Saturday, July 28, 2007

Deification of Man and Plurality of Gods

There are many passages in the Bible that teach the doctrine of the deification of man, and the plurality of gods, as understood by Latter-day Saints. Here are as many as I could think of:

Exodus 7:1: “And the Lord said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet.

Various attempts have been made by LDS critics to circumvent the obvious meaning of this verse, such as the idea that “god” here mean a “judge” or “ruler”. But that attempt does not work. Since when did “judges” and “rulers” have “prophets”? Not only does God make Moses a “god” to Pharaoh; He even provides him with a
prophet! That nails it down pretty hard that it means what it says, not some circumventional meaning given to it by fundamentalist theologians.

Psalms 82:6: “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.

This verse too has been subjected to much twisting around by fundamentalists and LDS critics in order to avoid the obvious meaning of the words; but luckily we don’t have to rely on them for an interpretation. We have a more authoritative interpreter of this verse than LDS critics; and that is the Lord Himself! In the New Testament, when the Jews accused Jesus of blasphemy because He had effectively declared Himself to be God, He responds to them by quoting this verse, and effectively saying, “Why do you accuse me of blasphemy for calling myself a God (actually Son of God); when your own Bible calls you gods!” Here is the quote:

John 10:

30 I and my Father are one.

31 Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him.

32 Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me?

33 The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.

34 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?

35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;

36 Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?

The attempts by LDS critics to get round this scripture by suggesting that “gods” here means “rulers” or “magistrates” or “judges” don’t work. If that were true, Jesus’ argument would run something along the lines of: “Why do you accuse me of blasphemy for calling myself a God, when your own scriptures call you rulers and magistrates and judges”! You don’t need to have the brains of an Einstein to figure out that that argument does not add up. That syllogism is logically flawed and does not make sense. Jesus would have had to have an incredibly illogical mind, and lacking in basic intelligence, to employ such an absurd reasoning to justify calling Himself a God. The scripture means exactly what it says. Gods means gods, not rulers, or magistrates, or judges, or anything as absurd as that.

Deuteronomy 10:17: “For the Lord your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, . . .”

Psalms 136:2: “O give thanks unto the God of gods: for his mercy endureth for ever.”

Revelation 17:14: “These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: . . .”

In these verses God is clearly called “
God of gods . . .” The explanation that is commonly given to these verses by LDS critics is that they refer to idols. A more careful reading of these verses, however, reveals that cannot be the correct meaning:

Firstly, it is beneath the dignity of God to call Himself the “God of idols”. An idol is, after all, nothing. It is just an inanimate piece of wood or stone carved into a statute. The scriptures call it an
abomination: Deuteronomy 29:17: “And ye have seen their abominations, and their idols, wood and stone, silver and gold, . . .” Is God the God of an abomination? Would He stoop so low as to call Himself such? If He is the “God of gods,” and “Lord of lords,” and “King of kings;” then He is God of real gods, and Lord of real lords, and King of real kings, not fake ones.

Secondly, the context of the rest of the scriptures mandates against that interpretation.
Psalm 82 begins with the following verse: “God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods. Does God “judge among the idols?” How would He do that? Would He punish the bad idols, and reward the good ones? Not only are they real gods, but in verse 6 He explains who those gods are, and why they are called gods: “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. The persons being addressed here are of the house of Israel; both the wicked and the righteous! And the reason why they are called gods is because they are the children of the most High! They are the sons and the daughters of the Almighty, and they all have the potential to rise to the stature of their divine parentage. Then he goes on to tell them that some of them are even wicked! If they repent and work righteousness, they have that potential; if they don’t, they will come under condemnation.

Psalm 8:4–6: “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:”

The word “angel” here is a translation of the Hebrew “elohim,” which means “gods”. It is translated “angels” in the KJV following the tradition of the Greek Septuagint translation. The translators of the Septuagint apparently felt a bit embarrassed to translate it “gods,” so they called it “angels,” and the translators of the KJV decided to follow that tradition. So here we have the testimony of scripture that man has been reduced to a lower state than the divine for the purpose of passing through the mortal probation, to prove himself worthy of the higher station—i.e. godhood. Interestingly, this scripture is echoed in the New Testament, where it receives further clarification at the hands of St Paul, again fully confirming the above meaning. I have omitted verse numbers, and added quotation marks and explanatory notes in square brackets for greater clarity:

Hebrews 2:6–17: But one in a certain place testified, saying,
“What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels [gods]; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands: Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet.” For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet [but eventually will see] all things put under him [i.e. man]. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels [gods] for the suffering of death, [now] crowned with glory and honour [i.e. Jesus being the prototype of man, being made divine as man will be]; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory [i.e. to divinity and godhood], to make the captain of their salvation [i.e. Jesus] perfect through sufferings. For both he that sanctifieth [i.e. Jesus], and they who are sanctified [i.e. the saints, or Church members], are all of one [i.e. of the same species, or the same order of beings]: for which cause he [Jesus] is not ashamed to call them brethren, Saying, “I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.” And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Behold I and the children which God hath given me.” Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.

It seems to remind us again of
Psalms 82:6: “. . . and all of you are children of the most High. Thus Jesus is the prototype of our salvation. Everything that happens to Him, as He passes through mortality to glory, we have the potential to achieve if we are obedient and faithful, including His divinity. (See further Romans 8:16–17; 1 John 3:1–3; quoted below.)

Here are some more evidences from the NT for the plurality of gods:

1 Corinthians 8: 4–6: “As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) 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.”

The LDS interpretation of these verses are well-known. We believe that the “gods” here referred to are real gods, not fake ones, or idols. Two objections have been raised to the LDS interpretation of this verse: Firstly, they say that it says they are “called” gods (some even say that it means “so called gods,” which it does not), and therefore they are not true gods; and secondly, that the scripture refers to idols, not true gods. Neither objection is valid. Firstly, every true (or false) god is also “called” god, just as any other person who is called by any name is also “called” by that name. When it says that they are “called” gods, that does not mean that they are not true gods. They are “called” gods because that is what they are! Secondly, it says they are gods
in heaven as well as on earth. So they must be true gods, not idols. Idols exist only on earth, not in heaven.

Another good quote is
Genesis 1:26–27: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

The exact meaning of “in his own image” has been the subject of some controversy among theologians. There is, however, another passage in Genesis which helps us get a better handle on how best to interpret it:

Genesis 5:1–3: “This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created. And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth:”

I believe this suggests two things: Firstly, that God made man in His
physical image—i.e. that God is in the human form (see Ether 3:15); and secondly, that God made man in His moral image—i.e. man has the potential to achieve divine status in the likeness of the great Prototype in Whose image he was created. The “image” of every creature is in his own likeness; therefore the “image” of God is, and can only be, a god! We seem to come back again and again to the substance of the beautiful expression in Psalm 82:6: “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. This passage is probably the most powerful expression of the human potential to achieve divine status that is contained in scripture; and it is the most frequently quoted scripture by the Early Church Fathers to justify their belief in the deification of man and plurality of gods (which will be discussed below). No doubt that is also the reason why Jesus chose to quote it in support of His own divinity. If He thought it was good enough for Him, who are we to question that?

The following scriptures are not commonly quoted by LDS in support of deification; but they tie in with what was previously quoted, and with many other passages of scripture, and lend themselves to a great deal of scriptural analysis and exegesis in support of deification. What follows is only a brief discussion:

John 17:21–22: “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:”

A couple of important points are brought out here:

1. Ignoring for the time being the Trinitarian implications of this verse (which would add further weight to my argument), if Jesus is one with the Father, and is thereby made divine; and if He is going to make us one with Him and the Father, even as they are one, the implications are obvious—He is going to make us divine like Himself.

2. After teaching us that great doctrine, He nails it down still further by saying that “the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one.” The glory that Jesus has is by virtue of His divinity. If He is going to impart that glory to His disciples (to make them one), that means He is going to make them divine like Himself.

1 John 3:1–3: “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.

These verses contain plenty of scope for in depth exegesis. Just a few main points mentioned here:

1. Note that the expression “sons of God,” “children of God,” is recurrent theme in many of these passages (e.g. Psalm 82:6 discussed earlier). Mankind have the potential of divinity by virtue of their being the “children of God”.

2. It says, we shall be like him. The implication here is of achieving divine status, for He is God, and the only way to “become like Him” is to become a god!

3. It says we can become “pure as He is pure”. The Lord is God, and His “purity” is absolute and perfect. The only way to achieve the same degree of purity is to become divine like Him.

Romans 8:29: “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate [i.e. foreordain] to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.

Another great verse providing plenty of scope for detailed exegesis. A lengthy essay could be written on it. The first important word here is “image”. In the light of the above comments and the following two verses, this word acquires a much deeper meaning. I will leave further comment until after giving the following two quotes. The second important word here is “brethren”. These ties in with Hebrews 2:6–17, discussed earlier on.

2 Corinthians 3:18: “But we all, with open face beholding [for the present time] as in a glass [i.e. vaguely, not with perfect clarity] the glory of the Lord, are [or will be] changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

A very interesting verse. It not only clarifies further the meaning of “image,” discussed above; but it says that the saints are to move on from
glory to glory to achieve the same glory as Jesus, which they now behold only “as in a glass” (i.e. vaguely, without clarity); which in turn brings us back to the first quote: “the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one.”

Col 1:15: “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:”

This verse finally fixes the meaning of the word “image” as used in all of these scriptures. If Christ is the “image” of God, and that is what makes Him divine; and if He is going to transform us into that the same “image,” the only logical conclusion of that is that He is going to make us divine like Himself.

Romans 8:16–17: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”

Note again the common theme, “children of God,” running through these verses. “Joint heirs” surely must mean that they shall share in His divinity. What else could they “inherit” from Him if not His divinity? He is what He is, and has what He has, by virtue of His divinity. If He is going to make us “heirs” of Him (by virtue of being sons), and “joint heirs” with Jesus Christ, the only way that He can do that is to make us divine like Himself and His Son.

2 Peter 1:4: “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”

This is the second scripture (after Psalms 82:6) that is most often quoted by Early Church Fathers in support of the doctrine of deification of man, and it ties in nicely with all that has been discussed above.

The above verses cover all the main biblical references that confirm the doctrine of deification of man, and plurality of gods. They are not exhaustive, but they are sufficient to establish the theological basis of the doctrine. Next we move on into the Patristic period, the age of the great Early Church Fathers and Christian apologists. If we can establish that this doctrine was widely believed and taught among the early Christians, based on the same scriptural reference given, then we have built a very strong case that this is a very fundamental doctrine of the Christian religion. This is a subject about which much has been written. To do justice to it one would have to write a book. The following few quotes are taken from Henry Bettenson,
The Early Christian Fathers (London: Oxford University Press, 1956, repr. 1958). Each author’s name, and relevant page numbers in the book are given after each quote:

. . . and they have received the title of “gods,” since they are destined to be enthroned with the other “gods” who are ranked next below the Saviour. (Clement of Alexandria, p. 244.)

. . . the Word, I say, of God, who became man just that you might learn from a man how it may be that man should become God. (Clement of Alexandria, p. 244.)

The Son in his kindness generously imparted deification to others . . . who are transformed through him into gods, as images of the prototype . . . the Word is the archetype of the many images. (Origen, p. 274.)

For the Word was not degraded by receiving a body, so that he should seek to “receive” God’s gift. Rather he deified what he put on; and, more than that, he bestowed this gift upon the race of men. (Athanasius, p. 384.)

. . . If the works of the Godhead had not taken place by means of the body, man would not have been made divine. (Athanasius, p. 399.)

The Word was made man in order that we might be made divine. (Athanasius, p. 404)

Note that in the first quote from Clement, it not only confirms the doctrine of deification of man, but also of plurality of gods. It is an extension of the same doctrine. Interestingly, it also confirms the
hierarchy of gods, thus confirming that the concept of “deity” considered here is not the absolutist, logical/philosophic concept of modern Western theology. The gods have a hierarchical structure. Some gods are above other gods. In addition to the above I have found the following which are not from the same source. The first is from Irenaeus, of the second century, as follows:

Do we cast blame on him [God] because we were not made gods from the beginning, but were at first created merely as men, and then later as gods? Although God has adopted this course out of his pure benevolence, that no one may charge him with discrimination or stinginess, he declares, “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are the sons of the Most High.” . . . For it was necessary at first that nature be exhibited, then after that what was mortal would be conquered and swallowed up in immortality. (Irenaeus, Against Heretics, 4.38.)

Note especially how he uses Psalm 82:6 to prove his doctrine. It was their favourite verse! That is because, as I have already demonstrated earlier, it is the most powerful expression of the doctrine of the deification of man that exists in the scriptures. The second is from St Augustine, of the fifth century, as follows:

But he himself that justifies also defies, for by justifying he makes sons of God. “For he has given them power to become the sons of God” [John 1:12]. If then we have been made sons of God, we have also been made gods.” (Augustine, On the psalms, 50.2.)

Note especially how these early theologians had a perfect understanding of the theological connection between being made the sons of God, and becoming gods, as discussed in my earlier posts. The ECFs were smart!

The following quote carries the doctrine from the Patristic period into the Middle Ages and down to the present time. It comes from
The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology, which is a reputable (non-LDS) book. The author is simply a good Christian scholar who know his stuff, and is honest enough to state it as it is, instead of trying to hide it. It is found in the book under the title of “Deification”. Notice that he traces the doctrine down to the tenth century, which is two thirds of the way into the Middle Ages; and himself being our contemporary, we can say he brings it down to our time:

Deification (Greek theosis) is for Orthodoxy the goal of every Christian. Man, according to the Bible, is “made in the image and likeness of God”. . . . It is possible for man to become like God, to become deified, to become god by grace. This doctrine is based on many passages of both OT and NT (e.g. Ps. 82 (81).6; II Peter 1.4), and it is essentially the teaching of both St Paul, though he tends to use the language of filial adoption (cf. Rom. 8.9–17; Gal.4.5–7), and the Fourth Gospel (cf. 17.21–23).

The language of II Peter is taken up by St Irenaeus, in his famous phrase, “if the Word has been made man, it is so that men may be made gods” (Adv. Haer V, Pref.), and becomes the standard in Greek theology. In the fourth century St Athanasius repeats St Irenaeus almost word for word, and in the fifth century St Cyril of Alexandria says that we shall become sons “by participation” (Greek methexis). Deification is the central idea in the spirituality of St Maximus the Confessor, for whom the doctrine is the corollary of the Incarnation: “Deification, briefly, is the encompasing and fulfilment of all times and ages”, . . . and St Symeon the New Theologian at the end of the tenth century writes, “He who is God by nature converses with those whom he has made gods by grace, as a friend converses with his frieds, face to face.” . . .

Finally, it should be noted that deification does not mean absorption into God, since the deified creature remains itself and distinct. It is the whole human being, body and soul, who is transfigured in the Spirit into the likeness of the divine nature, and deification is the goal of every Christian. [Emphasis added.]

This traces the history of this doctrine from the earliest times, from the OT all the way down to the NT, then into the Patristic period the Middle Ages and down to our own times. To round it off, it is worth giving the LDS doctrine derived from modern LDS scripture, and show how well it conforms to the Biblical doctrine discussed above:

D&C 76:

50 And again we bear record—for we saw and heard, and this is the testimony of the gospel of Christ concerning them who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just—

51 They are they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized after the manner of his burial, being buried in the water in his name, and this according to the commandment which he has given—

52 That by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins, and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of him who is ordained and sealed unto this power;

53 And who overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true.

54 They are they who are the church of the Firstborn.

55 They are they into whose hands the Father has given all things—

56 They are they who are priests and kings, who have received of his fulness, and of his glory;

57 And are priests of the Most High, after the order of Melchizedek, which was after the order of Enoch, which was after the order of the Only Begotten Son.

58 Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of God

59 Wherefore, all things are theirs, whether life or death, or things present, or things to come, all are theirs and they are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

60 And they shall overcome all things.

61 Wherefore, let no man glory in man, but rather let him glory in God, who shall subdue all enemies under his feet.

62 These shall dwell in the presence of God and his Christ forever and ever.

63 These are they whom he shall bring with him, when he shall come in the clouds of heaven to reign on the earth over his people.

64 These are they who shall have part in the first resurrection.

65 These are they who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just.

66 These are they who are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly place, the holiest of all.

67 These are they who have come to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of Enoch, and of the Firstborn.

68 These are they whose names are written in heaven, where God and Christ are the judge of all.

69 These are they who are just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood.

70 These are they whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God, the highest of all, whose glory the sun of the firmament is written of as being typical.

D&C 84:

35 And also all they who receive this priesthood receive me, saith the Lord;

36 For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me;

37 And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father;

38 And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father
s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.

39 And this is according to the oath and covenant which belongeth to the priesthood.

40 Therefore, all those who receive the priesthood, receive this oath and covenant of my Father, which he
cannot break, neither can it be moved.

D&C 121:

32 According to that which was ordained in the midst of the Council of the Eternal God of all other gods before this world was, that should be reserved unto the finishing and the end thereof, when every man shall enter into his eternal presence and into his immortal rest.

D&C 132:

17 For these angels did not abide my law; therefore, they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever.

* * *

20 Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.

21 Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye abide my law ye cannot attain to this glory.

22 For strait is the gate, and narrow the way that leadeth unto the exaltation and continuation of the lives, and few there be that find it, because ye receive me not in the world neither do ye know me.

23 But if ye receive me in the world, then shall ye know me, and shall receive your exaltation; that where I am ye shall be also.

37 Abraham received concubines, and they bore him children; and it was accounted unto him for righteousness, because they were given unto him, and he abode in my law; as Isaac also and Jacob did none other things than that which they were commanded; and because they did none other things than that which they were commanded, they have entered into their exaltation, according to the promises, and sit upon thrones, and are not angels but are gods.

In regard to the above passages, note the following:

1. It identifies Deification with receiving a fulness of God’s glory, a perfect biblical doctrine.

2. It identifies deification with becoming the sons of God, which perfectly conforms to biblical doctrine discussed earlier.

3. Deification does not mean that they become supreme beings, in the sense of competing with the Father or the Son, but will remain subordinate, subservient, and subject to them. They are Christ’s, and will dwell in their presence. Good, sound, Bible doctrine (God of gods and Lord of lords etc.).

4. Deification simply defines a degree of salvation or exaltation in the kingdom of God. It does not mean “God” in the absolute logical sense of philosophy. That concept of divinity may exist in the mind of the philosophers, but it is not a true gospel doctrine.

This sums up our brief study of the LDS doctrine of deification; and as we have seen, it is absolutely biblical, and in complete conformity with what the early Christians believed—that is, before the church which Jesus had established went into apostasy, and the doctrine was to all intents and purposes abandoned by mainstream Christendom.

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