The Mormon God Has Not Always Been God
Part One of this three-part article showed that Joseph Smith, in his King Follett Discourse in 1844, taught that God has not always been God but was previously a mortal man who progressed and was exalted to Godhood. In this Part Two, it will be shown that this understanding of God was taught by Mormon prophets, apostles, and other leaders in the century and a half following Joseph Smith’s death.
In most instances little or no commentary will be given, because it will not be needed. The statements speak for themselves.
Brigham Young (2nd President, 1852-76)
But I expect, if I am faithful with yourselves, that I shall see the time with yourselves that we shall know how to prepare to organize an earth like this—know how to people that earth, how to redeem it, how to sanctify it, and how to glorify it, with those who live upon it who hearken to our counsels. The Father and the Son have attained to this point already; I am on the way, and so are you, and every faithful servant of God…. After men have got their exaltations and their crowns—have become Gods, even the sons of God—are made Kings of kings and Lords of lords, they have the power then of propagating their species in spirit; and that is the first of their operations with regard to organizing a world. Power is then given to them to organize the elements, and then commence the organization of tabernacles.1
How does it help us to know that the basic elements of God’s life in a mortal world were the same as ours? President Brigham Young explained: “He is our Father—the Father of our spirits—and was once a man in mortal flesh as we are…. There never was a time when there were not Gods and worlds and when men were not passing through the same ordeals that we are now passing through…. It appears ridiculous to the world, under their darkened and erroneous traditions, that God has once been a finite being” (Deseret News, 16 Nov. 1859, p.290).2
Note: The above edited quotation from Young comes from the following passage:
When you can thus feel, then you may begin to think that you can find out something about God, and begin to learn who he is. He is our Father—the Father of our spirits, and was once a man in mortal flesh as we are, and is now an exalted Being. How many Gods there are, I do not know. But there never was a time when there were not Gods and worlds, and when men were not passing through the same ordeals that we are now passing through. That course has been from all eternity, and it is and will be to all eternity. You cannot comprehend this; but when you can, it will be to you a matter of great consolation. It appears ridiculous to the world, under their darkened and erroneous traditions, that God has once been a finite being; and yet we are not in such close communion with him as many have supposed. He has passed on, and is exalted far beyond what we can now comprehend.3
Wilford Woodruff (4th President, 1887-1898)
The Lord has had his endowments a great many years ago. He has ascended to his thrones, principalities and powers in the eternities.4
Joseph F. Smith (6th President, 1901-1918)
God Himself is an exalted man, perfected, enthroned, and supreme.5
I know that God is a being with body, parts and passions and that His Son, Jesus Christ, grew and developed into manhood the same as you or I, as likewise did God, His Father, grow and develop to the Supreme Being that He now is.6
We are precisely in the same condition and under the same circumstances that God our heavenly Father was when he was passing through this, or a similar ordeal.7
Joseph Fielding Smith (10th President, 1970-72)
Our Father in heaven, according to the Prophet, had a Father, and since there has been a condition of this kind through all eternity, each Father had a Father, until we come to a stop where we cannot go further, because of our limited capacity to understand.8
B. H. Roberts (respected Mormon theologian and scholar, 1895)
But if God the Father was not always God, but came to his present exalted position by degrees of progress as indicated in the teachings of the prophet, how has there been a God from all eternity? The answer is that there has been and there now exists an endless line of Gods, stretching back into the eternities, that had no beginning and will have no end. Their existence runs parallel with endless duration, and their dominions are as limitless as boundless space.9
James E. Talmage (Mormon apostle, 1915)
Comment: In the following paragraphs Talmage explains in a journal entry that portions of his General Conference address from April 1915 had been omitted or revised to suppress his most overt affirmations that God the Father was an exalted, glorified Man.
May 10, 1915— The usual publication containing report of the addresses delivered at the annual conference of the Church was issued from the press today. This issue comprising proceedings of the Eighty-Fifth Annual Conference held last month. The publication has been delayed owing to a consultation regarding my own brief address. I incorporate herewith the press sheets of the address as actually delivered, and the slightly curtailed form of the same in which it appears in the booklet. It will be observed that part of the paragraph relating to the significance of the title “The Son of Man” is omitted from the official publication,—the part being that which most distinctly interprets the title as having reference to Christ’s being the Son of the only supremely glorified Man known to Him during His mortal existence namely the Eternal Father. By way of explanation it should be said that this conception of the title “The Son of Man” has been incorporated in my forthcoming book “Jesus the Christ,” and that it was submitted to and approved by President Joseph F. Smith. Further, the President of the Church heartily approves the doctrine as set forth in the conference address, and personally desired its publication in full. President Charles W. Penrose, however, is of the opinion that the wide spread publication of this doctrine would cause difficulty to the elders in the field, who he thinks would be confronted with the charge that we as a people worship a Man. Under the circumstances it was deemed advisable to omit a few sentences from the official report. I think it proper, however, to incorporate here the full report and the slightly abbreviated publication, and particularly so as President Joseph  F. Smith desired that the full and original report be preserved— The doctrine that the true significance of the title “The Son of Man” lies in the fact that Jesus the Christ was the Son of the Eternal Father both in spirit and in body, and that God the Eternal Father has passed through experiences analogous to those of our present mortality, and that the Eternal Father is a resurrected Being, and was to Christ while he dwelt in the flesh the only Being known who had attained supreme glorification as a Man. Christ Himself has now been glorified with the glory of the Father, nevertheless even in modern revelation He acknowledges His filial relationship to the Father in the perpetuated title as used by Christ “The Son of Man.”10
God has since glorified His Son; but though the Son is glorified with the glory of the Father, you can’t change the fact that He is the Son of that Father, and that Father, the Eternal Father, not Jesus Christ, but the Father of Jesus Christ, the Father of His spirit and the Father of His body, was a Man, and has progressed, not by any favor but by the right of conquest over sin, and over unrighteousness, to His present position of priesthood and power, of Godship and Godliness, as the Supreme Being whom we all profess to worship11.
Note that according to Talmage, certain parts of his address had been omitted in publication, not because the LDS Church did not affirm them, but because there was some concern that non-Mormons would learn from them what the LDS Church taught, making the task of Mormon missionaries to convert people more difficult.
Milton R. Hunter (member of the First Council of the Seventy, 1945)
Jesus became a God and reached His great state of understanding through consistent effort and continuous obedience to all the Gospel truths and universal laws.12
The Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches that God the Eternal Father is an exalted being. “In the language of Adam, Man of Holiness is his name, and the name of his Only Begotten is the Son of Man, even Jesus Christ, a righteous Judge.” [Moses 6:56] Mormon prophets have continuously taught the sublime truth that God the Eternal Father was once a mortal man who passed through a school of earth life similar to that through which we are now passing. He became God—an exalted being—through obedience to the same eternal Gospel truths that we are given opportunity today to obey.13
Notice above that Hunter asserted that Mormon prophets had been “continuously” teaching that God the Father was a mortal man who became God through obedience to the same gospel that Mormons seek to obey.
Yet, if we accept the great law of eternal progression, we must accept the fact that there was a time when Deity was much less powerful than He is today. Then how did He become glorified and exalted and attain His present status of Godhood? In the first place, aeons ago God undoubtedly took advantage of every opportunity to learn the laws of truth and as He became acquainted with each new verity He righteously obeyed it…. Thus He grew in experience and continued to grow until He attained the status of Godhood. In other words, He became God by absolute obedience to all the eternal laws of the Gospel—by conforming His actions to all truth, and thereby becoming the author of eternal truth. Therefore, the road that the Eternal Father followed to Godhood was one of living at all times a dynamic, industrious, and completely righteous life. There is no other way to exaltation.14
Kent Nielsen (BYU scholar, in the official LDS magazine New Era, 1971)
Long before our God began his creations, he dwelt on a mortal world like ours, one of the creations that his Father had created for him and his brethren. He, with many of his brethren, was obedient to the principles of the eternal gospel. One among these, it is presumed, was a savior for them, and through him they obtained a resurrection and an exaltation on an eternal, celestial world.Then they gained the power and godhood of their Father and were made heirs of all that he had, continuing his works and creating worlds of their own for their own posterity—the same as their Father had done before, and his Father, and his Father, and on and on.15
Marion G. Romney (Mormon apostle, 1974)
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints affirms as its Third Article of Faith: “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.” [A of F 1:3] In these remarks I shall set forth some views of the church of Jesus Christ on this subject. Saved as here used means resurrected and returned as a sanctified, celestialized, immortal soul to the presence and society of God, there to pursue an endless course of eternal progress. To get a glimpse of what this means requires a knowledge of the form and nature of God and of man and their relationship to each other. Man is a soul, that is, a dual being, a spirit person clothed in a tangible body of flesh and bones. God is a perfected, saved soul enjoying eternal life. He is both immortal and exalted to the highest glory. He is enjoying that blessed condition which men may attain to by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.16
S. Dilworth Young (president of the First Council of the Seventy, 1978)
Note that the following poem was quoted in a 1984 curriculum manual of the LDS Church.
My children all: You see in me
Exalted man, of flesh and bone
And spirit pure. One time, long
Long ago, I was as you, a spirit son
Of an exalted Father. [see HC 6:302–17]
You may become as now I have become
But you must do as I have done.17
Part Three will conclude by showing that the LDS Church has continuously taught this same doctrine of God becoming God by a process of exaltation right up to the present.
1. Brigham Young, 28 Aug. 1852, in Journal of Discourses 6:274-75.
2. Search These Commandments: Melchizedek Priesthood Personal Study Guide (1984), 153.
3. Brigham Young, 8 Oct. 1859, in Journal of Discourses 7:333-34.
4. Wilford Woodruff, 9 Jan. 1881, in Journal of Discourses 22:209; quoted in Search These Commandments: Melchizedek Priesthood Personal Study Guide (1984), 152-53.
5. Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, and Anthon H. Lund, “The Origin of Man,” Improvement Era 13 (Nov. 1909): 75. This was an official statement of the First Presidency. It was reproduced in full in “The Origin of Man,” Ensign, Feb. 2002.
6. Arizona Stake Conference address, Mesa, AZ, Dec. 7, 1913, in Deseret Evening News, Dec. 27, 1913, Sec. 3, p. 7.
7. Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine (orig. 1919; Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1939, 1977), 64. The last sentence is quoted in Search These Commandments: Melchizedek Priesthood Personal Study Guide (1984), 154.
8. Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 2:47.
9. B. H. Roberts, A New Witness for God (Salt Lake City: George Q. Cannon & Sons, 1895), 466.
10. James E. Talmage, “The Son of Man,” an Address Delivered on 6 April 1915, from the Journal of James E. Talmage, 10 May 1915, Archives and Manuscripts, Harold B. Lee Library, BYU, Provo, UT; and Eighty-fifth Annual Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Published by the Deseret News, 1915), 120-24; published in The Essential James E. Talmage, ed. James Harris, Classics in Mormon Thought 5 (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 135-36.
11. Talmage, “The Son of Man,” in Essential James E. Talmage, 140-41, italics and bracketed text in original. Harris uses italics to mark the text of the General Conference address that was omitted or altered in the published edition.
12. Milton R. Hunter, The Gospel through the Ages (Salt Lake City: Steven and Wallis, 1945), 51.
13. Ibid., 104.
14. Ibid., 114, 115.