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.