The Doctrine of Exaltation, Godhood or Deification

Some criticize the Church because of one doctrine we hold most dear, which is exaltation.  This has also been referred to at different times and places as godhood, deification, divinization, taking upon the divine nature, making divine, or theosis (also theiosis, theopoiesis, theōsis; from the Greek Θέωσις).  It is, in its most basic description, that man may become like God.  Many of our fellow Christians see this as the ultimate blasphemy and heresy.  How could man ever become like God?  Why would he want to do so?  Doesn’t this go against everything God has taught through his holy word?  The reality is that this concept has been a fundamental part of Christian thought since early Christianity, found throughout the Bible and in early Christian writings.  Unfortunately, this Christian teaching has been largely lost over the ages.

God restored the doctrine of exaltation through the Prophet Joseph Smith, as part of the restoration of the church of Jesus Christ.  Some have thought that Joseph’s teaching of this concept was a rather late invention of the prophet, near the end of his life.  However, the doctrine can be found even in the Book of Mormon, which was published before the church was formally organized.

I recently came across two great articles that were published that discuss this topic.

  • Daniel C. Peterson, “Defending the Faith: Exaltation isn’t a new doctrine,” Deseret News, 8 November 2012.  Peterson shows in this article how the doctrine of exaltation, or theosis, was not a late revelation in the restoration of the Church, but is found throughout the teachings of Joseph Smith.
  • Elder Tad R. Callister, Presidency of the Seventy, “Our Identity and Our Destiny,” BYU Devotional Address, Campus Education Week, 14 August 2012.  Elder Callister fantastically presents five witnesses of the truth of the doctrine of deification: the testimony of the scriptures, the witness of the early Christian writers, the wisdom of poets and authors, the power of logic, and the voice of history.

I highly recommend these two articles.  If you want even further in-depth study, then I also suggest William J. Hamblin’s excellent recent publication in the Interpreter journal, “‘I Have Revealed Your Name’: The Hidden Temple in John 17,” where Hamblin discusses the chapter of John 17 in fine detail, revealing the strong temple concepts embedded in the text, including theosis.  He also includes an appendix with a bibliography of twenty-three recent scholars’ books on the subject of deification, published just in the last decade, all of them Christian, that you may dive into to learn more about this very Christian teaching.

3 Comments

  1. Posted November 8, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    … the most important and powerful idea in Mormonism.

  2. Troy Marsh
    Posted November 13, 2012 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    This “pearl” of great price is the most beautiful doctrines. It is a powerful and transforming idea only if we truly tap into the reality of it. Many other sacred traditions discuss the idea of the divine spark in man or man as god incarnate. Some speak of it and others discuss how to become more like God such as living with the positive virtues we find in the life of Christ. Traditions older than Christianity speak of the rainbow body or the golden dragon body to describe how radiant one may become as we tap into this divine spark that we all have. Thanks for this article.

  3. Posted December 31, 2012 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    Personally, I find the doctrine the most obvious conclusion if one examines the implications of the atonement. To ignore the implications seem a bit like me to someone hearing about the birds and the bees but still insisting that babies are delivered by storks.

    Why perfect man? I understand why people think the idea is blasphemous, but the objections just don’t hold any water to me.

    So we’re going to have a bunch of immortal beings clothed with glory in resurrected bodies with non functioning reproductive organs, unmarried and sitting around singing songs forever? Yes, I’m really oversimplifying it but think about it, is having a spouse and children an evil thing? We experience that here, why not there and why not in a state of greater joy?

    When Isaac became a father, did it lessen Abraham? On the contrary, the entire Abrahamic covenant had at its core the promise of endless posterity. So are Abraham’s blessings greater than God’s? Why cannot God raise heavenly posterity? Perhaps the Abrahamic covenant is a reflection of heavenly blessings in an earthly form.

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