Of Simplicity, Oversimplification, and Monotheism
Of Simplicity, Oversimplification, and Monotheism
Reviewed by Barry R. Bickmore
It is often necessary when making a case against a substantially different
theological tradition to simplify the subject for the sake of brevity and clarity.
Care must be taken, however, not to oversimplify to the extent that the arguments
advanced are meaningless in the context of the more complex reality. Unfortunately,
in his essay “Monotheism, Mormonism, and the New Testament Witness,” Paul Owen
falls into the trap of oversimplification. This is not to say that he advances
no cogent arguments; in truth, most of the issues Owen oversimplifies have often
been similarly treated by Latter-day Saints. Therefore, we can assume that his
arguments were made in good faith and treat them with respect. Whatever his
motivation, the net effect of Owen’s approach is to make Latter-day Saint beliefs
seem less plausible than they really are to readers uninformed about the subtleties
of Latter-day Saint doctrine.
In this review, I point out areas in which Owen has oversimplified Latter-day
Saint beliefs, and I also examine issues that divide Latter-day Saints and evangelicals
regarding “monotheism.” Then I show briefly that “Mormon monotheism” is very
similar to that preached by the earliest Christians.
The Unity and Plurality of God
Owen’s first self-confessed oversimplification is set out in his introduction,
and it in fact governs his entire presentation: “To put it simply, Christians
believe that God is one, whereas the Latter-day Saints believe that God is more
than one” (p. 272). Aware of the problematic nature of this statement, he adds
the following in a footnote:
I am well aware that the above statement is oversimplified. Christians
also believe that the three persons of the Trinity share God’s eternal divine
Being, whereas Mormons acknowledge that God is “one” in the sense of there being
one Godhead that rules over this earth. Some Mormons believe that God is one
in an even stronger ontological sense and deny that there are other Gods beyond
the God of this earth. Nevertheless, I think it a safe generalization to say
that Christians largely emphasize God’s oneness in conversations with Latter-day
Saints, whereas Latter-day Saints tend to emphasize the doctrine of a plurality
of Gods for apologetic purposes. (p. 467 n. 1)1
However, in practice, Owen ignores this caveat and crafts his argument on
the basis of the assumption that Latter-day Saint theism is essentially no different
than pagan polytheism. “It is my hope that—rather than understanding Christ’s
divine status within the polytheistic context of a pantheon—members of the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may come to embrace Christ as the
incarnate revelation of the One God” (p. 314).
The plain fact is that both Latter-day Saint Christians and Christians in
the creedal tradition believe God is one and more than one. Both parties believe
that there is one God composed of more than one person. For example, Owen writes:
One of the most theologically enlightening allusions to Deuteronomy
6:4 is found in 1 Corinthians 8:4-6: “We know that an idol is nothing at all
in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called
gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many
‘lords’), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things
came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through
whom all things came and through whom we live” (emphasis added). What is interesting
here is the way the Jewish Shema was reinterpreted by the early Christians in
order to include both the Father (one God) and the Son (one Lord). . . . What
this adaptation of Deuteronomy 6:4 shows is that in the early decades of the
first century, Jewish Christians were including Jesus within the unique identity
of Israel’s “One God” without acknowledging any breach of biblical monotheism.
So what? Since Latter-day Saints believe everything in the above statement,
why waste the space to make this an issue? If the point concerns which aspect
of God should be emphasized, then we are wrangling over semantics. The real
difference between Latter-day Saints and creedal Christians on this score is
how more than one “person” can be “one God.” They believe that the divine unity
is a “oneness of being,” while we do not. Since, even in his caveat, Owen oversimplifies
the subject, I will describe three ways in which Latter-day Saints believe that
there is only one God.
First, there is only one God because the Father is the supreme monarch of
our universe. There is no other God to whom we could switch our allegiance,
and there never will be such a being. He is “the Eternal God of all other gods”
(D&C 121:32). Elder Boyd K. Packer writes:
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.2
Second, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are so unified in mind, will, love,
and covenant that they can collectively be called “one God” (see 2 Nephi 31:21;
D&C 20:28). A powerful unity of spirit, the universal “light of Christ” that
is the power of God pervading the universe (D&C 88:7-13), bonds them. Jesus
Christ can even be identified by the title “Father” because “I am in the Father,
and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one—The Father because he gave
me of his fulness, and the Son because I was in the world and made flesh my
tabernacle, and dwelt among the sons of men” (D&C 93:3-4). Elder Bruce R. McConkie
explained: “Monotheism is the doctrine or belief that there is but one God.
If this is properly interpreted to mean that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost — each of whom is a separate and distinct godly personage—are one God, meaning
one Godhead, then true saints are monotheists.”3
Third, even though an innumerable host of beings may be gods and though many
more will become such, there is still only one God because all of them are unified
in essentially the same way as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Therefore,
the fact that the Father has a father and that his sons and daughters may be
deified has no particular bearing on the question of whether there is one God.
Brigham Young said:
If men are faithful, the time will come when they will possess the
power and the knowledge to obtain, organize, bring into existence, and own.
“What, of themselves, independent of their Creator?” No. But they and their
Creator will always be one, they will always be of one heart and of one mind,
working and operating together; for whatsoever the Father doeth so doeth the
son, and so they continue throughout all their operations to all eternity.4
President Young also said the following: “When will we become entirely independent?
Never, though we are as independent in our spheres as the Gods of eternity are
in theirs.”5 “Then will be given to us that which we now only seem
to own, and we will be forever one with the Father and the Son, and not until
then.”6 “Is he one? Yes. Is his trinity one? Yes. Is his organization
one? Are the heavens one? Yes.”7 “Gods exist, and we had better strive
to be prepared to be one with them.”8
Orson Pratt echoed this sentiment:
If, then, the one hundred and forty-four thousand are to have the
name of God inscribed on their foreheads, will it be simply a plaything, a something
that has no meaning? or will it mean that which the inscriptions specify? —
that they are indeed Gods—one with the Father and one with the Son; as the
Father and Son are one, and both of them called Gods, so will all His children
be one with the Father and the Son, and they will be one so far as carrying
out the great purposes of Jehovah is concerned. No divisions will be there but
a complete oneness; not a oneness in person but a perfect oneness in action
in the creation, redemption, and glorification of worlds.9
John Taylor said, “We may be influenced and directed from above, being united
with the Gods in heaven we may become one in all things upon the earth, and
afterwards one in the heavens.”10
In short, Mormonism includes any number of separate persons within the one
God “without acknowledging any breach of biblical monotheism.” As Levi Edgar
Young wrote, “‘Mormonism’ holds to the doctrine of God as given in the Old and
New Testaments of the Jewish scriptures, namely: the monotheistic conception
of the Deity, and the divinity of man.”11 While we believe in the
existence of many separate beings who are correctly termed “Gods,” in a very
real sense they are all one.
The Names of God
Since the 1916 First Presidency statement on “The Father and the Son,”12
Latter-day Saints have typically separated the name-titles Elohim and Jehovah,
using them to refer to the Father and Son respectively. Because this differs
markedly from creedal Christian usage, Latter-day Saint scholars and apologists
have naturally been interested in the works of scholars outside their own tradition,
such as those of Margaret Barker, who argue that the two were distinguished
as the High God (El, or Elyon) and his primary agent (Yahweh, or Jehovah) in
the original Israelite religion. Barker also argues that Christianity sprang
from a strain of Judaism that retained this distinction.13 Owen takes
issue with Latter-day Saint use of Barker’s work because her reconstruction
of Israelite history is based on the premise that later editors reworked much
of the Old Testament text to be more “monotheistic”—and this to an extent
that might make many Latter-day Saints uncomfortable (pp. 303, 312-13). Elohim
and Jehovah seem to be identified with one another in many passages of the present
biblical text as exemplified in the extant manuscripts.
Here again, Owen oversimplifies the issue, as have many Latter-day Saints.
The fact is that informed Latter-day Saints see Elohim and Jehovah as divine
name-titles that are usually applied to specific members of the Godhead but
can sometimes be applied to any or all of them. In contrast, Doctrine and Covenants
109:4, 34 addresses the Father as Jehovah, but Doctrine and Covenants 110:3-4
His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white
like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and
his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of
Jehovah, saying: I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I am he who
was slain; I am your advocate with the Father.
Joseph Smith also wrote, “Thou eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent
Jehovah—God—Thou Eloheim, that sittest, as saith the Psalmist, ‘enthroned
in heaven,’ look down upon Thy servant Joseph at this time; and let faith on
the name of Thy Son Jesus Christ . . . be conferred upon him.”14
Obviously, the names Jehovah and Elohim were used by Joseph Smith to denote
specific persons in some instances and as generic titles for any member of the
Godhead in others. Brigham Young continued this usage, as demonstrated by the
following quotations: “It is true that the earth was organized by three distinct
characters, namely, Eloheim, Yahovah, and Michael.”15 “We obey the
Lord, Him who is called Jehovah, the Great I AM, I am a man of war, Eloheim,
etc.”16 Elder Franklin D. Richards made the following two statements
within months of each other. “The Savior said He could call to His help more
than twelve legions of angels; more than the Roman hosts; but He knowing the
great purposes of Jehovah could go like a lamb to the slaughter.”17
“We learn that our Savior was born of a woman, and He was named Jesus the Christ.
His name when He was a spiritual being, during the first half of the existence
of the earth, before He was made flesh and blood, was Jehovah.”18
The use of the name Jehovah as a generic title became much less common after
1916 but can be noted in the following passages. President David O. McKay spoke
of “Jehovah and His Son, Jesus Christ.”19 According to Joseph Fielding
Smith, “The Father and the Son appeared to [Joseph Smith] and settled the question
of the nature of God for all time. . . . It was the true and living God, Jehovah—the God of Israel.”20 President George Albert Smith declared: “We
confidently believe that our Father in heaven has spoken in this day and age.
. . . We believe that Jehovah has the same feeling towards us, the same influence
over us that he had for and over his children who lived in this world in times
that are past.”21
“However,” Rodney Turner explains, “it may be that virtually all names, titles,
and epithets are shared by the Father and the Son. To the extent that this proves
the case, they are indeed, one, for shared honors implies shared activities
and attainments.”22 Glenn Pearson and Reid Bankhead write:
There are many names for Deity. Probably most of them could be used
for either the Father or the Son. In the LDS Church we frequently refer to our
Heavenly Father by the name of Elohim when we want to be sure there is no mistake
about the identity of the person about whom we are talking. In the same manner
and for the same reasons, we commonly call Jesus Jehovah. The use of the word
Elohim in this manner is arbitrary, and the name Jehovah could just as well
be applied to the Father as to the Son. However, it is true that the personage
who identified himself as Jehovah was usually, if not always, Jesus. But since
he was always acting on behalf of the Father, he could have been using a name
that applied as well to the Father as to the Son. Jehovah is probably the first
person, singular, present form of the verb to be in the Hebrew language. Most
likely it simply means “I AM.”23
This nuanced description of Latter-day Saint usage of the divine name-titles
places the issue in an entirely different light. That is, Latter-day Saints
have no problem whatever in reconciling our position to biblical statements
that conflate Elohim with Jehovah. On the other hand, we would expect to find
instances where these name-titles are separated to designate the Father (Elohim)
and the Son (Jehovah). However, to my mind, such instances would be somewhat
problematic for creedal Christians, who do not expect the distinction. If nothing
else, such usage would be a bit awkward in the context of creedal Christian
One instance of such a separation that has already been mentioned is Paul’s
reinterpretation of the Shema in 1 Corinthians 8: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord
[Jehovah] our God [Elohim] is one Lord [Jehovah]” (Deuteronomy 6:4). “But to
us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him;
and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him” (1 Corinthians
8:6). (“Lord” is the translation of the Greek kyrios, which was the gloss for
Jehovah in the Greek Old Testament and Greek New Testament quotations of the
A second instance is found in the Septuagint (LXX) and Hebrew Dead Sea Scrolls
versions of Deuteronomy 32:8-9:
When the Most High parcelled out the nations, when he dispersed all
mankind, he laid down the boundaries of every people according to the number
of the sons of God; but the Lord’s [Jehovah’s] share was his own people, Jacob
was his allotted portion. (Deuteronomy 32:8-9 New English Bible)
The Hebrew text (Masoretic text, or MT) substitutes “sons of Israel” for “sons
of God,” and the Greek LXX substitutes “angels of God.” Barker explains:
This text shows two things: that there was some reason for altering
sons of God to sons of Israel, or vice versa (the Qumran reading suggests that
the earlier Hebrew had read “sons of God”); and that the sons of God were the
patron deities of the various nations. Elyon the High God had allocated the
nations to the various sons of God; one of these sons was Yahweh to whom Israel
had been allocated (Deut. 32:9).24
Owen disputes this interpretation of the passage in his critique of the work
of Peter Hayman, who agrees with Barker on this issue. It is certainly possible
that Jehovah was not separated from the Most High (Elyon) in this passage,25
but Owen never deals with evidence cited by Barker that her interpretation was
a standard early Christian reading of the passage. For instance, consider the
following quotation from the early Jewish Christian work, the (Pseudo)Clementine
Recognitions, a fourth-century text based on a second-century source document.
For the Most High God, who alone holds the power
of all things, has divided all the nations of the earth into seventy-two parts,
and over these He hath appointed angels as princes. But to the one among the
archangels who is greatest, was committed the government of those who, before
all others, received the worship and knowledge of the Most High God. . . .
Thus the princes of the several nations are called gods. But Christ is God
of princes, who is Judge of all.26
The same sentiment was also expressed by Eusebius of Caesarea in the fourth
In these words [Deut. 32:8] surely he names first the Most High God the Supreme
God of the Universe, and then as Lord His Word. Whom we call Lord in the second
degree after the God of the Universe. And their import is that all the nations
and the sons of men, here called sons of Adam, were distributed among the invisible
guardians of the nations, that is the angels, by the decision of the Most High
God, and His secret counsel unknown to us. Whereas to One beyond comparison
with them, the Head and King of the Universe, I mean to Christ Himself, as being
the Only-begotten Son, was handed over that part of humanity denominated Jacob
and Israel, that is to say, the whole division which has vision and piety.27
Similarly, Owen never deals with Barker’s interpretation of Psalm 91. According
to Barker, “the text of Ps. 91.9 does actually say: ‘You, O Yahweh, are my refuge,
You have made Elyon your dwelling place.'”28
What of Owen’s assertion that Latter-day Saint apologists should rethink their
use of Barker’s work because it implies an extremely negative view of the Bible?
For instance, Barker hypothesizes that vestiges of early polytheism were removed
from the Bible beginning in the reign of Josiah. Owen objects:
If one wishes to follow Barker, it must be assumed that Josiah’s reforms had
a negative influence on the religion of Judah—which is precisely the opposite
of what the Bible states: “Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king
like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all
his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses”
(2 Kgs 23:25). Furthermore, if one wishes to maintain with Barker that the Deuteronomistic
movement had a negative impact on the religious faith of Israel, then one is
compelled to reject the teaching of a large body of biblical literature. Deuteronomy,
Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, large chunks of Isaiah and Jeremiah,
as well as other prophetic books were all written or heavily edited (according
to this theory) by the Deuteronomists. These writings all promoted the ideals
of Second Temple religion, which Barker contrasts with the religion of the First
Temple that emerged in a fresh way with the rise of Christianity. It goes without
saying that orthodox Christians will be unwilling to reject such a large portion
of the Bible—I suspect many members of the LDS Church would likewise be uncomfortable
in doing so. Yet it is inconsistent to cite the conclusions of Barker’s study
while paying no attention to the arguments and methods used in arriving at those
views. (p. 303)
This objection is clearly overstated. Latter-day Saints have always believed
that the Bible has been subjected to a certain amount of unauthorized editing,
but such a stance has never “compelled” us to throw out entire books that have
sustained some changes.29 It is clear that changes have been made.
Furthermore, Owen never gives an explanation for why Deuteronomy 32:8-9 was
emended by scribes to read “sons of Israel” if it was not being interpreted
by some Israelites, as Barker suggests. However, in this case I see no need
to suppose that all the passages emphasizing monotheism were not in the original
documents, since the distinctively Latter-day Saint scriptures contain strong
monotheistic statements as well. A shift in emphasis may have taken place that
was entirely appropriate, considering the constant battle of Israelite religion
with that of polytheistic neighboring cultures. I say more about this issue
later in this review, but for now it is enough to note that the Latter-day Saint
usage of the divine name-titles to designate specific members of the Godhead
and as generic titles for any or all of them is well supported in the Bible
and early Christian texts.
Reevaluating the Problem
Acknowledgment of the oversimplifications discussed above narrows the focus
of the argument considerably. For instance, it is not cogent to ask whether
there is one God, but, rather, how more than one person can be one God. Also,
it has been shown that Latter-day Saints view the Father (as well as the entire
Trinity) as unique, at least with respect to our experience. Therefore, it is
not relevant to ask whether the Bible depicts God as “unique,” but, rather,
how God is unique.
As I noted above, Owen appears to realize that these are indeed the relevant
questions, and some of his arguments touch on these points. However, his relevant
arguments are significantly weaker than the irrelevant ones. In the sections
that follow, I briefly argue that the answers the earliest Christians would
have given to these questions are remarkably similar to the answers given by
Jesus as the Angel of the Lord
A number of scholars have shown that the “Angel of the Lord (Yahweh)” figure
in the Old Testament was the basis for New Testament Christology. Of this angel,
God said, “Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and
to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. Beware of him, and obey
his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for
my name is in him” (Exodus 23:20-21). This Angel was distinguished from all
others by virtue of the fact that he was the bearer of the divine name Yahweh.
This is quite significant; as Charles Gieschen notes, “Because the Name of God
is synonymous with his divine nature, the angel or being who has his Name should
be regarded as a person possessing his full divine authority and power.”30
Similarly, the Epistle to the Hebrews distinguishes Jesus from the angels because
he had been given a more excellent name: “Being made so much better than the
angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they”
(Hebrews 1:4). Jesus prayed to the Father, “I have manifested thy name unto
the men which thou gavest me out of the world” (John 17:6). Paul wrote that
God had exalted Jesus “far above . . . every name that is named, not only in
this world, but also in that which is to come” (Ephesians 1:21). Similarly,
he wrote, “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name
which is above every name” (Philippians 2:9). In John’s vision, Jesus “had a
name written, that no man knew, but he himself . . . and his name is called
The Word of God. . . . And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written,
KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:12-13, 16). Similarly, in the
writings of Philo of Alexandria (30 BC–AD 50), “the Logos [Word] is linked
with the principal angel of Exod. 23:20-21 who is said to bear the name of God
(e.g. Quaest. Exod. 2.13; De Agr. 51; Migr. Abr. 174).”31 The following
passage is especially telling:
But if there be any as yet unfit to be called a son of God, let him press
to take his place under God’s First-born, the Word, who holds the eldership
among the angels, an archangel as it were. And many names are his for he is
called: the Beginning, the Name of God, His Word, the Man after His Image, and
“He that sees”, namely, Israel.32
(The designation “He that sees” probably refers to Genesis 16:13, which in
turn refers specifically to the Angel of the Lord.) A second-century Jewish
writer, Ezekiel the Tragedian, also identified “God’s Word” with the Angel of
the Lord in Exodus 3:2.33 Finally, it was the Angel of the Lord who
led the children of Israel in the wilderness, and Paul says that it was Jesus
who did this (1 Corinthians 10:4). Much more evidence could be cited,34
but this should be sufficient to show that the identification of Jesus as the
Angel of the Lord in the New Testament stands on very solid ground.
This sort of “angel Christology”35 was standard fare in early Christianity
and appears to stem from the original Jewish Christianity.36 For
instance, the early second-century Jewish Christian pseudepigraphical text Ascension
of Isaiah has the following description of the Son and Holy Spirit:
Then the angel who conducted me said to me, “Worship this one”; so I worshiped
and praised. And the angel said to me, “This is the Lord of all glory whom you
have seen.” And while the angel was still speaking, I saw another glorious one,
like to him, and the righteous drew near to him, worshiped, and sang praise.
. . . And I saw the Lord and the second angel, and they were standing; but the
second one whom I saw was on the left of my Lord. And I asked, “Who is this?”
and he said to me, “Worship him, for this is the angel of the Holy Spirit.”
. . . So my Lord drew near to me, and the angel of the Spirit, and said, “Behold,
now it is granted to you to behold God, and on your account is power given to
the angel with you.” And I saw how my Lord worshiped, and the angel of the Holy
Spirit, and how both together praised God.37
An early second-century Jewish Christian document, the Shepherd of Hermas,
speaks of “the angel of the prophetic Spirit”38 and Jesus as the
“glorious . . . angel” or “most venerable . . . angel.”39 Justin
Martyr, a converted philosopher who lived in Rome in the mid-second century,
was no Jewish Christian, but Robert M. Grant suggests that in passages like
the following, he was influenced by the Jewish Christian writings of Hermas,
who lived in the same city.40 Justin Martyr wrote that Jesus was
“another God and Lord subject to the Maker of all things; who is also called
an Angel, . . . distinct from Him who made all things,—numerically, I mean,
not (distinct) in will.”41 He also wrote that the Son is “in the
second place, and the prophetic Spirit in the third.”42
A good argument can be made from all this for some unique and essential features
of Latter-day Saint Christology. The Angel of the Lord is given the name of
God—Jehovah or Yahweh—setting him apart from all angels. This seems to mesh
well with Latter-day Saint usage of the divine name-titles, Jesus often being
represented as the unique bearer of the name-title Jehovah, which is also ultimately
applicable to the Father. Also, the idea that Jesus is an exalted angel is consistent
with the Latter-day Saint belief that Gods and angels are gradations of the
same species. Further, the designation of Christ as an angel seems to imply
subordinationism—that is, the doctrine that the Son is subordinate in rank
and glory to the Father.
On the other hand, although Owen does not fully develop this line of thought
in his essay,43 the link between Jesus and the Angel of the Lord
traditions can also be used to make a fair argument for a creedal Trinitarian
interpretation of the New Testament. Owen writes:
However, a careful analysis of the Angel of the Lord passages reveals that
it is quite possible to understand this enigmatic figure as an earthly appearance
of the one God on specific occasions, rather than as a separate and ontologically
subordinate God. In Genesis 16:7-13, the Angel of the Lord who appears to Hagar
is specifically identified with Yahweh, not as a second God. . . . The appearance
of the Lord to Jacob at Bethel in Genesis 28:13-17 is connected with the figure
named the “angel of God” and “the God of Bethel” in 31:11-13. The “man” (i.e.
angel) who wrestled with Jacob in Genesis 32:24-28 is identified with the visible
appearance of God himself in 32:30 (cf. Hos. 12:3-5). Jacob’s blessing of Joseph
in Genesis 48:15-16 identifies God with “the Angel.” Other preexilic traditions
likewise seem to identify the Angel of the Lord with the earthly appearance
of the Lord, rather than with a separate and ontologically subordinate God.
[Owen then cites Exodus 3:2-7; 23:20-23; Judges 6:11-24; 13:3-22; and commentary
by Darrell Hannah.]44 (pp. 279-80)
While it is true that the Angel of the Lord is sometimes conflated with Yahweh
himself, this can just as easily be explained within the context of Mormonism,
where the Father and the Son are sometimes conflated (see, for example, D&C
93:3-5). That is, if the Son received the name Jehovah from the Father, in recognition
of the investiture of a fulness of divine power and authority, and if Jesus
is the one who nearly always appeared as God to men, it would be only natural
to refer to the premortal Jesus as Jehovah and to conflate his words and deeds
with those of the Father.
Although Owen does not discuss the possibility, it seems natural to ask whether
we could agree that the Angel of the Lord at least represents a distinct person
within the Trinity. After all, even though the Angel and Jehovah are sometimes
indistinguishable in the biblical text, sometimes they are distinguished. For
instance, in Exodus 23:20-21, God refers to the Angel in the third person. Similarly,
Jesus was equated with the Angel by the early Christians, and creedal Trinitarians
affirm that the Father and the Son are separate persons within the One Being
of God. In this context, Owen’s interpretation of the Angel as the “earthly
appearance” of God seems to square well with the New Testament identification
of Jesus with “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15; cf. Owen, p.
Furthermore, Owen points out that Jesus was linked in a number of New Testament
passages with the figures of the Word and Wisdom of God (pp. 290-93). He quotes
The Wisdom and Word imagery is all of a piece with this—no more distinct
beings than the Lord’s “arm,” no more intermediary beings than God’s righteousness
and God’s glory, but simply vivid personifications, ways of speaking about God
in his active involvement with his world and his people.45
As has been discussed, such personifications of divine attributes were commonly
associated with the more concrete figure of the Angel of the Lord. This sort
of background would seem to lend itself to the interpretation that Jesus is
somehow part of God’s being.
Jarl Fossum and Charles Gieschen appear to promote a similar argument. That
is, they connect traditions about Jesus and the Angel of the Lord to traditions
about the glory of God, which “could be seen as God’s hypostasized human form.”46
This sort of usage of the term glory may be implied in some Old Testament texts
(see, for example, the vision of God in Ezekiel 1:26-28; cf. Exodus 33:18-23).
“And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne,
. . . and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance
of a man above upon it” (Ezekiel 1:26). Again, this seems to fit well with New
Testament statements that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians
1:15) and that “No man hath seen God [i.e., the Father] at any time” (John 1:18).
Furthermore, Philo the Jew and the Christian philosopher Justin Martyr “assert
that all the anthropomorphisms in Scripture are to be referred to the Angel
of the Lord.”47 Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. AD 180) repeated this teaching,48
and it is interesting to note that both Irenaeus and Justin (or Pseudo-Justin)
taught that God created man in his bodily image.49
Problems remain with this interpretation, however. For instance, in Acts 7:55-56
Stephen sees a vision of both “the glory of God” and “the Son of man standing
on the right hand of God.” This implies that God the Father has a visible human
form, and this interpretation fits well with the description of Jesus as “the
brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person” (Hebrews 1:3).
In the Ascension of Isaiah, Isaiah’s spirit leaves his body, and he is taken
through the heavens. In the seventh heaven he is shown the Son and Spirit, both
described as angels who receive worship, and thereafter he is shown the Father,
who is called “the Great Glory.”50
How does this square with the New Testament statements that the Father is
“invisible” and has never been seen by man? Jewish Christians appeared to believe
that God the Father could not be seen by mortal flesh. For instance, in the
Ascension of Isaiah, the prophet’s spirit leaves his body, and even then he
could not see “the Great Glory” until “the eyes of [his] spirit were open”;
after that brief vision, God was not seen again. In contrast, the Son and Spirit
were visible continuously.51 The text known as 1 Enoch describes
God as “the Great Glory” who sits on his heavenly throne and states that “None
of the angels was able to come in and see the face of [God]; . . . and no one
of the flesh can see him.”52 Similarly, the Jewish Christian (Pseudo)Clementine
Homilies gives this explanation:
For I maintain that the eyes of mortals cannot see the incorporeal form of
the Father or Son because it is illumined by exceeding great light. . . . For
he who sees God cannot live. For the excess of light dissolves the flesh of
him who sees; unless by the secret power of God the flesh be changed into the
nature of light, so that it can see light.53
Incidentally, this seems to be essentially the same explanation given in Latter-day
Saint scripture: “And he saw God face to face, and he talked with him, and the
glory of God was upon Moses; therefore Moses could endure his presence. . .
. [Moses said,] For behold, I could not look upon God, except his glory should
come upon me, and I were transfigured before him” (Moses 1:2, 14).
Therefore, while this line of evidence offers some help to creedal Trinitarians,
it ultimately breaks down. Jesus’ connection with the Word and Wisdom in the
New Testament may reflect a simple literary allusion to his role as the means
of God’s “active involvement with his world and his people.” After all, does
anyone think Jesus is really just a personification of some of God’s attributes?
On the other hand, Latter-day Saint interpretation of New Testament Christology
appears to be consistent with the evidence. God the Father, an anthropomorphic
being, has given the divine name Jehovah to his Son, who is the earthly manifestation
of God. Sometimes the Father and Son are conflated in scripture because of their
shared Godhead, but this does not imply “oneness of being.”
Subordination, Oneness, and Divine Simplicity
The Subordination of Divine Attributes and Agents
In the previous section I suggested that the Angel of the Lord might be interpreted
as a separate person within the Trinity since, in some passages, he is presented
as distinctly separate from God. However, Owen might feel compelled to insist
that the Angel and Word/Wisdom are some sort of “personified attributes” of
God. As was mentioned, the description of Jesus as an “angel” seems to imply
the sort of subordinationism that Latter-day Saints teach, especially if angels
are thought to be beings separate from God. Even if a degree of “personification”
is granted, these “personifications” are only ever represented as partial manifestations
of God. Larry Hurtado, professor of New Testament language, literature, and
theology at the University of Edinburgh, writes that “the personification of
divine attributes was intended to focus attention on particular aspects of God’s
nature and (e.g., in Philo) occasionally to magnify God by emphasizing that
he is greater than any of his works indicate.”54 Equating Jesus with
these “personified attributes” would seem to imply that he is less than “fully
The status of the personified attributes is a hotly debated point among scholars,
some insisting that they were mere literary metaphors and others that the personifications
were thought to have independent reality.55 Hurtado has been an energetic
defender of the view that personified attributes were mere poetic metaphors
in the Jewish literature.56 However, he also points out that the
personified divine attributes were described in terms identical to those used
to describe principal angels or exalted human patriarchs.57 These
figures were always described as subordinate to God but were distinguished from
other heavenly and earthly beings as “bearing more fully . . . the properties
associated with divinity. Moreover, the figures emphasized are each described
as representing God in a unique capacity and stand in a role second only to
God himself, thus being distinct from all the other servants and agents of God.”58
However, none of these figures ever gained universal recognition in Jewish circles
as second only to God59—a fact which led Christians and some Jews,
such as Philo, to combine a number of them (the Angel of the Lord, Michael,
the Angel Israel, the Name, the Word, Wisdom, etc.) into one intermediary. It
appears, therefore, that the New Testament authors used this sort of imagery
not to describe the Father and Son as sharing the same being, but to assert
Jesus Christ’s position as the principal divine being next to the Father.
Subordinationism in Early Christianity
Owen attempts to sidestep the issue of subordinationism by granting the subordination
of the Son and Spirit in a very limited sense:
It should be kept in mind that orthodox Trinitarianism has always been careful
to maintain a functional subordination of the Son and the Spirit to the Father.
The Son and the Spirit are included within God’s own identity precisely as the
Son and Spirit of God. The Son is God because he is all that the Father is (not
the other way around). The Spirit is God because in him the presence of the
Father and the Son is known within the Christian community. The Spirit is the
Spirit of the Father and the Son, and he proceeds from them (not the other way
around). The divine nature that the Son and the Spirit possess is precisely
the divine nature of the Father—he remains the reference point. (p. 295)
It is difficult to square Owen’s explanation with Christian doctrinal history.
The Anglican historian Richard P. C. Hansen observes: “Indeed, until Athanasius
began writing, every single theologian, East and West, had postulated some form
of Subordinationism. It could, about the year 300, have been described as a
fixed part of catholic theology.”60 And he was not talking just about
“functional” subordination. I have already noted subordinationist language in
several early Jewish Christian texts and the writings of Justin Martyr, but
everywhere we look (aside from modalism) in pre-Nicene Christianity, we find
subordinationist Christologies of various sorts.
After all, Jesus said, “My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28), and he
asserted that only the Father knows the hour of Christ’s second coming (Matthew
24:36). Paul wrote that the Father is “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus
Christ” (Romans 15:6 New English Bible) and that after the resurrection Jesus
will “be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all
in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28; see 15:24-27). Hippolytus of Rome wrote that the
Father is “the Lord and God and Ruler of all, and even of Christ Himself.”61
Irenaeus referred to John 14:28 and insisted that the Father really does surpass
the Son in knowledge.62 He also wrote that “the Father, is the only
God and Lord, who alone is God and ruler of all.”63 Clement of Alexandria
taught that while the Father cannot be known, the Son is the object of knowledge.64
Athenagoras spoke of the “diversity in rank” within the Godhead.65
Tertullian claimed that there was a time when the Son did not exist with God66
and that “the Father is the entire [divine] substance, but the Son is a derivation
and portion of the whole.”67 Origen labeled Jesus as a “second God.”68
Novatian taught that the Holy Spirit is “less than Christ.”69 Eusebius
of Caesarea called Jesus a “secondary Being.”70 By the time of the
Council of Nicea (AD 325), subordinationism was still the conservative stance.
J. N. D. Kelly describes the most numerous group at the council as “the great
conservative ‘middle party,'” whose doctrine was that there were three divine
persons, “separate in rank and glory but united in harmony of will.”71
If the original Christian doctrine really was that there are three truly divine
persons “separate in rank and glory but united in harmony of will,” this is
a stunning vindication of the Latter-day Saint definition of the divine unity.
Certainly, many of the writings referred to above express philosophical definitions
of God that are foreign to Mormonism, but we can point to “anthropomorphite”
Jewish Christians in the early centuries as evidence that the original doctrine
of deity was both anthropomorphic and subordinationist.72 Can mainstream
Trinitarians do the same? Where is the evidence that anyone in the first three
centuries believed in three coequal persons in one being? Perhaps this concept
was unknowingly embedded in scripture by the first Christians, only to be extracted
by later generations. However, assuming that the Holy Spirit had anything to
do with revealing the new interpretation, it seems difficult to fathom how this
would not constitute a new revelation, such as the New Testament reinterpretation
of the Old.73
Divine Simplicity and the Influence of Greek Philosophy
Owen does not deny that at least some of the early Christians and Philo were
subordinationists (with respect to Christology and Philo’s Logos doctrine),
but he attributes this to the corrupting influence of Middle Platonist philosophy.
I would not deny that Philo’s Middle Platonic views—which presumed God could
have no direct contact with the material world—posed certain problems for
his monotheistic outlook. Philo described the Logos as if it existed on a level
in between Creator and creation. . . . Nevertheless, because the Logos never
attained an independent identity in Philo’s thought (remaining an emanation
from God’s own being), his commitment to Jewish principles kept him within the
bounds of monotheism. Middle Platonic assumptions caused similar problems for
early Christian apologists such as Justin Martyr and Origen, whose understanding
of the Son’s identity was similar to Philo’s Logos. The tensions remained unresolved
until the Nicene fathers clearly identified the Son as a distinguishable relation
within God’s own substance rather than an emanation from God (so Justin, Origen),
or worse, a creature (so Arius). Hence, Nicene theology marked a decisive break
with all Platonic and subordinationist views that presumed that the true God
could have no direct contact with the physical world. (p. 481 n. 169)
I agree with Owen that the Middle Platonist views dominating Christian theology
in the second and third centuries caused many Christians to take their subordinationism
too far. For instance, Origen wrote, “We say that the Son and the Holy Spirit
excel all created beings to a degree which admits of no comparison, and are
themselves excelled by the Father to the same or even greater degree.”74
In contrast, Jesus was presented as fully God in the New Testament (Philippians
2:6). However, it does not follow that all forms of subordinationist Christology
were corrupted: I have already pointed out Jewish Christian documents—such
as the writings of the Shepherd of Hermas, the Ascension of Isaiah, and the
(Pseudo)Clementine Recognitions—which all present Jesus as the principal angelic
helper to God but show no trace of significant Middle Platonist influence. Can
Owen point out Jewish Christian traditions that were explicitly not subordinationist?
Knowing of none, I conclude that Middle Platonism only influenced Christians
to take their subordinationist views to extremes.
Owen does not, however, deny that Greek philosophy had some role in shaping
“orthodox” Christian theology. Carl Mosser and Owen quote Cambridge scholar
Christopher Stead as saying that he resists the charge that “the main structure
of Christian orthodoxy was argued out in a continuous tradition with the aid
of philosophical techniques.”75 However, Stead contends that the
doctrines of God, the Trinity, the incarnation, and “perhaps . . . that of the
Creation” are “the product of Christian reflection upon the Scriptures.” He
goes on: “It is faith that gives the Christian imagination the power of advancing
new perspectives within a continuous tradition of common devotion.”76
What Mosser and Owen do not let on is that a large portion of Stead’s book
is devoted to showing that when Christianity moved out into the larger hellenized
world, there was a shift from a Hebrew concept of God, which was specifically
anthropomorphic, to a Greek philosophical concept.77 “The Hebrews
. . . pictured the God whom they worshipped as having a body and mind like our
own, though transcending humanity in the splendour of his appearance, in his
power, his wisdom, and the constancy of his care for his creatures.”78
“By saying that God is spiritual [cf. John 4:24], we do not mean that he has
no body . . . but rather that he is the source of a mysterious life-giving power
and energy that animates the human body, and himself possesses this energy in
the fullest measure.”79 “In a Palestinian milieu it was still possible
to picture the heavenly Father in human form and to see the contrast between
heaven and earth as one of light and glory against relative darkness and indignity.”80
The Old Testament writers sometimes speak of God as unchanging. . . . In Christian
writers influenced by Greek philosophy this doctrine is developed in an absolute
metaphysical sense. Hebrew writers are more concrete, and their thinking includes
two main points: (1) God has the dignity appropriate to old age, but without
its disabilities . . . ; and (2) God is faithful to his covenant promises, even
though men break theirs.81
Therefore, when Stead writes that “orthodox” doctrine is part of a “continuous
tradition,” he is making a value judgment—that is, he is implying that Hebrew
anthropomorphism was not an “essential” doctrine.
The truth is that the mixing of Greek philosophical and Jewish Christian concepts
of God catered both to extreme forms of subordinationism and to the Nicene doctrine
of three coequal persons in one being. The reason for this is that the God of
the philosophers was an absolutely unique and simple being—simple meaning
“without parts,” as in the Westminster Confession of Faith. While the Bible
does present God as unique in some ways (though not in such an extreme fashion
as creedal Trinitarians would like), it nowhere attests any doctrine of divine
simplicity. For example, Stead gives evidence that Clement of Alexandria’s and
Novatian’s doctrine that God is “simple and not compounded, uniform and wholly
alike in himself, being wholly mind and wholly spirit” derives from the Greek
philosopher Xenophanes.82 The Middle Platonist philosopher Numenius
wrote that God “is simple and unchangeable, and in the same idea, and neither
willingly departs from its sameness, nor is compelled by any other to depart.”83
If God is absolutely unique and “simple,” then no other beings can be divine
in the same sense. Thus the early Christian apologists could speak of Jesus
as some sort of emanation from God but not on a par with the one God. Nicene
theologians, concerned to preserve the full divinity of Christ, asserted three
coequal persons united in one being in such a way that the divine substance
is not divided.
This solution is considered a great mystery, beyond human reason. In fact,
it is logically incoherent. Latter-day Saints and others have often erroneously
charged creedal Trinitarians with logical inconsistency for believing in a tripersonal
being. However, the fact that this goes beyond our experience does not mean
that there might not be whole planets crawling with tripersonal beings somewhere
in the universe. How should we know? The logical inconsistency of the Trinity
stems from the dogma of divine simplicity. If, by definition, there can be no
divisions within God, how can we consistently say that there are three distinct
persons within God? No matter how you slice it, some division must result. “Orthodox”
statements that there can be separate or distinct persons without dividing God
in any way are simply theological special pleading.
Subordinationism and Monotheism
Finally we have hit upon the real reason creedal Trinitarians balk at subordinationism.
For them, there cannot be more than one being who is truly God, and subordinationism
would so clearly provide an instance of division within the divine substance
that even they could not deny the logical incoherence of their doctrine. On
the other hand, Latter-day Saints, along with the biblical writers, do not assert
the uniqueness of God in such extreme terms, and they deny any doctrine of divine
simplicity. In this framework, there can be any number of truly divine beings
who are one with, and subordinate to, God the Father. God can be spoken of as
an absolute monarch or a corporate entity.
Yet the Latter-day Saint (and original Christian) doctrine of the divine unity
is a legitimate expression of monotheism. Hurtado writes:
Jews were quite willing to imagine beings who bear the divine name within
them and can be referred to by one or more of God’s titles (e.g., Yahoel or
Melchizedek as elohim or, later, Metatron as yahweh ha-katon), beings so endowed
with divine attributes as to be difficult to distinguish them descriptively
from God, beings who are very direct personal extensions of God’s powers and
sovereignty. About this, there is clear evidence. This clothing of servants
of God with God’s attributes and even his name will seem “theologically very
confusing” if we go looking for a “strict monotheism” of relatively modern distinctions
of “ontological status” between God and these figures, and expect such distinctions
to be expressed in terms of “attributes and functions.” By such definitions
of the term, Greco-Roman Jews seem to have been quite ready to accommodate various
Definitions of monotheism must be formed on the basis of the beliefs and practices
of those who describe themselves in monotheistic terms. This means that there
will likely be varieties within and among monotheistic traditions and that it
is inappropriate for historical purposes to impose one definition or to use
one definition as a standard of “strict” or “pure” monotheism in a facile manner.85
Creatio ex Nihilo
The acceptance by Latter-day Saints of the anthropomorphic God of the Bible
requires us to reject the Greek notion of the absolute uniqueness of the one
God. That God is in some sense unique and that there is a “Creator/creature
distinction” are facts taken for granted by Latter-day Saints, but to us this
does not imply some unbridgeable “ontological gap.” In support of this interpretation,
Latter-day Saints have often pointed to the work of a number of scholars who
assert that the doctrine of creation from nothing (creatio ex nihilo) was a
postbiblical invention. Owen critiques the work of one such scholar, Peter Hayman,
but admits, “Hayman correctly notes that God’s unique status is compromised
if matter is eternal with him” (p. 296). This subject has been more than adequately
covered in Blake Ostler’s review of Paul Copan and William Lane Craig’s chapter
in The New Mormon Challenge,86 but I will briefly comment on Owen’s
attack on Hayman’s scholarship in this area and the general state of the evidence.
Owen’s main objections relevant to this discussion relate to Hayman’s use
of the rabbinic text Genesis Rabbah.87 Owen complains:
Unfortunately, Genesis Rabbah is cited out of context in the attempt to establish
his point. Hayman cites the following statement from Genesis Rabbah 1.5 on Genesis
1:1: “R. Huna said, in the name of Bar Qappara: ‘If it were not written explicitly
in Scripture, it would not be possible to say it: God created the heaven and
the earth. From what? From the earth was chaos [tohu], etc.'” What Hayman leaves
unquoted is the immediately previous sentence, which, in the Soncino edition,
reads: “Thus, whoever comes to say that this world was created out of tohu and
bohu and darkness, does he not indeed impair [God’s glory]!” The translator
notes: “Here, however, they [tohu and bohu] are regarded, together with darkness,
as forms of matter which according to some who deny creatio ex nihilo was God’s
raw material in the creation of the world. The object of the Midrash here is
to refute that view.” Hayman also ignores Genesis Rabbah 1.9 on Genesis 1:1,
wherein “a certain philosopher” is told in no uncertain terms by R. Gamaliel
that God himself created all the materials from which the world was made, rather
than merely being a great artist who was assisted by good materials. (p. 296,
To evaluate Owen’s first criticism, let us paste together the two parts of
Genesis Rabbah 1:5 cited above:
“Thus, whoever comes to say that this world was created out of tohu and bohu
and darkness, does he not indeed impair [God’s glory]!” “R. Huna said, in the
name of Bar Qappara: ‘If it were not written explicitly in Scripture, it would
not be possible to say it: God created the heaven and the earth. From what?
From the earth was chaos [tohu], etc.'”
It seems clear (to me, at least) that it is Owen, not Hayman, who has misread
this passage. The idea expressed is that the assertion that God created the
world from preexisting material would seem to impair God’s glory, so if the
scripture did not explicitly teach this, it would not be possible to say it.
Since the Soncino edition of the Midrash was published in 1939, before most
of the scholarly work on the origin of the ex nihilo doctrine had been produced,
it seems natural that the translator would try to spin the meaning of this passage
to fit the then-current party line.
In addition, Owen’s charge that Hayman “ignores” Genesis Rabbah 1:9 is patently false. Hayman writes:
Nearly all recent studies on the origin of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo
have come to the conclusion that this doctrine is not native to Judaism, is
nowhere attested in the Hebrew Bible, and probably arose in Christianity in
the second century CE in the course of its fierce battle with Gnosticism.
The one scholar who continues to maintain that the doctrine is native to Judaism,
namely Jonathan Goldstein, thinks that it first appears at the end of the first
century CE, but has recently conceded the weakness of his position in the
course of debate with David Winston.88
It turns out that the discussion between Goldstein and Winston centers on
the very passage from Genesis Rabbah that Owen is so concerned about.89
Briefly, Winston shows that the particular verb used by the philosopher implied
that God had been “actively assisted” by preexistent material in the creation,
and Rabbi Gamaliel was responding to that idea, not asserting any strict notion
of creatio ex nihilo.
Owen’s problem on this score appears to derive from his heavy reliance on
the work of Paul Copan.90 Copan’s essay in The New Mormon Challenge
is essentially a repackaging of a previous paper published in Trinity Journal.91
I will offer only one point of criticism regarding Copan’s journal article.
The Trinity Journal article is billed as “an examination of Gerhard May’s
proposal,” referring to May’s classic book Creatio ex Nihilo.92 However,
Copan persistently refuses to deal with the main line of evidence that May and
others have presented. May has convincingly shown that where early texts say
that God created out of “nothing” or “non-being,” or some similar translation,
they were using a common ancient idiom to say that “something new, something
that was not there before, comes into being; whether this something new comes
through a change in something that was already there, or whether it is something
absolutely new, is beside the question.”93 For instance, the Greek
writer Xenophon wrote that parents “bring forth their children out of non-being.”94
Philo of Alexandria wrote that Moses and Plato were in agreement in accepting
a preexistent material, but also that God brings things “out of nothing into
being” or “out of non-being.”95 Similarly, even today somebody might
ask, “What’s that over there?” The answer given might very well be, “Oh, nothing,”
but obviously this would not imply actual nothingness. It would simply mean
that the object in question is nothing of consequence. Therefore, in view of
this common usage and the many explicit statements by ancient authors regarding
the preexistent matter, we must rule out a belief in creatio ex nihilo unless
it is explicitly stated otherwise. Such an explicit statement would distinguish
itself from the usage common in both the ancient and the modern world.
We do not find viable candidates for such explicit statements anywhere until
the mid-second century with the gnostic teacher Basilides and, later, the Christian
apologists Tatian and Theophilus of Antioch.96 Even as late as the
turn of the third century, Tertullian had to take the more ancient usage into
account when arguing for the new doctrine. “And even if they were made out of
some (previous) matter, as some will have it, they are even thus out of nothing,
because they were not what they are.”97
Copan complains that in The New Mormon Challenge “May—along with Mormon
scholars in general—does little to defend” the claim that “the text of the
Bible does not demand belief in creation ex nihilo.” He goes on: “While he makes
passing reference to certain biblical passages that seem to hint at the doctrine
of creatio ex nihilo, he does not seriously interact with them, seeming to pass
them off lightly” (p. 109). But as has been discussed, May simply points out
that the biblical texts that seem to support this doctrine cannot be distinguished
from contemporary statements that demonstrably affirm no such thing. Copan never
discusses the merits of May’s argument;98 rather he indulges in a
spate of proof texting, appeals to outdated opinions of scholars, and dogmatic
appeals to one particular form of the Big Bang theory.
The bottom line, for the moment, is that the weight of scholarly opinion is
on the Latter-day Saint side. There is simply no reason to believe that the
Bible requires belief in creatio ex nihilo and thus to believe that the Bible
requires an unbridgeable ontological gap between Creator and creature.
The Shrinking “Ontological Gap”
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ
and creedal Christians affirm together that Jesus Christ is true God and true
man. However, since Latter-day Saints reject the notion of creatio ex nihilo,
we can also consistently assert that Jesus is subordinate in rank and glory
to the Father and was created by the Father.
In support of this idea, I cite early Christian texts that seem to make no
distinction between the ontology of Jesus and the angels. For example, Justin
made the following controversial statement: “We reverence and worship Him and
the Son who came forth from Him and taught us these things, and the host of
other good angels who are about Him and are made quite like Him, and the Prophetic
Spirit.”99 While Father William Jurgens admits that Justin here “apparently
[made] insufficient distinction between Christ and the created angels,” he asserts
that there “are theological difficulties in the above passage, no doubt. But
we wonder if those who make a great deal of these difficulties do not demand
of Justin a theological sophistication which a man of his time and background
could not rightly be expected to have.”100 Robert M. Grant writes:
“This passage presents us with considerable difficulties. The word ‘other,’
used in relation to the angels, suggests that Jesus himself is an angel.”101
A third-century text called the Threefold Fruit of the Christian Life describes
Jesus as the angel Yahweh of Hosts: “When the Lord created the angels from the
fire he decided to make one of them his son, he whom Isaiah called the Lord
[Yahweh] of Hosts.”102 Methodius of Olympus made a similar statement:
“And this was Christ, a man filled with the pure and perfect Godhead, and God
received into man. For it was most suitable that the oldest of the Aeons and
the first of the Archangels, when about to hold communion with men, should dwell
in the oldest and the first of men, even Adam.”103
This was no mere Middle Platonic aberration. Hurtado notes that, while there
was a definite Creator/creature distinction between God and all others in the
Judaism of the period, the difference between God and other heavenly beings
was thought to be in degree. “This commitment to the one God of Israel accommodated
a large retinue of heavenly beings distinguished from God more in degree than
kind as to their attributes, some of these beings portrayed as in fact sharing
quite directly in God’s powers and even his name.”104
This leads into questions about the difference between Jesus’ ontology and
that of human beings. After all, Jesus is supposed to be “true man” as well
as “true God.” Creedal Christians since Origen have usually explained that Jesus
possessed a human body and spirit in addition to “the Word” (meaning his divine
nature).105 However, Kelly writes that the original type of Christology
seems to have been a “Spirit Christology,” where the Logos, a divine spirit,
took on a body of flesh.106 In short, “the Word was made flesh” (John
1:14), or as Hippolytus puts it, the “Logos we know to have received a body
from a virgin.”107 The Epistle of Barnabas states, “He also Himself
was to offer in sacrifice for our sins the vessel of the Spirit.”108
Ignatius of Antioch (ca. AD 110) wrote: “God the Word did dwell in a human
body, being within it as the Word, even as the soul also is in the body.”109
Given that the Word dwelt in a human body in place of a normal human spirit,
how could Jesus be truly human if his divine nature is separated from humanity
by some unbridgeable ontological gap? Thus, the sort of Christology taught in
the earliest Christian circles is fundamentally incompatible with the modern
creedal concept of God but is quite consistent with the Latter-day Saint concept
The idea that men are essentially the same kind of being as God is found in
another Jewish Christian document, the (Pseudo)Clementine Homilies. “Learn this
also: The bodies of men have immortal souls, which have been clothed with the
breath of God; and having come forth from God, they are of the same substance,
but they are not gods.”110 It should be noted that before the fourth
century, phrases such as “of one substance” or “of the same substance” implied
a generic unity of species, meaning something like “made of the same kind of
God’s Name, God’s Throne
The shrinking ontological gap between God and man discussed above leads into
the question of human deification. The Jewish literature from around the time
of the earliest Christians has a number of references to deified patriarchs.
They were often represented as having received the name of God (Yahweh) and
sometimes were able to sit on God’s throne or another throne nearby. For example,
Gieschen cites the example of Moses sitting on God’s throne in the writings
of Ezekiel the Tragedian.112 The ancient writing known as 3 Enoch
contains an account of the exaltation of Enoch into Metatron, who is called
“The Lesser YHWH,” for, “as it is written, ‘My name is in him.'”113
Owen criticizes Hayman’s use of the 3 Enoch text to show that God was not
considered to be metaphysically unique.
I would have to agree that Enoch’s transformation in this document is unusual
(3 En. 4:1-5; cf. 2 En. 22), and possibly borders on a break with monotheism.
Deification is probably not too strong a term for describing the transformation
of a man into “the Lesser YHWH” (3 En. 12:5) and “Prince of the Divine Presence”
(12:1). . . . However, even within the document itself, there are attempts to
qualify Metatron’s divine status in such a way as to protect the unique identity
of the One God: (1) Enoch is seated, not on God’s own throne, but on “a throne
like the throne of glory” (10:1). (2) Enoch is said to be appointed, “as a prince
and a ruler over all the denizens of the heights, apart from the eight great,
honored, and terrible princes who are called YHWH by the name of their King”
(10:3). This suggests that Enoch is not in fact exalted to the highest possible
heavenly status, for there are eight other angelic “princes” above him. God
himself is exalted even above these heavenly princes; hence the eight angels
create a buffer between Enoch and the One God. (3) In 3 Enoch 16, Anapiel YHWH
(presumably one of the eight heavenly princes) gives Metatron a lashing when
Aher sees Metatron “seated upon a throne like a king” (16:2) and declares: “There
are indeed two powers in heaven!” (16:3). Metatron is forced to stand up and
vacate his throne when it is sensed that God’s unique status has been threatened
(16:5). (pp. 297-98, Owen’s emphasis)
I admit that this Jewish account of human deification contrasts sharply with
Jesus’ depiction in the New Testament. For instance, in Revelation 7:15-17,
Jesus is depicted as sitting on God’s own throne. Owen describes another such
Another place where the title Son of Man is linked with unique divine status
is in Mark 14:62, where Jesus replies to the High Priest’s question whether
he is the messianic Son of God: “‘I am,’ said Jesus, ‘And you will see the Son
of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds
of heaven.'” The Jewish response to this statement is predictable—blasphemy!
In Jesus’ reply to the High Priest, Daniel 7:13 is conflated with Psalm 110:1
(cf. Mk. 12:35-37), which means that the Son of Man will, in fact, be seated
on God’s own heavenly throne (cf. 1 Chr 29:23). (p. 289)
These images really are striking and do indeed suggest a belief that Jesus
was truly divine. However, compare the above to Jesus’ promise to the faithful
in Revelation 3:21: “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my
throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.”
If 3 Enoch shows that the Jews hedged on their deification doctrine, Revelation
shows that John certainly did not! Consider also that Owen claims that the fact
that “God made the name of Jesus equivalent to the divine name YHWH” (p. 287)
means that Jesus was included in God’s “unique identity” (p. 286). Compare again
Jesus’ promise to the faithful in Revelation 3:12: “Him that overcometh will
I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I
will write upon him the name of my God, . . . and I will write upon him my new
name.” Through Jesus, the faithful will receive the divine name and become “partakers
of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). If the bestowal of the divine name to Jesus
means that he is included in God’s unique identity, can identical language not
mean the same for deified Christians? I fear that Owen will answer that the
two cannot mean the same. For instance, consider Jesus’ Intercessory Prayer,
in which he asks that his disciples “all may be one; as thou, Father, art in
me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us. . . . And the glory which
thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one”
(John 17:21-22). Latter-day Saints have often pointed to this as evidence that
(1) the kind of unity available to separate human beings is the same sort of
thing that binds the Father and the Son in one, although to a degree beyond
human experience, and that (2) humans can become one in God just as the Father
and Son are one. These seem to be rather explicitly stated points in the text.
Although Owen does not address this common Latter-day Saint argument in his
essay, Mosser and Owen have previously commented on these verses.114
Noting Stephen Robinson’s argument that John 10:30 (“I and my Father are one”)
should be interpreted in light of John 17:21-22, they respond that John 10:30
and other passages emphasizing the unity of the Father and Son and the divinity
of Jesus (John 10:24-25, 28-33, 38; 14:9-11, 16-21) appear prior to this, so
we should interpret John 17:21-22 in light of them. This is poor logic. The
verses Mosser and Owen cite merely state that the Father and Son are one and
that the Father is “in” the Son, but nowhere do they say exactly how they are
one. I am unaware of any other biblical statements that directly address this
issue. The fact is that Jesus asked that the disciples become one “even as we
are one” and that they be one “in” the Father and Son. Both instances of “oneness”
are specifically equated here, yet Mosser and Owen do not allow that these verses
present a very good case for a sort of divine unity that is not a “oneness of
With this in mind, let us return to the ancient texts to find out what it
would have meant to bestow the divine name on exalted human beings. Psalm 124:8
says, “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Hekaloth
Rabbati says, “Great is the Name through which heaven and earth have been created.”115
A Samaritan text asserts that the name of God “is the Name by which all creatures
arose.”116 Clement of Rome spoke of God’s “Name, which is the primal
source of all creation.”117 Gieschen summarizes, “The cosmogenic
significance of the Name probably resulted from its association with the creative
command, . . . (‘let there be’), spoken in the act of creation.”118
What is the significance of all this for deified humans who are given the name?
Rabbi Akiba (d. AD 135) is credited with the following statement:
The Holy One, blessed be He, will in the future call all of the pious by their
names, and give them a cup of elixir of life in their hands so that they should
live and endure forever. . . . And the Holy One, blessed be He, will in the
future reveal to all the pious in the World to Come the Ineffable Name with
which new heavens and a new earth can be created, so that all of them should
be able to create new worlds. . . . The Holy One, blessed be He, will give every
pious three hundred and forty worlds in inheritance in the World to Come.119
While the issues that Owen mainly oversimplifies are the same ones that Latter-day
Saints themselves often treat with similar shallowness, I was hoping for much
more from him. Certainly, he knows that Latter-day Saints are not troubled by
scriptural passages that say there is “one God,” yet he chooses to argue against
our position as if it were simple polytheism. This is just as unacceptable as
it would be for Latter-day Saints to argue against creedal Trinitarianism as
if it were modalism (as they sometimes do). If the intent of The New Mormon
Challenge is to raise the level of dialogue between Latter-day Saints and
evangelicals (see, for example, pp. 25-26), why not take the opportunity to
rise above the simplistic level and focus strictly on real issues that divide
us, rather than wasting space on nonissues? I submit that the dialogue regarding
the divine unity ought to focus on how, rather than whether,
God is one. We should discuss how, rather than whether, God
I have not addressed every point Owen makes against Barker and Hayman on the
subjects of the plurality of gods, the ontological gap between God and man,
and man’s potential for deification, but I believe I have shown that he does
not treat the scholars fairly. He has certainly not made a case that Latter-day
Saint apologists should stop citing them. The really odd thing about Owen’s
essay is that he takes only six pages (pp. 309-14) out of forty-four to address
specifically the arguments of Daniel Peterson, whose essay on these issues is
perhaps the most comprehensive scholarly treatment so far from a Latter-day
Saint point of view.120 Although Owen admits that Peterson’s work
“poses a more serious challenge to orthodox Christian theology” than does the
work of Hayman and Barker; he takes only a few minor swipes at it before confessing
that “I do not have space here to offer a point-by-point response to Peterson’s
arguments” (p. 309). Perhaps not, but he could have made a larger dent if he
had forgone his discussions of whether the earliest Christians and the Jews
of the Second Temple period were “monotheists” in some sense and whether the
first Christians thought of Jesus as being “included within God’s unique identity.”
So regardless of his intent, Owen has only succeeded in addressing an oversimplified
caricature of Latter-day Saint belief rather than our best arguments.
- This illustrates to me the problem of defining one’s own position in negative
terms. In my experience, evangelicals tend to speak to Latter-day Saints about
the divine unity as if we were pagan polytheists, and Latter-day Saints tend
to speak to evangelicals as if they were modalists. Sadly, neither party typically
does anything to disabuse the other of its false notions. Latter-day Saints
emphasize the plurality of God and evangelicals emphasize unity. However,
the fact that people often talk past each other is no excuse for someone who
knows better (such as Owen) to perpetuate the situation.
- Boyd K. Packer, Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft,
1991), 293, emphasis in original.
- Bruce R. McConkie, “Monotheism,” in Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake
City: Bookcraft, 1966), 511.
- Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 2:304.
- Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 8:190.
- Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 9:106.
- Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 14:92.
- Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 7:238.
- Orson Pratt, in Journal of Discourses, 14:243.
- John Taylor, in Journal of Discourses, 19:305.
- Levi Edgar Young, “Mormonism,” Improvement Era, July 1911, 830.
- “The Father and the Son: A Doctrinal Exposition by the First Presidency
and the Twelve,” in Messages of the First Presidency, ed. James R. Clark (Salt
Lake City: Bookcraft, 1971), 5:23-34 (30 June 1916); also reprinted as “The
Father and the Son,” Ensign, April 2002, 13-18.
- See Margaret Barker, The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God (Louisville,
Ky.: Westminster, 1992). See also Kevin Christensen, “A Response to Paul Owen’s
Comments on Margaret Barker,” FARMS Review of Books 14/1-2 (2002): 193-221.
- History of the Church, 5:127.
- Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 1:51. Some might object that this
statement refers to President Young’s “Adam-God” teachings, so the identity
of Jehovah is ambiguous. See Boyd Kirkland, “Elohim and Jehovah in Mormonism
and the Bible,” Dialogue 19/1 (1986): 77-93. I argue that Brigham Young identified
Jehovah with Jesus Christ on this basis. First, in the following passage President
Young identified Jesus (“the prince of peace”) as “I am that I am” (Jehovah)
and “the God of Jacob.” “I know that we are but a handful of people—Jacob
is small, but who can contend with the God of Jacob? He is ‘a man of war,’
and ‘the prince of peace,’ ‘I am that I am.'” Journal of Discourses, 10:357.
Second, in Brigham Young’s statement it is clear that there were three main
players in the creation—Elohim, Jehovah, and Michael. Which one of these was
Jesus Christ? I could quote any number of passages from every Latter-day Saint
standard work to show that Jesus Christ was the Creator of the world; but
so that the reader will be convinced that Brigham Young was aware of this
fact, I submit the following: “God chose, elected, or ordained, Jesus Christ,
his son, to be the Creator, governor, Saviour, and judge of the world.” Brigham
Young and Willard Richards, “Election and Reprobation,” Millennial Star 1/9
(January 1841): 218. Similar statements were made in Young’s presence by George
Q. Cannon, in Journal of Discourses, 11:98, and Orson Pratt, in Journal of
Discourses, 18:290 and 19:316-17, among others. If Brigham Young did not mean
to equate “Yahovah” with Jesus Christ, then he was effectively expelling Jesus
from the “executive council on creation,” so to speak.
- Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 12:99.
- Franklin D. Richards, in Journal of Discourses, 26:172.
- Franklin D. Richards, in Journal of Discourses, 26:300.
- David O. McKay, Church News, 1 July 1961, 14.
- Joseph Fielding Smith, “The Faith of Our Fathers as Expressed in Their Worship
of the Living God,” Improvement Era, August 1923, 929.
- George Albert Smith, “Some Points of ‘Peculiarity,'” Improvement Era, March
- Rodney Turner, “The Doctrine of the Firstborn and Only Begotten,” in The
Pearl of Great Price: Revelations from God, ed. H. Donl Peterson and Charles
D. Tate Jr. (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1989), 103.
- Glenn L. Pearson and Reid E. Bankhead, Building Faith with the Book of Mormon
(Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1986), 126-27.
- Barker, The Great Angel, 5-6.
- On the other hand, Owen makes the following admission in a footnote: “Admittedly,
Deuteronomy 32:8-9 comes close to a monarchistic/henotheistic outlook, since
YHWH is depicted as the national God of Israel alone. However, the affirmation
that it is YHWH/the Most High who delivered the nations over to these other
‘sons of God’ pushes in the direction of monotheism, since Israel’s God is
still ultimately in authority over all the nations” (p. 479 n. 135). This
illustrates how Owen juggles terminology to fit his agenda: If the Bible has
the Most High ruling over other gods or “sons of God,” then this is a manifestation
of “monotheism,” and he contrasts “monotheism” with “monarchism.” However,
if the Latter-day Saints believe in a Most High God ruling over other gods
or “sons of God,” it must be “polytheism.” In contrast to Owen, Larry Hurtado
calls the religion of first-century Judaism “monarchial monotheism.” Larry
W. Hurtado, “What Do We Mean by ‘First-Century Jewish Monotheism’?” Society
of Biblical Literature Seminar Papers (1993): 348-68.
- (Pseudo)Clementine Recognitions 2.42, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers (hereafter
ANF), ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (1885; reprint, Peabody, Mass.:
Hendrickson, 1994), 8:109.
- Eusebius, The Proof of the Gospel 4.7, ed. and trans. W. J. Ferrar (New
York: Macmillan, 1920), 1:176.
- Barker, The Great Angel, 198-99.
- Kevin Christensen has recently shown that Barker’s view of Old Testament
history fits surprisingly well with that of the Book of Mormon. See Kevin
Christensen, “Paradigms Regained: A Survey of Margaret Barker’s Scholarship
and Its Significance for Mormon Studies,” FARMS Occasional Papers 2 (2001):
1-94; cf. Owen, “Monotheism, Mormonism,” 469 nn. 11-12.
- Charles A. Gieschen, Angelomorphic Christology: Antecedents and Early Evidence
(Leiden: Brill, 1998), 57.
- Larry W. Hurtado, One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient
Jewish Monotheism, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: Clark, 1998), 49.
- Philo of Alexandria, De Confusione Linguarum 146, as cited by Gieschen,
Angelomorphic Christology, 109.
- Gieschen, Angelomorphic Christology, 107.
- See especially Barker, The Great Angel; Jarl E. Fossum, The Image of the
Invisible God: Essays on the Influence of Jewish Mysticism on Early Christology
(Freiburg: Universit tsverlag Freiburg Schweiz, 1995); Hurtado, One God, One
Lord; Gieschen, Angelomorphic Christology.
- Owen writes: “It is important to distinguish ‘angel Christology,’ which
literally identifies Christ as an angel . . . , from ‘angelomorphic Christology,’
which refers to the fact that Christ is sometimes portrayed visually in the
‘form’ of an angel” (p. 481 n. 172). This is an important distinction, but
I will make the argument below that all nonmodalist Christologies in the pre-Nicene
periods were more subordinationist than modern creedal analogues, and there
are a number of indications that even though Jesus was distinguished from
the angels in the New Testament, there is no sign of a great, unbridgeable
“ontological gap” between angels and God in the earliest stratum of Christian
- For instance, Origen, De Principiis 1.3.4, notes that “the Hebrew” interpreted
the two seraphim in Isaiah 6:2-3 as Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Ray Pritz connects
this Jewish Christian idea to the sect of the Nazarenes, which, he argues,
was descended from the original Jerusalem congregation. Ray A. Pritz, Nazarene
Jewish Christianity: From the End of the New Testament Period until Its Disappearance
in the Fourth Century (Leiden: Brill, 1988), 10, 22, 108-10.
- The Ascension of Isaiah, in The Other Bible, ed. Willis Barnstone (San
Francisco: Harper and Row, 1984), 528.
- Shepherd of Hermas, Commandment 11 (ANF 2:28).
- Jean Dani lou, The Theology of Jewish Christianity, trans. and ed. John
A. Baker (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1964), 119.
- See Robert M. Grant, The Early Christian Doctrine of God (Charlottesville,
Va.: University Press of Virginia, 1966), 81.
- Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 56 (ANF 1:223).
- Justin Martyr, First Apology 13 (ANF 1:167).
- Owen’s essential argument is also used by James Patrick Holding, The Mormon
Defenders: How Latter-day Saint Apologists Misinterpret the Bible (self-published,
- Darrell D. Hannah, Michael and Christ: Michael Traditions and Angel Christology
in Early Christianity (T bingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1999), 20.
- James D. G. Dunn, “Was Christianity a Monotheistic Faith from the Beginning?”
Scottish Journal of Theology 35 (1982): 320.
- Fossum, Image of the Invisible God, 106; cf. 17, 26, 31-34, 95—108; also
Gieschen, Angelomorphic Christology, 78-88, 273-76.
- Fossum, Image of the Invisible God, 31 n. 73.
- See Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.7.2-4 (ANF 1:470).
- See Irenaeus, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching 11, in Ancient Christian
Writers: The Works of the Fathers in Translation, ed. Johannes Quasten and
J. C. Plumpe (New York: Newman Press, 1946-present), 16:54; Justin Martyr,
On the Resurrection 7 (ANF 1:297). Many scholars deny that Justin is responsible
for this work, but the authorship of the work attributed to Irenaeus is undisputed.
For Justin, see Walter Delius, “Ps. Justin: ‘ ber die Auferstehung,'” Theologia
Viatorum 4 (1952): 181-204; for Irenaeus, see Everett Ferguson, ed., Encyclopedia
of Early Christianity (New York: Garland, 1990), 471-73.
- For a full discussion, see Gieschen, Angelomorphic Christology, 229-44.
- Ascension of Isaiah 9:36-40, as cited in Gieschen, Angelomorphic Christology,
- 1 Enoch 14:20-21, as cited in Gieschen, Angelomorphic Christology, 87.
- (Pseudo)Clementine Homilies 17.16 (ANF 8:322-23).
- Hurtado, One God, One Lord, 49.
- A good discussion of the debate can be found in Gieschen, Angelomorphic
- See Hurtado, One God, One Lord, 41-69.
- Ibid., 17-39.
- Ibid., 18.
- Ibid., 19.
- Richard Hansen, “The Achievement of Orthodoxy in the Fourth Century AD,”
in The Making of Orthodoxy: Essays in Honour of Henry Chadwick, ed. Rowan
Williams (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 153.
- Hippolytus, Scholia on Daniel 7.13 (ANF 5:189).
- Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2.28.8 (ANF 1:402). The same point is made by
Peter in (Pseudo)Clementine Recognitions 10.14 (ANF 8:196).
- Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.9.1 (ANF 1:422). Christopher Stead points
out that Irenaeus may have considered the Son and Spirit to be coequal, in
harmony with his description of the Son and Spirit as “the two hands of God,”
“but his image hardly suggests the later view that all three Persons are coequal.”
Stead, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1994), 157, emphasis in original.
- See Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 4.25 (ANF 2:438).
- Athenagoras, Legatio 10.5, in The Emergence of Christian Theology, ed.
Eric F. Osborn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 175.
- See Tertullian, Against Hermogenes 3 (ANF 3:478).
- Tertullian, Against Praxeas 9 (ANF 3:603-4).
- Origen, Against Celsus 5.39 (ANF 4:561).
- Novatian, Concerning the Trinity 16 (ANF 5:625).
- Eusebius, The Proof of the Gospel 1.5 (Ferrar trans., 1:26); cf. Eusebius,
Preparation for the Gospel 7.15, trans. Edwin H. Gifford (Oxford: Clarendon,
- J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, rev. ed. (San Francisco: HarperCollins,
- David L. Paulsen, “Early Christian Belief in a Corporeal Deity: Origen
and Augustine as Reluctant Witnesses,” Harvard Theological Review 83 (1990):
111-12; Carl W. Griffin and David L. Paulsen, “Augustine and the Corporeality
of God,” Harvard Theological Review 95 (2002): 97-118.
- See Owen Chadwick, From Bossuet to Newman: The Idea of Doctrinal Development
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1957), 195. This point touches on
the fascinating subject of “doctrinal development.” For good summary discussions
of the issue from Catholic and Protestant perspectives, see Aidan Nichols,
From Newman to Congar: The Idea of Doctrinal Development from the Victorians
to the Second Vatican Council (Edinburgh: Clark, 1990); Peter Toon, The Development
of Doctrine in the Church (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1979). For a preliminary
foray into the subject from a Latter-day Saint point of view, see Barry R.
Bickmore, “Doctrinal Trends in Early Christianity and the Strength of the
Mormon Position,” found at FAIR Papers, www.fairlds.org/apol/ai180.html, as
recently as 17 March 2003.
- Origen, Commentary on John 8.25, in The Early Christian Fathers, ed. and
trans. Henry Bettenson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1956), 233.
- Carl Mosser and Paul Owen, review of How Wide the Divide? by Craig L. Blomberg
and Stephen E. Robinson, FARMS Review of Books 11/2 (1999): 1-102; see 95.
- Stead, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity, 89-90.
- This is the key concept that Latter-day Saint scholars and apologists have
pointed to as the most significant corruption due to hellenization. Mosser
and Owen, review of How Wide the Divide? 82-102, seem to want to saddle Latter-day
Saints with the claim that everything to do with Greek philosophy must have
been bad, which is simply not the case. However, Mosser and Owen’s critique
might have some validity if it were true that “the very places in which Latter-day
Saint scholars find parallels with Mormonism among certain segments of ancient
Christianity are exactly where some variety of Platonism or some other philosophical
school has had the most influence” (p. 89). It has already been pointed out
that anthropomorphism was found among Jewish Christians; in fact, the Christian
Platonists Origen and Justin both ascribed this belief to the Jews in general
(Origen, Homilies on Genesis 3.1; Justin, Dialogue with Trypho 114, in ANF
1:256). Origen believed in the premortal existence of souls but appealed to
a Jewish text to make his case (Commentary on John 2.25, in ANF 9:341), and
the Jewish Christian (Pseudo)Clementine Recognitions (1.28, in ANF 8:85) does
assert this doctrine. Mosser and Owen point out that Adolph von Harnack thought
deification was a Hellenistic corruption (p. 90), but, as will be shown below,
this doctrine was taught most explicitly in some forms of Judaism and in the
New Testament. Jesuit scholar George Joyce wrote that the early doctrine of
deification was regarded “as a point beyond dispute, as one of those fundamentals
which no one who calls himself a Christian dreams of denying.” George H. Joyce,
The Catholic Doctrine of Grace (London: Burns Oates and Washbourne, 1920),
36. Another Jesuit scholar, Henri Rondet, wrote that deification was a doctrine
common to both the orthodox and heterodox. Henri Rondet, The Grace of Christ:
A Brief History of the Theology of Grace, trans. Tad W. Guzie (Westminster,
Md.: Newman, 1967), 80. Mosser and Owen, noting that parallels to Latter-day
Saint doctrine and practice have been found in gnostic texts, characterize
Gnosticism as “Platonism on steroids” (p. 89). However, this ignores recent
work showing the deep dependence of gnostic systems on Jewish apocalyptic.
As Guy Stroumsa states, “One could even say that Gnosticism is Jewish-Christianity
run wild.” Guy G. Stroumsa, Hidden Wisdom: Esoteric Traditions and the Roots
of Christian Mysticism (Leiden: Brill, 1996), 106. It seems that nearly all
the parallels between Latter-day Saint doctrine and practice and those found
in early Christian circles can be traced back to Jewish and Jewish Christian
influence. This fact is solid historical evidence for Joseph Smith’s claim
of a restoration of primitive Christianity. See Barry R. Bickmore, “Mormonism
in the Early Jewish Christian Milieu,” in Proceedings of the First Annual
Mormon Apologetics Symposium (Ben Lomond, Calif.: Foundation for Apologetic
Information and Research [FAIR], 1999), 5-32.
- Stead, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity, 120.
- Ibid., 98.
- Ibid., 188.
- Ibid., 102. Stead uses the example of Revelation 1:4: “‘From Him who Is
and who Was and who Is to Come’ expresses God’s perpetuity within and throughout
all ages.” However, he points out that when Christianity became hellenized,
“this doctrine came to be developed in an absolute sense which goes well beyond
anything that we find in the Bible” (p. 128).
- Christopher Stead, Divine Substance (Oxford: Clarendon, 1977), 187-88,
- Numenius, quoted by Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel 11.10 (Gifford
- Hurtado, “First-Century Jewish Monotheism,” 364.
- Ibid., 367.
- See Blake Ostler, review of “Craftsman or Creator? An Examination of the
Mormon Doctrine of Creation and a Defense of Creatio ex nihilo,” by Paul Copan
and William Lane Craig, available online at www.fairlds.org/apol/TNMC/ as
recently as 17 March 2003.
- Owen also argues against examples given by Hayman from the Kabbalah, but
these texts are quite late, so I will restrict my discussion to earlier texts
more relevant to the issue dividing Latter-day Saints and creedal Christians.
- Peter Hayman, “Monotheism—A Misused Word in Jewish Studies?” Journal of
Jewish Studies 42 (1991): 1-15.
- Jonathan Goldstein, “The Origins of the Doctrine of Creation ex Nihilo,”
Journal of Jewish Studies 35 (1984): 127-35; Jonathan Goldstein, “Creation
ex Nihilo: Recantations and Restatements,” Journal of Jewish Studies 38 (1987):
187-94; David Winston, “Creation ex Nihilo Revisited: A Reply to Jonathan
Goldstein,” Journal of Jewish Studies 37 (1986): 88-91.
- Owen recommends “the contribution of Paul Copan and William Lane Craig
in this volume for a rigorous defense of the biblical and orthodox doctrine
of creatio ex nihilo” (p. 471 n. 26).
- Paul Copan, “Is Creatio ex Nihilo a Post-Biblical Invention? An Examination
of Gerhard May’s Proposal,” Trinity Journal, n.s., 17 (1996): 77-93.
- Gerhard May, Creatio ex Nihilo: The Doctrine of ‘Creation out of Nothing’
in Early Christian Thought, trans. A. S. Worrall (Edinburgh: Clark, 1994);
originally published as Sch pfung aus dem Nichts (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1978).
- May, Creatio ex Nihilo, 8.
- Xenophon, Memorabilia 2.2.3, quoted in May, Creatio ex Nihilo, 8.
- See discussion of Philo in May, Creatio ex Nihilo, 9-22.
- See Frances Young, “‘Creatio ex Nihilo': A Context for the Emergence of
the Christian Doctrine of Creation,” Scottish Journal of Theology 44 (1991):
- Tertullian, Against Marcion 2.5 (ANF 3:301).
- I could also mention that Copan nowhere deals with May’s argument as it
is extended by others—for example, by David Winston. While Copan specifically
claims to respond to Gerhard May, he completely ignores May’s primary argument
and wrongly accuses May of the same thing he does himself.
- Justin Martyr, First Apology 6, in William A. Jurgens, The Faith of the
Early Fathers (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1970), 1:51.
- Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, 56 n. 1.
- Grant, The Early Christian Doctrine of God, 81.
- Threefold Fruit of the Christian Life, 216-19, quoted in Barker, The Great
- Methodius, The Banquet of the Ten Virgins 3.4 (ANF 6:318).
- Hurtado, “First-Century Jewish Monotheism,” 367.
- Origen, Against Celsus 2.9 (ANF 4:434). Though perhaps Tertullian preceded
him; cf. Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ 11 (ANF 3:532). On the other hand,
other passages make Tertullian’s position somewhat ambiguous. See Tertullian,
Against Praxeas 27 (ANF 3:624).
- Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 142-45.
- Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 10.29 (ANF 5:152); cf. Irenaeus,
Against Heresies 3.9.3 (ANF 1:423).
- Epistle of Barnabas 7 (ANF 1:141).
- Ignatius, Philadelphians 6 (ANF 1:83).
- Peter, in (Pseudo)Clementine Homilies 16 (ANF 8:316).
- Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 234-35; Stead, Divine Substance, 158—59;
Stead, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity, 160-72.
- Gieschen, Angelomorphic Christology, 163-65.
- 3 Enoch 12:1-5, cited in Gieschen, Angelomorphic Christology, 146-48.
- Mosser and Owen, review of How Wide the Divide? 52-55. I find disturbing
the fact that Owen neglects a discussion of this passage when addressing a
primarily evangelical audience but discusses it in detail when addressing
a primarily Latter-day Saint audience.
- Hekaloth Rabbati 9, in Gieschen, Angelomorphic Christology, 74.
- Memar Marqa 4.2, in Gieschen, Angelomorphic Christology, 74.
- 1 Clement 59:3, in Gieschen, Angelomorphic Christology, 74.
- Gieschen, Angelomorphic Christology, 74.
- Midrash Alpha Beta diR. Akiba, BhM 3:32, quoted in Raphael Patai, The Messiah
Texts (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1979), 251. I gratefully acknowledge
John Tvedtnes for providing me with this reference.
- Daniel C. Peterson, “‘Ye Are Gods': Psalm 82 and John 10 as Witnesses to
the Divine Nature of Humankind,” in The Disciple as Scholar: Essays on Scripture
and the Ancient World in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson, ed. Stephen D. Ricks,
Donald W. Parry, and Andrew H. Hedges (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2000), 471-594.