Joseph Smith’s or W. W. Phelps’ poetic paraphrase of “The Vision”?

October 26, 2006    By: Geoff J @ 12:54 am   Category: Theology

In the February 1, 1843 issue of Times and Seasons a poem signed “Joseph Smith” was printed. The 312-line poem was labeled “The Answer. To W.W. Phelps. Esq.” and was titled The Vision. It was a poetic paraphrase of “The Vision”, the revelation now found in D&C 76. The poem itself is generally not thought to be very good and would not attract much attention at all today if it weren’t for one startling theological statement it contains which is not in the actual revelation it is paraphrasing. Stanzas 21-22 of the poem say that all of the inhabitants of the universe “from first to last, /Are sav’d by the very same Saviour of ours”. Those who like the idea that Jesus is the only Savior for all the innumerable worlds throughout all eternity (yes, Blake, I’m looking at you) like to quote this poem as evidence that Joseph believed and preached such a doctrine. But as we have discussed at length here, the notion that Jesus is the first, last and only Savior throughout eternity seems to be at odds with the ideas Joseph preached later in the King Follet Discourse and the follow up sermon often called The Sermon in the Grove.

But it turns out Joseph didn’t really write the poem, W.W. Phelps wrote it. At least that is what this paper by Michael Hicks in the Fall 1994 issue of the Journal of Mormon History compellingly claimed. (Hat tip to Kevin Barney for the making me aware of the article; it starts on page 63.) I recommend you read the article yourself but if you are too lazy to do so (and I assume 98% of you probably are) here are a few of the arguments:

- The poem is not in Joseph’s writing style and doesn’t use the words and visuals that characterized Joseph’s writing — it is in Phelps’ style and does use his style and preferred phrases.
- We have no record of Joseph ever writing other poetry (some short near-poetry maybe but no poetry…); W.W. Phelps was, however, a prolific folk poet and lyricist.
- The practice of ghost writing for Joseph Smith had become quite common by the 1840s. Hicks said “During the last two years of his life, Joseph increasingly attached his name to documents written largely by others. As fame, legal battles, and the growing population of the Church threatened to drain all of his time, literary delegation became crucial. The presence of his name on any document from the last years is not an answer but a question.” (Pg 68) There are several other known examples of Joseph’s name being attached to pieces he didn’t write. Hicks later said “During the 1840s, W.W. Phelps was Joseph’s most prolific ghost writer” (Pg 74)
- At 312 lines it is the longest poem ever published in Times and Seasons. It is almost inconceivable that in 1842 Joseph could have carved out the many hours that such a poetic paraphrase would have required.
- Phelps reportedly desired a closer personal relationship with the prophet and would write unsolicited tributes and songs and poems and present them to the prophet in attempts to impress him in those days.
- The issue of Times and Seasons in which the poetic paraphrase was published included “(1) an essay entitled “Ancient Poetry”, credited to the editor, John Taylor; (2) Phelps’s four-stanza poem labeled “From W.W. Phelps to Joseph Smith: The Prophet” titled… “Go With Me”” and (3) the 312-line poem in question. (Pg 70) Hicks continued “It [the long poem] was in some respects a song adaptation: it picked up where “Go With Me” left off, continuing the theme in the same dactylic meter” (Pg 71)
- The poem speaks in first person (always “I”) whereas the actual revelation scrupulously speaks of “we” (Joseph and Sidney Rigdon) which is in harmony with Joseph”s strong feelings about the law of witnesses.
- The Taylor essay prefacing the poetic paraphrase refers to its author only as “our poet”.

There are 21 pages in the article of these sorts of evidences but I think it is safe to say that Hicks makes a very convincing case that this poetic paraphrase was authored by Phelps and not by the prophet.

What does this mean? Well, it means that we are going to have to take Joseph”s later assertions that God the Father has a Father in Heaven too and that Jesus only did in his atoning mission here on earth the things that he had seen his Father do on another inhabited world before him. It has deep implications of about our understanding of God. It means that there is no preaching from Joseph in opposition to the idea that every inhabited world has a savior of its own after all. All of those things have far reaching theological implications.

In other words, this is very important information for any theologically-minded Mormon.

70 Comments »

  1. A couple comments: Joseph Smith said that our Heavenly Father was an exalted man. That means that the doctrine of Christ as described in D&C 93 applies to him as well. It generally entails the proposition that he had a mortal tenure like unto ours. It does not entail the proposition that the chain of fathers is infinite in the backward direction. In fact Abr 1:3 contradicts that idea:

    It was conferred upon me from the fathers; it came down from the fathers, from the beginning of time, yea, even from the beginning, or before the foundation of the earth, down to the present time, even the right of the firstborn, or the first man, who is Adam, or first father, through the fathers unto me.

    Now as to the poem, I wish I could read it in full online somewhere, but I suspect that the controversial passages correspond to the orthodox doctrine of the scriptures, if properly understood. Of course few recognize that virtually every verse of scripture containing a proper name must be interpreted in light of the doctrine of incorporation, a doctrine taught by Moses, Abraham, and Paul, among others.

    Comment by Mark Butler — October 26, 2006 @ 1:59 am

  2. Geoff: The evidence that Phelps wrote the poem is merely circumstantial. I could quibble with each of these supposed “circumstantial proofs,” and would do so but they are beside the point. JS surely read and approved the poem. It was attributed to him as his and he was surely aware that anything attributed to him carried the same weight to the Church as if written directly by him.

    Further, the notion that Christ atoned for all worlds is already in section 76 — “”he is the only begotten of the Father — That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the ihabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (vv. 23-24); “who glorifies the Father and saves all the works of his hands …” (v. 43)

    I have previously given strong scriptural support for the view that God is the God of all other gods and the most intelligent of them all. It isn’t difficult to understand but it doesn’t square with your view of mutliple saviors and multiple gods who deal with all kinds of worlds that “god” just hasn’t quite gotten around to yet. It just doesn’t square with scripture.

    Comment by Blake — October 26, 2006 @ 6:26 am

  3. Geoff: Let me add this. There is a statement in the Sermon in the Grove where Joseph clarifies that all of these other gods that he references are actually sons and daughters of God. he says:

    I have an[othe]r. Scrip-now says God when visited Moses in the Bush-moses was a stutt[er]ing sort of a boy like me-God said thou shalt be a God unto the children of Israel-God said thou shalt be a God unto Aaron & he shall be thy spokes. 41 I bel. in these Gods that God reveals as Gods-to be Sons of God 42 & all can cry Abba Father 43-Sons of God who exalt themselves to be Gods even from bef. the foundatn. of the world & are all the only Gods I have a reverence for (Bullock Report)

    The latter statement is transcribed: “I beleive in these Gods that God reveals to be Gods – to be Sons of God & all can cry Abba Father – Sons of God who exalt themselves to be Gods even from before the foundation of the world & are all the only Gods I have reverance for.” So all of these other gods are sons and daughters of God. Since Joseph is using the example of Moses, we know that we are among these gods.

    You conclude: “This is excellent evidence that we (all humankind) can be included in the terms “the gods” when they are spoken of in the scriptures. We are the same kind and species as all the gods who went before us after all.” But of course that is not all that it is evidence for — it is also evidence that Joseph’s refernces to “gods” means the sons of the Head God in the council of gods. We are all involved in the process of creating worlds and progressing.
    You conclude:

    Comment by Blake — October 26, 2006 @ 6:35 am

  4. Blake: Do you get into the meaning of what it means for us to be Gods in your books. When we have “eternal lives” what will be our spiritual responsiblity to our spirit children? In your view, I take it we will not need to supply a propitiation for them, as Christ and Heavenly Father supplied us.

    I still intend to buy your books, even if they are pablum.

    Comment by Matt W. — October 26, 2006 @ 6:50 am

  5. Blake, I should add that Farms gave you some pretty high praise.

    Comment by Matt W. — October 26, 2006 @ 6:51 am

  6. Matt: In the third volume I have an entire chapter devoted to what it means for humans to be “gods” and to share a fulness of divinity with Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Short version — there are no divine acts ad extra or outside of the unity because a divine act is one that is and must be done in unity with the other divine persons. I do not envision it as if we fly off with our wives to some far corner of the universe to create what God has not gotten around to yet — that is a caricature of Joseph’s vision. Instead, we mutually glorify and contribute to more growth and progression for each other, exalting and glorifying the Father as the Son exalts and glorifies God and by so doing himself, and exalting and glorifying us and in so doing exalting and glorifying himself. It is the highest expression of mutual realization and love.

    Comment by Blake — October 26, 2006 @ 7:11 am

  7. I find it interesting that wheather or not JS wrote the poem, he or whoever wrote it has changed the meanings ever so slight that it makes one realize that just by using different words we get completely different meanings. Now this can mean one of two things. It can mean that man’s perception of Godliness is not God’s view of himself and thus the errors, or that man is limited in transcribing exactly what he sees and placing it on paper and would thus need further revision later on.

    I do find it interesting that both the poem and section 76 are in answere to the retranslation of a scripture (john 5:29) that was really never changed in the JST. So the question I have is if John 5:29 really needed changing, how come this same verse is found once again spoken by Christ in the BOM (3 Nephi 26:5) and it wasn’t changed also? From this alone I think that the difference in how man views godly things is not always transcribed on paper in perfect form. In fact I believe that much of what is contained in section 76 in the way it is laid out puts a lot of strain on the gospel of Christ as Christ himself teaches in the New Testament and BOM. This I believe is due to the error of man.

    Just as John 5:29 really didn’t need a retranslation (it was already in a perfect form), JS heard the angel speak in a different language of words to perhaps give the meaning to how JS currently viewed things such as- JS may have already had in mind and was wondering about the resurrection of the just and unjust and since he was on these words the angel used the same words to enlighten his understanding without really needing to retranslate John 5:29 but then JS interpreted it as John 5:29 as being wrong and needing translated after the fact of the matter.

    How does this relate to if our savior of many worlds is the same? It is simple, JS could of very easily of saw various worlds but thet could of all been the same world, just at different times or reigns of this earth. This is plausible as in section 76 he sees at least 3 different worlds- The Celestial, Terrestrial, & Telestial. The problem of coarse is that all three of these worlds are just the same world but at different times and reigns. So how do we know that the worlds in which he saw wasn’t the future worlds that we ourselves will populate when we are God’s and that because Satan will have already been destroyed, the inhabitants will be sons and daughters of God and this is all credited to Satan already of being overcome by Christ in the distant past(our time right now)? Will Christ not be credited for all future eternity as the savior of all future worlds because he overcame Satan here and now bringing endless and futuristic happiness to the future worlds?

    Comment by Rob Osborn — October 26, 2006 @ 8:07 am

  8. I echo what Blake said in #6. Although the more pertinent point here is the nature of the body of each member of the Trinity. Consider the body (or Priesthood) of Abraham (referred to as thee) in the following passage:

    And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee above measure, and make thy name great among all nations, and thou shalt be a blessing unto thy seed after thee, that in their hands they shall bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations;

    And I will bless them through thy name; for as many as receive this Gospel shall be called after thy name, and shall be accounted thy seed, and shall rise up and bless thee, as their father;

    And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee; and in thee (that is, in thy Priesthood) and in thy seed (that is, thy Priesthood), for I give unto thee a promise that this right shall continue in thee, and in thy seed after thee (that is to say, the literal seed, or the seed of the body) shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the Gospel, which are the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal.
    (Abr 2:9-11)

    And who are the seed of Abraham? Jesus said:

    They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham.
    (John 8:39)

    Thee == Abraham == he and his (true, lineal or adopted) children or seed == his Priesthood. And though Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, was he not made [1] an high priest, without father, nor mother, not beginning of days, nor end of life, like unto the Son of God, holding the right belonging to the first born, or first father [2]?

    Or in the Joseph Smith Translation of the same:

    For this Melchizedek was ordained a priest after the order of the Son of God, which order was without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life. And all those who are ordained unto this priesthood are made like unto the Son of God, abiding a priest continually.
    (JST Heb 7:3)

    And who is Christ’s seed anyway? Abinadi had the answer to that [3]. And his body? Paul made that [4] known unto us.

    And so whether the poem be doctrinally correct or not depends on the correctness of each level of supposition [5] of the name of Christ, or the Son of God in its verses.


    [1] Abr 1:2
    [2] Abr 1:3
    [3] Mosiah 15:11 et seq.
    [4] 1 Cor 12:12
    [5] From the medieval Latin suppositio, or roughly “the way(s) a term is used in a sentence”. In the first passage above Abraham has triple supposition, as the passage itself documents.

    Comment by Mark Butler — October 26, 2006 @ 8:20 am

  9. Does anyone per chance have a link to the text of the poem here? I feel like I am in the dark.

    Comment by Mark Butler — October 26, 2006 @ 8:30 am

  10. Blake: (#6)- I don’t disagree with you, but what does this imply about any children which are created beyond this life we live in? (I hope this comes accros with clarity.) Are you denying we will have spirit children then?

    Mark: here

    Comment by Matt W. — October 26, 2006 @ 8:36 am

  11. Interesting thoughts again Geoff.

    I don’t know if anyone cares or noticed, but I tried my hand at writing a sci-fi short story of an LDS astronaut being the first person to visit another inhabited planet. I eventually chose to have the scriptures on this other planet contain a visit from the Savior much like what is in 3rd Nephi. The conclusion I chose was that this planet had the same Savior as ours did.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — October 26, 2006 @ 8:38 am

  12. If you don’t read my story, I’m not sure if it means you are lazy, have good taste, or have better things to do.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — October 26, 2006 @ 8:39 am

  13. The poem, it’s nice, and worth reading twice
    And preaches the doctrine of Jesus the Christ
    And if the author be Joseph the Smith,
    I am sure he understood it, I am sure that he did.
    But if the author be W. W. Phelps,
    I am not quite as sure he knew that which he wrote.

    Comment by Mark Butler — October 26, 2006 @ 9:08 am

  14. Thanks, Matt.

    Comment by Mark Butler — October 26, 2006 @ 9:24 am

  15. Eric, you’re a regular Gerald Lund.

    Comment by Matt W. — October 26, 2006 @ 10:02 am

  16. Blake: The evidence that Phelps wrote the poem is merely circumstantial. I could quibble with each of these supposed “circumstantial proofs,” and would do so but they are beside the point. JS surely read and approved the poem. It was attributed to him as his and he was surely aware that anything attributed to him carried the same weight to the Church as if written directly by him.

    It is true that the evidence for Phelps’ authorship are circumstantial, but so are the evidences for Joseph as the author. We live with the evidences we have, and the Hicks piece seems to make a better case for Phelps being the author than can be made for Joseph as the author. Perhaps there is evidence for Joseph being the author which I am unaware of.

    As to the argument that “Joseph surely read and approved the poem,” this seems to be very much like the argument you made about the Lectures on Faith. In that discussion, you did end up convincing me of the validity of that point, largely because the LonF were taught over a number of months in the School of the Prophets. The same is not true of this poem, and it seems quite problematic to make the assumption you suggest above. We have lots of time to pour over these writings and comb through them for doctrinal implications, but I think it is unwise to assume Joseph had the same. If there is evidence he did, then fine. But just saying ‘he surely read and understood the implications’ without any evidence that he did that is unwarranted in my opinion.

    Comment by Jacob — October 26, 2006 @ 10:26 am

  17. Rob (#7),

    You conclude from the lack of a JST edit or change in the BofM rendition that John 5:29 was “already in perfect form.” I think this is based on a faulty understanding of the JST as well as of scripture in general. The JST cannot, by any stretch, be seen as fixing any scripture which was not already in “perfect form.” But more importantly, what does it mean for a scripture to be perfect? Scriptures are given to people in a certain time and place, and God has made it abundantly clear (by saying it explicitely) that he does not reveal all the same things to every group of people. There is nothing wrong with John 5:29, but it certainly leaves out a lot of information on the topic of different resurrections. Your suggestiong that D&C 76 is at fault because it conflicts with the New Testament seems quite odd to me. D&C 76 was given for the express purpose of sheding more light (not less) on John 5:29. Subsequent revelations cleared up some things that were not yet clear when D&C 76 was given (salvation for the dead, for example). I agree that languange can be imprecise and imperfect in conveying truth, but you seem to be taking this a bit far (for my taste) in some of the assertions you are making.

    Comment by Jacob — October 26, 2006 @ 10:40 am

  18. It generally entails the proposition that he had a mortal tenure like unto ours. It does not entail the proposition that the chain of fathers is infinite in the backward direction.

    Mark, it would seem that Joseph Smith didn’t agree.

    Comment by J. Stapley — October 26, 2006 @ 11:42 am

  19. Jacob,

    In John 5:29, Christ explains that there are two classifications of resurrection, namely those who come forth to eternal life & those who don’t who come forth unto eternal damnation. There is nothing wrong with this verse to begin with. The angel used different words here which in fact mean the same exact thing, namely- the just (eternal life), & the unjust (eternal damnation). This can all be cross refernenced with modern scripture as in Mosiah 16:11, Helamen 12:26, & D&C 29:43-44.

    So to say that John 5:29 without the JST is not a correct doctrine or even a misleading one or even one that doesn’t explain it right is only to say that the D&C and BOM are also wrong. I believe that the words just and life along with unjust and damnation are just a different way of saying the same exact thing.

    However, the teaching that D&C 76 seems to portray leaves one in a state of confusion on just who the “just” really are and who the “unjust” are. This doctrine of 76 seems somewhat contrary on the surface to the plain and simple gospel that Christ actually taught which is the saved or damned dichotomy as is portrayed all throughout the holy scriptures. What is actually interesting about this section is that JS either didn’t fully understand it at the time or he really did but left it shrouded in mystery.

    It is true that all will not be resurrected at the same time and that there are two basic resurrections, namely the just and the unjust. The just go into eternal life while the unjust go into eternal damnation. The resurrection of the just is described in verses 50-70 while the resurrection of the unjust is described allthroughout the section and is described as those who never accept Christ and suffer until Christ has perfected the work of saving all that are savable into the Celestial Kingdom (Kingdom of Heaven). After he has delivered up the celestial kingdom spotless before God the Father, the second resurrection begins. This second resurrection is specifically for those who are not justified in cleaning their filthy garments in Christ’s blood and therefor remain filthy still. All of the unjust go into eternal damnation in the lake of fire and brimstone which is the second death.

    All of those who Christ saves through the atonement are those who receive eternal life in the Celestial Kingdom. This is portrayed as having access to the tree of life which fruit brings the greatest joy to mankind. The fruit is white beyond all white meaning that it is a sign of purity and perfection- it is life itself in it’s perfection both physically and spiritually. To have the ability to access this tree one must have their name written in the book of life and this book is found only within the Kingdom of heaven which is the holy city of God and Jesus Christ. For without the walls of this city are the devil and his angels who have remained in their filth.

    The doctrine which I just spoke of is the true doctrine of Christ and cannot be added to. And it is for this reason that I question the authorative nature of the resurrection into 3 different eternal worlds which breaks up the saved or damned dichotomy that Christ himself taught which is in it’s most pure form in Alma 11:37-41. It is with this paradox (D&C 76 compared with other scripture) that disbelievers have used to discredit our religion by saying that Christ will save some through his atonement into damnation while others will be saved through his atonement and receive eternal life while even yet another will be resurrected but not saved through the atonement into a another state of damnation. I beleive that this contradiction alone should clue us in on the nature of how things are revealed and transcribed into holy scripture, especially in JS time.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — October 26, 2006 @ 12:07 pm

  20. Wow. I missed a lot around here already…

    Here are some general observations before I reply to some specific comments:

    It is interesting to me to see Mark and Blake involved early in this because they hold positions about the nature of the Godhead that are polar extremes in some respects.

    - As I understand his position, Blake holds that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are beginningless divine persons who have always occupied their current relationship as fully united memebers of the Godhead. He denies that the Father or Son are role/titles/offices that could be occupied by any other persons, worlds without end. (Though he does believe the term God often refers to the divine concert of the Godhead and not only the Father).

    - Mark holds that the titles Father and Son and Holy Ghost are only that — titles and that no single divine person acts as the Father, Jesus is not actually the Savior or the Christ (in Mark’s scheme Jesus is the head of the “divine concert” of Saviors or Team Savior or Team Christ or something), and that the Holy Ghost is not a person either.

    I think that both of these positions end up going too far and that the truth (and Joseph Smith’s position) lies somewhere between these two extremes. What I mean is that I think Blake is right that there are individuals holding the offices of Father and Son for all the inhabitants of the earth. Those roles are not just titles for Team Father and Team Son as Mark so emphatically preaches. But I think that Mark is also right that the titles Father and Son are indeed offices/role-titles. The difference is that I think different divine persons occupy those offices on different worlds as Joseph strongly implied.

    It is also interesting that despite the polar opposite positions and my middle opinion we can all agree with Blake’s comments in #6 — that there is only One God ultimately (the completely unfied members of the extended Godhead) and there are no independent Gods in the universe running their own planets and galaxies.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 26, 2006 @ 12:54 pm

  21. Mark (#1), J. (18),

    As we argued about at length, the Sermon in the Grove does disagree with this and rather explicitely:

    if J.C was the Son of God & John discd. that god the Far. of J.C had a far. you may suppose that he had a Far. also-where was ther ever a Son witht. a Far.-where ever did tree or any thing spring into existence witht. a progenitor-& every thing comes in this way-Paul says that which is Earthyly is in likeness of that which is Heavenly-hence if J. had a Far. can we not believe that he had a Far. also-I despise the idea of being scared to death-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. (WJS pg 380)

    This says that Jesus had a Father, and he (the Father) had a father, and that we may suppose that he too (the Father’s father) also had a father. Now, Blake tries to avoid this by reading “have a father” as a ephemism for “was born on an earth,” but I don’t find that reading compelling. Another option would be to question the veracity of the report. Barring those options, it seems that Joseph did imply a backward chain of fathers in the SitG.

    Comment by Jacob — October 26, 2006 @ 1:08 pm

  22. Ok, have to admit, the term “Team Savior” and “Team Christ” conjured up all sorts of imagery for me that would be too irrevernt to describe…

    That said, is worlds the right term? or is it universes? or realities?

    Comment by Matt W. — October 26, 2006 @ 1:08 pm

  23. Rob (#19),

    I don’t want to overreact to a misunderstanding, so can I clarify something? Are you saying that you reject D&C 76? When you say: “The doctrine which I just spoke of is the true doctrine of Christ and cannot be added to.” are you setting yourself up as a prophet with more authority than Joseph Smith to speak on matters of the afterlife?

    Comment by Jacob — October 26, 2006 @ 1:18 pm

  24. Jacob,

    I do not reject section 76 as doctrine, I do however question the way it was first written and came to be understood- even from JS view. The King Follet discoarse in ways even seem contrary to 76 but it may just be that no prophet has yet to clarify the mysteries of 76 like for instance why the sons of perdition are lost and yet saved according to v.103.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — October 26, 2006 @ 2:53 pm

  25. Rob,

    I guess I am just lost as to your position and I get more confused with each follow up. Verse 103 of D&C 76 does not say that the sons of perdition are saved, it is referring to the telestials. It seems you don’t trust D&C 76, even as understood by Joseph Smith who received that revelation, which seems unsupportable to me, especially if you do so based on your preference for the very scriptures which the revelation was expanding upon. Your statement affirming your own understanding as the “true doctrine of Christ” which “cannot be added to” sets off all kinds of kook alarm bells for me, and I see you didn’t address that given the chance.

    Comment by Jacob — October 26, 2006 @ 3:24 pm

  26. Jacob: Let’s assume that this text means that every father must have a father — and that being exalted by undergoing mortality and having an earthly father won’t explain it (contrary to what I contend). Isn’t that also contrary to Joseph’s express teaching of a Head God (which is a core of both the King Follett Discourse and SintGrove)? If there is a Head God, then how could this Head God have a father as your reading suggests? How could there be a “God of all other gods” who is “more intelligent than they all”? Joseph clearly and repeatedly interpreted Gen. 1:1 to refer to a Head God who calls the other gods together into a council. This Head God directs the creation. Now if there are gods above this Head God, then the very notion of a Head God seems to me to be irreconcilable with the text.

    I suggest that Joseph speaks of the heavenly being in the likeness of the earthly precisely because he is speaking of an earthly father and that each exalted person progresses by having an earthly father after having been already a god in this council of gods — just like the Father or Head God. Your view presumes that the spirit birth model is correct — and I think that we both question that. If every god has a father in regress, then how are they born and to whom? The very idea makes no sense without the teaching of spirit birth of gods to father gods — but I believe that is anachronistic. It is clear beyond dispute that Joseph spoke of intelligences and spirits as virtual synomyms.

    Further, as I have previously argued, we know that the transcription here is not as reliable as we would like because it purports to refer to the Book of Abraham and Abraham’s reasoning, but in the Book of Abraham there is no regress of Gods but a God who is most intelligent. It makes more sense to me to doubt the accuracy of the transcription (especially since one account disagrees with it and another is so garbles that it leaves it out altogether).

    Finally, I believe that we are in agreement that Joseph expressly taught that there is a God of all other gods who is the Head God, are we not?

    Ron: The sons of perdition are first accepting of Christ then reject him. They fall from being saved. So they are fallen from prior grace.

    Comment by Blake — October 26, 2006 @ 3:50 pm

  27. Jacob Re: #16: Do you claim someone else wrote D&C 76 which states essentially the same thing?

    Comment by Blake — October 26, 2006 @ 3:52 pm

  28. Jacob (#23): Your statement affirming your own understanding as the “true doctrine of Christ” which “cannot be added to” sets off all kinds of kook alarm bells for me

    Lol. Rob Osbourne has been setting off kook alarm bells with me since he originally burst on the bloggernacle, Jacob. After the better part of a year I’m still not completely convinced that he is a real person and not just a fictitious blog character someone invented to yank all of our chains…

    Comment by Geoff J — October 26, 2006 @ 4:29 pm

  29. Blake: Isn’t that also contrary to Joseph’s express teaching of a Head God (which is a core of both the King Follett Discourse and SintGrove)?

    It may be a contradiction (Joseph was wasn’t immune to such after all) but it seems to me that this is where the middle ground between your position and Mark’s position helps. I believe the “Head God” probably refers to the “divine concert” or extended Godhead that constitutes the One God. That seems to be the best solution to me based especially on the clarifications Joseph made in the Sermon in the Grove. (The other way of looking at it is that each planet has a presidency and a Head God, but that answer does not suffice alone.)

    Your view presumes that the spirit birth model is correct-and I think that we both question that.

    That isn’t necessarily true. Assuming spirit birth is one way to reconcile the statements that Joseph made about the Father’s Heavenly Father but it is not the only way to reconcile it. (Though I reconcile it by assuming MMP so I too am curious how Jacob reconciles it.)

    but in the Book of Abraham there is no regress of Gods but a God who is most intelligent.

    I see this as more evidence to support the idea that the Head God is not an individual but the unified divine concert (Mark’s term) or extended Godhead. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

    (BTW – This middleground approach between yours and Mark’s views also works to respond to issues you brought in #2 about Section 76. That is that section 76 is using Role-Titles and it is the One God (extended Godhead) that has always been responsible for salvation, worlds without end.)

    Comment by Geoff J — October 26, 2006 @ 4:47 pm

  30. All: While I applaud Geoff’s attempt to find a reconciling position, I just don’t see anything in the text to suggest that the “Head God” is a unifying role of all gods (Joseph Smith clearly never explained it that way). Rather, the head God couldn’t be more intelligent than they all if the Head God is in fact “all”. Further, what is a God of all other gods? Of course the Head God is part of the unity, but the text just says nothing about such a position so it appears to be entirely ad hoc to me — that is, concocted to solve a problem without support from the text.

    Comment by Blake — October 26, 2006 @ 5:17 pm

  31. Rather, the head God couldn’t be more intelligent than they all if the Head God is in fact “all”.

    Sometimes the whole is mightier than the parts. Isn’t that the basis of emergence? Or am I making your point. (Sorry, haven’t had time to read the whole thread)

    But I actually do agree. I think the head God is the Father and not a collective.

    Comment by Clark — October 26, 2006 @ 6:16 pm

  32. Geoff J,

    I understand you to believe that there is a single individual who performs the complete work of Atonement for each and every world. However, as used in the Scriptures, Christ is a proper noun. That means that the name of Christ refers to all atoning figures for all worlds considered as a whole. And I imagine you hold to a doctrine of a potentially infinite number of worlds. Thus as the scriptures are insistent there is is only one Christ, that term must then refer to the sum total of all atoning figures considered as a singular whole, whether there be one atoning figure per world or many.

    So other than an incident of geography, I do not quite see how you can characterize my view as Team Christ without also characterizing your view as Team Christ, i.e. multiple atoning figures necessary to accomplish the Atonement of all. The only difference is my body of Christ occupies a single world, and your body of Christ is one individual per world.

    My conception has the advantage of actually working in a finite universe, and even in a universe with a finite matter density, finite intelligence density, finite number of eternal intelligences per cubic parsec or whatever. But a scheme like yours (and that of Brigham Young) requires one world to be constructed for every exalted couple, and that requires creatio ex nihilo of matter, intelligence, and even universes in order for there to be room and resources enough to allow each person or couple to personally redeem or pro-create 100 billion souls all by themselves.

    Comment by Mark Butler — October 26, 2006 @ 8:08 pm

  33. Blake,

    The way I understand the way fulness of the Spirit works is that there is a conformal mapping between the structure of the brain of an exalted individual and all others that he communicates with spiritually. At the simplest level this mapping is merely a matter of feeling – adequate to sense consensus and division. At a higher level the Spirit of glory between them is modulated such that actual intelligence is exchanged, allowing such persons to carry on and be aware of an exceedingly large number of conversations of various degrees of sophistication at once, as if transceiving on a large number of channels simultaneously.

    At lower levels, the communion of one with another is much simpler, and a person is only sensitive to the feelings of temporal persons in their immediate vicinity, related spirits from an arbitrary distance, and the the intelligence of perhaps one spirit at a time. As a person grows spiritually he becomes acquainted with the not only the feeling, but also the intelligence of a greater number of spirits, i.e. not only is one spirit typically assigned to minister unto him, but he participates in the spirit of many, like a member of a transcendental quorum or body that crosses the bounds of heaven and earth, and any of them may assist and inspire him at any time and vice versa.

    But someone who is unrighteous, or more or less cut off from the Spirit, is erratic and reprobate unto every good work, because he has not the Spirit to guide him. And so the doctrine of depravity is correct – compared to what one can do by the grace of such communion, a natural man is naturally, and practically depraved. It is only by coming into communion with other members of the body of Christ in heaven and on earth, through the grace of the At-one-ment, can he be saved, glorified, or sanctified.

    That is why one can only be saved by taking upon the name of Christ – save he be a member of his body, he is nothing, having no spiritual power to speak of. The adversary of course has a corrupt similitude of this order, and that is the working whereby the spirit of evil is manifest, particularly in those who have sinned unto death.

    And the Most High, like most such terms, usually has two levels of supposition, as an individual, and as a concert (or quorum). And they are hard to distinguish because the knowledge, power and intelligence of the concert may be manifest in each member. Each exalted individual receives a fulness of grace, i.e. all there is to be had at any time, the same as any other exalted person enjoys. Thus it is difficult to distinguish the glory and power of one exalted person from the glory and power of all of them collectively. When one of them acts in the ministry to which he has been appointed, he acts with plenipotentiary divine authority, according to the fulness of the priesthood, the authority of the concert invested in each member provide they abide by the terms of the covenant by which they are one, which is the covenant of the Melchizedek Priesthood, or Holy Priesthood after the order of the Son of God. E pluribus unum is an inspired principle.

    Comment by Mark Butler — October 26, 2006 @ 8:48 pm

  34. Jacob,

    I have seen evidence indicating that both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young knew of the doctrine of the highest ranking divine person, even over a whole host of worlds. And besides that Abr 1:3 is evidence enough. Hebrew tradition has it that this figure is Adam Kadmon, or the divine Adam, the very first (and very much glorified) man in all of eternity.

    There is a great mystery in how one gets the plan of salvation rolling with a first man of all men, first born, or first father, and so it seems that perhaps Joseph Smith decided that perhaps those terms were honorary rather than literal, which is indeed almost true. However, the doctrine of the Pearl of Great Price is indeed that there was a first father, a first man to receive a body (of any kind), i.e. the first man of all men, and the first of all woman also.

    I don’t go for universe multiplication myself, holding it to be contrary to the doctrine of ex materia creation, and the eternality of personal intelligences, and a great many other doctrines. It is mathematically untenable to suppose that there is infinite backward recursion with a per generational fan out of 100 billion in any vaguely Euclidean universe. That would require infinite matter and intelligence density, save the plan of salvation be a Ponzi scheme where the leaves get short handed.

    Where the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek keeps exaltation from being a Ponzi scheme in any coherent universe, even a finite one, but more particularly any universe that does not have an infinite number of eternal intelligences per cubic parsec, or per cubic centimeter for that matter.

    Comment by Mark Butler — October 26, 2006 @ 9:04 pm

  35. Jacob (#25)

    First off I did not mean to set off alarm bells. Let me explain my position with the “adding to it” bit. By this I mean that we as a Christian church have added our own doctrinal beliefs regarding the gospel of Jesus Christ that may not be altogether correct. By this I mean that because the way that section 76 was written, we can really no longer believe in the dichotomy of saved on the right hand of God or found on the left hand and cast off. Just the other week I brought up in class at church that in the end we are either recieved into Gods kingdom totally clean or we are cast out. This is the doctrine of Christ and yet evrytime it is thought of this way someone always brings up section 76 and the whole degrees of glory.

    Not that section 76 is wrong, it just lacks a clearer definement of the true gospel of saved or damned. We have interpreted that even Telestial beings who we say are the ungodly are saved from the devil. Verses 103-106 outlines a group of souls who are Christ’s enemy. Notice that in verse 106 it defines this group with the devil and as enemies that are not part of the work that Christ is to save as is spoken of in Alma 11:40. Now if you go back and read carefully in verses 39-49 of section 76 and compare these with verses 103-106 it can be concluded that these wicked souls who are the whoremongers, liars, scorcerers, adulterers are those that are mentioned of in the scriptures as being cast off into the lake of fire and brimstone after the last and great day of judgement.

    So if this be correct, have we added to the plan of salvation- the gospel of Christ? I believe so, but not because section 76 is a fabrication or that JS was not a true prophet, no, it is because there are some very obvious errors in section 76 as pertaining to how it was written or transcribed and also how we interpret it.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — October 26, 2006 @ 9:42 pm

  36. Blake (#27),

    If D&C 76 says the same thing, as you suggest, then why have you so often brought up the poetic rendition which is so obviously less authoritative than D&C 76 given that it is not canonized? Why have you not just quoted D&C 76? Methinks it is because the language in D&C 76 does not make the point you want as explicitely as the poetic rendition.

    You asked, rhetorically, if I claim someone else wrote D&C 76. (quite obviously I do not, for the benefit of passers-by). I am asking, genuinely, do you still believe Joseph Smith wrote the poetic rendition of the Vision, and if so why?

    Comment by Jacob — October 26, 2006 @ 10:24 pm

  37. Mark (#32): I understand you to believe that there is a single individual who performs the complete work of Atonement for each and every world. However, as used in the Scriptures, Christ is a proper noun.

    First, the theory of atonement I lean toward is a hybrid of a Moral Influence Theory and an Empathy Theory. Both of those only require one person to accomplish (per planet at least). Second, I do believe Christ is a proper noun — just like words like Bishop or Apostle are proper nouns that decribe offices. For our planet, Jesus holds the title of Christ and Savior. The scriptures generally only speak of our world so yes they say there is only one Christ. That does not mean others have not filled that role/office on previous worlds of course. In fact, Joseph very strongly implied that the Father of Jesus served in the role of Christ and Savior on a previous world.

    But a scheme like yours (and that of Brigham Young) requires one world to be constructed for every exalted couple, and that requires creatio ex nihilo of matter, intelligence, [etc. etc. blah blah]

    I have no idea what you are talking about here. NONE of your accusations in this sentence apply to the theological ideas I hold. Where on earth do you get the idea that those things apply to my position?

    Comment by Geoff J — October 26, 2006 @ 10:54 pm

  38. Jacob: I have raised the poem before because I hadn’t yet done the analysis of section 76 regarding the wording of the poem to see what it was based on (frankly, I did it after out last discussion). However, I suggest that your statement that section 76 does not expressly state that Christ saves all and that multiple worlds are at issue is not at all persuasive to me. 76 very plainly states that: “he is the only begotten of the Father-That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (vv. 23-24); “who glorifies the Father and saves all the works of his hands …” (v. 43) This is a question for Mark and you Jacob — how many only begottens are there? I submit that there is one and only one.

    I admit that it takes putting together two verses to link what constitutes the works of Christ’s hands with a plurality of created worlds — but how difficult is that? Come on, do you really think it doesn’t teach that Christ saves all the works of God’s hands? By this time the Book of Moses 1 had already been received or worked out by Joseph and it also speaks of the numerous worlds created by God.

    I don’t know if Joseph wrote the poem or not. I’m not persuaded by Hicks’ argument that Phelps wrote it — but I am open to that possibility. However, I don’t find your counter-argument that Joseph didn’t know what was going on sufficiently to know what the Millenial Star published. I can show that Joseph was frequently in the Star’s office during this time, that he reviewed it prior to publication, that he retained editorial control and frequently changed things, that during the time in question he was often in hiding and had days on end when he could do nothing except read and visit with families that he was hiding with. The notion that the Star published a poem attributed to him and he didn’t know what it said is beyond credulity to me. So I just don’t find your suggestion that Joseph didn’t really know or approve it to be unconvincing.

    BTW I admit that the poem puts together what takes a more careful reading to put together in D&C 76 — but I do claim that the careful reading supports the point so clearly made: Jesus Christ, the man who walked around the Palestinian countryside and is written of in the NT, is the savior of numerous worlds.

    Mark: I don’t find the view that there are multiple Christ’s referred to in D&C 76 at all plausible. The person spoken of in D&C 76 is plainly Jesus of Nazareth — not some title or role or group or unity. So I don’t find the reading you suggest to be plausbile. Geoff and I are in agreement that “Christ” is a proper noun and I would add that it functions in D&C 76 and all of Joseph’s revelations and the Book of Mormon as a “rigid designator” — necessarily there is only one person who is referred to.

    Geoff: What is the hybrid theory you have in mind? The moral influence theory and empathy theory just don’t explain what scripture says Christ accomplished and suffered in atonement. Why even have a theory of atonement if you don’t explain the scriptural assertions? After all, without scripture there is little reason to believe in atonement at all. In fact, I suggest that most folks simply have a purely naturalistic view that we are foregiven and foregive and Christ’s suffering is unrelated or superfluous in the sense that the same could occur even if Christ never existed. One of the hallmarks of the NT and Book of Mormon is that the suffering was necessary — we could not be foregiven without it. Why?

    Comment by Blake — October 27, 2006 @ 8:33 am

  39. Blake,

    Ok, that is an interesting answer–different than I expected. You’ve asked a bunch of very good questions in #26 and #38 which I haven’t addressed yet, and it looks like I won’t have time to answer thoughtfully until tonight. I appreciate your straighforward answers as well as the probing questions. I am not ignoring them, just haven’t gotten a chance to answer yet.

    Comment by Jacob — October 27, 2006 @ 10:41 am

  40. One of the hallmarks of the NT and Book of Mormon is that the suffering was necessary-we could not be foregiven without it. Why?

    This is an excellent question Blake. I’ll try to muster the motivation to post on it soon…

    Comment by Geoff J — October 27, 2006 @ 11:47 am

  41. Blake,

    The doctrine of incorporation of multiple individuals into one body who are referred to by the name of the head is a prominent doctrine of scripture that I believe to be the key to understanding numerous prophets.

    The term Christ does not refer to an individual alone, but that man as spiritually unified with all his sons and daughters pertaining the Melchizedek order of the priesthood, which is the Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God, and the governing authority of the church and kingdom of God.

    And how do I know this? Paul tells us so, so does the author of Hebrews. See Hebrews 2:11 for example. The principles of the Melchizedek Priesthood as they exist in the heavens has been neglected in the popular mind of the Church since the Saints left Nauvoo. The Adam-God theory is wrong because it does not account for the priesthood of Melchizedek. That is why Christ presides over Adam and not the other way around.

    Other examples that explicitly teach or refer to the doctrine of incorporation include Abr 2:10-11, Moses 1:34, and Moses 4:26. Understand that one principle and no end of mysterious scriptures will be unfolded to your view. Numerous scriptures are written with two or even three levels of incorporeal supposition, i.e. the same sentence means two or three different things that are near perfect correlates of each other.

    For example when the body of Christ suffers, the Lord Jesus Christ suffers in his own body, on an ongoing process basis. However as Jesus could not sustain the weight of his own body with the strength he had on earth, a secondary ministry of at-one-ment was added, which should be apparent to the endowed. The first ministry is temporal (on earth), symbolized by bread, and ending in death, the second ministry spiritual (from heaven) symbolized by water and fulfilled in the Resurrection.

    The cross of course refers to the suffering that occurs in the body of Christ on earth, Gethsemane refers to the suffering that is manifest in the body of Christ in heaven.

    Comment by Mark Butler — October 27, 2006 @ 2:39 pm

  42. Mark: You missing the point. You are undoubtedly correct that the unityu of a multiple of divine persons is found throughout the scriptures. However, that does nothing to suggest that Christ is referred to as such a multiplicity in D&C 76.

    Comment by Blake — October 27, 2006 @ 4:02 pm

  43. Blake,

    I would hardly say that there is a pertinent verse of scripture that does not have the names and titles of the Savior used the way I suggest, as well as any that refer to Abraham, Adam, Jacob, Israel, Judah, and many other proper names.

    Comment by Mark Butler — October 28, 2006 @ 3:54 am

  44. Blake (#26),

    First, let me say that I do not have a settled view as to the ultimate truth of this matter. In my opinion, more than one view can be reasonably held, given that there is some conflict in various statements of scripture and of Joseph Smith. I continue to think it out, in no small part due to the discussions we’ve had on this topic before. I respect your view as one way to reconcile the inconsistencies, but I don’t think the problems you lay out for me in #26 are as restrictive as you seem to think they are.

    So, when you say “Now if there are gods above this Head God, then the very notion of a Head God seems to me to be irreconcilable with the text,” that just seems like an overstatement. As I said, I see enough room for more than one possibility where you are trying to portray one view as clearly dictated by the text.

    The passage in the SitG, if transcribed correctly, seems to be in conflict with your way of seeing things. It may be that the text is wrong, but despite your best efforts, I have cannot yet see your view as coming out of the text. It still seems like it is rather forced and not at all the plain reading of the text. If I twist into a certain yoga position, I can sort of see that it could fit, but then I go back and read the text aggain and I can’t imagine that it is what Joseph meant or was trying to convey. It seems to me that if Joseph was trying to say what you ascribe to his statement, he would have said it in much different (more direct) language. He is not known for saying things in such round about and confusing ways that none of this followers figured out what he meant.

    I see options. The “Council of the Eternal God of all other gods before this world was” could be referring to the Council of all other gods instead of the God of all other gods. The “Head God” Joseph refers to in the KFD comes directly out of the Hebrew in the Genesis account (as he mentions in detail), and the Genesis account can hardly be considered a commentary on all the worlds that have ever existed. Of course, in Moses 1 God tells Moses that “only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you.” So, one obvious option is to view the revelations we have as restricted to one particular dispensation of the gospel in the universe.

    I should say, lest you point it out to me, that Moses 1:33, just a couple of verses before says that “worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten.” When coupled with D&C 76:42-43, this does seem to me to support the idea that Christ was the Savior of more worlds than just this one. I do not think that it precludes the possibility that there are Gods besides our God who also have an Only Begotten Son.

    By the way, I don’t think the idea of an infinite regress is dependant on spirit birth, even though I am still open to the idea of spirit birth (despite its unpopularity around here). I think the people around here who reject spirit birth still hold us to be children of God, so I don’t see why their view of spirit adoption wouldn’t work with an infinite regress.

    It is clear beyond dispute that Joseph spoke of intelligences and spirits as virtual synomyms.

    B.H. Roberts and Truman Madsen would take issue with this.

    Comment by Jacob — October 28, 2006 @ 10:50 am

  45. It is clear beyond dispute that Joseph spoke of intelligences and spirits as virtual synomyms.

    And the prophets since have clarified the doctrine. Joseph Smith was not the last prophet.

    Comment by Matt Witten — October 28, 2006 @ 7:45 pm

  46. Matt: Show me where the prophets since Joseph Smith have clarified the distinction between intelligences and spirits — and more importantly, where anyone claims to have received a revelation that clarifies it. If anything, they have simply muddled the distinction and adopted a view of spirit birth without revelation. The Book of Abraham also uses spirits/intelligences as synonyms. Although Jacob suggests that BH Roberts and Madsen would disagree, I suggest that Jacob himself does not. Moreover, I suggest that BH was not attempting to explore how Joseph used the terms intelligences/spirits, but to reconcile the view that there is a literal spiritual birth through a mother in heaven with the view taught by Joseph that intelligences/spirits are eternal. That is why he bifurcated the spirit and intelligence.

    Jacob said: “It still seems like it is rather forced and not at all the plain reading of the text.” Strange, I was just thinking the same thing about your gymnastics trying to make “Head God” and “God of all other gods” mean that there is a God of some other gods and God who is the Head God, but this head god also has a god. I suggest that the text itself points to the Father having a Father as the heavenly being in the likeness of the earthly, so it suggests to me that it is addressing the Father’s mortal father and not some God above the Head God who is the God of all other gods. Of course, we’ll continue to disagree on how we see the text, won’t we?

    I concur, of course, that D&C 76 and Moses 1 speak of numerous worlds created by God through Christ — and 76 expressly states that Jesus Christ saves all the works of the Father’s hands. What I don’t buy in the least is that in 1832 Joseph had some idea of an endless regress of gods where every god has a father and a god above him/her. I also reject the notion that he had some idea of mutliple saviors. I agree however that the remainder of the reveltion in the Book of Moses is limited to a revelation of this earth alone. However, that is expressly not a limitation in D&C 76.

    Comment by Blake — October 28, 2006 @ 9:24 pm

  47. Blake: Strange, I was just thinking the same thing about your gymnastics

    Of course you were. I think this is a natural consequence of the fact that there is tension between the various texts. They don’t easily fit together. To make them fit, one or more have to bend, or be thrown out, or be understood to apply only in a certain context, etc. As a person who has spent a lot of time reconciling scriptures, you are obviously painstakingly aware of this, which is why I am surprised that you leave so little room for a difference of opinion on these points.

    What I don’t buy in the least is that in 1832 Joseph had some idea of an endless regress of gods

    I never suggested that Joseph had this idea in 1832 when D&C 76 was received. I only suggested that he seems to have this idea in mind in 1844 when he delivered the SitG.

    Comment by Jacob — October 28, 2006 @ 10:12 pm

  48. Jacob: I never suggested that Joseph had this idea in 1832 when D&C 76 was received. I only suggested that he seems to have this idea in mind in 1844 when he delivered the SitG.

    Exactly.

    We have conflicting texts from Joseph. Some of us (including me) like to view all scriptures through the lens Joseph gave us in 1844, others (apparently including Blake) think that the lens he used in years and decades earlier is more accurate. That was the point I was making in this post.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 28, 2006 @ 11:03 pm

  49. Re spirits vs. intelligences – I agree Joseph Smith did use these as synonyms. The modern nomenclature is different. The main point is that Joseph Smith taught that an individual spirit-intelligence is self-existent, eternal, and indestructible. As Alma said “the soul can never die”.

    However we understand that the LORD created first spiritually, and then temporally all of life on earth. The Hebrew traditions testify to the fact that the divine Adam (El Elyon, Adam Kadmon) was the first man of all men, through all eternity.

    But as the second creation account in Moses (the one with the Fall) tells us, the LORD spiritually created plants and animals, then the first man (after the manner of the spirit) from the dust of the earth, and breathed into him his “spirit” or eternal intelligence. And thus man, and later woman was His crowning achievement. Of course spirits do not leave fossils. No death before the Fall.

    Comment by Mark Butler — October 29, 2006 @ 12:26 am

  50. Wow Blake, with a little research, I need to back down and apologize.

    Elder Joseph Fielding Smith gave this caution in 1936:

    Some of our writers have endeavored to explain what an intelligence is, but to do so is futile, for we have never been given any insight into this matter beyond what the Lord has fragmentarily revealed. We know, however, that there is something called intelligence which always existed. It is the real eternal part of man, which was not created or made. This intelligence combined with the spirit constitutes a spiritual identity or individual

    -Encyclopedia of Mormonism.

    If even JFSII didn’t define it, it isn’t defined…

    Comment by Matt Witten — October 29, 2006 @ 7:25 am

  51. All,

    Blake published a must-read article on the idea of pre-existence.

    The Idea of Pre-Existence in the Development of Mormon Thought, Dialogue 15:1 Pages 59-78.

    (Also, I believe he wrote an article for Line Upon Line, but I don’t know where it can be found online. Blake?)

    In the Dialogue article, Blake traces the earliest ideas of the pre-existence of souls through many twists and turns all the way down to the present, showing that this doctrine has been hotly debated among Mormon leaders and scholars since the very earliest days of the church. He also talks about the development of the idea of spirit creation vs. physical creation mentioned by Mark in #49. He even has the Joseph Fielding Smith quote in there Matt quoted in #50. As I said, the paper is a must-read.

    One point which Blake makes in that paper, and has pushed elsewhere (that link is to a monster thread at T&S a couple of years ago where Blake answered a ton of questions on his view), is that the idea of spirit-birth and Mother in Heaven are ideas coming out of Adam-God theory. I recently challenged this view in a discussion with Blake about spirit-birth. My view is that the idea of Mother in Heaven predates Adam-God by way too many years to be blamed on Brigham’s Adam-God doctrine. I don’t think we can entirely discount the possibility that Joseph taught Eliza the idea of MiH as she supposedly claimed.

    Rather than rehashing some of these debates here in this thread, I have been beating a drum that Blake himself pulled out at the end of his Dialogue paper:

    Many Mormons, and probably most non-Mormons, have failed to grasp the wide latitude of possible beliefs which can be tolerated within the tradition of Mormon thought. Although many view Mormon thought as restrictive, it is in fact more inclusive than exclusive, more thought-provoking than thought-binding. (page 73)

    That said, the claim that D&C 76 tells us that Jesus is the only Savior that has ever existed for any world is new ground for me, and directly related to the topic of the post, so if anyone has a good argument about that claim, I am eager to see it play out here.

    Comment by Jacob — October 29, 2006 @ 11:00 am

  52. Mark: Show me where in the Hebrew Bible it says that El Elyon (the Most High) was the first man.

    Comment by Blake — October 29, 2006 @ 4:39 pm

  53. Geoff: It seems to me that the text of the SintGr could be read as you suggest (after all, I read it that way for many years). However, it creates a tension not merely with the very notion of a Head God and with a God of all other gods, but a complete break with rather than a building upon Joseph’s prior revelations. I of course accept that Joseph continued to learn from his First Vision throughout his life so that in 1844 he knew more about what he had revealed to him in his first vision than in 1820. However, the notion of revealing “line upon line” suggests that what goes before prepares the way for what follows. It seems to me that the notions you suggest, of multiple saviors and a God of all other gods who is in reality just one of the many minion gods is a complete break with Joseph’s prior revelations. On the principle that we ought to base our beliefs on revelation rather than the speculations and opinion of anyone, even if prophets, I believe that weight must be given to the revelations. Perhaps you could clue me in as to just how your views give any weight to revelations.

    However, as you say any attempt to make sense of scripture and Joseph Smith’s sermons must have some sort of priority in interpretation. I give priority as follows: (1) scripture; (2) Joseph’s uncanonized revelations; (3) revelations to modern prophets; (3) works previously accepted by common consent as scripture such as the Lectures on Faith; (4) Joseph Smith’s sermons; (5) sermons of modern prophets and apostles. I suggest that you give priority as follows: (1) Joseph Smith’s uncanonized sermons; (2) uncanonized sermons by others; (3) scriptures. Have I accurately assessed your ordering of priority?

    All: I want to pause for just a moment to suggest that in this real headway has been made in the dialogue regarding Joseph’s sermons and beliefs. First, before I began to re-assess Joseph’s sermons and published, I think that it was commonly held that: (a) the Father was not divine before his mortality, but became divine by becoming mortal; (b) there is an infinite regress of gods of which the father is just one and there is no Head God or Most High God; (c) being divine is defined in terms of self-sufficience or independence from needing God. However, I believe that it is now the more common belief that: (a*) the Father was divine before becoming mortal just as Christ was (and as the Holy Ghost is now). I believe that it is a majority view to believe that” (b*) there is not an infinite regress of gods; rather, there is a Head God or Most High God. I believe that it is a live option for many to believe that: (b**) the Father is the Most High or Head God who is the God of all other gods and all of the other gods are sons and daughters of this Most High. Further, I believe that it is now common to believe that: (c*) divinity consists in shared unity of indwelling love and glory.

    Now all of these issues are open for dialogue in LDS thought (after all, that is what we are doing here). I argue vigorously for the views that I believe are best supported by the entire range of evidence — which includes more than just the immediate but also includes the context of Joseph’s other contemporary writings and revelations. However, I also include within the context the entire range of biblical documents — and I think it is a major shortcoming in much of LDS dialogue that we give short shrift to the biblical record.

    Comment by Blake — October 29, 2006 @ 5:02 pm

  54. Blake: I suggest that you give priority as follows: (1) Joseph Smith’s uncanonized sermons; (2) uncanonized sermons by others; (3) scriptures. Have I accurately assessed your ordering of priority?

    I think the categories you have listed are seriously flawed and not useful in this conversation. We all agree that actual revelations from God are the most important guides to understanding the nature of God. I think it is a little disingenuous of you to claim to be staking out the sole position that agrees with the scriptures. We all think our theological positions agree with the actual meaning of the scriptures – that is why we take those positions. The question becomes how we should properly interpret the scriptures. Therefore, simply claiming that your view is the one view that agrees with the scriptures is not at all helpful in this discussion. (It is the same thing Mark has been incessantly doing around the blogs and nobody seems to be really buying what he is selling yet.)

    So when it comes to understanding the scriptures the usefulness of the non-canonized sermons like the KFD and SitG is tremendous in my opinion. In those last sermons we get a feel for what the prophet of God through whom we received most of our scriptures actually believed about God himself. That, to me, is the most valuable exegetical key we have. The records indicate that in 1844 Joseph Smith believed that God the Father of Jesus has Gods who were above him in a patriarchal order. He also seemingly believed that God the Father of Jesus was formerly a savior on a previous world who took up his own body just as Jesus did on our world. He also said that the Father of Jesus was formerly a man like us and was not always God but came to be our God.

    Now of course I know that you reject all of these notions and claim they are at odds with all previous canonized scriptures. You are certainly free to hold that position and you make some strong arguments to defend of your position. But you face the problem that in essence you are arguing with Joseph Smith about what his own revelations about the nature of the Godhead actually mean. That is an argument that I think you are destined to lose.

    If you do want to win this argument with Joseph about the nature of God perhaps an approach you could try would be to argue that Joseph had finally “lost it” by the Spring of 1844 and had gone a little loopy. You could argue that God removed him from office for it or something. Of course that approach might not get you too far with most Mormons… The only other reasonable approach I can think of would be for you to claim that the records of the KFD and SitG must be wrong. That will also prove a hard row for you to hoe though.

    But short of that I don’t think trying to paint your position as “I give priority as follows: (1) scripture; (2) Joseph’s uncanonized revelations; (3) revelations to modern prophets; (3) works previously accepted by common consent as scripture such as the Lectures on Faith; (4) Joseph Smith’s sermons; (5) sermons of modern prophets and apostles” will get you around the real problem that you are up against. That problem is this: When it comes to understanding the nature of God, it is your exegesis of the revelations vs. Joseph Smith’s exegesis of the revelations.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 29, 2006 @ 7:46 pm

  55. Alright Geoff: Show me where the scriptures say that God the Father has a Father; where they say there is an infinite regress of gods, where they say that there are multiple saviors.

    …you are arguing with Joseph Smith about what his own revelations about the nature of the Godhead actually mean. That is an argument that I think you are destined to lose. Of course you know that I regard this assertion as irresponsible. I am attempting to read and understand what Joseph taught as much as you are. I don’t think you can claim the royal road to exegeting Joseph Smith and I am somehow attemtping to argue with him. Was your comment meant to be condescending and pompous? That’s how it comes off.

    I am suggesting that your interpretation runs into major problems in light of scriptural statements. It gets you no where to assume such a superior position. Frankly, you have commented over and over how you privilege Joseph’s later sermons over scripture, so I am surprise at your vituperative attack.

    Comment by Blake — October 29, 2006 @ 8:37 pm

  56. Geoff: He also seemingly believed that God the Father of Jesus was formerly a savior on a previous world who took up his own body just as Jesus did on our world. How does one seem to believe? Actually, I suggest that you believe this and read it into his words. Could you show me where Joseph says anything like the Father atoned or suffered for sins in any works of Joseph Smith?

    Therefore, simply claiming that your view is the one view that agrees with the scriptures is not at all helpful in this discussion. Boy, I’d sure like to see where I said anything like this. If you are going to attack me for taking a position, at least have the courtesy to make sure it is one I actually advocate or take. I believe that my reading of the scriptures suggests several possibilities, some of which seem more persuasive to me than others and some of which seem rather compelling — like God is without beginning or end the same unchangeable being for all eternity to all eternity.

    In those last sermons we get a feel for what the prophet of God through whom we received most of our scriptures actually believed about God himself. That, to me, is the most valuable exegetical key we have. I have no problem with these sermons, it is your reading that excludes the notion of God’s eternity and being the Head God or Most High God that I question. I suggest that your reading of these sermons is not an exegetical tool since you don’t use them to exegete scripture but to provide the controlling cotnent — to the extent you actually attempt to interact with scripture at all.

    In those last sermons we get a feel for what the prophet of God through whom we received most of our scriptures actually believed about God himself I think it is a fundamental error to read the scriptures say about 1832 as if they had the understanding that Joseph expressed in 1844. Joseph undoubtedly learned more between those times. I suggest that it is ananchronistic to read into Joseph’s earlier revelations his later pronouncements. However, it is also a mistake to completely divorce them. I see the earlier revelations as establishing a trajectory of thought which leads to his later and more complete views but certainly not a complete break.

    Comment by Blake — October 29, 2006 @ 8:51 pm

  57. Blake: Was your comment meant to be condescending and pompous?

    Hehe. Come on now Blake; I thought it was an appropriate response to this gem from you in #53: “I suggest that you give priority as follows: (1) Joseph Smith’s uncanonized sermons; (2) uncanonized sermons by others; (3) scriptures. ” Was yours meant to be condescending and pompous? I was just trying to play along. ;-)

    I am suggesting that your interpretation runs into major problems in light of scriptural statements.

    Right, I understand that. I am suggesting that it is not my interpretation you are arguing against, it is the interpretation given to us by Joseph Smith (and Brigham, and Wilford, and Heber C., and Lorenzo, Eliza R., Erastus, etc.)

    Comment by Geoff J — October 29, 2006 @ 9:06 pm

  58. One final comment Geoff. I spend too much time taking on the anti-Mormon and anti-Mormon-in-sheep’s-clothing crowd over issues of the inspired nature of Joseph Smith’s calling to want to spend much time arguing with someone who agrees with me as much as you do. I’d rather count you as a friend and allie than a nemesis. You have attributed to me positions which you know I reject. I admit that I dislike blogging because it doesn’t allow for the kinds of extended analysis and discussion and disclaimers and cautions that are important in all discussions of the nature we are holding. For that reasone we are all prone to misread each other from time to time. Perhaps I ought to stick to writing articles and books and give up blogging — it just doesn’t seem to be the kind of medium that allows for responsible discussions.

    Comment by Blake — October 29, 2006 @ 9:08 pm

  59. Re: #57: Are you suggesting that all of these, BY, WW, Eliza etc. all held the same views and Joseph and all agreed with each other? Come on.

    Comment by Blake — October 29, 2006 @ 9:09 pm

  60. Hey Blake,

    I appreciate your point in #58. I do agree with you on the vast majority of your theology (I’m guessing that I am in agreement with 90%+ of your theology). Of course if this subject (the nature of God) represents 10% it is an important 10% so I think it is worth discussing — even if the blogging medium leads to a few misunderstandings at times. I hope you won’t stop blogging though. If nothing else, our conversations (where we agree more than disagree) probably end up being read by a lot more people than the offline articles you write so I think you can do much good by speaking out in forums like this one.

    Regarding your second point in #56 — I apologize if my comments came off as implying you claim the only possible reading of scriptures. I didn’t mean to imply that. Your comment #53 where you implied that I put scriptures #3 on my list of priorities whereas you put them #1 on your list was the point I was taking issue with. My main point was that we all put the revelations first — it all boils down to how we interpret those revelations.

    I’ll respond to your other questions in my next comment.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 29, 2006 @ 9:42 pm

  61. I like the discussions best where we explore ideas and their implications. It is a given for me that we are all friends and allies. Blake, I always appreciate that you force me to own up to implications of my view that I might sweep under the rug without the scrutiny of disagreement. I hope you will not get discouraged with the blogging format since it is the only format in which I will ever get the opportunity to bounce ideas off you and have a one-on-one interaction with you.

    The statement in #53 that Geoff puts scriptures last in priority attributes to him a position which I think we all know he doesn’t hold. Clearly the guy loves the scriptures, the disagreement is on what they mean.

    Geoff’s response in #54 seems pretty good until the second to last paragraph at which point it launches a surprise nuclear attack in response to #53.

    Assuming we can all get past that, I wanted to respond to this part:

    Show me where the scriptures say that God the Father has a Father; where they say there is an infinite regress of gods, where they say that there are multiple saviors.

    I agree with you, Blake, that the scriptures don’t teach these things, but for me, if I think that Joseph taught these things, then the question I must ask is whether the scriptures can accomodate such a view. Would this be a total break with all the former revelations (as you suggest), or can this be seen as an extention of the doctrines in the previous revelations. In my mind, one easy way to see them as an extention rather than a departure, is to view the previous scriptures as being generally restricted to a account of this world and this God. If Joseph comes along at the end and extends that by saying there are more such systems, and that knowing of the extistence of those other systems is important in understanding our potential to become like God, then it doesn’t seem like a radical departure from his previous thought.

    Comment by Jacob — October 29, 2006 @ 9:42 pm

  62. Hopefully the identical timestamps on #60 and #61 make it clear that I was posting concurrently with Geoff and not as a follow up to #60.

    Comment by Jacob — October 29, 2006 @ 9:56 pm

  63. Jacob: Geoff’s response in #54 seems pretty good until the second to last paragraph at which point it launches a surprise nuclear attack in response to #53.

    Ah come on — surprise nuclear attack? It wasn’t that bad. (At least I didn’t intend that.)

    But seriously, I just think that the issue of how to get around the plain readings of KFD and SitG is huge for anyone who wishes to do so.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 29, 2006 @ 10:25 pm

  64. Blake: (#59) Are you suggesting that all of these, BY, WW, Eliza etc. all held the same views and Joseph and all agreed with each other?

    Don’t read too far into this comment — I didn’t say they all had a uniform theology. However I think they would all agree on a few key points, like the Snow couplet for instance. I think they all agreed that that our Heavenly Father was once a man like us who came to be God for instance.

    (#56) How does one seem to believe? Actually, I suggest that you believe this and read it into his words.

    Well I think he did believe it. I was just trying to demur a bit. I’ve included the original texts of the on my Sermon in the Grove page (after the TPJS version). I know you are aware of the texts (and have responded in this thread already) but since many reading along here may not be I’ll include the texts that would strongly imply that the Father was a savior too:

    I want you to pay particular attention to what I am saying. Jesus said that the Father wrought precisely in the same way as His Father had done before Him. As the Father had done before? He laid down His life, and took it up the same as His Father had done before. He did as He was sent, to lay down His life and take it up again; and then was committed unto Him the keys. I know it is good reasoning. (TPJS 373)

    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
    (Bullock Report)

    But the holy ghost is yet a Spiritual body and waiting to take to himself a body. as the Savior did or as god did or the gods before them took bodies for the Saviour Says the work that my father did do i also & those are the works he took himself a a body & then laid down his life that he might take it up again & the Scripture Say those who will obey the commandments shall be heirs of god & Joint heirs with of Jesus Christ we then also took bodys to lay them down, to take them up again
    (George Laub Journal; italics mine)

    Jesus said that all things that He saw the father do he did (McIntire Minute Book)

    This in addition to the point in the KFD about the Father resurrecting himself like Jesus did after him (all listed here in this post).

    I know you think that the idea that “Jesus actually wrought precisely as his Father did” does not mean the Father was a savior on a previous world. I admit that it is possible. But I contend that a plain reading does indeed strongly imply that it is so. I suppose we can let others read the texts and decide for themselves though since it is unlikely either of us will change our minds soon.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 29, 2006 @ 10:52 pm

  65. Jacob (#61): In my mind, one easy way to see them as an extention rather than a departure, is to view the previous scriptures as being generally restricted to a account of this world and this God.

    Well said. I think Blake is right that we can’t pretend Joseph had any inkling of his 1844 views in the 30s. But as you said there are ways to reconcile the later and earlier views that don’t require us to shelve or explain away most of the KFD and the SitG.

    That said, this recent post by Stapley did remind me that some things in the KFD are probably in need of being shelved or explained away so maybe that could work in Blake’s favor to some degree…

    Comment by Geoff J — October 30, 2006 @ 12:39 am

  66. Jacob & Geoff: Call me stupid, but I had actually understood Geoff to be saying in prior posts that the scriptures had been superceded by Joseph’s later semons and we should give them priority if there is conflict; not that we should use them as tools in scriptural exegesis. I have read them as extensions or steps beyond the scriptures he gave us that build on them without breaking with them. However, I should point out that I am open to the possibility of a development that is so dramatic that it places prior revelation in the position of appearing not just incomplete but inconsistent because the change needed to accomodate the new truth was so drastic that it could not be accomodated without leaping beyond the prior revelation altogether. In fact, that is what the revelation of Jesus that the Law had been fulfilled required — a complete reorientation. However, I would be very cautious to sweep away the revelations unless we were given the revelatory basis for the sweeping change. The problem is that prophets can have erroneous opinions — and even scripture is not inerrant nor is there just one crystal clear reading that presents itself as the truth. In light of these issues, openness to various readings is advised, with assessments and arguments for those we find most persusasive and why we find them persuasive. Some are more persuasive than others.

    However, I would suggest that a reading that accords with prior revelations or places it in the context of a development through revelation is preferred. That is why seek continuity with D&C 121 and the Book of Abraham that Joseph refers to both the KFD and SinG. Both seem to dovetail with his interpretation of a Head God in these sermons who organizes all of the other gods into a council of gods. In any event, to the extent of clear conflict between the printed sources that Joseph was very careful to review and the sermons which have spotty transcription, I suggest we use the former as a guide to the latter.

    Comment by Blake — October 30, 2006 @ 7:06 am

  67. Isaiah said:

    In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.

    And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.

    Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.
    (Isaiah 6:1-5)

    Every principle, once understood, is plain enough even though it seemed a mystery before and foolishness to the unprepared. If one understands what the figure of the seraphim is the doctrine of Atonement, and incorporation, and why the sins of the fathers are visited upon the heads of the children, the nature of their inheritance, and the nature of the restitution an unrepentant one is required to make in the world of spirits until his garments are cleansed and his name redeemed, shall be as clear as day.

    Comment by Mark Butler — October 30, 2006 @ 5:55 pm

  68. Mark: Every principle, once understood, is plain enough even though it seemed a mystery before and foolishness to the unprepared.

    Riiiight. Well ain’t we lucky we have one like you who is spiritually prepared enough to read to hidden truth in all scriptures Mark!

    Have you considered preceding cryptic authoritative sounding comments like #67 with “Thus saith the Mark Butler:”? That would add to the effect nicely I think. (grin)

    Comment by Geoff J — October 30, 2006 @ 7:21 pm

  69. The gods, elohim, are judges acting on behalf of God, so there is one head God and we all act under his direction, in his name (we take upon us his name). If other worlds were created before ours then they would not be Adam’s seed and Christ’s atonement would not be effective for them, so there would have to be a different savior for them. We don’t need a savior for our worlds because our seed are also Adam’s seed.

    Comment by Onika — August 26, 2009 @ 8:48 am

  70. “We don’t need a savior for our worlds because our seed are also Adam’s seed.”

    That wouldn’t work because our children would then be unfallen spirits, so once they’re put on an earth they would need a new savior.

    Comment by Onika — August 26, 2009 @ 8:54 am

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