The Mormon God Has Not Always Been God
Part One of this three-part article showed that Joseph Smith taught that God was not always God, but previously was a mortal man who died, rose from the dead, and progressed until he became fully exalted to his present nature and status as God. Part Two showed that this same doctrine was taught by Mormon prophets and apostles from Brigham Young straight through to the late 1970s. In this concluding Part Three, it will be shown that LDS doctrinal curriculum manuals and Mormon theologians and scholars have taught the same doctrine from the late 1970s right up to the present time.
The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles (1979)
Note: The following material excerpted from chapter 40 of this manual, which is still available on LDS.org. Note that the manual presents a dialogue between an “inquirer” and the LDS teacher who answers his questions with quotations from LDS prophets.
You teach that man may become like God. I say, How could he? For God is so far in advance of man.
“God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible,—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man. …” (Teachings, 345; compare D&C 130:22.)
Am I to understand that God has not always been a God?
“… it is necessary we should understand the character and being of God and how he came to be so; for I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see.
“These are incomprehensible ideas to some, but they are simple. It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did; and I will show it from the Bible.” (Teachings, pp. 345–46.)
I can see from what you say that God was once a man; but was he really like us, limited and finite?
“While He was in the flesh, as we are, He was as we are. But it is now written of Him that our God is as a consuming fire [Hebrews 12:29], that He dwells in everlasting burnings, and this is why sin cannot be where He is.” (JD, 4:54.)
Then perhaps it is possible for me to become like Him. If God was once finite and just as we are now, how did he become what he is now?
Joseph F. Smith
“It is absolutely necessary that we should come to the earth and take upon us tabernacles; because if we did not have tabernacles we could not be like God, nor like Jesus Christ. God has a tabernacle of flesh and bone.
“… We must go through the same ordeal in order to attain to the glory and exaltation which God designed we should enjoy with him in the eternal worlds. In other words, we must become like him; peradventure to sit upon thrones, to have dominion, power, and eternal increase. God designed this in the beginning. We are the children of God. … 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.” (Gospel Doctrine, p. 64. Emphasis added.)
If we must go through the same ordeal to reach the glory that God has, then it must be that when he was a man and lived on an earth, he was baptized, ordained, received his endowments, and was married.
“… He has had His endowments long ago; it is thousands and millions of years since He received His blessings. …” (JD, 4:192.)
Can you see why your strivings to become like God must not be lessened by any fear that you cannot make it, or that his mortal situation was different?1
Doctrine and Covenants Instructor’s Guide: Religion 324-325 (1981)
It was late afternoon and my friend and I still sat in my office, but I felt the time had been well spent. He sat silently now, obviously contemplating the things we had been discussing. We had talked of God, of how he had become God, and of what that meant in terms of our own exaltation. Finally he spoke.
“What is this law of exaltation you keep talking about?”
“Well, it involves the whole of the gospel law. Everything God requires of us is associated with this law, but the crowning point of the law is eternal marriage. Therein lie the keys of eternal life or, as the Doctrine and Covenants puts it, ‛eternal lives.’ In other words, an eternal increase of posterity. Do you realize the implications of this doctrine for you?”
“I think so. If a god becomes God by obedience to all of the gospel law and the crowning point of the law is the celestial law of marriage, then that’s the only way I can become a god.”
Robert L. Millet and Joseph Fielding McConkie (Mormon scholars, 1986)
Our Father’s development and progression over an infinitely long period of time has brought him to a point at which he now presides as God Almighty, He is omnipotent, omniscient, and, by means of his Holy Spirit, omnipresent: he has all power, all knowledge, and is, through the Light of Christ, in and through all things.3
Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young (1997)
Note that this is a study question posed at the end of the chapter:
The doctrinethat God was once a man and has progressed to become a God is unique to this Church. How do you feel, knowing that God, through His own experience, “knows all that we know regarding the toils [and] sufferings” of mortality?4
Robert L. Millet (Mormon scholar, 1998)
Joseph Smith taught in 1844 that God our Father was once a mortal, that he lived on an earth, died, was resurrected and glorified, and grew and developed over time to become the Almighty that he now is. To say this another way, they teach that God is all-powerful and all-knowing, but that he has not been so forever; there was once a time in an eternity past when he lived on an earth like ours.5
That God was once a mortal being is in no way inconsistent with the fact that he now has all power and all knowledge and possesses every virtue, grace, and godly attribute. He acquired perfection through long periods of growth, development, and progression, “by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation,” as Joseph Smith explained….
Not much has been revealed about this concept beyond the fact that God was once a man and that over a long period of time he gained the knowledge, power, and divine attributes necessary to know all things and have all power. Because he has held his exalted status for a longer period than any of us can conceive, he is able to speak in terms of eternity and can state that he is from everlasting to everlasting. President Joseph Fielding Smith explained that “from eternity to eternity means from the spirit existence through the probation which we are in, and then back again to the eternal existence which will follow. Surely this is everlasting, for when we receive the resurrection, we will never die. We all existed in the first eternity. I think I can say of myself and others, we are from eternity; and we will be to eternity everlasting, if we receive the exaltation.”6
Gospel Fundamentals (2002)
Becoming like our Father in Heaven is like climbing a ladder. We must start at the bottom and climb each step until we reach the top. The Prophet Joseph Smith said that if we want to become like our Father in Heaven we must learn how He feels, thinks, and acts. When we understand these things about Him, we can then learn all other things about Him, until we know how to become as He is.
It will help us to remember that our Father in Heaven was once a man who lived on an earth, the same as we do. He became our Father in Heaven by overcoming problems, just as we have to do on this earth. However, the Prophet Joseph Smith said we will not learn everything we need to learn while in this world. It will take us a long time after we complete this life to know all the things we need to know in order to become like our Father in Heaven.7
Gospel Principles (2009)
When we lived with our Heavenly Father, He explained a plan for our progression. We could become like Him, an exalted being…. Exaltation is eternal life, the kind of life God lives. He lives in great glory. He is perfect. He possesses all knowledge and all wisdom. He is the Father of spirit children. He is a creator. We can become like our Heavenly Father. This is exaltation….
Our Heavenly Father knows our trials, our weaknesses, and our sins. He has compassion and mercy on us. He wants us to succeed even as He did.8
Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow (2012)
In the spring of 1840, Lorenzo Snow was in Nauvoo, Illinois, preparing to leave for a mission in England. He visited the home of his friend Henry G. Sherwood, and he asked Brother Sherwood to explain a passage of scripture. “While attentively listening to his explanation,” President Snow later recalled, “the Spirit of the Lord rested mightily upon me—the eyes of my understanding were opened, and I saw as clear as the sun at noonday, with wonder and astonishment, the pathway of God and man. I formed the following couplet which expresses the revelation, as it was shown me.…
“As man now is, God once was:
“As God now is, man may be.”
Feeling that he had received “a sacred communication” that he should guard carefully, Lorenzo Snow did not teach the doctrine publicly until he knew that the Prophet Joseph Smith had taught it. Once he knew the doctrine was public knowledge, he testified of it frequently….
…Through a continual course of progression our Heavenly Father has received exaltation and glory and he points us out the same path and, inasmuch as he is clothed with power, authority and glory, he says, “walk ye up and come in possession of the same glory and happiness that I possess.”9
This article has documented that the LDS Church has continuously taught from 1844 up to the present that God the Father was once not a God, but was a mortal man who became a God by the same process of exaltation that Mormonism teaches human beings are here to pursue. The first step in assessing a doctrine is to state it correctly (see Prov. 18:13). That is what we have attempted to do here.
1. The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles (1979), chap. 40.
3. Robert L. Millet and Joseph Fielding McConkie, The Life Beyond(Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1986), 148-49.
4. Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young (1997), 34.
5. Robert L. Millet, The Mormon Faith: A New Look at Christianity (Shadow Mountain, 1998), 29-30.
8. Gospel Principles (2009), 275, 279. The manual quotes at length from the King Follett Discourse on p. 279 in support of the doctrine quoted here.
9. “Chapter 5: The Grand Destiny of the Faithful,” in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow (2012), 83, 85. The LDS.org website gives the date as 2011, but the manual was not released until well into 2012.