time and that the concept of God in the King Follett clearly contradicts the concept of God presented in the BOM and D&C. The King Follett discourse strongly suggests that God is fallible and subject to change. I really just don’t see how these two concepts are at all reconcilable. Such different concepts of God was the stuff of religious schism in early Christianity. The King Follett discourse also emboldened JS’s enemies against him, giving them a justification for pursuing him.

  131. wreddyornot on March 14, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    Thanks for this discussion (I think), spurred by a thought-provoking and controversial posting. Yet it’s apparently worthy only predominantly (exclsively?) of male engagement.

    So my problem with the couplet in the moment, with the discussion, and with where I am in my religious evolution is that somehow we’ve left women out of the couplet. Mother in Heaven and women (I know, I know “men,” you will argue, stands for both sexes) have gone missing over the millennia. When will that be corrected? That is the rub. Men subsumed them. And by women’s lack of engagement here, you perhaps can see its effect.

  132. Dave on March 14, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    Yes, thank you for adding the link, Ken. That and Thomas Alexander’s earlier Sunstone article show how fluid the LDS conception of the Godhead was in the 19th century and how prevalent were speculative ideas such as those suggested by the Couplet.

    In fairness, we should compare the LDS experience to the early Christian experience. It took over three centuries for the early Christian Church to work out its theology of the Trinity and of the two natures of Christ. It took the LDS Church less than a hundred years to arrive at the orthodox position announced in the second decade of the 20th century. We’re not doing so badly.

    Thanks to all who have commented. We’re at well over a hundred comments, so I’m going to close the thread now. Perhaps I will visit this interesting topic again in the future.

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