Blaise Pascal, the seventeenth century philosopher, once described man as the "pride and refuse of the universe,"(1) a phrase which aptly summarizes the Biblical view of man. On the one hand, man is pictured as occupying a station but little lower than the angels; on the other, he is viewed as having no preeminence above the beasts. The Bible emphasizes the latter of these two characteristics because man is always "before God:" that is, he is viewed from the standpoint of the creator instead of the creature (Ps. 143:2). Man might indeed consider himself only less than a demigod; but God, the searcher of hearts, judges man's heart as desperately and unfathomably wicked (Jer. 17:9).
The Mormon doctrine of man emphasizes his inherent dignity. Everyone of us, as pre-existent children of God, entered mortality free from any taint of depravity or original sin. "Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning," the Doctrine and Covenants records, "and God having redeemed man from the fall, men became again, in their infant state, innocent before God" (93:38). Men become evil only by following the bad example of others.(2)
This doctrine is directly opposite the Biblical principle of man's inherent depravity. Man, as originally created in Eden, was indeed innocent, but no man since Adam has been qualified to make such a claim. The entrance of sin, like some disfiguring disease, turned man into a caricature of his true self. The antediluvial world was destroyed because the whole inner life of man had become "only evil continually" (Gen. 6:5), a judgment subsequently confirmed after the flood, "for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth" (8:21). Jesus emphatically concurred with this estimate of human character, and Paul wrote in Rom. 3:10-12, "As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one."
Mormons deny that sin is an abiding principle of human nature, and prefer to speak of overt sins rather than covert sin. In making this distinction, Mormons surrender the Biblical insight that sin is fundamentally a quality of will and only secondarily a specific act. There were those in the early church who also believed that sins were passing and isolated incidents in the moral life, a view which the New Testament expressly denies. "If we say that we have no sin (i. e., no principle of sin), we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 Jn. 1:8). Those who refuse to recognize individual sins as the expression of an underlying state of mind, in other words, have effectively removed themselves from reality.
The indwelling and universal character of sin is a thought which finds repeated expression throughout the New Testament. Jesus, for example, defined the heart of man as the seat of sinful impulse (Mk. 7:21-23). On Paul's view men are "by nature the children of wrath" because inheriting from Adam a predisposition to evil (Eph. 2:3; Rom. 5:12, 18-19), and he spoke of sin as existing prior to the individual's actual consciousness comments of it (Rom. 7:7-11). These comments explain why the New Testament writers consistently presuppose that all men everywhere are sinners: it provides a part of their very definition of the word "man."
In addition to being Biblically repugnant, the Mormon doctrine of each man's original innocence is also contrary to all human experience. The Bible teaches, as the preceding paragraphs have shown, that man is wholly indisposed to any good. The cause of this universal disorder, according to the Bible, is devotion to self as the supreme good. The vital, underlying principle of all sin is selfishness, and selfishness is manifestly inborn. Infants and young children, as every parent will testify, care only for the gratification of their immediate desires. This self-centeredness, if allowed to go unchecked, would turn every one of us into tyranical monsters, dedicated only to the slaking of our own unbridled lusts and appetites. Man, unless quickened by divine grace, is utterly opposed to the righteousness demanded by God.
Radical selfishness, however, involves far more than an inordinate self-esteem. It is an act of positive self-exaltation, a substitution of "I" for "thou." Sin is the desire to be unconditionally free; to recognize no will as supreme but our own; to deny the contingent nature of our existence; in short, to be like God. In this sense Adam's fall is not as isolated event of history but a continuing and present reality. Whenever man places himself at the center, rebels against the revealed will of God, or in any other way demonstrates his habitual involvement with self he is succumbing anew to the serpent's promise, "Ye shall be as gods" (Gen. 3:5).
The doctrine of man's total depravity does not mean, as many Mormons are inclined to think, that all men are as bad as they could be. Ordinarily, man's opposition to God may express itself as simple indifference. It is only when the unregenerate mind is directly confronted with the allegiance demanded by Christ that its true character is revealed. Indifference rapidly becomes dislike; and as the opposition between God and man is pressed closer, the unregenerate mind becomes openly hostile and defiant.(3) "If there were gods," Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote, "how could I endure not to be a god." Hence there are no gods."(4) Rarely does man's enmity against God express itself with such clarity; but whether it be Nietzsche's titanism or the more familiar "I just want to be myself," man declares himself as fundamentally opposed to God.
It is not difficult to understand why Mormons so adamantly deny the true character of original sin. If the glorification of self is the basal root of sin, then the whole edifice of Mormon theology is founded upon what Paul termed "flesh:" that is, the sphere of man's depraved nature. This is clearly seen, for example, in the Mormon doctrine of man's absolute freedom. As a moral agent, man is free at any moment to choose either good or evil, and is restricted in his choice neither by the will of God or the dictates of his own nature. The divine purpose is thus made subservient to man's will, and self-determination replaces the Biblical doctrine of effective foreordination. In like manner, the Mormon doctrine of man's natural ability to perform righteous works only exagerates an already colossal egomania. Righteousness then becomes a product of man's unaided efforts, and reflects credit upon the creature instead of the creator. Like the Jews of Paul's time, the Mormons have sought to establish their own righteousness at the expense of the righteousness attainable solely by grace (Rom. 10:3).
Nowhere is the self-centeredness of Mormonism more evident than in its doctrine of man's potential godhood. "You have got to learn how to be gods yourselves", Joseph Smith announced shortly before his death, "the same as all gods have done before you."(5) This brief statement does not mean that man is simply a god-like creature in some ways resembling the Father. Rather it means that man is actually an embryonic deity, requiring only time and effort to realize the full potential of his divinity. Every person who inherits the highest degree of exaltation will ultimately progress to the station presently occupied by God, and will be able to organize other worlds, people them, redeem them, and even provide an adversary with which to test them.
Mormons correctly claim that the possibility of man becoming a god is stated in scripture. What they fail to mention, however, is that in each instance the idea is ascribed directly to Satan. Man's plunge into spiritual ruin was a result of his believing the serpent's lie, "ye shall be as gods" (Gen. 3:5);(6) the king of Babylon, a forerunner of the final antichrist, was destroyed because of his ambition to "be like the most High" (Isa. l4:14); and the final confrontation between good and evil will be brought about when the "man of sin" appears, "who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God...whose coming is after the working of Satin" (2 Thess. 2:4, 9).(7) The Mormon Church, by teaching that men can become gods, has fallen into the same diabolical trap set in Eden.
One passage frequently cited in favor of man's potential godhood is Phil. 2:5-6, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God,..." If Mormons would examine the neighboring verses of Phil. 2:5-6, they would discover that Paul was teaching the exact opposite of what they claim. Far from saying that Christians should cherish the same mind which enabled Christ to claim equality with God, Paul is saying that they should rather strive to attain the ideal of humility represented by his incarnation and death. The "this mind" that Christians are charged to possess is grammatically linked not to vs. 6 but to vss. 3-4, where Paul exhorts the Philipians to humility and selflessness. He then adds that this same disposition of meekness was also found in Christ, "who, though subsisting from eternity in the form of God, did not consider equality with God a prize to be greedily hoarded; no, he emptied himself, and took the nature of a slave, appearing in the likeness of men. And being found in the appearance of a man, he humbled himself still further by becoming obedient unto death, even the shameful death of a cross" (translation mine). The negative clause, "did not consider equality with God a prize to be greedily hoarded", refers not to any attitude which Christians are urged to imitate but to Christ in his pre-incarnate state, being introduced to heighten the divine abasement described in the following verses. The whole passage is a further elaboration of the thought contained in vs. 4, "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others."
Another passage from Philippians which Mormons often adduce in favor of man1s potential divinity is 3:13-15, "Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." Again, attention to the context completely removes any thought of equality with God. The "mark" which Paul has determined to reach is identified in vs. 11 as the resurrection of eternal blessedness. In vss. 12 and 13 he adds that he has not yet attained this end or is already complete, but that it is a goal toward which he continually strives, whose prize is the "high calling of God in Christ Jesus." The high or heavenly calling to which God calls us by the gospel of Christ is not that of equality with God but of fellowship with him, secured by the resurrection from the dead. The resurrection provides the guarantee of our entry into that heavenly kingdom from which Christ will someday return, "who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself" (vss. 20-21).
A third passage supposed to corroborate the Mormon doctrine of man's potential deity is Jn. l0:34-36, where the Jews accused Christ of blasphemy because he dared makehimself equal with God. Jesus' answer, Mormons argue, implies that men can also become gods.
Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came and the scripture cannot be broken; say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?
In reply, it should be observed that the quotation Jesus made is from Ps. 82, where the rulers of Israel were condemned for judging unfairly. They were originally called "gods" in the derivative sense of exercising a power delegated to them by God, not because they were literally capable of becoming gods in the Mormon sense. Jesus cited this psalm in order to display his opponents inconsistency in allowing mere humans to be called gods while denying him, the eternal Son of God, the same privilege. The law, Jesus pointed out, truly called the judges "gods," but he proceeded to teach that he was God in a different and far more exalted sense. The leaders of Israel "received the word of God" in their political appointments; Christ is the incarnate Word of God, "whom the Father hath sanctified and sent into the world." The judges were wicked and mortal men who were "gods" only by virtue of their office; Jesus Christ could identify himself as God because "I and my Father are one" (vs. 30).
Two additional passages adduced in support of man's potential godhood are Lev. 11:45 and Mt. 5:48, where God's people are commanded to be holy and perfect. Mormons correctly insist that such commandments are meaningful only if capable of realization; but they erroneously assume that their fulfillment demands equality with God. They further assume that "holy" and "perfect" are absolute states, a view not supported by Biblical usage. The root meaning of holy is separate, and can be applied to things as well as persons.(8) To be holy in the Biblical sense means to be chosen by God, and in no way implies ethical or religious faultlessness. The word "perfect," similarly, describes a comparitive quality of life rather than a finished state.(9) Jesus' use of the word in Mt.5:48 describes a particular kind of single-minded devotion, a devotion which the preceeding verses define as universal love. Believers are commanded to be as complete in love as God is complete: that is, to the limit of their individual capabilities.
To be perfect in even a subordinate sense, however, implies a degree of spiritual maturity far beyond man's present capacity. Paul was acutely conscious of this gulf between the perfection demanded by God's law and man's inability to fulfill it, and his solution to the problem provides one of the most revolutionary insights of primitive Christianity. As an absolute standard by which man is bound to be conformed, the law of God not only exposes man's disobedience but by some strange alchemy actually increases his propensity for evil. Paul's experience was that whenever a man strives to obey the law he discovers another law "warring against the (divine) law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin..." (Rom. 7:23). Such a situation is at best intolerable, and leads man to despise his own abilities and trust solely upon the merits of Christ. Christ's death then becomes a vicarious satisfaction of the penalty incurred by our disobedience, and simultaneously restores us to the standard of perfection demanded by the law. No passage of scripture expresses this thought more clearly than 2 Cor. 5:19, 21, "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them;...For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him".
Mormons not only look far into the future, when they may become gods, but also far into the past, "before the world was." They claim that every one of us existed before we were. born. Our spirits were conceived in this "pre-existence" by a physical act of God with one of his heavenly wives. Eliza R. Snow, plural wife of Joseph Smith and one of the most gifted poetesses of Mormonism, wrote,
In the heav'ns are parents single?
No, the thought makes reason stare;
Truth is reason--truth eternal
Tells me I've a mother there.(10)
Mormons claim that the doctrine of man's pre-existence is expressed in Jer. 1:4-5, "Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations." Far from proving that each man has a personal existence before his birth, Jer. 1:4-5 simply means that Jeremiah was predestined to become a prophet. The parallel passages of Judges 13:5; Lk. 1:15; and Gal. 1:15 likewise speak of certain individuals being chosen before birth without implying their actual pre-existence, and the Bible elsewhere teaches that God foreknows even before people exist what they will be like and what they will do. The psalmist wrote, "Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance; in thy book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them" (139:16, R.S.V.), and Paul spoke of believers as "vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory" (Rom. 9:23). These and other passages teach that God has predetermined each man's destiny long before his actual existence, "for whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate" (Rom. 8:29; cf. Eph. l:4-5).(11)
A New Testament passage comparable to Jer. 1:4-5 is Eph. 2:10, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." The words "before ordained" apply to those works which God has prepared for our doing. This obviously does not mean that our good works had a prior existence before our birth, but simply that they were foreknown by God. Jeremiah was "before ordained" in exactly this saine sense.
Two other passages which need not long detain us are Pro. 8:22-31 and Jn. 9:1-3. The first passage, contrary to the Mormon claim, does not even deal with man, but is instead a depiction of personified Wisdom (vss. 1, 12). (12) The second passage contains the disciples' question, "Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?" There are three possible ideas behind this question: the Rabbinical teaching that a child could sin while still in its mother's womb, the belief in reincarnation, or the Greek doctrine of the soul's pre-existence. Jesus dismissed all of these possibilities in vs. 3, "Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him."
A fourth and final passage purportedly describing man's pro-existent state is Job 38:4, 7, "Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?....When the morning stars sung together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" An immediate presumption against identifying the "sons of God" with the spirits of pre-existent men is contained in the question, "Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?," which clearly implies that Job was not among those present at creation. The phrase "sons of God," furthermore, is always used in Job to describe angels who present themselves in the heavenly court, Satan being included among their number (1:6; 2:1). This is in accordance with Old Testament usage generally, where "sons of God" and its equivalent expressions is used exclusively of angels or supernatural beings, never of men (Gen. 6:2; Dan. 3:25, 28; Ps. 29:1; 89:6). (13)
Until recently, the doctrine of pre-existence provided Mormonism with its rationale against admitting Negroes to full Church membership. Mormons believed, and continue to believe, that the Negro was not valiant in his pre-earth life, and without special commandment is not entitled to the blessings automatically accorded other races.(14) This doctrine of racial inequality, though occasionally questioned by some Mormons, remained the official position of the Mormon Church until June 9, 1978, when a revelation was announced granting blacks the same rights and blessings enjoyed by other Mormons. This does not mean, however, that Mormons have therefore repudiated their previous position or the reasoning upon which it was based. The theological structure which denied blacks religious opportunity remains unchanged, though the sanctions by which the doctrine was enforced have fortunately been lifted. Blacks still bear the "mark of Cain" as an evidence of pre-mortal sin, but the time has finally arrived when they, no less than others, are "children of God--notwithstanding their black covering emblematical of eternal darkness."(15)
It would be difficult to imagine a more anti-Christian idea than the Mormon doctrine concerning the Negro. The Bible everywhere teaches that the offer of salvation has never known any racial boundaries. During Pentecost, when there were assembled together men "of every nation under heaven," Peter said that "whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Acts 2:5, 21). This same "whosoever" is frequently affixed to the offer of salvation (Lk. 12:8; Jn. 4:14; Acts 10:43; Rom. 10:13; 1 Jn. 5:1; Rev. 22:17), an offer which recognizes no national or racial distinctions (Mt. 24:14; 28:19; Mk. 13:10; 16:15; Lk. 24:47; Acts 1:8; 10:35; Col. 1:23). The reason for this is that all men everywhere are equally the children of God because of a common parantage (Acts 17:26), God recognizing no differences among men other than those of belief and unbelief. Mormons would have us believe, however, that righteousness is not solely an affair of the heart but of the skin as well, that any unfortunate enough to be born black before 1978 were thereby prevented from attaining full salvation.
If the Mormon doctrine of race is difficult to establish on the basis of the Bible, it is equally difficult to explain on the basis of Mormon "revelation." In Rev. 14:6, which the Doctrine and Covenants quotes as prophetic of the Mormon Church (133:36-37), we read that the eternal gospel is to be preached to "every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people." The Book of Mormon even more strongly maintains God's universal offer of salvation, "and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile" (2 Nephi 26:33). In the face of these and other texts, some Mormon leaders have openly admitted that there was no reason for their policy concerning the Negro other than tradition, an admission which places Mormonism in a most unflattering light. To refuse salvation to millions because of an uncertain "tradition," especially when there are ao many passages of scripture controverting that tradition, is an act comparable only to that of the Pharisees, who, not knowing how to enter the true kingdom of God themselves, took a malicious delight in refusing entrance to others (Mt. 23:13).
Click here for VIII: Future Probation
1. Pensees, trans. J. Warrington (London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1960), 65.
2. The inadequacy of this explanation, as Milton Valentine has written, "remains evident till it is shown how evil example could have obtained universal supremacy except through a disordered condition of the nature [of man] itself." (Christian Theology, 2 vols. [Philadelphia: Lutheran Publication Society, 1906], 1:1425).
3. James Orr, God's Image in Man (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1906), 226.
4. The Portable Nietzsche, trans. W. Kaufmann (New York: The Viking Press, 1954), l98.
5. Smith, History of the Church 6:306.
6. It should be pointed out that Mormonism has removed the qualifying "as" of Satan's lie, replacing it with an emphatic "ye shall be God." Even Satan did not presume to make such a promise.
7. The Bible records two other instances of men who aspired to godhood. The prince of Tyrus thought himself a god and was slain for his offense (Eze. 28:2-10). Herod Agrippa presumed to receive honors due only to God, "and immediately the angel of the Lord smote him" (Acts 12:22-23).
8. The myriad appurtenances associated with the temple, for instance, were accounted holy because of their special use in religious worship, not by virtue of their inherent sanctity.
9. Noah is described in scripture as a man "perfect in his generation," yet anyone acquainted with the history of his life would hesitate before classifying him as flawless.
10. Times and Seasons 6 (15 Nov. 1845):1039.
11. Some Mormons object to this interpretation by insisting that the word "knew" in Jer. 1:4 implies personal familiarity in the human sense, but this is not the Biblical meaning of the word. It means "to take cognizance of" or "to fix attention upon," and with reference to God's knowledge usually involves selection for a special purpose. See W. Sanday and A. C. Headlam, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, 5th ed. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1902), 217.
12. In his A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, rev. ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1962), 299-300, apostle LeGrand Richards admits that Pro. 8:22-31 is a depiction of Wisdom, but argues that the statement of vs. 31, "my delights were with the sons of men," proves that man must have existed with Wisdom before the earth. Mr. Richards has failed to observe that vs. 27 marks a transition from pre-creation to creation, and that vss. 27-31 describe the formation of the heavens, clouds, oceans, land, and culminates in Wisdom "rejoicing in the habitable (inhabited) part of his earth, and my delights were with the sons of men." Since Mr. Richards cites vss. 22-31, it is difficult to understand how he so successfully ignored half of his entire quotation!
13. Cf. the similar usage in 1 Enoch 13:8; 69:14-5; 106:5.
14. The notion of a man's station in life being determined by works performed in a pre-existent state has sporadically appeared in Christendom since the time of Origen, but even its advocates admit that it is held primarily on philosophic rather than Biblical grounds. The only passage mentioning works performed before birth is Rom. 9:11, which takes the form of a denial rather than a confirmation.
15. Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection, 9th ed. (Salt Lake City: Genealogical Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1951), 102.