Comments on Mormon Doctrine of Deity by B.H. Roberts
"Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated [us] into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, [even] the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether [they be] thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all [things] he might have the preeminence. For it pleased [the Father] that in him should all fullness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, [I say], whether
[they be] things in earth, or things in heaven... For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily". Colossians 1:12-20, 2:9
The scriptures I quoted from Colossians are favorites of mine, especially Colossians 2:9. You'll not find this one asked to be read in any Sunday School or Priesthood lesson. I find these scriptures especially appropriate for my reading and review of B.H. Roberts' book Mormon Doctrine of Deity.
I will now comment on the book. This book can be found on the LDS Collectors Library '97.
I will refer to B.H. Roberts as Mr. R just as he refers to the Reverend C. Van Der Donckt as Mr. V.
Mr. V makes the mistake of making too many arguments, some strong and some weak. Mr. V. doesn't know enough about Mr. R's beliefs to be really effective. Also, as mentioned below, Mr. R. and Mr. V use the same language but have defined different meanings to the same words thus making open communication and understanding nearly impossible.
If the book is currently out-of-print I am not surprised. Mr. R's lack of understanding of science and the physical universe is so apparent as to make one wonder whether or not his other beliefs are equally deficient. I was very surprised to see a 20th century writer tell about the ether that fills the universe (page 82). Or about how matter is eternal and cannot be destroyed, not even a single atom (page 125). Obviously he could not foresee that Einstein (only 24 years old at the time) would change everything man had believed about matter and energy. E=MC2 proved to be more than a theory when matter was converted directly back to the energy from which it came and gave the world deadlier weapons than Nobel (with all his nitro glycerin, TNT, plastic explosives and smokeless gun powder) ever dreamed possible. It is Einstein who gave scientific plausibility to the notion that God created the worlds from nothing and did not organize the world as Plato and the Greek philosophers had taught.
I believe the 'nothing' was actually himself. God created the worlds from the energy and light that is His. To the uneducated, this creation would have appeared as creation from nothing because no matter was used in this creation. Matter itself was created. I believe modern scientific thought would support Mr. V's view that heavenly beings can take on a material form when necessary, such as when wrestling with Jacob, or visiting Abraham (page 83). Mr. R. has no concept of control of energy and its relationship to matter. (page 80) It is energy that cannot be created or destroyed. Energy is eternal. Matter is not eternal, but can be created or destroyed.
Page 18. The simple statement of faith (the Apostles Creed) that Mr. R. believes was corrupted still exists and is recited every day in the Church of England and in churches of the Anglican Communion throughout the world. This same church is the only church that makes regular use of the Athanasian Creed. Why is it that all negative comments about "creeds" make the Athanasian creed the straw man? The two other creedal statements, the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed of Constantinople read like long versions of the first Article of Faith and are based almost word for word from text taken directly from the New Testament. Roman Catholics have not used the Athanasian Creed in the Mass as a public statement of faith but have used and continues to use the other two creeds. I find it sad that Mr. R. resorts to bashing the Athanasian creed in a rash attempt to defend his own inconsistent and just as confusing doctrine of God. (Also see page 76 where Mr. R. shows he has no understanding
of what "substance" means to Mr. V. If he did, Mr. R. would be able to understand why Mr. V. has no problem with Christ having a body and a spirit while God the Father and the Holy Ghost are spirit.)
Page 25. Mr. R. raises the question that has actually re-surfaced in our own day: "What think ye of Christ?" However, the really important question with regards to other religions was completely missed by Mr. R. The critical question is this: Was Christ (a) God before he took on a body? Mormon doctrine is inconsistent in its response to this question. Christ is either like us, a spirit child of God the Father (more on this later), who became man and earned the right to be God and is now a God as an exalted man, OR, he was always with God and was God and is God and will forever be God; as Paul said to Timothy, "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory." (1 Timothy 3:16)
Mr. R. appears to answer this critical question of Christ being God before having a body
on page 73 but this conflicts with page 96. Mr. R. actually answers this very important question indirectly on page 96. In speaking of Christ he states:
"The orthodox doctrine of Christianity is - Catholic and Protestant alike - that Jesus Christ is God; that he always was and is God, according to both orthodox theology and Christian philosophy. Yet it is said of Jesus that he 'increased in wisdom and statue, and in favor with God and man' (Luke 2:52). Here is certainly a change in condition; here is succession of time with God - a before and after; here is being and becoming; for whereas, he was a spirit, he became man; and in becoming man, he passed through all phases in life from infancy to manhood. It is significant also that it was not until Jesus had arisen from the tomb and stood in the presence of his disciples, a glorified personage, body and spirit united, that he exclaimed, 'All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.' If given there must have been a time when
he did not possess all power in heaven and in earth; ..."
Mr. R is in a round about way saying that Jesus was not God or not fully God before his earthly life which stands in stark contrast to LDS teachings as recently as the April 1997 LDS Conference in which members were told that Christ was God before his earthly existence. It also conflicts with teachings about Jesus being the God of the Old Testament. It also conflicts with page 21 of Mr. R's original article in which he presents God appearing to Abraham in the form of a man with a physical body. How can Jesus be the God of the O.T., a spirit without a body, and a God with a body all at the same time? On page 83, Mr. R. again pushes for a physical Lord appearing to Abraham when Mr. R. knows full well that the Lord Jesus was NOT a being with a body at this time. Mr. R. is being very disingenuous to twist the scriptures and his own beliefs to make a point, knowing that Mr. V. is at a significant disadvantage. Perhaps Mr. R.
is saying that God the Father is the person appearing to Abraham. This would be acceptable if Jesus were not the recognized God of the O.T.
Page 72. I believe that Mr. V. has Mr. R on the 'God is spirit' point. If Jesus was God of the O.T., if he created the worlds, if he was with God from the beginning and was God, then all the time prior to his birth he was a spirit and yet, still was God. The Holy Ghost likewise is also God without a body. It doesn't appear necessary to have a body to be God. God is all light and power and thus controls all matter and is its very source. It was Jesus, "Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross." (Philippians 2:6-8) God himself, the creator of heaven and earth, came down from heaven and dwelt among us taking upon himself a body to join God and man so that humanity can look forward to a future existence with God, and since God lives
forever so shall we live forever. (Remember the ending of the first Star Trek movie - this was its theme: The creator joining with his creation.)
Mr. R. is clever in shifting the debate from an embodied God the Father to God the Son who has a tangible resurrected body. For example in the middle of page 79, Mr. R. uses the scripture that Moses saw God to refute John's "No man hath seen God at anytime". Mr. R. knows full well that it was Christ that Moses saw and NOT God the Father. Also, just because Christ now has a body doesn't mean that God necessarily has one or needs one. Christ didn't have a body and he created the universe and everything visible and invisible in it. Christ was the God of the O.T. without a body. The Holy Spirit doesn't have a body. It appears that God in the person of Jesus and the person of the Holy Ghost have acted as God without bodies. That Christ joined with man, his creation, by becoming a man is very significant. I believe Mr. R. has not reflected on the significance of this joining and therefore can't even realize what Mr. V. is trying to say. It is as though the two men are speaking
totally different languages, using words that sound the same but have very different meanings.
For example, page 98, bottom. Mr. R. has the nerve to blast Mr. V. for correctly stating the LDS belief that God the Father is the father of our spirits, creating them long before our physical conception, but Mr.V. has used his own language to state this. Mr. R is smart enough to recognize a difference in language relating to the word 'soul' and 'spirit' but still blasts Mr. V. Was I surprised when on page 99 I found out that GOD THE FATHER DID NOT CREATE OUR SPIRITS!. According to Mr. R., our spirits have always existed and always will. If they had been created they would have an end because all created things have their beginnings and their ends. This discourse appears to equate the spirit of man with the mind or the intelligence which man possesses and is co-eternal with God. Mr. R. quotes Joseph Smith for his authority for this statement which is no longer taught in the church. It was really unfair of Mr. R. to blast Mr. V. for correctly stating in his own language what the church believes in and not what the church's
founder once said in Nauvoo on April 7, 1844. I believe Mr. R. did this to undermine Mr. V's philosophical proofs to show that they were based on false beliefs.
Page 87 - What is this Mormon Catechism? Wow! (page 89) This "Mormon Catechism" is written in the same form and style as the Roman Catholic "Baltimore" Catechism. Where did it come from? Why is it not used anymore? Why haven't I, a questioning man of 41, raised LDS, ever heard about this document? It seems the LDS church before 1904 had several catechisms. One was called the Children's Catechism, another the John Jaques's Catechism. Even Eliza R. Snow prepared a catechism of O.T. and N.T. questions and answers in 1881. There also was a 1877 Mormon Catechism for Children. Mr. R. makes many references to a Mormon catechism in his books. I especially liked the 1903 wish of Reed Smoot to require new freshman to have had memorized "a church catechism of some kind." Who killed the catechism? Joseph F. Smith, Jr. and Bruce R.
Page 92. Mr. R. can't face the fact and doesn't even see that Mormonism IS inconsistent with itself. A God either needs a physical body in order to be a God or a God does not need to have a physical body. Christ did not always have a physical body. Was he a person of the Godhead and thus God before his birth? He was with God and was God from the beginning. Mormon theological progression for mankind to becoming Gods relies too heavily on Christ as the example for us. Christ was not like us before the worlds were made. He was already God, we were not. What part did we play in creation except as happy supporters and cheerers? We supported God and not Satan. Did we create worlds without end? Did we create anything at all? I don't think so. It was not in our power to create. We were different from Christ although it is our hope to become like him for we will see him, even as he is. (Perhaps this is why Joseph Smith - with his Ancient of Days - and Brigham Young tried to show some
progression happening with Adam. Adam helps Christ create the Earth, he goes to Earth with the body he already had after passing the mortal test of life on another planet, takes one of his wives and becomes the Ancient of Days, the God of Earth.)
Page 95. Christ emptied himself and became one of us. His nature of perfection didn't change when he took on a body. Mr. R. likes to use the phrase "without body, parts, or passions" which only serves to cloud this debate as this phrase comes from the Church of England and not from the Roman Catholic Church. Also, on page 103, Mr. R. says that the Church of England is at one with the Roman Catholic Church in the doctrine of God. These two churches have not been at one since the days of Henry VIII. The Church of England does not speak for the Roman Catholic Church.
Page 104+ At this point Mr. R. jumps off the deep end using philosophy wherever he can get it to discredit Mr. V. Mr. R. jumps to Germany, then England, then back again in a reckless attempt to tear down Mr. V's simple Christian philosophy not based on the philosophies of recognized agnostics used by Mr. R to support his attack on Mr. V. By page 110 it appears that Mr. R. has completely lost his way and has forgotten that he was debating Mr. V. and not Spencer, Mansel, or Hegel. By page 113, it has become obvious that Mr. R. sees absolutely no common ground between himself and Mr. V. Mr. R. has very clearly demonstrated that he has a CLOSED mind and is not even trying to understand Mr. V.
Page 119. Mr. R. tries to tie the belief of an immaterial God to an origin in Pagan philosophy, and not in Jewish or Christian revelation. If this is true, why was one of his quoted philosophers, Spinoza, excommunicated from his synagogue on July 27, 1656 for believing in part that God might have a body and be part of the world of matter?
Page 139. Could it be (horrors of horrors) that the early Hebrews were polytheistic and over time learned the true nature of their God as the God of the Universe, the God of Gods, the Kings of Kings, the only true and living God. I have often wondered if Psalm references to God as "my rock" (Ps 18 and 28) are not actually reflective of ancient traditions when stones were worshipped as gods.
Why did it take Mr. R. 104 pages to write a rejoinder to a simple 24 page response to a 35 page original paper. I believe it is because Mr. R. didn't and can't respond without clouding the facts and making it appear he has crushed Mr. V. due to shear weight of his rejoinder.
The comparison of D&C 20 and the Nicene Creed
came to me after reading page 222. Don't use that "maybe he was
using the same source" argument with me on this one. D&C 20 is
obviously related to the Nicene Creed and I do not believe that this
portion of D&C 20 was a revelation from God any more than
my own statement of faith
is a revelation from God. It is what Joseph Smith believed just as my statement is what I believe. Just as I used the form of the Nicene Creed for my statement of belief, this same form was used by Joseph Smith in D&C 20. I wrote my statement of belief without referring to the Nicene Creed because after saying it so many times and having memorized it is easy to use these familiar phrases, blending them into my own belief statement. I believe Joseph Smith, like me, did not have to refer to this well known Christian creed because it was part of his life, having come
from a Christian background and family.
Page 212. Mr. R. again is having language problems in not knowing or acknowledging the traditional definition for "revelation" as applied to Jesus Christ. Christ, who had been "revealed" in the past through holy prophets has now been "revealed" to man in these "last days" in a most complete way* that will not happen again until he returns in glory. *(He personally came as one of us and lived with us and died as one of us and for us. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.).
The theologians are not confused about the oneness of God, it is Mr. R. who is making a case of confusion to argue against. The teaching that God was one person that appeared in different forms, Father, Son, or Holy Ghost, was condemned in the very early Christian centuries as the Modalist Heresy. It is Joseph Smith that made the three persons of the Godhead in one body heresy such an issue to attack, see page 231.
"All this rubbish" is believed by the Roman Catholic Church to be the workings of the Holy Spirit. I have not read any "rubbish" in all the ancient writings I have come across. They are most thoughtful, and insightful, the product of years of human experience and enlightenment by the Holy Spirit. Many teachings first established in this "rubbish" can be found in any LDS General Conference, except mention is not often made of the original spiritually guided writer.Considering as "rubbish" everything written after the death of the Apostles until the days of Joseph Smith is a very unfortunate attitude, one that severely limits religious writings to the experiences of only a few who have lived during the last 150 years. I suppose it could be comforting however, to feel no obligation to read the mountain of Christian material that has collected over the past 2,000 years; just write most or all of it off as "rubbish". The Lutherans do the same
thing with anything written before the Reformation. Maybe it is human nature to discard, or try to discard as "rubbish" what is considered old or old fashion or not in keeping with the teaching of a new regime. I believe that Lutherans and Mormons have claimed that old Christian writings are "rubbish" just to protect themselves and their own slant on doctrine. It is so much easier to call it all "rubbish" than to be faced with the fact that these writings speak the truth and therefore speak of a true faith that has been on the Earth since the time of Jesus and the Apostles.
Page 213. Using the BoM to prove the Mormon doctrine of the Godhead is very curious indeed. These scriptures actually say quite the opposite and one must read them "backwards" to see them the way Mr. R. does. "I buried Paul" - Beatles, Abby Road. In other words, he is "hearing" in the scriptures something that is not there.
Page 216. The story of Jared is a BoM story that should show Mormons like Mr. R. that a body of spirit CAN appear to man in the form of a physical body, when in fact, it is a body of spirit. Could not this same phenomena have happened to Joseph Smith? The brother of Jared couldn't tell the difference between a physical body and a body of spirit, perhaps Joseph Smith couldn't either. He never touched God as Thomas touched the risen Christ just to make sure. I believe the story of the brother of Jared is another good example of where the BoM fully supports traditional Christian beliefs that conflict with the beliefs and teachings of Joseph Smith and the LDS Church.
Page 217. I make no comment on this section based on the "Book of Abraham" because I do not believe that this book is a "translation" of anything that was ever written by Abraham in any language in any age. See also page 232 where Joseph Smith claims to have "learned" something from translating the [Egyptian] papyrus. We now know he could not translate Egyptian, but at the time no one else could either so who could challenge him?
Page 218. A thought occurred to me after reading this page and reading the article you gave me, A Trajectory of Plurality: An Overview of Joseph Smith's Thirty-three Plural Wives, by Todd Compton. It appears to me that Joseph Smith's vision of heaven was one where heaven is an eternal version of Amway. As one's family of "distributors" grows, the family and glory of the person who brought you into "the business" also increases. I now see Joseph and Brigham maneuvering to become "double and triple diamond Amway directs", building their ever growing family of faithful "distributors". It is possible that Joseph Smith's attempts to justify building a large family organization on Earth caused him to depart from the One Infinite and Eternal God of the scriptures, including the BoM. "Which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end", D&C
20:28 recorded in 1830, three years before Joseph Smith's venture into the new world of plural wives.
Page 230. It appears that Joseph Smith is found not telling the truth here: "I have taught all the strong doctrines publicly, and always teach stronger doctrines in public than in private." This address was given in 1844. By this time he had as many as 33 plural wives but he did not teach this strong doctrine in public. If anyone doubts that plural marriage was a strong doctrine, one need look no further than the murder of Joseph Smith or the abandonment of Nauvoo, both outcomes of this doctrine becoming public.
Paul WAS talking about the heathen lords and gods. One only needs to read the ENTIRE 8th chapter of I Corinthians to understand these verses in context. The same could be said for reading Psalm 82 in its entirety in context.
The Hebrew argument from Genesis is very weak because it relies on an assumption and allegation by Joseph Smith (that most likely could not have happened) claiming that "an old Jew" changed the first word of the first Book of Moses (History of the Church, p. 475). Each book in the Hebrew Canon was and is known by the first word in the book. The name of this book would have to have been changed if Joseph Smith's teaching is to be believed. I doubt that "an old Jew" slipped in a new name for the first Book of Moses without anyone noticing it, especially in a culture that relies to a great extent on oral tradition. Also, Joseph Smith's explanation conflicts with John 1:1 which echoes the first words of Genesis. This type of argument is so poor that if accepted as valid, this same word switching method could be used to make the Bible say ANYTHING you wanted just by claiming that some uninspired Jew or Greek or Latin scribe made an intentional or unintentional mistake. I believe this mind set of freely changing words to fit a non-standard, changing doctrine is very clearly reflected in the LDS 8th Article of
Faith and is summed up in the phrase "as far as it is translated correctly". This article of faith gives full license to reading more into the scriptures than ever originally existed (Book of Moses, Book of Abraham, JST) or removing books from the scriptures (Wisdom, Sirach, Maccabees) or changing words (Genesis) in order to make them fit church doctrines.
Here endeth my comments on these writings of B. H. Roberts, a man who never let the truth about Mormonism get in his way...