In our last Institute class we learned about the reality of Satan and the evil spirits in the world around us. That was Moses chapters four and five. In tonight’s class we covered Moses chapter six in which we learned about the priesthood, the prophet Enoch and the Plan of Salvation. In this essay, I would like to focus on one single verse which teaches us so very much about God.
57 Wherefore teach it unto your children, that all men, everywhere, must arepent, or they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God, for no bunclean thing can dwell there, or cdwell in his dpresence; for, in the language of Adam, eMan of Holiness is his name, and the name of his Only Begotten is the fSon of Man, even gJesus Christ, a righteous hJudge, who shall come in the meridian of time.
If we all spoke the Adamic language, when we called upon God in prayer, there would be no confusion about who it is that we are addressing. Man of Holiness is his name. That phrase tells us succinctly that God is a man, albeit a perfect and holy man. He is a glorified and exalted man. He looks like us. We look like him. He was once a man like us. He passed through a mortal life.
God is an exalted man
Joseph produced chapter six of Moses in November and December of 1830. This was after the Book of Mormon had been translated and published. This was after the organization of the church. Joseph was living in Fayette, New York. Sidney Rigdon and Edward Partridge had just been converted. Sections 35 and 36 of the Doctrine and Covenants were received for them.
Thus we see that the phrase “Man of Holiness” was known to Joseph early in his work. The knowledge of that phrase includes an understanding of the exalted nature of God and that he was once a mortal man. Joseph’s understanding of this doctrine was not something that needed the King Follett discourse in 1844. That was when he taught it clearly to the assembled saints:
“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 in the form of a man–like yourselves in all the person, image and very form as a man…He was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ Himself did.”
Witnesses of other prophets
Brigham Young taught (JD19:64), “Our Father in heaven is a personage of tabernacle, just as much as I am who stand before you today, and he has all the parts and passions of a perfect man, and his body is composed of flesh and bones, but not of blood.” This was also taught clearly by Joseph Smith in D&C 130:22 – “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s.”
Orson Hyde said (JD1:123), “Remember that God, our heavenly Father, was perhaps once a child, and mortal like we ourselves, and rose step by step in the scale of progress, in the school of advancement; has moved forward and overcome, until He has arrived at the point where He now is.” God our Father in heaven, passed through a mortal experience just as we are doing.
President Lorenzo Snow coined the famous couplet, “As man now is, God once was; as God is, man may become. We are the offspring of God, begotten by Him in the spirit world, where we partook of His nature as children here partake of the likeness of their parents. Our trials and sufferings give us experience, and establish within us principles of godliness.” (JD 26:368)
Was God once a sinner?
Theologian W. John Walsh explained, “The critics argue that since we believe sinful men can become gods, it is a natural conclusion to say that our God was once a sinful man. However, they conveniently twist our theology to meet their reasoning. Their reasoning presupposes that when faithful Latter-day Saints become ‘gods, even the sons of God’ (D&C 76:58), they become beings equal and independent of our Heavenly Father. However, this is incorrect.
“While we believe that the faithful will enjoy a life similar to our Heavenly Father, we also believe we will still be subject to and worship the God of Heaven, which is represented as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. We will never be at the same level as them or stop worshipping them, but we will be like them and enjoy a quality of life similar to theirs.”
“In no place does the Prophet Joseph argue that our Father in Heaven ever sinned. He simply says that since Adam had a body fashioned after the image of God, then God’s body must be like Adam’s or his descendants (us). Likewise, he says that our Heavenly Father once ‘dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did.’” We do not teach that God was ever a sinner.
Summary and conclusion
When Joseph Smith went into the grove to pray on that spring morning in 1820, he declared that he saw God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Critics and historians have argued that he did not make that distinction clear for many years. I have written previously about the multiple versions of the First Vision. I concluded that I found no discrepancy in their content.
Did Joseph teach from the beginning that God was once a man and that he passed through a mortal existence the same as we are doing? I don’t know how early he taught this truth, but it is evident from his translation of Moses chapter six in December of 1830 that he was familiar with the phrase, “Man of Holiness” and all that implied. Joseph knew then that God was once mortal.
I learned these truths as a child and have taught them all my life. This knowledge of His true character enables me to exercise greater faith in God. Joseph told the truth about what he said he saw and I believe him when he taught that God was once a man. I also believe than man can become like God and achieve exaltation, but that’s a subject for an essay at some other time.