Jesus Christ

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The Mormon Christus

Mormon Christology, also known as the study of Jesus Christ, finds itself deep in the history of Mormon thought. From the first vision (as it is presented today), Joseph Smith laid out the Latter-day Saint (LDS) belief that Jesus was and is a separate being from Heavenly Father. Many LDS have written books in the area of Christology, most notably James Talmage's Jesus the Christ (1915) and more recently Robert Millet's book, A Different Jesus?: The Christ of the Latter-day Saints (2005). Although Jesus holds a high place in Mormonism, it is his person (i.e., who he is) that is the greatest concern of Evangelical Christians. The Mormon Jesus is unique in that he is hardly anything like the Jesus of the Bible, although many if not all LDS would say otherwise. Thus, it is of great importance to understand who the LDS say Jesus is. More importantly, whether LDS or Evangelical, one must listen to who Jesus says He is.





[edit] The premortal Jesus

"In the premortal life, Jesus Christ, whose main title was Jehovah, was the firstborn spirit child of God the Father and thus the eldest brother and preeminent above all other spirit children of God," (Millet, Jesus Christ, Encyclopedia of Mormonism). Futhermore, McConkie notes that Jesus is the "literal Son of the Father" (Mormon Doctrine, p. 129). When Jesus is spoken of as the "only begotten" (John 3:16), or the "firstborn of all creation" (Colossians 1:15), they are both to be understood literally. In fact, all of humanity were first born in the premortal life. This is how Jesus is considered our "eldest brother".

During Jesus' time in the premortal life, "he came to be more intelligent than all other spirits, one 'like unto God'" (Abraham 3:19, 24). [1] It has been debated as to whether the Mormon Jesus was God prior to his experience on earth or if he attained his status of divinity after his death, burial, and resurrection. Bruce McConkie states in his book Mormon Doctrine that "by obedience and devotion to the truth [Jesus] attained that pinnacle of intelligence which ranked him as a God, as the Lord Omnipotent, while yet in his pre-existent state. As such he became, under the Father, the Creator of this earth and of worlds without number," (p. 129). Nevertheless, in Mormon thought the divinity of Jesus is different, perhaps even distinct from that of the Father's (i.e., the Father is a greater god than Jesus)

[edit] Chosen to be Earth's savior

After The Fall, Mormonism teaches that God needed to find a way for us to all return to him. Moses 4:1-4 and Abraham 3:22-28 describes the Council in Heaven over what to do with the newfound existence of sin. Interesting to note, these passages describe the council in polytheistic terms. Heavenly Father was not the only person (i.e. being) present. Nevertheless, at the council Mormonism teaches that "our Heavenly Father knew and loved each one of us. He knew we would need help, so he planned a way to help us." ("Jesus Christ", in Gospel Principles) Heavenly Father had a choice between Jesus or Lucifer as savior of this world. Jesus said, "Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever" (Moses 4:2). "He, like our Heavenly Father, wanted us to choose whether we would obey Heavenly Father's commandments. He knew we must be free to choose in order to prove ourselves worthy of exaltation." (Gospel Principles) On the flipside, Lucifer proposed, "Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor" (Moses 4:1). In other words, Lucifer wanted to force everyone to do God's will.

After hearing both sides, Heavenly father decided, "I will send the first" (Abraham 3:27). And so, Jesus was "chosen" to be the savior of this world. This decision caused what is known as the war in heaven (cf. Doctrine and Covenants 76:24-29).

[edit] God of the OT

Furthermore, Jesus is to be understood as the God of the Old Testament, distinct from Heavenly Father. The First Presidency of the LDS church states that "He was the Great Jehovah of the Old Testament." [2] The Encyclopedia of Mormonism affirms that "He was the Almighty God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God-Lawgiver on Sinai, the Holy One of Israel." [3] Mormonism thus believes that the actions of God in the OT are to be seen as the actions of the premortal Jesus, the Son, prior to his incarnation.

Therefore, if Jesus is to be understood as "Jehovah", Mormonism also teaches that Heavenly Father is to be understood as "Elohim". What was at odds with first-century Judaic thinking was that God had a Son, BYU professor Roger Keller notes that "the unique Christian surprise is not that Jehovah has a son who is Jesus but rather that Jesus who is Jehovah has a Father," (Jesus Christ: Son of God, Savior, p. 121). In sum, LDS teachings claim that Jews were shocked to recognize that Jesus had a Father rather than recognizing that God had a Son.

See main pages: Jesus as Father, Modalism

[edit] Jesus as creator

"Under the direction of the Father... Christ created this world and all the things on the face of it [Abraham 3:22-24; 4:1] (Millet, A Different Jesus?, p. 21). Furthermore, Talmage writes that, "the Father operated in the work of creation through the Son" and later calls him "Jesus Christ, the Creator of heaven and earth" (Jesus the Christ, pp. 31-32). Mormon scripture also teaches that Jesus created worlds without number (Doctrine and Covenants 76:24; Moses 1:33).

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See main page: Creation

[edit] Conception

"As startling and offensive as it sounds, Mormon leaders have consistently taught that Jesus Christ was physically begotten by God the Father, who they teach possesses a physical body." [4] This stems from the Mormon teachings that all spirit is really a finer matter, that the Holy Spirit did not beget Jesus (contra the Bible), and that Christ's status of "only-begotten" refers to his real lineage from the Father and Mary. However, it should be noted today that there is no official doctrinal statement that states that Jesus was physically begotten by God the Father and Mary. Today Mormonism holds to an Evangelical viewpoint concerning the virgin birth.

See main page: Conception of Jesus

[edit] Nature and person

The nature and person of Jesus (what and who he is) is vastly different from Evangelical Christian theology. Mormonism strays biblically from what and who Jesus is, defining his deity and even humanity not only in different ways, but in non-biblical and new ways. The LDS faith strays less from the actions (or "acts") of Jesus. They do affirm his miracles, his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. However, the connection of Jesus' actions and the plan of salvation is also very different from Evangelical Christian theology. Although it can be affirmed that there is agreement in what Jesus did, the disagreements and differences arise as to who the person was that did them.

[edit] Nature

For example, Mormons deny that Jesus possesses two natures. "Latter-day Saints are monophysite in their christology; that is, they believe Christ has only one nature, which is simultaneously both human and divine. This is possible because the human and the divine are not mutually exclusive categories in LDS thought..." (Stephen Robinson, LDS Differences in Doctrine, [5]). The implications of such a belief about Jesus are staggaring. First, this is a clear rejection of the Chalcedonian Creed (451 A.D.) which affirms Jesus full humanity and full deity as two natures and one person. Second, as Robinson states in the quote above, Mormons do not separate the nature of man and the nature of God. Therefore, just as Jesus was able to attain his godhood (cf. Abraham 3:19, 24) so humanity has the potential to do the very same, that is, become a god. Third, on the flipside of allowing both divine and human nature to be similar one may become cautious as though this brings God down to humanities level - or - it is bringing humanity up to God's level. The only difference between God and humanity, according to the implications of their Christology, is that God has simply progressed further than we have (cf. eternal progression).

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[edit] Person

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[edit] What Jesus did

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See main page: Atonement of Jesus

[edit] A different Jesus

Mormonism itself states that they believe in a different Jesus. Bruce McConkie, a past apostle, states that "virtually all the millions of apostate Christendom have abased themselves before the mythical throne of a mythical Christ whom they vainly suppose to be a spirit essence who is incorporeal, uncreated, immaterial, and three-in-one with the Father and Holy Spirit" (Mormon Doctrine, p. 269). Evangelicals should be offended by this statement. Yet, despite how offensive it may be to Latter-day Saints, Mormons do believe in a different Jesus.

Mormons do believe in his death, burial, and resurrection. However, the very person that they believe died, was buried, and resurrected is a very different Jesus. McConkie makes this clear above. He is a Jesus who is our literal brother because of his literal spiritual birth in heaven, progressed and received his divinity prior to his human birth, only has one nature (i.e., one that is both human and divine at the same time), and is a separate being in the Godhead.

This view of a "different Jesus" is confirmed by their very own modern day prophet, speaking to a group of Latter-day Saints in France:

"In bearing testimony of Jesus Christ, President Hinckley spoke of those outside the Church who say Latter-day Saints 'do not believe in the traditional Christ. 'No, I don't. The traditional Christ of whom they speak is not the Christ of whom I speak. For the Christ of whom I speak has been revealed in this the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times'" (June 20, 1998) [6].

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[edit] Notes

  1. See the text prepared for this topic here:
  2. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966, pg. 129
  3. Bruce R. Mcconkie, Conference Report, October 1948, First Day—Morning Meeting. Available online here.
  4. Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols., 3
  5. Milton R. Hunter, Conference Report, October 1949, Second Day—Morning Meeting. Available online here.
  6. Truman G. Madsen (BYU professor), Eternal Man, p.56. Available online here.

[edit] External links

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[edit] Mormon

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