Jesus as God and Distinct from God: A Reply to Kegan Chandler

Chandler, The God of Jesus

In his book The God of Jesus in Light of Christian Dogma, Kegan Chandler repeats Dale Tuggy’s critique of Richard Bauckham’s “divine identity Christology,” which is essentially that the idea is logically contradictory. As part of his critique, Chandler offers the following quotation from the book Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ, which I co-authored with Ed Komoszewski.[1] Here is how Chandler presents the quotation:

One pair of evangelicals who subscribe to Bauckham’s thesis admit:

The New Testament makes a distinction between [Jesus and God the Father]… sometimes as God and the Son of God. Although it’s hard to understand, the New Testament both distinguishes Jesus from God and identifies him as God—sometimes in the same breath.

But does the data really force the conclusion that the New Testament positively identifies Jesus as “God” and “not God” at the same time? Is this conclusion only “hard to understand” as these apologists claim, or is it impossible?[2]

Chandler’s footnote to our book cites page 1 and credits Tuggy for the citation. The second-hand nature of the citation shows, since the quotation actually comes from page 21 of the book.

As is very often the case with Chandler’s quotations from Trinitarians, he characterizes the statement he quotes here as something we “admit,” as though it were somehow contrary to or in tension with our theological position. This is not at all the case. Chandler has made it seem as though we were making an embarrassing admission by a highly selective, partial quotation of what we said. Here is the complete statement with the omitted material restored:

Third, we take for granted that Jesus is not God the Father. Rather, Jesus is “the Son of the Father” (2 John 3 nasb). The New Testament makes a distinction between the two, sometimes as the Father and the Son, sometimes as God and the Son of God. Although it’s hard to understand, the New Testament both distinguishes Jesus from God and identifies him as God—sometimes in the same breath (e.g., John 1:1; 20:28-31; Heb. 1:8-9; 2 Pet. 1:1-2). It is this fact about New Testament teaching—paralleled in what it also teaches about the Holy Spirit—that led Christian theologians to formulate the doctrine of the Trinity. We will not be discussing the Trinity in this book, although Jesus’ identity as God is a key part of that doctrine.[3]

Far from something we are forced to “admit,” the New Testament distinction between the Son Jesus Christ and God the Father is basic to the doctrine of the Trinity.

In addition to obscuring the point we were making by his selective partial quotation, Chandler excises from the quoted sentence the biblical references we cited as exemplifying our point that Jesus is both called God and distinguished from God “sometimes in the same breath.” Those texts we cited—John 1:1, John 20:28-31, Hebrews 1:8-9, and 2 Peter 1:1-2—are all discussed in some detail later in our book.[4] Chandler does not engage or even mention our treatment of those texts anywhere in his book.[5] Nor does he engage the exegesis of those texts from other orthodox Christian scholars, though he offers a few citations from such scholars on John 1:1, generally shorn of context, without even commenting on how those scholars handle the texts in question.[6] Trinitarian studies of the other texts do not get even this much attention.[7]

Chandler asks, as quoted above: “But does the data really force the conclusion that the New Testament positively identifies Jesus as ‘God’ and ‘not God’ at the same time?” This is not quite what we said, but let it stand. Chandler excised our reference to “the data” from his quotation of our book, ignored much of “the data” in the rest of the book, and never engaged any orthodox treatment of the exegesis and interpretation of any of those biblical texts. In a book of more than 500 pages boasting over 1,500 footnotes, about 200 pages of which are focused on the biblical teaching about the person of Jesus, these omissions are really inexcusable.

The point being made here is simply this: If a critic of the doctrine of the Trinity is going to cite Trinitarian scholars, he ought to engage their arguments. With rare and mostly fleeting exceptions, this is something Chandler does not attempt in his book. Rather, for the most part he attempts to wring admissions out of orthodox scholars by selective quotations that appear to support his position.


[1] Robert M. Bowman Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007).

[2] Kegan A. Chandler, The God of Jesus in Light of Christian Dogma: The Recovery of New Testament Theology, foreword by Anthony F. Buzzard (McDonough, GA: Restoration Fellowship, 2016), 434.

[3] Bowman and Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place, 21.

[4] Ibid., 138–44, 148–56.

[5] Chandler has only two other references to Putting Jesus in His Place in his book, neither dealing with any of these biblical texts: God of Jesus, 440, 511.

[6] Chandler devotes 26 pages to John 1:1-3 (God of Jesus, 469-94) and only briefly quotes A. T. Robertson, F. F. Bruce, and most notably Murray Harris without engaging their exegesis of the text (God of Jesus, 487, 493). This appears to be the only reference in Chandler’s book to Harris’s important monograph: Murray J. Harris, Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992).

[7] Chandler devotes three pages to John 20:28 without citing a single orthodox scholar or engaging any Trinitarian perspectives on that text (the 18th-century Hebrew scholar J. D. Michaelis does not count); God of Jesus, 418–20. He dismisses Hebrews 1:8 very quickly without even mentioning any Trinitarians or engaging any orthodox exegesis of the text (God of Jesus, 416). 2 Peter 1:1 and Titus 2:13 are dispatched in a footnote (God of Jesus, 413 n. 1301).

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Enoch, Jude, the Canon, and the Sons of God: Some Notes for the Curious

God took Enoch, Gerard Hoet (ca 1700)

In an odd coincidence, I was asked twice in one day to comment about the canonicity of the Book of Enoch and some related matters. I will not attempt to resolve all of the issues here, but instead will offer a brief overview and some references for those who would like to pursue the matter in further depth.

In the epistle of Jude, we read the following:

It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying:
“Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousand of his holy ones,
to execute judgment on all
and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness
that they have committed in such an ungodly way,
and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him” (Jude 14-15 ESV).

Compare Jude’s quotation of Enoch with the following passage from the Book of Enoch:

And behold! He cometh with ten thousands of His holy ones
To execute judgement upon all,
And to destroy all the ungodly:
And to convict all flesh Of all the works of their ungodliness
which they have ungodly committed,
And of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him. (Enoch 1:9)

By the way, the closest any passage in the canonical Old Testament comes to the statement in Jude is in a different context, that of God’s revelation to Israel in the wilderness:

“The Lord came from Sinai and dawned from Seir upon us;
he shone forth from Mount Paran;
he came from the ten thousands of holy ones,
with flaming fire at his right hand” (Deut. 33:2 ESV).

The odds are very good that Jude’s quotation of Enoch (Jude 14-15) came from the Book of Enoch. The quotation is very close to what is found in the book. The matter is complicated by the fact that the book was probably written originally in Hebrew or Aramaic, Jude’s quotation is in Greek, and our earliest substantial manuscripts of the book are later translations in other languages (especially Ethiopic). Given these language differences, the similarities between the two passages are surprising. Most scholars think Jude is quoting from the book, and this seems likely to be correct. If Jude is quoting a “tradition” found also in the Book of Enoch but got it from a different source, that source would either be oral or written. I don’t think it’s plausible to argue that it was oral only, so we would likely be talking about a different book. If so, that different book is also not in the canon of Scripture, so we have not gained anything by denying that Jude was quoting the Book of Enoch. Perhaps one could maintain that Jude was quoting from an earlier version of the Book of Enoch. Continue reading

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Don’t Know Much about Book of Mormon Geography

John Clark’s Mythical Geography View of the Book of Mormon

On January 29, 2019 (yesterday as of the time of this writing), the LDS Church published an article online entitled “Book of Mormon Geography,” another installment in its series of innocuously titled “Gospel Topics” essays. Begun in 2013, this series has addressed such problematic issues in Mormonism as the conflicting First Vision accounts, race and the priesthood, the Book of Abraham, the LDS doctrine of becoming Gods, Joseph Smith’s polygamy, Joseph’s use of a seer stone in translating the Book of Mormon, and DNA and the Book of Mormon. The articles are all anonymous and, in most cases, appear to have been composed by BYU scholars. The typical Gospel Topics essay is heavily footnoted[1] and ends with a vague acknowledgment of “the contribution of scholars.”

The new essay on “Book of Mormon Geography” is something else. It is only five short paragraphs in length, has only four footnotes, and contains no acknowledgment of scholarly input. Evidently there simply is not much that the LDS Church has to say on the matter. The essay itself confirms this impression. It begins with the following paragraph, which it sets in all italics:

The Church takes no position on the specific geographic location of Book of Mormon events in the ancient Americas. Church members are asked not to teach theories about Book of Mormon geography in Church settings but to focus instead on the Book of Mormon’s teachings and testimony of Jesus Christ and His gospel.

This directive is not new. A 2012 curriculum manual contains an abstract diagram of the lands of Zarahemla and Nephi with the caveat, “As you use this diagram, explain that the Church has no official position about Book of Mormon geography except that the events occurred in the Americas.”[2] LDS leaders and writers have cautioned many times for over a century against placing too much confidence in any particular theory about the lands where the Nephite civilization was located.[3]

Although the directive expressed in the new essay is not itself new, the essay makes some noteworthy statements, as we shall see. Continue reading

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Six Hints that the “Baby Jesus Stories” of the Gospels Were Not Late Additions

Gerard van Honthorst, Adoration of the ShepherdsGerard van Honthorst, Adoration of the Shepherds (1622)


Every December, articles circulate online (and often in major news magazines) calling into question the truth of the virgin birth of Christ. This year, a blog article posted on December 19, 2018, by former fundamentalist Christian turned atheist Valerie Tarico has been making the rounds, boosted by various progressive “news” websites such as Alternet and RawStory. Tarico’s post is entitled “Six Hints that Baby Jesus Stories were Late Additions to Early Christian Lore.” Let’s look at her six hints.

Paul’s Silence about Jesus’ Miraculous Nativity

According to Tarico, Paul’s epistles, the earliest New Testament writings, “give no hint” about Jesus’ virgin birth or the other miracles associated with his nativity. “Paul simply says that he was a Jew, born to a woman.”

Well, yes. Paul makes no mention of a number of significant events mentioned in the Gospels, such as Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, his cleansing of the temple, or any of Jesus’ miracles. His omission of these events does not call any of them into question historically. Paul was not writing a biography of Jesus; he was writing letters to churches and church leaders to address specific pastoral and theological issues as they arose in those churches. Tarico’s “hint” here is no more than an argument from silence, a fallacious form of reasoning.

That having been said, the very statement Paul makes to which Tarico alludes may in fact be a “hint” that Paul was aware of Jesus’ miraculous conception:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law (Gal. 4:4).[1]

Three aspects of this passage are at least possible hints at the virgin birth of Christ. Continue reading

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Is Apologetics a Discipline?

Apologetics booksBrian Huffling, a philosopher of religion at Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES), wrote a provocative essay on his blog in March 2018 entitled “Why Christian Apologetics Is Not a Discipline.” This interesting think piece was brought to my attention today on Facebook. I would recommend reading Huffling’s piece before going further here. My own response to his argument is in the form of sic et non (yes and no).

Let me first summarize the essay. Huffling quotes with approval Winfried Corduan’s comment that “apologetics is not a discipline, it’s a practice.” He echoes Gary Habermas’s recommendation that individuals interested in apologetics pursue a degree “in a discipline, like history, and then do apologetics from that field.” Huffling goes so far as to assert, “Being an expert just in apologetics is to not be an expert in anything.” Apologetics is not itself a discipline, but it is something one does in a particular discipline, as when one does “historical apologetics, scientific apologetics, or philosophical apologetics.” He worries that Christians who pursue apologetics in and of itself will be sloppy, inaccurate, or oversimplistic in their work. No one can be a specialist in every subject area, but a good apologist will be a specialist in some specific area. Huffling advises students at SES who want to do apologetics to major in philosophy because “most apologetic issues are inherently philosophical.”

I do agree in general with Huffling’s advice about specializing in some specific discipline. Continue reading

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Leaving IRR but Not Leaving Mormonism Alone!

Rob teaching about the Book of MormonLast month, I announced that the Institute for Religious Research, where I have worked since 2008, was facing a deep financial crisis that made its future after the spring of next year very doubtful. Since that announcement, a few people have begun making monthly contributions or made generous one-time gifts. To those of you who have given in these ways I wish to express my thanks and appreciation. After pursuing some avenues of fundraising and observing the results, I came to the conclusion that while the organization might survive it was extremely unlikely that it would have sufficient funds to continue employing two persons full time. At the same time, several ministry friends with whom I consulted expressed interest in working with me in some capacity or assisting me financially to work independently. For these reasons, a couple of weeks ago I made the decision to give my notice at IRR. I will be leaving the staff of IRR effective at the end of this year. My colleague Joel Groat, who has been at IRR almost since its beginning over 30 years ago, is now the executive director. During the remainder of 2018, I will be taking care of things related to my departure and completing some projects for IRR.

My departure at the end of the year should make it much more feasible for IRR to raise the funding necessary to sustain the organization for the long term. The ministry’s focus will be on its mentoring program and support groups for transitioning Mormons (and possibly Jehovah’s Witnesses) and on training and equipping Christians for discernment and outreach in Utah and outside the United States, especially in Latin America and Africa. Joel has some particularly exciting opportunities to train and equip thousands of pastors in Kenya next year. If you have been blessed by IRR’s ministry, I would encourage you to support the organization financially so that this important work will continue.

Although my plans beyond the end of the year are not yet entirely solidified, it appears that my main work will be writing books. I have a rather long, ambitious list of books that I hope to have published over the next several years. Some of these books will be on Mormonism, the subject area that has had most of my attention the past ten years. Thus, the work that I have been doing will go on and I am hopeful it will have an even greater impact, if God wills.

When I announced last month that IRR was in dire financial straits, one rather unpleasant Mormon apologist rejoiced in that possibility, comparing the possible closing of IRR to the closing of a Planned Parenthood clinic. His offensive analogy aside, even if IRR closes its doors its contributions will continue to help Mormons who are sincerely seeking the truth. There are hundreds of articles about Mormonism on IRR’s website and I don’t think they are going to disappear. And IRR may yet survive this financial challenge and continue its mission of ministering to transitioning Mormons and equipping Christians for discernment and outreach to them. In any case, the false scriptures, doctrines, and rites of the LDS religion will not be safe from scrutiny. Evangelical work in this field is in fact getting even better, as one can see from the publication earlier this year of Sharing the Good News with Mormons, a collection of essays offering practical, informative strategies for doing just what the title indicates. And as I’ve noted, I hope to continue working in this area after my departure from IRR.

Mormonism will not, however, be the only subject I address. I’m going to be working on books on other subjects, including a second edition of Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ, which I co-authored with my good friend Ed Komoszewski in 2007. I will also be teaching some courses and speaking at some conferences. I am going to the annual Evangelical Theological Society convention in Denver next month, where I will be presenting a paper on Trinitarian and non-Trinitarian views of the Holy Spirit. I am also scheduled to teach again (on a topic yet to be determined) at the Defend Conference at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in early January 2019. If you will be at either of these events, I hope we will meet up and get a chance to talk. In the meantime, I would be grateful for your prayers. If you want to follow what I’m doing and receive updates, you can follow this blog or follow me on Facebook or Twitter.


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Are You Smarter than a Trinitarian? Part Two: Responding to Mormon Misrepresentations of the Trinity

Kimmons - My reaction to trinitarians who call me a heretic

In Part One of this response to LDS apologist Ronald Kimmons’s flow chart on the Trinity, I summarized his argument and replied to red herrings or misdirections included in that chart that are not germane to the issue of whether the doctrine of the Trinity is true. As I explained there, Kimmons seeks to trap Trinitarians into one of two indefensible positions: (a) claiming that people who don’t believe in a meaningless word are going to Hell or (b) claiming that people who don’t accept the Trinity are heretics while at the same time affirming an explanation of the Trinity that is itself heretical. As I shall now show, Kimmons’s polemic against the doctrine proceeds by systematically misrepresenting what Trinitarians actually believe.


The “Incomprehensible” Doctrine of the Trinity

Kimmons begins his questioning of Trinitarians with the question, “Can you explain the Trinity to me in a way that makes sense?” The Trinitarian is allowed to answer either “Yes” or “No.” Already we have a problem. Well-informed Trinitarians should be able to explain the doctrine of the Trinity sufficiently so that others can know what it claims, and they may even be able to explain its meaning in a way that shows it is not meaningless or irrational. However, this does not mean that their explanations, even if reasonable and cogent, will be persuasive or satisfactory to opponents of the doctrine. Moreover, most Trinitarians acknowledge that the doctrine in some way represents God as being beyond our full or complete comprehension. That is, most Trinitarians recognize that the doctrine of the Trinity posits ideas about God that we find difficult if not impossible to explicate fully. The “triunity” of God means something to us, something that is intelligible and significant, but since there is nothing literally triune in nature or in our tangible experience our understanding of how God is triune remains imperfect. This does not mean that we should answer “No” to Kimmons’s first question. We can explain the doctrine in a way that makes sense, at least to a significant extent, but those who take a rationalistic approach to the matter (I must understand it fully and perfectly or it cannot be true) will not agree that it makes sense.

You can see what Kimmons is doing from the rhetorical question he asks if you answer “No” to his question about explaining the Trinity: Continue reading

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Are You Smarter than a Trinitarian? Part One: Responding to Mormon Misdirection on the Trinity

Kimmons - My reaction to trinitarians who call me a heretic

Ronald Kimmons is a Latter-day Saint businessman with political ambitions, a self-described “digital marketing professional, linguist, and smartypants” who has also spent a lot of time answering questions on the popular Q&A website Quora. According to his Quora profile, Kimmons, who attended Brigham Young University, has answered over 6,000 questions, mostly about religion, Christianity, and the LDS Church.

Earlier this year, Kimmons created a flow chart entitled “My Reaction to ‘Trinitarians’ Who Call me a ‘Heretic’.” For the purposes of critical review, I have posted an image of this flow chart here. Kimmons has posted it on Quora at least four times in the past three months. The image of this flow chart is now making the rounds on other social media sites; I have seen it twice in the past week on Facebook. Kimmons also created a quiz on his Quora page entitled “Are You Actually a Trinitarian?” with six questions. Both the flow chart and the quiz are designed to show that Trinitarians have no coherent grounds for charging others with heresy. Kimmons seeks to expose most self-professed Trinitarian Christians as “heretics” by their own standard, supposedly by showing that their own explanations of the doctrine of the Trinity are actually theories that have been condemned in church history as heresies (modalism, Arianism, etc.). By the way, I took his “quiz” and at the end it proclaimed that I was a true Trinitarian (and stating that only 21% of those taking the quiz qualify as such). However, based on Kimmons’s flow chart, his quiz should have classified me as a heretic. More on that inconsistency in part 2. In this article, I will analyze Kimmons’s argument and respond to two red herrings or diversionary claims he makes in his chart.


The Argument of the Anti-Trinitarian Chart

The flow chart is structured so as to show any Trinitarian that his position is either meaningless or heretical by Trinitarians’ own standard. The chart begins with a question:

Can you explain the Trinity to me in a way that makes sense?

You are allowed to answer either “Yes” or “No.” If you answer “No,” the chart announces the following outcome: Continue reading

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Answers to Mormon Answers on Moroni 8:18

We agree with moroni 8-18August 18 is observed annually with the message “We Agree with Moroni 8:18” by evangelical Christians who seek to share the biblical faith with Latter-day Saints. Moroni 8:18, a verse near the end of the Book of Mormon, states:

For I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being;
but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity.

This statement, dictated by Joseph Smith in 1829 and published in 1830 in the Book of Mormon, stands in stark contrast to a statement made by Joseph Smith in a sermon known as the King Follett Discourse near the end of his life in 1844:

In order to understand the subject of the dead, for consolation of those who mourn for the loss of their friends, it is necessary we should understand the character and being of God and how He came to be so; for I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see.[1]

This statement from Joseph Smith is one with which evangelicals cannot agree, since we believe that God is indeed God from all eternity. Thus, we agree with Moroni 8:18 but not with Joseph’s later theology. As we see things, Joseph started with a belief that was fairly close, at least relatively speaking, to the traditional Christian conception of God, and we find this view reflected both in the Book of Mormon and in Joseph’s other early revelations. After he published the Book of Mormon and founded the new religion, however, Joseph’s theology underwent radical changes in the following 14 years.

Mormons are aware of the problem and in recent years have offered a variety of answers or explanations—or at least objections to the dilemma posed above. In this article, we’ll consider four of these answers or objections.

  1. “From all eternity” in Moroni 8:18 doesn’t mean absolutely without any beginning but an eon ago, or an extremely long time ago, or something along these lines.[2]

Much could be said about this claim, but I will restrict my response to making two simple points. First, whatever “from all eternity” means in Moroni 8:18, it must correspond coherently with the mirror expression “to all eternity” that appears in the same clause (“from all eternity to all eternity”). Does any Mormon wish to argue that God will be unchangeable only for some future eon or some extremely long period of time, but will not be unchangeable forever and ever? I doubt any Mormon is prepared to argue for such a conclusion. But if “from all eternity” means only “from a very, very long time ago” or “from an eternity ago from our limited perspective” or however a Mormon wishes to redefine the expression, then “to all eternity” in the same context must mean “to a very, very long time in the future” or “until an eternity from now from our limited perspective.” So this redefinition just won’t fit the immediate context of the very clause in which it appears.

Second, there is no reason to think “from all eternity” means something different in Moroni 8:18 than it does in Joseph’s 1844 statement. Both statements concern the nature of God. One says that God “is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity”; the other says that people had “supposed that God was God from all eternity.” Both appear in texts that came from Joseph Smith. Unless there is some clear indication from the differing contexts of these statements that the expression “from all eternity” has two distinctly different meanings, we should acknowledge that the expression means the same thing in both places.

  1. It isn’t true that God changed from something less than God to being God as he is now; this is a misunderstanding of Joseph Smith’s theology in the King Follett Discourse.[3]

A full response to this claim is beyond the scope of this article. However, I will point out some glaring problems with this claim as a response to the dilemma. First, notice that this answer concedes what the first answer disputes: that Moroni 8:18 means what it seems to mean, which is that God has always, from all eternity, been God. If the Mormons who offer this answer are correct, then those who present the previous answer must be mistaken.

Second, without getting into too much detail here, those few LDS scholars who make this claim about Joseph’s theology being misunderstood assume that the version of the King Follett Discourse that has come down to us is unreliable. These scholars point out (correctly) that several individuals took notes about what Joseph said and that none of their accounts is complete or necessarily a perfect record of the speech (also correct). They then conclude that we may set aside the statement in the commonly used version of the speech that denies “that God was God from all eternity.” This is where these scholars’ argument goes off the rails. There are four problems with this proposal.

  • The entire line of argument in the King Follett Discourse presupposes the idea that God was not always God but became a God. The point toward which the speech drives is that we can and should become Gods by progressing from one stage to the next, “as all gods have done before you.” This idea clearly entails the belief that our God likewise became a God by the same type of progression. It is not possible to eliminate this idea from the speech.
  • In Joseph Smith’s subsequent speech, known as the Sermon in the Grove, he taught that our God the Father had a Father before him who was his God. This idea obviously presupposes the notion already presented in the King Follett Discourse that our Father was not always God but became a God.
  • The LDS Church’s subsequent prophets and apostles accepted the King Follett Discourse in the form familiar to us today, and they affirmed this idea that God had passed through a process of progression in order to become a God.[4]
  • The LDS Church has put its imprimatur or official stamp of approval on the King Follett Discourse in its traditional form. A curriculum manual published in 2004 stated that the King Follett Discourse as it appears in History of the Church (as well as the Sermon in the Grove) is one of a group of “approved and inspired writings that are not in the standard works” and that “should be used along with the scriptures.”[5]

For these reasons, the problem of the Moroni 8:18 challenge cannot be solved by rejecting the King Follett Discourse in its traditional form or as several LDS prophets and apostles have interpreted it since Joseph Smith.

  1. The “God” that is unchangeable from eternity to eternity is not a specific divine being but is the divine intelligence inherent in all things (D&C 93:29) and the infinite continuum or pantheon of all divine beings. “The attributes of deity have always existed, having no beginning and will have no end, regardless of who holds or shares these attributes.”[6]

That anyone would offer this explanation is shocking, to say the least. The claim here is that when Moroni 8:18 refers to “God,” it does not mean the divine Being we worship or obey, or any personal deity at all, but rather the divinity that is supposedly latent in the “intelligence” that underlies all things. In Mormon metaphysics, everything that exists, ultimately, consists of “intelligence,” a potentially divine substance or reality that takes form in intelligent beings, some of which have the potential to become fully divine beings like Heavenly Father or Jesus Christ.  Thus, ultimately “God” is not a specific, personal being at all, but the divinity that is present at least in rudimentary or incipient form in all things. There may have been an uncountable number of Gods before the being we call God the Father and there will potentially be an endless series of Gods emerging in the future, but all of these Gods are really just specific instances of beings in which the absolute God that is beyond being and personality takes form. Frankly, this is pantheism. Any Mormon taking this position is simply confirming the vast, unbridgeable gap between Mormonism and historic, biblical Christianity.

Notice again that this third explanation contradicts both of the two previous answers we considered. At least those two responses agreed that “God” in Moroni 8:18 is an actual divine Being, someone specific who is said to be unchangeable. This third explanation denies this idea altogether. The divinity potentially latent in all things is unchangeable from all eternity, but God the Father, the being we think of as our God, is not.

Here again, also, one wonders why “God” in Moroni 8:18 would have this hitherto unknown meaning of the divinity that has always existed in intelligence but not have the same meaning in the King Follett Discourse. Nothing in Moroni 8, or frankly anywhere in the Book of Mormon, lends any credence or plausible support for this interpretation of Moroni 8:18. Throughout Moroni 8, as throughout the Book of Mormon, “God” is one specific, personal being who is said to be revealing himself and his purposes through Moroni and the other prophets who preceded him. The reader is invited to read through Moroni 8 to confirm this simple observation.

  1. God is eternally unchangeable in his perfect moral character relative to human beings—his love, justice, and so forth—even if he has not always been fully God.[7]

Probably the most plausible answer I have seen from Mormons to the apparent contradiction between Moroni 8:18 and the King Follett Discourse is that Moroni 8:18 is only referring to God’s moral perfections, not to his metaphysical nature as deity. Mormons who offer this answer argue that God can and has changed in some ways (passing through mortality and becoming exalted to Godhood) without ever changing his character or intentions. They point out that in the immediate context of Moroni 8, Moroni is emphasizing that God’s will with regard to the salvation of little children has never changed (see Moroni 8:12). This explanation avoids the absurdity of claiming that “eternity” changes meaning within the same clause (answer #1), the problem of contradicting a sermon text from Joseph Smith that LDS prophets and apostles have repeatedly affirmed and that the LDS Church has stated is true (#2), and the bizarre claim that in Moroni 8:18 “God” does not refer to a personal deity at all (#3).

The mistake these Mormons make is that they confuse the significance of God’s unchangeableness with the meaning of God’s unchangeableness. In context, God’s unchangeableness is significant because it assures Moroni’s readers that God has always intended to save little children and will never change his purpose in this regard. However, the Book of Mormon presents Moroni grounding or basing this confidence on the unchangeableness of God’s nature “from all eternity to all eternity.” Notice that Moroni 8:18 says that God is “not a changeable being.” The use of the word being in this context makes his argument theological or philosophical. It is because God is not that kind of being that we can be sure that his intentions have never changed from all eternity and will never change in the future to all eternity. That is the argument that the Book of Mormon presents here.

We know beyond any reasonable doubt that Joseph Smith held at the time that God’s unchangeableness meant that he was unchangeably God from eternity to eternity. We know this is what he thought because he said so the very same year that the Book of Mormon was published, in the text now known as Doctrine & Covenants 20:

By these things we know that there is a God in heaven, who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God, the framer of heaven and earth, and all things which are in them. (D&C 20:17)

There is really no workable way around the problem. Joseph Smith clearly taught, both in the Book of Mormon and in D&C 20, that God is unchangeably God from eternity to eternity, from everlasting to everlasting. Fourteen years later, however, he had explicitly rejected that truth.

I agree with Moroni 8:18.



[1] “King Follett Discourse,” April 7, 1844, as quoted in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1976), 345. The entire text of the discourse is on the LDS Church’s official website, in the April 1971 issue of the Ensign.

[2] Robert Boylan, “Moroni 8:18, Psalm 90:2, and the Latter-day Saint Understanding of Deity,” Scriptural Mormonism (blog), Dec. 10, 2014.

[3] This view is associated especially with Blake Ostler; see his treatment of the King Follett Discourse in Blake T. Ostler, Exploring Mormon Thought, Volume 2: The Problems of Theism and the Love of God (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2006), 438–42. See also David L. Paulsen and Hal R. Boyd, “The Nature of God in Mormon Thought,” in The Oxford Handbook of Mormonism, ed. Terryl L. Givens and Philip L. Barlow (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 246–59.

[4] See, for example, Brigham Young, 8 Oct. 1859, in Journal of Discourses 7:333–34; Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, and Anthon H. Lund, “The Origin of Man,” Improvement Era 13 (Nov. 1909): 75 (an official statement of the First Presidency, reproduced in full in “The Origin of Man,” Ensign, Feb. 2002); Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1955), 2:47; Marion G. Romney, “How Men Are Saved,” Ensign, Nov. 1974, 38 (a general conference address).

[5] Bruce R. McConkie, “The Bible, a Sealed Book,” in Teaching Seminary Preservice Readings Religion 370, 471, and 475 (2004), 123–32, quoted from A Symposium on the New Testament, 1984, 1–7.

[6] Robert Boylan, “Moroni 8:18, Psalm 90:2, and the Latter-day Saint Understanding of Deity,” Scriptural Mormonism (blog), Dec. 10, 2014.

[7] Robert L. Millet, A Different Jesus? The Christ of the Latter-day Saints, Foreword and Afterword by Richard J. Mouw (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 114. See also Barry R. Bickmore, “Mormonism in the Early Jewish Christian Milieu,” FAIR conference, August 1999.

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And Don’t Call Us Mormons: The LDS Church and Language Control

I'm a Mormon billboard

Earlier today the website Mormon Newsroom issued an “Official Statement” from Russell Nelson, the President and Prophet of the LDS Church:

The Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name He has revealed for His Church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We have work before us to bring ourselves in harmony with His will. In recent weeks, various Church leaders and departments have initiated the necessary steps to do so. Additional information about this important matter will be made available in the coming months.

At the same time, the “Newsroom,” as it is now called, posted a revised “style guide” with directives for the terminology to be used in reference to the religion and its members. The “preferred” first reference should be the full name, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The terms Mormon Church, Mormons, and Mormonism should be avoided. Members should be called Latter-day Saints, and the abbreviation LDS should not be used (not even in the expression LDS Church).

When a shortened reference is needed, the terms “the Church” or the “Church of Jesus Christ” are encouraged. The “restored Church of Jesus Christ” is also accurate and encouraged…. The term “Mormonism” is inaccurate and should not be used. When describing the combination of doctrine, culture and lifestyle unique to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the term “the restored gospel of Jesus Christ” is accurate and preferred.

The term Mormon is not being banned absolutely; it will still be used in the title Book of Mormon, as well as in such “historical expressions” as Mormon Trail (and, one supposes, perhaps Mormon Tabernacle Choir, though that remains to be seen).

I beg the reader’s forgiveness or at least understanding, but I will not be following these guidelines. Continue reading

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