Mormon Theology vs. Christianity
This is the second in a series of articles interacting with Mormon apologist and BYU Professor Robert Millet's 1998 book, The Mormon Faith. This article continues the examination of Scripture passages used by Millet in one of the book's appendices to challenge the historic, biblically orthodox, Christian doctrine of the Trinity, and to defend the unbiblical, anti-Christian, Mormon doctrine of a finite, anthropomorphic God. Millet lists Scripture references in six categories, according to the questions he thinks they raise against Trinitarian doctrine. The previous article introduced the subject and dealt with all the scriptures listed in the first category. This article begins an examination of those passages Millet puts in the second category (which are too numerous to cover in one article). These Scriptures, Millet says, "Suggest that the Father has power, knowledge, glory, and dominion (including the right and powers to direct that dominion) that the Son does not have and to which the Son is in subjection. The scriptures and the questions they raise are numerous."1
Anyone reading Millet's book should ask several questions at this point. The first is, Do the passages Millet cites actually teach what he has said they suggest? This is important, because Millet's claim here is nuanced. He doesn't claim these verses prove his point, only that they suggest certain things. Comparing suggest to teach, one might say the words are soft and hard, respectively. If doctrine is to be built on the soft foundation of mere suggestions then it is no wonder one hears it often repeated that "You can prove anything you want by the Bible."
This is not to insist that every doctrine must be stated in a formulaic proposition somewhere in the Bible before it is to be believed. Some true doctrines, the doctrine of the Trinity among them, are arrived at by logically necessary inference. Before one can say, however, that particular Bible verses actually teach any given doctrine, there must be either a proposition or a necessary inference.
By necessary inference is meant that to deny the inference itself involves logical contradiction, such as pitting Scripture against Scripture. Also, if no other inference can be logically drawn or maintained, then seldom will it be improper to accept the inference as correct teaching, even if its denial entails no logical contradiction. However, there may sometimes be multiple, differing, inferences that can be drawn from a passage. Where none of these is patently absurd, contrary to the literary and historical contexts in which the passage was written, or contrary to other scriptures relevant to the issue, then one cannot claim that any one of those inferences is alone the teaching of that passage. In such a case, whatever one thinks the passage suggests, it is improper to think of it as proof for that position.
If the verses cited by Millet can do no more than to suggest his conclusions, then they are essentially irrelevant to his thesis. Do they actually teach, either by proposition or necessary inference, that the Father has power, knowledge, glory, and dominion (including the right and powers to direct that dominion) that the Son does not have and to which the Son is in subjection?
Beyond all the above is another, larger issue. Suppose that these passages actually do teach what Millet says they suggest. Would the Father having "power, knowledge, glory, and dominion (including the right and powers to direct that dominion) that the Son does not have and to which the Son is in subjection" impinge upon the doctrine of the Trinity? Would it create any problem for the doctrine of the Trinity that it did not, at the same time, create for the Mormon doctrine? Would it prove a multiplicity of Gods as found in Mormonism?
Mark 13:32 (cf. Matthew 24:36): "But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father." "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only." In this first case it must be admitted that the Son, during the period of His humiliation, did not know the day or hour chosen by the Father for the return to this earth of the Son.now and forevermore the God-Man.
When Christ took on human flesh and became a man, there was also a temporary emptying of Himself.2 No mortal has an exhaustive understanding of what this emptying entailed. Certainly Christ did not give up His essential Deity, or exchange it, to take on a human nature, for He made the claim during His life on earth that He was God.3 Yet there was something of which He emptied Himself, something He gave up, in order to live as a truly human being on earth. One thing He apparently gave up or refused to exercise was the use of certain of His divine attributes without explicit direction from the God the Father through the Holy Spirit. Omniscience was one of these attributes. One cannot say Christ was not omniscient while on earth, since He occasionally demonstrated or claimed that quality.4 Yet in some way unknown to mortal men He was also able to limit that knowledge, so that as a man He knew only what God the Father wanted Him to know. Evidently, the day and hour of His Second Coming was not among those things He was to know before His ascension.
After Christ's resurrection and initial ascension to the Father, however, when His disciples next saw Him, Jesus told them, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth."5 He had made a somewhat similar, though by no means identical statement, earlier: "All things are delivered unto me of my Father:&"6 Within its context this earlier statement may be taken as a simple claim that all His teaching was from God. A third instance may be more complex: "The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into His hand."7 There being no punctuation in the Greek, scholars and commentators are divided over whether John the Baptist's testimony extends all the way to the end of John chapter three or ends at some earlier point. It is possible that this verse (35) indicative of Jesus' deity and power over "all things" is inspired post-resurrection commentary from the apostle John. If the statement came from John the Baptist, however, clearly "all things" given into the hand of the Son must be limited in some sense, at least so far as His knowledge of the time of His second advent. In that case the statement may again be a simple claim that all Christ's teaching came from God (cf. v. 34) or the assertion that Jesus had power over even life and death (cf. v. 36).
There seems to be considerable difference, however, between these earlier statements and Jesus' statement after His resurrection and initial ascension that, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth." In the latter case, His dominion is clearly co-extensive with that of the Father, being "in heaven and in earth." It is of no small importance that within that post resurrection/ascension context, when His disciples again asked Him about end-time events ("Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?"8 ) Jesus did not repeat his earlier statement that not even He, but only the Father, knew when that time would come. Instead, He simply told the disciples "It is not for you to know the times or seasons, which the Father has put in his own power."9 Jesus does not here acknowledge any lack of information on the subject; rather, He is kindly telling the disciples, "That is God's business, not yours." Thus it cannot be said with certainty that Jesus' lack of knowledge about the time of His Second Coming was ever more than a temporary condition during His humiliation as a man on earth.
Given the evidence above it may be concluded that Mark 13:32 and Matthew 24:36 fail to prove that in their essential nature as God, "the Father has power, knowledge, glory, and dominion (including the right and powers to direct that dominion) that the Son does not have." That the Father directs and the Son executes the direction, that the Father and the Son mutually agree that the Son will always act in submission to the Father, is a matter of function and not a matter of inequality in the Godhead. Previous articles in this series demonstrated that the voluntary submission of the Son to the Father forms no basis for any legitimate objection to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.
1 Millet, The Mormon Faith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Publishing Co., 1998): 190.
2 Philippians 2:6-8.
3 e.g., John 8:58.
4 e.g. John 2:25; 3:13; 6:64; 13:10-11.
5 Matthew 28:18.
6 Matthew 11:27; cf. Luke 10:22.
7 John 3:35.
8 For the disciples this would have been the functional equivalent of asking about the Second Coming.
9 Acts 1:6-7.