Dialogue w Mormon Apologist: God & Doctrinal Development

Dialogue w Mormon Apologist: God & Doctrinal Development January 22, 2018


Mormonism holds to “another Jesus” (2 Cor 11:4) and many gods (polytheism).





Dr. Barry R. Bickmore holds a Ph.D. in Geological Sciences from Virginia Tech, and is the author of Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity. Currently he is a professor in the department of geological sciences at Brigham Young University. In the Mormon Church he has been a seminary teacher, ward clerk, elder’s quorum president, and quorum teacher, among other things.

This dialogue is a response to his 2001 article, “Doctrinal Trends in Early Christianity and the Strength of the Mormon Position” (cited verbatim), which is found at the website for The Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research (FAIR), a non-profit organization dedicated to providing well-documented answers to criticisms of Mormon (LDS) doctrine, belief and practice. The first section is a reply — with his permission — to a portion of Dr. Bickmore’s personal letter of 9 December 2001. Dr. Bickmore’s words will be in blue.



I.The Book of Mormon Compared to Historic Biblical Christianity





II. The Evolution of the Evolving “god[s]” of Mormonism





III. Theology Proper: The Nature of God the Father













IV. Mormon Historian Lance Owens’ Hypothesis Concerning the Occultic, Kabbalistic, and Gnostic Origins of Mormonism

V. Creation Ex Nihilo (From Nothing)

VI. Response to Mormon Claims About Trinitarian Subordination, Subjection, and the Creator/Creature Distinction in Early Christianity

VII. Reply to Dr. Bickmore’s Critique of Catholic Development of Doctrine


I. The Book of Mormon Compared to Historic Biblical Christianity


One word of caution before you proceed. You said you have lots of material on your site defending the deity of Christ and the Holy Spirit. We believe in both, so that is a non-issue with us.

“Deity” means that Jesus Christ is God and the Holy Spirit is God, because deity means God. Let the reader note well that Dr. Bickmore states that this is what Mormons believe. Now, God has a well-defined and unchanging meaning throughout Church history, consistent with the definition and attributes of God found in the Holy Bible. These were summed up in the Nicene Creed and (in greater detail) in the Athanasian Creed.

One of the fundamental, “non-negotiable” traits of God is that He is eternal and uncreated. This aspect of the theology of God is crucial to the overall Catholic-Mormon discussion, and Dr. Bickmore’s particular arguments below, so I shall treat it at some length.

The Book of Mormon is regarded by Mormons as Scripture:

The Book of Mormon is the word of God. It is scripture. It is not a replacement for the Bible. On the contrary, it is a supplement to the Bible . . . Like the Bible, the Book of Mormon was written by prophets of the Lord. (What is the Book of Mormon?, published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1982 [Corporation of the President], 1)

The Book of Mormon teaches the orthodox Christian doctrine that God does not and cannot change, and is eternal:

For I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but He is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity. (Moroni 8:18; an epistle written by Mormon to his son Moroni, claiming direct inspiration from the “Lord” and the “Holy Ghost” – 8:7,9, cf. 3 Nephi 24:6)

About Moroni, the angel who — it is claimed — appeared to Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith in 1823, the above-mentioned pamphlet states:

. . . Moroni . . . was a resurrected being who had once lived as a mortal on the earth. This angel was the last prophet of the Nephite nation; that is, he was the last prophet of a group of ancient inhabitants of America. He was the last person to write in the Book of Mormon; it was he who had buried that record in a hill in a region that was later to be known as northwestern New York. (What is the Book of Mormon?, 4)

I shall not here examine the dubious archaeology of Mormonism, nor the question of the status and integrity (let alone divine inspiration) of the Book of Mormon (see, e.g., its claim that steel and breakable windows existed in the time of Abraham — c. 2000 B.C.: Ether 7:8-9, 2:23, or that Jesus was born in Jerusalem: Alma 7:10; the same verse teaches the Virgin Birth of Jesus — denied by Brigham Young and subsequent Mormonism). I am simply demonstrating that the Christian doctrine of God’s immutability is found — unarguably — in several places in this book, purporting to be additional divinely inspired revelation:

For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing? And now, if ye have imagined up unto yourselves a god who doth vary, and in whom there is a shadow of changing, then have ye imagined up unto yourselves a god who is not a God of miracles. (Mormon 9:9-10; Moroni again writing; cf. 9:19, 1 Nephi 10:18, 2 Nephi 29:9, Hebrews 13:8, Doctrine and Covenants, 20:12)

This is orthodox, historic Christianity. So far so good.

For behold, God knowing all things, being from everlasting to everlasting . . . (Moroni 7:22 [Moroni] )

. . . Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God. (2 Nephi 26:12)

Indeed. So we see that The Book of Mormon, believed to be God’s Word by Mormons, asserts the deity and eternal existence of Jesus Christ, which is harmonious with historic orthodox Christianity. If this were all that Mormons taught about Jesus, and not in logical opposition to other equally binding teachings of theirs, we Christians would have no beef with them on that score, but alas (and sadly), it is not all, as we shall see below. The Mormon difficulty (when all the facts are in) is internal inconsistency and incoherence, and departure from historic Christian theology proper (doctrine of God) and Christology.

. . . the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity . . . (Mosiah 3:5, cf. 1 Nephi 12:18, 15:15, 2 Nephi 4:35, 9:8, Alma 34:9, Helaman 1:11, 12:8, Ether 8:23, Moroni 10:28)

. . . the Lamb of God . . . the Son of the everlasting God . . . (1 Nephi 11:32)

Good . . .

. . . the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, who is without beginning of days or end of years . . . (Alma 13:9)

This appears to teach the truth of the eternal existence of Jesus (i.e., that He was not created, and always existed, being God, who cannot not exist).


. . . Christ the Lord, who is the very Eternal Father. Amen. (Mosiah 16:15; cf. 7:27)

Now Zeezrom saith again unto him: Is the Son of God the very Eternal Father? And Amulek said unto him: Yea, he is the very Eternal Father of heaven and earth, and all things which in them are; he is the beginning and the end, the first and the last. (Alma 11:38-39; cf. 11:26-30,32-33,35)

And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son — The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son — And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and earth. And thus the flesh becoming subject to the Spirit, or the Son to the Father, being one God . . . (Mosiah 15:2-5a)

. . . Jesus Christ, even the Father and the Son . . . (Mormon 9:12)

. . . Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son . . . (Ether 3:14)

Now we see serious heretical difficulties begin to appear (even while the truth of the eternal existence of Jesus is asserted). In the orthodox Christianity of all three major Christian communions: Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox, trinitarianism is a fundamental tenet. Within the Trinity there is distinction of Person, even though the Three Divine Persons are one God, equal in power, essence, and glory.

Thus, one cannot say in that demonstrably biblical schema that the Father is the Son, or that the Son is the Holy Spirit, or that the Holy Spirit is the Father, so that distinction of Person is hopelessly confused, or that one or more of the Divine Persons transform themselves into another. This is the ancient heresy known as modal monarchianism, or Sabellianism, whereby God assumes different modes, according to the need of the moment, rather than existing at all times as Three Persons; recently re-invented as “Jesus Only” or “Oneness Pentecostalism” or so-called “Apostolic Christianity” (see links about those heresies at the very end of this paper). Yet this is what we find in the Book of Mormon, in these passages.


. . . Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God . . . (Alma 11:44)

. . . the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen. (2 Nephi 31:21)

. . . the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one; and I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one . . . the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one. (3 Nephi 11:27,36)

. . . unto the Father, and unto the Son, and unto the Holy Ghost, which are one God . . . . . (Mormon 7:7)

These verses “sound” trinitarian, but as seen above, the Mormon understanding (assuming it at least attempts to coherently exegete various passages of the Book of Mormon, so that we don’t have trinitarianism — or Sabellianism — here but not there) is apparently Modalistic or Sabellian. Nevertheless, it does once again (at least ostensibly) establish the teaching of the eternal existence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which is our immediate subject. And it refers to all three of them as God in some sense.

To adequately engage LDS theology, you will have to address the following questions. 1) What is God? 2) In what sense is there only one God? (I.e. how is it that more than one “person” can be God?).

As the Book of Mormon addresses those questions in the citations above, I will throw the question back to Dr. Bickmore to answer, given the later Mormon doctrines which I shall consider shortly. The last four passages above seem to teach that there is one God (monotheism), whether this be viewed in a trinitarian or Sabellian fashion. Whatever these passages teach, then (and they are Scripture to Dr. Bickmore and all Mormons); they reveal that God can have more than one Person, yet remain one God (and other passages show that He is eternal and immutable). This is even proclaimed by the “three witnesses” whose words appear at the beginning of every Book of Mormon:

And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen. (Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, Martin Harris)

3) Is there a hierarchy within the Trinity?

Only in the sense of the willful subjection of the Son to the Father, as in the kenosis (“emptying”) referred to in Philippians 2:5-11. But this does not imply an inferiority or lack of equality as God, any more than Jesus’ subjection to Mary and Joseph (Luke 2:51) meant that He was intrinsically inferior to them, or that a wife’s subjection to her husband (Ephesians 5:22-24) implies that women are inferior to men (Galatians 3:28, Eph 5:21,28-33). To be God the Father’s only begotten Son is to be God (John 5:18). But they remain two distinct Divine Persons, and not merely modes of the one God, or synonyms or parallel terms for the same Being. See the section on Jesus’ subjection to the Father, in my paper on biblical proofs of the deity of Jesus.

Too much breath, ink, and electrons have been wasted arguing all the wrong questions. Mormons typically think mainstream Christians are all Modalists (although many are!) . . .

Individual self-professed “trinitarians” may be, of course, in ignorance, not even knowing, let alone understanding, the teaching of their own church or denomination. The United Pentecostal Church and a few other heretical sects actually are Modalists, officially. That is one thing. But it is a far more thorny problem to have a supposed “Scripture” which plainly teaches this heresy, as the Book of Mormon does. Yet that was only primitive, relatively undeveloped Mormon doctrine: the earliest heresy of Joseph Smith, as we shall soon learn, before he moved even further away — much further — from Christological orthodoxy.

Joseph Smith proclaimed about the Book of Mormon:

He [the angel Moroni] said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates . . . He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants . . . (“Testimony,” in copies of the Book of Mormon. Cf. Doctrine and Covenants 27:5, 135:3)

I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 194 / History of the Church, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978, vol. 4, 461)

Indeed, this alleged new revelation states the same, in an entire chapter devoted largely to itself and its own momentous significance:

And the day cometh that the words of the book which were sealed shall be read upon the house tops; and they shall be read by the power of Christ; and all things shall be revealed unto the children of men which ever have been among the children of men, and which ever shall be even unto the end of the earth. (2 Nephi 27:11; cf. 27:35)

II. The Evolution of the Evolving “god[s]” of Mormonism


. . . and mainstream Christians typically think we are pagan-style polytheists. Neither assessment is correct, and we end up arguing past each other. I have tried to give Mormons a better understanding of what the mainstream Trinity doctrine is all about, so that we can cut down on the number of stupid, unproductive conversations.

I highly commend Dr. Bickmore in his quest for accurate representation of others’ differing theological beliefs. That is a goal I share. But I am truly baffled as to how a Mormon can present a coherent doctrine of God, given the citations above from one of their “Scriptures,” the Book of Mormon. There, God was immutable, and monotheism was preserved, albeit in a Sabellian sense. It gets quite confusing. Patrick Madrid, a Catholic apologist who specializes in Mormonism, among other areas, offers, I think, the key to the confusion that is Mormon theology:

Mormonism’s teachings on the nature of God metamorphosed dramatically over time, much like the continuously evolving god whose nature they supposedly explain . . . Among the things that needed restoring, [Mormon founder Joseph] Smith said in The King Follett Discourse, was the proper understanding of God’s nature:

Open your ears and hear, all ye ends of the earth, for I am going to prove it to you by the Bible . . .

God himself was once a man as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret.

It’s also the great dilemma of Mormon theology: If God was once an ordinary man who evolved into exaltation, or godhood, then he is merely a contingent being, reliant upon a god above himself both for his own making . . . and for approbation . . . Smith continued in his Discourse:

My Father worked out his salvation with fear and trembling, and I must do the same; and when I get to my kingdom, I shall present it to my Father, so that he may obtain kingdom upon kingdom, and it will exalt him in glory. He will then take a higher exaltation, and I will take his place, and thereby become exalted myself.

. . . This amounts to infinite regress, an endless series of contiongent beings, something manifestly impossible . . . someone had to have been “the first god” from whom all the other gods got their start . . .The record shows that as time passed Smith’s theology changed . . . When Smith organized his church in 1830, eternal progression was not in his theological repertoire, at least not in any explicit form. The best evidence of this is the Book of Mormon, published in 1830 . . . the Book of Mormon reveals that Smith’s theology metamorphosed. In his early days Smith’s theories about God were closer to orthodox Christianity than to the polytheistic strain of theology he was to expound in later years. He promulgated a modalistic monotheism . . .

(From “Mormonism’s god(s),” This Rock, July 1992, 12-14 / The King Follett Discourse, ed. B.H. Roberts, Salt Lake City: Magazine Printing Company, 1963, 4-5. This was a sermon preached at the funeral of Elder King Follett in April 1844 — two months before Smith’s murder at the hand of a mob in Carthage, Illinois. It was published in the Mormon newspaper Times and Seasons on 15 August 1844, 613-614, and is included in many contemporary Mormon sources)

Why, then, in a revelation, described by its founder and restorer as containing “the fulness of the everlasting Gospel” and “the most correct of any book”; referred to by an angel as “these last records” (1 Nephi 13:40) — an extraordinary golden document delivered by an angel from God’s throne, which would reveal “all things . . . which ever have been among the children of men” — is the elemental, fundamental, supremely important doctrine of God not laid out for all to see?

The purported revelation did not teach it, but we are supposed to believe that Joseph Smith, in a burst of inspiration, was ordained to reveal it to men, blatantly contradicting that Book which he presented to the world fourteen years earlier as the final revelation? Surely, this is a considerably implausible notion for anyone to accept.

Beyond that, Harry Ropp lists thirteen Mormon doctrines not taught in the Book of Mormon:

(1) the organizational structure of the church, (2) the Melchizedekian priesthood, (3) the Aaronic priesthood, (4) the plurality of gods, (5) God as an exalted man, (6) a human being’s ability to become a god, (7) the three degrees of heaven, (8) the plurality of wives, (9) the Word of Wisdom, (10) the pre-existence of the human spirit, (11) eternal progression, (12) baptism for the dead and (13) celestial marriage. (The Mormon Papers, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977, 55)

Yet “prophet” Joseph Smith continues in his Discourse:

The mind or the intelligence which man possesses is co-equal with God himself . . . I might with boldness proclaim from the housetops that God never had the power to create the spirit of man at all . . .. . . 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 . . . I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form — like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man.

So I say to Dr. Bickmore: if this is how you define “God” and this is the sense, therefore, in which Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are “God” and possess the attribute of “deity,” then I must reply that (from a biblical and orthodox perspective) this is no “God” at all. Words mean things, and historic Christian theology has never defined “God” in this fashion, nor does even the Book of Mormon, as we have seen. Yet Mormons continue to insist that they are entitled to adopt the word Christian for themselves, as a paper on the apologetic website where this paper of Dr. Bickmore appears, vainly argues.

A recent LDS publication, in an almost unbelievably uninformed caricature of the orthodox Christian theology of God, asserts (by inescapable negative logical implication) that God was created (!):

When one believes God to be impersonal, uncreated, incorporeal, incomprehensible, unknown, unknowable, a mystical three-in-one spirit that fills immensity, it is not possible to accept him as the literal Father of our Lord. (What Mormons Think of Christ, published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1976, 7)

This publication goes on to explicate the Mormon heretical doctrine of “premortal existence”:

. . . all men lived in a premortal estate before they were born into this world; all were born in the premortal existence as the spirit children of the Father. Christ was the firstborn spirit child . . . Christ, the Word, the Firstborn, had, of course, attained unto the status of Godhood while yet in premortal existence.In modern times he has said: “I was in the beginning with the Father, and am the Firstborn; And all those who are begotten through me are partakers of the glory of the same, and are the church of the Firstborn. Ye were also in the beginning with the Father. (Doctrine and Covenants 93:21-23 [regarded by Mormons as Scripture] ) (What Mormons Think of Christ, published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1976, 25)

There are a number of biblically unthinkable errors here. Premortal existence cannot be found in the Bible. Christians believe that the individual soul is created by God at the moment of physical conception (e.g., Isaiah 44:2,24, 49:5, Jeremiah 1:5). Christ was not created, and did not have to “attain unto the status of Godhood,” since He is (and always has been) God; therefore He is eternal and uncreated, as the Bible and Book of Mormon teach. Nor do we human creatures partake of the glory of God, who is one Lord with no other, not one of many, and one whom we can supplant in due course, attaining Godhood ourselves. This is all — frankly — blasphemy and idolatry from the biblical and historic Christian perspective.

ISAIAH 42:8 I {am} the Lord: that {is} my name: and my glory will I not give to another, . . . (cf. 48:11) (KJV)

Lastly, whoever wrote this pamphlet as some sort of official publication of Mormonism, has an exceedingly weak understanding of the biblical concept of Jesus as the FirstbornDoctrine and Covenants thoroughly distorts the meaning of Colossians 1:15-19. I dealt with this issue at length in my paper presenting biblical proofs for the Deity of Christ:

COLOSSIANS 1:15-19 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: (16) 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: (17) And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. (18) 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. (19) For it pleased {the Father} that in him should all fulness dwell. (KJV)


The Greek for “firstborn” is prototokos, which means “preeminence” and “eternal preexistence,” according to Greek lexicons. It does not mean “first-created.” Apart from being untrue linguistically, this heretical interpretation is contradicted in the next two verses, which inform us that Christ “created all things,” and that He “is before all things.” The Hebrew usage of “firstborn” is also instructive, since it illustrates its meaning as “preeminent.”


David is called “firstborn” in Ps 89:27, not because he was the literal first child of Jesse (for he was the youngest), but in the sense of his ascendancy to the kingship of Israel. Likewise, Jeremiah 31:9 refers to Ephraim as the firstborn, whereas Manasseh was the first child born (Gen 41:50-52). The nation Israel is called “my firstborn” by God (Ex 4:22). The Jewish rabbinical writers even called God the Father Bekorah Shelolam, meaning “firstborn of all creation,” that is, the Creator. This is precisely how St. Paul uses the “firstborn” phraseology in Col 1:15.

If Jesus created “all things,” then He Himself cannot be a thing (i.e., a creation); ergo, He is not created, but eternal. For this very reason, Jehovah’s Witnesses (with no justification in the Greek text whatever), add “other” to the passage, in order for Jesus to become a creation, as they imagine, according to their Arian heretical views. Mormons (though not the Book of Mormon) also deny that Jesus was eternal and immutable, so they set forth some of the same fallacious and unbiblical arguments towards that end. As for being “in the beginning” with the Father, this, too, is in an absolutely unique sense, not applicable at all to created human beings:

God the Father


ISAIAH 44:6 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.

REVELATION 1:8 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.

REVELATION 21:6-7 And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end . . . (7) He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. [cf. Is 41:4, 48:12]

Jesus the Incarnate God

REVELATION 1:17-18 . . . Fear not; I am the first and the last: (18) I {am} he that liveth, and was dead; . . .

REVELATION 2:8 . . . These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive;

REVELATION 22:13 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. {identified as Jesus in 22:16}

REVELATION 3:14 And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; these things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;

The Greek for “beginning” is arche, from which we get our word “architect.” Its literal meaning, according to Greek scholars, is “origin, active cause, source, uncreated principle.” So the above verse is describing Jesus as the “architect,” or Creator of the Universe. In Rev 21:6 arche is applied to the Father, so it can’t possibly mean “created being,” as Jehovah’s Witnesses and other heretics maintain.

So, the long and the short of it is that neither firstborn nor beginning — once the original Greek words are taken into account — imply a creation of Jesus or an equivalency between the Lord Jesus and us creatures in that regard. Nothing could be further from the meaning of these biblical passages. These are all concepts related to the unique eternal existence (pure Being) of God, in contradistinction to our created, finite natures. And God the Father and God the Son, Jesus, are both presented as eternal, everlasting, and uncreated in the Bible (as in the Book of Mormon):

God Alone is Eternal and Uncreated

GENESIS 21:33 . . . the Lord, the everlasting God.


EXODUS 3:14 And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.

DEUTERONOMY 33:27 The eternal God {is thy} refuge, and underneath {are} the everlasting arms: . . .

PSALM 90:2 . . . even from everlasting to everlasting, thou {art} God.

PSALM 93:2 Thy throne {is} established of old: thou {art} from everlasting.

ISAIAH 40:28 . . . the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, . . .

ISAIAH 57:15 For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name {is} Holy; . . .

HABAKKUK 1:12 {Art} thou not from everlasting, O Lord my God, mine Holy One? . . .

MALACHI 3:6 For I {am} the Lord, I change not; . . .

ROMANS 16:26 . . . the everlasting God, . . .

1 TIMOTHY 1:17 . . . the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, . . .

Jesus’ Own Words

JOHN 8:58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.

O.T. Prophecy and N.T. Apostolic Witness

ISAIAH 9:6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, the everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

[God the Father is called “Mighty God” (the same phrase in Hebrew, El Gibbor) at Deut 10:17, Neh 9:32, Is 10:21, and Jer 32:18. Likewise, the word for “everlasting,” ad, is applied to God the Father in Isaiah 57:15]

MICAH 5:2 But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, {though} thou be little among the thousands of Judah, {yet} out of thee shall he come forth unto me {that is} to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth {have been} from of old, from everlasting.

[The Hebrew word for “everlasting” here is olam, and it is often used in the most explicit way to describe God the Father’s eternal existence (e.g., Ps 41:13, 90:2, 93:2, 106:48, Is 40:28). If this word means “eternal and uncreated” when applied to God the Father (YHWH), then it must mean the same thing when it is applied to Jesus]

JOHN 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

HEBREWS 13:8 Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.

I could go on and on in presenting the hundreds of biblical evidences which refute Mormon theology (itself hopelessly self-defeating before we even start critiquing it), but they are available elsewhere, in my papers on biblical proofs for the deity of Christ and for the Holy Trinity. Dr. Bickmore claimed, remember, that Mormons believe in the “deity of Christ.” But we have seen what sort of “deity” this is, and how Jesus and God the Father have almost entirely lost their uniqueness and the very things which define God. He also claimed that Mormons are not “pagan-style polytheists.” Well, I’m not exactly sure what he means by “pagan-style” (probably the worship of stone and wooden idols), but Mormons are certainly polytheists, and certainly not monotheists.

Mormon leaders plainly admit that their teaching is indeed polytheism (lit., “many gods”):

When our father Adam came into the garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body, and brought Eve, one of his wives, with him . . . He is our Father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to do. (Brigham Young, successor to Joseph Smith, The Journal of Discourses, Vol. 1 [Liverpool: F.D. Richards, 1855], 50)

Young proclaimed that “God revealed unto me . . . that Adam is our father and our God” — a doctrine since repudiated by the LDS: Deseret News, June 18, 1873. The second “prophet, seer, and revelator” of the LDS also thought that the moon was inhabited and that, “no question of it,” the sun [!!!] was also inhabited by life, as “it was not made in vain”: Discourse delivered in the Tabernacle, Salt Lake City, July 24th, 1870, Journal of Discourses, vol. 13, 271. Joseph Smith had also made false prophecies in Doctrine and Covenants [84, 101:17:20] that the New Jerusalem and the Mormon Temple would be built in Jackson County, Missouri [“Zion”] in his generation. Neither prediction occurred.

Gods exist, and we had better strive to be prepared to be one of them. (Brigham Young, The Journal of Discourses, vol. 7, 1860, 238)

. . . you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all gods have done before you . . . to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power. (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, VI, 1844, 306)

[Commenting on Genesis 1:1] It read first, “The head one of the Gods brought forth the Gods,” that is the true meaning of the words . . . Thus the head God brought forth the Gods in the grand council. (Joseph Smith, Times and Seasons, August 1, 1844 [King Follett Discourse], 614)

As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become. (Lorenzo Snow, fifth president of the LDS churchMillennial Star, vol. 54)

We were begotten by our Father in Heaven; the person of our Father in Heaven was begotten on a previous heavenly world by His Father; and again, He was begotten by a still more ancient Father, and so on, from generation to generation. (Apostle Orson Pratt, The Seer, 1853, 132)

These viewpoints of “mature” Mormonism contradict one of their Scriptures, the Book of Mormon, which allegedly derived from the very throne of God (and they also go against the word of the angel who told the lie, which must make it a demon, I suppose):

Now Zeezrom said: Is there more than one God? And he answered, No. Now Zeezrom said unto him again: How knowest thou these things? And he said: An angel hath made them known to me. (Alma 11:28-31)


Christ was begotten by an immortal Father in the same way that mortal men are begotten by mortal fathers. (Bruce McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 547)

The birth of the Savior was a natural occurrence unattended with any degree of mysticism, and the Father God was the literal Parent of Jesus in the flesh as well as in the Spirit. (Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr., Religious Truths Defined, 44)

Students of Scripture will also be surprised to learn from “prophets” and “apostles” that Jesus had several wives and several children:

. . . Jesus Christ was married at Cana of Galilee, that Mary, Martha, and others were his wives, and that he begat children. (Apostle Orson Hyde, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 2, 210)

The Scripture says that He, the Lord, came walking in the Temple, with His train; I do not know who they were unless His wives and children. (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 13, 309)

III. Theology Proper: The Nature of God the Father


[Note: the location of the footnotes in the text was unfortunately lost during the change from Microsoft Word to html format — they don’t transfer in a cut-and-paste –, but the footnotes themselves have been retained. Readers can always consult Dr. Bickmore’s original paper (linked at the top of this page) if they seek specific footnote information]

(This paper was originally presented at a FARMS brown bag lecture, 7 November 2001)

Christianity as a whole is a historical religion. That is, its truth claims are based on the historical reality of certain events, such as the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In addition, each Christian denomination is bound to a particular view or range of views of Christian history that tie into its reason for existence. These views range from direct continuity with the New Testament Church among Catholics and Orthodox, to some measure of apostasy and reformation back to New Testament Christianity among Protestants. Latter-day Saints believe there was a total apostasy from New Testament Christianity, and a complete restoration of primitive Christianity was necessary, although we believe elements of the true faith from all past dispensations have been included, as well as things which have been “kept hid from before the foundation of the world.” To some degree, these propositions can be tested.

I agree with everything here except, of course, the alleged fact of a total apostasy.

My intent here is to outline a brief historical argument for the proposition that the Latter-day Saints represent, in the main, a restoration of primitive Christianity.

This is precisely the opposite of the truth. Mormons depart from biblical, apostolic, and patristic orthodoxy, especially (and quite spectacularly) with regard to the doctrine of God, here under consideration.

I am going to do that by showing that in some of the most important areas of theology, early trends in Christian doctrine point from something very like LDS doctrine and toward the doctrines of later Christianity. Finally, I will examine how different Christian traditions try to deal with these facts, and show that the meaning we attach to early Christian doctrinal development follows quite naturally, while other interpretations are usually very forced.

[2 Doctrine and Covenants (D&C;) 124:41]

I will demonstrate that this — however sincerely held by Dr. Bickmore and Mormons — is untrue.


I have chosen three areas of doctrine to illustrate my point. They are the nature of God, the relationship between God and the material universe, and the nature of the Divine Unity.


The question of the nature of God is absolutely fundamental to any theology. Joseph Smith preached that “if you were to see [God] today, you would see him like a man in form,” and that “the Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also.” (3) On the other hand, mainstream Christians generally accept definitions such as that of the First Vatican Council of 1869-1870, where God was said to be “eternal, immense, incomprehensible — who, being a unique spiritual substance by nature, absolutely simple and unchangeable, must be declared distinct from the world in fact and by essence.” (5) The implications of this difference in doctrine are enormous. For instance, if the Father and Son both have their own anthropomorphic bodies, it doesn’t make any sense to postulate that they are “one Being,” as mainstream Christians do. Also, it doesn’t make any sense to speak of God creating matter from nothing, if God Himself has a material nature. I’m going to talk more about both of these issues later, but from the outset I wanted to point out the importance of differences in assumptions about the nature of God.

I thank Dr. Bickmore for straightforwardly outlining the profound, irreconcilable differences between the Mormon and biblical, Christian conceptions of God. The Bible (verses below: KJV) teaches that God the Father: the YHWH / Jehovah / Elohim / Adonai of the Old Testament, is an invisible Spirit:

JOHN 1:18 No man hath seen God at any time . . .


JOHN 5:37 And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape.

JOHN 6:46 Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father.

1 TIMOTHY 1:17 . . . the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, . . .

1 TIMOTHY 6:16 Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: . . .

1 JOHN 4:12 No man hath seen God at any time . . .

Jesus said:

JOHN 4:24 God {is} a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship {him} in spirit and in truth.

After His Resurrection, He defined the relationship of a spirit to matter:

LUKE 24:39 Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.

The inescapable logical conclusion, therefore, from the mouth of our Lord Jesus, is that a spirit has not flesh and bones. God the Father is a spirit; ergo: God the Father has no flesh and bones, as Joseph Smith says He does. Now, whom are we to believe?: Joseph Smith, with his evolving “man-god” of flesh and bones, or the God-Man Jesus Christ, who taught that the Father was a non-material spirit? “Ya pays yer money and ya makes yer choice” . . . Or one can adopt the following curious metaphysical viewpoint:

There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter. (Doctrine and Covenants 131:7-6)


The idea that God has a body in human form stems from the first chapter in Genesis, which says, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. So God created man in his [own] image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” (6)

Image as used in Genesis is easily (and quite biblically) explained in a theological or spiritual sense, as meaning the unique relationship between God and man, over against the animals; man’s personality, rationality, self-consciousness, self-determination, conscience, ability to fellowship with and know God, etc. This is made very clear in the repeated spiritual use of image (Greek, eikon) in the New Testament:

COLOSSIANS 3:10 And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him. (cf. 1 Cor 11:7)

In context (e.g., 3:1,3,5,8,12-16), this is obviously a spiritual, not a physical, meaning or application of “image.” The “new man” is not getting a new face and body which look more like God the Father’s alleged body, but a new spirit, power, and outlook. The same general notion (using a different Greek word) is conveyed in Ephesians 4:24:

EPHESIANS 4:23-24 (RSV) And be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Obviously, then, putting on the “likeness” of God here does not mean going from an ethereal, invisible spirit to a physical body, but rather, becoming more like God in His essence (i.e., righteousness and holiness). St. Paul — notably — even utilizes the metaphor of creation to express this spiritual notion:

2 CORINTHIANS 5:17 (RSV) Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.

Further instances of eikon demonstrate this point:

ROMANS 8:29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son.(see the entire chapter for the spiritual and theological context; Paul was not talking about looking more like Jesus, but acting like Him)

2 CORINTHIANS 3:6,17-18 Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life . . . (17) Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord {is}, there {is} liberty. (18) But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, {even} as by the Spirit of the Lord.

This passage is notable in that the Lord is equated with a “Spirit,” and then Paul proceeds to teach that we are “changed into the same image” — obviously again a spiritual rather than physical imaging of God.

Gerhard Kittel, in his Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (abridged and translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1985, 206), considered one of the most scholarly and authoritative biblical linguistic aids, writes of the NT use of eikon in the sense which we have been considering:

In 1 Cor. 11:7 Paul can also apply Gen. 1:27 to the male so as to bring out certain practical consequences for daily conduct. A little later, however [1 Cor 15:42-50; esp. 15:49], on the basis of Gen. 5:3, he contrasts our present bearing of the image of the earthly man with our future bearing of the image of the heavenly man. The idea here is that our being as the eikon of God is restored by union with Christ as eikon. This comes out plainly in Rom. 8:29, where our being conformed to Christ is given its distinctive emphasis by the fact that this means participation in his divine likeness. Those who are in Christ’s image are in God’s image in the true and original sense of Gen. 1:27. This likeness is the goal. 2 Cor. 3:18 carries the same message. Seeing the Lord’s glory means sharing it and thus being changed into his likeness. The concern of the Christian life is already the putting on of the new being that is renewed after the image of its Creator (Col. 3:10) . . . the restoration is also a goal of ethical action . . .

Furthermore, we find in the New Testament the familiar notion of Christ as the eikon of the invisible God. This factor, in and of itself, destroys the false idea that eikon must mean a representation of a physical entity. An image of an invisible being must be an image of qualities and characteristics other than physical. This is patently obvious. Yet Mormons somehow can overlook all these passages and (amazingly) claim that the non-Mormon view of God as Spirit has no biblical basis whatever.

JOHN 1:18 . . . the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared {him}. [RSV, NIV: “made him known”]


JOHN 12:45 And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me.

JOHN 14:7-9 If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him. (8) Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. (9) Jesus saith unto him, have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou {then}, Shew us the Father?

2 CORINTHIANS 4:4 . . . Christ, who is the image of God, . . .

COLOSSIANS 1:15 . . . the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:

(cf. Mosiah 7:27, Ether 3:15-17, which attribute the image to the body of Jesus, as Tertullian and Irenaeus did, but with the heretical Sabellian overtones that Jesus was the Father, as taught more explicitly elsewhere in the Book of Mormon)

HEBREWS 1:3 Who being the brightness of {his} glory, and the express image of his person, . . .

REVELATION 22:1,3-4 And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb . . . (3) And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: (4) And they shall see his face; . . .

The seeming contradiction of God being “seen” (as in theophanies, and in other passages such as Gen 17:1, 33:11, Num 12:7-8, Deut 34:10, Jud 13:22, Is 6:5), and “not seen” (in passages such as Ex 33:20, 1 Tim 6:16, and 1 Jn 4:12), has been explained variously. One can take the position (as several Church Fathers did) that all or some of the theophanies and appearances of the Angel of the Lord (as God Himself) are pre-incarnate appearances of Christ, or direct representatives of God, which would solve the paradox. The Apostle John (Jn 12:41) appears to interpret Isaiah’s vision of God (Is 6:1-8) as precisely such an appearance. Or, it is possible to maintain that God created visual manifestations of Himself which were not identical with Himself. In these instances what is being seen are the effects of God’s unmediated presence.

Theophanies, in any event, are not always personal appearances of God. For example, non-personal theophanies include the burning bush (Ex 3:1-6), the pillars of cloud and fire (Ex 13:21-22), the cloud and fire of Mt. Sinai (Ex 24:16-18), and the Shekinah glory cloud (Ex 40:34-38). No one would hold that the non-personal appearances represent a direct experience of God’s essence. In the same fashion, the personal theophanies can be considered as manifestations one step removed from the actual Father Himself.

Whenever God the Father is “seen,” it must either be in the sense of one of these manifestations, or else a beholding of the Son, Jesus, who reveals the Father, as in the verses directly above (or else God miraculously making Himself appear to human eyes). In this way, the passages about the invisible God are explained in a non-contradictory manner. Only trinitarianism can make sense out of, and harmonize all the biblical material. Arian, Sabellian, and other heretical hermeneutical schemas always — inevitably — run into insuperable difficulties.

We might add that in every case where a theophany was reported by biblical prophets, God was described as having human form in passages such as Ezekiel 1:26, Revelation 4:23, and Acts 7:56.

This is untrue, as I just gave four examples of non-human or man-like theophanies, a few paragraphs above.

Christopher Stead of the Cambridge Divinity School summarized, “The Hebrews pictured the God whom they worshipped as having a body and mind like our own, though transcending humanity in the splendour of his appearance, in his power, his wisdom, and the constancy of his care for his creatures.” (7)

This exhibits a fundamental misunderstanding of both theophanies and the Hebrew conception of God, where He was regarded as absolutely other, a spirit, and indeed a spirit who could not and would not become a man (hence the majority Jewish rejection of the very notion of an incarnate God as Messiah, let alone Jesus as Messiah and the God-Man).

It is true that the Jews’ understanding developed through the centuries (and especially in the post-biblical or post-exilic period), with the help of progressive revelation, just as Christian thought after it did (particularly with regard to trinitarianism). But it does not follow from this that the Jews held at any period to the notion of God with a body: a sort of pop-religion “God as an old man sitting in a rocking chair in the clouds” viewpoint. In fact, the several OT and NT indications of God’s omnipresence demolish — by themselves — the concept of a spatially-limited God-with-a-body:

1 KINGS 8:27 But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; . . . [cf. 2 Chron 2:6]


PSALM 139:7-8 Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? (8) If I ascend up into heaven, thou {art} there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou {art there}.

JEREMIAH 23:24 Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord.

ACTS 7:48-49 Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, (49) Heaven {is} my throne, and earth {is} my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what {is} the place of my rest?

EPHESIANS 4:6 One God and Father of all, who {is} above all, and through all, and in you all. [cf. 1 Cor 15:28]

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ed. James Orr, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1956, vol. 2, 1253), a massive, scholarly, extremely in-depth five-volume reference work, details the Jewish conception of God in its article on “God”:

Men express their consciousness of God in the earliest periods in language borrowed from the visible and objective world. It does not follow that they thought of God in a sensuous way, because they speak of Him in the language of the senses, which alone was available for them.

On the other hand, the mainstream Christian doctrine of God is nowhere attested in the Bible, and appears in Christian writings by the mid-second century.

One makes such sweeping statements at one’s own peril. The claim, “nowhere attested in the Bible” is refuted with a single contrary biblical proof-text, and I have offered many, many counter-examples. It’s too easy to refute this sort of “not a single proof” argument (though it is time-consuming — I can attest). It’s like shooting a plastic duck off a pedestal with a shotgun or a cannon.

The definition of God as an indivisible, simple, immaterial, unique, and eternally unchangeable spirit essence appears to derive from the Greek philosophical schools popular during this period.

This is quite odd for Dr. Bickmore to assert, given the clear teaching of one of his own Scriptures, the Book of Mormon:

For I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but He is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity. (Moroni 8:18)For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing? And now, if ye have imagined up unto yourselves a god who doth vary, and in whom there is a shadow of changing, then have ye imagined up unto yourselves a god who is not a God of miracles. (Mormon 9:9-10; Moroni again writing; cf. 9:19, 1 Nephi 10:18, Hebrews 13:8,Doctrine and Covenants, 20:12)

Some Christian writers frankly admitted this correspondence, and in fact promoted the doctrine as a ready defense against the attacks of pagan critics. Around the turn of the third century, Tertullian wrote, “Whatever attributes therefore you require as worthy of God, must be found in the Father, who is invisible and unapproachable, and placid, and (so to speak) the God of the philosophers.” (8)

It so happens that this work was from Tertullian’s Semi-Montanist period. In any event, it is of little significance to our discussion. Many (probably most) of the Fathers were apologists, and sought common ground with philosophy in order to make the gospel more acceptable to them. We observe the Apostle Paul “incorporating paganism / Greek philosophy” in a sense when he dialogues with the Greek intellectuals and pagan Epicurean and Stoic philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens (Acts 17:16-32). In fact, Paul in this discourse seems quite proficient in understanding the concepts of pagan philosophy.

He compliments their religiosity (17:22), and comments on a pagan “altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ ” (17:23). He then goes on to preach that this “unknown god” is indeed Yahweh, the God of the OT and of the Jews (17:23-24). Then he expands upon the understanding of the true God as opposed to “shrines made by human hands” (17:24-25), and God as Sovereign and Sustaining Creator (17:26-28). In doing so he cites two pagan poets and/or philosophers: Epimenides of Crete (whom he also cites in Titus 1:12) and Aratus of Cilicia (17:28) and expands upon their understanding as well (17:29).

So, according to Dr. Bickmore’s (and overall Mormon) reasoning, the Apostle Paul is clearly guilty of mixing Greek pagan philosophy and Christianity. In other words, he exhibits the disturbing and distinguishing marks of what they claim was a primary cause of the Great Apostasy. After all, it was Paul who stated,

To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. (1 Cor 9:22; NRSV – read the context of 9:19-21).

In the same work, Tertullian stated:

In so far as a human being is able to formulate a definition of God . . . God is the Great Supreme Being existing in eternity, unbegotten, uncreated, without beginning and without end. (1:3:2; from William A. Jurgens, editor and translator, The Faith of the Early Fathers, vol. 1 of 3, Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1970, 138)

This is no different from several verses of the Book of Mormon already recounted, including the most recent two above (not to mention a host of biblical passages). Tertullian merely says of the Father what the allegedly uniquely-inspired Book of Mormon says about Jesus:

. . . the Son, . . . , who is without beginning of days or end of years . . . (Alma 13:9)

In the mid-third century the Christian philosopher Origen wrote, “The Jews indeed, but also some of our people, supposed that God should be understood as a man, that is, adorned with human members and human appearance. But the philosophers despise these stories as fabulous and formed in the likeness of poetic fictions.” (9) As Origen indicated, anthropomorphism seems to have been the standard Jewish interpretation during the first centuries of Christianity,

I shall comment at length on the somewhat complex topic of anthropomorphism later, but as for Origen himself (whom, I am happy to see, is regarded as a “Christian” by Dr. Bickmore, as Tertullian was), he, too, writing around 230 A.D., believes God to be a spirit:

. . . our mind is in itself unable to behold God Himself as He is . . . God, therefore, is not to be thought of as being either a body, or as existing in a body, but as a simple intellectual Being, admitting within Himself no addition of any kind . . . He is the mind and source from which every intellectual being or mind takes its beginning. (The Fundamental Doctrines, 1, 1, 6, in Jurgens, ibid., vol. 1, 193; cf. 1, 1, 8)

and we find the Christian philosopher Justin Martyr making the same generalization about Jewish teachers in a discussion with his Jewish acquaintance, Trypho, in the mid-second century:

And again, when He says, “I shall behold the heavens, the works of Thy fingers,” unless I understand His method of using words, I shall not understand intelligently, but just as your teachers suppose, fancying that the Father of all, the unbegotten God, has hands and feet, and fingers, and a soul, like a composite being; and they for this reason teach that it was the Father Himself who appeared to Abraham and to Jacob. (10)

Of course, Justin Martyr’s own view (c. 155) was also orthodox:

God alone is unbegotten and incorruptible, which is why He is God. Everything else after Him is produced and corruptible. (Dialogue With Trypho the Jew, 5, in Jurgens, ibid., vol. 1, 58)

He himself attributes the OT theophanies to the pre-incarnate Jesus:

. . . Jesus Christ . . . appearing at one time in the guise of fire, and at another time as an incorporeal image . . . Although the Jews were always of the opinion that it was the Father of all who had spoken to Moses, it was in fact the Son of God . . . they are, therefore, justly accused by both the Prophetic Spirit and by Christ Himself of knowing neither the Father nor the Son. (First Apology, 63, in Jurgens, ibid., vol. 1, 54-55)

During the period when the philosophical concept of God was being adopted in Christianity, a moderate position was adopted by some writers, who tried to harmonize a literal interpretation of biblical anthropomorphism with the new doctrine. For instance, Irenaeus, who wrote during the late second century, explicitly stated belief in a philosophical concept of God the Father (11), but stated that the Son was the one who appeared in human form to Moses and the prophets. (12) Irenaeus also said this:

But man He fashioned with His own hands, taking of the purest and finest of earth, in measured wise mingling with the earth His own power; for He gave his frame the outline of His own form, that the visible appearance too should be godlike — for it was an image of God that man was fashioned and set on earth. (13)

I’m delighted that Dr. Bickmore brought up St. Irenaeus (fl. late 2nd cent.), whom he claims takes a “moderate position” — as if his view were at all inclined towards the Mormon heresy. This will provide a classic case study of the selective and fanciful presentation (whether deliberate or not) of a patristic (or biblical) view according to a preconceived bias, when in fact — demonstrably, upon closer examination — no such view existed on the part of the one cited.

Dr. Bickmore got this extract from a work edited by Johannes Quasten. It so happens that I have in my library this great patristic scholar’s four-volume Patrology (Allen, TX: Christian Classics, n.d.). In volume 1, the question of Irenaeus’ theology of God and anthropology (doctrine of man) is taken up. Speaking of Irenaeus’ view of Genesis 1:26-27 and God’s image, Dr. Quasten writes (pp. 294-295):

. . . the words, ‘Let us make man after our image and likeness’ are addressed by the Father to the Son and the Holy Spirit, whom Irenaeus allegorically calls the ‘hands of God’ (Adv Haer. 5, 1, 3; 5, 5 ,1; 5 ,2 8,1)

In other words, the reference to bodily image was (so it would seem) a reference to Christ the incarnate God, and the image of the invisible God, precisely as in orthodox Christianity, and as I argued above. Tertullian held the same view, even as a Semi-Montanist, some 10-20 years later (The Resurrection of the Dead, 6,4), and St. Athanasius teaches it, c. 318 A.D. in his Treatise Against the Pagans, 34:3-4). Note how the “hands of God” are meant allegorically to refer to the Spirit and the Son, not literally God the Father, as Mormon exegesis would have it. St. Irenaeus writes:

When he became incarnate and was made man, he recapitulated in himself the long history of man, summing up and giving us salvation in order that we might receive again in Christ Jesus what we had lost in Adam, that is, the image and likeness of God. (Against Heresies, 3, 18,1;  from Quasten, ibid., vol. 1, 296)

Thus, “the image and likeness of God” for Irenaeus, as for St. Paul, as I think I have shown above, is a spiritual, not a physical concept. We get it back by being saved by Christ, not by merely being human and having a body which is fashioned after that of God the Father. It’s very simple: he says that we lost the image. Since we still have bodies and faces, obviously, he must mean image in a non-physical, spiritual sense. So he is not trying to “harmonize” two conflicting views, as Dr. Bickmore would have us believe; rather, he is simply being consistent with the orthodox Christian and biblical tradition concerning the true nature of the true God. There is no conflict of competing and contrary worldviews here.

Dr. Bickmore, in his footnote #13 for Irenaeus, cites the Church father’s teaching in Against Heresies, 5:6:1 as a corroborating example of the alleged “middle position” Irenaeus is supposedly trying to take with regard to the “image of God” and a physical, “anthropomorphized” god vs. a “Greek philosophical” one. Dr. Quasten describes this passage as a description of “the perfect man who is created after the image of God” (p. 309):

For by the hands of the Father, that is, by the Son and the Spirit, man, and not merely a part of man, was made in the likeness of God . . . the perfect man consists of the commingling and the union of the soul receiving the Spirit of the Father, and the mixture of that fleshly nature which was also moulded after the image of God . . . when the spirit here blended with the soul is united to the body, the man becomes spiritual and perfect because of the outpouring of the Spirit, and this is he who was made in the image and likeness of God . . . if any one take away the image and set aside the body, he cannot then understand this as being a man . . . the commingling and union of all three constitutes the perfect man. (Against Heresies, 5:6:1, in Quasten, ibid., vol. 1, 309-310)

St. Irenaeus, then, is arguing that man consists of body, soul, and spirit, and that to take away any of these components is to deprive man of his essence, as a being made in the image and likeness of God. This has nothing to do with a claim that God the Father has a physical body. We have seen that Irenaeus was referring to the incarnate Christ (not the Father) when he commented on Genesis 1:26-27, and when he refers to theophanies, as Dr. Bickmore himself acknowledged above. He holds, in the same work, that God is eternal and immutable and simple and omnipresent:

God differs from man in this, that God makes, but man is made. Surely that which makes is always the same; but that which is made must receive a beginning, a middle, addition, and increase. (Against Heresies, 4, 11 ,2, in Jurgens, ibid., vol. 1, 94)

Far removed is the Father of all from those things which operate among men, the affections and the passions. He is simple, not composed of parts, without structure, altogether like and equal to Himself alone. He is all mind, all spirit, all thought, all intelligence, all reason . . . (Against Heresies, 2, 13, 3, in Jurgens, ibid., vol. 1, 87)

Who knows the measure of His right hand? . . . that hand which measures immensity; that hand by which by its own measure takes the measure of the heavens, and which holds in its palm the earth and its depths; which contains in itself the width and length and depth below and height above of all creation; which is seen and heard and understood, and which is invisible? (Against Heresies, 4, 19, 2, in Jurgens, ibid., vol. 1, 96)

Therefore, none of this argumentation from St. Irenaeus supports the Mormon theology of God at all; not in the slightest. His is no “moderate position.” It is an orthodox Christian, biblical position.

That God the Father is a spirit was attested to by the early Church Fathers Aristides of Athens, c. 140 (Apology, 4), Tatian the Syrian, c. 165-175 (Address to the Greeks, 4), Athenagoras, c. 177 (Supplication for the Christians, 10), the Catholic-period Tertullian, c. 197 (Apology, 21,11), St. Cyril of Jerusalem, c. 350 (Catechetical Lectures, 6,11), and St. Hilary of Poitiers, c. 365 (Commentary on Ps 129 [130], section 3).

The Shepherd of Hermas (c. 155), a generation earlier than Irenaeus, expresses the orthodox and biblical view of God the Father:

God is one . . . He created all things and set them in order, and brought out of non-existence into existence everything that is, and . . . He contains all things while He Himself is uncontained. (in Jurgens, ibid., vol. 1, 34)

Likewise, St. Theophilus of Antioch, writing c. 181:

It is the attribute of God — of the Most High and Almighty and of the living God — not only to be everywhere, but also to hear all and to see all; for He can in no way be contained in a place . . . God is not contained, but is Himself the place of everything . . .You will, therefore, say to me, “You said that God cannot be contained in a place. How now, then, do you say that He walked around in Paradise?” . . . His Word, through whom He created all things, being His Power and His Wisdom, assuming the person of the Father and Lord of the universe, went to the garden in the person of God, and talked with Adam . . . And what else is this voice, but the Word of God, which also is His Son, — not as poets and writers of myths tell of the sons of gods begotten of intercourse, but, as truth recounts, the Word which always exists internally in the heart of God? For before anything was created, He had this Counsellor, being His own Mind and Thought . . . The Word, then, being God and being generated from God, is sent to any place at the will of the Father of the universe; and when He comes, having been sent by Him and being found in place, He is both heard and seen. (To Autolycus, 2,3; 2,22, in Jurgens, ibid., vol. 1, 74, 76)

So on the nature of God we can make the following points:

1. The standard Jewish concept of God during the early Christian period was anthropomorphic.

Only in the sense of describing Him in human terms so that He could be understood at all; not literally, especially not in this period, where — in their reaction against polytheism and idolatry — they placed extreme emphasis on their belief that God was a spirit. I’ve dug up three sources in my library which can speak fairly authoritatively to this question, from the Jewish religious, archaeological, and history of theology perspectives. First, I cite Rabbi Isidore Epstein, a very learned scholar, who also had doctorates in philosophy and literature. A prolific author, he edited the 36-volume Babylonian Talmud in English. I think we can safely say that he would know what Jews have believed about God’s attributes and nature. I quote from the standard reference work, Judaism (Baltimore: Pelican Books, 1959, 136-138):

Next to the doctrine of His unity is that of His omnipotence . . . His power has no other limit than His will. Even the forces of Nature are subject to His will, and all events, whatever their character — whether so-called natural or supernatural — are equally the immediate work of His hands. Judaism further emphasizes God’s omnipresence . . . not necessarily in the sense that God is co-extensive with creation, but that His providence extends over all creation . . .Closely connected with the idea of the transcendence of God is that of divine incorporeality. God is, in Jewish teaching, pure spirit, free from all limitations of matter and weaknesses of the flesh. The doctrine of divine incorporeality is among the oldest in Hebrew scriptures and lies at the basis of the prohibition of graven images. The anthropomorphic descriptions of God that abound in the Bible have from the earliest times been understood as mere figures of speech employed to impress upon the mind the reality and providence of God and to instruct man in the knowledge of His ways. ‘We describe God,’ in the words of the Talmud, ‘by terms borrowed from His creation in order to make them intelligible to the human ear.’ (Mekilta on Exodis 19.18).

Another attribute stressed by Judaism is God’s omniscience . . . God is also ‘living and existing to eternity’ (Midrash Leviticus Rabbah, vi, 6). He is ‘the everlasting’ (Chei-ha-Olamim) . . . His omnipotence holds out the certainty of His over-ruling power to control all things towards the ultimate triumph of His purpose. His omnipresence and omniscience carry with them the assurance that no machination, whether in thought, word, or deed, can circumvent the ultimate realization of His purpose. His transcendence and incorporeality free Him from all limitations of Nature or matter, which would prove a hindrance to fulfillment; whilst His eternity is a guarantee that His purpose, however thwarted and delayed, will in the end prevail. ‘For the Lord of hosts hath purposed, who shall disannul it?’ (Is. 14.27).

William Foxwell Albright was one of the greatest archaeologists of all time, an Orientalist, biblical scholar, and Professor of Semitic Languages at Johns Hopkins University. He received honorary degrees from Yale, and four well-known Jewish colleges, among others. In his Archaeology and the Religion of Ancient Israel (Garden City, New York: 1969 [orig. 1942], 112-113), he states:

We may reconstruct, in very broad lines, a rough picture of what Yahwism was like in the eleventh century B.C., after the process of consolidation had reached a relatively stable phase . . . We begin with the concept of Yahweh Himself, presupposing the monotheistic point of view which we have described elsewhere as consisting essentially of the following elements: belief in the existence of only one God, who is the Creator of the world and the giver of all life; the belief that God is holy and just, without sexuality or mythology; the belief that God is invisible to man except under special conditions and that no graphic nor plastic representation of Him is permissible; the belief that God is not restricted to any part of His creation, but is equally at home in heaven, in the desert, or in Palestine; the belief that God is so far superior to all created beings, whether heavenly bodies, angelis messengers, demons, or false gods, that He remains absolutely unique.

Lastly, I cite a book called The Theology of God: Commentary (edited by Edmund J. Fortman, Milwaukee: Bruce Pub. Co., 1968):

There is no trace of speculation among the Hebrews about the origin of God. Yahweh has no history, no consort . . . , no family; he is just there from the start. His preexistence and endless continuance are taken for granted. The world has a beginning, God has none [Ps 90:2-3 cited] . . . Creative power is seen to imply eternal (or better, everlasting) existence [Job 38:4 ff.; Pr 8:22 ff. cited in a footnote] . . .Once the notion of God as Creator became clear, the Israelites began to realize that God is not only present to them, but present everywhere [cites Ps 139: 8 ff.] . . .

God is “Completely Other,” Unchangeable, a Spirit . . . if the men of the Bible are aware of God’s presence, they are even more conscious of the fundamental distinction between God and man; that the distance is in fact infinite. God is, then, “completely other” or transcendent. Though many anthropomorphic expressions are used to show God’s closeness, and especially that he is a living person inviting us to a personal relationship, nonetheless he remains wholly other. he is not a man but God [Hos 11:9 in footnote]. The “otherness” of God is recognized in his unchangeableness. [Mal 3:6 in footnote] . . . Everything else is fickle and changing, but not God. [Num 23:19; Ps 102:27 ff. in footnote] . . . The real basis for this “otherness” and unchangeableness of God, this big difference between God and men, is given us by Isaiah [31:3]: namely, the one is Spirit, the other flesh. (Wilfrid F. Dewan, 3-5; from The One God [Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1963, 60-68] )

To the prophets, . . . the God of Sinai, enthroned amid clouds of storm and fire, . . . appeared rather as the God of the Covenant, without image or form, unapproachable in his holiness . . .The Jewish God-idea, of course, had to go through many stages of development before it reached the concept of a transcendental and spiritual god. It was necessary first . . . that a strictly imageless worship impress the people with the idea that Israel’s God was both invisible and incorporeal . . . Centuries of gradual ripening of thought were still necessary for the growth of this conception . . . Israel’s sages required centuries of effort to remove all anthropomorphic and anthropopathic notions of God, and thus to elevate him to the highest realm of spirituality. Yet . . . while Judaism insists on the Deity’s transcending all finite and sensory limitations, it never lost the sense of the close relationship between man and his Maker . . . God is all in all; he is over all; he is both immanent and transcendent. (K. Kohler [Jewish], 7-8; from Jewish Theology [New York: The Macmillan Co., 1923], 52-63, 72-84)

In conclusion, we see that the overwhelming, almost inexorable trend in Jewish thought about God was — contrary to Dr. Bickmore’s claim — definitely away from a crude physical notion and tendency to anthropomorphism (even though the latter is said by biblical commentators to be simply a literary device to aid in understanding, not a metaphysical blueprint for the actual appearance of God in His essence). This was already in full force, according to the biblical archaeologist Dr. Albright, as far back as the 11th century B.C. , even before the time of King David. This trend and legitimate development did not reverse itself, but became more and more decisive in Judaism as time went on.

2. We find some anthropomorphic statements such as Stephen’s vision of the Father and Son in the New Testament.

This is a common Hebrew literary device, and serves to prove my point. The “right hand” in Hebrew thought signified “power” (see, e.g., Ex 15:6,12, Job 40:14, Ps 18:35, 20:6, 31:15, 1 Kings 2:19, Is 41:10, etc.). The Hebrew yad (“hand”) is actually translated “power” in Joshua 8:20. And Jesus stated at His trial (Mk 14:52; RSV):

“. . . you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

So Stephen saw an actual or symbolic vision which was nothing more than a representation of what Jesus had already stated, before His trial, during it, and after His Resurrection:

MATTHEW 11:27 All things are delivered unto me of my Father: . . . [cf. Jn 16:15, 17:10]


MATTHEW 28:18 . . . All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.

3. The concept of God adopted by later Christians was identical in essentials to that taught by the contemporary Greek philosophical schools.

Whatever philosophy was consistent with Chrisianity would not be improper to utilize (as we saw Paul do in Athens). But to assert that none of these attributes of God were present in Hebrew thought prior to the rise of Greek philosophy, is patently false, as the abundant biblical and historical evidences presented above and below testify. What is radically new are the various false notions of the heretics. Gnostics, e.g., were far more influenced by Platonic philosophy, taken in a certain direction, than Christianity ever was.

So we are told by the LDS that there was a total apostasy. To even have a “complete apostasy,” however, by definition, there must be some trace of what was forsaken in the record of primitive Christianity and the Judaism which preceded it in God’s progressive revelation and history of salvation — in the Bible itself. I maintain that distinctive Mormon theology is absolutely absent from Scripture. All Dr. Bickmore has given us so far as a supposed compelling proof is the misinterpreted text of man being made in God’s image, and equally mistaken constant recourse to Hebrew biblical anthropomorphism, as if this proves that God the Father has a body (more on this below).

As always, Catholicism maintains the sensible ground of orthodoxy. The Gnostics, Docetics, and various other heretics taught that matter was evil, and denied the goodness of the Incarnation and creation. Mormons, in effect, seem to believe that spirit is evil (or at least far inferior), making even God the Father material and sexual (so that God is made in man’s image, rather than the biblical vice versa). Catholics take the biblical position that both matter and spirit are very good: God the Father is a Spirit, and God the Son is incarnate: “the Word became flesh.” The true Church doesn’t have to slant one way or another, according to some fashionable false philosophy which arbitrarily decries something or other in God’s creation or in God’s nature as “unacceptable.”

4. No Christian writers are known to have explicitly taught a philosophical concept of God before the mid-second century.

i) This assertion depends on the definition of “philosophical concept of God.” Who determines that, and on what basis; with what unimpeachable authority?

ii) One has to establish that philosophy is a bad and unbiblical and unChristian thing through and through, which would be quite difficult to do, persuasively or authoritatively. Jesus said that we are to love God with our “mind” as well as all our heart, soul, and strength. The nature of the historical proofs he offered for His Resurrection, and His miracles in general — though they are more properly classified as legal-type proofs — nevertheless do not suggest an antithesis to philosophy or the reasoning with which it begins and builds itself.

iii) Dr. Bickmore assumes that the basic concepts which Christian philosophy has built upon were entirely absent from pre-philosophical, practical, not particularly abstract Jewish theology, which is manifestly not the case. The concepts may have been, and indeed were, present in kernel, or in relatively undefined and unsystematic form. This gets into the inevitability of increased understanding and development of doctrine. The Greek heritage of rationality and systematic thought is a good thing, provided it is used by the Christian (and the Christian Church) with wisdom, just as the Roman genius for organization was good for the Church, which incorporated it into itself and “baptized” it for the sake of the kingdom (while Communism and Naziism also used organization for ill and evil ends).

iv) Paul arguably was “doing philosophical theology” on Mars Hill in Athens, and on numerous occasions where we are informed that he was arguing and disputing with the pagan philsophers (e.g., Acts 17:17-18, 18:4, 19:9-10). We know that he was very well-educated by the rabbi Gamaliel, and this certainly would have included some philosophy, in that Hellenic-influenced environment (in Asia Minor), at that time. Why would God have allowed the premier Christian evangelist among the Apostles to have been brainwashed by (and to engage in) damaging, diabolical “philosophy”?

v) In order to make a rational, believable argument that “philosophy is a bad thing” one must paradoxically and ironically adopt some sort of philosophy themselves, if only the syllogistic logic which itself was derived initially from the ancient Greeks, who are apparently so despised in the Mormon worldview, and siezed upon as the scapegoat for the supposed total apostasy of Christianity (until rescued from oblivion by Joseph Smith some 1700 years later). It is inescapable, and I firmly believe the proverb: “the most dangerous philosophy is the unacknowledged one.”

5. Some of the earliest Christians to adopt the philosophical definitions took Biblical anthropomorphism quite literally, but ascribed it to the Son.

True, as I would do, and as many orthodox Catholics and Protestants and Orthodox would do. This is, of course, mostly applicable to the theophanies.

6. Therefore, we can see a definite trend from Jewish anthropomorphism toward the God of the philosophers.

But Dr. Bickmore — apart from his demonstrably inaccurate characterization of the actual history — sees this as a corruption, whereas I contend that ancient and Christian-era Judaism could legitimately develop into Christianity, incorporating, among other things, philosophy as a “handmaiden” of theology (it is not an “either/or” scenario), so that Christianity could be a reasonable faith, not antithetical to the mind and the thinking person, and to be able to give reasons for itself (1 Peter 3:15-16) beyond the simplistic and epistemologically inadequate “burning in the bosom” as some sort of persuasive rationale to believe in anything.

3. Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, edited by Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City; Deseret Book Company, 1976), 345.
4. D&C; 130:22.
5. George Brantl, Catholicism (New York: George Braziller, 1962), 41.
6. Genesis 1:26-27.
7. Christopher Stead, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 120.
8. Tertullian, — Against Marcion 2:27,– The Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldon, 10 volumes (Buffalo, New York: The Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1885-1896), 3:319. Hereafter cited as ANF.
9. Origen, Homilies on Genesis 3:1, translated by Ronald E. Heine (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1982), 89. (From the Fathers of the Church translation series.)
10. Justin Martyr, — Dialogue With Trypho 114,– ANF 1:256.
11. Irenaeus, — Against Heresies 4:3:1, — ANF 1:465.
12. Irenaeus, — Against Heresies 4:7:2-4, — ANF 1:470.
13. Irenaeus, — Proof of the Apostolic Preaching 11, — in Ancient Christian Writers: The Works of the Fathers in Translation, edited by Quasten, Johannes, and J.C. Plumpe (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America): 16:54; see also — Against Heresies 5:6:1, — ANF 1:531.


The Old Testament is filled with theophanies (literally, Godforms), instances where God spoke or revealed Himself in angelic manifestations, and it is accepted by all Old testament scholars almost without qualification that anthropomorphisms (ascribing human characteristics to God) are the logical explanation of many of the encounters of God with man. To argue, as the Mormons do, thatsuch occurrences indicate that God has a body of flesh and bone . . . is on the face of the matter untenable . . . they have overlooked one important factor. This factor is that of literary metaphor, extremely common in Old Testament usage. If the Mormons are to be consistent in their interpretation, they should find great difficulty in the Psalm where God is spoken of as “covering with his feathers,” and man “trusting under his wings.” If God has eyes, ears, arms, hands, nostrils, mouths, etc., why then does He not have feathers and wings? The Mormons have never given a satisfactory answer to this, because it is obvious that the anthropomorphic and metaphorical usage of terms relative to God are literary devices to convey His concern and association with man. In like manner, metaphors such as feathers and wings indicate His tender concern for the protection of those who “dwell in the secret place of the Most High and abide under the shadow of the Almighty” . . . Jesus was not a door (John 10:9), . . . a vine (John 15:1), a roadway (John 14:6), . . . and other metaphorical expressions any more than “our God is a consuming fire” means that Jehovah should be construed as a blast furnace or a volcanic cone. (Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, revised edition, 1985, 207-208)

How the Holy Ghost became a god without ever assuming a body (necessary for every other male to reach godhood) has never been answered satisfactorily. The Apostle James Talmage argues that God must have a body of parts and passions, because “an immaterial body cannot exist,” yet he accepts the idea of the Holy Ghost as being a god who is pure spirit . . .The only anthropomorphic references to God in the Book of Mormon are several references to the finger of God, but as Harry Ropp points out, “This anthropomorphism does not prove that God has a physical body any more than Psalm 91:4 (KJV), ‘He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust,’ Proves that God is a cosmic chicken.” God is called “Great Spirit” (Alma 18:26-28) in the Book of Mormon, but he is never referred to as a glorified man . . . By the same argument Mormons should believe that the Holy Ghost has the glorified body of a dove (see Mt 3:16). Of course, they do not. (Donald S. Tingle, Mormonism, Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1981, 33-34 / James Talmage, A Study of the Articles of Faith [Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1975], 48 / Harry Ropp, The Mormon Papers [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1977], 93)

This anthropomorphic procedure called forth Divine rebuke so early as Ps 50:21: “Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such a one as thyself” . . . But . . . even that rich storehouse of aparently crude anthropomorphisms, the OT, when it ascribes to Deity physical characters, mental and moral attributes, like those of man, merely means to make the Divine nature and operations intelligible, not to transfer to Him the defects and limitations of human character and life . . . It is of the essence of religious consciousness to recognize the analogy subsisting between God’s relations to man, and man’s relations to his fellow . . .It is a mere modern — and rather umillumined — abuse of the term anthropomorphic which tries to affix it, as a term of reproach, to every hypothetical endeavor to frame a conception of God. In the days of the Greeks, it was only the ascription to the gods of human or bodily form that led Xenophanes to complain of anthropomorphism. This Xenophanes naturally took to be an illegitimate endeavor to raise one particular kind of being — one form of the finite — into the place of the Infinite. Hence he declared, “There is one God, greatest of all gods and men, who is like to mortal creatures neither in form nor in mind.”

But the progressive anthropomorphism of Greece is seen less in the humanizing of the gods than in the claim that “men are mortal gods,” the idea being, as Aristotle said, that men become gods by transcendent merit. In this exaltation of the nature of man, the anthropomorphism of Greece is in complete contrast with the anthropomorphism of Israel, which was prone to fashion its Deity, not after the likeness of anything in the heavens above, but after something in the earth beneath. (The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ed. James Orr, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1956, vol. 1 of 5, 152-153, “Anthropomorphism”)

It looks as though the revival of Greek pagan mythology and religious philosophy is all on the side of Mormonism, rather than with Judaism and Christianity. So this turns Dr. Bickmore’s historical argument and polemical scenario upside down. If Mormon doctrine is grounded in any ancient (i.e., before Christ) historical teaching at all (as it is not found in the Bible or the Book of Mormon), this is perhaps the closest we will come to discovering it: pagan Greek polytheism.

The Bible states that humanity was created in the image of God, but what does it mean to be created in the image of God? Clearly, we are not created in the physical image of God, because Judaism steadfastly maintains that God is incorporeal and has no physical appearance. Maimonides points out that the Hebrew words translated as “image” and “likeness” in Genesis 1,27 do not refer to the physical form of a thing. The word for “image” in Genesis 1,27 is “tzelem”, which refers to the nature or essence of a thing, as in Psalms 73,20, “you will despise their image (tzel’mam)”. You despise a person’s nature and not a person’s physical appearance. The word for physical form, Maimonides explains, is “to’ar”, as in Genesis 39,6, “and Joseph was beautiful of form (to’ar) and fair to look upon”. Similarly, the word used for “likeness” is “demut”, which is used to indicate a simile, not identity of form. For example, “He is like (damuno) a lion” in Psalms 17,12 refers not to similar appearance, but to similar nature.What is it in our nature that is God-like? Rashi explains that we are like God in that we have the ability to understand and discern. Maimonides elaborates that by using our intellect, we are able to perceive things without the use of our physical senses, an ability that makes us like God, who perceives without having physical senses. (From the Jewish Torah 101 website [Mechon Mamre], “Human Nature”)

A term used in its widest sense to signify the tendency of man to conceive the activities of the external world as the counterpart of his own. A philosophic system which borrows its method from this tendency is termed Philosophic Anthropomorphism. The word, however, has been more generally employed to designate the play of that impulse in religious thought. In this sense, Anthropomorphism is the ascription to the Supreme Being of the form, organs, operations, and general characteristics of human nature. This tendency is strongly manifested in primitive heathen religions, in all forms of polytheism,especially in the classic paganism of Greece and Rome. The charge of Anthropomorphism was urged against the Greeks by their own philosopher, Xenophanes of Colophon. The first Christian apologists upbraided the pagans for having represented God, who is spiritual, as a mere magnified man, subject to human vices and passions.The Bible, especially the Old Testament, abounds in anthropomorphic expressions. Almost all the activities of organic life are ascribed to the Almighty. He speaks, breathes, sees, hears; He walks in the garden; He sits in the heavens, and the earth is His footstool. It must, however, be noticed that in the Bible locutions of this kind ascribe human characteristics to God only in a vague, indefinite way. He is never positively declared to have a body or a nature the same as man’s; and human defects and vices are never even figuratively attributed to Him. The metaphorical, symbolical character of this language is usually obvious. The all-seeing Eye signifies God’s omniscience; the everlasting Arms His omnipotence; His Sword the chastisement of sinners; when He is said to have repented of having made man, we have an extremely forcible expression conveying His abhorrence of sin.

The justification of this language is found in the fact that truth can be conveyed to men only through the medium of human ideas and thoughts, and is to be expressed only in language suited to their comprehension. The limitations of our conceptual capacity oblige us to represent God to ourselves in ideas that have been originally drawn from our knowledge of self and the objective world. The Scriptures themselves amply warn us against the mistake of interpreting their figurative language in too literal a sense. They teach that God is spiritual, omniscient, invisible, omnipresent, ineffable. Insistence upon the literal interpretation of the metaphorical led to the error of the Anthropomorphites.

. . . as mind and personality are the noblest forms of reality, we think most worthily of God when we conceive Him under the attributes of mind, will, intelligence, personality. At the same time, when the theologian or philosopher employs these and similar terms with reference to God, he understands them to be predicated not in
exactly the same sense that they bear when applied to man, but in a sense controlled and qualified by the principles laid down in the doctrine of analogy . . .

Anthropomorphites (Audians)

A sect of Christians that arose in the fourth century in Syria and extended into Scythia, sometimes called Audians, from their founder, Audius. Taking the text of Genesis, i, 27, literally, Audius held that God has a human form. The error was so gross, and, to use St. Jerome’s expression (Epist. vi, Ad Pammachium), so absolutely senseless, that it showed no vitality. Towards the end of the century it appeared among some bodies of African Christians. The Fathers who wrote against it dismiss it almost contemptuously. In the time of Cyril of Alexandria, there were some anthropomorphites among the Egyptian monks. He composed a short refutation of their error, which he attributed to extreme ignorance. (Adv. Anthrop. in P.G., LXXVI.) Concerning the charges of anthropomorphism preferred against Melito, Tertullian, Origen, and Lactantius, see the respective articles. The error was revived in northern Italy during the tenth century, but was effectually suppressed by the bishops, notably by the learned Ratherius, Bishop of Verona. (The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I, Copyright © 1907 by Robert Appleton Company; Online Edition Copyright © 1999 by Kevin Knight; written by James J. Fox; transcribed by Bob Elder)

We have at last found a heretical post-apostolic precursor to Mormonism: the Anthropomorphites, who arose in the fourth century. In another section below, we shall discover a few more likely candidates for background influence and origins of the peculiar, thoroughly unbiblical Mormon theology.

NUMBERS 23:19 God [is] not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent . . . (cf. 1 Sam 15:29)

ISAIAH 31:3 Now the Egyptians [are] men, and not God . . .

EZEKIEL 28:9 Wilt thou yet say before him that slayeth thee, I [am] God? but thou [shalt be] a man, and no God . . .

HOSEA 11:9 . . . I [am] God, and not man . . .

ACTS 17:29 Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.

ROMANS 1:20-23 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen . . . when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

. . . Behold, is not this the Great Spirit who doth send such great punishments upon this people . . .? . . . And they answered the king, and said: Whether he be the Great Spirit or a man, we know not . . . (Alma 18:2-3; cf. 18:4-5,11)

And then Ammon said: Believest thou that there is a Great Spirit? And he said, Yea. And Ammon said: This is God. And Ammon said unto him again: Believest thou that this Great Spirit, who is God, created all things which are in heaven and in the earth? And he said: Yea . . . (Alma 18:26-29; cf. 19:25-27)

And the king said: Is God that Great Spirit that brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem? And Aaron said unto him: Yea, he is that Great Spirit, and he created all things both in heaven and in earth . . . (Alma 22:9-10)


EXODUS 15:8 And with the blast of thy nostrils the waters were gathered together, the floods stood upright as an heap, and the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea.

PSALM 57:1 Be merciful unto me, O God, . . . in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, . . . (cf. Ps 17:8, 36:7, 61:4, 63:7, Is 8:8, Mt 23:37, Lk 13:34)

PSALM 78:35 And they remembered that God was their rock, . . . (cf. Dt 32:4,15,18,37, 1 Sam 2:2, 2 Sam 22:32, Ps 18:2,31,46, 42:9)

PSALM 91:4 He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust . . .

DEUTERONOMY 9:26 I prayed therefore unto the LORD, and said, O Lord GOD, destroy not thy people and thine inheritance, which thou hast redeemed through thy greatness, which thou hast brought forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand. (cf. Dt 5:15, 7:8)

DEUTERONOMY 4:24 For the LORD thy God is a consuming fire, . . . (cf. Dt 9:3)

For further reading, see the superb, comprehensive, and copiously documented article: God: Incorporeal and Invisible, by William Kilgore, and Mormon Claims Answered (Chapter Two: God), from Jerald and Sandra Tanner’s profusely researched website, Utah Lighthouse Ministry.


Uploaded by Dave Armstrong on 22 December 2001, with the permission of Dr. Barry Bickmore.

Photo credit: The “Scannel Daguerreotype”: believed to possibly be a photograph of Mormon founder Joseph Smith (1805-1844) [public domain]



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