Mormonism vs. Christianity: Part Four in a Series
Mormon BYU Professor Robert Millet argues in his book, The Mormon Faith, that certain scripture passages "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."1 He advances this argument in order to buttress the Mormon doctrine that the Father and the Son are not only distinct Persons, but also separate Beings and separate Gods. This article continues the examination of passages Millet includes in this category. (See The Watchman Expositor, Vol. 16, Nos. 2-4 for previous articles in this series.)
John 5:19-27, 37 (cf. John 8:26-29; 12:49-50): These passages are too long to quote fully in this article. Suffice it to say that when Jesus says, "The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do,"2 He is not speaking of an absolute inability, but of a self-imposed restriction. When He took on a human nature, condescending to live as a man on earth, Christ voluntarily accepted limitations to the use of His attributes and prerogatives as deity.3 Jesus gives an indication here as to what those limitations were. He does just what the Father shows Him that He, the Father, is doing Himself. He voluntarily restricts His divine activity to just what the Father directs. Why should anyone expect anything more, or different? And how can anyone derive from this statement defining the Son's modus operandi during His life on earth, the idea that in eternity, in their essential nature as God, the Father has knowledge, power, dominion and rulership the Son does not have?
Even as He expresses His voluntary submission to His Father, Jesus is laying claim to an equality with the Father, "for what things soever He [the Father] doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise." Jesus did, in fact, do just what He saw the Father doing. His work was the Father's work, and the Father's work was His. This is just what Jesus had said, two verses before those cited by Millet: "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work."4 Millet may fail to grasp the point, but the Jews understood perfectly that Jesus was claiming equality with the Father. "Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill Him, because He not only had broken the Sabbath, but said also that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God."5
From that point onward, Jesus is explicating His claim to deity equal to the Father. In John 5:19-21 He claims equal power, even to the raising of the dead. In verses 22-30 He claims equal authority. "For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: That all men should honour the Son, even as [i.e., just as, in the same way as] they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him."6 Jesus affirms not only His own deity, but also that His exercise of divine powers and prerogatives is not done autonomously, or in His own self-interest, but in accord with the desire and direction of the Father.7 Millet stands this on its head, to say that the Father is somehow more God, more knowledgeable and more powerful, than the Son.
The context for John 8:26-29 begins with verse 21. Here again, Jesus is claiming to be God. In both verses 24 and 28 He lays claim to the divine name, "I Am." In both verses, the word he following the divine name is not in the Greek, but is supplied in English translations for the sake of smoother reading. To the Jews He could hardly have asserted His deity more clearly, except possibly His statement later in the same chapter (v. 58), "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I Am." Jesus compares Himself and His interrogators in a manner clearly indicative of their earthly origin and His own divine origin: "Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world."8 Jesus tells the Jews, "When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things."9 He is warning that at a day too late for their repentance, they will know He is actually God. They will know that all His actions and teachings were not done or said simply as a man, or autonomously out of His own self-interest, but as the very actions and words of the Father.
In John 12:49-50 Jesus claims that even the words He has spoken here on earth are the words of God the Father. "For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak." This is actually an affirmation of a fundamental unity between Himself and the Father. One cannot assume from this that Jesus did not know what to say Himself, or that He would have liked to say something else. Neither can a statement clearly referring to His teaching while here on earth be pressed into service to say that Christ, in the essence of His nature as deity, is inferior to the Father. The Son's voluntary obedience to the Father's commandment in this life proves nothing regarding their ontological nature and relationship in eternity.
John 8:42: "Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me." This statement should give pause to Millet and all Mormons, who are taught that all human beings are, in fact, the literal, procreated, children of God. Obviously, Jesus did not concur with the Mormon doctrine. Jesus is clearly claiming the Father as His own (vv. 38, 42), while disavowing that God is father to those with whom He is speaking. In fact, just two verses later (v. 44), Jesus tells them that their father is the devil.
Mormonism would no doubt answer that Jesus is speaking in a spiritual sense rather than a literal sense. After all, the Jews truly were literal descendants of Abraham, but Jesus says they are not children of Abraham (v. 39.40). The problem with such an argument is that Mormonism itself mixes and confuses the spiritual and the temporal.10 Mormonism teaches that spirit is matter.11 It is spiritually that all humanity are literally procreated children of God, according to Mormonism. Jesus obviously disagreed.
"So forget 'spiritual,'" a Mormon might retort. "What was meant was that Jesus was speaking figuratively." This argument also creates problems for the Mormon doctrine. If the statements of Jesus that the Jews were not children of Abraham, nor of God, but of the devil, are to be taken figuratively, then one must likewise take His statements within the same context calling God His own Father as merely figurative. This the Mormons will not do. These statements must be taken literally-so literally, in fact, that Mormonism has portrayed God the Father as having physical relations with Mary to "sire" Jesus' physical body.12
Millet might prefer that such issues as the above would not intrude; certainly they are not why he cites this verse. He is, no doubt, more interested in the second and third clauses: "for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but He sent me." Jesus offers these statements as reasons for which the Jews would have loved Him if they were true children of God.
A consistent hermeneutic sees these child/Father relationships of which Jesus speaks, regarding both Himself and His listeners, as type/archetype relationships. The character of the Jews with whom Jesus was speaking was of a type, the archetype of which was neither Abraham nor God, but the Devil. They bore the Devil's impress; their will and desires matched his. The proceeding forth from God and coming from God of which Jesus speaks relative to Himself, do not refer to outer space travel or celestial geography, but to the fact that Jesus was the Father's revelation of Himself to the world, full of grace and truth.13 Jesus bore the Father's impress; He was the outshining, the radiance, effulgence, the brightness of the Father's glory-the perfect representation of the Father's character.14 Had the Jews had a heart for God, and hearts after God's own heart, they would have loved the One Who was, and is, God, manifest in human flesh.15
Again, Jesus affirms that His role in declaring God to man is not something He has undertaken independently without the Father's involvement. Jesus hates sin as much as the Father does, and the Father loves as dearly and deeply as does the Son. There is no reluctance, no hanging back on the Father's part. To the contrary, it was the Father's own will that the world might know Him in Jesus Christ. The Father sent forth the Son, and was in Christ,16 not only to reveal Himself, but for the express purpose of creating and saving a people of God, out of a race of sinners.17 This bodes well for the saved, but for the unrepentant Jews who rejected Him, Jesus is again giving warning that He acts on the authority of God. Their rejection of Him is therefore a rejection of the Father.
Once again, this verse fails to support Millet's thesis. He may feel that the Mormon interpretation is as reasonable, and therefore as valid, as that offered above. The problem here is that the Mormon interpretation can be thought reasonable only by challenging and rejecting the overwhelming biblical witness to monotheism. No person willing to reject the Bible's monotheism is entitled to be called either a biblical scholar or a Christian.
1 Millet, The Mormon Faith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Publishing Co., 1998), p. 190.
2 John 5:19.
3 Philippians 2:6-8.
4 John 5:17.
5 John 5:18.
6 John 5:22-23.
7 John 5:26-27, 30.
8 John 8:23.
9 John 8:28.
10 Doctrine & Covenants 29:34-35.
11 Ibid., 131:7-8.
12 Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 4:218; 8:115. Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1978-82), p. 468. Idem., Mormon Doctrine, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), pp. 546-47, 742. Larry E. Dahl, "The Morning Breaks, the Shadows Flee," Ensign, (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, April, 1997), p. 15.
13 John 1:14, 18.
14 Hebrews 1:3.
15 John 12:44-45; 14:9-11.
16 John 14:10-11; 2 Corinthians 5:19.