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Mormonism and Jesus Christ

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Mormonism and Jesus Christ

Robert M. Bowman Jr.

“And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.”—2 Nephi 25:26

 “As a Church we have critics, many of them. They say we do not believe in the traditional Christ of Christianity. There is some substance to what they say. Our faith, our knowledge, is not based on ancient tradition, the creeds which came of a finite understanding and out of the almost infinite discussions of men trying to arrive at a definition of the risen Christ. Our faith, our knowledge comes of the witness of a prophet in this dispensation who saw before him the great God of the universe and His Beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.”—Gordon B. Hinckley, “We Look to Christ,” The Ensign (conference edition), May 2002, 90.

"While orthodox Christians can agree with Mormons on a good number of facts about Jesus Christ, we must also recognize that the teachings of the LDS Church about Christ deviate from the teachings of the Bible on a number of key issues. "

Jesus Christ: The Facts on Which We Can Agree

The LDS Church emphatically claims to be “the Church of Jesus Christ” and insists that faith in Jesus Christ is absolutely central to their religion. We should not ignore or dismiss this claim without a fair examination. In particular, we should take careful notice of the truths about Jesus Christ that the LDS religion affirms and that they share in common with historic, orthodox Christianity. Even a simple list of these affirmations will show that there is considerable truth within the LDS belief system concerning Jesus Christ:

  • Jesus was a descendant of King David (Matthew 1:1-17; 9:27; 15:22; 20:30-31; 21:9, 15; Mark 10:47-48; Luke 1:32; 3:23-32; 18:38-39; Romans 1:3; 2 Timothy 2:8; Revelation 5:5; 22:16).

  • Jesus’ mother was a young Jewish woman named Mary, and Joseph was not his biological father (Matthew 1:19-25; Luke 1:26-34).

  • Jesus was born in Bethlehem and grew up in Nazareth (Matthew 2:1, 23; 4:13; Luke 2:1-21, 39-40, 51-52; 4:16).

  • Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22).

  • Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life, despite the temptations of the devil (Matthew 4:1-11; 27:3, 19; Mark 1:13; 7:37; Luke 4:1-13; 23:41, 47; John 8:27, 46; Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 1:9; 2:17-18; 4:15; 7:26; 1 Peter 1:19; 2:21-22; 3:18; 1 John 2:1, 20; 3:5).

  • Jesus loved people perfectly and felt deep compassion for them (Matthew 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 20:34; Mark 1:41; 6:34; 8:2; 10:21; Luke 7:13; John 11:3, 5, 36; 13:1, 34; 15:9-13).

  • Jesus performed the miracles reported in the Gospels—casting out demons, healing people’s diseases, turning water into wine, feeding the multitude, making the blind to see and the lame to walk, walking on the sea, and even raising people from the dead (e.g., Matthew 8:23-27; 11:2-6; 14:13-33; 15:32-39; 17:24-27; Mark 1:23-27; 5:19-20; Luke 5:1-11; 7:11-16; John 2:1-11; 9:1-7; 11:1-46; 21:1-14).

  • Jesus chose apostles to speak for him and be the original leaders of the church (Matthew 10:1-5; Mark 3:14-19; Luke 6:13-16).

  • Jesus suffered and was sentenced by Pontius Pilate to death on the cross (Matthew 26-27; Mark 14-15; Luke 22-23; John 18-19).

  • Jesus rose physically from the grave on the third day to immortal physical life and appeared to his disciples (Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20-21; Acts 2:24-32; 13:30-37; Romans 4:24-25; 8:11; 10:9; 1 Corinthians 15:4-23; Galatians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; etc.).

  • Jesus ascended into heaven (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9-11; 2:33-35; 1 Peter 3:22).

  • Jesus will return personally, bodily, and visibly to the earth to destroy the wicked, raise the dead, and administer judgment (John 5:28-29; 6:40, 54; 10:27-28; Acts 3:19-21; 17:30-31; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; 2 Timothy 4:1, 8; Titus 2:13-14; Hebrews 9:26-28; Revelation 22:7, 12, 20; etc.).

We gladly acknowledge that Mormons share these beliefs about Jesus Christ in common with historic Christianity. Every one of these affirmations is part of the biblical, orthodox Christian faith. Since Mormons often have the perception that orthodox Christians do not believe in the physical resurrection of Christ, we should emphasize that this is indeed something we believe. Jesus still has, and forever will have, a glorified, immortal physical body (Luke 24:39; Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians 15:42-57).

Jesus Christ: Recognizing the Divide

While orthodox Christians can agree with Mormons on a good number of facts about Jesus Christ, we maintain that the teachings of the LDS Church about Christ deviate from the teachings of the Bible on a number of key issues. In our view, the ancient doctrine about Christ to which the vast majority of Christians still adhere (summarized faithfully though not infallibly in the early creeds) reflects the teachings of the Bible. Speaking in general terms, LDS doctrine about Christ goes astray in the way it interprets the meaning or significance of what the Bible says Christ did and in the way it adds to what the Bible says about Christ. Both its additions to biblical doctrine and its different interpretations of that biblical doctrine derive from Joseph Smith's teachings, as Gordon Hinckley stated in the conference address quoted at the beginning of this article. The following comments of LDS scholar Robert Matthews are representative of the Mormon perspective and confirm this point:

“I love the Jesus that the Prophet Joseph Smith knew and about whom he spoke and wrote. It is my absolute and firm conviction that a complete concept of the Savior cannot be obtained from the New Testament alone. Such can be obtained only from studying latter-day revelation to learn how to evaluate and interpret the Bible. I do not believe any person can know enough about the real Jesus without knowing what the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and the Joseph Smith Translation have to say. These sources, when joined with the New Testament and a personal witness from the Holy Ghost, provide understanding about Jesus that without them will remain hidden to mankind” (Robert J. Matthews, Behold the Messiah [Bookcraft, 1994], viii).

Just as we would be doing a disservice to ignore or minimize the substantial agreements between LDS and orthodox Christian beliefs about Jesus Christ, we would also be doing a disservice to ignore or minimize the significant disagreements arising from the LDS Church’s additional revelations. Mormons believe that historic, traditional Christianity is woefully ignorant of much important, even essential truth about Christ. They claim that many “plain and precious” truths about Jesus were omitted or lost from the Bible and that the spiritual authority to understand the truth about Jesus properly was also lost. Joseph Fielding McConkie explained the problem as Mormons see it:

“We part paths with historical Christianity in that we believe that shortly after the death of Christ and his apostles, there was a universal apostasy, or corrupting of the doctrines of Christ, and a subsequent loss of the authority to minister in his name. Just as there is no salvation in the worship of a false Christ, so there can be no salvation in corrupted doctrines or false priesthoods. If it can successfully be argued otherwise, there is no need for the real Jesus or pure doctrines. If salvation can be had independent of Christ or by the acceptance of false notions of him or his doctrines, then his ministry and word are without purpose. We exist as his Church because we believe that a true knowledge of Christ, the purity of his doctrines, and the authority to act in his name were restored to the earth through the instrumentality of the Prophet Joseph Smith” (Joseph Fielding McConkie, Here We Stand [Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1955], 3).

Mormons, then, believe that the orthodox view of Christ was corrupted in apostasy. They see the LDS faith as restoring the truth about Christ that the apostles originally taught by clarifying what the Bible teaches as well as adding to what the Bible says, that is, new revelations about Christ. On the other hand, from an orthodox Christian perspective, LDS doctrines do not merely add to or clarify what the Bible says about Christ, but instead in some significant ways actually depart from the Bible’s teachings about Christ.

Jesus Christ: Ten Doctrines that Divide

The following table lists ten major LDS teachings about Jesus Christ that orthodox Christians regard as differing from those of biblical Christianity. In most cases, Mormons claim that their belief agrees with at least some statements in the Bible. However, in each case the LDS doctrine does not derive from the Bible and in fact disagrees with the Bible. Some, but not all, of these doctrines are mentioned in chapter 11 of the LDS doctrinal manual Gospel Principles. Some of these doctrines we have discussed in reference to early chapters of Gospel Principles, as noted in the table. 

LDS Teaching about Christ

Biblical Teaching about Christ

1. Jesus Christ is just the “firstborn” of God’s billions of spirit children and the first to become a God. (See the articles on Preexistence and the sons of God.)

Jesus Christ is the only human being who existed in heaven before his human life (John 3:31). He did not become a God, but has always been God (John 1:1). He is called the “firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15) to mean that he is the Father’s primary heir, not that he was the first spirit being created.

2. Jesus Christ is one of three Gods in the “Godhead,” as is the Holy Spirit. (See the article on Mormon doctrine and the Trinity.)

Jesus Christ is one of three divine persons (Matthew 28:19), but these three persons are one God (Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 43:10; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6), not three Gods or God and two of his sons.

3. Jesus Christ is not the proper recipient of prayer; we may pray only to the Father in Jesus’ name. (See the article on prayer and the nature of God.)

Even Mormons admit that faithful Israelites prayed to Jesus (whom they identify as Jehovah) in the Old Testament. The New Testament also affirms praying to Jesus (John 14:14; Romans 10:9-14; 2 Corinthians 12:7-9; 1 John 5:13-15).

4. Jesus Christ is the “Only Begotten,” which means that he is the only human being whom God the Father literally begat in the flesh. God is Jesus’ father in the flesh and Mary is his mother (Gospel Principles, 52-53).

In the Bible, calling Jesus the “only-begotten Son” refers to his eternal nature and status as God’s unique, divine Son (John 1:14, 18). Jesus was conceived “from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18), not as God’s physical offspring (an idea nowhere taught even in the LDS scriptures).

5. Jesus Christ “inherited divine powers from His Father” when he became a human being (Gospel Principles, 53).

Jesus did not “inherit” divine powers by being God’s physical offspring because he was already, as even LDS scriptures say, “the Lord Omnipotent…from all eternity to all eternity” (Mosiah 3:5, quoted in Gospel Principles, 52).

6. Jesus Christ “organized the only true Church” with a system of priesthood “authority” required to teach or baptize others (Gospel Principles, 55).

Jesus Christ appointed apostles as his authoritative witnesses, not as custodians of a priesthood to run a religious organization. Rather, the whole church is a “royal priesthood” based not on ritual but on relationship to Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:4-10).

7. Jesus Christ suffered to atone for our sins in Gethsemane, bleeding from “every pore” (D&C 19:18-19; Gospel Principles, 52, 56).

Jesus Christ did agonize in prayer in Gethsemane, but he did not bleed from every pore, and he atoned for our sins on the cross, not in Gethsemane (Ephesians 2:16; Colossians 2:14; 1 Peter 2:24). (We will discuss this subject in more detail in our article Mormonism, the Garden, the Cross, and the Atonement.)

8. Jesus Christ atoned for the sins of every human being, giving resurrection to immortal life to all, including unbelievers (Gospel Principles, 61-62).

Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice is sufficient to pay for the sins of the whole world, but only those whom God actually saves through faith will be resurrected to immortal heavenly life (1 Corinthians 15:20-23, 50-57). (We will also discuss this subject in more detail in our article Salvation, Immortality, and Eternal Life in Mormon Belief.)

9. Jesus Christ “appeared to the Nephites and established His Church in the Americas” shortly after his ascension (Gospel Principles, 57; see 3 Nephi 10:18; 11:12).

After Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:9-11), he was to remain in heaven until his second coming (Acts 3:19-21). There are many other reasons to question the Book of Mormon account from a biblical perspective. (See our Book of Mormon Page for articles on biblically based concerns about the Book of Mormon.)

10. Jesus Christ (and God the Father) appeared to Joseph Smith to tell him to join none of the churches because all of them were wrong and their creeds an abomination (Joseph Smith—History 1:7-20; Gospel Principles, 96).

Jesus Christ promised the apostles that the gates of Hades (death) would not prevail against his church and that he would be with his disciples until the end of the age (Matthew 16:18; 28:20). These promises are not consistent with Joseph Smith’s claim that Jesus told him the churches were all so wrong that he could not be part of any of them. (We will discuss these issues in more detail in the article The Great Apostasy: Did the Church Disappear?)


For Further Reflection

  • What point of agreement about Jesus Christ between orthodox Christians and Latter-day Saints do you think is the most significant?
  • Is it important to recognize and consider the ways in which LDS teachings about Jesus Christ differ from those of historic Christianity?

  • How do these differences relate to the Bible from the LDS perspective, and how do they relate to the Bible from the orthodox Christian perspective?

For Further Study

Joseph Smith’s First Vision. A collection of resources investigating Joseph Smith’s claim that the Father and the Son appeared to him in the spring of 1820.