Monotheism and Mormonism

One of the most central and difficult issues of Christian theology is how to fit together a commitment to monotheism with a belief that Jesus is a divine being.  While we, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have resolved some aspects of this in our own ways, we still have areas that are unclear when it comes to working out this theological knot.  While I’m aware that we are looking at scriptures and doctrines that represent ideas that have evolved over time, my hope today is to muse on what we currently believe as a community based on the scriptures and the teachings of Church leaders and try to work towards a better understanding of the issue (as much for myself as for any readers).

We have several competing commitments in our doctrine that complicate the issue of the Godhead and Jesus’s status in our theology, including a commitment to monotheism.  We are part of the Judeo-Christian religious family and Israelite theology committed itself to belief that there only existed one God—their God—known at various times as Yahweh/Jehovah/the Lord, Elohim, El Shaddai, and a few other names as well.  Think, for example, of the proclamation: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.”[1] This commitment to believing that there was one God passed on to Christianity, as indicated when Paul wrote that: “Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”[2] Given that we are rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition and accept the Bible as part of our canonical scriptures, we do continue to have a level of commitment to monotheism.

The second commitment is a belief that Jesus is a God.  The Gospel of John, for example, starts out with a poetic pronouncement that “the Word was God” and that “the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory.”[3]  While the New Testament isn’t as clear on the point, Book of Mormon is emphatic about this idea.  For example, when Jesus comes to visit after his resurrection, he proclaims that: “I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world” (3 Nephi 11:14).  Abinadi (who gives us some of the most difficult passages about the Godhead) states that: “God himself should come down among the children of men, and take upon him the form of man, and go forth in mighty power upon the face of the earth” (Mosiah 13:34).  We also have several places in the Book of Mormon where the Son of God is also called the Eternal Father.[4]  In addition to all above, we have the more recent statement in The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that Jesus is “the Great Jehovah of the Old Testament,”[5] which signals that we believe that Jesus was Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel worshiped by the Israelites of the Hebrew Bible.  All of this lays the basis of a very high Christology, where Jesus is viewed as a God.

The third theological commitment is that we believe that there are multiple individuals who we view as being our God that are separate entities.  In his later years, the Prophet Joseph Smith became emphatic about this.  For example, he said that: “I have always declared God to be a distinct personage, Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and that the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods.”[6]  He also made fun of Trinitarianism, calling it “three Heads & but one body” on one occasion,[7] and joking on another that “if they were to be stuffed into one person that would make a great [big] God.”[8]  On top of the three members of the Godhead, we also believe in a Heavenly Mother, adding another individual to the list of deities we believe in.[9]  All told, we have a few individuals that we view as being Gods in authority over us while believing that they are separate people.

In addition to these three theological commitments, we also believe in deification and multiple generations of Gods expanding back into eternities.  As President Lorenzo Snow succinctly put it: “As man now is, God once was: / As God now is, man may be.”[10]  He also added that: “You sisters … will become as great as your Mother [in Heaven], if you are faithful.”[11]  The implication is that not only are there four beings that we regard as our Gods, but there are a limitless number of gods beyond them in an ever-expanding family of divine beings.

The Church has made some efforts at bridging various parts of our theology about Jesus and God together.  Most notable among these is the 1916 document “The Father and the Son,” which worked to explain how Jesus Christ takes on the role of our Eternal Father (creator of the earth, adoptive father to those who follow the gospel, and stand-in for God the Father using divine investiture on occasion) and differentiates it somewhat from the way in which God the Father is our Father (the father of our spirits).  That discussion forms the basis of how Jeffrey R. Holland reconciles Book of Mormon statements like Abinadi’s teachings about the Father and the Son with modern Church doctrine in Christ and the New Covenant and how the Church has chosen to do so multiple times within the last month’s materials of the “Come, Follow Me” curriculum.  What we haven’t been as good about, at least as far as I have found, is reconciling the latter three of the four theological commitments I discussed above with the first—monotheism.

One basic approach that has been taken to render Mormonism marginally monotheistic is to limit the focus of our worship to one individual or concept as our God.  The key scripture used to justify this approach is Paul’s statement that “there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist.”[12]  Eugene England noted that this has been used as “the basic scriptural text for the shift in perspective which makes it possible to talk about many gods, of ascending spheres of power and intelligence, and then, without contradiction, to turn around and talk of one God, our God … despite the context of this scripture, which is a discussion by Paul of belief in idols,” and many Church leaders “have used it as a brief explanation of how it is possible to be both a Christian polytheist (technically a henotheist) and a monotheist.”[13]  In essence, Paul’s text has been used by Latter-day Saints to acknowledge that there are many divine beings out there, but only one that we regard as our God.

This line of thinking can logically be applied to the leading figure of the Godhead, God the Father.  Paul’s text does state, after all, that “there is one God, the Father.”  It is to God the Father that we pray and look to as the father of our spirits and the divine architect of the Plan of Salvation.  When Elder Bruce R. McConkie went to BYU to shut down a charismatic professor’s efforts to encourage people to worship Jesus, he (in his heavy-handed style) condemned the idea and proclaimed that: “We do not worship the Son, and we do not worship the Holy Ghost.  I know perfectly well what the scriptures say about worshipping Christ and Jehovah, but they are speaking in an entirely different sense—the sense of standing in awe and being reverentially grateful to him who has redeemed us.  Worship in the true and saving sense is reserved for God the first, the Creator.”  He argued this on the grounds that Jesus serves the Father, does His will, worked out his salvation by worshiping the Father, etc.[14]  This approach makes sense in many ways, but there are difficulties when viewed through the lens of the Book of Mormon and current Church teachings.

The primary difficulty is that Jesus the Christ is proclaimed to be the God of Israel and the Great Jehovah, placing him in a position of being, in a few major senses, our God.  For all of Elder McConkie’s hand-waving, the role of Jesus as the God of Israel and (in some respects) our Eternal Father is hard to dismiss in deciding who we worship in the true sense.  While we, as Latter-day Saints, still regard Jesus as a subordinate god to God the Father, it does not negate the fact that we regard Jesus as our God in some significant ways.

The result of regarding both God the Father and Jesus the Christ as our Gods (along with the Holy Spirit and Heavenly Mother) and the desire to reconcile our monotheistic roots with our polytheism (or henotheism) has led, at times, to abstracting the idea of God to a more nebulous or council-based idea.  Elder Orson Pratt, for example, argued in favor of regarding the power or attributes embodied by God the Father as the true God we worship rather than any individual who have achieved godhood.[15]  This was strenuously opposed by President Brigham Young (who had some interesting ideas about who to regard as God that Pratt opposed in turn).[16] While Pratt’s ideas never really gained traction in the Church, they do represent an effort to solve the difficult puzzle of reconciling monotheism with our belief in multiple deities.

A more common approach, however, is to regard the Godhead as a collective council as our God.  The Book of Mormon is replete with statements that God the Father, Jesus the Christ, and the Holy Spirit are “one Eternal God.”[17]  We also have the Jesus in the Gospel of John making the statement that: “the Father and I are one,” and praying that his disciples “may be one, as we are one.”[18]  These two points are brought together to make the point that, though the Godhead is three individuals who serve different functions (and therefore the term used in John to “be one” is not a oneness of personage, but a oneness of unity in other ways), they are unified in purpose and action to the point that any individual in the Godhead can be regarded as our God and that they are, as a group, our God (something that Terryl Givens has noted is similar to what has been called social Trinitarianism).[19]  While this does make some senses of the idea that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit act together in oneness as One God, it still fails to negate the fact that there are multiple deities in our Godhead, compromising our monotheism.

How do we solve this puzzle?  Perhaps, moving forward, we just shrug off the need to hold to monotheism, regarding previous expressions of the need for monotheism (including those in the scriptures) as having been made with limited light and understanding.  Perhaps we more thoroughly embrace Elder McConkie’s henotheistic view about God the Father being the only individual we truly worship as our God and rethink how we view Jesus a bit.  Perhaps we just move forward with the stats quo, leaving the details of the exact nature of the Godhead on the shelf for a future day while doing our best to live our religion in the here and now.  Regardless of the path forward we take theologically, it will involve some compromise.  For the time being, we seem to be in a similar situation to the pre-Nicean Christians in working out the theological puzzle of how to fit together a commitment to monotheism with a belief that Jesus is a divine being.

I’ve gone well over the amount of time and space I usually aim for.  Let’s hear from you.  What do you think?  Which approach makes the most sense to you?  Is there an approach that you feel works better that I didn’t discuss here?



[1] Deuteronomy 6:4, NRSV.

[2] 1 Corinthians 8:5-6, NRSV.

[3] John 1-15, NRSV.

[4] See, for example, Mosiah 3:8; Mosiah 15:1-9; Alma 11:38-39; Ether 3:14.


[6] Joseph Smith discourse 16 June 1844, Nauvoo Illinois.  Cited in Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (SLC: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2007), 41-42,

[7] “Account of Meeting, circa 16 February 1841, as Reported by William P. McIntire,” p. [12], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed May 4, 2020,

[8] Joseph Smith discourse 11 June 1843, Wilford Woodruff Diary, Cook, Lyndon W.. The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 4244-4248). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition.

[9] See David L. Paulsen and Martin Pulido, “‘A Mother There”: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven,” BYU Studies 50:1,  Also, “Mother in Heaven,” Gospel Topics Essay, I am aware that some contend that our Heavenly Mother is the Holy Spirit, but that’s a discussion beyond the scope of what I’m aiming for here.

[10] Cited in Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow (SLC, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ),

[11] “The Grand Destiny of Man”,  Millennial Star, 22 August 1901, p. 247-248.

[12] 1 Corinthians 8:5-6, NRSV.

[13] Eugene England, “The Weeping God of Mormonism,” Dialogue a Journal of Mormon Thought 35, no. 1 (Spring 2002): 63-80,

[14] Bruce R. McConkie, “Our Relationship with God,” 2 March 1982,

[15] See, for example, Orson Pratt, The Seer 1:24, where he writes: “All these Gods are equal in power, in glory, in dominion, and in the possession of all things; each possesses a fulness of truth, of knowledge, of wisdom, of light, of intelligence; each possess a fulness of truth, of knowledge, of wisdom, of light, of intelligence; each governs himself in all things by his own attributes, and is filled with love, goodness, mercy, and justice towards all.  The fullness of all these attributes is what constitutes God. … When we worship the Father, we do not merely worship His person, but we worship the truth which dwells in His person. … It is truth, light, and love, that we worship and adore; these are the same in all worlds; and as these constitute God, He is the same in all worlds.”

[16] See John G. Turner, Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet (Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London England: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012), 232-236 for a discussion of their disagreements.

[17] See, for example, Alma 11:44; Mosiah 15:4-5; Testimony of the Three Witnesses.

[18] John 10:30, 17:11.

[19] Terryl L. Givens, Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Cosmos, God, Humanity (Oxford, Oxford University Press: 2015), 74.  See, for one example of this doctrine B. H. Roberts, The Mormon Doctrine of Deity: the Roberts-Van Der Donckt Discussion (Salt Lake City: The Deseret News, 1903), 168-169, where he states: “By appointment, any One or Three of the unit Intelligences may become the embodiment and representative of all the power and glory and authority of the sum total of the Divine Intelligences; in which capacity either the One or the Three would no longer stand only in their individual characters as Gods, but they would stand also as the sign and symbol of all that is divine—and would act as and be to all intents and purposes The One God.”

82 comments for “Monotheism and Mormonism

  1. ”How do we solve this puzzle?”

    By doing as Jesus himself instructs, and then perhaps there is no puzzle. See the first part of John ch. 14. We are followers of Jesus Christ, our Savior, our Redeemer, and our God. We worship Him. We belong to His church. We have no interaction with the Father — we interact with Jesus, to whom the Father has given everything including his own name. When it comes time to inherit, we will be joint heirs with Jesus, and that because of Jesus’ generosity. We do not look beyond the mark.

  2. ji, the complication I see with accepting that is as follows: If we have no interactions with the Father and treat Jesus as our God, and the only God with whom we have to do, then why did Jesus instruct us to pray to God the Father (3 Nephi 19:6-8)?

  3. All are Gods in a certain way. Only One God in this meaning, tree in that meaning, many in one meaning. Just make clear in what meaning one. Only one right, real, living God. He is not a wrong God, as others. They tree are not wrong Gods, as others. Many gods are not part of the Godhead.

  4. Well we’re certainly not polytheistic. Even if we believe that there are multiple deities with the mantle of Godhood, we don’t take on any other characteristic of polytheistic religions. We don’t believe that these deities are competing with each other, we don’t have different places or modes of worship for one over the other. Nor do we believe that there may be different ones for different geographies and we just pick the one for our geography.
    Even then it seems like God the Father is upper management while the Son has been tasked specifically with the assignment of Earth. The Holy Ghost as a role in there too, but more of an IT manager role. So again, not competing with each other, but working as a group which fulfills the role of “divine beings to listen to and obey”.
    I believe that most of the monotheistic centered scriptures are targeted towards a polytheistic audience, trying to get them to believe that there is one way of worship, not the competing style of polytheism. Not a monotheistic audience, trying to split the hair of one way to worship, though there are technically multiple beings.

  5. Mormonism isn’t polytheistic in the traditional sense where you have this pantheon of gods each one governing a different aspect of nature. But it is a religion that believes in multiple gods. One the one hand it regards God the Father (Elohim), Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit three distinct and separate gods all working in tandem. On the other hand it believes that God the Father once was as man is and man may become as God is. So it believes in multiple gods in the latter that it never talks about.

    There are elements of polytheism strewn throughout the Bible. The first book of Genesis talks of gods. The ten commandments says there shall be no other gods before me, strongly suggesting that early Hebrew communities believed in the existence of multiple gods but came to adopt YHWH as their patron god. Judaism emerged from polytheism and was polytheistic in its earliest iterations but eventually became strictly monotheistic by the time of Jesus, or at least regarded belief in another God besides YHWH to be heresy.

    The gospels, except the Book of John, don’t present Jesus as God. Some argue that there is no evidence that Paul saw Jesus as God in his epistles. The Johannite community (those who kept traditions that came to be written down as the Book of John), seemed to be infused with Greek beliefs, particularly that of Logos, a divine essence, and see Jesus as a personification of that essence, as evidenced in Jesus being the “Word.” Throughout the Book of John, Jesus’s divine nature is given greater emphasis. Christianity moving forward seems to become a religion that fuses traditional Jewish belief with elements of Greek religion and embedded within it is a tension about the oneness of God that it is not able to fully resolve. The Council of Nicaea helps Trinitarianism become the predominant doctrine of Christianity, but as we can clearly see with the vibrant and lively debates in early nineteenth-century America, where people enjoyed freedom of religion and the Second Great Awakening was well underway, that this tension about the nature of God was reopened and not fully resolved. Joseph Smith tried to accommodate different views about the nature of God embedded within the biblical text only to find his own view evolving over time from a oneness position with Trinitarian elements to a multiple gods-Godhead position, to an eternal progression position. Current Mormonism emphasizes the middle position, with occasional reference and respect paid to the latter.

  6. A comment for ji, who says, “We have no interaction with the Father — we interact with Jesus.” I would argue that most of us have no direct interaction with Jesus. In my life, every interaction I’ve had with Deity has been with the Holy Spirit. So, do we worship the Holy Ghost? He (?) is the only entity I’ve ever had contact with.

  7. Good post. I think I prefer the one approach you offered to resolving doctrinal conflict: “[Leave] the details of the exact nature of the Godhead on the shelf for a future day while doing our best to live our religion in the here and now.” That’s good advice, to me.

    Side rant: If we do adopt that approach, though, we might also dial down some of the overzealous rhetoric about how completely the Restored Gospel offers the world clarity about core doctrine. We still see through a glass darkly and, not on just some trifling matter, on something as basic as the nature of God. So, a little less bluster and a little more humility, please.

  8. i appreciate the collection of issues and sources in Chad’s post. I particularly appreciate this: “For all of Elder McConkie’s hand-waving…”

    There is plenty of hand-waving going on — as always — including JS’s in claiming: “I have always declared God to be a distinct personage, Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and that the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods.” Like many before and since who get carried away with their rhetoric, JS seemed to have forgotten the meaning of the word “always.” Or maybe his quoted claim is simply additional evidence that JS did not write or seriously review and approve the Lectures on Faith or that he did not believe all of the language about God that he wrote/translated/dictated/whatever in the Book of Mormon.

    Sometimes I wonder what lies behind the impetus to attempt a consistent, systematic theology. In my youth I cared about that. My caring then now seems to have been motivated by some combination of my being over-impressed with the words of Church leaders, my supposing that they spoke consistently and literally, my simplistic view of the nature and content of my own spiritual experiences, and my almost desperate looking for some reassuring, affirming understanding of my own place in the world or the universe.

    Now it seems far more important to get on with knowing God experientially than with knowing things about God or “the Godhead.” The BoM story of the brother of Jared’s faith (not necessarily Moroni’s gloss on that story — both in Ether 3) strongly suggests that great faith and interaction with divinity are quite possible, and still practically useful, without any clear propositional knowledge about who or what God is and without any systematic theology — and that, notwithstanding JS’ words or interpretations thereof that seem to equate the importance of knowing “the character of God” with knowing things about the trinity, the Godhead, monotheism, celestial bodies (or Christ’s being Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament without having any such celestial body), etc. If so, I have more important things to do than to fret about BRM’s or JS’ or OP’s or BY’s or Moroni’s or other prophets’ hand-waving. The influence of the divine in my life and in motivating my interactions with others seems more crucial than any attempt to harmonize others’ statements about God or Godhead into some internally consistent theology. As a practical matter we seem to acknowledge the relative unimportance of such a systematic theology by continuing to use “spirit”, Spirit of God, Spirit of Christ, Holy Ghost, Holy Spirit, etc. interchangeably — in addition to using the appellation “Father” with respect to both Christ and His Father, and in addition to insisting that we are both Christ’s siblings and his sons and daughters. [You shall be called the children of Christ, his sons and his daughters, Mosiah 5:7.]

    None of which diminishes my appreciation of Chad’s post or of devotional talks like

    Thanks for the reminder.

  9. What does it mean to believe in God, a god, and gods? Belief-in, isn’t the same as worship-of.

    Most Christians recognize “the Lord” of the Old Testament to be either the Father, or the Son—not recognizing that “the Lord” speaking is the Enoch-Metatron-mediator-figure, who wears and bears the name of God. He is “god” because he bears the Son’s Name, but he is not “God.”

    In the same way, in The Revelation, John mistakes his angelic host for God (even though he knew Jesus personally in the flesh). This angelic figure said to John, “don’t worship me, I’m your fellow servant.”

    The mystery lies in the third figure—the Angel-of-the-Presence.

  10. Wondering and jader3rd, your points about this being hair splitting and that systematic theology is less important than actually experiencing God are true, and definitely should not be forgotten in this discussion. I appreciate Hunter’s comment for the same reason. For myself, I just enjoy exploring theology and ideas–seeing what has been said and trying to make sense of things. I guess it’s the engineer in me that likes to take things apart (in this case, ideas or beliefs) and see how they work.

    In this case, my curiosity was sparked by a discussion that was had with the updates on the new hymnbook post last summer. Growing up in the post-Bruce R. McConkie era, I was pretty strongly indoctrinated with the view that he articulated, so it’s only been recently that I’ve really started thinking through more of the implications of Jesus being our God in some ways, which is what led to this post.

    Blake Ostler, thanks for the plug. The book is definitely on my reading list and I’ll read the article. Speaking of, do you know if there is a good way to access the rest of the issues of Element (or at least more than the first one)? I was trying to find that out recently, but couldn’t connect to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro link on the site. I also tried to join the society at one point two years ago and was, more or less, told that it was pointless, so my cheque wouldn’t get cashed and my application would be ignored. I haven’t heard a lot since then, but I would love to be able to go through all of the issues of Element sometime.

  11. Wondering, Like you, I hope we never have a systematic theology. One learns the things of God by living and seeking and serving, not in academic or philosophical discussions.

    I like reading Jesus’ first person text. I already mentioned the first half of John ch. 14 which is very instructive. When Jesus came to this world as a man, He never called himself God or required others to worship–the condescension of God. But compare how He refers to himself in the Doctrine and Covenants (these are just a few):
    18:47 Behold, I, Jesus Christ, your Lord and your God, and your Redeemer, by the power of my Spirit have spoken it.
    19:1,4, 17, 18, 24 I am Alpha and Omega, Christ the Lord; yea, even I am he, the beginning and the end, the Redeemer of the world… And surely every man must repent or suffer, for I, God, am endless… For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all… Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all… I am Jesus Christ; I came by the will of the Father…
    132:2, 12, 28 Behold and lo, I am the Lord thy God… I am the Lord thy God; and I give into you this commandment–that no man shall come into the Father but by me or by my word… I am the Lord thy God, and will give into thee the law of my Holy Priesthood, as was ordained by me and my Father before the world was.

    Chad, We pray to the Father in the name [and through the person] of Jesus Christ. For example, see John 14:13-14. I don’t see a need to try so hard to parse them apart. I am satisfied with what I read in D&C 20:28, 35:2, 50:43, and 94:3. I have wondered about these things as you are, and this is where I am now.

  12. ji, that’s fair. I did consider that possibility as I was working through the post a bit. You’ve given me more to chew on with the idea of Jesus as our God as I continue to ponder on the topic.

    Also, I just have to say, jader3rd, I like the Holy Ghost as IT manager analogy.

  13. First, this is a nice summary of Latter-day Saint belief.

    A couple of points…

    1. It seems you’re attempting to reconcile a Trinitarian view of monotheism which in the end just won’t work. Trinitarians teach One God, Three persons. Even if they acknowledge that each of the persons is divine they still hold to the view that the three are the same one God in essence. (We say one in purpose and unity – per John 17:22.) Those who are victims of the Great Apostasy mistakenly attempt to ascribe the maximum amount of power and glory to God. This can be seen in the Trinitarian notion that God created everything out of nothing, and in the Calvinistic notion of God willing each of us to either Heaven or Hell.

    2. You can go with a different definition of monothiesm… and I happen to have one handy. :)

    Pennsylvania State University’s Baruch Halpern wrote, “Scholars have traditionally taken a theological and prescriptive approach to the issue of Israelite monotheism: monotheism is the conviction that only one god exists, and no others. This conviction, however, is difficult to document. … Monotheism, Yehezkel Kaufmann observed, postulates multiple deities, subordinated to the one. … Two elements distinguish it from polytheism: a conviction that the one controls the pantheon, and the idea of false gods.” (Baruch Halpern, “Monotheism,” The Oxford Companion to the Bible, edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 524–525)

  14. Surely the God that we should be worshiping is the Father of our Spirits, recognising that Jesus Christ was and is the First-born spirit and therefore our brother.

  15. Jeff Walsh, Why “surely”? Is that McConkie-esq hand waving?
    Both 1 Nephi and 3 Nephi report the people worshiping Jesus, with apparent approval..

  16. I’m some what in the McConkie camp of worship in which we direct our efforts toward the Father, but perhaps acknowledge a type of worship of Christ – that of praying in Christ’s name, following Christ’s example, taking upon us Christ’s name, etc.

    Because Trinitarians view The Father, The Son, and the Holy Ghost as equally God, they’ll occasionally have worship rituals (like prayer) devoted to one or the other, since each is the same God. Latter-day Saints don’t have a notion in which acts of devotion are directed to one or another member of the Godhead. There’s no notion of, say, prayer being worship of the Father alone, fasting as directed to the Son only, keeping the commandment to not bear false witness as worship of the Holy Ghost alone. Righteous behavior honored all Three in the Latter-day Saint worldview.

  17. Chad: We are in the process at SMPT of kind of re-booting. The website is also being moved because our contact is retiring.

    We had scheduled an SMPT conference for April — but the virus had other plans. We will reschedule when we have a better handle on when it will be safe. You can become a member by going here:

  18. And yet BRM seems to have changed his mind about worshiping Jesus:

    “I believe in Christ—my Lord, my God!
    My feet he plants on gospel sod;
    I’ll worship him with all my might;
    He is the source of truth and light.”

    “a type of worship” seems to be splitting hairs quite unnecessarily.

  19. I think one thing I’m getting out of this discussion is that the way you view the words “monotheism” and “polytheism” play an important part in this topic and that the traditional approaches to the words don’t fit well with our theology.

    Wondering, you’re right on that, good connection. Worship seems to be a slippery word at times. Elder McConkie may have been making his statement to play Church politics as much as it was to establish his view of doctrine at BYU. Or maybe he was representing what he believed but his view did change over time. Hard to say.

  20. Yes, Chad, it’s hard to say. BRM has been known to have changed his mind — at least in view of the 1978 Official Declaration. On the other hand, his long-standing style of preaching and his usurpation of the doctrinal authority of the President of the Church (at least in his letter to Eugene England, also led to the uncharitable comment heard and often repeated after the April 1985 conference in which he first publicly read his poem that became a hymn in the 1985 hymnal. That comment, clearly looking back to the BYU speech, might have been more charitably worded, but I think it was likely initiated in imitation of BRM’s own condemning style prior to that April 1985 conference: “Too bad it took cancer to convert him to Christ!” I wish he could be remembered primarily for that April 1985 speech rather than prior doctrinaire pronouncements.

  21. We come to this earth so we can get a body, because a body is required to become a God. Ji suggests above that Christ did not claim to be a God until he was resurected, but he certainly had some advantages we don’t. I realise he had extra suffering too, but I can’t imagine there were many times when he doubted he would become a God?

    I pray to my heavenly parents, who I visualise as a young couple in their prime. I believe they are both Gods equal in power and authority. My wife and I have built a number of homes, working side by side on the design, and constructing. It is very rewarding and brings you together. They built a world.

    This is how I see my God, and I worship them In the name of Chtist, who by now would also be a couple.

  22. No Wandering, I am not McConkie-esq hand waving. I am just following what Our Saviour taught us to do. That is to direct our prayers to OUR (and His) Father in Heaven. If our Saviour is our God then please tell me who Jesus was praying to all during His mortal ministry and who taught us that we should have no other God before
    His Father.

    We really do need to understand all passages of scripture in their true context and not just to quote scriptures that seem to teach otherwise.

  23. Thanks, Jeff. I agree about directing our prayers. I had not supposed, however, that the direction of our prayers was the limit of “worship.”

  24. Geoff, you mis-characterized what I wrote with your insertion of the word “until” — I believe the attestations of scripture that Jesus was our God long before He came to live among us as a man, but my point was that He did not require others to worship him during the time when He was living among us as a man.

  25. None of you have mentioned any female Gods. My main point is that I can not see eternity where half of us are still discriminated against.

    There have to be female Gods of equal power and authority, or God ceases to be God.

  26. ji, So our Saviour achieved exaltation before he came to our earth to gain his mortal body!!!! Chapter and verse please.

    We are told in scripture that “Except a man is born on of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the Kingdom Of God. (John 3:5). We are also told that “In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees, And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the Priesthood meaning the new and everlasting covenant, of marriage. And if he does not, he cannot obtain it. ( D&C 131 1-3). So unless our Saviour was born on another earth, followed the plan of salvation there, was baptised by someone holding the Priesthood, perfected his life by being obedient to His Father’s Commandments, entering into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage. Died and was resurrected and gained his exaltation and achieved Godhood, All this before he came to our earth to be reborn as the First Born in the spirit and the only Begotten in the flesh to our Heavenly Parents. Then lived His life on this earth. was crucified and died again and also resurrected again!!!!!

    Do people really believe this?

  27. Jeff, you wrote:

    “We really do need to understand all passages of scripture in their true context and not just to quote scriptures that seem to teach otherwise.”

    A very Mormon idea that the scriptures (collections of ancient texts dictated and written by multiple authors and editors over centuries) in their totality neatly and coherently point to Mormonism. There are in fact several concepts of God expressed in the Bible to the point of incoherence. Any attempts at reconciliation require some verses to be ignored while emphasizing others. All Jewish and Christian philosophies, doctrines, sects, and denominations essentially prooftext the Bible to make their points about God. Joseph Smith is remarkable in that he is one of the few who tried to accommodate the concept of “gods” as expressed in the Book of Genesis by actually interpreting it as multiple gods and not just an honorific plural for a single god.

  28. Geoff, the notion of heavenly mothers is a part of the tapestry of Mormon thought, but it is not universally held to as a matter of doctrine. It might be true, but it hasn’t been revealed by God — it is human reason, supposition, and perhaps our re-creating God in our image. So I haven’t yet adopted the notion as doctrine. I acknowledge the roots of the doctrine of heavenly mothers from our earlier polygamist history. Maybe part of my unwillingness to embrace it is because doing so would be a declaration that “The Godmakers” was right, and I am unwilling to take that step.

    Jeff, learning about the things of God cannot occur with argument and demands for proof. The original poster shared a thought, and I shared a partially differing perspective, and we seem to be getting along without either demanding proof from the other. But yes, I believe Jesus was our God from before the foundation of the world, and still is our God, if we will accept him as such. You really shouldn’t mis-characterize what I actually wrote.

    Unlike many churches, we don’t have a creed, and we all have some liberty of thought (and growth) on these matters. I like that.

  29. Jader3rd
    Hmmm, your comment is interesting. To play devils advocate:

    Jesus – how to we worship him? By following his commands, including service, repentance, inviting, etc.

    Holy Ghost – how do we worship him? By turning away from ungodliness so he can dwell with us, listening to his prompts which are all perfectly in line with what Jesus teaches.

    Father – how do we worship him? By following his son and praying to him in the name of his son.

    Now what’s a God? Is it an immortal being that can’t die?

    Is Satan a God in that sense, only one we don’t worship and are opposed to? Do others worship him?

    Adam and Eve? Also immortal beings? Do we teach about them and reverence their names? In some ways sure. We certainly stand at attention for the mother of all living. We even worship in the temple through them and their lived experience and consider ourselves following their pattern in our marriage and family. We even teach he holds the keys of the universe.

    How about Joseph Smith? Immortal being who works beyond the veil. We don’t pray to him, but we don’t pray to the holy ghost either.

    Homeless guy on the street corner? We believe he’s destined to be immortal too and that one of the best ways to worship God is to serve the least. Jesus even told us that serving him is to serve this homeless guy. That’s a type of worship as much as lighting a candle in front of Athena’s temple for sure. If we claim the ultimate purpose in our service to the homeless guy isn’t to exalt him, but just to really serve God, aren’t we missing the point in what Jesus taught?

    So, there see Lords and Gods many for sure. But it seems we have all kinds of pattern of what could be called worship and at some point we’re splitting hairs getting offended if a Muslim or Evangelical wants to call you polytheistic.

  30. Ji,
    I don’t understand your perspective. Here are some sincere questions for you. How is it you are able to believe in a male god but not in a female god? Do you believe that the god you worship is gender neutral but that we just ascribe maleness to him?

    What do you believe exaltation would mean for God’s children after we die? Do you not think that exaltation includes becoming God-like and inheriting all the God has?

    If you do believe that we can be exalted and inherit God’s gifts, then what do you think happens to women after they die? Also, why do you presume that we have multiple Heavenly Mothers? Is the church’s gospel topics essay on Heavenly Mother not enough to convince you She is a part of our doctrine?

    You say Heavenly Mother is a human construct. If so, how do you explain the existence of women? How is believing in a Heavenly Mother creating God in our own image, while believing in a Heavenly Father is not creating God in our image?

  31. So ji let me ask you a straight question. Is Jesus Christ our Heavenly Father?

  32. What we know about the qualities of heavenly parents is that they personify justice and mercy. How can there be justice and mercy if half are discriminated against.

    I believe each God is a couple, equal in power and authority. My wife is not coming if she is eternally pregnant. I do not know how spirits are created, but not by eternal pregnancy of women. So that opens the way for gay couples to be Gods too.

  33. Mary,

    You are asking questions based on reason and logic. But as I think I explained, I don’t want to re-create God in our image. I want to appreciate and worship God as He has revealed himself — He asks us to call him Father, so that’s what I do. I want to believe all that God has revealed, and He will yet reveal great and important things. That said, I also know that our thoughts are not his thoughts, and our ways are not his ways. So I am not ready to start worshipping heavenly mother or mothers until God reveals it — my ears are open but they are not itching. I see great learning and caution from the first half of John ch. 14. How do I explain women? By remembering the story from Genesis. I take comfort from Ether 3:14: Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters.. Isn’t it wonderful?


    Jesus is one with the Father, and He invites us to join in their oneness. I understand the Father has given all things to the Son, even his name. Jesus Christ invites us to become his sons and his daughters, and we may be joint heirs with Jesus Christ in all that the Father has. Isn’t it wonderful? I am unwilling to tell Jesus to step aside so I can approach the Father directly; I am content to follow Jesus. I am mindful of the important learning in the first half of John ch. 14, and I don’t want to err by looking beyond the mark.

  34. Ji,
    My questions are more asking about your spiritual beliefs not about logic. Jesus came to Earth and revealed himself in person. Much of our knowledge about God comes from Him but also from prophets. Do you believe God reveals himself through our prophets? Basically, do you rely on the testimony of Joseph Smith and other latter-day prophets about the nature of God? If you do, why do you not consider references to Heavenly Parents from past and present church leaders as revelation from God about a Heavenly Mother?

    As for Adam and Eve, they were made in God’s image. If God is only male, then whose image was I made in?

    I guess I don’t understand what you would consider to be adequate revelation about Heavenly Mother, where you would know that She exists. Would you need the current prophet to have a first vision kind of experience where She appears to him?

  35. [W]Hy do you not consider references to Heavenly Parents from past and present church leaders as revelation from God about a Heavenly Mother?

    Perhaps because those references have not been presented or claimed as revelation? Certainly, the idea is part of the tapestry of Mormon thought, although in early years it was heavenly mothers but now it seems we are moving to the singular (well, for any one of us, the singular is appropriate, but any two of us could have different mothers). And yes, I know that many church members and leaders believe it. But they believe it culturally and rationally, don’t they? No revelation has been asserted. Even the essay you mentioned admits that there is no revelation and only a very weak provenance.

    As I mentioned earlier, we have no creed, so we have some liberty in these matters. I think of myself as a faithful Latter-day Saint even though I differ from some of my fellow saints in this matter.

  36. Ji,
    I’m not questioning your faithfulness. I just don’t understand how you reconcile a belief in only a male God with many other church teachings.

    There are many doctrines and practices within the church that are considered true even though no official revelation was received or canonized about them. Some of them are true and some aren’t. How do you personally identify if a church teaching is a revelation rather than a well-informed opinion?

    With you not believing in a Heavenly Mother, I am genuinely curious to know if you believe women are created in God’s image or not. Likewise, do you believe men are created in God’s image?

  37. God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

    Every man and every woman is created in the image of God, and every man and every woman has traits of God, but perhaps no individual man or individual woman perfectly exemplifies all the traits of God. The scriptures speak of him as Father and attribute many masculine traits to him, but I have to believe the very best masculine traits and the very best feminine traits are all traits of God. I do not focus on God’s masculinity or see anything in him that in any way demeans femininity. I do not see a need to add to God to make him complete.

    We see through a glass darkly. I am hesitant to recreate God in our image, and I really think we don’t know enough yet to definitively declare the domestic arrangements in the heavens, either post- or pre-mortal, either for ourselves or for our God. But I most sincerely believe that all things work together for good for those who love God and put their faith wholly on Jesus Christ, and that we cannot imagine the blessing He has waiting for us. I don’t definitively deny heavenly mother(s); I just haven’t chosen to adopt that notion yet. I would prefer that it stay outside of our worship and doctrine until God himself decides to reveal it. But certainly, it has a place in the tapestry of Mormon thought.

  38. Thank you for your responses, Ji. I think I understand you a little better. I agree with you that God embodies all positive masculine and feminine traits. I too think it is necessary to acknowledge our own lack of understanding and not miss the mark. Many certainties the church has claimed over the years have caused great damage.

    I think the issue lies in that our church is very focused on providing detailed answers and absolutes in many areas, when in reality, we don’t know much. The absolutes we subscribe to are often colored by the opinions of church leaders, which is inevitable with human beings. I think other Christian denominations’ characterization of God, as a gender neutral infinite loving being, in some ways causes less harm and is more relatable to all God’s children.

    But I do believe in and cherish our church’s doctrine about eternal progression and humanity’s divine nature. Unfortunately in our church’s absolute claims of God’s male anthropomorphic nature, we have enshrined maleness and masculinity as godly, while only giving lip service to female godliness. I don’t think true respect and equality can exist between men and women while our church worships and exalts divine masculinity, and leaves a black hole of possibilities and shrugs for divine femininity.

    It seems we either need to acknowledge that God is more mysterious than we think and isn’t confined to limited gender ideals, or we need to fully acknowledge, in words and deeds, the godhood and partnership of Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father. We shouldn’t hold to truth claims about the nature of God that give men hope and a sense of eternal destiny but leave women with uncertainty and fear.

  39. I appreciate the dialogue, Mary. For me, God is more mysterious than we think, and that is okay. President Oaks admitted recently that we really know very little about the world of spirits. Here, I just have to follow and trust the Son, as He is our example and our shepherd. If I follow him, He will bring me to the Father one day — and then I will know the truth of all things. For now, though, during this mortal life, it is faith, hope, and charity, all centered on Jesus Christ.

  40. Chad, thanks for the OP. I often think about the tension inherent in Christianity to embrace monotheism, on the one hand, and to worship Jesus as God the Son, on the other hand. You have thoroughly captured the core of that tension, and the additional Mormon components. I tend to resolve this tension via the first option you mentioned: recognize that Judaism’s commitment to monotheism was a response to preceding and surrounding cultures of polytheism, henotheism, and monolatry. In that sense, it’s much like the commandment to avoid graven images—important for the ancient peoples in the near East to differentiate themselves from their neighbors, but not universal to being a moral person.

    ji, I have to admit I find your rejection of the divine feminine off-putting. I tend to believe that Heavenly Father has power and knowledge to the same degree that Heavenly Mother does. That is, if someone were to tell me not to believe in or pray to or worship my Heavenly Mother, then I cannot do those things with respect to a Heavenly Father either. However, in your commitment to the mystery of God, and that God “asks us to call him Father”, it dawned on me that God the Father could very well be a transgender male, which thing I had never before supposed. Probably not what you intended, but an avenue I am hopeful to explore. Thanks for the dialogue, ji and Mary!

  41. ji, Seeing that you are not prepared to give me a answer to what I believe is a simple question. Let me “look beyond the mark” as you say you are not prepared to do.

    The God that I worship is my Heavenly Father, who we are told by the Prophet Joseph Smith lived on an earth similar to ours, followed the same universal Plan of Salvation we are progressing through. Learned through prayer and fasting the laws and ordinances of Salvation, was baptised, endowed and through his faithfulness entered into and obeyed all the ordinances of the Temple. Perfected His life and died and was resurrected through the atonement wrought out by His Saviour. He received His exaltation and because of this He and our Heavenly Mother were able to have spirit children, the first born being our Saviour Jesus Christ, who according to President Brigham Young received the right to be the one chosen to be the heir and chosen to work out the atonement on our earth.

    So our Heavenly Father then is the one who should be recognised as our God, and is the one God that we should worship. Of course we recognise that our Saviour Jesus Christ, who was fathered by our Heavenly Father, we also honour and recognise as a member of the Godhead along with the Holy Ghost, as far as this earth is concerned.

    There are also other Gods beside our Heavenly Father because it is unconceivable that Our Heavenly Parents were the only ones who were exalted on their earth. But as far as we are concerned our Heavenly Parents are the ones that we are commanded to recognise and to worship and no others.

    So this being said I will now get back to more productive use of my time, indexing. Cherio

  42. Ryan and Jeff, It seems you find fault with me for not worshipping heavenly mothers. Hmmm… I’ll let you worship who or what you may, but I’ll keep my faith centered in Jesus Christ. I hope we remain the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — if we change to the Church of Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mothers of Latter-day Saints, and that without revelation, I would think of that as grievous error. I am not yet willing to tell Jesus to step aside so I can worship others, when Jesus himself tells me that He is my God and He instructs me how to worship. The scriptures I shared earlier in this thread are at least partially the basis of my belief. So I’ll continue my course, with charity for all. I’m not ready to follow your admonitions to expand my worship to include heavenly mothers — I’ll stick with Jesus for now, with a new appreciation for the first half of John ch. 14.

    My purpose in engaging here has been to show that some Latter-day Saints look at God differently than others. The old adage is still true: one person’s folklore is another person’s doctrine. We have no creed and no systemic theology that provides a standard answer, so we have some liberty in these matters. I am glad for that. The Prophet Joseph Smith was also glad for that.

  43. ji, I may not necessarily agree with all you say and believe, but the way you’re being dumped on by some of these other posters is in bad taste, especially here. You keep doing what you’re doing and believing what you’re believing. As for the rest of you, back off.

  44. This was an interesting post, and the discussion has been interesting as well. My understanding of these matters is pretty close to ji’s, I think. God, I believe, vastly exceeds our comprehension. The scriptures tell us that. So do sages of various religious traditions. So does a little reflection, aided perhaps by looking up at the night sky with all of the stars and galaxies, created and governed by God, and at least some of them teeming with creatures of various sorts, including sparrows, none of which falls without God’s knowledge. Given God’s transcendent greatness and our own very finite comprehension, any concept we have of God will be grossly inadequate.

    And yet we have to conceive of God somehow, else how can we pray to God, or worship God, or follow God’s commandments? (Sorry for the repetition; for diplomatic reasons, I’m trying just for now to avoid gendered pronouns.) So we form our conceptions, or better yet we accept the pictures and metaphors that God gives us. This is entirely proper, and God wants us to do this. Or so we believe. Our conceptions are in a sense true as far as they go. We are right to believe that God is real, and good, and infinitely loving. Even so, our conceptions far fall short of any really adequate conception.

    Consequently, problems can arise if we take some particular conception or metaphor as the literal and adequate truth, and then start to reason and deduce from it as if it were some sort of scientific statement. Some of that may be occurring in this discussion. The problem can occur in a different way with more mainstream Christians if they take the creeds in the wrong way– if they take the creeds as adequate statements of God’s nature and not as limited attempts to fend off particular misleading and dangerous misunderstandings of God and Christ. The most careful (and humble) Christians–e.g., Thomas Aquinas– tried hard to avoid that mistake. In our own way, we should try to avoid it also. That’s how it looks to me anyway.

  45. Interesting discussion indeed. Ji is being unfairly treated here. I don’t necessarily agree with him, but he’s definitely sincere and makes some good points here and there. If anything this discussion goes to show that there are different conceptions among Mormons. This being the case, it doesn’t make any sense for us to expect a consistent and coherent concept of God/gods in the LDS scriptural canon, and most certainly not among the LDS leaders across time. Brigham Young preached that Adam was God. Current leaders have differed on the question of whether or not God’s love is conditional.

  46. ji, “I’ll let you worship who or what you may, but I’ll keep my faith centered in Jesus Christ.” This statement implies that belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ and the divine feminine are mutually exclusive. Do you think they are? I, for one, feel no more tension believing that Jesus is the Christ while also believing in a Heavenly Mother than I do also believing in a Heavenly Father.

  47. Ryan, No, err in your implication. You said you worship heavenly father and heavenly mother. I said I’ll keep my faith centered in Jesus Christ. I’m okay with letting you doing you, while I do me.

  48. Worship Heavenly Mother? Transgender Father in Heaven? Has T&S transitioned into a Hindu blog?

    All kidding aside, I think many of you would benefit from a careful reading Blake Ostler’s writings. While I believe in the free expression of ideas, philosophical discussion and careful analysis does help to separate the wheat from the chaff.

    “Thy mind, O Man, if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost Heavens, and search into and contemplate the lowest considerations of the darkest abyss, and expand upon the broad considerations of eternal expanse; he must commune with God. How much more dignified and noble are the thoughts of God, than the vain imaginations of the human heart, none but fools will trifle with the souls of men.”

    – Joseph Smith, while in the Liberty Jail

  49. Ji’s points about the Mother in Heaven are well-taken. He does not include a Heavenly Mother because there is no revelation justifying such an inclusion — it is a cultural over-belief to that extent. The collective surmise and speculation of church leaders regarding a Mother in Heaven is hardly a substitute for revelation. Ji is absolutely correct about that point and it is an epistemically defensible position.

    Further, Ji correctly points out that “being made in the image of God” does not entail that there is a Mother in Heaven. People born without arms, or legs, or born without a face are in God’s image and likeness. Not every bodily part of a male anatomy of a perfectly formed human must be included to be in God’s image. Genesis clearly intended that Adam and Even were made in God’s image — that God being a male divine person. But image and likeness does include bodily form.

  50. ji, “You said you worship heavenly father and heavenly mother.” No, that’s not actually what I said. If you re-read my first comment carefully, you’ll see that I expressed resistance to those who would place restrictions on the divine feminine by evaluating if those same restrictions apply to God the Father.

    “I’m okay with letting you doing you, while I do me.” Me too. AoF 11 FTW!

  51. If there is no divine feminine, then what is the eternal destiny of women? How can they become like a male God when we have defined gender as an eternal characteristic? If you don’t believe in eternal progression and human potential for godhood, then maybe your concept of God has more merit. If you do believe in humanity’s eternal gender and potential for godhood, the a male God must have a female corollary. If you think God is gender neutral, that is another matter.

    Blake, certainly all people are made in God’s image, but comparing missing limbs and mortal genetic anomalies to female anatomy is completely offensive and wrong. This sentiment echoes early Christian fathers who held misogynistic views of women as being poorer malformed versions of men. You don’t have to believe in the divine feminine if you don’t want to, but don’t claim that men are the standard and women are aberrations. Maleness does not equal godliness.

    Perhaps you just phrased your point poorly and meant something different? I’m not trying to personally attack you and would like to give you the benefit of the doubt but still felt the need to address the disturbing comparison.

  52. Chad, just because I feel like beating a dead horse, I’ll share this quote I just came across in the introduction of the book “The Trinitarian Controversy” by William G. Rusch.

    “Through all the turmoil and tomes, there is one basic issue at the center of the debate: What is the relation of the divine in Christ to the divine in the Father? Or, to put the matter somewhat differently, how is the church, in an intellectually satisfying manner, to integrate the doctrine of one God, Father and Creator, inherited from the Old Testament and Judaism, with the revelation that this God had disclosed himself uniquely in Jesus and had given the Holy Spirit to the church? It will become readily apparent that there were no quick or easy accessible answers that protected both aspects of the tension: the monotheism so deeply ingrained in the biblical tradition, and the distinctiveness and divinity of the Son.”

    It was difficult for Trinitarian Christians to reconcile monotheism to begin with, and is therefore just that much harder for a Latter-day Saint – who believes in a different relationship of the Father to the Son – to reconcile the Trinitarian definition to ours.

  53. Mosiah 16:15 “Teach them that redemption cometh through Christ the Lord, who is the very Eternal Father. Amen.”
    Mosiah 17:20 Abinadi “suffered death by fire;… having sealed the truth of his words by his death.”

    Some think it takes a contortionist to perform the mental gymnastics required to reconcile the teachings of the Book of Mormon to those of later JS and later Mormonism. BRM’s or others’ hand waving doesn’t do it. Some simply reject the LDS teachings they do not prefer. Some are content with ambiguity, faith, and lack of certainty.

  54. Christ as Father and Son – thoughts on the subject informed by BYU Professor Rodney Turner.

    Mosiah 15:2,3
    And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son—
    The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son

    Christ, being the Only Begotten of God the Father was ‘conceived by the power of God’ in spirit AND flesh. He has a right to the divine name of Father because he literally possessed his Father’s heritage and powers, only becoming the Only Begotten Son when he was conceived by Mary (under divine circumstances).
    Christ possessed two natures, one divine and one human, and therefore two wills, that of his divine Father and that of the mortal Son, and could manifest either nature. As the Son, he did not possess the fulness of the power and glory of the Father, being subject to the Father.
    The atonement required the subjection and sacrifice of the fleshly (mortal) will of the ‘Son’ to the spiritual will of the ‘Father’.
    The Son (within him) willed to let the cup pass; the Father (within him) willed that it should be drunk. As Abinadi says: ‘… the will of the Son being swallowed up in the will of the Father’ (Mosiah 15:7).
    In a sense, it was not Christ as mortal son, but the Father in the Son (the divine in Christ) that atoned. Jesus not only did the will of his Father in heaven, but the will of the Father in himself, ‘… the flesh becoming subject to the Spirit, or the Son to the Father’ (Mosiah 15:5).
    Christ, therefore, was the Father and the Son ie ‘one God’ with both natures. Abinadi, referring to Christ, could therefore say that ‘God himself’ atoned for the sins of the world, that ‘God breaketh the bands of death’, ie the God-nature in Christ.

  55. Yes, sjames, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” Bill Clinton, 1998 —
    and on a few other things — perhaps on Jesus being “possessed” by His Father’s will, rather than choosing to subjugate His own will to that of His Father.
    Or maybe you (or Abinadi or Turner) are talking about a mystical union. See, e.g., Does that justify identifying one in the union by the name or characteristic or role of the other?
    Random thoughts: Hebrews 10:16 (“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them) and its OT predecessor does not need to mean people with the Lord’s laws in their hearts and minds are the Lord,
    For some former students of Rodney Turner it’s difficult to get past that experience (called “priestcraft” by another BYU Professor rather less prone to judgment than Turner).
    Contortionists can be entertaining.

  56. The Turner quote reminds me a bit of the debates about the miaphysite vs. diaphysite nature of Christ’s divinity that split the Christian Church back in the time of the Byzantine empire.

    Thanks for the quote, Brian in VA. I was looking for something like that when I was writing the post, but couldn’t get my hands on the specific one I was hoping for.

    Blake Ostler. Thanks for sharing the link to the article. I read through it. It’s a lot to think about.

    I appreciate everyone sharing their perspective, concerns, and thoughts. I love discussions like this, both for what I learn and for the opportunity to see the diversity that our faith can have.

  57. Mary In my view your hang-ups about a male deity are not well-placed. First, males are humans too. And simply choosing to take offense because I suggested that what is important to being in the image of God is not having all of the same body parts sows nothing except willingness to misrepresent and then choosing to take offense at your misrepresentation.

    The role for women is the same as the role for men in exaltation — to be united as one in one another in the deifying love of the Godhead and thereby to partake of the same glory, power, dominion, knowledge and presence to all things. Your suggestion that anything I wrote remotely suggests that I have argued or stated that women are just malformed versions of men is beyond the pale of misrepresentation. Please, your histrionics are just not acceptable. Your response is just an outright misrepresentation of what I said — and it in no way follows from anything asserted.

    I do not need to address any “disturbing comparison” because my sole point was that being in the image of God does not entail that one either has all of the same body parts — a fact that you even recognized and stated was correct. Your overreach to suggest anything more is your fabrication.

  58. Sute, we don’t worship God just because He is immortal, but because He is our creator, and we are currently living under His throne, dominion, principality, etc. In addition, we worship Him because of what He can offer us. He offers to become like Him. I don’t know about you, but I find that enticing.

  59. Mary’s astute question “How is believing in a Heavenly Mother creating God in our own image, while believing in a Heavenly Father is not creating God in our image?” has yet to be answered by those insisting that an all-male godhead should be equally empowering to men and women alike. The excuse that the male authors and editors of Jewish, Christian, and LDS scripture have only described God in male terms simply kicks the can down the road.

    Blake, your introduction of body parts to a discussion regarding the image of God was reductive. There is much more to maleness and femaleness in human society, culture, and religion than simple anatomy.

  60. Ryan your comment is both overinclusive and underinclusive. First, you admit that what the writers of the texts of scripture had in mind is precisely a male deity. It is therefore overinclusive of the issue as to what scripture meant by the phrase “in the image of God” in Gen. 1:26 and elsewhere. That issue is fully addressed and nothing is kicked down the road. Females are included in the image of the male God because both are human — and that is what was meant.

    It is also underinclusive because your assertion that there is much more to the discussion fails to identify what is somehow not included in the fact — and it is a fact — that the Godhead consists of three male persons in the scriptural documents. But your mere oh-so PC assertion that there is so much more to being male and female is obviously correct. It is just how of the “more” is somehow left out in the revelation of the Godhead is puzzling. As I explained (and you failed to even note) both males and females partake equally in all divine attributes and glory in exaltation. What is left out?

  61. Blake,

    “First, you admit that what the writers of the texts of scripture had in mind is precisely a male deity.” That the authors of Genesis 1 likely conceived of God exclusively in male terms does more to highlight the limitations and inherent biases of the text than to settle all questions relating to God, gender, and sex. Whether such authors were creating God in their image has still yet to be addressed. As a student of the both modern biblical scholarship, authorial intent is highly relevant for establishing context, but as a student of the Latter-Day restoration, authorial intent does not impose strict limits on what God can later reveal through that text.

    “What is left out?” Huh? What is there about the experience of women throughout history, the roles of women in contemporary society, and the divine potential of women in eternity that could be incompletely captured through exclusively male discourse?

  62. Ryan: Now you have different claim. The fact that scriptures speak in male terms is just a cultural bias and the writers of scripture are at best just obtuse in explaining what is revealed and at worst just wrong in a way that is harmful. I am open to the possibility that scripture presents cultural limitations and biases. What I am not open to is that their descriptions of what they see in vision is just wrong. But let’s make this a shorter discussion — scriptures present the Godhead as three male persons. They present Yahweh and iterations of Yahweh as a male person. Gen. 1:26 MEANS that both women and men are in this divine person’s image — meaning his bodily form as a human. It is just as likely that your own cultural bias blinds you to the simple fact that “image of God” is gender inclusive of male and female. It is just as likely (even more likely given that you are no receiving revelation) that you are projecting your own views based on your own cultural biases.

    Please explain how the view that the divine persons are male amounts to “exclusively male discourse”. It is true that the scriptural cultures have a male predominance that often improperly devalued and undervalued women. What is not true is that the view of exaltation in LDS thought somehow devalues women. You have failed (twice now) to notice that females are strictly equal to males in exaltation in terms of possessing all divine attributes and glory equally.

  63. LET ME MAKE AN OBSERVATION: I actually believe that Gen 1:26 is referring to the divine counsel of gods which could include female deities. Adam and Eve are in the image of the Gods. “Let US make man [humankind – ha adam) in OUR image and and according to OUR likeness.” The council of gods was conceived in Ugaritic and Hebrew writings as male deities, but sometimes female deities were included within the divine voice. However I do not want to read any necessity to be PC into the text because that is beyond the horizon of the text.

  64. “Now you have different claim.” Really, it’s just the same claim I’ve brought up in all my comments on this post: I will not incorporate into my personal theology restrictions on Heavenly Mother that don’t equally apply to Heavenly Father. You’ve insisted (twice now) that you believe men and women are exalted equally, but erasing Heavenly Mother or subjugating her to Heavenly Father in your discourse contradicts that claim, as Mary pointed out earlier in her dialogue with ji. Simply asserting that women should feel empowered by, connected to, and see their divine potential in an all-male Godhead doesn’t automatically make it so.

    “What I am not open to is that their descriptions of what they see in vision is just wrong.” Genesis 1 does not frame itself as a visionary text. There is ample LDS precedent for reading it as a vision—Joseph Smith appears to have done so—but we are not strictly bound to such a reading. In this case, Genesis 1 has too many connections to competing ancient near Eastern theologies, not to mention scientific inaccuracies, to be an unmediated description of raw, documentary footage of how the world and its inhabitants came to be.

    “Gen. 1:26 MEANS that both women and men are in this divine person’s image — meaning his bodily form as a human.” I neither accept this as the primary authorial intent nor the best modern reading of the text. Reducing the image of God to bodily construction is the same leap you made earlier and misses, i think, one of the greatest contributions of the 7-day creation narrative: that the image of God conveys authorization to *act* as God’s representative, and it is not the exclusive right of kings. How we behave, and treat each other, and share power with marginalized demographics, is much more important to God than that we have the same visual form.

    “Adam and Eve are in the image of the Gods.” This seems to be a conflation of creation narratives. Adam and Eve do not feature in the 7-day creation narrative, and the image of God does not feature in the Adam & Eve narrative.

    “I actually believe that Gen 1:26 is referring to the divine counsel of gods which could include female deities.” That would be very cool. I appreciate scholars who point out traces of the divine council in the Hebrew Bible, but I suspect that Genesis 1 was authored late enough relative to the development of Jewish monotheism that “our” image is simply a reflection of the royal plurality of referring to a singular god by the plural Elohim.

  65. I understand the God of the old testament Elohim was neither singular nor exclusively male. Or put another way is plural and both male and female. A couple. the second section on the God of the old testament.

    As I said above I believe our God is a couple in their prime, of equal power and authority.

    It is quite likely that in the patriachal cultures in between, references to the female God have been edited out of the bible. Which would be making God in the image of their culture.

    Interesting that there is so much variation in how we understand something as basic as who God is?

  66. It is hard to understand McConkie’s assertion that we don’t worship Jesus Christ as we are taught that Christ was YHWH of the Old Testament who was certainly worshipped as God.

  67. Ryan: First, there is no “royal plurality” in Hebrew. Full stop. Your suspicion about the “Us” and”we” in Gen. 1 is just factually incorrect — and virtually every biblical scholar would disagree with you.

    As soon as you can point to some reason to accept the existence of a mother in heaven or anything about her from revelation we may have some basis to actually discuss her. Until then we have nothing but political and cultural biases (fully on display in your comment) to prop up that belief.

    I have no idea what you mean by “restrictions on Heavenly Mother not applied to Heavenly Father.” The simple fact that there is no sound basis in scripture or revelation for belief either in or anything about a heavenly mother. You may want to claim some knowledge or basis but it will be based in cultural and political biases that have nothing to do with the factual basis for such beliefs. That a belief is PC about what ought to be true (in your view) neither makes it true nor provides any basis for believing that it is true. In fact, that you are motivated by such factors actually weighs against the belief (as you so aptly point out regarding the treatment of women in the Jewish culture that gave us the Bible).

    Whether Gen. 1 should have originally been read together with Gen. 2 is beside the point as to how the text is now presented by a redactor. It is also irrelevant to the meaning of Gen. 1:26. The simple and conclusive fact that the statue found at Tell Farkhariyeh bears the description as “the image and likeness” of the king demonstrates that a physical image is what is intended.

    You observe that: “How we behave, and treat each other, and share power with marginalized demographics, is much more important to God than that we have the same visual form.” This assertion is partly correct. How we behave is important to God. But it has nothing to do with whether God has corporeal form. Just how you know it is not important to God that we have the same visual image is just baffling to me. It surely seems to be important to you and Mary that we have the same form as a mother in heaven — so you are the one that needs this comparison to make your argument.

  68. Re: plural Hebrew pronouns. Ok. I can’t read a lick of Hebrew. I’ve simply learned that Elohim is plural and yet that many Jewish and Christian bible scholars still take it to refer to a single deity.

    “or anything about her from revelation we may have some basis to actually discuss her.” I can’t say I find your self-imposed can’t-talk-about-Heavenly-Mother-until-there’s-a-formal-revelation rule worth following. There is ample precedent to discuss Heavenly Mother in LDS theology, doctrine, and practice, as noted in the OP. The footnoted “A Mother There” survey specifically pushes back on the notion that there is any sort of injunction against discussing Her. This isn’t some pet topic I simply imagined out of whole cloth.

    The distinction you attempt to make between revelation and culture is also not one that I find useful. All revelation is mediated by human beings and is therefore encultured. Revelation is no more free from cultural bias than our dialogue here.

    “Whether Gen. 1 should have originally been read together with Gen. 2 … is also irrelevant to the meaning of Gen. 1:26.” That’s fine. You’re the one who brought up Adam and Eve.

    “Just how you know it is not important to God that we have the same visual image is just baffling to me.” I admit I’m extrapolating here. Looking at the list of covenants I have made and scriptural lists of commandments, “Believe that you and God are twinners” didn’t seem to make the Top 10 while there’s plenty in there about honoring God and about moral behavior.

    “It surely seems to be important to you and Mary that we have the same form as a mother in heaven” I can’t speak for Mary, but whether humans look like God (or vice versa) has no value to me whatsoever. That we have a Mother in Heaven is perhaps the LDS doctrine I cherish most, but it’s not due to Her appearance.

  69. “The simple and conclusive fact that the statue found at Tell Farkhariyeh bears the description as “the image and likeness” of the king demonstrates that a physical image is what is intended.” Thanks for the reference. I particularly found interesting the following details:

    – The second section of the text … is introduced by ‘image’ … . In this section the governor effectively portrays himself as power personified. … His power is akin to that of the gods.
    – ‘image’ introduces the section that illustrates his commanding presence and authoritative status
    – ‘image’ is majestic, absolute and commemorative; it is directed at the people
    – Once again, the ‘image’ conveys power.
    – ‘image’ is a vehicle for expressing the referent’s majestic self and power

  70. Ryan, I think you’ve missed one of Blake’s basic points. We’ve all read Paulsen and Pulido, and Blake isn’t saying that there’s a taboo on discussing a mother in heaven. He’s instead noting, quite correctly, that we have nothing that would constitute knowledge about a mother in heaven, either in scripture or revelation. A mother in heaven was an idea that sat well with Gordon B. Hinckley, but anything beyond that is pure speculation and projection.

  71. Hi Jonathan, I have not missed that point so much as I reject it. My purpose in bringing up A Mother There was not to insinuate that Blake’s preferred silence has the same foundation as the silence rejected by Paulsen, but that they would both have the same effect. Whether we refuse to discuss Heavenly Mother because of some imagined proscription or because of some deference for a bright-lined revelation, we would still be silencing Her.

    My main takeaway from A Mother There is that we know just as much about Heavenly Mother as we do about Heavenly Father: she was involved in the pre-mortal council and the creation, she sends us divine blessings and inspiration now, and she will receive us in heaven in the hereafter. Borrowing from E Bednar’s teaching on revelation, I do not need a bright, flashy revealing experience in order to discuss the divine feminine. A slow, gradual dawning realization across generations can just as surely reveal the Mother to us as has the Father been revealed.

  72. “I do not need a bright, flashy revealing experience in order to discuss the divine feminine.”

    Okay. But making heavenly mothers part of our worship might require more than our own human reasoning. We want to avoid a 2 Timothy 4:3-4 situation. I’m okay if an individual wants to hold some personal beliefs that go beyond scripture, but I prefer staying close to scripture for church teaching and worship. I think I’m with Paul in 2 Tim 4:2.

  73. Ryan I do not believe that we know any of the things you state: “we know just as much about Heavenly Mother as we do about Heavenly Father: she was involved in the pre-mortal council and the creation, she sends us divine blessings and inspiration now, and she will receive us in heaven in the hereafter.”

    We do not know that she was involved in the pre-mortal council or creation. In fact, what we know is that Christ is the creator as the agent of the divine council. The presence of a female deity in the heavenly council is nowhere attested in anything that is scriptural or even quasi-authoritative. There is no basis for the assertion that the There sends us blessings or inspiration — and in fact role is dedicated to the Parakletos, the Holy Ghost. We have no basis for any belief that she will receive us in the hereafter.

    The assertion that we know as much about any heavenly mother as we do about the Father in Heaven is not accurate.

    You are of course free to believe what you want and to have your own revelations and insights. Anyone who feels a need for a mother in heaven is free to believe that such a need points to such a being — but the Freudian theory of existence of god as a fable based on emotional need suggests that such a view is an argument against her existence if that is the only basis for such beliefs.

    I am aware of arguments for the existence of a heavenly mother based on eternal marriage and exaltation that there must be a mother in heaven as a logical consequence of such views. I am not persuaded by such arguments but at least they have some foundation in what is revealed and are not entirely unreasonable. That view seems to assume a form of eternal pregnancy and viviparous begetting of spirit that I do not believe is justified; but at least it is not totally bereft of support.

    One thing I do know: If the “we” includes me, then we know no such things.

  74. Hi ji, “But making heavenly mothers part of our worship might require more than our own human reasoning.” Sure, depending on who you are including in “our”. The human reasoning of you and me alone are probably not enough, but then again neither would be any revelation to you and me alone. If the “our” includes Pres. Nelson, then he certainly has the keys to alter our worship to include Heavenly Mother, with or without an accompanying revelation. Whether such changes become a permanent part of our worship may also be influenced by the communal reaction to those changes. Or, if the discussion surrounding the divine feminine becomes broad enough, a future generation of leaders, having been reared in such a milieu, could conclude that Heavenly Mother’s existence has been sufficiently revealed through the gradual growing awareness.

    Blake, “The presence of a female deity in the heavenly council is nowhere attested in anything that is scriptural or even quasi-authoritative.” It’s not scriptural, I agree, but quasi-authoritative? Unless you have some strict, technical definition of quasi-authoritative that the rest of us don’t know but to which we are somehow bound, there is plenty of quasi-authoritative LDS sourcing on the Mother in Heaven and her pre-mortal role (see the references in A Mother There, specifically 55-75 regarding pre-mortality). She has been taught in official Church publications and by apostles and general authorities.

    “The assertion that we know as much about any heavenly mother as we do about the Father in Heaven is not accurate.” Our knowledge about God the Mother and God the Father are both rooted in the same tenuous, subjective human experience. (Personally, I think the fragility of revelation is part of its beauty.) Neither can be proven objectively. Human expressions regarding God the Father have an older, longer paper trail in Judeo-Christian-Mormon thought, yes, but neither ancientness nor abundance are substitutes for objectiveness.

    You may not feel a personal connection to your Mother in Heaven, but She is part of the LDS ethos and we, as an LDS community, are free to recognize, discuss, and celebrate Her presence in pre-mortality, in our lives now, and in eternity as we translate scripture anew into our native tongue, inflected by our native concerns, and written in our native flesh (to paraphrase Adam Miller). God is not bound to reveal future truth through the same methods we have received past truths.

  75. Ryan and Geoff, thanks for your comments. I have had wonderful spiritual experiences with my Heavenly Mother. I know she exists in the same way I know my Heavenly Father exists, through communion with Her and through the spirit testifying of Her to me.

    I am encouraged by current church leaders’ increased inclusion of “Heavenly Parents” in their talks and the addition of this term to the Young Women’s theme. As our prophet has mentioned repeatedly, the restoration is still ongoing.

    Believing in and speaking of false gods is a serious sin. So I think it strange that some believe our church leaders are entirely misled in regard to their assertions about a Heavenly Mother. Our church leaders definitely don’t bow down to political correctness.

    If there is only an all-male Godhead, then this all-male Godhead, which contains all powers of creation, had no reason to create women. Adam being in the image of God, endowed with God’s attributes and powers, had no need for a wife, just as our male Heavenly Father has no need for a wife. Surely God in His infinite power could give Adam the ability to reproduce on his own. In order for Adam to not be alone, God could have given him a male companion. Furthermore, it is entirely bizarre that a singular male God would require eternal marriage of His children so that they can live with Him again and share in His glory. Why should God require marriage for godhood when He doesn’t require it himself?

  76. Here’s a tidbit on the Heavenly Mother front…

    Truman Madsen interviewed David Noel Freedman on various doctrinal topics of interest to Latter-day Saints. The interview can be watched in this DVD:

    Freedman is one of the world’s foremost Bible scholars and a renowned Hebrew scholar. He was editor of the Anchor Bible Series:

    Beginning at 17:45 minute mark…

    Madsen: An even more touchy question has to do with is there a match or is there an archetypal figure along side of the Diety who can be called female?

    Freedman: For me that’s no longer, not really a question anymore because we not only have substantial evidence from the Bible, but also from archeological research and it is ultimately resolved in the figure of Lady Wisdom.

    Madsen: “Chochmah” in Hebrew…

    Freedman: “Chochmah” in Hebrew who is described in considerable detail in the book of Proverbs, especially chapter 8, but not only there, elsewhere, indicating that she is the one who accompanies the Deity and is the instrument, the one who actually carries out the successive acts of creation.

    Madsen: She’s a person.

    Freedman: Oh yeah, very much so. And she’s more or less orthodox…

    Madsen: Meaning that…

    Freedman: The Bible supports this…

    Freedman then for a couple of minutes discusses three instances of idolatrous female worship in ancient Israel.
    Jumping to minute 24:28….

    Madsen: So to sum up, though there are these three Canaanite deities, all women, you’re saying that’s idolatry, but the fact that it was part of the culture may reflect that Chochmah which is genuinely part of the Torah, Chochmah Wisdom, does get us into understanding that there can be even in the legitimate reading of Israelite religion a faith that includes both a male God and a female.

    Freedman: Yes. And the way you define it, in other words, orthodox religion, even Biblical religion would not say she’s a goddess, but rather she’s a female figure associated very closely with a deity, with God, and in a way that’s closer, more intimate than angels. She’s not an angel.

  77. This discussion is getting very tiresome and reminds me of a certain place where we are taught to beware of the philosophies of men (mingled with scripture).

    The simple truth concerning our Heavenly Father is found in scripture where our Saviour Jesus Christ taught us the simple truth and where our prayers should be directed:-

    “OUR Father which art in heaven Hallowed be THY name, THY Kingdom come THY will be done in Earth as in Heaven …….for THINE is the Kingdom the power and the glory FOREVER amen. (Matt 6:9-11)

    Unless our Saviour was a ventriloquist, and, who was it that said “This is My Beloved Son, Hear Him) { Unless of course some of us are disbelieving Joseph’s first vision}

    The simple fact is how can Our Father have spirit children without there being a Heavenly Mother. I believe the philosophies of men have made such a mockery of His name that He is not prepared to reveal details of our Heavenly Mother’s name, He has too much love and respect for her.

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