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The Mormon View of Jesus Christ

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The Mormon View of Jesus Christ

The Bottom-Line Guide to Mormonism, Part 5
Robert M. Bowman Jr.

Latter-day Saints base their claim to be Christian on their belief in Jesus Christ. And they do get some important things about Jesus right. Unfortunately, for every correct affirmation about Jesus in LDS teaching, there is also a significant error (see table below). These departures from biblical teaching are so radical that, despite Mormons’ sincere claim to follow Jesus, we must view Mormonism as a Christian heresy that leads people away from vital truth about Jesus.

What Mormonism Gets Right about Jesus

What Mormonism Gets Wrong about Jesus

Jesus preexisted in Heaven before becoming a man

Jesus is one of billions of spirits who preexisted in Heaven before becoming human

Jesus is Jehovah, the God of Israel

Jesus is one of three Gods ruling the universe (among other Gods that also exist)

We are to pray to God the Father in the name of Jesus

We are never supposed to pray directly to Jesus

Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father

God is Jesus’ “literal” father in the flesh—compromising the truth that Mary was a virgin

Jesus was the Messiah, lived a sinless life, and did the miracles reported in the Gospels

Some of Jesus’ statements must be revised according to Joseph Smith’s revelations

Jesus suffered and died on a cross

Jesus accomplished the Atonement primarily in the garden of Gethsemane

Jesus rose physically, bodily from the grave

Jesus by his resurrection assures immortality in some heavenly kingdom for virtually everyone

Jesus ascended bodily into Heaven

Jesus returned to the earth to preach to the Nephites and start a separate church for them

Jesus will return physically to the earth

Jesus appeared to Joseph Smith, condemned all existing churches, and restored the true church

We have already explained in Part 4 of this series (on the Trinity) where Mormonism goes wrong in its view of how Jesus fits into the Mormon view of God. The LDS Church teaches that God the Father (and Heavenly Mother) procreated billions of spirit children. Their firstborn spirit son, Jesus Christ, was also the first of their children to become a God. The Mormon “Godhead” is not one God but a ruling council of three Gods. One of the most regrettable consequences of this faulty theology is that Mormons do not pray to Jesus Christ. The Old Testament constantly represents Jehovah (and note that Mormons admit that Jesus was Jehovah) as the only God to whom people should pray (e.g., Deut. 9:26; 1 Kings 8:22-30; Ps. 5:1-3). The New Testament teaches believers to pray both to the Father (e.g., Matt. 6:6-13; Luke 11:1-3; Eph. 3:14-16) and to Jesus (John 14:14; Acts 1:24-25; 7:59-60; Rom. 10:12-13; 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 12:8-10; etc.).

According to LDS doctrine, “Jesus is the only person on earth to be born of a mortal mother and an immortal father”; God the Father was “the literal father of Jesus Christ” in the flesh (Gospel Principles, 64). Although Mormons say that Mary was a “virgin,” this affirmation is at least in tension with the claim that the Father is the “literal” father of Jesus’ human body. Remember that Mormons view God the Father as an exalted Man. Thus, Mormonism clearly teaches that Jesus is the literal physical offspring of the Father and Mary. It does seem natural and logical to infer that Jesus was conceived through a procreative act of God and Mary. Mormons often take offense at this criticism, yet oddly enough, the LDS Church has never officially repudiated the idea (and several Mormon apostles over the years from Brigham Young to Bruce McConkie did seem to embrace it). By contrast, in orthodox Christian theology such an idea is adamantly and consistently rejected. God is incorporeal Spirit, and Jesus Christ was conceived in the Virgin Mary through the supernatural agency of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:18-25; Luke 1:35).

As has been mentioned, Mormonism accepts the Gospels and their reports of Jesus’ sayings and miracles. However, Joseph Smith felt that the Bible had been corrupted and that its text was unreliable, so he produced his own version of the Bible (often called the Joseph Smith Translation). Most of his changes were additions to the text, but in some cases Joseph rewrote Jesus’ sayings to fit his own theology. For example, Jesus’ simple affirmation “God is spirit” (John 4:24) Joseph rewrote to say, “For unto such hath God promised his spirit” (John 4:26 JST)—thereby fixing the text so Jesus does not appear to teach that God is incorporeal in nature.

The LDS Church teaches that Jesus accomplished the Atonement primarily (though not exclusively) in Gethsemane, the garden where the Gospels report Jesus praying prior to his arrest and crucifixion. The Mormon scriptures assert that Jesus literally bled “from every pore” (Mosiah 3:7; D&C 19:18) during his garden ordeal. This idea is based on a popular though controversial understanding of Luke 22:44, which reports that “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (kjv). Whatever exactly this text may be describing, the New Testament consistently states that Jesus procured our atonement or redemption specifically by his death on the cross (Matt. 20:28; Rom. 5:6-10; 1 Cor. 1:18; 2:2; 15:3; Eph. 2:16; Col. 1:20; 1 Pet. 2:24).

According to the LDS Church, Jesus’ death and resurrection guarantees resurrection to immortal life for practically everybody—Christian or not, moral or not—in one of three heavenly kingdoms. (The only exception are the “sons of perdition,” incorrigibly evil people that include some ex-Mormons.) We cannot discuss the three Mormon heavenly kingdoms here, but the Bible is clear that the wicked will be resurrected only to face, in their bodies, their condemnation to eternal punishment (Dan. 12:2; Matt. 10:28; 25:46; John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15). They derive no benefit from Christ’s atoning death. Only the righteous “in Christ”—those who belong to Christ—will be made alive and given immortality (1 Cor. 15:22-23, 53-54).

Finally, although the LDS Church affirms that Jesus ascended bodily into Heaven and will return bodily to the earth one day, it wrongly claims that Jesus has visited the earth bodily on other occasions between his ascension and second coming. The Book of Mormon claims that Jesus visited the Nephites in the Americas several separate times, destroyed whole cities of the wicked, preached to the righteous, and formed a church for them. In the First Vision story, Joseph Smith claimed that Jesus (and God the Father!) appeared personally to him to instruct him to join none of the existing churches. These LDS claims may seem innocent enough, but their significance is that they call into question the sufficiency and, ultimately, the reliability of the New Testament revelations of Jesus Christ.