Mormonism and the nature of God/Deification of man

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    Is the doctrine of human deification unbiblical, false, and arrogant?

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QUESTIONS


Some Christians claim that the doctrine of human deification is unbiblical, false, and arrogant.

Related claims include:

  • Mormons believe they will 'supplant God'
  • Belief in theosis, or human deification, implies more than one "god," which means Mormons are "polytheists."
  • The Mormon concept of "human deification" is a pagan belief derived from Greek philosophy.


To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS RESPONDS TO THESE QUESTIONS

"Becoming Like God," Gospel Topics on LDS.org, (February 25, 2014)


Latter-day Saints see all people as children of God in a full and complete sense; they consider every person divine in origin, nature, and potential. Each has an eternal core and is “a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents.”1 Each possesses seeds of divinity and must choose whether to live in harmony or tension with that divinity. Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, all people may “progress toward perfection and ultimately realize their divine destiny.”2 Just as a child can develop the attributes of his or her parents over time, the divine nature that humans inherit can be developed to become like their Heavenly Father's.
(Click here for full article)


CONCLUSION


In conclusion, it is proper to cite Origen:

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. ... [However], 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 (cf. 1 Cor. 8:5-6). [1]

True, some may dislike this doctrine, but it is ancient, Biblical, and true.

SUB-ARTICLES



Deification of man

It is claimed that the doctrine of human deification is unbiblical, false, and arrogant. Related claims include: 1) Mormons believe they will 'supplant God', 2) Belief in theosis, or human deification, implies more than one "god," which means Mormons are "polytheists," 3) The Mormon concept of "human deification" is a pagan belief derived from Greek philosophy. (Click here for full article)

  • Gods of their own planets
    Brief Summary: It is claimed that Mormons believe that they can push themselves higher in a type of 'celestial pecking order.' This is often expressed by the claim that Latter-day Saint men wish to become "gods of their own planets." (Click here for full article)
    ∗       ∗       ∗
  • Was God once a sinner?
    Brief Summary: If God was once like us, do Mormons believe that God was once a sinner? (Click here for full article)
    ∗       ∗       ∗


DETAILED QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Said the Church when asked about this doctrine:

We believe that the apostle Peter’s biblical reference to partaking of the divine nature and the apostle Paul’s reference to being 'joint heirs with Christ' reflect the intent that children of God should strive to emulate their Heavenly Father in every way. Throughout the eternities, Mormons believe, they will reverence and worship God the Father and Jesus Christ. The goal is not to equal them or to achieve parity with them but to imitate and someday acquire their perfect goodness, love and other divine attributes.[2]

Supplanting God?

The first thing we must realize when we study this principle is that

The Father is the one true God. This thing is certain: no one will ever ascend above Him; no one will ever replace Him. Nor will anything ever change the relationship that we, His literal offspring, have with Him. He is Elohim, the Father. He is God. Of Him there is only one. We revere our Father and our God; we worship Him. [3]

A belief in human deification does not mean that the LDS believe their worship is or will be properly directed at anyone but God the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ.

Non-LDS church historian Ernst Benz insisted that the doctrine of deification was present in the early Church, and pointed out a potential risk for those who do not understand it:

Now this idea of deification could give rise to a misunderstanding—namely, that it leads to a blasphemous self-aggrandizement of man. If that were the case, then mysticism would, in fact, be the sublimist, most spiritualized form of egoism. But the concept of imago dei, in the Christian understanding of the term, precisely does not aspire to awaken in man a consciousness of his own divinity, but attempts to have him recognize the image of God in his neighbor. Here the powerful words of Jesus in Matthew 25:21-26 are appropriate and connected by the church fathers to imago dei...
Hence, the concept of imago dei does not lead toward self-aggrandizement but rather toward charity as the true and actual form of God's love, for the simple reason that in one's neighbor the image of God, the Lord himself, confronts us. The love of God should be fulfilled in the love toward him in whom God himself is mirrored, in one's neighbor. Thus, in the last analysis, the concept of imago dei is the key to the fundamental law of the gospel—"Thou shalt love . . . God . . . and thy neighbor as thyself" (Luke 10:27)—since one should view one's neighbor with an eye to the image that God has engraven upon him and to the promise that he has given regarding him.[4]

UnChristian?

Some Christians insist that the doctrine of theosis is unBiblical and unChristian. However, a review of Christian history illustrates that this doctrine was and is a common belief of many Christians.

Irenaeus (ca. AD 115-202)

Saint Irenaeus, who may justly be called the first Biblical theologian among the ancient Christians, was a disciple of the great Polycarp, who was a direct disciple of John the Revelator.[5] Irenaeus is not a heretic or unorthodox in traditional Christian circles, yet he shares a belief in theosis:

While man gradually advances and mounts towards perfection; that is, he approaches the eternal. The eternal is perfect; and this is God. Man has first to come into being, then to progress, and by progressing come to manhood, and having reached manhood to increase, and thus increasing to persevere, and persevering to be glorified, and thus see his Lord. [6]

Like the LDS, Irenaeus did not believe that this belief in any way displaced God, Christ, or the Holy Ghost:

there is none other called God by the Scriptures except the Father of all, and the Son, and those who possess the adoption....Since, therefore, this is sure and stedfast, that no other God or Lord was announced by the Spirit, except Him who, as God, rules over all, together with His Word, and those who receive the Spirit of adoption.[7]

Yet, Irenaeus—whom it is absurd to exclude from the ranks of orthodox Christians—believed in theosis in terms which agree with LDS thinking on the matter:

We were not made gods at our beginning, but first we were made men, then, in the end, gods.[8]

Also:

How then will any be a god, if he has not first been made a man? How can any be perfect when he has only lately been made man? How immortal, if he has not in his mortal nature obeyed his maker? For one's duty is first to observe the discipline of man and thereafter to share in the glory of God.[9]

And:

Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, of his boundless love, became what we are that he might make us what he himself is.” [10]

And:

But of what gods [does he speak]? [Of those] to whom He says, "I have said, Ye are gods, and all sons of the Most High." To those, no doubt, who have received the grace of the "adoption, by which we cry, Abba Father."” [11]

And, Irenaeus considers the doctrine clearly Biblical, just as the LDS do:

For he who holds, without pride and boasting, the true glory (opinion) regarding created things and the Creator, who is the Almighty God of all, and who has granted existence to all; [such an one, ] continuing in His love and subjection, and giving of thanks, shall also receive from Him the greater glory of promotion, looking forward to the time when he shall become like Him who died for him, for He, too, "was made in the likeness of sinful flesh," to condemn sin, and to cast it, as now a condemned thing, away beyond the flesh, but that He might call man forth into His own likeness, assigning him as [His own] imitator to God, and imposing on him His Father's law, in order that he may see God, and granting him power to receive the Father; [being] the Word of God who dwelt in man, and became the Son of man, that He might accustom man to receive God, and God to dwell in man, according to the good pleasure of the Father.[12]

Further quotes from Irenaeus available here.

Said one Protestant theologian of Irenaeus:

Participation in God was carried so far by Irenaeus as to amount to deification. 'We were not made gods in the beginning,' he says, 'but at first men, then at length gods.' This is not to be understood as mere rhetorical exaggeration on Irenaeus' part. He meant the statement to be taken literally.[13]

Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-215)

Clement, an early Christian leader in Alexandria, also taught the doctrine of deification:

yea, I say, the Word of God became a man so that you might learn from a man how to become a god.[14]

And:

...if one knows himself, he will know God, and knowing God will become like God...His is beauty, true beauty, for it is God, and that man becomes god, since God wills it. So Heraclitus was right when he said, "Men are gods, and gods are men."[15]
Those who have been perfected are given their reward and their honors. They have done with their purification, they have done with the rest of their service, though it be a holy service, with the holy; now they become pure in heart, and because of their close intimacy with the Lord there awaits them a restoration to eternal contemplation; and they have received the title of "gods" since they are destined to be enthroned with the other "gods" who are ranked next below the savior.[16]

Origen (ca. AD 185-251)

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. [17]
The Father, then, is proclaimed as the one true God; but besides the true God are many who become gods by participating in God. [18]

Origen also defined what it means to "participate" in something:

Every one who participates in anything, is unquestionably of one essence and nature with him who is partaker of the same thing. [19]

Justin Martyr (d. ca. AD 163)

Justin the Martyr said in 150 A.D. that he wishes

to prove to you that the Holy Ghost reproaches men because they were made like God, free from suffering and death, provided that they kept His commandments, and were deemed deserving of the name of His sons... in the beginning men were made like God, free from suffering and death, and that they are thus deemed worthy of becoming gods and of having power to become sons of the highest...[20]

Also,

[By Psalm 82] it is demonstrated that all men are deemed worthy of becoming “gods,” and even of having power to become sons of the Highest.[21]

Hippolytus (AD 170-236)

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...The Deity (by condescension) does not diminish anything of the dignity of His divine perfection having made you even God unto his glory. [22]

Athanasius

In 347, Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria and participant in the council of Nicea, said:

the Word was made flesh in order that we might be enabled to be made gods....just as the Lord, putting on the body, became a man, so also we men are both deified through His flesh, and henceforth inherit everlasting life...[we are] sons and gods by reason of the word in us.[23]
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. [24]

He also states that Christ "became man that we might be made divine." [25]

Augustine (AD 354-430)

Augustine, considered one of the greatest Christian Fathers, said

but He himself that justifies also deifies, for by justifying He makes sons of God. For He has given them power to become the sons of God, (John 1:12). If then we have been made sons of God, we have also been made gods.[26]

Jerome (AD 340-420)

Jerome also described the deification of believers as an act of grace, which matches the LDS understanding precisely:

“I said 'you are gods, all of you sons of the most high.’" let Eunomius hear this, let Arius, who say that the son of God is son in the same way we are. That we are gods is not so by nature, but by grace. “but to as many as receive Him he gave power to becoming sons of God” I made man for that purpose, that from men they may become gods. We are called gods and sons!...[Christ said] "all of you sons of the Most High," it is not possible to be the son of the Most High, unless He Himself is the Most High. I said that all of you would be exalted as I am exalted.[27]

Jerome goes on to say that we should

give thanks to the God of gods. The prophet is referring to those gods of whom it is written: I said ‘you are gods’ and again ‘god arises in the divine assembly’ they who cease to be mere men, abandon the ways of vice an are become perfect, are gods and the sons of the most high...[28]

Modern Christian exegesis

The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology describes "deification" thusly:

Deification (Greek Theosis) is for orthodoxy the goal of every Christian. Man, according to the Bible, is ‘made in the image and likeness of God’...it is possible for man to become like God, to become deified, to become God by grace. This doctrine is based on many passages of both O.T. and N.T. (Psalms 82: (81) .6; 2 Peter 1:4), and it is essentially the teaching both of St. Paul, though he tends to use the language of filial adoption (Romans 8:9-17, Galatians 4:5-7) and the fourth gospel (John 17:21-23).[29]

Joseph Fitzmyer wrote:

The language of 2 Peter is taken up by St. Irenaeus, in his famous phrase, ‘if the Word has been made man, it is so that men may be made gods; (adv. Haer v, pref.), And becomes the standard in Greek theology. In the fourth century St. Athanasius repeats Irenaeus almost word for word, and in the fifth century St. Cyril of Alexandria says that we shall become sons ‘by participation’ (Greek methexis). Deification is the central idea in the spirituality of St. Maximus the confessor, for whom the doctrine is corollary of the incarnation: ‘deification, briefly, is the encompassing and fulfillment of all times and ages’,...and St. Symeon the new theologian at the end of the tenth century writes, ‘he who is God by nature converses with those whom he has made gods by grace, as a friend converses with his friends, face to face...’
Finally, it should be noted that deification does not mean absorption into God, since the deified creature remains itself and distinct. It is the whole human being, body and soul, who is transfigured in the spirit into the likeness of the divine nature, and deification is the goal of every Christian.[30]

According to Christian scholar G.L. Prestige, the ancient Christians “taught that the destiny of man was to become like God, and even to become deified.”[31]

William R. Inge, Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote:

"God became man, that we might become God" was a commonplace of doctrinal theology at least until the time of Augustine, and that "deification holds a very large place in the writings of the fathers...We find it in Irenaeus as well as in Clement, in Athanasius as well in Gregory of Nysee. St. Augustine was no more afraid of deificari in Latin than Origen of apotheosis in Greek...To modern ears the word deification sounds not only strange but arrogant and shocking.[32]

Yet, these "arrogant and shocking" doctrines were clearly held by early Christians!

This view of the early Christians' doctrines is not unique to the Latter-day Saints. Many modern Christian writers have recognized the same doctrines. If some modern Christians do not wish to embrace these ancient doctrines, that is their privilege, but they cannot logically claim that such doctrines are not "Christian." One might fairly ask why modern Christians do not believe that which the ancient Christians insisted upon?

UnBiblical?

The previous section demonstrates that theosis has been taught by many Christians through the centuries. They pulled these beliefs from the Bible itself.

The concept of deification derived from Greek philosophy?

Evangelical Christians claim that the Latter-day Saint idea of "deification" was derived from pagan Greek philosophy. The simple answer to this question is "No." Why? Greek philosophy was an attempt to discover the First Things. What is it that is behind the multiplicity of things we encounter? Some said water, others argued for fire--building on Ionian notions. Still others argued for numbers. In doing this they began to deal with three issues, or what were called the "parts" of philosophy. The first two parts involved theoria (theory), and included two issues: physis (from which we get the word "physical") and logos (from which we get the word "logic"). Put in question form, the Greeks debated about the nature of reality and how we can know, or not know, the answer to this question. The third part of philosophy—praxis (from which we get the word "practical," meaning for the Greek philosophers the question of how, given the limits on our knowledge and what we can know of the nature of things, how ought we to behave?). The question of the nature of divine things or of God was never settled.

Plato is an especially useful instance of what might be called "theoretical atheism" in his physics, while in his practical or moral philosophy he has a rather large place for God as a kind of "noble lie," since believing in divine punishments is a way of controlling children or childish adults—that is, most humans most of the time. It is also true that in Plato's dialogues there are many instances in which a wise saying by one of the participants will draw forth from one of the others expressions such as "oh divine man" or "worthy of being a God" and so forth. This may merely be a way of indicating that wisdom is the highest attainment of human nature, and not anything like theosis (deification) in the sense that word was used by early Christians.

When Latter-day Saints refer to the Hellenizing of Christianity, they are following the lead of Protestant authors who have used that expression. What that label often means, for the Saints, is that the authors of the great ecumenical creeds borrowed categories, which they only half understood, from pagan sources—that is, from Greek philosophy. In doing this they seem to have corrupted both Greek philosophy and Christian faith. This may not have caused the apostasy, but may have instead been a desperate attempt on the part of really passionate believers to sort of issues that were tearing the church to pieces.

For further information, see: Louis Midgley, "Directions That Diverge (Review of The Ancient State: The Rulers and the Ruled)," FARMS Review of Books 11/1 (1999): 27–87. off-site

Scriptures

Theosis or deification is discussed in the following biblical scriptures:

In regard to the Mormon doctrine, non-LDS scholar Ernst W. Benz has observed:

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.[33]

For more quotes about theosis see: Primary sources:Theosis

Endnotes

  1. [note]  Origen, Commentary on John, Book II, Chapter 3.
  2. [note]  Fox News, "21 Questions Answered About Mormon Faith," (18 December 2007). off-site
  3. [note]  Boyd K. Packer, "The Pattern of Our Parentage," Ensign (November 1984), 69. off-site
  4. [note] Ernst W. Benz, "Imago Dei: Man in the Image of God," in Truman G. Madsen (editor), Reflections on Mormonism: Judaeo-Christian parallels : papers delivered at the Religious Studies Center symposium, Brigham Young University, March 10-11, 1978 (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center , Brigham Young University and Bookcraft, 1978), 215–216. ISBN 0884943585. Reprinted in Ernst Benz, "Imago dei: Man as the Image of God," FARMS Review 17/1 (2005): 223–254. off-site Note: Benz misunderstands some aspects of LDS doctrine, but his sketch of the relevance of theosis for Christianity in general, and Joseph Smith's implementation of it, is worthwhile.
  5. [note]  Henry Bettenson, The Early Christian Fathers: A Selection from the Writings of the Fathers from St. Clement of Rome to St. Athanasius (London: Oxford University Press, 1956),16–17. ISBN 0192830090.
  6. [note]  Henry Bettenson, The Early Christian Fathers: A Selection from the Writings of the Fathers from St. Clement of Rome to St. Athanasius (London: Oxford University Press, 1956), 94. ISBN 0192830090.
  7. [note]  Irenaeus, "Against Heresies," in Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886). ANF ToC off-site This volume
  8. [note]  Henry Bettenson, The Early Christian Fathers: A Selection from the Writings of the Fathers from St. Clement of Rome to St. Athanasius (London: Oxford University Press, 1956), 94. ISBN 0192830090.
  9. [note]  Henry Bettenson, The Early Christian Fathers: A Selection from the Writings of the Fathers from St. Clement of Rome to St. Athanasius (London: Oxford University Press, 1956),95–96. ISBN 0192830090..
  10. [note]  Henry Bettenson, The Early Christian Fathers: A Selection from the Writings of the Fathers from St. Clement of Rome to St. Athanasius (London: Oxford University Press, 1956), 106. ISBN 0192830090.; Citing Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.38 cp. 4.11.
  11. [note]  Irenaeus, "Against Heresies," in Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)1:419, chapter 6. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  12. [note]  Irenaeus, "Against Heresies," in Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)1:450, chapter 6. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  13. [note]  Arthur C. McGiffert, A History of Christian Thought, Vol. 1—Early and Eastern: From Jesus to John of Damascus (New York: Scribner's Sons, 1932), 141.
  14. [note]  Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Greeks, 1. off-site
  15. [note]  Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, 3.1 see also Clement, Stromateis, 23.[citation needed]
  16. [note]  Henry Bettenson, The Early Christian Fathers: A Selection from the Writings of the Fathers from St. Clement of Rome to St. Athanasius (London: Oxford University Press, 1956),243–244. ISBN 0192830090.; Stromata 7:10 (55–56).
  17. [note]  Origen, Commentary on John, Book II, Chapter 2.
  18. [note]  Origen in Bettensen, Henry. The Early Christian Fathers, 324.
  19. [note]  Origin, De Principiis, 4:1:36 in Ante-Nicene Fathers 4:381.
  20. [note]  Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 124.
  21. [note]  Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 124.
  22. [note]  Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 10:29-30, in Ante-Nicene Fathers 5:152.
  23. [note]  Athanasius, Against the Arians, 1.39, 3.39.
  24. [note]  Athanasius, Against the Arians, 1:42, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, 4:330-331.
  25. [note]  Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 54.
  26. [note]  Augustine, On the Psalms, 50:2.
  27. [note]  Jerome, The Homilies of Saint Jerome, 106–107.
  28. [note]  Jerome, The Homilies of Saint Jerome, 106–353.
  29. [note] Alan Richardson (editor), The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology (Westminster: John Knox Press, 1983). ISBN 0664213987. (emphasis added).
  30. [note]  Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Pauline Theology: a brief sketch (Prentice-Hall, 1967), 42. AISN B0006BQTCQ.
  31. [note]  G.L. Prestige, God in Patristic Thought (London Press, 1956), 73.
  32. [note]  William Ralph Inge, Christian Mysticism (London, Metheun & Co., 1948[1899]), 13, 356.
  33. [note]  Ernst W. Benz, "Imago Dei: Man in the Image of God," in Truman G. Madsen (editor), Reflections on Mormonism: Judaeo-Christian parallels : papers delivered at the Religious Studies Center symposium, Brigham Young University, March 10-11, 1978 (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center , Brigham Young University and Bookcraft, 1978), 215–216. ISBN 0884943585. Reprinted in Ernst Benz, "Imago dei: Man as the Image of God," FARMS Review 17/1 (2005): 223–254. off-siteNote: Benz misunderstands some aspects of LDS doctrine, but his sketch of the relevance of theosis for Christianity in general, and Joseph Smith's implementation of it, is worthwhile.


Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims

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