“Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.”
A perennial question that is asked of LDS relates to passages such as above, especially in Isaiah, which affirm the unity of God; and they ask how can LDS believe in the plurality of gods, and in the deification of man, when the Bible is so emphatically monotheistic? The answer to this question is a bit subtle, and requires some insight into the Old Testament teachings and theology. The doctrine of the unity of God is a recurrent theme in the Old Testament. It is perhaps the most recurring theme. It not only forms the first, and the most important of the Ten Commandments; it is repeated again and again throughout the historical, legislative, poetic, and prophetic portions of the Old Testament. If we wanted to quote and discuss all of them, it would turn into a sizeable volume. If we examine these passages in their proper context, however, it will become clear that they all occur in the context of the idolatrous practices of the ancients. In other words, they all occur in the context of trying to discourage the Israelites form worshipping the idols of their Gentile neighbours (which they had a propensity to do), and of worshiping the one true God. The following examples will make that clear:
2 I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the
3 Thou shalt have no other gods before
4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
The connection of this commandment to idolatry is too obvious to require detailed comment. Notice that it says, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” It doesn’t just say that “there are no other gods”. There is a difference between the two. A similar quote from Deuteronomy affirms this doctrine:
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord:
5 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
The connection of this quote with idolatry is not as immediately obvious here. We have to jump to verses 12–14 to make the connection:
12 Then beware lest thou forget the Lord, which brought thee forth out of the
13 Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.
14 Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you;
From Deuteronomy onwards the history of
5 Then the king of Assyria came up throughout all the land, and went up to
6 In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria took
7 For so it was, that the children of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, which had brought them up out of the land of Egypt, from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods,
* * *
9 And the children of Israel did secretly those things that were not right against the Lord their God, and they built them high places in all their cities, from the tower of the watchmen to the fenced city.
10 And they set them up images and groves in every high hill, and under every green tree:
11 And there they burnt incense in all the high places, as did the heathen whom the Lord carried away before them; and wrought wicked things to provoke the Lord to anger:
12 For they served idols, whereof the Lord had said unto them, Ye shall not do this thing.
13 Yet the Lord testified against Israel, and against Judah, by all the prophets, and by all the seers, saying, Turn ye from your evil ways, and keep my commandments and my statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by my servants the prophets.
14 Notwithstanding they would not hear, but hardened their necks, like to the neck of their fathers, that did not believe in the Lord their God.
* * *
16 And they left all the commandments of the Lord their God, and made them molten images, even two calves, and made a grove, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal.
* * *
18 Therefore the Lord was very angry with
The Israelites never returned from this exile. They became known as the “Lost Ten Tribes”.
The OT passages in which the unity of God is emphasized (in one form or another, in contrast to the plurality of idols) are quite numerous. The interesting question is, why do LDS critics always stick to those few quotes from Isaiah, and ignore all the others? The reason is that in the other quotes, the connection with idolatry is too obvious to be overlooked, which renders them of little use to criticise LDS doctrine with. In the few quotes from Isaiah, the connection with idolatry is not always so obvious, which serves their purposes better. But there is a reason for that. The reason is that Isaiah’s writings are highly poetic; and like all great poetry, their meaning are not always so easily understandable. For the rest of this post I am going to focus entirely on chapters 40 to 48 of the book of Isaiah, from which all the quotes by LDS critics are usually given, because the whole of these chapters constitute the context in which these verses should be understood. I begin with chapter 40:
18 To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?
19 The workman melteth a graven image, and the goldsmith spreadeth it over with gold, and casteth silver chains.
20 He that is so impoverished that he hath no oblation chooseth a tree that will not rot; he seeketh unto him a cunning workman to prepare a graven image, that shall not be moved.
21 Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth?
Then we jump to verse 25, where the prophet reverts back to the theme of verse 18:
25 To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One.
The context makes abundantly clear that the unity of God is taught in contrast to the idolatrous practices of the ancients, and as a warning to
4 Who hath wrought and done it, calling the generations from the beginning? I the Lord, the first, and with the last; I am he.
5 The isles saw it, and feared; the ends of the earth were afraid, drew near, and came.
6 They helped every one his neighbour; and every one said to his brother, Be of good courage.
7 So the carpenter encouraged the goldsmith, and he that smootheth with the hammer him that smote the anvil, saying, It is ready for the sodering: and he fastened it with nails, that it should not be moved.
Verses 6–7 are a reference to the manufacturing of idols, i.e. the idolatrous practices of the ancients are being condemned, against which
21 Produce your cause, saith the Lord; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob.
22 Let them bring them forth, and shew us what shall happen: let them shew the former things, what they be, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare us things for to come.
23 Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods: yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together.
24 Behold, ye are of nothing, and your work of nought: an abomination is he that chooseth you.
In verses 22–24 the reference is again to the idolatrous practices of the heathen. The prophet is (poetically) mocking the idols by taunting them to foretell the future, or either do good or do evil, to prove they are real gods! They are “nothing,” and he that chooses them is an “abomination”! Note again the highly charged and poetic style of the language. Next we move to on to chapter 42, verses 8, 9, and 17:
8 I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.
9 Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them. [i.e. proving His superiority to idols, who cannot foretell the future, nor do “good or evil”.]
17 They shall be turned back, they shall be greatly ashamed, that trust in graven images, that say to the molten images, Ye are our gods.
There is no need to repeat the same commentary. It is a recurring theme throughout. Now we move on to chapter 43, where a frequently quoted passage comes from, i.e. verses 10–11; except that they often conveniently ignore the next two verses, 12–13. I am going to quote the whole lot, from 10 to 13:
10 Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after
11 I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no saviour.
12 I have declared, and have saved, and I have shewed, when there was no strange god among you: therefore ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, that I am God.
13 Yea, before the day was I am he; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand: I will work, and who shall let [i.e. hinder] it?
I quite agree that beside the true God of heaven, there is no “Saviour” whom we should put our trust in, none who can “deliver” us, as Isaiah says; and that beside the supreme Deity of heaven, there is no other God who should be the object of our worship. (“... before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.” is Isaiah’s poetic style of saying the same thing.) The LDS doctrine of the deification of man, and the plurality of gods, has absolutely no relevance to what Isaiah is talking about here. The LDS doctrine simply defines a degree of exaltation in the
6 Thus saith the Lord the King of Israel, and his redeemer the Lord of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.
7 And who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it, and set it in order for me, since I appointed the ancient people? and the things that are coming, and shall come, let them shew unto them.
8 Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any.
9 They that make a graven image are all of them vanity; and their delectable things shall not profit; and they are their own witnesses; they see not, nor know; that they may be ashamed.
10 Who hath formed a god, or molten a graven image that is profitable for nothing?
11 Behold, all his fellows shall be ashamed: and the workmen, they are of men: let them all be gathered together, let them stand up; yet they shall fear, and they shall be ashamed together.
12 The smith with the tongs both worketh in the coals, and fashioneth it with hammers, and worketh it with the strength of his arms: yea, he is hungry, and his strength faileth: he drinketh no water, and is faint.
13 The carpenter stretcheth out his rule; he marketh it out with a line; he fitteth it with planes, and he marketh it out with the compass, and maketh it after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man; that it may remain in the house.
Verses 11 to 20 are a poetic (and mocking) reference to the manufacture of idols, which we have encountered before. Again, I quite agree that “They that make a graven image are all of them vanity . . . ,” and that there is no other God who should be the object of our worship than the one true God. “I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God” is Isaiah’s poetic style of saying just that. Well, so what! That has nothing to do with LDS doctrine of the plurality of gods. Next we move on to chapter 45, verses 5–7 and 16, which provides the necessary context:
5 I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me:
6 That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the Lord, and there is none else.
7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things. . . .
16 They shall be ashamed, and also confounded, all of them: they shall go to confusion together that are makers of idols.
And then in verses 18–22, the prophet again encapsulates the same theme so clearly that no comment is required:
18 For thus saith the Lord that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the Lord; and there is none else.
19 I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth: I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain: I the Lord speak righteousness, I declare things that are right.
20 Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, ye that are escaped of the nations: they have no knowledge that set up the wood of their graven image, and pray unto a god that cannot save.
21 Tell ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? have not I the Lord? and there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside
22 Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.
Is there any need for further comment? I quite agree that there is no other god that can save us, than the one true and living God. Well, so what? What has that got to do with LDS doctrine? LDS doctrine never teaches that there is more than one God who can save us, or whom we should worship. Next we move on to chapter 46, where another oft quoted passage, verses 5 and 9, occurs. To obtain the context here, we will have to start quoting from verse 1, and continue on to verse 9:
1 Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth, their idols were upon the beasts, and upon the cattle: your carriages were heavy loaden; they are a burden to the weary beast.
2 They stoop, they bow down together, they could not deliver the burden, but themselves are gone into captivity.
3 Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of
4 And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.
5 To whom will ye liken me, and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be like?
6 They lavish gold out of the bag, and weigh silver in the balance, and hire a goldsmith; and he maketh it a god: they fall down, yea, they worship.
7 They bear him upon the shoulder, they carry him, and set him in his place, and he standeth; from his place shall he not remove: yea, one shall cry unto him, yet can he not answer, nor save him out of his trouble.
8 Remember this, and shew yourselves men: bring it again to mind, O ye transgressors.
9 Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,
Bel and Nebo were the idols of
3 I have declared the former things from the beginning; and they went forth out of my mouth, and I shewed them; I did them suddenly, and they came to pass.
4 Because I knew that thou art obstinate, and thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy brow brass;
5 I have even from the beginning declared it to thee; before it came to pass I shewed it thee: lest thou shouldest say, Mine idol hath done them, and my graven image, and my molten image, hath commanded them.
6 Thou hast heard, see all this; and will not ye declare it? I have shewed thee new things from this time, even hidden things, and thou didst not know them.
Again, the Lord declares His sovereignty and superiority over idols, by declaring things to come before they take place, which the idols cannot do.
The bottom line is that in Isaiah, as in the rest of the Old Testament, the doctrine of the unity of God is taught in the context of the idolatrous practices of the ancients, which the Israelites were so prone to adopt; and they are designed to guard against, discourage, and warn against those abominable practices. They are NOT meant to be understood in the absolute logical sense in which some fundamentalist theologians and LDS critics have tried to understand them. In LDS theology, the doctrine of the plurality of gods, and deification of man, does NOT have the same significance as the idolatry of the ancients, which these passages of Isaiah tries to condemn. In idolatry, you worship a false god in place of the true God. In LDS doctrine, we do not worship anything in place of anything. Deification simply defines a degree of glory, salvation, or exaltation in the
Another thing that is overlooked is the poetic nature of the prophecies of Isaiah. In poetry, much emotive, (logically) inaccurate, symbolic, and exaggerated language is used with poetic license in order to appeal to the heart rather than the mind, which renders the text unsuitable for too accurate a logical, theological, or juridical interpretation. Consider the oft-quoted passage: “. . . before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.” (Isaiah 43:10.) If you took that statement too literally, you would have to conclude that the one true God was formed!, which would go contrary to the entire peremise that LDS critics try to establish.