April 2013 Ensign Teaches about Deification and Theosis

Some people argue that the Church doesn’t officially teach that we believe that man can become like God (sometimes termed deification or theosis). Such a claim is simply untrue. I clearly remember teaching the doctrine as a missionary; it was on the very first page of the first discussion. Most Christians already believe that God is our Father, and that we are His children, and as such we can become like Him. Indeed, we should strive to become like Him.

It is likewise included in the new missionary guide Preach My Gospel, used by all current missionaries in the field:

God is the Father of our spirits. We are literally His children, and He loves us. We lived as spirit children of our Father in Heaven before we were born on this earth. We were not, however, like our Heavenly Father, nor could we ever become like Him and enjoy all the blessings that He enjoys without the experience of living in mortality with a physical body…

We are physically separated from God during life on earth, but He wants every one of His children to find peace in this life and a fulness of joy in His presence after this life. He wants us to become like Him.1

This is the whole purpose of the gospel of Jesus Christ, to teach us and enable us to become like Christ, and hence like the Father. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

The Church published a great article this month in the Church’s official magazine, the April 2013 Ensign, which reaffirms this foundational belief and teaching. The article is called “The Restoration and Early Christian Teachings,” by Michael R. Ash, who has done a lot of great work with FAIR. Here is a selection from that article, showing that theosis was an early Christian belief as well:

Heirs to the Father

Latter-day Saints believe that our Heavenly Father wants us to inherit all that He has so that we can become like Him and His Son. The Epistle to the Hebrews taught that Jesus is “appointed heir of all things” (Hebrews 1:2). Paul taught that the righteous will become “joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17), and Peter taught that they would be “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).

Many early Christians believed that the righteous could become like the Father. Irenaeus wrote that Jesus Christ became “what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.”2

Clement of Alexandria wrote that Jesus became man so that we may “learn from man how man may become God” and explained that because the righteous will become so “near to the Lord, there awaits them restoration to everlasting contemplation; and they are called by the appellation of gods, being destined to sit on thrones with the other gods that have been first put in their places by the Saviour.”3

Even as late as the third century, Hippolytus, bishop of Portus, explained that the righteous will become “a companion of the Deity, and a co-heir with Christ, no longer enslaved with lusts or passions, and never again wasted by disease. For thou hast become God.”4

The early Christian writings on deification are so extensive that non-LDS scholar G. L. Prestige stated that the early Christian Church “taught that the destiny of man was to become like God, and even to become deified.”5

Notes:
  1. Preach My Gospel, 48 []
  2. Irenaeus, “Against Heresies,” in Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1:526. []
  3. Clement of Alexandria, “Exhortation to the Heathen,” in Ante-Nicene Fathers, 2:174; and Stromata 7:10, in Ante-Nicene Fathers,2:539. []
  4. Hippolytus, “The Refutation of All Heresies,” in Ante-Nicene Fathers, 5:153. []
  5. G. L. Prestige, God in Patristic Thought, (1952), 73. []

12 Comments

  1. Posted April 24, 2013 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    When you really think about it, it seems hard to understand why anyone who believes in the New Testament would have a hard time with the idea of deification.

    So because of Christ we have the opportunity be resurrected into an immortal body that will live forever, become an heir of exaltation and sit in his throne as a king and priest. What label would you assign to a being like that, what type of being is that?

    Here’s another way to look at it: I am a father (little “f”) and so is God, but I am not THE Father, he is. In the doctrine of deification, a sealed couple does not become or replace GOD, they become one with him and in order to become one with God, this couple ends up becoming gods themselves.

    I think learning about deification is a bit like learning the “birds and the bees” for the first time for those unfamiliar with the doctrine. For example, as children we knew that babies existed but we never considered how they got here; along the same lines, we know there is a heaven and life with God but we never really consider what we’ll be and what we’ll do there.

  2. Posted April 24, 2013 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, with all of the “becoming like our Heavenly Father” talk in official outlets it is strange people sometimes thinks we don’t teach this doctrine much any more.

  3. Posted April 25, 2013 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    Bryce,
    I think most Mormons (and many Christians) agree in some form of theosis. For Christians who do not believe it, I think it is an issue of Trinitarianism: God is of a pure substance. The things he creates are of an impure substance, and therefore cannot be exactly like God is. Meanwhile, LDS believe we are made of the same stuff God is made of, and while we are in an impure and imperfect state right now, we can be made pure and perfect through Christ – thus worthy of deification.

    For LDS, I think there are two outstanding questions:
    1. What exactly does “theosis” or “deification” mean? – Does it mean we are exactly equal to God? Does it mean we are equal to Christ, but subordinate to God? Does it mean we are subordinate to both Father and Son? Does it mean we will create our own worlds and populate them? Does it mean something else entirely?

    2. The KFD concept that God the Father was once a man, while believed by many LDS, is not necessarily official doctrine of the Church. I know that Lorenzo Snow’s couplet made it into the PH/RS manual, however the focus there is on theosis of man, not on God having once been man. Also previous statements by Pres Hinckley admitting that some things have been taught in the past, but we just do not really know what the actual story is, should produce some caution on this concept. Even some LDS philosophers, such as Blake Ostler, have doubts on “God the Father as man”.

  4. Posted April 25, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Gerald: thanks for the shout-out and your wise comments. However, I have no doubt about the Father having once been as man — that is, the Father emptied himself of the fulness of his divine glory to become mortal on another planet and died and was resurrected. What I have doubts about are: (1) the assumption that the Father was growing to become fully divine after an eternity of not having been fully divine; (2) whether spirits are literally born in some sense; (3) whether spirits are begotten in some sexual sense.

    With respect to (1) I maintain that just as Christ, the Father was fully divine before becoming mortal and then emptied himself of the fulness of divinity in order to experience a mortal life with limitations that we suffer (though I deny that the Father ever sinned). With respect to (2) I doubt that spirits are literally born and believe that Joseph Smith taught that spirits as such are eternal. With respect to (3) I just do not know that answer; but I doubt it (just why it would be necessary and why resurrected beings would give birth to spirits seems really strange to me).

    Further, I believe that the New Testament teaches a robust form of deification or theosis rather clearly.

  5. Posted April 25, 2013 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Great thoughts here. Blake, do you believe that we can grow to become fully divine?

  6. Posted April 25, 2013 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    Why wouldn’t spirit bodies be born? What use is gender if not for procreative powers that we often refer to as being a “miracle” in and of themselves?

    I also don’t have a problem with God the Father once being like us, living a life, making mistakes, sinning and finding redemption. I think that this idea only makes the power of the atonement that much more impressive; I mean, you can’t get more impressive than THAT.

    If our scarlet sins can be made white as the driven snow and remembered no more, then why should any eternal being’s past be of concern. If anything it gives me more respect for God and not less.

    I really think that most religious people have a “cabbage patch” view of divine things. Most kids think that babies come from the stork, the cabbage patch or “out of mommies belly” without every pondering the implications. Everything is cute, sanitary and rated G. We think our dads are never wrong and can beat up any other dad in the world. Then we grow up and discover reality.

    First we are disappointed that things are not the unicorn fairlyland that we thought they were. Then with age and wisdom we see that reality is actually more vibrant and beautiful that we ever imagined, even with all its gritty truths.

    Unlike our mortal fathers who are still growing and becoming, our Heavenly Father has already arrived and that’s the main difference. We want him to be amazing and more than we could ever imagine and I honestly believe that he is, especially if I ponder the spectrum of growth he may have endured, being once like me and then how he is now. That the atonement makes something like that possible just blows me away.

  7. Posted April 26, 2013 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    Blake, sorry for misinterpreting your beliefs. I guess I’ll have to go back and re-read that section of your book on the KFD, as that is how I understood it before.

    If one believes God and Christ came down fully divine, but emptied of their glory temporarily (as I believe happened with Christ), what of us? To become a god/divine, does one have to have first been divine in the premortal existence? Abraham 3 states that there were many noble and great ones in the beginning. I believe those to have obtained the ranks of deity prior to earth life, so Abraham and others would also have emptied themselves of their glory before descending, no? But what of those who had not achieved the status of “noble and great”? Can they become divine and equal with Christ? Can they become gods, even as the Father is? Would their future mortal children someday be asking these same questions – whether their Father was divine before coming to his own mortality?

    Also, Was there a time when the Father was not divine, but arrived at his fulness prior to going down to his own earth?

    It seems to me that while God and Christ may both have been divine Gods prior to mortality, there needs to be room for others to be able to become Gods later in the process, and still be able to stand at the head of their own worlds. Or, do we just help God reign over his worlds?

  8. Mike Martin
    Posted April 26, 2013 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Here is another very good and recent article on the subject: http://magazine.byu.edu/?act=view&a=3126

  9. Chad
    Posted April 28, 2013 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    “The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were “gods” and He is going to make good His words. . . . The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.” — C.S. Lewis –

    “If it is blasphemous to think we can become as God, then at what point is it not blasphemous to become like God—90 percent, 50 percent, 1 percent? Is it more Christian to seek partial godhood than total godhood? Are we invited to walk the path of godhood—to “be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect”—with no possibility of ever reaching the destination?
” –Tad R. Callister –

  10. Ted Jones
    Posted April 29, 2013 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    Would it be permissible for me to toot my own horn a bit here? Ok, thanks. I have a paper at the FAIR website on “The Christian Doctrine of Deificaiton” which might be of interest for some.
    http://www.fairlds.org/Misc/Edward-Jones.pdf

    Ted Jones

  11. JRSG
    Posted May 4, 2013 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    @ Ted Jones: I read your paper and enjoyed it. The teaching of Deification is very obvious in the Scriptures and in the writings of the early church Fathers. It is beyond my comprehension why people refuse to see it and call it blasphemy.

  12. Posted June 28, 2013 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    I reread the article in the Ensign,it links the plan of salvation all the way through from pre earth life to after death.
    Heavenly Father wants as many of his children to return to him,to be able to see Him and Christ as they are. We
    will then be heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ, with the Atonement as a needed part of plan. The Greek
    word for heirs is kerlamos and joint heirs is sugkerlamos, see Strong’s. Latter day Prophets have all taught the
    doctrine of Theosis from Joseph Smith, Joseph F. Smith,Gordon Hinckley, Spencer Kimball, and others such
    as B. H. Roberts and Jeffery Holland. Hope this will help others .
    We are all trying to live and keep our covenants to be able to return to Father and Jesus Christ and be like them
    to see them as they are.

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