JOEL - The Church does not teach this as official doctrine(especially the first part). It is mostly regarded as opinion on the part of a few early leaders of the church. It may be a true doctrine but we simply don't know enough about it yet to be able to understand it fully. A complete understanding of this concept is not necessary for our salvation.
ERIC - As I understand it (correct me if I am wrong), this doctrine of sorts, while not essential to your salvation, is essential to your exaltation. It was first taught by Joseph Smith, although it is not contained in the Standard Works. I am curious why it is not official church doctrine, since it was taught by the church's first president and prophet.
JOEL - The second part of the phrase(as God is, man may become) is something that we do believe in and is important for our exaltation, and is supported by scripture(See Mat. 5:48,3 Nephi 12:48, D&C 132:17,19, D&C 84:38). The first part, however, (As man is, God once was) is not so important for us to understand. As a human being, Joseph Smith is entitled to have opinions that are not necessarily considered "official" church doctrine. Perhaps we don't understand it well enough to call it "official" doctrine yet. Maybe we will some day. We believe that God gives us understanding and knowledge a little at a time depending on when we are ready for it.
ERIC - "This statement leads to another belief that the LDS Church teaches, which is 'eternal progression,' meaning that God is continually changing. "
JOEL - At the moment we only know for sure that "eternal progression" refers to a process followed by all of us who started out as spirit children of God, who came to earth and obtained a body and who are striving to become like Him and are doing what we can so we can return to live with Him after we die. We do know that God's work and glory is to "bring to pass the exaltation and eternal life of man"(Moses 1:39). God does not change or progress in the sense of becoming more of a God than He already is. Right now He is everything that a God can possibly be. However He status does change in the sense that He obtains more glory as more of His children are exalted. In the case of God, the word progression does not mean change or becoming better, it means the accumulation of more glory.
ERIC - In the book of Mormon and in the Bible, it says that we must become sons of God and that some are not the children of God, not that we already are his children (Mosiah 27:25, Ether 3:14, John 1:12, Romans 8:16). Also, by limiting Gods glory to progression from our exaltation, it seems to me that you view God as needy...would God have less glory if no one followed Him, and no one progressed?
JOEL - We are the spirit children of our Heavenly Father. In these particular scriptures, when it says, "become sons of God" it is talking about becoming sons of Jesus Christ by believing and accepting His gospel(See Mosiah 5:7). God does not need the glory. He doesn't need anything. It's something that just happens when we progress and become exalted.
ERIC - "The Church also teaches that God has a physical body. "
JOEL - Jesus said that he did nothing that he had not seen the Father do. (John 5:19) If Jesus is God, yet obtained a body and lived as a mortal, then why could not His Father have done the same thereby also having a body? Also, Joseph Smith said that he saw God the Father and Jesus as two separate beings with resurrected exalted bodies of flesh and bone.
ERIC - In John 5:19 Jesus is speaking of His works and teachings. The Jews were persecuting Him because He had healed on the Sabbath, but Jesus was only doing His Father's work, which Jesus had seen. I do not think that this verse supports your doctrine of the physical nature of God. In John 4:24, Jesus says that God is a Spirit. Alma 22:8-11 says that God is a Great Spirit. Also, if God has a physical body, then how can He be omnipresent as the Bible teaches (Psalm 139, Jeremiah 23:24)?
JOEL - Most of our doctrine about the physical nature of God comes from latter-day prophets such as Joseph Smith who saw him and observed that God the Father and Jesus Christ both had resurrected bodies of flesh and bone. The context of John 4:24, concerns a Samaritan woman who believed the Old Testament prophecies that Christ would come. Jesus declared to her that people would shortly worship God in spirit and in truth. Jesus then said God is a Spirit and repeated his statement that people would worship him in spirit and in truth. If Jesus meant God was only a spirit, he must have also meant people would leave their bodies and worship him with only their spirits, because the context of the word "spirit" is the same for both God and the worship of the people (same Greek word, pneuma). That does not make sense. The context of the word "spirit" is that people would worship in the influence of God. Likewise, when Jesus said God is a Spirit he meant God fills space with his spiritual influence. Also, modern scholars are agreed that the King James' translation of John 4:24 as "God is a Spirit" is incorrect. The correct rendering of the Greek is "God is spirit." The New Testament contains a number of other brief statements about God which, like John 4:24, were clearly not put forth as absolute definitions, e.g., "God is light" (1 John 1:5), "God is love" (1 John 4:8), and " God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29). Obviously, these verses are simply metaphors. I have already explained the Alma 22:8-11 scripture later below. God is omnipresent, not that He himself is everywhere at once, but that the light of Christ, or His power, influence, and spirit shines forth from Him to fill all space.
ERIC - "There is only one God--Last sentence of the Testimony of Three Witnesses Alma 11:22, 28-29 Alma 11:38-39 ."
JOEL - For the reference in the Testimony of the Three Witnesses we need to understand that the word "God" can have two meanings. It can be used to refer to one of the individual members of the Godhead, or it can also be used to refer to the entire group of individuals. Each of the three are called a God, but the three together as a group, can also be called God. God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are not one person, but they are one in purpose. In the Alma scriptures they are only talking about Jesus Christ, who can also be considered a "Father" as I will explain later.
ERIC - Yes, they each can be referred to as God, or individually as God, but only because they are the same God. Not just in purpose, but in person.
JOEL - That is your opinion. As I said earlier, Joseph Smith saw God the Father
and Jesus as two separate individuals. Was Jesus praying outloud to Himself
in the Garden of Gethsemene(Mark 14:32-39)? Was He talking to Himself on the cross(Mat. 27:46)? How could Stephen see Jesus standing on the right hand of God if they were one being(Acts 7:55-56)?
If they are the same person how could Jesus not know something that God the Father knew, namely the exact time of the Second Coming, as explained in Mark 13:32: "But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father." When Jesus was baptized on earth, someone's voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son..." and the Holy Ghost was separately manifested by the sign of the dove. Sounds like three separate beings to me.
ERIC - "On the Title page of the BoM, in the second paragraph in capital letters it says "Jesus is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD."
JOEL - Jesus Christ is the eternal God of this earth. He always has been and always will be.
ERIC - That's not what the text says. It says that He is THE Eternal God, not AN Eternal God.
JOEL - Both the Father and the Son carry the title "Eternal God". Both are exalted beings and as such are Eternal. But the title page is talking to the inhabitants of this earth. We believe Christ is THE God of this earth and the only member of the Godhead that we deal with directly. Therefore, we say He is THE eternal God. I think we are nit-picking at little words now. We need to remember the Book of Mormon(including the title page) came through a translation of a "reformed Egyptian" language.
ERIC - "Mosiah 15:2-5 shows that Jesus the Son and God the Father are not two different Gods, but one and the same God."
JOEL - This scripture is talking about only one of the 3 persons in the
Godhead, Jesus Christ. The terms "Father" and "Son" are titles rather than
names. Jesus can be referred to as "Father" in the following ways:
1. He is the Father of those who accept the gospel because it is through his atonement that the gospel is made active on the earth.
2. He is the Father of this earth in the sense that He created this earth under the direction of his Father.
3. He is the Father because of divine investure of authority, meaning that Jesus has been given the power to act for and represent his Father on this earth.
Jesus also carries the title "Son" because he is the first born of God in the spirit and the only begotten son of his Father in the flesh. These scriptures are explaining how he can carry both titles at the same time.
Later on in the Book of Mormon Jesus tells the Nephites that he was sent by his Father(3 Nephi 27:13-14) and he taught them how to pray to his Father(3 Nephi 17:13-15, 19:19-21). It sounds like two separate people to me.
ERIC - Yes, it does sound like they are two different people. However, they are two manifestations of the same God. In John 10:30 Jesus says that He and the Father are one. From all of the verses that I referenced, it seems to me that the Trinity is but one God.
JOEL - Consider these verses: "And now I am no more in the world, but these
are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own
name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.
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:" (John 17:11,21,22)
Here, Christ prayed for his disciples and other converts, that they should be preserved in unity, "that they all may be "one" as the Father and the Son are one. Christ did not want His followers to lose their individuality and become one person, even if a change so directly opposed to nature were possible. Christ desired that all should be united in heart, spirit, and purpose; for such is the unity between His Father and Himself, and between them and the Holy Ghost.
ERIC - "God has always been God and has never changed--Mormon 9:9-11,19 Moroni 7:22 Moroni 8:18"
JOEL - Consider this. The Bible teaches that "Jesus Christ [is] the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever." (Hebrews 13:8) Yet the Bible also teaches that "...Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man." (Luke 2:52) Does the Bible contradict itself? No, the apparent contradiction is simply an issue of proper interpretation. When the prophets teach that God is eternally the same and does not change, they are trying to teach that we can trust the Lord because he never varies his course; he always operates by law; he is no respector of persons and always bestows the same blessings as a reward for the same obedience.
ERIC - I understand your perspective and it makes sense. However, the Bible and the Book of Mormon also teach that God has always been and always will be God (Mosiah 3:5, Psalm 90:2).
JOEL - # That's right. Jesus was always the God of this earth before he came here and he was and is God after he left the earth.
ERIC - "God IS (not has) a Spirit--Alma 18:24-28 Alma 22:9-11"
JOEL - The God they are talking about is Jesus Christ who is the God of this earth(2 Nephi 11:7, 2 Nephi 26:12). At this point in time (about 90 B.C.) Jesus had not yet come to the earth and obtained a body. Thus, King Lamoni's references to God as the Great Spirit were not out of harmony with the thinking of Ammon, for to him God was the pre-existent Jesus in spirit form.
ERIC - However, in John 4:24, Jesus is clearly speaking of the Father when He says that God is a Spirit.
JOEL - See my answer earlier above about this scripture.
ERIC - "...it seems from the passages of scriptures above that there is a dramatic difference between what the Church teaches and what the Book of Mormon says."
JOEL - As I have shown, a lot of it has to do with how those scriptures are interpreted. This is why it is so helpful to have modern day prophets who can give us the proper interpretations. Also, there have been many revelations given to us through present day prophets since Book of Mormon times; many of which are not mentioned in the scriptures. Some of the people back in Book of Mormon times were probably told about some of these other things but weren't able to or allowed to explain it in words. (See 1 Ne. 14:28, 2 Ne. 4:25, Jacob 4:1, 3 Ne 26:11, 16, 18, 27:23, Ether 12:23-25, 13:13 , 15:33)
ERIC - However, II Peter 1:20 says that no prophecy is a matter of one's own interpretation. Then, in I John 2:27, John is writing concerning those who might deceive us, and says that we have no need for anyone to teach us once we have the received the anointing of the Holy Ghost. I would exhort you to examine the scriptures for yourself, like the Bereans in Acts 17:11, who searched the scriptures to see if Paul's word were true.
JOEL - You're right. Prophecy is not a matter of one's own interpretation. But
we believe we have true prophets here on earth today who are in direct
communication with God and know his will. Therefore, their interpretations
are not of their own understanding but are of God's.
In this scripture(1 John 2:27) John is only talking to a few of his followers, not necessarily to us. In an earlier scripture(1 John 2:21) he acknowledges that they already know the truth and this is why in verse 27 he tells them that they need not learn from anyone else. This is not the case with the Christian world today.
ERIC - Also, I am under the impression from the Bible that, while some will have the gift of prophecy, there would be no more prophets after Jesus. In Hebrews 1:1 Paul says that God's final word was proclaimed in His Son, Jesus. You can compare this with John 1:18 which says that no man has seen the Father, but that Jesus has explained Him. If Jesus explained the Father, there is no need for more prophets (the only purpose for prophets was to explain the nature/character of God and His will).
JOEL - I am sure that Jesus did explain the Father very well to the people of His day. But we must have lost it somewhere between then and now. It seems to me that today there is great confusion about the nature/character of God and His will, even though we have the Bible. That is why there are so many different Christian religions. That is why we are having this discussion right now. Sounds to me like we still need a prophet today to explain it all and help us make modern day application of His gospel to the problems of our day.
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