The Only Begotten of the Father in the Flesh: Mormonism's Embarrassing Theology
James R. White
Mormonism continues to show great shame for its own roots and its own history, resulting in the (dishonest) rewriting of its own history. One of the most embarrassing teachings of the LDS Church and its leaders has to do with the teaching that Jesus is the physical offspring of Elohim, the Father, who likewise has a physical body. That is, that Jesus was physically begotten in a sexual union between the Father and Mary. So prevalent was this teaching that to our very day you can hear LDS missionaries speak of Jesus as "the only begotten of the Father in the flesh. Given that Mormons believe God the Father has many celestial wives, and that we are all offspring of Elohim and one of these wives, the phrase "only begotten of the Father" in the King James Version does require some explanation on the part of Mormon theology. The explanation has been consistent down through the decades, and to this day I do not know of a single official denial of this doctrine from the leadership of the LDS Church. However, you will find lots of unofficial denials coming out of BYU. The most recent I find in the new book from Robert Millet and Gregory Johnson, the next installment in the "compromise the gospel for the sake of false unity" campaign, titled Bridging the Divide (2007). This small book (it could have been made into a booklet, its margins are so wide) carries endorsements by the usual suspects such as Richard Mouw of Fuller Seminary (who has done more to end meaningful evangelism amongst Mormons than anyone else I know of). Others likewise wrote words of commendation, though with care (I personally think many who did so should have stayed far, far away, but have allowed the spirit of our age to cloud their thinking). Once again, the person familiar with the LDS faith and its historical teachings will find this "dialogue" maddeningly shallow and missing the heart of the issue. But as soon as I received the book, my eyes fell upon the following words, and I simply had to take the time to demonstrate how far from the truth the "dialogue" has wandered.
Some time ago a colleague and I were in Southern California speaking to a group of about 500 people, both Latter-day Saint and Protestant. During the question and answer phase of the program, someone asked the inevitable: "Are you really Christian? Do you, as many claim, worship a different Jesus?" I explained that we worship the Christ of the New Testament , that we believe wholeheartedly in His virgin birth, His divine Sonship, His miracles, His transforming teachings, His atoning sacrifice, and His bodily resurrection from the dead. I added that we also believe in the teachings of and about Christ found in the Book of Mormon and modern revelation. After the meeting an LDS woman came up to me and said, "You didn't tell the truth about what we believe!" Startled, I asked, "What do you mean?" She responded: "You said we believe in the virgin birth of Christ, and you know very well that we don't believe that." "Yes, we do," I retorted. She then said with a great deal of emotion: "I want to believe you, but people have told me for years that we believe that God the Father had sexual relations with Mary and thereby Jesus was conceived." I looked her in the eyes and said: "I'm aware of that teaching, but that is not the doctrine of the Church; that is not what we teach in the Church today. Have you ever heard the Brethren teach it in conference? Is it in the standard works, the curriculum materials, or the handbooks of the Church? Is it a part of an official declaration or proclamation?" I watched what seemed like a 500-pound weight come off her shoulders, as tears came into her eyes, and she simply said: "Thank you, Brother Millet."We see here the full-on overthrow of a clear and consistent teaching of the leadership of the LDS Church, not only in written form, but in the curriculum of the LDS Church and in the General Conference as well. Evidently, the staff of BYU have taken over the leadership of the LDS Church, and they can now dismiss the historical teachings of the leadership by their own authority.
I will begin today providing full documentation on this vital subject. It is vital not only because it touches on the LDS teachings concerning Christ, but even more so today because it documents so plainly the willingness of modern LDS writers to rewrite history and play with the facts. As we will see, this teaching has, in fact, been plainly presented in General Conference, in the curriculum materials published by the LDS Church itself for its own people, etc. Millet wishes to insist that this teaching, while once taught, is no more. Really? Upon whose authority? I would very much like to see the official proclamation that retracts the words of the previous prophets and apostles and that likewise then explains why we should continue to believe these men are apostles of Jesus Christ when they come from a line that they themselves claim is taught falsehoods in the name of Christ. Millet tries to tie Luther into his defense, but anyone who knows the LDS doctrine of priesthood authority knows such a connection is invalid. So with these things in mind, I provide the following information in substantiation of the assertion that the leadership of the LDS Church has taught, as official doctrine, even to the point of placing the teaching in the priesthood manuals and other materials written by the church for use by Latter-day Saints in their studies, the doctrine that Elohim, God the Father, sired, or begat, Jesus Christ, so that Christ is the "only begotten of the Father in the flesh."
One of the tasks of some of the modern proponents of the LDS cause seems to be to remake Mormonism in a mold that fits better in the modern setting. Whether purposefully or not, modern defenders of Joseph Smith are often found softening, or even directly denying, doctrines and teachings that have been taught within the LDS Church since its inception. And, of course, if this doctrine is referred to in anti-Mormon literature, it is claimed that the authors of such works are acting in bad faith, purposefully misrepresenting the LDS faith.
One such doctrine that is now identified as mere speculation rather than a teaching of the LDS Church, is the doctrine that God the Father (Elohim) in a physical body begat, literally, the body of Jesus Christ here on earth. The physical parentage of Jesus Christ has often been a focus of attack on the part of Christians who seek to respond to the claims of Mormonism. Yet, if one is to believe the current crop of LDS apologists, it is a doctrine that is nothing more than speculation, and certainly not representative of the official teaching of the LDS faith.
In their 1992 book, Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints, BYU professors Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks attempt to respond to the historical teaching of the LDS Church regarding the physical parentage of Christ. Note their own words:
We will ignore the fact that these scattered nineteenth-century speculations were never canonized by the Mormon Church, and that no comparable statements occur in Latter-day Saint scripture. We will pass over the unfairness of holding Mormons to statements that they and their own leaders have never deemed authoritative and binding (and we will deprive ourselves of the great entertainment that would ensue were we to call our Protestant critics to account for every speculation advanced by their pastors and reformers of the past five centuries). . . . The speculations that most incense the critics are simply literalistic interpretations of the divine paternity alluded to in the title, Son of God.While certain early Mormon leaders may occasionally have reinterpreted the concept of virgin birth,they never for a moment suggested that Jesus was begotten by a mortal man, nor that his father was any other personage than God. . . . And for a denial, it cannot be repeated too often, that the Latter-day Saints have never accepted as official doctrine. (129-131)In a footnote Peterson and Ricks cite numerous Christian critiques of Mormonism that note this doctrine. They focus upon Walter Martin, saying he finds these rare and isolated speculations shocking and vile,and makes the obligatory allusions to Greek mythology. From the above citation, then, we can conclude that the idea that God the Father physically begat Jesus Christ is a mere scattered nineteenth century speculation that was never canonized by the Mormon Church. These speculations have never been considered authoritative and binding. They were merely literalistic interpretations of the divine paternity based upon the title Son of God. They amount only to a reinterpretation of the virgin birth, and have never been accepted as official doctrine.
A colleague of Peterson and Ricks, Dr. Stephen Robinson, likewise downplays this doctrine. In How Wide the Divide? Robinson makes these comments:We can add, then, to the conclusions of Peterson and Ricks, the following from Robinson: this doctrine is again a speculation, based primarily in the nineteenth century opinions of certain unnamed LDS leaders and members.These opinions have never been included among the official doctrines of the LDS faith, and have not appeared in any official church publications during the lifetime of Stephen Robinson. Those who say otherwise (which would include this author) are misrepresenting Mormonism.
Unfortunately, popular speculations on the LDS side have sometimes also been tasteless and indelicate. . . . While it is true that certain LDS leaders (mostly in the nineteenth century) have offered their opinions on the conception of Jesus, those opinions were never included among the official doctrines of the church and have, during my lifetime at least, not appeared in official church publications lest they be taken as the view of the church. Yet those who would misrepresent the LDS Church (and also a vocal minority of its own eccentrics) continue to insist on the unofficial speculations of nineteenth-century members rather than on the official views of the church then or now. Craig L. Blomberg and Stephen E. Robinson, How Wide the Divide? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), pp. 135-136.
For most Mormons, and for most Christians who have not read widely in LDS sources, such should be sufficient. Three LDS scholars, Ph.D.s all, have pronounced the idea that God the Father literally and physically begat the Son in the flesh a mere nineteenth century speculation. What more could be said?
The problem is, history stands unalterably opposed to every single claim made by all three authors. As we will now document, this doctrine has been taught consistently by every single General Authority of the LDS Church who has addressed this topic up to this present day! What is more, we will find numerous official LDS publications written within the past thirty years that likewise teach this very doctrine. And just as important, we will not find a single LDS General Authority denying this doctrine. I will leave the reader to determine the issue of motivations, misrepresentation, and simple honesty in debate, that arise when faced with the kind of documentation that follows.
( continued tomorrow! )