The Doctrine of God and the Nature of Man
“Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject.”
- Joseph Smith1
Perhaps the most fundamental questions a religion must answer are those relating to the nature of God and man’s relationship to Him. Jesus said, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3) In order to “know God” fully, one must also know about Him. As our Lord told the Samaritan woman, “Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship . . . .” (John 4:22)
The Prophet Joseph Smith claimed to have restored vital truths about God and man that had been lost for many centuries. However, some of these doctrines are controversial to the rest of the Christian world, and so this is exactly the area where Latter-day Saints are most often criticized by their Christian neighbors. For example, Evangelical leader E. Calvin Beisner, in the introduction to his defense of the mainline Trinity doctrine, brushes aside the Latter-day Saint doctrine of God as “polytheism.”2 And Anti-Mormon activists Ed Decker and Dave Hunt go further, insisting that Mormons “have a completely different God from what the Bible presents,” and that the Mormon idea that men have the potential to become like God “is basically derived from ancient pagan traditions.”3
Where exactly do the doctrines Joseph Smith restored relating to these issues fit in with the corresponding mainline teachings, and how do each of these systems compare to the earliest Christian beliefs? In this chapter it will be shown that Joseph Smith restored early Christian doctrines about God and man that were gradually replaced in a complex struggle between the original Church, Greek philosophy, and Gnosticism.
The LDS Godhead vs. the Mainstream Trinity
As has been discussed, the purpose of this book is to examine the thesis that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a restoration of ancient Christianity. Given this, one would expect to see a trend in the history of Christian doctrine starting from something very similar to the LDS position and ending with current mainstream teachings. Therefore, before we examine this hypothesis with respect to the doctrine of God, it will be necessary to define exactly what the LDS and mainstream belief systems include.
The LDS Concept of the Godhead
“We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” (Article of Faith 1) While this statement of faith may seem perfectly mainstream, there are many significant differences between the LDS doctrine of God and that of the bulk of the Christian world. Moreover the differences between any two doctrines of the Godhead in Christianity can usually be understood by comparing the ways in which a number of scriptural propositions are combined and interpreted.
The Godhead of the Bible
The Bible contains four propositions about God that every Christian denomination must reckon with in its theology. (1) First, is that the Bible contains several strongly monotheistic statements. When Moses says, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD” (Deuteronomy 6:4), he means, as the Muslims say, “There is no God but God.” This view also finds support in God’s statement to Isaiah that, “I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.” (Isaiah 43:10) This tradition is continued in the New Testament as, for example, when Jesus prayed to the Father he said, “And this is life eternal: that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3)
(2) Second, there is a person called the Father, who is identified as God. The example of Christ’s “high-priestly prayer,” quoted in part above, should be ample evidence of this fact.
(3) Third, there is a person called the Son in the New Testament, namely Jesus Christ, who is called God. Clearly identifying Jesus as “the Word,” John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)4 Here Jesus is presented as God, but also as distinct from the Father, hence the phrase, “and the Word was with God.” There are numerous other examples of this throughout the New Testament. For instance, when confronted by the resurrected Christ, Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God.” (John 20:28) Paul preached to the Church that they should, “Take heed . . . to feed Church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28) Finally, Jesus Christ unequivocally identified himself as Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament when he said, “Before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58)
(4) Fourth, there is a person called the Holy Spirit who is identified as God. That the Holy Spirit is God is shown by Peter’s accusation of Ananias, “Why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost? . . . Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.” (Acts 5:3-4) The New Testament also teaches that the Holy Spirit is a person, distinct from the Father and Son: “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (John 14:26; see also Acts 13:2)
One God or Three?
Naturally, these propositions present a problem. Are there three Gods or one? For Latter-day Saints, it is acceptable to say both that there is one God, and that there is a plurality of Gods, depending on the context. For example, in one sense the Father is “the only true God.” “Paul says there are Gods many and Lords many . . . ; but to us there is but one God–that is pertaining to us; and he is in all and through all.”5 That is, even if there are other Gods, the one with ultimate power and authority pertaining to us is the Father. In another sense there is a plurality of Gods. Again, quoting Joseph Smith, “I have always declared [that] . . . these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods.”6
And in yet another sense, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit can be spoken of as “one God.” The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi preached the way to salvation, which he called “the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end.” (2 Nephi 31:21) What is the nature of this “oneness”? In Jesus’ great Intercessory Prayer (see John 17)7, He asked that His disciples would be made one in Him as He was one in the Father. Joseph Smith explained:
Many men say there is one God; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are only one God. I say that is a strange God anyhow–three in one, and one in three! It is a curious organization. “Father, I pray not for the world, but I pray for them which thou hast given me.” “Holy Father, keep through Thine own name those whom thou has given me, that they may be one as we are.” All are to be crammed into one God, according to sectarianism. It would make the biggest God in all the world. He would be a wonderfully big God–he would be a giant or a monster. I want to read the text to you myself–”I am agreed with the Father and the Father is agreed with me, and we are agreed as one.” The Greek shows that it should be agreed. “Father, I pray for them which Thou has given me out of the world, and not for those alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word, that they all may be agreed, as Thou, Father, are with me, and I with Thee, that they also may be agreed with us,” and all come to dwell in unity, and in all the glory and everlasting burnings of the Gods; and then we shall see as we are seen, and be as our God and He as His Father.8
Therefore, the Godhead consists of truly separate beings–even separate Gods–who are one in the sense of their total unity of will and love. The Prophet correctly noted that this type of oneness is consistent with Jesus’ expectation that his disciples would be “one” as He and the Father are “one.” (John 17:11, 21-24)
Consistent with the idea that the Father is the “only true God,” the Prophet also preached “subordinationism,” the idea that the Son and Spirit are subordinate in power, rank, and glory to the Father. “Any person that had seen the heavens opened knows that there are three personages in the heavens who hold the keys of power, and one [the Father] presides over all.”9
What Kind of Being is God?
The Prophet also taught a startling doctrine about the physical nature of God. He preached that “if you were to see [God] today, you would see him like a man in form,”10 and that “the Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit.” (D&C 130:22) Indeed, the Spirit of God and the spirit of man are both material substance. (D&C 131:7-8) Consistent with all of this, Joseph Smith taught that man is of the same race as God. The spirit of man existed before this mortal life, and man is capable of becoming like his Father in Heaven.11
The Mainstream Trinity
The Nicene Creed
When mainline Christians see the basic propositions about God discussed above, along with statements that “[Christ] and the Father are one” (John 10:30), they conclude that the doctrine of the Trinity as expressed in the Nicene Creed of 325 A.D. is the only logical explanation:
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of his Father, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father. By whom all things were made, both which be in heaven and in earth. Who for us men and for our salvation came down [from heaven] and was incarnate and was made man. He suffered and the third day he rose again, and ascended into heaven. And he shall come again to judge both the quick and the dead. And [we believe] in the Holy Ghost. And whosoever shall say that there was a time when the Son of God was not, or that before he was begotten he was not, or that he was made of things that were not, or that he is of a different substance or essence [from the Father] or that he is a creature, or subject to change or conversion–all that so say, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes them.12
That is, there is only one God, but that God is composed of three distinct persons who share in the same substance or essence.13
“Of One Substance”
Was this the original interpretation of the scriptural passages in question? Modern scholars agree that the Nicene view introduced new elements into the standard interpretations that had not been accepted by the earliest Church. For example, Maurice Wiles concludes that, “The emergence of the full trinitarian doctrine was not possible without significant modification of previously accepted ideas.”14
Specifically, the phrase, “of one substance or essence,” expresses a concept that was adopted and adapted from contemporary Greek philosophy, but was foreign to the thought of the original Christianity. This concept may seem strange to the modern reader because Greek philosophy is no longer the predominant system of thought, although it has remained the basis of many aspects of mainstream Christian theology even to the present time. At the time the Nicene Creed was adopted, the predominant philosophy was a hodgepodge of ideas, mostly based on Neoplatonism and a few other schools of thought. These schools, in turn, largely based their ideas on the thought of a few earlier philosophers, notably Plato, Empedocles and Xenophanes. A quick summary of how these philosophers viewed God should make the language of the Nicene Creed clear to the reader. (Although the Christians modified the terminology of the philosophers to fit their purposes, one still cannot make sense of their language without reference to these Hellenistic ideas.)15
Plato, realizing the material world was ever changing, speculated that it was impossible to obtain true knowledge by observing the natural world. But he had faith that true knowledge was possible, so he posited an unchanging, perfect world that was a higher reality than the material. He called this region or dimension the world of “Ideas” or “Forms.” These “Ideas” were considered the perfect essences of various objects or attributes. For example, a waterfall and a person can both be said to be “beautiful” although they seem to have nothing material in common. Plato suggested that there must be an “Idea” or essence in the world of Forms–perfect and unchanging–called “The Beautiful,” in which both the person and the waterfall participate.16 Similarly, Plato’s idea of God was a perfect, unchanging, indivisible essence known as “The Divine,” or “The One.”17
Xenophanes and Empedocles expressed similar ideas of what God must be like. Xenophanes (570-475 B.C.) conceived of “God as thought, as presence, as all powerful efficacy.” He is one God–incorporeal, “unborn, eternal, infinite, . . . not moving at all, [and] beyond human imagination.”18 And Empedocles (ca. 444 B.C.) claimed that God “does not possess a head and limbs similar to those of humans . . . . A spirit, a holy and inexpressible one . . . .”19
Therefore, in the Greek world it was more acceptable for the Christians to say that there are three, distinct persons who are a single “Divine essence or substance”–or as Plato would say, “The Divine.” But these three persons cannot be said to be three Gods, because the divine essence must be indivisible and simple. Many Christians envision the Trinity as three “centers of consciousness” within the one God, but even this is inadequate to express the ineffable reality of God.
More on the “Being” of God
Consistent with this conception of the “Divine Substance,” God cannot be said to be a material being, for matter is a lower reality than a pure “Idea.” Thus, the ancient Greek philosophers and modern mainstream Christians would agree that God is incorporeal, without a material body or human emotions, immovable, indivisible, and therefore ultimately incomprehensible to humanity.
This theory of the nature of God began to be adopted into Christian thought in the late second century. Christopher Stead writes that the early Christian writers Irenaeus (A.D. 130-200), Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 150-215) and Novatian (ca. 250) believed in a God who is “simple and not compounded, uniform and wholly alike in himself, being wholly mind and wholly spirit . . . wholly hearing, wholly sight, wholly light, and wholly the source of all good things.” This, Stead points out, is almost identical to Xenophanes’ assertion that “All of him sees, all thinks and all hears.” And “since Clement elsewhere quotes Xenophanes verbatim, we have good grounds for thinking that Clement’s description, and indeed the theory as a whole, derives from Xenophanes.”20
Thus, we see that to interpret what is meant by the mainstream Christian creeds, we must appeal to the ideas of the Greek philosophers. We also see that the concepts of deity derived from these sources are contrary to the doctrines and teachings presented in the New Testament.
From “the One True God” to “the One”
As stated in the beginning, the purpose of this study is to examine the relationship between the system of thought Joseph Smith restored and original Christian doctrine. To do this effectively, we will both provide evidence that the Prophet restored the original Christian doctrine of God and discuss how this doctrine was lost during the first few centuries after Christ. We have seen that there are commonalities between the LDS and mainstream doctrines, but in some of the most important areas there are significant differences between them. Accordingly, the journey from “point A” to “point B” did not happen overnight, but the first fatal step was taken early on, when the framers of early Christian thought substituted the New Testament concept of the one true God for “the One” of the philosophers.
The God of Israel and the God of the Philosophers
At first, Christianity did not appeal to Greek philosophy to explain its doctrines. Edwin Hatch points out that the earliest Christians eschewed philosophical speculations in favor of revealedtruths.21 This ceased more and more to be the case, however, as Christianity foundered in the spiritual darkness left by the loss of the prophetic gifts.
Although we have established that the mainline doctrine of God was based on Greek philosophical tenets22, it still remains to be shown how these concepts infiltrated the Church to such an extent that they became the official doctrine of Christianity. We shall see that after adopting this Greek conception of God, it took many years of struggle to work out the logical conclusions of such a doctrine. And in this struggle, the old doctrines about God were consistently and steadily compromised.
As mentioned above, the Greek conception of God began to creep into mainstream Christianity around the middle of the second century. Christian apologists such as Justin, Athenagoras, and others who wished to rebut pagan criticisms of their doctrine, defended their faith by claiming that they worshipped the same God as the pagan philosophers. In doing so they were following the lead of earlier Hellenized Jews such as Philo of Alexandria, who had spiritualized the biblical account of the God of Israel in order to identify Him with the God of the philosophers. While, as Hatch indicates, there was no significant evidence of Greek influence in the Primitive Church, consider the similarity between the conceptions of God taught by the Middle Platonists Plutarch and Numenius, and various late second-century Christian intellectuals. First the philosophers:
Socrates and Plato held that (God is) the One, the single self-existent nature, the monadic, the real Being, the good: and all this variety of names points immediately to mind. God therefore is mind, a separate species, that is to say what is purely immaterial and unconnected with anything passible.23
But let no one laugh, if I affirm that the name of the incorporeal is “essence” and “being.” And the cause of the name “being” is that it has not been generated nor will be destroyed, nor is it subject to any other motion at all, nor any change for better or for worse; but is simple and unchangeable, and in the same idea, and neither willingly departs from its sameness, nor is compelled by any other to depart.24
Now the teachings of early Christian thinkers–Athenagoras, Clement of Alexandria, and Irenaeus, respectively:
That we are not atheists, therefore, seeing that we acknowledge one God, uncreated, eternal, invisible, impassible, incomprehensible, illimitable, who is apprehended by the understanding only and the reason, who is encompassed by light, and beauty, and spirit, and power ineffable, by whom the universe has been created through His Logos, and set in order, and is kept in being–I have sufficiently demonstrated.25
No one can rightly express Him wholly. For on account of His greatness He is ranked as the All, and is the Father of the universe. Nor are any parts to be predicated of Him. For the One is indivisible; wherefore also it is infinite, not considered with reference to inscrutability, but with reference to its being without dimensions, and not having a limit. And therefore it is without form and name. And if we name it, we do not do so properly, terming it either the One, or the Good, or Mind, or Absolute Being, or Father, or God, or Creator or Lord.26
For the Father of all is at a vast distance from those affections and passions which operate among men. He is a simple, uncompounded Being, without diverse members, and altogether like, and equal to himself, since He is wholly understanding, and wholly spirit, and wholly thought, and wholly intelligence, and wholly reason, and wholly hearing, and wholly seeing, and wholly light, and the whole source of all that is good–even as the religious and pious are wont to speak concerning God.27
And as if it weren’t enough that Clement called the Father “the One” and “Mind,” witness Tertullian’s identification of the Father as “the God of the philosophers” around the turn of the third century:
Whatever attributes therefore you require as worthy of God, must be found in the Father, who is invisible and unapproachable, and placid, and (so to speak) the God of the philosophers; whereas those qualities which you censure as unworthy must be supposed to be in the Son . . . .28
Therefore, by the end of the second century the Father was evidently identified with “the One” of the philosophers.
The Abandonment of Anthropomorphism
If Christianity was to accept the God of the philosophers, however, it had to shed certain “primitive” beliefs that characterized the God of Israel. Chief among these beliefs was the idea that God is a material being whose physical form is that of a man. This type of “anthropomorphism”29 was unacceptable, since as Grace Jantzen observes, “According to a Platonic system of thought, it would be utterly inconceivable that God should have a material body.”30
The Anthropomorphic God of the Bible
On the other hand, in the Bible God often appeared as a man. For instance, Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel “saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone.” (Exodus 24:9-11) And in another appearance, God told Moses that he could not see His face at that time, but said he would “cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts.” (Exodus 33:22-23) Ezekiel recounted yet another example: “Above the vault over their heads there appeared, as it were, a sapphire in the shape of a throne, and high above all, upon the throne, a form in human likeness.” (Ezekiel 1:26 NEB) Edmond LaB. Cherbonnier of Trinity College summarizes these ideas as follows: “In short, to use the forbidden word, the biblical God is clearly anthropomorphic–not apologetically so, but proudly, even militantly.”31 Christopher Stead of the Cambridge Divinity School agrees that, “The Hebrews . . . pictured the God whom they worshipped as having a body and mind like our own, though transcending humanity in the splendour of his appearance, in his power, his wisdom, and the constancy of his care for his creatures.”32
Anthropomorphism in Early Christianity
Evidently the earliest Christians believed in the anthropomorphic God of the Old Testament. For example, Stephen saw in vision “the Son of Man standing at God’s right hand.” (Acts 7:56 NEB) And according the early reports of the rabbis about the “Two Powers” heresies, which included Christianity, all of these sects “picture God Himself as a man or posit a principal angel, with the shape of a man, who aids God in the governance of the world.”33 The Clementine Homilies, a Jewish Christian document based on a second-century source, also expressed the early anthropomorphic belief:
And Simon said: “I should like to know, Peter, if you really believe that the shape of man has been moulded after the shape of God.” And Peter said: “I am really quite certain, Simon, that this is the case . . . . It is the shape of the just God.”34
For He has shape, and He has every limb primarily and solely for beauty’s sake, and not for use. For He has not eyes that He may see with them; for He sees on every side, since He is incomparably more brilliant in His body than the visual spirit which is in us, and He is more splendid than everything, so that in comparison with Him the light of the sun may be reckoned as darkness. Nor has He ears that He may hear; for He hears, perceives, moves, energizes, acts on every side. But He has the most beautiful shape on account of man, that the pure in heart, may be able to see Him, that they may rejoice because they suffered. For He moulded man in His own shape as in the grandest seal, in order that he may be the ruler and lord of all, and that all may be subject to him.35
A third century document, the apocryphal Gospel of Bartholomew, was also very specific about the physical nature of God. In this account the Father made an appearance to Mary in human form and ate and drank with her:
When I abode in the temple of God and received my food from an angel, on a certain day there appeared unto me one in the likeness of an angel, but his face was incomprehensible . . . . I was not able to endure the sight of him . . . . And said unto me: Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the chosen vessel, grace inexhaustible. And he smote his garment upon the right hand and there came a very great loaf, and he set it upon the altar of the temple and did eat of it first himself, and gave unto me also. And again he smote his garment upon the left hand and there came a very great cup full of wine: and he set it upon the altar of the temple and did drink of it first himself, and gave also unto me . . . . And he said unto me: Yet three years, and I will send my word unto thee and thou shalt conceive my . . . son, and through him shall the whole creation be saved.36
In the fourth century, certain monks of the Thebaid in Egypt “were of strongly anthropomorphic views.”37 One of the monks, Serapion, disagreed with the teaching of God’s incorporeality, calling it a “novelty.” After being reluctantly convinced on intellectual grounds that he was wrong, he burst into tears and exclaimed, “They have taken away my God from me, and now I don’t have anything to lay hold of; I don’t know whom to worship, whom to call upon.”38 Similarly, group called the Audians, who founded monasteries in Gothic territory in the fourth century, also refused change their belief that God was in form like a man. “Had not God said ‘Let us make man in our image’? then what form could He bear other than that of man? they asked.”39
Naturally, since a different view finally prevailed, many of the early sources that explicitly taught anthropomorphism have been lost. However, several Christian writers from the second through the fifth centuries gave witness to the fact that even though they themselves rejected the old doctrine, there were many contemporary Christians who still accepted it. For example, Jean Daniélou reports that Clement of Alexandria testified to the existence of early Christian belief in God’s material body in human form, even though such an idea flatly contradicted Clement’s own thought.40
Clement’s successor, Origen, presents another interesting case. Against the second-century pagan critic Celsus, who scoffed at this early Christian belief, Origen actually denied that such a belief even existed within Christianity!
After this Celsus relates at length opinions which he ascribes to us, but which we do not hold, regarding the Divine Being, to the effect that “he is corporeal in his nature, and possesses a body like a man.” As he undertakes to refute opinions which are none of ours, it would be needless to give either the opinions themselves or their refutation. Indeed, if we did hold those views of God which he ascribes to us, and which he opposes, we would be bound to quote his words, to adduce our own arguments, and to refute his. But if he brings forward opinions which he has either heard from no one, or if it be assumed that he has heard them, it must have been from those who are very simple and ignorant of the meaning of Scripture, then we need not undertake so superfluous a task as that of refuting them.41
And yet, in another work Origen named Melito, bishop of Sardis in the late second century, as one of the Christians who believed God to have a material body in human form.42 Similarly, in yet another work, he confessed that the issue of God’s corporeality was still an open question in Christian teaching:
We shall inquire, however, whether the thing which Greek philosophers call asomaton, or “incorporeal,” is found in holy Scripture under another name. For it is also to be a subject of investigation how God himself is to be understood,–whether as corporeal, and formed according to some shape, or of a different nature from bodies,–a point which is not clearly indicated in our teaching.43
Origen rejected anthropomorphism, not because the scriptures or unanimous Christian tradition specifically rejected it, but because the philosophers ”despised” it: “The Jews indeed, but also some of our people, supposed that God should be understood as a man, that is, adorned with human members and human appearance. But the philosophers despise these stories as fabulous and formed in the likeness of poetic fictions.”44
Evidently Augustine tried the same tactic in the fifth century. Augustine, who grew up as a well-educated pagan, but had a Christian mother, rejected the Church at first because he thought all the Christians believed in an anthropomorphic God, which to him was philosophically absurd:
I was hopeless of finding the truth, from which in Thy Church, O Lord of heaven and earth, Creator of all things visible and invisible, [the Manichaeans] had turned me aside,–and it seemed to me most unbecoming to believe Thee to have the form of human flesh, and to be bounded by the bodily lineaments of our members. And because, when I desired to meditate on my God, I knew not what to think of but a mass of bodies (for what was not such did not seem to me to be), this was the greatest and almost sole cause of my inevitable error.45
But when he heard Ambrose of Milan speak, claiming that all those passages in the Bible which suggested anthropomorphism were to be interpreted figuratively, Augustine was intrigued and was eventually converted.
For first, these things also had begun to appear to me to be defensible; and the Catholic faith, for which I had fancied nothing could be said against the attacks of the Manichaeans, I now conceived might be maintained without presumption; especially after I had heard one or two parts of the Old Testament explained, and often allegorically–which when I accepted literally, I was “killed” spiritually . . . . But so soon as I understood, withal, that man made “after the image of Him that created him” was not so understood by Thy spiritual sons . . . as though they believed and imagined Thee to be bounded by human form,–although what was the nature of a spiritual substance I had not the faintest or dimmest suspicion,–yet rejoicing, I blushed that for so many years I had barked, not against the Catholic faith, but against the fables of carnal imaginations.46
It is perfectly obvious that if Augustine, who grew up with a Christian mother and even went to Christian catechism, believed all his life that Christians believed in an anthropomorphic God, there must have been a fair number of Christians who actually did retain that belief. Indeed, in another place Augustine complained of the “carnal and weak of our faith, who . . . picture God to themselves in human form.”47 But like Origen, we find him later denying that such a belief existed at all.
The Son Becomes the Anthropomorphic God
When the Father became “the One” of the philosophers, it was not acceptable to ascribe any type of anthropomorphism to Him, so various strategies were employed to sidestep the language of the Bible. For example, we have seen that later theologians such as Augustine took the relevant passages figuratively. But in the second century, when the God of the Philosophers was first being adopted, this was not necessarily the case. Some of these Christian thinkers accepted Biblical anthropomorphism, but ascribed it all to the Son. For instance, consider the following passages from Justin Martyr and Irenaeus which state, respectively, that 1) God the Father does not have a human form; 2) nevertheless, the body of man is created in the physical image of God; and 3) the Son was the God who appeared to the prophets in human form. First Justin:
These and other such sayings are recorded by the lawgiver and by the prophets; and I suppose that I have stated sufficiently, that wherever God says, “God went up from Abraham,” or, “The Lord spake to Moses,” and “The Lord came down to behold the tower which the sons of men had built,” or when “God shut Noah into the ark,” you must not imagine that the unbegotten God Himself came down or went up from any place. For the ineffable Father and Lord of all neither has come to any place, nor walks, nor sleeps, nor rises up, but remains in His own place, wherever that is, quick to behold and quick to hear, having neither eyes nor ears, but being of indescribable might; and He sees all things, and knows all things, and none of us escapes His observation; and He is not moved or confined to a spot in the whole world, for He existed before the world was made.48
For does not the word say, “Let Us make man in our image, and after our likeness?” What kind of man? Manifestly He means fleshly man. For the word says, “And God took dust of the earth, and made man.” It is evident, therefore, that man made in the image of God was of flesh.49
For I have proved that it was Jesus who appeared to and conversed with Moses, and Abraham, and all the other patriarchs without exception, ministering to the will of the Father; who also, I say, came to be born man by the Virgin Mary, and lives for ever.50
Again, as to their malignantly asserting that if heaven is indeed the throne of God, and earth His footstool, and if it is declared that the heaven and earth shall pass away, then when these pass away the God who sitteth above must also pass away, and therefore He cannot be the God who is over all; in the first place, they are ignorant what the expression means, that heaven is [His] throne and earth [His] footstool. For [the Valentinian Gnostics] do not know what God is, but they imagine that He sits after the fashion of a man, and is contained within bounds, but does not contain.51
But man He fashioned with His own hands, taking of the purest and finest of earth, in measured wise mingling with the earth His own power; for He gave his frame the outline of His own form, that the visible appearance too should be godlike–for it was an image of God that man was fashioned and set on earth . . . .52
For not alone upon Abraham’s account did He say these things, but also that he might point out how all who have known God from the beginning, and have foretold the advent of Christ, have received the revelation from the Son Himself . . . . He is therefore one and the same God, who called Abraham and gave him the promise . . . . Therefore have the Jews departed from God, in not receiving His Word, but imagining that they could know the Father [apart] by Himself, without the Word, that is, without the Son; they being ignorant of that God who spake in human shape to Abraham, and again to Moses . . . .53
“God is a Spirit”–That is, Corporeal
In response to the LDS doctrine that God has a material body, mainline Christians often point to Jesus’ teaching that “God is a Spirit” (John 4:24) and conclude that God has no physical form, but is “everywhere present.” However, it is not a contradiction to say that “God is a spirit” and that He also has a body. For example, Paul wrote that “he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.” (1 Corinthians 6:17) Be that as it may, since there is no indefinite article in ancient Greek, John 4:24 could just as easily be translated, “God is Spirit.” Certainly this statement must be interpreted in the same sense that John also said, “God is light” (1 John 1:5) and “God is love” (1 John 4:8) Indeed, many modern translations54 do translate it thus.55 These do not characterize God’s “being,” but rather His actions and relationship with men. “God is light” because “in him there is no darkness at all,” and “if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, then we share together a common life . . . .” (1 John 1:5-7 NEB) “God is love” because of “the love he showed to us in sending his Son . . . .” (1 John 4:8-10 NEB) “God is Spirit” because He enlightens men through His Holy Spirit, and “those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24 NEB) With respect to the ancient Hebrew concept of God, Christopher Stead notes:
By saying that God is spiritual, we do not mean that he has no body . . . but rather that he is the source of a mysterious life-giving power and energy that animates the human body, and himself possesses this energy in the fullest measure.56
Furthermore, even those of the earliest Christians who rejected the notion of God having a body in human shape, and believed in a God who is “a spirit,” nevertheless taught that this “spirit” was itself material.57 Adolf von Harnack summarizes:
God was naturally conceived and represented as corporeal by uncultured Christians, though not by these alone, as the later controversies prove . . . . In the case of the cultured, the idea of a corporeality of God may be traced back to Stoic influences; in the case of the uncultured popular ideas co-operated with the sayings of the old Testament literally understood, and the impression of the Apocalyptic images.58
Specifically, the “cultured” Christians who were influenced by Stoicism believed that there is nothing that is “immaterial.” For instance, even though Tertullian did not believe that God has a human form59, he argued strenuously that He must be material. “For who will deny that God is a body, although ‘God is a Spirit?’ For Spirit has a bodily substance of its own kind, in its own form.”60 Later, Origen argued for the incorporeality of God, but felt he had to defend his thesis against those who would point to John 4:24 as proof of God’s corporeality.
I know that some will attempt to say that, even according to the declarations of our own Scriptures, God is a body, because in the writings of Moses they find it said, that “our God is a consuming fire;” and in the Gospel according to John, that “God is a Spirit, and they who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” Fire and spirit, according to them, are to be regarded as nothing else than a body.61
Compare the aforementioned with Joseph Smith’s teaching that there is no fundamental dichotomy between matter and “spirit”:
There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes. We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter. (D&C 131:7-8)
Thus, when Latter-day Saints speak of God as a “spirit” or of the “spirit” in man they do not visualize something essentially different from any other matter–just a finer and purer substance.
As was mentioned above, all traces of anthropomorphism were later suppressed through the allegorical interpretation of the scriptures. But consider the danger in this type of arbitrary exegesis. In practice, one can throw out any doctrines that are inconvenient or out of date and replace them with whatever philosophies are in vogue. In fact, Augustine took it as his rule to do just that. “Whatever there is in the word of God that cannot, when taken literally, be referred either to purity of life or soundness of doctrine, you may set down as figurative.”62 Who is to judge whether a doctrine is “sound”? For Augustine, that which was philosophically absurd could not be taken literally.
Some argue that scripture often speaks of God having “wings” (e.g. Ruth 2:12; Psalm 17:8; 36:7; 57:1; 63:7; 91:4; Malachi 4:2), etc., so why should we not take the biblical references to God’s human members figuratively, as well? In all cases where God is said to have wings, the context indicates a clear metaphor. For instance, when the Psalmist wrote, “in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge” (Psalm 57:1), he alluded to the image of a mother hen gathering her chicks under her wings (cf. Matthew 23:37). On the other hand, when Ezekiel wrote that he saw God with “a form in human likeness” (Ezekiel 1:26 NEB), he stated it as a fact, not as a poetic metaphor for some abstract principle.
Christianity adopted the practice of allegorical interpretation from the Greek philosophical schools. The exploits of the Greek gods and goddesses are well known, of course, but it is less well known that no educated Greek would have taken these myths seriously. However, these legends, as recorded in the tales of Homer and others, were an integral part of the religious heritage of the Greeks, so they couldn’t just throw them out when belief in a pantheon of gods went out of fashion. Therefore, the myths were interpreted allegorically. Edwin Hatch writes that this method of interpretation became standard procedure in the Hellenistic world.63
This was unquestionably not the case for the first Christians.64 For example, Aristides, the earliest apologist, roundly rebuked the Greeks for allegorically interpreting their legends. “For if the stories about them be mythical, the gods are nothing more than mere names; . . . and if the stories be allegorical, they are myths and nothing more.”65 How sad that Christianity adopted this thoroughly Greek practice wholesale, at least with respect to passages dealing with God’s physical form.66 Cherbonnier comments on the fundamental incompatibility of the anthropomorphic God of the Bible and the God of the philosophers:
Such authoritative utterances, expressing the consensus of most religious philosophers, have persuaded theologians that no thinking person could subscribe to the idea of God as Person. In the name of reason, therefore, they long ago made a fateful decision. They decided to tone down this conception and to reach an accommodation with the philosophical conception of “the divine.” With the wisdom of hindsight, it is not difficult to see that their enterprise was doomed to fail. For while making overtures to philosophy, they could not, as Christians, abandon completely the anthropomorphic God of their own liturgies, hymns, and creeds. They were thus caught in a logical dilemma. For when they ascribe to the biblical God the attributes of “the divine” as conceived by philosophy, they tacitly contradict themselves. Though they aspired to rationality, they were trying to combine two ideas of God that are mutually exclusive, and were therefore bound to end in self-contradiction.67
The Transcendent God
The problem of anthropomorphism in the early Church illustrates the nature of the struggle between the God of Israel and the God of the philosophers. That is, the God of Israel is a being who is in some senses not far distant from His human offspring. The God of the philosophers, however, is “transcendent” in the sense of being utterly remote from humankind, and indeed the material world as a whole. “One of the most important themes of late Hellenistic intellectualism is that of the transcendency of the supreme God, who is regarded as utterly remote from this universe and as completely incomprehensible to the mind of man.”68 After all, if the Divine Substance is a pure, Platonic form, how can God be any part of the material world, which is a lesser reality? And as material beings we must necessarily find the reality of God inexpressible, or “ineffable”–and ultimately beyond our comprehension.
Augustine epitomized this belief when he said that “the super-eminence [or 'transcendence'69] of the Godhead surpasses the power of customary speech.”70 And in contrast to Jesus, who taught that “this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3),71 Gregory of Nyssa taught that the highest knowledge of God is to “comprehend that he cannot be comprehended.”72
But according to Edwin Hatch, the earliest Christians had no concept of “transcendence.” Indeed, they thought of themselves very literally as the children of God:
From the earliest Christian teaching, indeed, the conception of the transcendence of God is absent. God is near to men and speaks to them: He is angry with them and punishes them: He is merciful to them and pardons them. He does all this through His angels and prophets, and last of all through His Son . . . . The conception which underlies the earliest expression of the belief of a Christian community is the simple conception of children . . . .73
These “simple conceptions” were soon lost, however, with the importation of Greek philosophy into the Church. “The conception . . . of the one God whose kingdom was a universal kingdom and endured throughout all ages, blended with, and passed into, the philosophical conception of a Being who was beyond time and space.”74 Thus, for Christian philosophers like Origen, “the divine nature is remote from all affection of passion and change, remaining ever unmoved and untroubled in its own summit of bliss.”75
However, it can easily be seen that this aspect of the God of the philosophers creates numerous problems for the interpretation of the Bible. As Eric Osborn observes, “How a changeless God may be involved in history is a persistent problem in Christian thought.”76 Again, the Christian thinkers could allegorize the relevant Bible passages to some extent, but in the final analysis, it must be admitted that a God who “so loved the world that he sent his only Begotten Son” (John 3:16) is fundamentally incompatible with a God who “is remote from all affection of passion and change, remaining ever unmoved and untroubled in its own summit of bliss.”
Creation “Ex Nihilo”
The Adoption of a New Doctrine
This transcendence from matter did not just mean that God is “a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions . . . .”77 In addition, the post-Apostolic Christians came to believe that God created the entire material universe out of absolutely nothing (i.e. creatio ex nihilo), rather than out of pre-existent, chaotic matter. Perhaps in a misguided attempt to give more glory to God, Christian philosophers of the late second century discarded the early Christian and Jewish idea of creation from chaos in favor of the theory of creatio ex nihilo, as formulated by the Gnostic philosopher Basilides. According to Hatch, this theory penetrated the Christian community through Tatian in the second half of the second century:
With Basilides [a second century Gnostic philosopher], the conception of matter was raised to a higher plane. The distinction of subject and object was preserved, so that the action of the Transcendent God was still that of creation and not of evolution; but it was “out of that which was not” that He made things to be . . . . The basis of the theory was Platonic, though some of the terms were borrowed from both Aristotle and the Stoics. It became itself the basis for the theory which ultimately prevailed in the Church. The transition appears in Tatian [ca. 170 A.D.]78
Others also agree that Basilides was the ultimate author of this doctrine, and in fact Peter Hayman indicates that there is only one recognized scholar who has recently worked on the problem of its origin–Jonathan Goldstein, who still maintains that the doctrine originated within Judaism.79 Frances Young of the University of Birmingham gives Basilides credit for coming up with the idea of creation out of nothing and then explains that Basilides’ theory was a radicalizing of the Greek idea of the transcendence of God:
The driving force of Basilides’ logic is his notion of radical transcendence . . . [is] his critique of human analogies–the ultimate God is not an anthropomorphic world-builder . . . . His idea of creation out of nothing . . . is not so much a confrontation with Greek conceptions as a radicalising of them . . .80
The Earliest Christians and Creation
The earliest Christians, as Hatch intimates, believed the Jewish doctrine81 of creation from chaos. For instance, Justin Martyr wrote, “And we have been taught that He in the beginning did of His goodness, for man’s sake, create all things out of unformed matter . . . .”82 Peter himself echoed the picture presented in Genesis 1:1-2 of a watery chaos from which the world was created. The New English Bible translates these passages in the following way: “In the beginning of creation . . . the earth was without form and void, with darkness over the face of the abyss, and a mighty wind that swept over the surface of the waters.” (Genesis 1:1-2 NEB) “There were heavens and earth long ago, created by God’s word out of water and with water . . . .” (2 Peter 3:5 NEB)
Young also lists Athenagoras, Hermogenes, and Clement of Alexandria among the early Christian writers who explicitly taught creation from chaos. For example, in his Hymn to the Paedagogus, Clement rhapsodized: “Out of a confused heap who didst create This ordered sphere, and from the shapeless mass Of matter didst the universe adorn . . . .”83 Indeed, in the third century Origen complained that he could not understand how so many learned people could have held this opinion: “And I cannot understand how so many distinguished men have been of [the] opinion that this matter . . . was uncreated, i.e., not formed by God Himself, who is the Creator of all things, but that its nature and power were the result of chance.”84
Reasons for the Change
If Christianity had become so enamored with Greek philosophy, why did the Church take hold of this strange doctrine of creation out of nothing when Plato himself believed in the eternity of matter? Young postulates that Christians may have accepted creation ex nihilo as a reaction to the rapid influx of secular philosophy. That is, they were trying to separate themselves from the mainstream of Greek philosophy, which they realized had made inroads into the Church. If so, we can see that without the guide of revelation Christians were apt to accept philosophical ideas in place of revelation and reject other revelation where it coincided with philosophy.
Perhaps it is more realistic to postulate that these second century Christian thinkers were merely eager to express their belief in God in terms the Greek world could accept, therefore they had to incorporate a radically transcendent view of deity. For example, Theophilus of Antioch was eager for chance to show that the Christian God was even more transcendent than other gods because he created everything out of nothing!
And what great thing is it if God made the world out of existent materials? For even a human artist, when he gets material from some one, makes of it what he pleases. But the power of God is manifested in this, that out of things that are not He makes whatever He pleases . . . .85
Another view, adopted by David Winston, is that Christian thinkers readily adopted creation ex nihilo because it provided a good argument against the extreme Gnostic position that matter is not just a lower reality, but actually evil.86 If this is the case, it is ironic that the doctrine apparently originated with a Gnostic teacher.
A New Terminology
In any case, the transition to this mode of thought happened nearly instantaneously. “The adoption of the view that the world was created out of nothing was almost universal in Christian circles very quickly.”87 This transition was most likely aided by the fact that seemingly contradictory language was used in the scriptures and by earlier Christian and Jewish writers. For instance, the creation account in Genesis indicates creation from a watery chaos, and the Wisdom of Solomon taught that God “created the world out of formless matter”88, but 2 Maccabees asserted that “God made [the sky and the earth] out of nothing, and . . . man comes into being in the same way.”89 Paul seemed to imply creation out of nothing: “God . . . summons things that are not yet in existence as if they already were” (Romans 4:17 NEB), and yet we saw that Peter’s language recalled the Genesis account of creation from a watery chaos. Indeed, in the very same verse Paul wrote that God “fashioned” (Greek katertisthai = “adjusted, put in order again, restored, repaired”) the universe, but in such a way that “the visible came forth from the invisible.” (Hebrews 11:3 NEB) The second-century Pastor of Hermas asserted that God “made out of nothing the things that exist,”90 but in another passage clearly presupposed creation from a watery chaos: “By His strong word [He] has fixed the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth upon the waters . . . .”91 Similarly, Frances Young writes that Philo the Jew, who was a near contemporary of Christ, spoke of things being “created from nothing” in some passages in his writings, but clearly took for granted the concept of creation from chaos in others.92 To these ancient writers “existence” meant organized existence, and “non-existence” meant chaos.
This difficulty in expression is illustrated by the way Basilides had to pound home his idea that there was really nothing in the beginning: “There was nothing, no matter, no substance, nothing insubstantial, nothing simple, nothing composite, nothing non-composite, nothing imperceptible . . . .”93 If the expression, “creation from nothing,” would have had the same meaning to everyone in his audience, audience, he would not have had to take such great pains to explain himself.94
Theological Implications of Creation Ex Nihilo
Frances Young concludes that “underlying the most crucial episode in the emergence of the Christian doctrine of God, namely the reply to Arianism [culminating in the Nicene Council], was affirmation of creation out of nothing.”95 That is, we shall see that the argument at Nicea was all about whether Jesus Christ was part of the “Divine Substance” or a created being who could have no part in this eternal, indivisible, unchangeable Platonic “essence.” For, if there are two classes of beings–those created out of nothing and those united in the uncreated Divine Substance–it had to be decided whether Jesus was “truly God,” a part of the Divine Substance, or merely a created being. Therefore, if creation from nothing was not the original doctrine, the whole discussion at the Nicene Council was irrelevant to the earliest form of the Christian Church!
Joseph Smith on the Creation
On the other hand, Joseph Smith is again in company with the earliest Christians, and Latter-day Saints reject the notion of creation ex nihilo.96 In one of the LDS creation accounts Christ says, “We will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell.” (Abraham 3:24) Joseph Smith spoke of this principle when he said:
Now, the word create came from the word baurau which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship. Hence, we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos–chaotic matter, which is element . . . . Element had an existence from the time he had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and re-organized, but not destroyed. They had no beginning, and can have no end.97
From Godhead to Trinity
The Father had become “the One” of the philosophers. But where did that leave the Son and the Holy Spirit? The adoption of the idea of a transcendent God created a dichotomy between God and everything else, for if He created everything else out of nothing, that which is self-existent or “uncreated” is God, while “the world was made from nothing; wherefore it is not God.”98Were the Son and Spirit “God” or part of “the world”? If they were part of the world, then they might be called “gods” in some subsidiary sense, but in reality they could never really be “God.” And if they were really “God,” then this seems to go against the axiom that the “Divine Substance” must be simple, uncompounded, eternally unchanging, etc. One can readily see that, philosophically, this was no easy problem to solve, and it took centuries for theologians to finally iron it out. In this section we will examine how this debate transformed the Christian concept of the Godhead from something quite similar to the LDS doctrine into the nebulous “Trinity” of the creeds.
The Problem of “Monotheism”
Kelly reminds us that for all the early Fathers, the “monotheistic idea, grounded in the religion of Israel, loomed large in [their] minds . . . .”99 But what exactly was Israel’s monotheistic idea, and how did Christians over the centuries adapt it to their faith? We have already seen that both Latter-day Saints and mainstream Christians can justly be called “monotheists,” but in different senses. So what exactly was the tradition that “loomed large” in the minds of the early Christian fathers?
Yahweh–Prince of Angels, Second God
A growing number of Old Testament scholars are beginning to realize that “Israel’s oldest religion was not monotheistic.”100 Much of the evidence for the foregoing assertion by Margaret Barker lies with the use of the names of God in the Hebrew Bible. Four names or titles are commonly used to connote God in the Old Testament. First, the Hebrew or Canaanite word “El” simply means “God.” The plural form of this word, “Elohim,” literally means “Gods,” but is often used to connote a single god whose supremacy and omnipotence make him “the God of gods.” (Psalm 136:2; Daniel 11:36)101 Another such designation is “Elyon” or “Most High.” “Jehovah,” the anglicized version of the Hebrew “Yahweh” or “Jahveh,” is the name of the God of Israel, who identified Himself as the great “I AM” (Exodus 3:14) to Moses. With few exceptions the KJV translates “Jehovah” as “LORD” in all capitals. Most mainline Christians see all these designations as referring to one divine being. However, Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus Christ, in his pre-existent state, was named “Yahweh,” the God of Israel, and the Father is given the title “Elohim.”
According to Margaret Barker and others, Elohim or El and Yahweh were originally considered separate deities by the ancient Israelites. El was the high God, while Yahweh was the chief among the “sons of El”–the second God and chief archangel.102 But according to Otto Eissfeldt, “El was never conceived of as a rival of Yahweh. He was rather considered as a figure to acknowledge whose authority meant an enhancement rather than a restriction of the authority of Yahweh.”103 Consider the following passage from Deuteronomy:
When the Most High parcelled out the nations, when he dispersed all mankind, he laid down the boundaries of every people according to the number of the sons of God; but the LORD’s [Yahweh's] share was his own people, Jacob was his allotted portion. (Deuteronomy 32:8-9 NEB)
This passage seems to indicate that Yahweh was seen as the chief son of El, and was given special charge over the nation of Israel. Several other passages point to the same interpretation. For instance, according to Barker “the text of Ps. 91.9 does actually say: ‘You, O Yahweh, are my refuge, You have made Elyon your dwelling place.’”104 To show that Yahweh was originally thought of as both God and an angel, Barker demonstrates that an ancient Old Testament figure known as “the Angel of Yahweh” was equated with Yahweh himself. There is considerable evidence that the Angel of Yahweh was so interpreted, including the following:
Gideon saw the Angel of Yahweh, and this storyteller too identified Yahweh and the Angel of Yahweh. The Angel of Yahweh appeared to Gideon (Judg. 6:11-12), and introduced himself as Yahweh (Judg. 6.12). It is then as Yahweh that he speaks to Gideon (Judg. 6.14,16). The Angel of Yahweh disappears, and Gideon realizes whom he has seen. He fears because he has seen the Angel of Yahweh face to face (Judg. 6.22) but Yahweh reassures him that he will not die (cf. Exod. 33.20, where Yahweh said ‘You cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live’).”105
Other passages underscore the presence of a class of beings called “the gods.” For example, “God [Elohim] takes his stand in the court of heaven to deliver judgement among the gods [elohim] themselves.” (Psalm 82:1 NEB) Similarly, a passage from the Dead Sea Scrolls says that God “will raise up the kingdom of Michael in the midst of the gods . . . .”106
After the exile, reformers promulgated the idea that there was only one God, and consequently, El and Yahweh were fused into the one God, Yahweh.107 Although this faction never completely erased the original belief, they did succeed in inserting their view into several passages of scripture. For example, the passages from Deuteronomy quoted above are from the NEB, which has followed the text of the Greek Septuagint or the Dead Sea Scrolls. However, an examination of the King James Version shows that the Masoretic texts upon which it is based were changed to remove all reference to the gods.108 Similarly, in Barker’s view some texts like the following from Isaiah attest to the fact that the Israelites were being thus propagandized:
I myself have made it known in full, and declared it, I and no alien god amongst you, and you are my witnesses, says the LORD [Yahweh]. I am God [El]; from this very day I am He. (Isaiah 43:12-13 NEB)
Was it not I the LORD [Yahweh]? There is no god [El] but me; there is no god [El] other than I, victorious and able to save. Look to me and be saved, you peoples from all corners of the earth; for I am God [El] and beside me there is no other. (Isaiah 45:21-22 NEB)
Latter-day Saints can interpret these passages in two ways. First it would be acceptable to suppose, with Margaret Barker and others, that scribes succeeded in changing the texts of many of the aforementioned passages into more strongly monotheistic statements. It is perhaps more acceptable to suppose that the prophets, such as Isaiah, did write these monotheistic passages to emphasize the “oneness” of the council of the gods under the monarchy of Elohim. (E.g. witness Nephi’s designation of the Godhead as “one God” in 2 Nephi 31:21.) Later on the scribes could have misinterpreted these statements and fused the two principal deities.
In any case, in later texts where Yahweh was equated with El, various angels, including Michael, were shifted to fill Yahweh’s former roles.109 It is noteworthy that in a number of these texts there were actually two Yahwehs! Both the High God and principal angel were so designated.110
However, the original belief seems to have survived among certain groups of Jews at least until the time of Christ. During the first Christian centuries the rabbis engaged in furious debate withminim (i.e. cultists or heretics) whom they referred to as “Two Powers” heresies. These sects, which included Christianity, all seem to have claimed that there was a second God, in many cases identifying him with Yahweh.111
[One of the crucial issues in the "two powers" debate was] a tradition about a principal angel, based on Ex. 20f, said to be Metatron in the amoraic traditions but whose real significance is that he is YHWH or the bearer of the divine name (using Ex. 23:21 f.). These passages may have little in common with their origin. But they all picture God Himself as a man or posit a principal angel, with the shape of a man, who aids God in the governance of the world.112
Philo of Alexandria, who lived in the first century A.D., is a well-known example of a Jew who inherited such a tradition. Philo called the second God the “Word” (Greek logos) and indicated that He was also the chief angel. “For nothing mortal can be made in the likeness of the most high One and Father of the universe but (only) in that of the second God, who is His Logos.”113“But if there be any as yet unfit to be called a Son of God, let him press to take his place under God’s First-born, the Word, who holds the eldership among the angels, their ruler as it were.”114
That Philo identified the second God with Yahweh can be seen in the following text: “Why does (Scripture) say that when Abraham was ninety-nine years old, ‘the Lord God appeared to him and said, I am the Lord [Yahweh] thy God [Elohim]‘? It gives the two appellations of the two highest powers . . . .”115
Finally, how did Philo preserve Jewish “monotheism,” such as it was? It is evident that he did so by asserting the absolute monarchy of the High God: “Not that there is any other not Most High–for God being One ‘is in heaven above and on earth beneath and there is none beside Him.’ (Deut. 4:39)”116
Philo was a thoroughly Hellenized Jew, and some have concluded that his peculiar brand of polytheism was due to the influence of the philosophical systems. However, Barker points out that this is highly unlikely, since Philo often disagreed with the philosophers while at the same time expressing his views in their language. Also, Philo was a leader of his Jewish community, and if his theology was a significant departure from the tradition they inherited, he certainly would not have been tolerated in that capacity.117 Therefore, “it seems more likely that Philo drew his ideas of the mediator from his people’s most ancient beliefs, and only adapted them to Greek ways of thinking.”118
After the first century, rabbinical Judaism moved even further away from the old doctrine. Larry Hurtado of the University of Manitoba summarizes:
The reactions against the known “heresies” the rabbis had in mind, Jewish Christianity and Gnostic groups, may well have produced a hardening of rabbinic monotheism in the direction away from the more inclusive and monarchial monotheism and toward a more monistic or unitarian character in some rabbinic circles, as Dunn has suggested.119
Jesus as Yahweh–Prince of Angels, Second God
A comparison of passages from the Old and New Testaments makes clear that Jesus was thought by the earliest Christians to be identical with Yahweh.120 For example, Isaiah saw Yahweh in vision and John claimed that this vision was of Jesus Christ. (Isaiah 6; John 12:40-41) Isaiah identified Yahweh as the “Holy One,” while in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is called the “Holy One.” (Isaiah 54:5; Matthew 11:27) Yahweh told Isaiah that beside him “there [was] no saviour”; Jesus was obviously identified as the Savior in the New Testament. (Isaiah 43:11; Luke 2:11) Just as Moses called Yahweh “the Rock,” Paul insisted that “the Rock” who led the children of Israel through the wilderness was Christ. (Deuteronomy 32:3-4; 1 Corinthians 10:1-4) And, employing the same language he used in Exodus 3:14, Jesus unequivocally announced that “Before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58)
The identification of Jesus with Yahweh was made by many early Christians after the Apostolic age. For example, Justin Martyr recorded a conversation with his Jewish friend, Trypho:
And I said, “As you wish, Trypho, I shall come to these proofs which you seek in the fitting place; but now you will permit me first to recount the prophecies, which I wish to do in order to prove that Christ is called both God and Lord [Yahweh] of hosts . . . . The Psalm of David is this: ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and all that dwell therein . . . . Who is this King of glory? The Lord [Yahweh] of Hosts, He is the King of glory.’ (Ps. 24)121
In harmony with the LDS practice of calling the Father by the title “Elohim,” which is the Hebrew plural of “God,” Justin claimed that the Father has no name, only titles.
But to the Father of all, who is unbegotten, there is no name given. For by whatever name He be called, He has as His elder the person who gives Him the name. But these words, Father, and God, and Creator, and Lord, and Master, are not names, but appellations derived from His good deeds and functions.122
Not only did many Christian writers identify Jesus with Yahweh, until the fifth century it was quite common to call Jesus either a “second god,” the chief angel, or both.123 (Similarly, it was made clear that the Holy Spirit occupies the third place.) For example, during the second century Justin Martyr wrote that the “first-begotten,” the Logos, is the “first force after the Father:” he is “a second God, second numerically but not in will,” doing only the Father’s pleasure.124 And he designated the Son as “this power which the prophetic word calls God . . . and Angel . . . .”125 He also maintained that the Son is “in the second place, and the prophetic Spirit in the third . . . .”126 In the same vein Hermas spoke of “the angel of the prophetic Spirit”127 and Jesus as the “‘glorious . . . angel’ or ‘most venerable . . . angel’ . . . .”128 The Ascension of Isaiah referred to both Jesus and the Spirit as angels, as well: “And I saw how my Lord worshipped, and the angel of the Holy Spirit, and how both together praised God.”129 Finally130, Clement of Alexandria referred to Jesus as the “Second Cause”131, and Peter in the Clementine Recognitionsnot only called Jesus both “God” and “angel,” but also identified Him with Yahweh, the prince of the Sons of God mentioned in Deuteronomy 32:7-8:
For the Most High God, who alone holds the power of all things, has divided all the nations of the earth into seventy-two parts, and over these He hath appointed angels as princes. But to the one among the archangels who is greatest, was committed the government of those who, before all others, received the worship and knowledge of the Most High God . . . . Thus the princes of the several nations are called gods. But Christ is God of princes, who is Judge of all.132
Around the turn of the third century, Hippolytus called Jesus “the Angel of [God's] counsel”133, and Tertullian spoke of Christ as “second” to the Father:
This is the perfect nativity of the Word, when He proceeds forth from God–formed by Him first to devise and think out all things under the name of Wisdom–”The Lord created or formed me as the beginning of His ways;” . . . while I recognize the Son, I assert His distinction as second to the Father.134
However, he stopped short of saying there was a “second God,” because he considered the Father to be the “only true God” and Jesus to be a secondary being, dependent upon the Father:
God forbid, (is my reply) . . . . That there are, however, two Gods or two Lords, is a statement which at no time proceeds out of our mouth: not as if it were untrue that the Father is God, and the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God, and each is God; but because in earlier times Two were actually spoken of as God, and two as Lord, that when Christ should come He might be both acknowledged as God and designated as Lord, being the Son of Him who is both God and Lord.135
Well into the third century, Origen could speak of Jesus as a “second God”136, but he added a qualification: “We are not afraid to speak, in one sense of two Gods, in another sense of one God.”137 In what sense are they “one”? “And these, while they are two, considered as persons or subsistences, are one in unity of thought, in harmony and in identity of will.”138 In another passage he identified the Son and Spirit with the seraphim in Isaiah 6:
My Hebrew master also used to say that those two seraphim in Isaiah, which are described as having each six wings, and calling to one another, and saying, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God of hosts,” were to be understood of the only-begotten Son of God and of the Holy Spirit.139
Similarly, the presbyter Novatian maintained that Christ was both angel and God: “He has constantly received on the faith of the heavenly Scriptures, which continually say that He is both Angel and God.”140 And he equated this God/angel with the Lord (Yahweh) of Hosts:
For, behold, Hosea the prophet says in the person of the Father: “I will not now save them by bow, nor by horses, nor by horsemen; but I will save them by the Lord [Yahweh] their God.” If God says that He saves by God, still God does not save except by Christ.141
He also made clear that the Spirit is subject to the Son: “But the Paraclete being less than Christ, moreover, by this very fact proves Christ to be God, from whom He has received what He declares . . . .”142 Indeed, the unity of the Godhead is not some mysterious metaphysical “oneness,” but a unity of will:
And since He said “one” thing, let the heretics understand that He did not say “one” person. For one placed in the neuter, intimates the social concord, not the personal unity . . . . Moreover, that He says one, has reference to the agreement, and to the identity of judgment, and to the loving association itself, as reasonably the Father and Son are one in agreement, in love, and in affection; and because He is of the Father, whatsoever He is, He is the Son; the distinction however remaining, that He is not the Father who is the Son, because He is not the Son who is the Father . . . . For when two persons have one judgment, one truth, one faith, one and the same religion, one fear of God also, they are one even although they are two persons: they are the same, in that they have the same mind.143
Novatian didn’t hesitate to name other angels “gods” as well: “[If] even the angels themselves . . . as many as are subjected to Christ, are called gods, rightly also Christ is God.”144 And yet in another sense Novatian hesitated to say there is more than one God, because all gods are subject to the Father: “Thus making Himself obedient to His Father in all things, although He also is God, yet He shows the one God the Father by His obedience, from whom also He drew His beginning. And thus He could not make two Gods . . . .”145
Lactantius approvingly quoted a Hermetic text which spoke of a “second God”146, and another third-century text called The Threefold Fruit of the Christian Life described Jesus as the angel, Yahweh of Hosts: “When the Lord created the angels from the fire he decided to make one of them his son, he whom Isaiah called the Lord [Yahweh] of Hosts.”147
In the fourth century, Methodius of Olympus could say that Christ was filled with the “pure and perfect Godhead,” but also designated Him as first among the Archangels:
And this was Christ, a man filled with the pure and perfect Godhead, and God received into man. For it was most suitable that the oldest of the Aeons and the first of the Archangels, when about to hold communion with men, should dwell in the oldest and the first of men, even Adam.148
Eusebius of Caesarea likewise called Jesus a “secondary being” who is both angel and God:
Remember how Moses calls the Being, Who appeared to the patriarchs, and often delivered to them the oracles afterwards written down in Scripture sometimes God and Lord, and sometimes the Angel of the Lord. He clearly implies that this was not the Omnipotent God, but a secondary Being, rightly called the God and Lord of holy men, but the Angel of the Most High His Father.149
Again, Eusebius equated Jesus with Yahweh, prince of the sons of El, spoken of in Deuteronomy 32:7-8:
In these words [Deut. 32:8] surely he names first the Most High God, the Supreme God of the Universe, and then as Lord His Word, Whom we call Lord in the second degree after the God of the Universe. And their import is that all the nations and the sons of men, here called sons of Adam, were distributed among the invisible guardians of the nations, that is the angels, by the decision of the Most High God, and His secret counsel unknown to us. Whereas to One beyond comparison with them, the Head and King of the Universe, I mean to Christ Himself, as being the Only-begotten Son, was handed over that part of humanity denominated Jacob and Israel, that is to say, the whole division which has vision and piety.150
In another interesting passage, Eusebius compared the hierarchy of being to the sun, moon, and stars spoken of in 1 Corinthians 15:40-42:
“For there is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars,” says the divine Apostle; “for one star differeth from another star in glory.” In this way, therefore, we must think of the order in incorporeal and intelligent Beings also, the unutterable and infinite power of the God of the universe embracing all of them together; and the second place, next to the Father, being held by the power of the Divine Word . . . . And next after this second Being there is set, as in place of a moon, a third Being, the Holy Spirit, whom also they enroll in the first and royal dignity and honour of the primal cause of the universe . . . . But this Spirit, holding a third rank, supplies those beneath out of the superior powers in Himself, notwithstanding that He also receives from another, that is from the higher and stronger, who, as we said, is second to the most high and unbegotten nature of God the King of all . . .151
However, in the aftermath of the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., such language became unpopular, and some theologians tried to sweep its former popularity under the rug. For example, in the late fourth century Basil of Caesarea feigned that such a thing as a “second God” was unheard of in the “orthodox” faith:
For we do not count by way of addition, gradually making increase from unity to multitude, and saying one, two, and three,–nor yet first, second, and third. For “I,” God, “am the first, and I am the last.” And hitherto we have never, even at the present time, heard of a second God.152
The Subordination of the Son and Spirit
Within “orthodox” circles of the pre-Nicene Church, even where terms like “second God” and “angel” were rejected, it was always made clear that the Son and Holy Spirit are subjected to the Father, who is “greater than” them. The various forms of this doctrine are known as “subordinationism,” and Bettenson admits that “‘subordinationism’ . . . was pre-Nicene orthodoxy.”153After all, Jesus said that “My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28), and He asserted that the He does not know the hour of His Second Coming–only the Father knows. (Matthew 24:36) Paul wrote that the Father is “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:6, NEB), and revealed that after the resurrection Jesus will “be subject unto him [the Father] that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.” (1 Corinthians 15:24-28)
In the post-Apostolic era, Hippolytus wrote that the Father is “the Lord and God and Ruler of all, and even of Christ Himself . . . .”154 And Irenaeus insisted that the Father surpasses the Son in knowledge:
For if any one should inquire the reason why the Father, who has fellowship with the Son in all things, has been declared by the Lord alone to know the hour and the day [of judgment], he will find at present no more suitable, or becoming, or safe reason than this (since, indeed, the Lord is the only true Master), that we may learn through Him that the Father is above all things. For “the Father,” says He, “is greater than I.”155
Clement of Alexandria taught that while the Father cannot be known, the Son is the object of knowledge:
God, then, being not a subject for demonstration, cannot be the object of science. But the Son is wisdom, and knowledge, and truth, and all else that has affinity thereto. He is also susceptible of demonstration and of description.156
The Fathers maintained a form of “monotheism,” however, by asserting the absolute monarchy of the Father as the “only true God.” For instance, Irenaeus states:
This, therefore, having been clearly demonstrated here (and it shall yet be so still more clearly), that neither the prophets, nor the Apostles, nor the Lord Christ in His own person, did acknowledge any other Lord or God, but the God and Lord supreme: the prophets and the Apostles confessing the Father and the Son; but naming no other as God, and confessing no other as Lord: and the Lord Himself handing down to His disciples, that He, the Father, is the only God and Lord, who alone is God and ruler of all;–it is incumbent on us to follow, if we are their disciples indeed, their testimonies to this effect.157
Because of the monarchy and harmony within the Godhead, in a sense the diversity of power, rank, and glory was not thought to particularly matter in practice. As Origen put it:
Moreover, nothing in the Trinity can be called greater or less, since the fountain of divinity alone contains all things by His word and reason, and by the Spirit of His mouth sanctifies all things which are worthy of sanctification . . . .158
Likewise, Athenagoras spoke of the “diversity in rank”159 within the Godhead, but qualified this by saying, “The son is in the father and the father is in the son by a powerful unity of spirit . . . .”160
Problems With Subordinationism
As we have seen, subordinationism was perpetuated within Christianity for centuries, even after the almost universal adoption of the God of the philosophers. In itself this was not a problem, because many of the philosophers, such as Plato and Numenius, believed in a second God or “demiurge” who created the material world.161 On the other hand, these same philosophers strongly contrasted the transcendent “One” with all other beings. For example, Plotinus:
The One is infinite, the others finite, the One is creator, the others creatures, the One is entirely itself, entirely infinite, the others are both finite and infinite . . . the One has no otherness, the others are other than the One.162
Adoption of such philosophies led some Christian theologians to contrast the Father too strongly with the other members of the Godhead. For instance, Origen noted: “We say that the Son and the Holy Spirit excel all created beings to a degree which admits of no comparison, and are themselves excelled by the Father to the same or even greater degree.”163 Therefore, Christ and the Holy Spirit could never be “God” in the fullest sense. But since the earliest times Christians had inherited the tradition that Jesus was fully God. He was Christ Jesus, “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God . . . .” (Philippians 2:6)
In short, both subordinationism and the idea that the Son and Spirit are fully God were passed down from the earliest Christian traditions. However, both of these propositions could not be harmonized with the God of the philosophers, and so for centuries the Christian Church struggled with the question of which proposition to drop. In the end, Christianity chose to reject subordinationism and meld the Son and Spirit into “the One.”
The “Word” Becomes the “Logos”
The first step in the absorption of the Son and Spirit into “the One” was the transformation of the “Word” of John into the “Logos” of the philosophers. Actually, the Greek word logos can be translated “Word,” and John employed this language at the beginning of his Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word [Greek logos], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)
Jesus Becomes an Abstraction
Why did John call Christ the Logos, or Word? In Jewish documents such as the Wisdom of Solomon, the “almighty Word” (Wisdom 18:15 NEB) appears as a great angel, which is not surprising considering the foregoing discussion. Also, in Greek thought the Logos could represent “a divine principle that ordered existence and made knowledge possible”164, or alternatively the “Reason” of God.165 And while this was perhaps more abstract than the Jewish equivalent, it was certainly an apt analogy for the role of Jesus Christ. However, as Adolf von Harnack notes, the Christian Apologists of the second century completely transformed the “Word” of John into the abstract “Logos” of the philosophers:
The most important step that was ever taken in the domain of Christian doctrine was when the Christian apologists at the beginning of the second century drew the equation: the Logos = Jesus Christ. Ancient teachers before them had also called Christ “the Logos” among the many predicates which they ascribed to him; nay, one of them, John, had already formulated the proposition: “The Logos is Jesus Christ.” But with John this proposition had not become the basis of every speculative idea about Christ; with him, too, “the Logos” was only a predicate. But now teachers came forward who previous to their conversion had been adherents of the platonico-stoical philosophy, and with whom the conception “Logos” formed an inalienable part of a general philosophy of the world.166
A Portion of the “Divine Substance”
The solution the Apologists and some later theologians came up with was to theorize that in the beginning God was alone, but when the time came to create the universe, He generated Jesus, or the Logos, from His own eternally existent Reason.167 The important thing to note, however, that the Logos was thought to have been generated at a certain point in time. The Logos did not always exist as a separate entity. Tertullian explained:
For before all things God was alone–being in Himself and for Himself universe, and space, and all things. Moreover, He was alone, because there was nothing external to Him but Himself. Yet even not then was He alone; for He had with Him that which He possessed in Himself, that is to say, His own Reason . . . . Now, as soon as it pleased God to put forth into their respective substances and forms the things which He had planned and ordered within Himself, in conjunction with His Wisdom’s Reason and Word, He first put forth the Word Himself, having within Him His own inseparable Reason and Wisdom . . . .168
Again, Tertullian insisted that “There was, however, a time when neither sin existed with Him, nor the Son . . . .”169 In contrast, Origen and later theologians realized that the generation of the Logos was problematic. Didn’t that imply a change in “the One”? Therefore, they postulated the “eternal generation” of the Logos. That is, the Logos was generated outside of time, and there was never a time when He was not.170
In any case, the view of these early theologians seems to have been that the Father is the entire “Divine Substance,” while Son and Spirit are portions, or at least generated from portions of the substance. “For the Father is the entire substance, but the Son is a derivation and portion of the whole, as He Himself acknowledges: ‘My Father is greater than I,’” explained Tertullian. “The Paraclete [is] distinct from Himself, even as we say that the Son is also distinct from the Father; so that He showed a third degree in the Paraclete . . . .”171 This is significant, for on the one hand it allowed the Son and Spirit to really be God, since they are derived from God’s own “substance” rather than from “nothing.” On the other hand, the Son and Spirit could not be fullyGod, because they were not considered to comprehend the fullness of the “Divine Substance.” In contrast, Paul taught that in Jesus “dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” (Colossians 2:9)
The Impassible Logos
When the Logos became a portion of “the One,” however, it had to take on the characteristics of the Divine Substance. This meant, of course, that the Logos had to have been “without body, parts, or passions,” etc. This was, philosophically speaking, a problem, because the Christian doctrine had always been that the Logos actually became a man. Christopher Stead asserts that “In a Palestinian milieu it was still possible to picture the heavenly Father in human form and to see the contrast between heaven and earth as one of light and glory against relative darkness and indignity,”172 and hence the Incarnation represented a condescension, but not a fundamental change. However, to the Greek mind the implied change was very nearly absolute, and such a change in God would necessarily have been a change for the worse.173 As Eusebius put it, “For if it is unreasonable to suppose that the unbegotten and immutable essence of the almighty God was changed into the form of man . . . .”174 In response to this problem, Christians such as Origen taught that the Logos became man, but doing so implied no change. The Logos animated a truly human nature, but remained itself in heaven, suffering none of the things the human part of Him did:
But if the immortal God–the Word–by assuming a mortal body and a human soul, appears to Celsus to undergo a change and transformation, let him learn that the Word, still remaining essentially the Word, suffers none of those things which are suffered by the body or the soul . . . .175
The traditional type of christology seems to have been what Kelly calls a “Spirit Christology,” where the Logos, a divine spirit, took on a body of flesh. In short, “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14), or the “Logos we know to have received a body from a virgin.”176 Granted the Word was not “merely human,” but if the Logos was totally different from the human soul, how could itreally become human?
Some theologians from Origen on taught that Jesus took on both a human body and soul. “For the soul and body of Jesus formed . . . one being with the Logos of God.”177 Therefore, it could be maintained that Jesus was fully human and fully God, and all the frailties of human nature could be ascribed to something other than the Logos.
But the Logos was supposed to be intimately united with Jesus’ humanity, so how could Jesus really suffer and do all that he did for humanity? John Chrysostom reasoned that “sometimes he leaves the flesh deprived and stripped of his own activity, so that, by showing its weakness, he may help men to believe in the reality of his physical nature . . . .”178 Ambrose of Milan taught that Jesus’ hunger was “a holy deception,” perpetrated to trick the Devil.179 Augustine believed that Jesus was ignorant of the day and hour of His Second Coming only in that he was keeping His disciples ignorant.180 And Hilary of Poitiers concluded that Jesus really wept, ate, etc., but not because He was really sad or hungry. “He conformed to the habits of the body to prove the reality of His own body, to satisfy the custom of human bodies by doing as our nature does.”181
This “Word-man” Christology never really became dominant, however, until late in the fourth century.182 In the final Christological settlements of the fifth through seventh centuries, it was agreed that Christ must have had two natures–one human, and one divine–including Logos, body, and human soul.
This was not the end of the story, however. In the third council of Constantinople (680 A.D.) it was resolved that Christ must have had “two wills” as well as “two natures.”183 For, if Christ had a will separate from the Father’s (“nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt”–Mark 14:36) that will must not have been connected with the Word, which is part of the indivisible “Divine Substance.” But having two wills by no means made Christ a schizophrenic. John of Damascus explained that Christ’s human will “wills of its own free will those things which the divine will willeth it to will.”184
Such were the demands of the God of the philosophers. But did all this philosophizing really solve the problem? The reader will remember that the early Gnostics and their predecessors were “docetists,”185 who believed that Christ only “seemed” to take on a material nature. The later Catholic theologians granted that Jesus had a material nature, but denied that it affected His divine nature in any real sense. And indeed, they postulated, His divine nature prevented His human nature from being truly human. As Cyril of Alexandria lamented:
Hence they speak with undue precision of him suffering in the nature of the humanity, as if they separate it from the Word and set it apart by itself, so that they mean two and not one . . . .186
Consider also the criticism of Adolf von Harnack:
Even though the Christological formula were the theologically right one–what a departure from the Gospel is involved in maintaining that a man can have no relationship with Jesus Christ, nay, that he is sinning against him and will be cast out, unless he first of all acknowledges that Christ was one person with two natures and two powers of will, one of them divine and one human. Such is the demand into which intellectualism has developed.187
The “Only Begotten” Son
The identification of Jesus with the Logos of the philosophers created yet another problem. That is, in what sense is Jesus the “Only Begotten” of the Father? Kelly observes that the majority of Christian writers before Origen seem to have dated Jesus’ “sonship” to His incarnation.188 Likewise, Latter-day Saints designate Jesus as the Only Begotten Son in the flesh. The LDS belief in a premortal existence allows for any number of sons of God in the spirit, but if there were no such premortal existence, the phrase “Only Begotten” takes on a different meaning. We have already seen that it came to be believed that the Logos was “begotten” out of the very divine substance, putting him in the “God” category, rather than in that of the created “world.”
This is where the problems started. First, what did it mean to be “begotten” out of an essence that is supposedly unchangeable and indivisible? The theologians decided that “begetting” in this sense must be some process totally unlike anything within human experience, thus maintaining the divine unity:
If any one, therefore, says to us, “How then was the Son produced by the Father?” we reply to him, that no man understands that production, or generation, or calling, or revelation, or by whatever name one may describe His generation, which is in fact altogether indescribable.189
Second, what does that make the Holy Spirit? Some early witnesses, like the Pastor of Hermas, called the Spirit a “son of God,” as well.190 But if Jesus is the Only Begotten Son, then the Spirit must be something different. Gregory of Nazianzus explained the dilemma:
But of the wise men amongst ourselves, some have conceived of him [the Holy Spirit] as an Activity, some as a Creature, some as God; and some have been uncertain which to call Him, out of reverence for Scripture, they say, as though it did not make the matter clear either way.191
The answer? Appealing to the language of John 15:26, the later Fathers reasoned that the Spirit “proceeds” from the Father, which is something altogether different than being “begotten.”192What is the difference between “proceeding” and being “begotten”? Well, we have already seen that they had no idea what being “begotten” meant, and it was no different with the issue of “procession.” Gregory of Nazianzus explained:
The Holy Ghost, which proceedeth from the Father; . . . . inasmuch as He proceedeth from That Source, is no Creature; and inasmuch as He is not Begotten is no Son; and inasmuch as He is between the Unbegotten and the Begotten is God. And thus escaping the toils of your syllogisms, He has manifested himself as God, stronger than your divisions. What then is Procession? Do you tell me what is the Unbegottenness of the Father, and I will explain to you the physiology of the Generation of the Son and the Procession of the Spirit, and we shall both of us be frenzy-stricken for prying into the mystery of God.193
And that was that. The Word had become the Logos, who was eternally “begotten” from the “Divine Substance” in some inexplicable way, and the Spirit had become who knows what that “proceeds” from the “Divine Substance” of the Father in some equally inexplicable way. Of course, “procession” and “begetting” are two completely different things, but we just do not know how or why they are different.
The Monarchian Crisis
As was mentioned above, the idea that the Son and Spirit were generated from a portion of the Divine Substance was not entirely satisfying for some. A “portion” seemed to imply that the Divine Substance was not “simple” or “uncompounded,” and “generation” seemed to imply some sort of change in the Divine Substance. Also, even though the monarchy of the Father was unequivocally proclaimed, there were still those who felt it smacked of polytheism. Consequently, in the closing decades of the second century, factions arose within Christianity that tried to preserve the monarchia, or divine unity of “the One.”194 These “heretics” have been dubbed “monarchians.”
There were two types of monarchians, Dynamic monarchians, and Modalistic monarchians. The Dynamic monarchians, or “adoptionists,” were essentially intellectuals who denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. To them, Jesus was a “mere man” upon whom the Spirit of God had descended. Some allowed that He had been deified after his resurrection, but their main concern was to keep Him separate from “the One,” and eliminate the crass concept of an incarnate deity.195
The Modalistic monarchians, on the other hand, were concerned both to preserve the divine unity and to preserve the full divinity of Christ. Therefore, they claimed that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were not separate persons, but different “modes” of presentation of the same Divine person.196
It was recognized that the monarchians were clearly wrong.197 The Dynamic monarchians denied the full divinity of Christ, which had clearly been taught from the beginning–”the Word was God.” (John 1:1) The Modalists, on the other hand, destroyed the distinction between the Father and Son. But both the distinction of the Son from the Father, and His subordination to the Father had also been clearly taught since the beginning.
We shall see that, in a sense, the monarchian crisis defined the later Trinitarian controversies. That is, if “God” is defined as “the One”–an indivisible, simple, uncompounded, eternally unchanging “essence” that is fundamentally different than the rest of the universe, created out of “nothing”–how can the full divinity of the Son and Spirit be preserved without erasing their distinction from the Father? Furthermore, we have already seen that the full humanity of Christ had to be preserved, as well.
“Of One Substance”
In response to the monarchians, the “orthodox” merely pointed to the tradition of the Church, which had always taught the full divinity of Christ and his distinction from and subordination to the Father. They pressed home the idea that the Son and Spirit had been generated from the Divine Substance rather than ex nihilo, but that this generation implied no division or compounding of the Divine Substance.
This controversy led two “orthodox” writers, Tertullian and Hippolytus, to utilize a particular phrase that later proved quite important. The phrase was “of one substance,” the Greek wordhomoousios or its Latin equivalent una substantia. That is, the Son and Spirit are “of one substance” with the Father. According to Tertullian:
Thus the connection of the Father in the Son, and of the Son in the Paraclete, produces three coherent Persons, who are yet distinct One from Another. These Three are one essence, not one Person, as it is said, “I and my Father are One,” in respect of unity of substance, not singularity of number.198
Eric Osborn summarizes the meaning of Tertullian’s language:
Substance for Tertullian means ‘stuff’ or ‘material’. One substance was one physical thing. The soul, as well as God, logos and holy spirit were all corporeal realities . . . . He thought of one substance divided into three parts which remained together . . . ; each part was the embodiment of one of the three members of the trinity . . . . A quick reading of Against Praxeassuggests that Tertullian has not avoided a division of the divine substance, and a closer reading indicates that he may not have given the son and the spirit a totality of divine substance.199
Hippolytus taught essentially the same thing at about the same time: “The Logos alone of this God is from God himself; wherefore also the Logos is God, being the substance of God. Now the world was made from nothing, wherefore it is not God . . . .”200 But Hippolytus stressed the subordination of the Son, as well, and spoke of the Father as “the Lord and God and Ruler of all, and even of Christ Himself . . . .”201
Tertullian and Hippolytus seem to have borrowed the term “of one substance” from the Gnostics, who used it to denote a “generic” unity. That is, the same kinds of things are “of one substance” with each other; for instance, one horse would be “of one substance” with another horse. Kelly writes that “in both its secular and its theological usage prior to Nicea it always conveyed, primarily at any rate, the ‘generic’ sense.”202 That is, the Father, Son, and Spirit are the same kind of being, or “made of the same kind of stuff.”203 But we have already seen that “‘subordinationism’ . . . was pre-Nicene orthodoxy,”204 and indeed many still referred to Jesus as a “second God” or an “Angel.” This naturally precluded the sort of deep metaphysical unity that was meant by “homoousios” after the Council of Nicea. Thus, even in the fourth century Eusebius could say, “But the Word of God is other than this: It has its own substance in Itself altogether divine and spiritual, It exists in Itself . . . .”205
Given this background, it can readily be seen that the assertion of “one substance” did not really answer the objections of the monarchians. As Osborn pointed out, a division of the Divine Substance, a philosophical impossibility, was still implied by this teaching.
The Arian Crisis
Accordingly, the same issue popped up again in the early fourth century when a man named Arius and his followers came forward with a teaching somewhat similar to that of the Dynamic monarchians. The Arians not only rejected the idea of identity of substance in the Godhead, they also preached that the Son was merely a created being and that the Holy Spirit was God’s impersonal force.206 While they recognized that scripture used titles such as “Logos” for Jesus, they asserted that Jesus merely “participated” in God’s Logos.207 Jesus was a “god” to the Arians, but not in the sense of being any part of “the One.”
The Arians appealed to a great number of scriptural passages that seemed to indicate the subordination of the Son. Luke 2:52 said that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature. Hebrews 5:8-9 reported that He learned obedience. In John 14:28 He said “the Father is greater than I.” In Matthew 26:39, Christ said He would submit his will to his Father’s. In Mark 13:32, he said he did not know when He would return, but that the Father did. In Hebrews 1:4, Paul said He had “inherited” a name superior to the angels. In Collossians 1:15, Paul called Him the “firstborn” of all creation. And the same Apostle, in 1 Corinthians 15:28, told the saints that Jesus would, in the end, be subjected under God.
According to Kelly, Arius’s fault was to carry the traditional subordinationism to radical lengths, reducing the Son to the status of a created being. However, by doing this he was following “a path inevitably traced for him by the Middle Platonist preconceptions he had inherited.”208 It bears repeating that Arius’s logic was “inevitable” because of his Platonist assumptions about God. In short “the One” could not become incarnate and suffer pain and death. Richard Hanson explains:
There was one important aspect of the witness of the New Testament to the nature and activity of God which Arianism (and, I believe, Arius) grasped fully and courageously: this collection of documents witnessed to a suffering God. Arianism was carefully designed to enable Christians to believe just this.209
In any case, Arius’s success pressed the Christian world into resolving the question that had plagued the Church ever since the second century. That is, “How divine is Jesus Christ?”
The Council of Nicea and its Aftermath
Arius was suspended from the office of Elder in Alexandria by his bishop, but he had friends in high places, and soon gained a substantial following. This caused great uneasiness in the Eastern Church, but it wasn’t until the Emperor Constantine turned his attention to the affair that a resolution was reached.210 Constantine, though not yet a Christian himself, had effected a reconciliation between the Christian faith and the Roman state, and Christianity became the official religion. Thus the unity of the Church was of prime importance to him211, so the Emperor called together a council of bishops at Nicea in the year 325 to resolve the issue.
However, such a resolution was no simple proposition, because at that time there really was no single “orthodox” position on the nature of the Trinity. As Richard Hanson states:
In the first place, on the central subject of the dispute, how divine is Jesus Christ, there was in the year 318 no universally recognized orthodox answer. This is one reason why the controversy lasted so long. It was a controversy which resulted in the determination of orthodoxy, not one consisting solely or even mainly in the defence of orthodoxy . . . . There were indeed certain extreme views which virtually everybody repudiated: that Jesus was a ‘mere man’ and nothing more . . . , that there were no distinctions within the Godhead but only one God in three different aspects . . . ; that the doctrine of the Trinity meant that God was cut up, divided or diminished. But within these very broad limits no doctrine could properly be said to be heretical. Even Arius’s views when they were first propounded could have been regarded (as Eusebius of Caesarea regarded them) as no more than a radical version of an acceptable tradition of theology.212
Three major parties were represented at the Council of Nicea and in subsequent controversies.213 First were the Arians; second and most numerous were those that Kelly calls “the great conservative ‘middle party’”;214 third was a group later called the “Nicene” party, led by Athanasius and others.215
The “middle party,” of which Eusebius of Caesarea was a representative, taught that there were three divine persons, “separate in rank and glory but united in harmony of will.”216 This, as we have seen, had been the doctrine of the Church from the beginning, but there were a variety of interpretations which fell under this heading. As Hanson pointed out above, the Arian doctrine was not far removed from that of some factions of the middle party. After all, Arius taught that Jesus was the “prince of angels”217 and a “second god” subordinate to the Father, just as Eusebius himself did. Thus, the only truly radical component of Arian Christology was the belief that Jesus had been created out of nothing rather than out of the Divine Substance.218
Athanasius and the Nicenes, on the other hand, started with the assumption that the Son must be fully God. This naturally precluded the Arian position, but also that of the “middle party,” because an indivisible, uncompounded, and simple “One” cannot admit of the division, or at least the compound nature, implied by traditional subordinationism. Athanasius reasoned that the Trinity must be “one being,” but not so as to destroy the distinction between the three “persons.” How can this be? Athanasius balked at explaining how this could be, because, after all, the subject of any such explanation is infinite, eternal, and ultimately beyond the grasp of the human mind. Therefore, he merely affirmed as fact that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are “one being” with respect to the “Divine Substance,” with no divisions as implied by differences in rank and glory, and yet in some very real sense, “three persons.”219
In keeping with their philosophy, the Nicenes proposed the use of the word “homoousios” or “of one substance” in the Nicene Creed, but gave to it a meaning that it had not had before within Christian circles. According to J.N.D. Kelly, the root word ousia or “substance” could signify either the “essence” common to a class, in the sense that earlier Christians had used it, or alternatively an individual thing. He writes that “there can be no doubt” that as applied to an immaterial and indivisible Godhead, the term “homoousios” requires the latter meaning.220 And indeed, this is the manner in which modern mainstream Christian theologians interpret the wording of the Nicene Creed. Although it is apparent that Athanasius and his followers applied this meaning to the word, they were in the minority. The “middle party,” on the other hand, constituted the majority, and they applied the word “homoousios” in the traditional sense, implying only that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the same kind of being, differing in rank and glory.221 Therefore, when the Nicene Council affirmed that the Trinity is “of one substance,” they were not attempting to create any sort of precise definition of the oneness of the Godhead. Rather, they were affirming the deity of the Son in terms that could attract broad agreement so they could formally discredit the Arians.222
This was not the end of the controversy, however. Many who aligned themselves with the middle party were uneasy with the language of the Nicene Creed. They felt that Athanasius’s interpretation of it was nothing more than thinly veiled modalism.223 Therefore, some of them suggested substituting the word “homoiousios” or “of like substance” into the creed. Over the next 50 years the battle raged back and forth, and some 14 councils produced competing creeds ranging from Nicene to Arian positions.224
Eventually, the Nicene position won out, and from the time of the Council of Constantinople (381) on, subordinationism was officially rejected. Davies summarizes:
This meant the end of subordinationism. The Son and the Spirit are equal to the Father as touching their divinity because each is a presentation of an identical divine being. The only priority of the Father is a logical, not a temporal, one since the Son and the Spirit derive from him as their source; but this priority involves no superiority.225
Likewise, there was no more talk of a “second god.” As Basil of Caesarea explained, this was considered no better than heathen polytheism:
They on the other hand who support their sub-numeration by talking of first and second and third ought to be informed that into the undefiled theology of Christians they are importing the polytheism of heathen error. No other result can be achieved by the fell device of sub-numeration than the confession of a first, a second, and a third God. For us is sufficient the order prescribed by the Lord. He who confuses this order will be no less guilty of transgressing the law than are the impious heathen.226
Certainly this represented a break from tradition. However, it is clear that given the concept of God as “the One,” either the full deity of the Son had to be rejected (as in the case of the Arians), or subordinationism had to be rejected.
The Mystery of the Trinity
With the rejection of subordinationism, Christianity finally had resolved the issue of how the three persons of the Godhead could all be fully God, and the Son and Spirit had been melded into “the One.” But consider the irony of the situation. The Church had gotten itself into this mess by adopting “the One” as their God in the first place in order to make Christianity philosophically acceptable. But since the God of the philosophers was in many ways antithetical to the God of Israel, the Church ended up having to adopt a solution that was “beyond human reason” to maintain the full deity of Christ. Consequently, as Grace Jantzen observes, “The perplexity of the Arians is still with us . . . .”227
Again, what we have is the concept of combining “three persons” into “one God” in a way that is wholly incomprehensible to the human mind. As Augustine put it: “What three? human language labors altogether under great poverty of speech. The answer, however, is given, three ‘persons,’ not that it might be [completely] spoken, but that it might not be left [wholly] unspoken.”228 In other words, Augustine had to say something about the nature of the Trinity, but he didn’t really understand just what it was he was saying. After pointing out the logical inconsistencies in the Trinity doctrine, philosopher Richard Cartwright critiqued this sort of mysticism:
At this point I need to anticipate an objection. It will be said that a philosopher is trespassing on the territory of the theologian: the doctrine of the Trinity is a mystery, beyond the capacities of human reason, and hence the tools of logic are irrelevant to it. The objection is based on a misunderstanding. The doctrine of the Trinity is indeed supposed to be a mystery. That simply means, however, that assurance of its truth cannot be provided by human reason but only by divine revelation. It is to be believed “not because of the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God who reveals it.” But a mystery is not supposed to be refutable by human reason, as if a truth of reason could somehow contradict a revealed truth; on the contrary, putative refutations are supposed themselves to be refutable. Nor is a mystery supposed to be unintelligible, in the sense that the words in which it is expressed simply cannot be understood. After all, we are asked to believe the propositions expressed by the words, not simply that the words express some true propositions or other, we know not which.229
Mainstream Christianity has been placed in the unenviable position of requiring belief in a doctrine that no one can understand. Thus, in the midst of the Trinitarian controversies, Cyril of Jerusalem gave the following advice to new converts:
For there is one Salvation, one Power, one Faith; One God, the Father; One Lord, His only-begotten Son; One Holy Ghost, the Comforter. And it is enough for us to know these things; but inquire not curiously into His nature or substance: for had it been written, we would have spoken of it; what is not written, let us not venture on; it is sufficient for our salvation to know, that there is Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost.230
It is no wonder that, in my experience, most Christians are either modalists, tritheists (in the same sense as the Latter-day Saints), or they do not bother with any sort of rational explanations of the godhead at all.
The Origin and Destiny of Man
As we saw in our discussion of anthropomorphism, one cannot describe any concept of the nature of God without reference to the nature of man. Walter H. Wagner writes, “A community’s anthropology influences its understanding of God, and vice versa. To ask whether theology or anthropology came first is to pose the old chicken-or-egg conundrum.”231 This is at least as true for the Latter-day Saints as for anyone else because of our belief that humans are eternal beings who can become like God. In this section we will discuss this belief in the context of the LDS doctrines of premortal existence and deification.
The Premortal Existence
The Latter-day Saint Doctrine
Related to the doctrine of creation ex nihilo is the belief that the soul of man is also created out of nothing, along with the rest of the material world. Most Christian denominations today other than the Latter-day Saints accept this doctrine as fact. God did not “create” the spirit of man out of nothing, however. According to Joseph Smith:
I am dwelling on the immortality of the spirit of man. Is it logical to say that the intelligence of spirits is immortal, and yet that it had a beginning? The intelligence of spirits had no beginning, neither will it have an end. That is good logic. That which has a beginning may have an end. There never was a time when there were not spirits; for they are [co-eternal] with our Father in heaven.232
Therefore, Mormons believe the entire human family was formed from eternal intelligence which became, through a process that has not been clearly revealed, the literal spirit children of our Father in heaven.
The purpose of human life on earth, according to Mormonism, is to be tested, to grow, and to make covenants with God, so that at some point in the eternity after mortal life humans can be exalted to become like their Father. The Father devised a plan whereby this process could take place, and presented it in a great council in heaven. Abraham saw part of this council in a vision:
Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones; And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born. And there stood one among them that was like unto God [the pre-existent Christ], and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell; And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them; And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever. (Abraham 3:22-26)
As part of the plan, a savior was needed to save mankind from sin and death. The Father presented Jesus as his chosen one, but another of the spirits, named Lucifer (Satan), offered a plan which would have taken away free will and therefore forced everyone to be saved, while he would have kept the glory and allegiance of the spirits for himself. (See Moses 4:1-3) In the cosmic conflict which followed, Lucifer was cast out of heaven along with one-third of the spirits. These became the Devil and his angels. (Abraham 3:22-28)
For the mainline Christian, the only pre-existent soul was that of Christ. However, we shall see that Joseph Smith restored another legitimate early Christian and Jewish doctrine with his assertion that the souls of all men were also pre-existent. We hope to show conclusively that this was the original Christian dogma.
The Pre-Existence of Christ
The New Testament states specifically and clearly that Christ’s soul existed from before the creation of the earth, and on this point there is almost universal agreement. Remember John’s declaration that, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God . . . .” (John 1:1) Peter wrote of this fact when he said: “But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.” (1 Peter 1:19-20) Paul wrote that Jesus was the “firstborn of every creature”:
The Father . . . who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature. (Colossians 1:12-15)
While mainline Christians believe that Christ existed eternally as part of the “Divine Substance,” Latter-day Saints hold that all of the human family had a pre-existence.233
The Pre-Existence in Early Christianity
Early on in post-Apostolic Christianity there was great confusion about the origin of the soul. There were three basic beliefs current at least as early as the second century: 1) the belief in the pre-existence of the soul, which we have already discussed; 2) creationism, or the view that each soul is newly created by God together with the body; and 3) traducianism, the idea that the soul is produced by the souls of the parents through psychic copulation.234 Origen stated that by his time there was no clear teaching in the Church on this matter:
But with respect to the soul, whether it is derived from the seed by a process of traducianism, so that the reason or substance of it may be considered as placed in the seminal particles of the body themselves, or whether it has any other beginning; and this beginning, itself, whether it be by birth or not, or whether bestowed upon the body from without or no, is not distinguished with sufficient clearness in the teaching of the Church.235
However, the doctrine of the pre-existence of the soul was quite common in the early centuries of Christianity. This was quite natural since Christianity was in many respects a continuation of apocalyptic Judaism, in which various forms of the pre-existence doctrine were fundamental.236 The most well-known proponent of the pre-existence doctrine was Origen himself, who wrote during the early third century. Origen believed that God created a certain number of souls, all of them alike, and gave them free-will. These could, by their own choice, advance in glory and status by imitating God or rebel against Him, and except for Christ’s pre-existent soul, everyone opted to rebel to one extent or another. All those who rebelled experienced a “pre-cosmic fall,” and this gave rise to the various gradations of spiritual beings in the world.237
He created all whom He made equal and alike, because there was in Himself no reason for producing variety and diversity. But since those rational creatures themselves, as we have frequently shown, and will yet show in the proper place, were endowed with the power of free-will, this freedom of will incited each one either to progress by imitation of God, or reduced him to failure through negligence. And this, as we have already stated, is the cause of the diversity among rational creatures, deriving its origin not from the will or judgment of the Creator, but from the freedom of the individual will.238
This is very similar to Mormon doctrine. However, Origen is famous for his philosophic speculations (he was a thoroughgoing Platonist), so if he were the only (or first) proponent of this theory one might suspect it as his own invention. However, the doctrine does go back much earlier than Origen. For example, according to Peter in a second-century Christian document, theClementine Recognitions, ”after all these things He made man, on whose account He had prepared all things, whose internal species is older, and for whose sake all things that are were made . . . .”239 Regarding the “internal species” of man mentioned here, the Presbyterian translators of this passage declare in the footnote: “That is, his soul, according to the doctrine of the pre-existence of souls.”
Origen’s teacher, Clement of Alexandria, may have believed in some sort of pre-existence, as well. Commenting on Jeremiah 1:5 he wrote:
But the Lord hath also said in Jeremiah: “Say not that I am a youth: before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before I brought thee out of the womb I sanctified thee.” Such allusions prophecy can make to us, destined in the eye of God to faith before the foundation of the world; but now babes, through the recent fulfillment of the will of God, according to which we are born now to calling and salvation.240
It must be cautioned, however, that “if [Clement] accepts the pre-existence of souls, he does not allow uncreatedness.”241 But Clement’s idea of the origin of the soul may have been completely compatible with the LDS view, given the fact that he rejected creation ex nihilo, because Mormons believe that God affected a “spiritual creation” for humankind (and everything else) before the creation of the world242, even though the “intelligence” or bare essence of each soul has existed throughout eternity.
Justin Martyr must have held a similar view. While he taught that the world was made “for man’s sake”243, he also believed that souls must have been begotten at one time, even though they were begotten apart from (and presumably before) the body:
If the world is begotten, souls also are necessarily begotten; and perhaps at one time they were not in existence, for they were made on account of men and other living creatures, if you will say that they have been begotten wholly apart, and not along with their respective bodies.244
Similarly, the very early epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus insisted that the soul does not have its origin in the body, and that Christians think of themselves as strangers on the earth:
They [Christians] live on earth, but their citizenship is in Heaven . . . . As the soul lives in the body, yet does not have its origin in the body, so the Christians live in the world yet are not of the world . . . . Immortal, the soul lives in a mortal house; so too the Christians live in corruptible existence as strangers and look forward to incorruptible life in Heaven.245
The Codex Sinaiticus version of the Epistle of Barnabas may contain a reference to our participation in the premortal councils of God: “But we said above, ‘Let them increase, and rule over the fishes’ . . . . If, therefore, this does not exist at present, yet still He has promised it to us. When? When we ourselves also have been made perfect [so as] to become heirs of the covenant of the Lord.”246
Two of the earliest post-New Testament Christian writings, The Pastor of Hermas and 2 Clement claim that God created the Church even before he created the world. “She was created first of all . . . and for her sake was the world made.”247 ”Moreover, the books and the Apostles declare that the Church belongs not to the present, but existed from the beginning.”248
This concept is traced by R.G. Hammerton-Kelly, professor of New Testament at McCormick Theological Seminary, in his illuminating study of the idea of pre-existence in the New Testament. Hammerton-Kelly shows that not only is the pre-existence of Christ explicitly taught therein, but also the pre-existence of the Church is implied in many passages, including in Paul’s writings. “The main pre-existent entity, however, as far as Paul is concerned, is the Church. It is the heavenly city or heavenly temple, to be revealed at the end but pre-existent now in heaven.”249Hammerton-Kelly also finds this concept taught explicitly in John’s Revelation, and implicitly in the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John.250
But the Church was not just some abstract idea that existed in the mind of God before the foundation of the world–individual Christians also were pre-existent as part of the Church. Commenting on Paul’s doctrine of foreordination as expounded in Romans 8:28-30, Hammerton-Kelly explains that the Greek verb for “foreknow” used in the passage means “‘to take note of’, ‘to fix regard upon’ something, preliminary to selecting it for some special purpose.” But when did this selection occur? “Most commentators believe that it took place in the eternal counsels of God, before the creation of the world.”251 While the doctrine of the pre-existence of souls is never made explicit in the New Testament, there is no question but that it was part of the mindset of early Christians. As Hammerton-Kelly says about Paul:
One is impressed by the ease with which the idea of pre-existence is assumed as the background for certain aspects of Paul’s theology, especially for his doctrines of Christ and the Church . . . . Although Paul would never have used the term ‘pre-existence’, the concept which it describes is constitutive of his whole soteriological scheme.252
Albert Schweitzer agrees that “the Pauline mysticism is therefore nothing else than the doctrine of the making manifest in consequence of the death and resurrection of Jesus, of the pre-existent Church (the community of God).”253
The doctrine of the pre-existence is also found in a wide variety of Christian apocryphal literature. For instance in the Gospel of Thomas, which many believe to contain sayings of Jesus which are closer to His original statements than those found in the Gospels, Jesus said, “Blessed are the solitary and elect, for you shall find the Kingdom; because you come from it, (and) you shall go there again.”254 And the Christian Sibyllines state that “The world is my origin, but soul have I drawn from the stars.”255
Various of these texts also anticipate the Latter-day Saint doctrine that Jesus, the Holy Ghost, and Satan were members of the pre-existent family of God. Hennecke and Schneemelcher report that the writer of The Questions of Bartholomew, as well as a gnostic group called the Bogomils, taught that “Christus is the elder son of God, Satan . . . is the younger.”256 And in the GnosticPistis Sophia, Mary tells Jesus that the Holy Spirit appeared to her and said, “Where is Jesus, my brother, that I may meet him?”257 Indeed, even the undeniably orthodox Lactantius implied that Jesus and Satan were brothers.258
The Loss of the Doctrine of Pre-Existence
The doctrine of pre-existence was never formally condemned until 543 A.D. when Origen’s “errors” were listed and pronounced heretical at a council of bishops.259 So why did Christianity finally reject this doctrine? We can identify three possible reasons, which may have worked together against its acceptance. First, the doctrine may have come into disrepute in the second century, since it was a staple of the various gnostic systems.260
Second, the doctrine of pre-existence may have been part of the early Christian secret tradition. We shall discuss this secret tradition in a later chapter, but suffice it to say that the earliest Christians had certain doctrines and rites which they did not publicly speak about, and so in the event of an apostasy these would likely have been some of the first things to be lost. We can point to two clues that might indicate this was the case. We have seen that the New Testament writers often referred obliquely to the pre-existence, assuming the readers knew about it, but never teaching it in full detail. Also, a clue is given by the author of the Clementine Recognitions. It has already been shown that in this account Peter taught Clement the doctrine of pre-existence, but when the arch-heretic Simon Magus confronted Peter with the question of the origin of souls, Peter said:
You seem to me not to know what a father and a God is: but I could tell you both whence souls are, and when and how they were made; but it is not permitted to me now to disclose these things to you, who are in such error in respect of the knowledge of God.261
Third, the second century was the scene of an intense debate about the origin of souls and of the universe itself that affected the entire Hellenistic world, cutting across religious boundaries. The debate revolved around the interpretation of two statements by Plato. In the Timaeus, Plato described the creation of the soul, while in the Phaedrus, he argued that the soul was uncreated.262 Since Plato’s writings were considered to be a systematic whole, the argument centered on which statement to take literally, and which to take figuratively. This was not just some dry scholarly debate carried out by academics. Rather, this issue struck at the heart of the hopes and fears of the common man. An example of this can be seen in the Clementine Recognitions, where Clement of Rome described his teenage angst over this question:
I Clement, who was born in the city of Rome, was from my earliest age a lover of chastity; while the bent of my mind held me bound as with chains of anxiety and sorrow. For a thought that was in me–whence originating, I cannot tell–constantly led me to think of my condition of mortality, and to discuss such questions as these: Whether there be for me any life after death, or whether I am to be wholly annihilated: whether I did not exist before I was born, and whether there shall be no remembrance of this life after death, and so the boundlessness of time shall consign all things to oblivion and silence; so that not only we shall cease to be, but there shall be no remembrance that we have ever been. This also I revolved in my mind: when the world was made, or what was before it was made, or whether it has existed from eternity. For it seemed certain, that if it had been made, it must be doomed to dissolution; and if it be dissolved, what is to be afterwards?–unless, perhaps, all things shall be buried in oblivion and silence, or something shall be, which the mind of man cannot now conceive.263
Given that revelation had ceased and the possibility that the doctrine of pre-existence was part of the secret tradition, it is not at all surprising that a state of confusion existed in the second-century Church on this issue. As the intellectuals of the Church rapidly brought Greek philosophical methods and ideas into their theological discourse, they naturally became entangled in the same debate that affected the rest of the Hellenistic world. In the confusion they may have decided to reject the idea of pre-existence in reaction to its acceptance by the heretical gnostic schools.
Although we cannot be sure about the exact dynamics of the loss of the doctrine of pre-existence, the example of Augustine is perhaps illustrative of the process. Initially, Augustine favored a theory similar to Origen’s where the soul fell down into matter as a result of pre-cosmic sin.264 (Origen was a Platonist who believed matter to be a crass, lesser reality, so the descent of man into matter could not have been God’s fault!) However, Augustine still considered four hypotheses to be possible: “creationism, traducianism, and two variants on the soul as pre-existent: either it was divinely ‘sent’ or it sinfully ‘fell’ into the body.”265
As he struggled to choose between these theories he came up with a list of “certainties” about the soul to work from. First, he maintained that:
[The] soul cannot be ‘turned into’ a body, an irrational soul, or God; nor can any of these be ‘turned into’ a soul. Secondly, the soul cannot be anything else than a creature of God, Who cannot have made it out of a body, an irrational soul, or His own substance. He must, therefore, have made it either from nothing or from some reasonable, spiritual creature.266
So we see that the stage was set for Augustine’s abandonment of the pre-existence doctrine by his acceptance of the doctrines of God as a Platonic “essence or substance,” and creation ex nihilo, neither of which were present in the original Church.
Eventually, Augustine leaned toward a version of the traducianist theory, since it harmonized best with his view of original sin. (If all human souls were generated from Adam’s then all men would be guilty of Adam’s transgression.) However, he remained open to various forms of creationism and, despite his bias toward traducianism, near the end of his life Augustine confessed that he still did not have any idea how the soul came into being.267
By the fifth century, the issue had become polarized between pagans and Christians, with the pagans embracing creation from chaos and the eternal nature of the soul and the Christians asserting the creation of both from nothing. John Whittaker, of the Memorial University of Newfoundland, remarks on this situation: “Thus, the second century was a period of doubt and uncertainty preceding a period of dogmatic assurance. It is above all this uncertainty and hesitancy which give to the second century its peculiar quality.”268
If one accepts the idea of a pre-existent creation of humanity, that in some way we are the offspring of Deity (Acts 17:28), and if one adds to this Jesus’ commandment that we be perfect as the Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48), then one might argue that we have the potential to become like our creator, at least in some ways and to some degree. In a revelation given to Joseph Smith, the promise is made that those who are faithful will be given all things which the Father has (D&C 84:38), including, one may presume, all his knowledge, power and glory. This then is basis for the radical but truly glorious Latter-day Saint belief that God’s highest aspiration is for his creatures to become like Him, and that His greatest glory is in sharing His glory with us, His sons and daughters. This is what it means in Latter-day Saint doctrine to become gods. Joseph Smith taught that those who fully keep God’s law will “be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them.” (D&C 132:20) Perhaps nothing in Mormon doctrine has so shocked and dismayed the Christian world, even though the Latter-day Saints believe that we will always be the sons and daughters of God, subordinate and dependent upon Him.269
Deification in the Bible
Latter-day Saints find a great deal of support for their belief about exaltation to godhood within the pages of the Bible itself. While not explicitly stating the doctrine, many scriptures point toward it. For example, John wrote, “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.” (1 John 3:2.) And Jesus Christ told John that, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” (Revelation 3:21) Also, “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.” (Revelation 21:7) Paul wrote to the Romans, “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 . . .” (Romans 8:16-17) 270
Deification in Early Christianity
Can these verses be interpreted to mean that men can become beings like God Himself? A host of early Christian writers testify that this is exactly what the early Christian Church believed. Indeed, Kelly explains that the doctrine that the final Christian hope was deification and “participation in the divine nature” permeated the early theology of Christianity.271
Perhaps this important belief is best summed up by Irenaeus, who wrote in the latter half of the second century that “we have not been made gods from the beginning, but at first merely men, then at length gods . . . .”272 He also wrote, “our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.”273 Justin Martyr, in the middle of the second century, said that “all men are deemed worthy of becoming ‘gods,’ and of having power to become sons of the Highest . . . .”274Jerome, who translated the Bible into Latin, wrote that God, “made man for that purpose, that from men they may become gods.”275 Clement of Alexandria explained that true knowledge of the divine leads to godhood:
Whence at last . . . it is that knowledge is committed to those fit and selected for it. It leads us to the endless and perfect end, teaching us beforehand the future life that we shall lead, according to God, and with gods; after we are freed from all punishment and penalty which we undergo, in consequence of our sins, for salutary discipline. After which redemption the reward and the honours are assigned to those who have become perfect; when they have got done with purification, and ceased from all service, though it be holy service, and among saints. Then become pure in heart, and near to the Lord, there awaits them restoration to everlasting contemplation; and they are called by the appellation of gods, being destined to sit on thrones with the other gods that have been first put in their places by the Saviour.276
Although mainline Christians often scoff at the Latter-day Saints for interpreting 1 Corinthians 8:5-6 to mean that there are actually beings “in heaven” who “are called gods” other than the One God we worship, Origen agreed that the passage does not have reference only to false gods:
Now it is possible that some may dislike what we have said representing the Father as the one true God, but admitting other beings besides the true God, who have become gods by having a share of God. They may fear that the glory of Him who surpasses all creation may be lowered to the level of those other beings called gods. We drew this distinction between Him and them that we showed God the Word to be to all the other gods the minister of their divinity . . . . As, then, there are many gods, but to us there is but one God the Father, and many Lords, but to us there is one Lord, Jesus Christ . . . .277
Statements such as these led Christian scholar G.L. Prestige to conclude that the ancient Christians “taught that the destiny of man was to become like God, and even to become deified.”278
Objections to the LDS Doctrine
Unfortunately, the doctrine of deification was gradually diluted. Some critics of the LDS Church have appropriated the statements of later theologians, claiming that although the Church Fathers certainly used unorthodox language to express their views on the subject, deification to them meant nothing more than “endowing [Christians] in the resurrection with immortality and God’s perfect moral character.”279 As Robert M. Bowman, Jr. argues, “Thus, the meaning of deification in Mormonism is radically different than that of the church fathers who used similar terms, despite Mormon arguments to the contrary.”280
To bolster his argument, Bowman cites only Augustine and Athanasius, both of whom were steeped in Nicene Trinitarianism. Given the fact that these theologians believed in the indivisible, eternal, unchanging “Divine Substance” theory of the Trinity, and rejected the pre-existence of humankind, it is obvious why they would conclude that the final deity of man must be fundamentally different than that of the Godhead. According to Davies, Athanasius drew a distinction between the deity of men, who can only be divine by participation in the “Divine Substance,” and that of the Godhead, who are the “Divine Substance.”281 ”Thus He is Son of God by nature, and we by grace.”282 The same belief is held in the Eastern Orthodox tradition today, but the doctrine of deification was completely lost in the West because they saw it as a negation of God’s essential unity and simplicity.283
But what about the earlier theologians–the ones who did not accept the doctrine of the Trinity in its full sense, and perhaps even rejected creation ex nihilo? How did they interpret the language of deification? In many cases it is clear that they were more emphatic in their deification language than the later Fathers, but in most cases they were not very precise about what they meant. However, in the fourth century Gregory of Nazianzus gave us a key by which we may interpret how any particular early Christian felt about this issue: “I too might be made God so far as He is made Man.”284
To what extent did Jesus become man? In our discussion of the Logos doctrine we saw that for later thinkers at least part of Jesus (i.e., the Logos) was never really touched or changed by Jesus’ human nature, so for them evidently men could never become God in as full a sense as Jesus was. On the other hand, we must remember that these same churchmen believed that Jesus’ human nature was deified at Christ’s resurrection. For instance, Athanasius taught:
For as Christ died and was exalted as man, so, as man, is He said to take what, as God, He ever had, that even such a grant of grace might reach to us. For the Word was not impaired in receiving a body, that He should seek to receive a grace, but rather He deified that which He put on, and more than that, ‘gave’ it graciously to the race of man.285
So what happened to Christ’s human nature according to the later theology? It was deified in some very real sense, and human beings can become deified in exactly the same sense. Certainly this is not the same as the LDS doctrine, but neither is it the same as saying that human beings can only reach the status of angels.
When we go back further in history, we encounter those, like Eusebius and Origen, who taught that Christ Himself was infinitely surpassed by the Father. For them, the Father was “the One,” while the Son was only an image of the Father. How did they view human deification? Eusebius taught that “the saints also can enjoy precisely the same kind of fellowship with the Father” as Jesus Christ.286
Origen believed that Jesus was one of a multitude of spiritual beings (including humans) created by God. Jesus had a human body and a human soul, and he was “God” by virtue of having perfectly attached Himself to the Logos of the Father. Thus Origen could teach that “with respect to His mortal body, and the human soul which it contained, we assert that not by their communion merely with Him, but by their unity and intermixture, they received the highest powers, and after participating in His divinity, were changed into God.”287 Therefore, although Origen recognized that Jesus would remain higher in rank than those who followed after Him, he taught that humans could become Gods in exactly the same sense as Jesus did–an image of the prototype:
And thus the first-born of all creation, who is the first to be with God, and to attract to Himself divinity, is a being of more exalted rank than the other gods beside Him, of whom God is the God, as it is written, “The God of gods, the Lord, hath spoken and called the earth.” It was by the offices of the first-born that they became gods, for He drew from God in generous measure that they should be made gods, and He communicated it to them according to His own bounty. The true God, then, is “The God,” and those who are formed after Him are gods, images, as it were, of Him the prototype.288
Furthermore, Origen claimed that God
will be ‘all’ in each individual in this way: when all which any rational understanding, cleansed from the dregs of every sort of vice, and with every cloud of wickedness completely swept away, can either feel, or understand, or think, will be wholly God . . . .289
And he dismissed the distinction Athanasius made between deity in itself and deity by participation: “Every one who participates in anything, is unquestionably of one essence and nature with him who is partaker of the same thing.”290
Earlier in this chapter we saw that for Justin Martyr the Father was “the One,” while Jesus was a “second God” with anthropomorphic characteristics. With that in mind, consider the following statement by Justin: “We reverence and worship Him and the Son who came forth from Him and taught us these things, and the host of other good angels who are about Him and are made quite like Him, and the Prophetic Spirit.”291 Father William Jurgens insists that this is the correct translation of Justin’s statement, and admits that here Justin “apparently [made] insufficient distinction between Christ and the created Angels.” Father Jurgens continues, “There are theological difficulties in the above passage, no doubt. But we wonder if those who make a great deal of these difficulties do not demand of Justin a theological sophistication which a man of his time and background could not rightly be expected to have.”292 If Justin, with his lack of “theological sophistication,” could blur the fundamental distinction between Christ, the Spirit, and the angels, it is certain that when he said, “all men are deemed worthy of becoming ‘gods,’”293 he meant that humans can be “made quite like” Jesus Christ.
Clearly then, thinkers such as Eusebius, Origen, and Justin would have repudiated any notion of the saints becoming part of “the One,” but they did teach that men may participate in deity and become “God” in the same sense that Christ is God.294
Similarly, Peter in the Clementine Homilies taught that all humans are of the same substance of God, so it is no more improper to call Christ “God” than it is to call any other human a “god”:
Learn this also: The bodies of men have immortal souls, which have been clothed with the breath of God; and having come forth from God, they are of the same substance, but they are not gods. But if they are gods, then in this way the souls of all men, both those who have died, and those who are alive, and those who shall come into being, are gods. But if in a spirit of controversy you maintain that these also are gods, what great matter is it, then, for Christ to be called God? for He has only what all have.295
This reference to the Jewish-Christian Homilies brings us back to the era when many Christians had an extremely anthropomorphic concept of God. To what extent did Jesus become a man? “He has only what all have.” To what extent are men related to God? Although they are not gods at this point, “they are of the same substance.” Obviously, any concept of deification with them would have been much closer to the LDS belief, because for them there was no great chasm between human nature and divine nature.
In any case, the early Fathers were often much more emphatic in their deification language than the later churchmen. For instance, Irenaeus taught that the saints would pass “beyond the angels, and be made after the image and likeness of God”296, and that they would attain “even unto God.”297 Lactantius taught that the chaste man will become “identical in all respects with God (consimilis Deo).”298 And Clement of Alexandria preached the following:
It is then, as appears, the greatest of all lessons to know one’s self. For if one knows himself, he will know God; and knowing God, he will be made like God . . . . But that man with whom the Word dwells does not alter himself, does not get himself up: he has the form which is of the Word; he is made like to God; he is beautiful; he does not ornament himself: his is beauty, the true beauty, for it is God; and that man becomes God, since God so wills. Heraclitus, then, rightly said, “Men are gods, and gods are men.”299
Finally, Peter himself told the saints that they would “come to share in the very being of God.” (2 Peter 1:4 NEB) Therefore, according to many early Christian writers, we will not, in the end, be fundamentally different than God, or at least than Christ.
We have seen that there were a variety of interpretations of the doctrine of deification in ancient Christianity. And although the earliest Christians undoubtedly had a concept of divinization that was very close to the LDS belief, even the doctrine of some of the later church Fathers was emphatically not limited to the modern dogma that men can only become angels. Thus, non-Mormon scholar Ernst Benz can say of Joseph Smith’s doctrine:
One can think what one wants of this doctrine of progressive deification, but one thing is certain: with this anthropology Joseph Smith is closer to the view of man held by the Ancient Church than the precursors of the Augustinian doctrine of original sin were, who considered the thought of such a substantial connection between God and man as the heresy, par excellence.300
The Deification of God
One final point should be brought out about Joseph Smith’s teachings concerning deification. While it is true that the final doctrine revealed to the Prophet about God–that “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!”301–is not advocated by any of the early Christian Fathers, it is fair to say that every other doctrine leading up to this conclusion was present in early Christianity, and perhaps this further knowledge was lost with the Apostles. In any case, Joseph Smith preached that “things that have not been before revealed” would be known in this dispensation,302 so the fact that the one doctrine at the pinnacle of his teaching on this subject is missing in early Christian literature is perfectly consistent with his claims.303
Does this doctrine contradict the scriptures? Even the Book of Mormon states, “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) In order to understand the LDS view, our readers will have to step into an ancient Hebrew mindset for a moment. The ancient Greeks were absolutely enamored with metaphysics–with “being,” “essence,” “eternity,” etc. The Greek philosophers pondered incessantly about how the material world relates to the true reality, whereas for the Hebrews the material world was reality. When they wrote about God, they didn’t obsess about his “being” or “essence,” but rather focused on His relationship to men and the world. Likewise, when they spoke of God’s nature and eternity, they used relative terms–relative, that is, to them. For example, many of the Biblical passages which speak of God’s immutability do so in terms of His honesty, justice, mercy, and constancy. (See Titus 1:2; Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; Hebrews 6:18; Genesis 18:25; Ezekiel 18:14-32; Isaiah 46:10-11; Mark 13:31; Matt. 24:35; Luke 1:20; James 1:17; Daniel 6:26: Hebrews 6:18-19) Christopher Stead explains, “The Old Testament writers sometimes speak of God as unchanging . . . . In Christian writers influenced by Greek philosophy this doctrine is developed in an absolute metaphysical sense. Hebrew writers are more concrete, and their thinking includes two main points: (1) God has the dignity appropriate to old age, but without its disabilities . . . ; and (2) God is faithful to his covenant promises, even though men break theirs . . . .”304 (Cf. Isaiah 40:28; Exodus 34:9-10) When God is described as “From everlasting to everlasting” (Psalm 41:13 NEB), the word translated as “everlasting” is the Hebrew olam, which means “(practically) eternity” or “time out of mind.”305Another Psalm (104:5 New American Standard Bible) says that God “established the earth upon its foundations, so that it will not totter forever and ever.” And yet Isaiah (24:20 NEB) saw a future time when “the earth reels to and fro like a drunken man . . . .” To the Hebrew mind these passages were not contradictory, because terms like “everlasting” and “forever” were relative terms, and they had no conception of “eternity” and “infinity” as modern people see them.
So it is with the Latter-day Saints. We see such scriptural statements about the “everlasting” and “unchanging” God as an indication of God’s perfect and unchanging moral character, as well as God’s eternity relative to men. God is spoken of as the “only true God,” because in relation to us this is perfectly true. Given this Hebrew mindset, it is easy to see how Latter-day Saints can accept the biblical statements about God and also believe that God was once a man, having a Father Himself. And as it turns out, some early Christians may have believed the same type of doctrine. Consider the reasoning of Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. 180 A.D.) while arguing against the Gnostic belief that the Creator was only a secondary God.306 Irenaeus pounded home the fact that the true God is the Creator, but what about the possibility that there is a God above God? And what was God doing before the creation of the world? Irenaeus cited Matthew 24:36, where Christ indicates that only the Father knows the time of the Second Advent, and asserted that since even Jesus doesn’t know everything, we ought to leave such unrevealed questions to God.
“If, for instance, any one asks, ‘What was God doing before He made the world?’ we reply that the answer to such a question lies with God Himself. For that this world was formed perfect by God, receiving a beginning in time, the Scriptures teach us; but no Scripture reveals to us what God was employed about before this event . . . . The Father, therefore, has been declared by our Lord to excel with respect to knowledge; for this reason, that we, too, as long as we are connected with the scheme of things in this world, should leave perfect knowledge, and such questions [as have been mentioned], to God, and should not by any chance, while we seek to investigate the sublime nature of the Father, fall into the danger of starting the question whether there is another God above God.”307
Certainly Irenaeus believed no such thing, though he came as close as possible to this view, given his own Greek conception of God (which he quoted almost verbatim from the philosopher Xenophanes).308 Irenaeus taught that though at first we are “merely men,” we can become “at length gods . . . .”309 He also wrote, “our Lord Jesus Christ, who did . . . become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.”310 However, for him God was the “uncreated One” of the philosophers, and everything else was created from nothing, so “inasmuch as they are not uncreated, for this very reason do they come short of the perfect.” Men who become gods will “receive a faculty of the Uncreated,” and God “shall overcome the substance of created nature” by bestowing eternal life. Progress toward godhood will result in “approximating to the uncreated One” and bring one “nigh unto God,” but in the final analysis men will still be contingent beings.311 Irenaeus was not shy at all about labeling the Gnostic heresies as damnable and ridiculous falsehoods, yet in this case his language was strangely subdued. It is not clear whether this particular doctrine had been revealed to the early Christians, but certainly the Hebrew conception of God had not died out in all quarters of the Church, and in this mindset these “speculations” could be seen as a distinct possibility. There were some Christians–”orthodox” Christians–who were “speculating” about these things, or Irenaeus would have said things differently.
Conclusion: The True Nature of the Universe
What is the nature of God? What is the nature of humankind? What relationship does the material universe have to the things of the spirit? All of these questions lead back to the question of what the nature of the Universe itself is. The answers one chooses cannot be verified experimentally–they are just assumed, and these assumptions dictate how one interprets the various passages of scripture. Protestant theologian Elmer Towns of Liberty University explains that a system of doctrine may be completely consistent with itself, but still be inconsistent with “natural revelation,” or the nature of the Universe: “A system of theology may be a consistent doctrinal system, but when the second test is applied, its theory does not correspond with truth found in natural revelation.”312
It has been shown that the Universe revealed through Joseph Smith is closer to the earliest Christian cosmology than the Universe of mainstream Christian thought. But isn’t it conceivable that God just allowed the Church to believe in fantasies about material Gods and creation out of chaos until it was ready to accept the truth, which God brought into the Church through Greek philosophy? Indeed, many historians of early Christianity accept the fact that Greek philosophical tenets were adopted into the Church, but believe it was actually a good thing! Finally the Church was grounded on a solid foundation of Reason, they say.
However, Joseph Smith presents us with a dilemma. If he was not inspired by God to restore the original doctrines, which represent the true nature of the Universe, where did he get them? At a time when not much information was available about the early Church, Joseph Smith came up with exactly the type of doctrines that were believed by these primitive saints. Was Joseph inspired by God? By Satan? Did he just get lucky? The reader must answer these questions for himself.
Note 1: The “Angel of God’s Presence” in Abraham 1:15-16
One of the most striking extra-biblical accounts in the Book of Abraham is the story of Abraham’s harrowing escape from the idolatrous priests who were about to sacrifice him.
And as they lifted up their hands upon me, that they might offer me up and take away my life, behold, I lifted up my voice unto the Lord my God and the Lord hearkened and heard, and he filled me with the vision of the Almighty, and the angel of his presence stood by me, and immediately unloosed my bands; And his voice was unto me: Abraham, Abraham, behold, my name is Jehovah, and I have heard thee, and have come down to deliver thee, and to take thee away from thy father’s house, and from all thy kinsfolk, into a strange land which thou knowest not of . . . . (Abraham 1:15-16)
Certainly the passage seems innocuous enough at first glance, but upon reflection certain phrases in this passage become troubling. The angel figure who came to save Abraham is identified as the “angel of [God's] presence,” a rather unusual phrase, but on the other hand the angel identifies himself as Jehovah! Was the “angel of the presence” merely a messenger, speaking as if he were Jehovah, or was this actually the manifestation of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? The answer is given away when Jehovah says, “I have heard thee, and have come down to deliver thee . . . .” And so we can be reasonably sure that Jehovah himself was the “angel of God’s presence.”
Within LDS theology, this designation is certainly not commonplace, but it would be an acceptable one for Jehovah (or Yahweh), who was the preincarnate Jesus Christ. Thus, Jehovah is the Word, the messenger (Greek angellos) of salvation, the Son of God who is one in Godhead with His Father (Elohim or El Elyon = “God Most High”), but in another sense a “second God,” the greatest of the sons of God. In other words, for Latter-day Saints it would not be a contradiction to designate Jehovah as both an “angel” and “God.”
No doubt this is blatant heresy for both modern Judaism and mainstream Christianity, which make no distinction between Elohim and Yahweh, but recently many (non-Mormon) scholars have begun to recognize that not only were the Most High God and Yahweh conceived of as distinct beings in the oldest stratum of Israelite and early Christian thought, but Yahweh (and later Jesus) were given the designation “Angel of the Presence.” We will now examine some of the evidence for this interpretation.
The “Angel(s) of the Presence”
We have seen in this chapter that Yahweh was originally thought of as both God and angel, but what of this strange title, “Angel of the Presence”? Barker intimates that this was once one of Yahweh’s titles as well, which was later given to the archangels.313 Segal explains that whoever was designated as the chief angel in the Israelite literature was also given the title “Angel of the Presence,” and was regarded as superior to the others. 314
Accordingly, Luke and the apocryphal book of Tobit refer to angels who stand in the presence of God. “And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God . . . .” (Luke 1:19, KJV) “I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand in attendance on the Lord and enter his glorious presence.” (Tobit 12:15, NEB) However, Isaiah is the only Biblical writer to use the phrase “angel of his presence.” Speaking of the goodness of Yahweh toward the house of Israel, the Hebrew text of Isaiah 63:8-9 (followed by the KJV) reads: “For he [Yahweh] said, Surely they are my people, children that will not lie: so he was their Saviour. In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them . . . .” It is clear from the text that Yahweh saved his people by the “angel of his presence,” but it is not at all evident that Yahweh was equated with this angel, although this is most certainly the case. The ancient translators of the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint or LXX, translated in the second and third centuries B.C.) knew of this tradition, and therefore made no reference to the “angel of his presence,” but translated the verse in question as, “It was no envoy, no angel, but he himself that delivered them.” (Isaiah 63:9, NEB) Clearly, Yahweh was the “angel of his presence.”
Jesus as Yahweh and the “Angel of the Presence”
The belief in Yahweh as Israel’s second God, the chief angel, was the basis of early Christian Christology. But even more to the point is Jean Daniélou’s claim that in certain early Jewish Christian traditions both Jesus and the Holy Spirit were believed to be the two “Angels of the Presence transcending all others.”315
We have established that Abraham’s identification of Yahweh with “the angel of his presence” was consistent with the earliest Israelite traditions, and with the earliest Christian traditions. But if we assume, as the critics of the Book of Abraham do, that Joseph Smith created this remarkable document by applying his fertile imagination to the sources he had at hand, how did he come up with this strange designation for Yahweh? The only Biblical source for the phrase would have been Isaiah 63:9, but we have seen that this verse gives no hint that Yahweh was equated with ”the angel of his presence.” This conclusion can only be drawn when the Greek text is compared with the Hebrew. However, it seems unlikely that Joseph Smith had access to a translation of the Septuagint, so again we are at a loss to find a source for the Prophet’s teaching. Consider also that we have not been able to find even a single case where Joseph Smith used this title to refer to Yahweh, apart from this solitary passage in the Book of Abraham, or even to the Septuagint. Therefore, we are forced to conclude that Joseph Smith was inconceivably lucky in his choice of words, or the Patriarch Abraham actually chose these words to describe his God.
Note 2: The Pre-Existence in Judaism
Hammerton-Kelly reports that “the idea that certain things pre-exist in the mind of God or in heaven has a long history in the Biblical and early Jewish traditions.”316 For instance, “in Job 15:8 the primal man is pictured in the council of the gods before the world was made . . . .”317 Also, the translation of Jeremiah 23:18 in the New English Bible has the Lord rebuking the false prophets, because they were not foreordained in the pre-mortal council: “But which of them has stood in the council of the LORD, seen him and heard his word?” E. Theodore Mullen explains: “The divine council formed the background for prophecy . . . . This is the true prophet’s claim to authority. From the pronouncement of the council he receives the decree that he is to deliver. Those prophets who have not participated in the council are unable to proclaim the divine decree.”318
An intriguing account of the great council occurs in the apocryphal Apocalypse of Abraham, which had its origin in Judaism but in its present form has been modified by Jewish Christian groups. (Note the similarities between this ancient account of Abraham’s vision of the council and that translated by Joseph Smith in Abraham 3, quoted above.)
And everything I had planned to be came into being: it was already pre-figured in this, for all the things and all the people you have seen stood before me before they were created. And I said, Mighty and Eternal Ruler, who then are the people in this picture on this side and on that? And he said to me, Those on the left side are the many peoples which have existed in the past, and after you are appointed, some for judgement and restoration, some for vengeance and perdition, until the end of the age. And those on the right side of the picture, they are the people set apart for me from the people with Azazil [Satan]. These are the people who are going to spring from you and will be called my people.319
Additionally, David Winston reports that the Bereshith Rabba and Ruth Rabba tell of God consulting the souls of the righteous before deciding to create the world.320 The Wisdom of Solomon, in the Apocrypha, states: “As a child I was born to excellence, and a noble soul fell to my lot; or rather, I myself was noble; and I entered into an unblemished body.”321 The Midrash Kee Tovstates that all the souls of the righteous, including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, etc. “were with God before the creation of the world.”322 And an important Jewish theologian at about the time of Christ, Philo, taught that “the heavenly man is God’s offspring . . . while the earthly man is merely the work of an artificer.”323
Origen quoted a Jewish apocryphal document called the Prayer of Joseph, which asserted that Jacob was one of the archangels in his premortal existence:
Thus Jacob says: “I, Jacob, who speak to you, arid Israel, I am an angel of God, a ruling spirit, and Abraham and Isaac were created before every work of God; and I am Jacob, called Jacob by men, but my name is Israel, called Israel by God, a man seeing God, because I am the first-born of every creature which God caused to live.”324
The Enoch texts also contain the common element of the pre-existence. (This is significant, since the early Christians apparently took at least one of these documents very seriously. Indeed, Jude referred to one of them in his general epistle. (See Jude 1:14) 2 Enoch states that, “all souls are prepared to eternity, before the formation of the world,”325 and cites Adam as the prime example:
And I placed on the earth, a second angel, honorable, great and glorious, and I appointed him as ruler to rule on earth and to have my wisdom, and there was none like him of earth of all my existing creatures . . . . I called his name Adam.326
Also, 1 Enoch relates that before God created the world he held a consultation with the souls of the righteous.327
These passages from the Enoch literature are also important because they are some of the stock texts of the Jewish Apocalyptic genre, and many scholars see “Jewish apocalyptic as the dominant conceptual framework of earliest Christianity.”328 Indeed, the Revelation of John is more properly titled the “Apocalypse of John.” Therefore, the source from which the earliest Christians got their doctrine of the pre-existence seems obvious, but some may be surprised to learn that the belief that men, angels and gods are of the same race may have been the original Jewish belief, as well. This, of course, is the essence of the Latter-day Saint doctrine. According to The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia the heavenly beings, including Jehovah, who appeared to Abraham in Genesis 18 and 19 were originally referred to simply as “men.”
They appear in the guise of human beings and, probably for want of a better term, the story speaks of them as “men.” In the continuation of the narrative they are twice called “angels” (Gen. 19:1, 15), but the very fact that the story continues to speak of them also and more frequently as “men” (Gen. 19:5, 8, 10, 12 and 16) indicates that the term “angel” was undoubtedly substituted by a later age for the original term “men.”329
1 Joseph Smith, in TPJS 324.
2 E. Calvin Beisner, God in Three Persons (Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1978), 19.
3 Decker and Hunt, The God Makers, 11, 31.
4 Some who doubt the Trinitarian doctrine point out that the Greek “theos en ho logos” may be translated “the Word was God” or “the Word was a God.” While this is demonstrably true, it is not an issue for Latter-day Saints, so I mention this fact only in passing.
5 Joseph Smith, in TPJS 370-371, emphasis in original.
6 Joseph Smith, in TPJS 370.
7 See also Ignatius, Ephesians 4, in ANF 1:51.
8 Joseph Smith, in TPJS 372-373.
9 Joseph Smith, in TPJS 312.
10 Joseph Smith, in TPJS 345.
11 Joseph Smith, in TPJS 345-346.
12 Nicene Creed, in NPNF Series 1, 14:3, brackets in original.
13 From the Greek ousia. The Nicene Creed uses the word homoousios, meaning “of the same substance or essence.” The common notion of the Trinity as a single person who dons three different masks in order to relate to humanity is actually a heresy called modalism, which was condemned by Catholic councils. Beisner, God in Three Persons, 18.
14 Wiles, The Making of Christian Doctrine, 144.
15 For an excellent summary of how this terminology was used by different parties at different times, see Christopher Stead, Divine Substance (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994).
16 ECD 15-16.
17 ECD 15-16.
18 Karl Jaspers, The Great Philosophers, 4 vols. (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1981), 3:13. Compare these statements by Xenophanes and Empedocles with those in theWestminster Confession of Faith (written in 1646 as a creed for the “Reformed” churches which originated with the work of Zwingli and Calvin,) and with the Vatican Council of 1871. TheWestminster Confession defines God as “infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible. . . .”The Westminster Confession of Faith in John H. Leith, Creeds of the Churches-A Reader in Christian Doctrine From the Bible to the Present (New York: Anchor Books, 1963), 197. Similarly, the Vatican Council explained that God is “eternal, immense, incomprehensible,. . . who, being a unique spiritual substance by nature, absolutely simple and unchangeable, must be declared distinct from the world in fact and by essence. . . .” George Brantl, Catholicism (New York: George Braziller, 1962), 41.
19 Empedocles, in Jaspers, The Great Philosophers, vol. 3, 51.
20 Stead, Divine Substance, 187-188. See also, V.A. Harvey, A Handbook of Theological Terms (New York: Macmillan, 1964), 129.
21 Edwin Hatch asserts:
The earliest forms of Christianity were not only outside the sphere of Greek philosophy, but they also appealed, on the one hand, mainly to the classes which philosophy did not reach, and, on the other hand, to a standard which philosophy did not recognize. Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages upon the Christian Church, 124.
22 For a more complete discussion of the influence of Greek philosophy on Christian theology, as well as an excellent biblically-based defense of related LDS doctrines, see Richard R. Hopkins,How Greek Philosophy Corrupted the Christian Concept of God (Bountiful, UT: Horizon Publishers & Distributors, Inc., 1998).
23 Plutarch, quoted in Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel 14:16, translated by E.H. Gifford (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1903), 812.
24 Numenius, quoted by Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel 11:10, p. 566.
25 Athenagoras, A Plea Regarding Christians 10, in ANF 2:133.
26 Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 5:12, in ANF 2:464.
27 Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2:13:3, in ANF 1:374. In the case of Irenaeus, mainstream Christians often object that he was taught by Polycarp, who was a hearer of John, and Irenaeus was supremely concerned with preserving the “tradition” he had inherited against the heretics. Certainly this is true, but it is not clear how well Irenaeus was instructed by Polycarp, and it is completely clear that he was guilty of importing Greek philosophical tenets into the Christian faith. In a postscript to his translation of Cardinal Daniélou ‘s Gospel Message and Hellenistic Culture, John Austin Baker summarizes Daniélou ‘s findings on Irenaeus: “Devoted as he was to the detailed content of the Tradition, he was nevertheless profoundly original in the large perspectives within which he organised that content.” Daniélou, Gospel Message and Hellenistic Culture, 503.
28 Tertullian, Against Marcion 2:27, in ANF 3:319.
29 anthropomorphic = “in the form of man”
30 Grace Jantzen, God’s World, God’s Body (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1984), 23. An example of this bias can be seen in the following quotation of the Greek poet, Aeshylus: “Afar from mortals place the holy God, nor ever think that He, like to thyself, in fleshly robes is clad; for all unknown is the great God to such a worm as thou.” Aeshylus, quoted by Justin Martyr, On the Sole Government of God 2, in ANF 1:290.
31 Cherbonnier, E. LaB., “In Defense of Anthropomorphism,” in Madsen, ed., Reflections on Mormonism: Judaeo-Christian Parallels, 162; cf. G.E. Wright, God Who Acts (London: SCM Press, 1952), 49-50.
32 Stead, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity, 120.
33 Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports About Christianity and Gnosticism (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1977), 149.
34 Clementine Homilies 16:19, in ANF 8:316. The Clementine Recognitions also seem to imply that God is cognizable only through the senses:
Then said Peter: “Give us then, as I have often said, as being yourself a new God, or as having yourself come down from him, some new sense, by means of which we may know that new God of whom you speak; for those five senses, which God our Creator has given us, keep faith to their own Creator, and do not perceive that there is any other God, for so their nature necessitates them.” Peter, in Clementine Recognitions 2:60, in ANF 8:114.
35 Clementine Homilies 17:7, in ANF 8:319-320. The Homilies also address the problem raised by John 1:18: “No man hath seen God at any time. . . .” How could anyone know what shape the Father has, if no one has ever seen Him? And what of Joseph Smith’s claim to have seen the Father? The LDS explanation is that one may see the face of God only if one is protected by the “glory of the Lord.” Otherwise one cannot endure His presence. See Moses 1:2, 13-14. Peter, in the Homilies, offers a similar explanation:
For I maintain that the eyes of mortals cannot see the incorporeal form of the Father or Son, because it is illumined by exceeding great light. . . . For he who sees God cannot live. For the excess of light dissolves the flesh of him who sees; unless by the secret power of God the flesh be changed into the nature of light, so that it can see light. . . . Clementine Homilies 17:16, in ANF 8:322-323.
36 The Gospel of Bartholomew, in ANT, 172.
37 Wand, A History of the Early Church to A.D. 500, 209-210.
38 Elizabeth A. Clark, The Origenist Controversy: The Cultural Construction of an Early Christian Debate (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), 66.
39 Wand, A History of the Early Church to A.D. 500, 181.
40 Daniélou, The Theology of Jewish Christianity, 50.
41 Origen, Against Celsus 7:27, in ANF 4:621.
42 David L. Paulsen, “Early Christian Belief in a Corporeal Deity: Origen and Augustine as Reluctant Witnesses,” Harvard Theological Review 83 (1990): 111-112. Certainly the learned Melito could not have been one of the simpletons Origen referred to in Against Celsus. Gennadius recorded that not only did Melito write a large number of theological books, including one On the Corporeality of God, but “he was considered a prophet by many of us.” Gennadius, in NPNF Series 2, 3:368-369.
43 Origen, De Principiis Preface 9, in ANF 4:241.
44 Origen, Homilies on Genesis 3:1, translated by Ronald E. Heine (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1982), FC 71:89.
45 Augustine, Confessions 5:10, in NPNF Series 1, 1:86.
46 Augustine, Confessions 5:14 and 6:3, in NPNF Series 1, 1:88, 91.
47 Augustine, quoted in David L. Paulsen, “The Doctrine of Divine Embodiment: Restoration, Judeo-Christian, and Philosophical Perspectives,” BYU Studies 35 (1995-1996): 76.
48 Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho 127, in ANF 1:263. Interestingly enough, Justin chided the Jews for believing that it was the Father himself who appeared to men:
And again, when He says, “I shall behold the heavens, the works of Thy fingers,” unless I understand His method of using words, I shall not understand intelligently, but just as your teachers suppose, fancying that the Father of all, the unbegotten God, has hands and feet, and fingers, and a soul, like a composite being; and they for this reason teach that it was the Father Himself who appeared to Abraham and to Jacob. Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho 114, in ANF 1:256.
49 Justin Martyr, On the Resurrection 7, in ANF 1:297.
50 Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 113, in ANF 1:255.
51 Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4:3:1, in ANF 1:465, brackets in original. This quotation is interesting because here Irenaeus was arguing against the Valentinian Gnostics, who believed in a high God as “the One” and a lower demiurge or creator god who was responsible for the evil of the material world. Irenaeus attempted to prove that the Father was the creator, so that is why he took issue with their belief in an anthropomorphic creator god, but in essence the Gnostic position on anthropomorphism was no different from his, for they both posited a high God as “the One” and a lower anthropomorphic God.
52 Irenaeus, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching 11, in ACW 16:54; cf. Against Heresies 5:6:1, in ANF 1:531.
53 Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4:7:2-4, in ANF 1:470, brackets in original. Notice that here, like Justin, Irenaeus acknowledged that the Jews, for the most part, still accepted the anthropomorphic character of the Most High God.
54 E.g. the New King James Version, the New English Bible, the Bible in Basic English, the Revised Standard Version, the New Revised Standard Version, and the New American Standard Version; cf. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, 225; also Brown, The Gospel According to John (i-xii,) 167, 172.
55 E.g. see Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, 225; also Brown, The Gospel According to John (i-xii,) 167, 172. For an example of a translation which utilizes this wording, see the NEB.
56 Stead, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity, 98.
57 ”Scripture does say, of course, that God is Spirit (pneuma.) But pneuma, in the Greek text of that time, did not necessarily indicate incorporeality as we would expect; in fact, it was sometimes taken to imply the reverse.” Jantzen, God’s World, God’s Body, 22.
58 Harnack, History of Dogma, 1:180 n. 1.
59 I.e. his concept of God has been described as a “thinking gas.” Hansen, R., “The Achievement of Orthodoxy in the Fourth Century AD,” in Rowan Williams, ed., The Making of Orthodoxy: Essays in Honour of Henry Chadwick (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 151-152.
60 Tertullian, Against Praxeas 7, in ANF 3:602.
61 Origen, De Principiis 1:1:1, in ANF 4:242; cf. De Principiis 2:8:5, in ANF 4:289. “It is evident from this remark that one very natural interpretation of the word pneuma to the reader of the New Testament in Origen’s time might not have been ‘incorporeal’ but the very opposite.” Jantzen, God’s World, God’s Body, 22-23. Indeed, it is now being recognized that even “Origen had a subtle and often unappreciated understanding of the ‘spiritual body’.” Clark, The Origenist Controversy, 93. Roberts and Donaldson reveal that although he was a thoroughgoing Platonist, even Origen believed that God had a body. This sentiment was so repugnant to later generations that it was apparently removed from a passage in Origen’s De Principiis in the fourth century by Rufinus, who translated it into Latin. “Since it seems to follow that God possesses a body, although of extreme tenuity, Rufinus has either suppressed this view, or altered the meaning of Origen’s words.” ANF 4:348.
62 Augustine, On Christian Doctrine 3:10, in NPNF Series 1, 2:560.
63 Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas on Christianity, 65.
64 ”Allegories are an after-thought [to the earliest Christians], they said sometimes, a mere pious gloss over unseemly fables.” Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages Upon the Christian Church, 79.
65 Aristides, Apology 13, in ANF 10:275. The same point is made by Clement’s brother Niceta in Clementine Recognitions 10:35, in ANF 8:201-202.
66 ”The reasons given for believing that the Old Testament had an allegorical meaning were precisely analogous to those which had been given in respect to Homer.” Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages Upon the Christian Church, 70-71. A.H. Strong summarizes the situation in modern theological circles:
Those passages of Scripture which seem to ascribe to God the possession of bodily parts and organs, as eyes and hands, are to be regarded as anthropomorphic and symbolic. When God is spoken of as appearing to the patriarchs and walking with them, the passages are to be explained as referring to God’s temporary manifestations of himself in human form-manifestations which prefigured the final tabernacling of the Son of God in human flesh. Augustus H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1970), 250.
67 Cherbonnier, E. LaB., “In Defense of Anthropomorphism,” in Madsen, ed., Reflections on Mormonism, 163-164.
68 Whittaker, John, “Plutarch, Platonism, and Christianity,” in H.J. Blumenthal and Robert A. Markus, eds., Neoplatonism and Early Christian Thought (London: Variorum Publications Ltd., 1981), 50
69 Davies, The Early Christian Church, 251.
70 Augustine, The Trinity 7:4, in NPNF Series 1, 3:109.
71 The concept of the unknowability of God seems to have infiltrated Christianity first through the Gnostics. Ignatius castigated these heretics because “They introduce God as a Being unknown. . . .” Ignatius, Trallians 6, in ANF 1:68. “Do ye, therefore, notice those who preach other doctrines, how they affirm that the Father of Christ cannot be known.” Ignatius,Smyrnaeans 6, in ANF 1:89.
72 Le Guillou, The Spirit of Eastern Orthodoxy, 31.
73 Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages upon the Christian Church, 251-254. Compare the following statement by Peter in the Clementine Recognitions:
But also the philosophers say that God is not angry, not knowing what they say. For anger is evil, when it disturbs the mind, so that it loses right counsel. But that anger which punishes the wicked does not bring disturbance to the mind; but it is one and the same affection, so to speak, which assigned rewards to the good and punishment to the evil; for if He should bestow blessings upon the good and the evil, and confer equal rewards upon the pious and the impious, He would appear to be unjust rather than good. Clementine Recognitions 10:48, in ANF 8:205.
74 Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages Upon the Christian Church, 239.
75 Origen, Homilies on Numbers 33:2, in Henry Bettenson, The Early Christian Fathers (London: Oxford University Press, 1956), 187.
76 Osborn, The Emergence of Christian Theology, 113. Christopher Stead writes that there is no escaping the conclusion Plotinus drew. That is, an absolutely simple God cannot understand or control the influence He exerts on the world. Stead, C., “Divine Simplicity as a Problem for Orthodoxy,” in Williams, ed., The Making of Orthodoxy, 266.
77 Westminster Confession of Faith, in Creeds of the Churches-A Reader in Christian Doctrine From the Bible to the Present, 197.
78 Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages upon the Christian Church, 195-196.
79 Peter Hayman, “Monotheism-A Misused Word in Jewish Studies?,” Journal of Jewish Studies 42 (1991): 3. After a debate with David Winston, Goldstein admitted that his position was weak. See Jonathan Goldstein, “The Origins of the Doctrine of Creation Ex Nihilo,” Journal of Jewish Studies 35 (1984): 127-135 and Jonathan Goldstein, “Creation Ex Nihilo: Recantations and Restatements,” Journal of Jewish Studies 38 (1987): 187-194. For David Winston’s reply see David Winston, “Creation Ex Nihilo Revisited: A Reply to Jonathan Goldstein,” Journal of Jewish Studies 37 (1986): 88-91.
80 Frances Young, “‘Creatio ex Nihilo’: A Context for the Emergence of the Christian Doctrine of Creation, “ Scottish Journal of Theology 44 (1991): 139-151.
81 The Jewish Apocryphal book of Wisdom preaches creation from formless matter, as well: “For thy almighty hand, which created the world out of formless matter, was not without further resource.” (Wisdom of Solomon 11:17 NEB) It should be remembered that many Jewish apocryphal books, including Wisdom were accepted as inspired by Christians in the first two centuries after Christ. ECD 54. Consider also the same doctrine in some other ancient Jewish texts. “He formed substance from chaos and made it with fire and it exists, and he hewed out great columns from intangible air.” Sefer Yesira, quoted in Hayman, “Monotheism-A Misused Word in Jewish Studies?,” 2. “R. Huna said, in the name of Bar Qappara: ‘If it were not written explicitly in Scripture, it would not be possible to say it: God created the heaven and the earth. From what? From the earth was chaos. . ., etc.” Bereshit Rabba, quoted in Hayman, “Monotheism-A Misused Word in Jewish Studies?,” 2. ECD 54.
82 Justin Martyr, First Apology 10, in ANF 1:165.
83 Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor 3:12, in ANF 2:296; cf. Excerpts of Theodotus 2, in ANF 8:43.
84 Origen, De Principiis 2:1:4, in ANF 4:269, brackets in original. Origen complained in another passage that “very many, indeed” had held this opinion:
Very many, indeed, are of opinion that the matter of which things are made is itself signified in the language used by Moses in the beginning of Genesis: “In the beginning God made heaven and earth; and the earth was invisible, and not arranged:” for by the words “invisible and not arranged” Moses would seem to mean nothing else than shapeless matter. Origen, De Principiis4:1:33, in ANF 4:379.
85 Theophilus, Theophilus to Autolycus 2:4, in ANF 2:95.
86 Winston, “Creation Ex Nihilo Revisited: A Reply to Jonathan Goldstein,” 89.
87 Young, “‘Creatio ex Nihilo’: A Context for the Emergence of the Christian Doctrine of Creation,” 150.
88 Wisdom of Solomon 11:17 NEB.
89 2 Maccabees 7:28 NEB.
90 Pastor of Hermas, Vision 1:1, in ANF 2:9, brackets in original. Origen mistakenly interpreted this passage from Hermas, as well as a similar one from one of the Books of the Maccabees in this way:
But that we may believe on the authority of holy Scripture that such is the case, hear how in the book of Maccabees, where the mother of seven martyrs exhorts her son to endure torture, this truth is confirmed; for she says, “I ask of thee, my son, to look at the heaven and the earth, and at all things which are in them, and beholding these, to know that God made all these things when they did not exist.” In the book of the Shepherd also, in the first commandment, he speaks as follows: “First of all believe that there is one God who created and arranged all things, and made all things to come into existence, and out of a state of nothingness.” Origen, De Principiis 2:1:5, in ANF 4:270.
91 Pastor of Hermas, Vision 1:3, in ANF 2:10.
92 Young, F., 1991, “‘Creatio ex Nihilo’: A Context for the Emergence of the Christian Doctrine of Creation,” Scottish Journal of Theology, vol. 44, 141.
93 Young, “‘Creatio ex Nihilo’: A Context for the Emergence of the Christian Doctrine of Creation,” 149.
94 Note how Tertullian, who accepted creation ex nihilo, found it necessary to take into account the older usage as employed by those who believed in creation from chaos:
The Creator’s works testify at once to His goodness, since they are good, as we have shown, and to His power, since they are mighty, and spring indeed out of nothing. And even if they were made out of some (previous) matter, as some will have it, they are even thus out of nothing, because they were not what they are. Tertullian, Against Marcion 2:5, in ANF 3:301.
95 Young, “‘Creatio ex Nihilo’: A Context for the Emergence of the Christian Doctrine of Creation,” 139-151.
96 For a more complete examination of the early Christian evidence by an LDS scholar, see Keith Norman, “Ex Nihilo: The Development of the Doctrines of God and Creation in Early Christianity,” BYU Studies 17 (Spring 1977): 291-318.
97 Joseph Smith, in TPJS 350-352.
98 Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 10:29, in ANF 5:151.
99 ECD 83.
100 Margaret Barker, The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992), 162. For a good summary of the current scholarly debate, see Larry W. Hurtado, “What Do We Mean by ‘First-Century Jewish Monotheism’?,” in E.H. Lovering, Jr., ed. Society of Biblical Literature 1993 Seminar Papers (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1993), 348-368.
101 Cf. Emerton, J.A., “Names of God in the Hebrew Bible,” in Metzger and Coogan, eds., The Oxford Companion to the Bible, 548-549.
102 See Chapter Note 1.
103 Otto Eissfeldt, “El and Yahweh,” Journal of Semitic Studies 1 (1956): 25-30.
104 Barker, The Great Angel, 198-199.
105 Barker, The Great Angel, 34.
Parallels are found in descriptions of glorious angelic figures acting as principal agents on behalf of God-a notion finally going back to the OT figure of ‘the angel of the Lord’ representing God himself, and (in practice) identified with him in contacts with human beings (see e.g. Exod. 3; Judg. 13.) De Jonge, M., “Monotheism and Christology,” in John Barclay and John Sweet, eds.,Early Christian Thought in its Jewish Context, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 233.
106 War Rule 17, in Geza Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English (New York: Penguin Books, 1975), 146.
107 Barker, The Great Angel, 19.
108 Barker, The Great Angel, 43-44.
109 Barker, The Great Angel, 70.
110 Barker, The Great Angel, 81.
111 Segal, Two Powers in Heaven, 262. “We should also note how frequently subsequent rabbinic polemic against the minim consists in a defense of monotheism, the unity of God.” James D.G. Dunn, The Partings of the Ways: Between Christianity and Judaism and their Significance for the Character of Christianity (London: SCM Press, 1991), 225.
112 Segal, Two Powers in Heaven, 149.
113 Philo, Questions and Answers on Genesis 2:62, in F.H. Colson and G.H. Whitaker, tr.., Philo, Suppl. 1:150.
114 Philo, On the Confusion of Tongues 146, in Colson and Whitaker, trans., Philo, 4:89.
115 Philo, Questions and Answers on Genesis 3:39, in Colson and Whitaker, tr., Philo, Suppl. 1:226; cf. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven, 162.
116 Philo, Leg. 3:81, quoted in Segal, Two Powers in Heaven, 166.
117 Barker, The Great Angel, 114.
118 Barker, The Great Angel, 116.
119 Hurtado, “What Do We Mean by ‘First-Century Jewish Monotheism’?,” 366.
120 See Barker, The Great Angel, 219. An apparent exception to the rule is Psalm 110:1, where the Psalmist says, “The LORD [Yahweh] said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” In Acts 2:34-36 Peter said this referred to the Father speaking to Christ. This may be another case where the “Yahweh Only” party altered the scripture, but there is another possible explanation. That is, the king of Israel is often described as the son of Yahweh Barker, The Great Angel, 9, and therefore the psalm may have been speaking of Yahweh’s relationship to the king, but symbolically also representing the relationship between Elohim and Yahweh. See the Codex Sainaiticus reading of the Epistle of Barnabas 12, in ANF 1:145 footnote 18. Also, the Septuagint has “The Lord said unto Cyrus,” indicating that this passage represented the relationship between Yahweh and Cyrus, king of Persia, who delivered the Israelites from bondage in Babylon. The parallel relationship between Elohim and Yahweh, as Jesus Christ, is obvious.
121 Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 36, in ANF 1:212-213.
122 Justin Martyr, Second Apology 6, in ANF 1:190.
123 Daniélou, The Theology of Jewish Christianity, 146.
124 Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages upon the Christian Church, 268.
Then I replied, “I shall attempt to persuade you, since you have understood the Scriptures,[of the truth] of what I say, that there is, and that there is said to be, another God and Lord subject to the Maker of all things; who is also called an Angel, because He announces to men whatsoever the Maker of all things–above whom there is no other God–wishes to announce to them…. I shall endeavour to persuade you, that He who is said to have appeared to Abraham, and to Jacob, and to Moses, and who is called God, is distinct from Him who made all things,–numerically, I mean, not[distinct] in will.” Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 56, in ANF 1:223, brackets in original.
125 Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho 127, in ANF 1:263.
126 Justin Martyr, First Apology 13, ANF 1:167.
127 The Pastor of Hermas, Commandment 11, in ANF 2:27-28.
128 Specifically, Hermas seems to have identified Jesus with Michael. Daniélou, The Theology of Jewish Christianity, 123-124. However, this may not be particularly significant, since other Jewish Christian texts speak of Jesus appearing to mortals disguised as one of the archangels. Daniélou, The Theology of Jewish Christianity, 131.
129 Ascension of Isaiah, in TOB, 528.
130 Other possible adherents to such an “angel Christology” are Irenaeus and Ignatius. See Lanne, E., quoted in Daniélou, The Theology of Jewish Christianity, 138; Wagner, After the Apostles, 146.
131 Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 7:3, in ANF 2:527.
132 Peter, in Clementine Recognitions 2:42, in ANF 8:109.
133 Hippolytus, The Apostolic Tradition 4:4, p. 7.
134 Tertullian, Against Praxeas 7, in ANF 3:602.
135 Tertullian, Against Praxeas 13, in ANF 3:607-608.
136 Origen, Against Celsus 5:39, in ANF 4:561.
137 Origen, Dial Heracl. 2:3, quoted in Segal, Two Powers in Heaven, 231.
138 Origen, Against Celsus 8:12, in ANF 4:643-644.
139 Origen, De Principiis 1:3:4, in ANF 4:253.
140 Novatian, On the Trinity 19, in ANF 5:630; cf. On the Trinity 18, in ANF 5:628.
141 Novatian, On the Trinity 12, in ANF 5:621.
142 Novatian, On the Trinity 16, in ANF 5:625.
143 Novatian, On the Trinity 27, in ANF 5:637-638.
144 Novatian, On the Trinity 20, in ANF 5:631.
145 Novatian, On the Trinity 31, in ANF 5:644.
146 Lactantius, Divine Institutes 4:6, in ANF 7:105.
147 Fruit 216-219, quoted in Barker, The Great Angel, 203.
148 Methodius, The Banquet of the Ten Virgins 3:4, in ANF 6:318.
149 Eusebius, The Proof of the Gospel 1:5, 2 vols., translated by W.J. Ferrar (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1920), vol. 1, 26; cf. Preparation for the Gospel 7:15, p. 351.
150 Eusebius, The Proof of the Gospel 4:7, vol. 1, 176.
151 Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel 7:15, pp. 351-352.
152 Basil of Caesarea, On the Holy Spirit 45, in NPNF Series 2, 8:28.
153 Bettenson, The Early Christian Fathers, 330. See also Urban, A Short History of Christian Thought, 54.
154 Hippolytus, Scholia on Daniel 7, in ANF 5:189; cf. Davies, The Early Christian Church, 122.
155 Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2:27:8, in ANF 1:402. The same point is made by Peter in the Clementine Recognitions:
But no one ought to be ashamed of this, because there is no man who ought to profess that he knows all things; for there is only One who knows all things, even He who also made all things. For if our Master declared that He knew not the day and the hour whose signs even He foretold, and referred the whole to the Father, how shall we account it disgraceful to confess that we are ignorant of some things, since in this we have the example of our Master? Clementine Recognitions 10:14, in ANF 8:196.
156 Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 4:25, in ANF 2:438.
157 Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3:9:1, in ANF 1:421. Christopher Stead points out that Irenaeus may have considered the Son and Spirit to be coequal, in harmony with his description of the Son and Spirit as ‘the two hands of God,’ “but his image hardly suggests the later view that all threePersons are coequal.” Stead, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity, 157, emphsis in original.
158 Origen, De Principiis 1:3:7, in ANF 4:255; Origen, De Principiis 1:3:7, in ANF 4:255.
159 Athenagoras, Legatio 10:5, in Osborn, The Emergence of Christian Theology, 175.
160 Athenagoras, Legatio 10:2, in Osborn, The Emergence of Christian Theology, 175.
161 Lyman, Christology and Cosmology, 13.
162 Plotinus, quoted in Osborn, The Emergence of Christian Theology, 57.
163 Origen, Commentary on John 8:25, in Bettenson, The Early Christian Fathers, 233.
164 Wagner, After the Apostles, 46.
165 Wagner, After the Apostles, 48.
166 Harnack, What is Christianity?, 202-203.
167 ECD 95-101; Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages Upon the Christian Church, 264.
168 Tertullian, Against Praxeas 5-6, in ANF 3:600-601.
169 Tertullian, Against Hermogenes 3, in ANF 3:478; cf. Novatian, On the Trinity 31, in ANF 5:643; Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 10:29, in ANF 5:150-151; Tatian, Address to the Greeks 5, in ANF 2:67.
170 Origen, De Principiis 1:2:10, in ANF 4:249-250. Origen was not original in this, however. Cardinal Daniélou notes that the theory of eternal generation had already been formulated in the Gnostic text, Treatise of the Three Natures, found at Nag Hammadi. Daniélou, Gospel Message and Hellenistic Culture, 378.
171 Tertullian, Against Praxeas 9, in ANF 3:603-604, brackets in original; cf. Novatian, On the Trinity 31, in ANF 5:644.
172 Stead, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity, 188.
173 ECD 21.
174 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 1:2:8, in NPNF Series 2:1:83.
175 Origen, Against Celsus 4:15, in ANF 4:503; cf. Methodius, Homily on the Cross and Passion of Christ Fragment 3, in ANF 6:400; Eusebius, The Proof of the Gospel 4:13, vol. 1, 188-189; Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3:19:3, in ANF 1:449; Gregory of Nazianzus, Epistle 101:4, in Henry Bettenson, The Later Christian Fathers (London: Oxford University Press, 1970), 107.
176 Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 10:29, in ANF 5:152; cf. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3:9:3, in ANF 1:423. “He also Himself was to offer in sacrifice for our sins the vessel of the Spirit. . . .” Barnabas 7, in ANF 1:141. “God the Word did dwell in a human body, being within it as the Word, even as the soul also is in the body. . . .” Ignatius, Philadelphians 6, in ANF 1:83.
177 Origen, Against Celsus 2:9, in ANF 4:434. Though perhaps Tertullian preceded him. See Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ 11, in ANF 3:532. On the other hand, other passages make Tertullian’s position somewhat ambiguous. See Tertullian, Against Praxeas 27, in ANF 3:624.
178 John Chrysostom, An Address to Those Who Have Not Come to the Synaxis 6, in Bettenson, The Later Christian Fathers, 171.
179 Ambrose, An Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke 4:16, in Bettenson, The Later Christian Fathers, 181.
180 Augustine, On the Trinity 1:12, in NPNF Series 1, 3:30. On the other hand, Athanasius, who believed Jesus’ human nature consisted only of a body, taught that Jesus meant He was ignorant with respect to His flesh. Athanasius, Discourses Against the Arians 3:43, in NPNF Series 2, 4:417.
181 Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity 10:24, in NPNF Series 2, 9:188.
182 ECD 281.
183 ECD 343.
184 Davies, The Early Christian Church, 257.
185 ECD 142. Greek dokein = “to seem.”
186 Cyril of Alexandria, Letter 46:13, in Letters 1-50, translated by John I. McEnerney (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1987), FC 76:204.
187 Harnack, What is Christianity?, 236.
188 ECD 93; cf. Ignatius, Smyrnaeans 1, in ANF 1:86; Hippolytus, Against Noetus 15, in ANF 5:229; Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ 23, in ANF 3:541.
189 Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2:28:6, in ANF 1:401; cf. Eusebius, The Proof of the Gospel 5:1, vol. 1, 232-233.
190 ECD 94; cf. The Pastor of Hermas, Similitude 5:5.
191 Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 31:5, in NPNF Series 2, 7:319; cf. Origen, De Principiis Preface 4, in ANF 4:240.
192 Bettenson, The Later Christian Fathers, 11.
193 Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 31:8, in NPNF Series 2, 7:320.
194 ECD 113.
195 ECD 113-119.
196 ECD 119-123.
197 Latter-day Saints should definitely take note of this point because they often make the mistake of assuming the mainline Trinity consists of one person who reveals himself in three different modes. Thus arguments that show the early Church believed in a godhead of three separate persons completely miss the point! It is understandable, though, that many Latter-day Saints make this mistake, since a large proportion of mainline lay-Christians, unable to understand the highly philosophical Nicene doctrine, mistakenly believe in modalism. In fact, even many highly educated ministers misunderstand the Trinity. For example, a Presbyterian minister representing his faith in Leo Rosten’s Religions of America (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1975), 203, says, “When God is spoken of as three Persons-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-Presbyterians do not think of Him as three individuals. That is tritheism. One God reveals Himself in three manifestations.”
198 Tertullian, Against Praxeas 25 in ANF 3:621.
199 Osborn, The Emergence of Christian Theology, 188-190.
200 Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 10:29, in ANF 5:151; cf. The Apostolic Tradition 21:11b, p. 35.
201 Hippolytus, Scholia on Daniel 7, in ANF 5:189; cf. Davies, The Early Christian Church, 122.
202 ECD 234-235. Christopher Stead calls this interpretation a “tempting approximation,” (Stead, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity, 167) but in reality there were a bewildering variety of usages. For an excellent discussion, see Stead, Divine Substance, or for a shorter summary, see Stead, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity, 160-172.
203 Stead, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity, 167.
204 Bettenson, The Early Christian Fathers, 330. See also Urban, A Short History of Christian Thought, 54.
205 Eusebius, The Proof of the Gospel 5:5, vol. 1, 250. Likewise, Origen could critisize those who ” deny the divinity of the Son, giving Him a separate existence [Greek ousia] of His own, and making His sphere of essence fall outside that of the Father, so that they are separable from each other.” Origen, Commentary on John 2:2, in ANF 10:323. But in the same section Origen declared the Father to be the “only true God,” and Jesus to be an “image” of the prototype. Indeed, in another place Origen explained that “every intellectual nature is consubstantial with every other!” Stead, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity, 168; cf. Origen, De Principiis 4:4:9.
206 Beisner, God in Three Persons, 107.
207 ECD 228.
208 ECD 231.
209 Hansen, R., “The Achievement of Orthodoxy in the Fourth Century AD,” in Williams, ed., The Making of Orthodoxy, 145.
210 ECD 231.
211 ECD 5, 237.
212 Hansen, R., “The Achievement of Orthodoxy in the Fourth Century AD,” in Williams, ed., The Making of Orthodoxy, 143-144.
213 See ECD 240-251.
214 ECD 247-248.
215 Actually, Athanasius played only a minor role at Nicea, but was quite an important figure at many of the subsequent councils.
216 ECD 247-248.
217 Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600,) 197.
218 See Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600,) 200-210; Harnack, History of Dogma 4:41.
219 ECD 240-247. Some may be surprised that Athanasius is represented here as creating a break from tradition, since Athanasius vehemently denied this. However, Christopher Stead assures us, “Athanasius is commonly and rightly regarded as the pioneer of a new theology of the Trinity; but this judgement would certainly have surprised him. He regards himself as upholding the invariable tradition of the Church, and is far less open to suggestions from the philosophers.” Stead, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity, 158.
220 ECD 234.
221 ECD 236, 250; cf. Hansen, R., “The Achievement of Orthodoxy in the Fourth Century AD,” in Williams, ed., The Making of Orthodoxy, 146. “Indeed, until Athanasius began writing, every single theologian, East and West, had postulated some form of Subordinationism. It could, about the year 300, have been described as a fixed part of catholic theology.” Hansen, R., “The Achievement of Orthodoxy in the Fourth Century AD,” in Williams, ed., The Making of Orthodoxy, 153.
222 ECD 235, 254; Stead, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity, 166.
223 Hansen, R., “The Achievement of Orthodoxy in the Fourth Century AD,” in Williams, ed., The Making of Orthodoxy, 146.
224 ECD 238.
225 Davies, The Early Christian Church, 194. As Davies points out, this solution was primarily brought about by the Cappadocian theologians, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, and Basil of Caesarea. However, it is interesting to note that these theologians stressed the divine unity less than Athanasius. “Father, Son and Spirit were therefore compared to three individuals having the same nature or species, all equally divine. Of itself this formulation gave a comparitively weak expression of the divine unity. . . .” Stead, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity, 162.
226 Basil of Caesarea, On the Holy Spirit 47, in NPNF Series 2, 8:30.
227 Jantzen, God’s World, God’s Body, 14.
228 Augustine, On the Trinity 5:9, in NPNF Series 1, 3:92, brackets in original. While I have been careful throughout this discussion to distinguish between the “orthodox” doctrine and Modalism, I tend to think that the only difference between the two is in the application of meaningless terms by “orthodox” theologians. So also Christopher Stead:
In practice ‘substance’ takes on a sense which is suggested by ‘numerical unity’; and if we stick to the ‘Aristotelian’ doctrine that there are just two possible senses, we are forced to conclude that the three Persons simply are the same individual. There may perhaps be a better exegesis, which takes account of the uniqueness of divine being; but if so, it has not come my way. Stead, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity, 163.
229 Richard Cartwright, “On the Logical Problem of the Trinity,” in Philosophical Essays (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press), 193.
230 Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 16:24, in NPNF Series 2, 7:121.
231 Wagner, After the Apostles, 79.
232 Joseph Smith, in TPJS 353-354.
233 According to what Oscar Cullman says, the Mormons are right, for the pre-existence of Christ in the new Testament does not “indicate unity in essence or nature between God and Christ, but rather a unity in the work of revelation, in the function of the pre-existent one.” Oscar Cullman, The Christology of the New Testament, translated by Shirley C. Guthrie and Charles A.M. Hall (Philadelphia, 1959), 247.
234 Mircea Eliade and Ioan P. Couliano, The Eliade Guide to World Religions (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1991), 82.
235 Origen, De Principiis Preface 5, in ANF 4:240.
236 See Chapter Note 2.
237 ECD 180.
238 Origen, De Principiis 2:9:6, in ANF 4:292. Note, however, that Origen says “We may perhaps hazard a guess” that the soul had a premortal fall. Origen, De Principiis 2:8:3, in Bettenson,The Early Christian Fathers, 207. He emphatically did not teach this as part of the tradition he inherited. Furthermore, the Clementine Recognitions specifically rejected the idea of a pre-cosmic fall. Clementine Recognitions 2:60, in ANF 8:114. Note also that Origen speculated that John the Baptist may have been an angel before his mortal birth. (The Greek text of the Old Testament Origen referred to would have used the word angellos for “messenger.”) “We have read this prophecy about him, ‘Behold, I send My messenger (angel) before Thy face, who shall prepare Thy way before Thee;’ and at this we ask if it can be one of the holy angels who is sent down on this ministry as forerunner of our Saviour.” Origen, Commentary on John 2:25, in ANF 10:340.
239 Clementine Recognitions 1:28, in ANF 8:85.
240 Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor 1:7, in ANF 2:224.
241 Henry Chadwick, Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1966), 48. Compare also two passages from another work of Clement. SeeExcerpts of Theodotus 17, 50, in ANF 8:45, 49.
242 Moses 3:5.
243 Justin Martyr, First Apology 10, in ANF 1:165.
244 Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 5, in ANF 1:197.
245 Mathetes to Diognetus 5-6, in Arnold, The Early Christians After the Death of the Apostles, 109-110. “For though some would have deceived me according to the flesh, yet my spirit is not deceived; for I have received it from God. For it knows both whence it comes and whither it goes, and detects the secrets [of the heart].” Ignatius, Philadelphians 7, in ANF 1:83, brackets in original.
246 Epistle of Barnabas 6, in ANF 1:141, with footnote 9, brackets in original.
247 The Pastor of Hermas, Vis. 2:4, in ANF 2:12.
248 2 Clement 14:2, in Grant, ed., The Apostolic Fathers, vol. 2, 126.
249 Robert G. Hammerton-Kelly, Pre-Existence, Wisdom, and the Son of Man (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973), 193
250 Hammerton-Kelly, Pre-Existence, Wisdom, and the Son of Man, 22, 224, 270.
251 Hammerton-Kelly, Pre-Existence, Wisdom, and the Son of Man, , 154. See also Titus 1:2, “In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began.”
252 Hammerton-Kelly, Pre-Existence, Wisdom, and the Son of Man, , 156, 152.
253 Albert Schweitzer, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, translated by William Montgomery (London, 1931), 116.
254 The Gospel of Thomas 49, in Antoine Guillaumont, H.-Ch. Puech, G. Quispel, W. Till, and Y.A. Al Masih, The Gospel According to Thomas (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1959), 29.
255 Christian Sibyllines, in NTA 2:741.
256 NTA 1:289.
257 Pistis Sophia, in TOB, 380.
258 Note how Lactantius seems to have believed that Jesus and Satan were generated in the same manner, but “the disposition of the divine origin did not remain” in Satan:
He produced a Spirit like to Himself, who might be endowed with the perfections of God the Father. . . . Then He made another being, in whom the disposition of the divine origin did not remain. Therefore he was infected with his own envy as with poison, and passed from good to evil; and at his own will, which had been given to him by God unfettered, he acquired for himself a contrary name. . . . Lactantius, Divine Institutes 2:9, in ANF 7:52.
259 Davies, The Early Christian Church, 235.
260 Jonas, The Gnostic Religion, 44.
261 Clementine Recognitions 2:60, in ANF 8:114.
262 Whittaker, J., “Plutarch, Platonism, and Christianity,” in Blumenthal and Markus, Neoplatonism and Early Christian Thought, 60.
263 Clementine Recognitions 1:1, in ANF 8:77.
264 Robert J. O’Connell, The Origin of the Soul in St. Augustine’s Later Works (New York: Fordham University Press, 1987), 16.
265 O’Connell, The Origin of the Soul in St. Augustine’s Later Works, 11.
266 O’Connell, The Origin of the Soul in St. Augustine’s Later Works, 228.
267 Augustine, Retractions 1:1, 3, in Bettenson, The Later Christian Fathers, 232; cf. ECD 345-346.
268 Whittaker, J., “Plutarch, Platonism, and Christianity,” in Blumenthal and Markus, Neoplatonism and Early Christian Thought, 60-61.
269 Steven E. Robinson, Are Mormons Christians? (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, Inc.), 66.
270 In this vein, an interesting note is made by The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia about the translation of Psalm 8:6:
In passing it may be noted that the customary rendering of Ps. 8:6, “Thou has made him (man) but little lower than the angels,” is inexact, and that a correct translation would be “but little lower than God (or gods,)” and that accordingly the verse makes no reference whatever to angels. The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, 10 vols. (New York: Universal Jewish Encyclopedia Co., Inc., 1939-1943), 1:309.
271 ECD 469-470.
272 Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4:38:4, in ANF 1:522.
273 Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5: Preface, in ANF 1:526.
274 Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho 124, in ANF 1:262.
275 Jerome, The Homilies of Saint Jerome, vol. 1 (FC 48), translated by M.L. Ewald (Washington, D.C..: The Catholic University of America Press, 1964), 106.
276 Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 7:10, in ANF 2:539.
277 Origen, Commentary on John 2:3, in ANF 10:323.
278 Prestige, God in Patristic Thought (London: Oxford University Press, 1956), 73.
279 Robert M. Bowman, “‘Ye Are Gods?’ Orthodox and Heretical Views on the Deification of Man,” Christian Research Journal (Winter/Spring 1987): 18ff.
280 Bowman, “‘Ye Are Gods?’ Orthodox and Heretical Views on the Deification of Man,” 18.
281 Davies, The Early Christian Church, 192.
282 Athanasius, in ECD 352.
283 Le Guillou, The Spirit of Eastern Orthodoxy, 100.
284 Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 29:19, in NPNF Series 2, 7:308.
285 Athanasius, Discourses Against the Arians 1:42, in NPNF Series 2, 4:330-331.
286 ECD 226.
287 Origen, Against Celsus 3:41, in ANF 4:480.
288 Origen, Commentary on John 2:2, in ANF 10:323.
289 Origen, De Principiis 3:6:3, in ANF 4:345.
290 Origen, De Principiis 4:1:36, in ANF 4:381.
291 Justin Martyr, First Apology 6, in William A. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1970), 1:51.
292 Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, 1:56, n. 1.
293 Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho 124, in ANF 1:262.
294 Likewise Hippolytus:
Now in all these acts He offered up, as the first-fruits, His own manhood, in order that thou, when thou art in tribulation, mayest not be disheartened, but, confessing thyself to be a man (of like nature with the Redeemer,) mayest dwell in expectation of also receiving what the Father has granted unto this Son. Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 10:29, in ANF 5:152.
295 Peter , in Clementine Homilies 16:16, in ANF 8:316.
296 Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5:36:3, in ANF 1:567.
297 Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4:20:5-6, in ANF 1:489.
298 Lactantius, Divine Institutes 6:23, quoted in Samuel Angus, The Mystery-Religions, (New York: Dover Publications, 1975), 106-107.
299 Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor 3:1, in ANF 2:271.
300 Benz, E.W., “Imago Dei: Man in the Image of God,” in Madsen, ed., Reflections on Mormonism, 215-216.
301 Joseph Smith, in TPJS 345.
302 Joseph Smith, in TPJS 345.
303 I recognize that non-LDS readers might consider this approach a little too “convenient,” but I see no way of getting around the fact that one must test Joseph Smith’s claims as they stand. Each reader must decide whether the evidence for early Christian antecedents to Joseph Smith’s teachings is sufficient to show that he truly participated in the restoration of primitive Christianity.
304 Stead, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity, 102. Stead uses the example of Revelation 1:4: “‘From Him who Is and who Was and who Is to Come’ expresses God’s perpetuity within and throughout all ages.” However, he points out that when Christianity became Hellenized, “This doctrine came to be developed in an absolute sense which goes well beyond anything that we find in the Bible.” Stead, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity, 128, emphasis in original. For an excellent discussion of the scriptural evidence for this point, see Hopkins, How Greek Philosophy Corrupted the Christian Concept of God, 345-370.
305 James Strong, The New Strong’s Complete Dictionary of Bible Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996), 470.
306 Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2:27:1-9, in ANF 1:399-402.
307 Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4:38:1-4, in ANF 1:521-522.
308 Stead, C., Divine Substance, 187-188.
309 Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4:38:4, in ANF 1:522.
310 Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5: Preface, in ANF 1:526.
311 Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4:38:1-4, in ANF 1:521-522.
312 Elmer Towns, Theology for Today (Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt Publishing Company, 1989), 3
313 Barker, The Great Angel, 85-86.
314 Segal, A.F., Two Powers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports About Christianity and Gnosticism, (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1977.)
315 Daniélou, The Theology of Jewish Christianity, 134.
316 Hammerton-Kelly, Pre-Existence, Wisdom, and the Son of Man, 15.
317 Hammerton-Kelly, Pre-Existence, Wisdom, and the Son of Man, 28.
318 E. Theodore Mullen, The Assembly of the Gods: The Divine Council in Canaanite and Early Hebrew Literature (Chicago: Scholars Press, 1980), 215-221.
319 The Apocalypse of Abraham 22, in H.F.D. Sparks, ed., The Apocryphal Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), 384.
320 David Winston, “The Iranian Component in the Bible, Apocrypha and Qumran,” History of Religions 5 (1965): 212.
321 Wisdom of Solomon 8:19-20 NEB
322 Sefer Haparshiyot, Midrash Kee Tov, “Alef” Machon Lehotzaat Sefarim, 31, quoted in Nissim Wernick, “A Critical Analysis of the Book of Abraham in the Light of Extra-Canonical Jewish Writings” (Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1968), 22.
323 Hammerton-Kelly, Pre-Existence, Wisdom, and the Son of Man, 138.
324 Origen, Commentary on John 2:25, in ANF 10:341.
325 Secrets of Enoch 23:2, in Rutherford H. Platt, Jr. , ed., The Forgotten Books of Eden (New York: Random House, 1980), 89.
326 Secrets of Enoch 30:12-13, in Platt, ed., The Forgotten Books of Eden, 92.
327 1 Enoch 39:4-7, 40:5, 61:12. Quoted in Wernick, “A Critical Analysis of the Book of Abraham in the Light of Extra-Canonical Jewish Writings,” 23.
328 Hammerton-Kelly, Pre-Existence, Wisdom, and the Son of Man, 276.
329 The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 1, 304.