The Prophet lived his life in crescendo

May 22, 2006    By: Geoff J @ 7:59 pm   Category: King Follett Discourse,Theology

Regarding the King Follett Discourse, Elder B.H. Roberts said:

Accusations were repeatedly being made about this time that President Smith was a fallen prophet. But when the mighty doctrines that in this discourse he is setting forth are taken into account, and the spiritual power with which he is delivering them is reckoned with, no more complete refutation of his being a fallen prophet could be made. The Prophet lived his life in crescendo. From small beginnings, it rose in breadth and power as he neared its close. As a teacher he reached the climax of his career in this discourse. After it there was but one thing more he could do-seal his testimony with his blood. This he did less than three months later. Such is not the manner of life of false prophets.-Note by Elder B. H. Roberts. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 355, footnote 11)

There is no denying that any worthwhile LDS theology must pass through the filter of the King Follett Discourse (KFD). It gives the church at once its most sublime and most controversial doctrines. For those of you who are not familiar with the King Follett Discourse here are some resources: The Wiki on it is quite useful. Here is a link to the amalgamated version of the primary sources as published in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith , which by far the most commonly quoted version. Here is a link to the primary sources – mostly journal entries by people who were in attendance at the sermon – from which the TPJS version was derived. The primary sources become useful when getting down to the nitty gritty of what Joseph really meant.

This post is the first in a series that will discuss the KFD and various interpretations of it, including the treatment Blake Ostler gives it in his new book. The question I want to address in this post is: Should a plain and intuitive reading of the KFD be used as a lens through which to see all previous revelations or should previous revelations be used as the lens through which to read and interpret the KFD? In other words, should the KFD be the center point around which Mormon theology should orbit? I believe it should be the fulcrum of Mormon theology and others apparently think that the KFD must be interpreted through the lens of previous canon.

Regarding this idea of Joseph living his life in crescendo and common readings of the sermon, Blake recently wrote:

The reading that I give the KFD is the view that is consistent with the idea of JS’s life as a crescendo-it seems to me that y’all see Joseph simply playing a different tune altogether and with a different musical era rather than a symphony that crescendos. Indeed, what we get if y’all are correct is a dissonance on which JS ends his life instead of a beautiful symphonic masterpiece that crescendos into the KFD as the exclamation point of his life. What y’all give us is a sour note at the end of a beautiful multi-media presentation that ruins the whole thing and says that what went before must just be seen as so much fluff and dressing for the real refrain that starts a new piece. It is kind of like a heavy metal refrain at the end of the moonlight sonata!

Now I want to reserve comments on Blake’s version of the KFD for a follow up post. He has devoted most of chapter 12 in his new book to it. But I will note that Blake feels it is inconsistent with the rest of scripture to say that there was a time when God became God and he sees loopholes that allow for such a reading of the KFD. Rather than debate that point now, I will simply point out that Blake’s approach is to take previous revelations and paradigms and use them as the lens through which to interpret the KFD. His analogy makes a reasonable argument for such an approach too if we accept it as accurate.

I believe that a different analogy would be more appropriate though. I would compare the KFD to something like the twist at the end of the movie The Sixth Sense. In other words, the KFD reveals startling new information that shifts the lens through which we view everything that came before it. It gives Christian theology a major paradigm shift and an entirely new set of lenses through which to see reality. Rather than forcing the new revelation to fit in with the former views of reality, I think we must rethink our interpretation of all previous revelations based on the KFD. (Sort of like what you had to do with the entire movie when we had our paradigms shifted with the revelation about the Bruce Willis character.)

So when I think of the life of Joseph being lived in crescendo, I think of it concluding with his providing us a massive theological paradigm shift – one that further proved that he was a prophet in the same class as the great prophets of old. When Blake think of the crescendo he see the same music getting louder and more intense at the end of Joseph’s life.

What do you think? Was Joseph giving us an entirely new pair of goggles through which to view all of reality in the KFD or was he pumping up the volume on previous paradigms? It seems that for 130+ years the church believed the former but in recent decades the latter notion is taking root…

[Associated song: Come Sail Away. There are tons of these crescendo songs from the 70s… I couldn’t resist going with the Cartman version of this one.]


  1. Perhaps it wasn’t entirely new goggles, but rather a clearing from “see through the glass darkly” to somewhat more focused. Perhaps he didn’t know how to describe his earlier experiences, but as he grew spiritually, so did his ability to relate his experiences to others?

    And a followup question…

    What happened to the “music” after his death? Did the music die, go into a coma (with occasional outbursts)? increase?

    Comment by ed — May 22, 2006 @ 9:20 pm

  2. As I have mentioned before, I do not see the KFD as a fundamental twist, but rather a logical implication of doctrines outlined in the New Testament, to the degree that no additional supporting revelations would be required. There are supporting revelations of course, and I think D&C 93 is the best, followed by D&C 76, 84, and 132.

    One other thing to remember is that the Eastern Orthodox (the eastern half of the original Catholic church) view on theosis and a variety of other matters is much more compatible with our perspective than that of the western, Roman Catholic Church. Apparently Greek/Persian metaphysics had a greater influence in the West than in the East. The works of Augustine were essentially unheard of for centuries.

    Much of the delay in Joseph Smith’s preaching of such radical doctrines was the Western hostility to the very idea of becoming like God. The orthodoxy of the West, particularly the Protestant West was an echo of the darkest lamentations of the Old Testament – that man was less than a worm, and our righteousness as filthy rags.

    In a Calvinist world view, from the fall of man, all good was only to God’s credit, and all evil to man’s detriment, that paradoxically God caused all things to happen, and yet somehow was not the author of sin:

    God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

    Basically God was good by definition, and Man was evil by definition, and God, chose who would be allowed to cross the gulf, not based on any merit, faith, choice, or free will of the person concerned, but simply as a matter of a mysterious beneficence – an effectual calling, justification, and sanctification of those whom God elects according to his sovereign will and pleasure.

    All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ: enlightening their minds, spiritually and savingly, to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by his almighty power determining them to that which is good; and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace.

    Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alons; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.

    They whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.
    (excerpts from the Westminster Confession of the Faith)

    Now Arminianism admits free will, but yet there still is no natural good in man – it is only by the gift of grace that a man can even know what good is. Man in and of himself was still totally depraved.

    So now Joseph Smith comes along and teaches a the doctrine that God, the epitome of all good, was once a Man, (the purported epitome of all evil – corrupt, concupiscient, helpless – the worm). You can see why Joseph Smith might be a little reluctant to let this out.

    But to his credit, rather than treating it as some gnostic mystery for the select few, he gets up in front of hundreds and boldly proclaims the most notable doctrine ever preached – radically counter to the orthodoxy of Western Christiandom that had held sway for more than a millienia.

    Comment by Mark Butler — May 22, 2006 @ 9:29 pm

  3. for centuries in the East, that is.

    Comment by Mark Butler — May 22, 2006 @ 9:43 pm

  4. I should add: And the much more radical implication, that God was a man like unto us, and that we may become like him, in actual fact, and even worse that *God came to be God*.

    God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible,-I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form-like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with him, as one man talks and communes with another.

    In order to understand the subject of the dead, for consolation of those who mourn for the loss of their friends, it is necessary we should understand the character and being of God and how he came to be so; for I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see.

    This is not a doctrine of temporary kenosis, but a full blown exaltation from first principles – an explicit statement that God *really* was like us, that he was not God from all eternity, and that we can *truly* become like him, not just bask in his glory – that we can become dispensers of grace ourselves, and not mere vending machines.

    Comment by Mark Butler — May 22, 2006 @ 9:55 pm

  5. Mark: Look at the documentary sources for the statement: “came to be God” and “I will refute that idea” are not supported by the most reliable mss. You haven’t read the final chapter of my book vol. 2 yet, have you?

    Comment by Blake — May 23, 2006 @ 8:37 am

  6. I think all these things need to be taken together. Separaring them will only lead to trouble. Certainly new insights were gained by the KFD. But it ought to fit consistently with all other truth.

    Comment by Eric — May 23, 2006 @ 8:52 am

  7. BOAP materials, while better than nothing, are a bit flawed. I have found several areas, where substantive liberties have been taken with the mss. that are iquite inconsistant.

    MArk Butler, if you note the source materials, Joseph was quite explicit that God came to Earth not as a man like us, but as a man like Christ. Big difference.

    Comment by J. Stapley — May 23, 2006 @ 9:24 am

  8. Geoff,

    It seems that your view goes directly against the idea of teaching line-upon-line. Each line can create a new perspective on the previous line, or it can show the previous line to be true only in a certain context, or it can show the previous line to be an over-simplification. However, if it radically departs from everything that came before, then what was the point of all the previous lines? It seems to me that God was giving Joseph a clearer and clearer view of the gospel all the time, not sending him off into the weeds in order to set up an exciting doctrinal twist (Sixth Sense style) to the restoration.

    Comment by Jacob — May 23, 2006 @ 9:27 am

  9. If the KFD is a twist with new doctrines which all others should be interpreted thru, then where does that put us today? Will it happen again? If it can happen once then why not a great General Conference talk that changes everything again, and puts a twist on the twist?

    I have always viewed it as opening up greater understanding of what was already revealed…the line upon line idea as stated by Jacob.

    Maybe the big twist coming is the revelation on multiple probations….

    Comment by don — May 23, 2006 @ 10:38 am

  10. J.
    Could you provide any references for the idea that God came to earth as a Christ. I have looked for some time but without much success. Thanks.

    Comment by gomez — May 23, 2006 @ 11:38 am

  11. Eric, Jacob, Don,

    I think you are not seeing the implications of the point being debated here. Blake and Stapley made comments that represent the line upon line side of this question and Mark made a comment that represents the paradigm shift side of the argument. The massive issue at the heart of this all is whether God, the Father of Jesus Christ, was ever really a man like us. Blake and Stapley will try to show you in the original journals that Joseph never actually said the Father was a man like us. They will say that the Father and Son have been Gods forever and are beginningless in their Godhood. (They part ways dramatically after that with Stapley believing there is an ontological gap between humans and Gods and Blake contending that even though we have never been divine and the Godhead always has been we can somehow cross that chasm and become part of the Godhead… more on that later…) Anyway, they also both contend that while the Father may have come to a previous planet it was in the same way Jesus came here. That is, that the Father condescended and walked among the people of a previous planet. Stapley believes the Father atoned there too but I’m not clear whether Blake believes this also. As far as I can tell they believe that we and one other previous planet were the “lucky” inhabited planets to receive a condescension from a member of the Godhead whereas all of the other innumerable inhabited planets went without. (Blake and Jonathan, feel free to step in and let us know where you stand on that issue.)

    The reading Mark gives the KFD (and with which I agree) is that Joseph did indeed say that God the Father used to be a man like us. Now whether he was a man like us on a previous planet or a man like Jesus is an interesting question since I find calling Jesus a man like us a little bit of a stretch. (Of course I agree with Brigham and Heber that he was first a man like us and that later a savior like Jesus in successive mortal probations.) But in any case, if we concede that Joseph really did teach that God has not always been God and that he grew into that position from where we are then it is MUCH more than a line upon line thing. It really is a major paradigm shift. It rocks the foundations of many former beliefs including the notion that God has been God forever.

    Of course, the solution to that is to do what almost every leader of the church has done throughout our history and recognize that the term “God” is equivocal in scripture and even titles like “Father and Son” are just that — titles.

    My point is that it is naive to assume you can call the notion that God became God simply a little additional light. Blake’s and Stapley’s reading might fit that description, but saying God used to be a man and became a God generates an astonishing theological paradigm shift.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 23, 2006 @ 11:44 am

  12. I agree 100% that Joseph Smith teaches that Christ followed in the pattern of his Father. However, concluding that God was not like us because Christ was not like us assumes a fact not in evidence. The KFD does not go into any sort of detail regarding a Christology of the sort that would allow us to conclude that *either* Christ or his Father were men radically unlike us.

    The primary theme of the KFD is precisely the opposite – that God is “an exalted Man” – the words are important. I checked a parallel version of notes of the KFD and several sources have Joseph Smith saying that the idea that God was God from all eternity was false.

    By the KFD we learn as much about Christ as about his Father – an explicit affirmation of the D&C 93 doctrine that Christ was an exalted man – i.e. not fully God before his mortal tenure.

    The Father because he gave me of his fulness, and the Son because I was in the world and made flesh my tabernacle, and dwelt among the sons of men. I was in the world and received of my Father, and the works of him were plainly manifest.

    And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace; And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness; And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first.

    And I, John, bear record that he received a fulness of the glory of the Father; And he received all power, both in heaven and on earth, and the glory of the Father was with him, for he dwelt in him.

    I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness.

    For if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fulness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace. And now, verily I say unto you, I was in the beginning with the Father, and am the Firstborn; And all those who are begotten through me are partakers of the glory of the same, and are the church of the Firstborn. (D&C 93)

    Now to me it seems that D&C 93 is abundantly clear on the subject in a way that makes a kenotic Christology rather strained to say the least.

    Nowhere here is Christ re-exercising a power that was already in him – he is exercising a power that the Father *gave* him, and that not all at once, but grace for grace.

    And why does John even bother? For the same reason as Joseph Smith brought up the same doctrine in the KFD – so that we may know that Christ (as well as the Father) are true and perfect exemplars who proceeded from grace to grace and were exalted by trodding the same path that we have to follow – that we may now *how* to worship, and *what* we worship, that we may come unto the Father in the *name* of Christ, and in due time receive of his *fulness*.

    And *what* do we worship – an exalted Man, plain and simple. D&C 93 is dated May 1833 – this was not new doctrine with regard to Christ, but it was with regard to the Father. Through the twists and turns of orthodoxy we have come to be more sensitive about the life of Christ than about that of his Father, when in fact the principle that Christ himself was a man who became God was revealed eleven years earlier.

    Comment by Mark Butler — May 23, 2006 @ 12:38 pm

  13. Geoff: You misunderstand my position. I don’t contend that JS didn’t teach that the Father was a man exactly like us. I believe that he was. My view is that we are already divine in nature and were before this life. Being sons and daughters of God, it could not be otherwise. However, that divinity is not fully realized until we enter into a fulness of relationship with the Godhead. Being fully divine and having a divine nature are as different as the difference between water and hydrogen/oxygen — it is not that water isn’t hydrogen/oygen; it is just that a particular relationship of unity must obtain before the properties emerge. It is just that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost have been in that relationship from all eternity and we have been invited into that relationship. So the fact that the Father was once a man like us, in every respect, does not entail that prior to condescending and knotically emptying himself of a fulness of divinity, he was not fully divine. That is what D&C 93 says that Christ did — and we do it too. There is no chasm, but a matter of realizing our ontological potentiality to be what we already have the nature to be. The differene between us and the members of the Godhead is not an ontological distinction, but a matter of the choices we have made. They have always chosen to be loving; we have not and we are still learning what they have always known.

    More importantly, it is clear the divinity is a dynamic concept for JS — God is always progressing and growing in certain respects. It follows that there is not a time when one simply achieves Godhood and that is it. Like us, the Father is always progressing and becoming more. When we grow to where he is he will have moved on. However, that God once learned how to be God doesn’t mean he isn’t still doing it or that he wasn’t doing before even though divine. It is not as if once having been divine one does not grow even as a fully divine person. That is the false assumption that drives Geoff’s and Mark’s views — and it is false from JS’s perspective and revelations.

    I don’t believe that the Father atoned. JS was very clear in the poetic rendition of the Vision in 1842 that the Son atoned for all worlds.

    Further, why are JS’s statements in the KFD given such great weight but statements given just a year before about the Father having been eternally God are not given such weight? I don’t believe that you have a consistent hermeneutic; what you have is just an island in the sea of JS’s thought as if though it had no relation to what he said before. It is clear to me that the KFD is an outgrowth of what he had been teaching since at leaast 1832 in the vision and 1833 in D&C 93. Anyway, I’ve argued at length for this view in the final chapter of my book, so I’ll let that argument speak for itself.

    Comment by Blake — May 23, 2006 @ 12:45 pm

  14. Geoff: I think you are not seeing the implications of the point being debated here.

    Sorry, I thought the post specifically said that you wanted to wait until a later post to argue about specific interpretations of the KFD, and instead wanted this post to address the general question of whether the KFD should be the lens through which we see all previous revelations, or vice versa. My comment was intended to address that question.

    Comment by Jacob — May 23, 2006 @ 1:31 pm

  15. Jacob,

    Maybe I should not have lumped you in with that statement. So does your comment about line upon line mean you agree with Blake’s position on this subject? My opinion that his is a line upon line version whereas the idea that God was not always God is the paradigm shift version I was referring to in the post.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 23, 2006 @ 1:37 pm

  16. Blake, I do not have your book yet, but what you have just described is very helpful for understanding your position.

    Please give a reference for the last statement you are referring to, if you have it. One problem is that since D&C 19 was revealed we cannot take the world “eternal” necessarily mean either “timeless” or “everlasting”, but rather something more like “divine”.

    I do not look on divinity as a unitary substance or “stuff”, but rather a rather complex phenomenon involving light, love, kindness, intelligence, justice and so on made manifest dynamically through Christian service and eternal relationships.

    So faced with the proposition that God the Father was always God? I respond: In what sense? Potentially God? Absolutely. Actually God? In a relational sense, most probably. In an omni-omni sense, probably not. Absolutely God? – the concept is an error in logic.

    The idea that divinity or grace is some kind of substance is one of the greatest theological errors of all time. I call it the Metaphysical Fallacy – it leads to no end of absurdities.

    Though Joseph Smith did not go into details the question of how God became divine in the sense we know him today, or alternatively the question of what principles uphold his divinity – an idea mentioned in passing in Alma 42 are much more interesting than metaphysical assertions about the necessary existence of a *fullness* of divinity. A fullness of divinity to me is much too complex to have necessary existence – while the basics of divinity (e.g. free will) are much too necessary to have contingent existence. That is why I say that God is more divine in terms of his relationship with us than in all other aspects put together. God is God because he loves us; and most fully God because we love him.

    Comment by Mark Butler — May 23, 2006 @ 2:06 pm

  17. All,

    I’ll try to post on chapter 12 in Blake’s new book soon (maybe tonight) so we can give his reading a fair treatment in our discussions.

    Mark – Are you addressing anyone in particular in #12? I can’t tell. I think you make some good points. However, this one: “when in fact the principle that Christ himself was a man who became God was revealed eleven years earlier” needs more unpacking I think. The scriptures seem to be clear that Christ was God before coming here, so unless you also are coming around to the MMP model you have a disconnect here.

    Blake: I don’t contend that JS didn’t teach that the Father was a man exactly like us.

    I should have clarified this a little better. I was referring to non-divine and non-exalted spirit beings like us (before pre mortally and here). You do contend that JS didn’t teach that about God. The idea that the Father and Son emptied themselves to experience a mortality is a version of being like us, but there are fundamental spiritual differences — including the fact that yet have always been a part of the Godhead in your view whereas we never have.

    So the fact that the Father was once a man like us, in every respect

    In every respect? You don’t assume the Father was immaculately conceived too? You don’t assume he was sinless in his mortality? (I already see that you don’t assume he was a savior which I find highly problematic…)

    The difference between us and the members of the Godhead is not an ontological distinction, but a matter of the choices we have made.

    But your view does not hold that the Godhead chose to enter the unity of the Godhead at some beginning point but that they were forever in that unity and have chosen not to leave it. That is very different than our situation.

    It is not as if once having been divine one does not grow even as a fully divine person. That is the false assumption that drives Geoff’s and Mark’s views

    I don’t think that drives my view at all. I’m not even sure how these things are connected actually…

    Anyway, it is clear that there will be a ton of overlap between this discussion and my discussion of chapter 12 so I’ll get to that post right away so we can try to keep the threads organized.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 23, 2006 @ 2:16 pm

  18. Gomez:

    Joseph taught in the KFD and Sermon at the Grove three principles on the matter:

    – God the Father came to Earth like Jesus did.

    – When on Earth he “redeemed” that world.

    – After this life plays out, Jesus will take the place of God the Father.


    George Laub account (WoJS pg. 362):

    Jesus Spake in this wise, I do as my Father before me did well what did the father doo why he went & took a body and went to redeem a world in the flesh & had power to lay down his life and to take it up again

    Clayton account (WoJS pg. 357):

    What did Jesus say – as the father hath power in himself even so hath the son power to do what why what the father did, to lay down his body and took it up again.

    …What did Jesus do[?] Why I do the things that I saw the father do when worlds came into existence. I saw the father work out a kingdom with fear & trembling & I can do the same & when I get my Kingdom worked out I will present to the father & it will exalt his glory and Jesus steps into his tracks to inherit what God did before.

    From the Bullock account of the Sermon at the Grove (WoJS pg. 381):

    I want you all to pay particr. attent. J. sd. as the Far. wrought precisely in the same way as his Far. had done bef -as the Far. had done bef.-he laid down his life & took it up same as his Far. had done bef-he did as he was sent to lay down his life & take it up again & was then committed unto him the keys &c I know it is good reasoning

    Comment by J. Stapley — May 23, 2006 @ 3:12 pm

  19. Geoff: You commit the same logical fallacy regarding infinity as it relates to the Godhead that you made before regarding the fallacy that intelligences must have already progressed as far as it is possible for them to have progressed. There is a modal difference between “could have” and “must have,” or between “possibly” and “necessarily”. The Godhead could have chosen in each moment to be in a relationship of complete unity and in fact they have done so. We could have made the same decision but we didn’t. So there is no ontological difference between us — the difference is a matter of free choice. It doesn’t follow that there must be some first moment at which the decision is made; it only follows that in each moment that an opportunity existed in which to choose to be in relationship that they have done so.

    Thus, to be divine is to make a choice to be in relationship and love each other in each moment and we all have that choice. Now, over aeons the choices of the members of the Godhead have moved them so far forward that their capacity for love far outstrips ours. Correspondingly, their knowledge and power far — vastly — outstrips ours (I couldn’t possibly overstate this difference).

    So Geoff a few questions: Are you asserting that God’s “situation” isn’t vastly different from ours (not ontologically but in terms of love, power and knowledge)? Are you asserting that God doesn’t continue to progress even as a divine being? Don’t divine beings always progress without beginning and without end?

    Your view ignores all prior statements by JS and in scripture saying that God has alwasy been the same unchanging God from all eternity to all eternity. It assumes that such statements have less authority and in fact are wrong in light of the statements of the KFD that you interpret to contradict them. Thus, the hermeneutic assumption determines the way you read the KFD. However, the KFD is clear that Christ was already divine prior to this life and then became God and the Father did just what Christ did.

    Finally, the KFD must be read also in light of the Sermon in the Grove which occurred later. In fact, to be consistent you must give greater weight to the Sermon in the Grove. In that sermon, the gods of which JS speaks are all sons of God in the council of gods. We are the sons of the God and have always possessed the divine nature — we simply have not fully realized that divine potential (and neither has the Father). We have realized that divine potential vastly less than the members of the Godhead. That is what the KFD and the Sermon in the Grove are saying.

    Comment by Blake — May 23, 2006 @ 3:17 pm

  20. J. Stapley, I think the KFD is more notable for *not* laying out Christology than for the opposite. Joseph Smith’s talk about laying down ones life and taking it up again, and working out a kingdom, is made in an explicit three part parallel, first the Father, then the Son, then us.

    Soteriological exceptionalism is not mentioned at all. Joseph seems to be trying to emphasize the similarity between us and Christ and his Father, without getting into sticky areas – perhaps that he had not worked out in his own mind, perhaps that he thought not best to reveal at that time.

    Everything that Joseph Smith did talk about indicates we can follow completely in Christ’s footsteps and inherit the same station. As he said:

    You have got to learn how to make yourselves Gods in order to save yourselves and be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done – by going from a small capacity to a great capacity from a small degree to another from grace to grace until the resurrection from exaltation to exaltation till you are able to sit in everlasting burnings and everlasting power and glory as those who have gone before, sit enthroned.

    How consoling to the mourners when they are called to part with a husband, father, wife, mother, child, dear relative or friend to know though they lay down this body and all earthly tabernacles shall be dissolved that their very being shall rise in immortal glory to dwell in everlasting burnings and to sorrow die and suffer no more and not only that but to contemplate the saying that they will be heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ what is it to inherit and enjoy the same glory powers and exaltation until you ascend a throne of eternal power and arrive at the station of a God the same as those who have gone before.
    (KFD, Larson amalgamated version)

    I would like to raise that there is *always* the possibility that when a prophet is speaking to us, it is according to our understanding. The proper way to do this without dissembling is to use symbolic name-title substitutions, for which there is *much* evidence in the scriptures, but is a little harder to do in everyday conversation.

    In particular we can unwrap a large part of a distributed or differential Christology from the very idea of taking upon us the name of Christ. For example:

    Behold, Jesus Christ is the name which is given of the Father, and there is none other name given whereby man can be saved; Wherefore, all men must take upon them the name which is given of the Father, for in that name shall they be called at the last day; (D&C 18:23-24)

    Now why oh why do we suppose that we are *required* to take upon us his name and most definitely not any other name, if not to put the idea in our head that we are *parallel* with him, anointed sons and daughters unto God, that if we follow his example, we will inherit the same glory?

    The only mystery is the Atonement, but that is probably best left for another discussion. The real point is that Joseph Smith teaches about as explicitly as one can imagine that we will inherit the “same glory, power, and exaltation” and eventually “ascend the throne of eternal power the same as those who have gone before”.

    One last thing, it so happens that the sequential Jesus Christ/Father exceptionalism theory is weakened by the fact that the sentence “He will take a higher exaltation and I will take his place” is only in the Woodruff account, which was recorded somewhat after the fact. The consensus account talks about Jesus adding to his Father’s glory, which makes much more sense, mostly because of the constraints on upward promotion (to what?) compared with horizontal and vertical expansion.

    Comment by Mark Butler — May 23, 2006 @ 3:54 pm

  21. Blake, I checked and I agree with you with regard to “came to be God”, but “refute that idea”, following “suppose / imagine God was God from the beginning of all eternity” has consensus support.

    I agree however, that the KFD doesn’t really treat that particular question very well, indeed hardly at all. My position is partly based on a preference against contingent structures existing at the beginning of time. Since your idea apparently does not require that, I can’t really complain, other than to say I think a first class divinity requires a lot more than three, following the D&C 121:46 theory of exaltation.

    That leaves some “omni” type questions unresolved, of course, but it makes more sense to me than any of the other possibilities. I tend to reduce all “omnis” to requisites, on the principle that counting the cost, God would be morally obligated to set the plan in motion as soon as he acquired the requisite capabilities.

    Comment by Mark Butler — May 23, 2006 @ 4:29 pm

  22. Mark: “I will refute that idea” has not such consensus. It appears only in the Woodruff Journal. The Bullock report states the opposite: “if I do not refute it.” The other 3 sources say nothing about it. If anything, it is unsupported and very questonable as a report of what JS stated.

    Comment by Blake — May 23, 2006 @ 6:07 pm

  23. Geoff, getting back to the point of your blog here, you’ve come up with an excellent analogy with the Sixth Sense. The KFD does provide a new set of goggles through which to see reality.

    One could also compare an understanding of the Bible before and after reading the BoM and other latter-day scriptures. The Bible takes on a completely different meaning when read through the latter-day goggles.

    I look forward to your blog on Blake’s Chapter 12.

    Comment by Jonathan N — May 23, 2006 @ 8:37 pm

  24. Blake,

    In the linked BOAP harmony – Samuel W. Richards summarizes that section as “Not God from all eternity”.

    Thomas Bullock apparently has a section title “God not always God” – and then apparently contradicts himself by writing “for he was God from the begin of all Eternity & if I do not refute it”.

    Woodruff has it as “We suppose that God was God from eternity. I will refute that idea”.

    William Clayton has it as “We have imagined that God was God from all eternity”

    Given the sense of the phrase, that is two hard votes (Richards, Woodruff) and a two soft votes (Bullock, Clayton) for refuting the idea and one soft vote (Richards again) for upholding it.

    Also on “came to be God” :

    Bullock has “for I am going to tell you what sort of a being of God”
    Woodruff has “I want you to understand God and how he comes to be God”
    Clayton has “Going to tell you how God came to be God”

    That is a two to one advantage for “came to be God”.

    Note that both negative indicators come from Bullock and the others are all positive or silent. Indeed the Larson amalgamation has both phrases. My theory is that Bullock wasn’t paying proper attention or was sloppy – he contradicts himself, not a great witness on this point.

    The other issue is context – Joseph Smith is about to introduce a major doctrine and supply supporting evidence. For him to affirm the orthodox idea mid-thought without any support, nor explanation of its apparent conflict with the key following statement “that God was once a man like one of us” would be bizarrely awkward, where announcing what he is about to refute flows naturally.

    Comment by Mark Butler — May 23, 2006 @ 10:34 pm

  25. “Exalted man” is poorly understood terminology. There is much discussion here on the nature of God’s previous manhood and was he really like us or more like the Savior and is the Savior more like us in his progression yet without sin. Perhaps if one could shift the lens though which one is examining the statements of Joseph Smith a little more of this would come together. Greco-Roman linear logic has time flowing in one direction and everything progressing. Ancient Hebrew worldview was more like Joseph’s revelatory visionary thinking. Eternity was like a ring without a break in it, one eternal round. Perhaps in analyzing this subject of Joseph’s Christology and ontolgy, we are breaking the ring at the wrong point. We have to break it because we have a corrupted mind, only capable of thinking of one thing at a time and not capable of seeing the whole, much less the eternal round of it. So according to Abinadi,
    Mosiah 13:34
    34 Have they not said that God himself should come down among the children of men, and take upon him the form of man, and go forth in mighty power upon the face of the earth?

    Mosiah 15:1-4
    1 AND now Abinadi said unto them: I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people.
    2 And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son–
    3 The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son–
    4 And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth.

    Here we have Christ God, coming to earth to be a son and a man and then becoming God, or one God in the Godhead. If this were perceived through the ring analogy, it would be a complete circle without a break or linear progression. God-man-God would not be a progression but a complete whole circle with no beginning or end.

    If one further includes the unity concepts of John 17, the rest of the righteous are included in this eternal round without beginning or end. Divinty by association, shared experience, collective work, and the eternal nature of the Godhead.

    Comment by Roger J Simpson — May 24, 2006 @ 6:07 am

  26. Mark: Don’t rely ont he BOAP. Go The Words of the Prophet Joseph Smith where you can see the actual wording of the sources. The headings are not present in the Bullock Report. So that is actually a source contrary to refuting that God has always been God. That leaves only the Woodruff Journal. The others do not give support — Joseph was actually addressing the fact that the Father once became a man and so had at one time been embodied. In fact, the point that JS is making is that we can converse with God because he has a body, having once been mortal, and we are made in His image. In this context, suggesting that God was not always God is nothing more than suggesting that God at one time became mortal. In this same context JS discusses that the Father did exactly what Christ did. So what you count as “soft votes” simply assumes your reading and then reads it into the text and then claims the text supports it. However, I have given a lengthy exegesis and argument in my book and I’ll leave it until we get to it.

    The remaining issue, however, cannot be finnessed. JS said at least four times from 1840-44 that God is eternal and without beginning. These statements are clear and beyond confusion. Further, there are at least a dozen very clear scriptural assertions that God is eternal without beginning and the same unchangeable being from all eternity to all eternity. Are you suggesting that JS is contradicting these clear statements? Even in the KFD itself, JS begins by saying that God created the world and upholds the world in its orbit. His point isn’t that we are just like God — we don’t sustain the world in its orbit. His point is very clear — he is urging all to converse with God face to face as he had done. It is the same discourse that continues D&C 84 and 93. His point is that God was once mortal and took upon himself a body and so we can converse with him face to face. He is inviting us to progress from one degree to another just as God has always done.

    The view that God became a God at some first point is not made by JS. Further, the notion that “God came [at some first time] to be God” is possible only if there were another God before the Father. But JS is very clear in both the KFD and Sermon in the Grove given about six weeks later that the Father is the Most High God — the Head God — who assembled all of the other gods in council and they are the sons of God. The reading of some infinite chain of gods is mistaken. Yet it must be presumed for the reading that God at some time became God to be possible.

    So here is my diagnosis. The bad textual reading in the Woodruff Diary became the accepted text. It is contradicted by the Bullock Report and not supported by other sources. This bad reading was conjoined with the mistaken view that the other gods of whom Joseph spoke were gods prior to the time that the Head God organized them into a council. However, that reading is contrary to what JS taught and assumes a later view of spiritual birth that JS never taught. The entire notion that God was not God for an infinite stretch of time and then became God by obeying some other gods and then became the Head God is a gargantuan misreading and a theological mistake of biblical proportions — literally.

    Comment by Blake — May 24, 2006 @ 6:27 am

  27. Roger (#25),

    I am regularly dumbfounded by the degree of credit many give to the idea that the direction and linearity of time is a cultural artifact. Has there ever been a culture that confused the term for tommorrow with the term for yesterday? I highly doubt it. What about a culture that confused the term for old with the term for young? Or moldy for fresh?

    Sure there are sometimes philosophical trends that argue notions that are uniquely hostile to common sense, such as the Greek idea that time was an illusion, or the proto-Taoist idea of dialectial monism – that good inevitably leads to evil, and evil to good – just aspects of the same thing. But as always, when philosophy is reduced to everyday practice, it inevitably yields to common sense.

    No amount of speculation is going to make a river flow uphill, make a poorly designed building stand without collapsing, cause crops to plant themselves, reverse the progression from birth to death and so on.

    Now suppose, arguendo, that time wrapped around on itself in a forward direction so that it was not immediately perceptible – why is it that we never dig up artifacts from the future? Theologically speaking wouldn’t that mean that no one, not even God ever had a choice about anything? That we would have to view God’s plan is inevitably a failure? That civilization inevitably results in death and destruction?

    Time wrap around is impossible without determinism, and determinism is uniquely hostile to free will of the it might have been otherwise variety, not to mention the very concept of moral responsibility.

    So my general reaction is to view these kind of speculations as a uniquely irrational form of Mormon mysticism, contrary to the very tone of the scriptures – which represent the Gospel in terms of triumph, victory, and eternal progression, not a fatalist belief in inevitable failure. If there really is that idea in ancient Hebrew culture, then it, like many others, is a false one, both theologically and scientifically, just as the ancient Greeks and the Persians had their own peculiar weaknesses.

    Comment by Mark Butler — May 24, 2006 @ 9:24 am

  28. Blake, I think my perspective is quite similar to yours. However, I find a bit of a disconnect on what makes a ontological difference. Assuming that we are all eternally free agents, there has to be a time when we approached zero knowledge (if there is an eternal increase in knowledge, I assume there is an eternal regress going back). Free agents with limited knowledge would then make their choices based on limited perspective.

    It seems that there would have to be a difference in ability to process information between agents, no? That is to say that if the Jesus Christ has always chosen to be unified with God, even in moments of limited knowledge, then he either possesed a different level of wisdom or a different level of volition (a very, very big difference), or more probably both. It is hard for me to see how this isn’t an ontological difference.

    Comment by J. Stapley — May 24, 2006 @ 10:04 am

  29. J. re: #27: An ontological difference has to do with two fact: (1) whether a being is either created/uncreated; or (2) what there is. In the context of this discussion, to say that there is no fundamental ontological difference between God and us means that we are both uncreated and that we have the same potentiality.

    As for making decisions with less knowledge; since we are always growing in knowledge and perspective we all make decisions and choices and less knowledge and perspective than we may later have (if we continue to learn and progress). That is not an ontological difference. I have made different decisions than my friend who is a single man who spends his life fishing. The differences in our lives are due to our differing decisions. But I could have been a single mane who spend his life fishing (sometimes that sounds good to me). He could have been an attorney who spent his life revelling in life?

    Comment by Blake — May 24, 2006 @ 10:10 am

  30. Hm. Beyond the assertion that we have the same potential as Jesus Christ (which I find problematic, but don’t want to derail the conversation), in mortality, there is so much beyond choice that determines our station (e.g., physiology and socialization). We have discussed elsewhere that agency is emergent in mortality. So whether or not you are a single fisherman or multilingual theologian isn’t simply a matter of choice.

    Are you asserting that agency is also emergent premortally? As I mentioned, if you go back far enough, knowledge has to approach zero (in a mathmatical sense), though it could really be zero, I don’t think. Anyway, at some time t knowledge would have to be so little that if agency isn’t emergent, unity would have to be either a function of random choices or hyperactive accumen. No?

    Comment by J. Stapley — May 24, 2006 @ 10:27 am

  31. er, “though it couldn’t really be zero”

    Comment by J. Stapley — May 24, 2006 @ 10:28 am

  32. Blake,

    I am suggesting that yes, Joseph Smith did teach that God came to be God – both Woodruff and Clayton clearly have that idea, and that is what the context within the discourse suggests.

    Now for a variety of reasons I elaborated on recently over at The Spinozist Mormon, I do not believe an *infinite* *backwards* recursion of Gods is coherent. The scriptures and Joseph Smith clearly describe a Most High God, and I agree. However, whether the Most High is our Heavenly Father, or our Heavenly Father is a few generations removed is subject to question.

    Joseph Smith stated in the Sermon on the Plurality of Gods a couple of weeks before he was martyred as follows:

    If Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and John discovered that God the Father of Jesus Christ had a Father, you may suppose that He had a Father also. Where was there ever a son without a father? And where was there ever a father without first being a son? Whenever did a tree or anything spring into existence without a progenitor? And everything comes in this way. Paul says that which is earthly is in the likeness of that which is heavenly, Hence if Jesus had a Father, can we not believe that He had a Father also? I despise the idea of being scared to death at such a doctrine, for the Bible is full of it. (TPJS p.373, cf Rev 1:6)

    Now this account implies infinite backward recursion, and allows for there always to be some God with first class attributes at any given time. I do not like the idea of IBR, and favor instead a system where there the plan of salvation was bootstrapped on D&C 121:46 principles.

    The problem is that Joseph Smith does not appear to have resolved in favor of IBR or a Most High God in his own mind. The evidence is clear he probably had the basic idea as early has 1832, but no settled opinion on several critical aspects.

    Now as far as thr scriptural account is concerned phrases like “same unchangeable being” sound like Greek apologetics, phrases that when taken literally end up with a timeless God, without body parts or passions. So how are we to take them? If in terms of personal identity, then we may justly say that all of us are the same being we ever have been. Joseph Smith explicitly disagrees with the doctrine of annihilation in the KFD.

    If in terms of principle or character, we might say that God is only able to be God throughout all “eternity” by promoting righteous principles through long suffering, persusasion, and love unfeigned, and that if he didn’t he would cease to be God. So as long as there ever was or ever will be God to any degree of divinity, it is through a foundation of the same unchangable attributes of divine character – in other words we need not fear him being fickle or arbitrary.

    If put “eternity” in quotes partly because D&C 19:5 disavows the notion that the words “endless” and “eternal” are always to be taken as is. I read them as names that God has adopted as *ideals* of divine character, inheritance, and administration. Taken too literally they lead to similar problems as the words omniscient and omnipotent.

    Now granting the hypothetical possibility that the Most High himself could fall from grace, the next thing to recognize is the word for God, Elohim, used in many places throughout the Old Testament is properly plural according to Joseph Smith, so perhaps we should recognize that in many contexts God, or the Endless and *Eternal* Father, is properly a name for the divine concert, that the Most High God represents by *reverse* divine investiture of authority.

    And finally, we should consider the principle of exaltation in the *name* of Jesus Christ, whereby become joint heirs with him, to inherit the all that the Father hath. Now how can more than one heir inherit *all*? Very simple – by becoming a heavenly Father (or Mother) themselves – extending the franchise to their children on the same principles. And thus they represent the Eternal Father to their children by *forward* divine investiture – gods many and lords many, but unto them there is one God, and one Lord Jesus Christ.

    That their Father in Heaven represents God (Elohim) – the divine concert, and ultimately the Most High (El Elyon), comparable to the way Jesus Christ represents his Father.

    For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.

    A critical matter of theology, yes. A mistake? I don’t think so. The Bible is full of it. I think the reduction of the principles of Father and Son to two or three individuals destroys the grandest theme of the New Testament. It is not the only way to read the scriptures, but it is certainly an principle worth pursuing. All other roads lead to God as a personal singularity – one whom we are afraid to allow any personality.

    Comment by Mark Butler — May 24, 2006 @ 10:44 am

  33. Blake,

    The Woodruff account is supported by the Clayton account in this matter. That is two votes to one. The Larson amalgamation has that section the Clayton/Woodruff way.

    Comment by Mark Butler — May 24, 2006 @ 10:54 am

  34. Geoff,

    I agree with you fully. With increasing light, new revelation comes, and more and more assumptions, and traditions get supplanted with actual revelation. As the Prophets career progressed, he continued to gain further light and knowledge to replace the philosophies of men which he had learned in his youth.

    The one exception I take? Thus saith the Lord. When a revelation is declared, and the primary subject is the point in question, I do not believe later items can take those words back, only extend or clarify its meaning. If it is a secondary subject, that is a different story. By this I mean, if we are using a passing mention in a sermon about doctrine X, to try to prove doctrine Y, that holds less weight as far as I am concerned than a later revelation precisely concerned with doctrine Y.

    The prophet lived his life in crescendo. I like it, B. H. Roberts expressed it well.

    Comment by Jeff Day — May 27, 2006 @ 12:48 am

  35. Mark (#27) The cycling of time does not necessarily imply determinism. Frank Tipler’s book, The Physics of Immortality, talks about the expansion and contraction of the universe implied by the theory of relativity. He states, The early agricultural civilizations–Sumarian, Babylonian, Indian, Mayan, and in China the Shang-Chou–retained and elaborated the notion of cyclic time.” p74 He points out that the Stoics were the most fervent believers in the Eternal Return, claiming that “this determinism led to a precise return of all events.” p75. However, he states that because of chaos theory and Heisenberg uncertainty principle no reversal of universal expansion or time would repeat the initial conditions of the universe. He argues mathmatically against the determinism of the Poincare Recurrence Theorum and Quantum Recurrence Theorum. So as the universe recycles, it does so in a unique way as it expands and contracts. His arguments support free will for God and us, and shed light on my concept taken from the King Follet discourse of the ring analogy. Each cycle does not exactly repeat the last one, more like William Blake’s spiral time universe or a circle from one perspective and a garage door opener spring from another. The cycles are repetitive around the ring but not deterministic. I personally live in a time progessive world, and God speaks to us according to our corrupt language in ways we can understand. But I do not begin to imagine what time or eternity is to God even though I tried after reading Kurt Godel when I was young and foolish. I am not a Mormon mystic either, since I believe in the Fall, the Atonement and the Resurrection as outlined in the scriptures and present day prophets. But when we try understand Joseph’s words when he had the heavens opened and saw this unexplainable eternity, we have to look beyond human logic and time. His words in the King Follet Sermon evoke so much of modern physics and mathematics, it is uncanny.

    Comment by Roger J Simpson — May 31, 2006 @ 10:50 pm

  36. Roger, I think the “ring” thing in the KFD was a metaphor not to be taken literally. A semi-deterministic helical recurrence is certainly logically coherent, and attractive in certain senses – deja vu, premonitions, and so on. I just reject it mostly for lack of evidence, but also because it seems unnecessarily odd – I reject curved space-time (as opposed to scalar potential relativity) for the same reason – no hard evidence that the world really is that way, and unnecessarily complicated / bizarre to boot.

    Comment by Mark Butler — June 1, 2006 @ 1:00 am

  37. A spiral staircase looks like a no more than a circle when you only see it in two dimensions. I see one eternal round as an upward spiral, repeating a pattern, repeating a cycle, but different every time, different and beautiful.

    Comment by Jeff Day — June 1, 2006 @ 1:41 am

  38. “The head one of the Gods brought forth the Gods.” That is the true meaning of the words. Baurau signifies to bring forth. If you do not believe it, you do not believe the learned man of God. Learned men can teach you no more than what I have told you. Thus the head God brought forth the Gods in the grand council.Who were these gods,it could not of been us for were are not gods but only gods in waiting.I believe these gods were Elohim’s brothers from the creation he was from.Is god a person or is god an office in the priesthood. I believe Elohim is the president of a quorum of gods from his creation.They sat in council to determine how they would build a new creation for their children as had been done for many other creations before.Did these gods have fathers ,yes and their fathers had fathers winding back in time to infinity .We mortals can never comprehend a universe with out end or life with out beginning or end.Have we existed for ever,maybe not,for as this planet has not existed for ever.We also may have a beginning,not as intelligent matter but as an I.When did we become self aware as spirits,was this our first birth from intelligent mater to self aware spirits.

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