Friday, December 31, 2010

Forms of Theism and the evolution of Joseph Smith's Theology

My definitions of the forms of theism (belief in God):

Monotheism: There is one God and there are no other Gods, ever. Never has been, never will be. God is eternal and NO ONE else can ever be God. Jesus was not God, the Holy Ghost is not God, there is only one God and no one else is or can become God. (Judaism is an example of monotheism. They believe in Jehovah and beside him there can be no other. Even the Messiah would never be equal to Jehovah and the Messiah certainly would not declare himself to be Jehovah.)

Scriptures in support of monotheism:
Exodus 20:3
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

Exodus 23:13
“And in all things that I have said unto you be circumspect: and make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth.”

1 Timothy 2:5
“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;”

Modalistic Monotheism: There is only one God but the form of God can change. Before Jesus came to earth Jesus was THE God in heaven, the Jehovah of the Old Testament. However, when He came to earth he was God in the flesh. Beside him there was no other God while he was in the flesh (in heaven or anywhere). Basically there is only one God, but God can appear in different forms as needed. While in a form, the form is God and the other, prior, form of God ceases to exist while God takes a different form.

Scriptures in support of Modalistic Monotheism:
John 1:1
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

John 8:38-40, 58-59
“38 I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father.
39 They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham.
40 But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham… [Apparently Abraham did not know the name of God, or, if he did, he did not tell anyone.]
58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.
59 Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.” [When Jesus declared “I am”, the reason the Pharisees took up stones to throw at him is because he was committing the worst form of blasphemy by declaring to be Jehovah of the Old Testament. “I am” or “YHWH” was the name given to Moses on the Mount as the name of God. See Exodus 3:14-15.]

Binitarian/Trinitarian(ism): God is made up of two (Binitarian) or three (Trinitarian) beings that all exist independent of each other and may occupy different places in space but all share equal power and authority. If one of the 2 or 3 beings says so than God says so and they always agree and will always support each other in their decisions/actions. Besides the 2 or 3 beings of God, there can be no other Gods.

Scriptures in support of Binitarian/Trinitarianism:
John 17:5
“And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.”

John 5:23
“That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.”

Matthew 28:19
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:” [Why would baptism require the names of 3 beings unless they are all equal and need to sponsor (in essence) or accept the ordinance for it to be valid?]

Polytheism: There are many Gods. God has a father and His Father has a Father and it has no beginning. It just goes back on and on. Anyone can become God and many already have become Gods. In this view God is just a title and not so much about who the person of God is, just about who meets the criteria to become God. In essence these all speak for God and theoretically no one who has achieved the title of God will ever disagree with what God the title stands for.

Scriptures in support of Polytheism:
None from the Bible

Abraham 4
“And then the Lord said: Let us go down. And they went down at the beginning, and they, that is the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth.” [Chapter goes on to describe the creation story replacing God with Gods]

Doctrine and Covenants 132:20
“Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.” [However, “gods” as used in this verse, is not capitalized. Are we to assume that there are different levels of god? One may be able to become god but will never be able to become God with a capital G?]

Atheism: The belief that there is no god or gods but all of it is made up.

Scriptures in support of atheism:

Problems with each:

Monotheism: This is contrary to the LDS theology that man can become like God or become God. It does not seem to offer any hope of anyone ever being able to achieve God’s status in the universe. Man (along with all of God’s creations) will never be able to be like God. We are all damned, sort of speak, in the sense that we will never be able to be as enlightened or smart as God, let alone enjoy all that he enjoys in the eternities.

Modalistic Monotheism: This seems to contradict what Jesus himself said. Jesus said that everything he did, he did to honor his Father in heaven, which seems to indicate there is another being in heaven that Jesus wants us all to be mindful of and give all the glory to. His cry on the cross asking His Father to forgive them or to take the cup from Him, doesn’t seem to make sense if He was crying out to Himself (yet to achieve another form). Jesus seemed to indicate that his Father was a separate being from himself that we should give honor to. The only question is what level of equality with God the Father did Jesus achieve through what he did? The very idea that God can take different forms depending on the situation, and need, is an interesting one, however.

Binitarian/Trinitarian: This also seems to exclude the possibility of anyone ever achieving Godhood. It does make sense that God the Father is God and Jesus, the Son is a being equal to God and therefore a God and the Holy Ghost is considered God as well. Also, this view seems the most likely to become a polytheistic one because the logic would follow that if Jesus was able to become God as God’s only begotten Son, then maybe God has other begotten sons or daughters that could also become like God.

Polytheism: The problem with Polytheism is that it is not supported any where in the bible. The Old Testament only mentions Gods (plural) when referring to all the heathen false Gods (other than Jehovah) and the New Testament does not mention the possibility of becoming God (with the exception of expressions of the divinity of God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Ghost.) Another more practical problem of polytheism is that there is always a question about which person of God we are communicating with. Since God is a title and not just one person, when people pray they may be praying to the God who was Jesus when he was on the earth (but is now God in heaven), or Abraham who is a God in heaven or any number of Gods which have subsequently become Gods. Some LDS may take comfort in the idea that they may actually be praying to Joseph Smith who has since become a God and could have taken the place of the God the Father.

Atheism: The problem with atheism is that those that are theists claim that atheists have no purpose in life. Life is declared to have no meaning if there is no chance at a life in the hereafter. The difference is atheists do not place emphasis on a life in the hereafter or allowing someone who claims to know what god wants for them to reveal what their purpose in life is. They find their own purpose and live life to its fullest now because they are not concerned about what any god thinks of their life and what makes them happy. There are many reasons for behavior and acting well in a civilized society. The thing that theists do not understand is that belief in god is not required to have a moral code.

What is the current LDS view of God?
Who knows.

Did Joseph Smith’s definition of God change over time?
Changes related to the nature of God from the Original Book of Mormon Text and the current version:

Original 1830 Text (1 Nephi 3, p. 25):
“And he said unto me, Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh.” (This represents a modal monotheistic view because it implies a change in state once Jesus became flesh)

Current, Altered Text (1 Nephi 11:18):
“And he said unto me, Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God.”

Original 1830 Text (1 Nephi 3, p. 25):
“And the angel said unto me, behold the Lamb of God, even the Eternal Father!”

Current, Altered Text (1 Nephi 11:21):
“And the angel said unto me, behold the Lamb of God, even the Son of the Eternal Father!”

Original 1830 Text (1 Nephi 3, p. 26):
“And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Everlasting God, was judged of the world.”

Current, Altered Text (1 Nephi 11:32):
“And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Son of the Everlasting God, was judged of the world.”

Original 1830 Text (1 Nephi 3, p. 32):
“These last records ... shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father and the Savior of the world.”

Current, Altered Text (1 Nephi 13:40):
“These last records ... shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father and the Savior of the world.”

Early Examples of Monotheism
Book of Mormon, Alma 11:26-28 (1827-1830)
“And Zeezrom said unto him: Thou sayest there is a true and living God. And Amulek said: Yea, there is a true and living God. Now Zeezrom said: Is there more than one God? And he answered, No.”

D&C 20: 17-19 (April 1830)
17 By these things we know that there is a God in heaven, who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God, the framer of heaven and earth, and all things which are in them;
18 And that he created man, male and female, after his own image and in his own likeness, created he them;
19 And gave unto them commandments that they should love and serve him, the only living and true God, and that he should be the only being whom they should worship.

Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible Isaiah 44:6,8:
“Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer, the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any.”

The Book of Moses, Moses 1:6:
“And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of my Only Begotten; and mine Only Begotten is and shall be the Savior, for he is full of grace and truth; but there is no God beside me, and all things are present with me, for I know them all.”

Moving from Monotheist to “Binitarian” (belief in two equal Gods)
Lectures on Faith, Lecture Five:
There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing and supreme power over all things — by whom all things were created and made . . . They are the Father and the Son: The Father being a personage of spirit, glory and power: possessing all perfection and fullness: The Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle, made and fashioned like unto man.

Lectures on Faith, Lecture Five (question and answer section)
Q. How many personages are there in the Godhead?
A. Two: the Father and the Son.

Examples of Polytheism
Book of Abraham 4 (1835)
“And the earth, after it was formed, was empty and desolate . . . and the Spirit of the Gods was brooding upon the face of the waters. And they (the Gods) said: Let there be light.”

Joseph Smith’s King Follet Discourse (History of the Church, vol. 6, 1844)
“I want to reason a little on this subject (that God himself has a father). I learned it by translating the (Book of Abraham) papyrus that is now in my house. I learned a testimony concerning Abraham, and he reasoned concerning the God of heaven . . . If Abraham reasoned thus - If Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and John discovered that God the Father of Jesus Christ had a Father, you may suppose that He had a Father also.”

The teachings of religion in relation to the nature of God do have distinct characteristics and can be placed in one of a few categories. Christianity seems to be Trinitarian, while Judaism seems to be Monothestic. LDS theology is an enigma because examples of Trinitarianism and Polytheism can both be found. In addition, the understanding of Joseph Smith seems to have changed over time. If one examines writings of Joseph at different times in his life, it can be shown that his views of God evolved over time from pure monotheism, to modal monotheism, to trinitarianism to polytheism. As for which the church stands for today, remains uncertain because clarification on the official stance of the church has yet to be forthcoming. This only leads to confusion when attempting to confirm Joseph's mission and calling as "restorer" of truth. It seems he actually did more to create confusion regarding the nature of God in the universe than any other religious leader. To me this confusion is indicative that Joseph Smith was mostly acting in his own interests rather than acting out of respect for any divine mandate or calling from God. If Joseph didn't really understand who God was and seemed to change his views over time, how can one rely on any of his work?

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