Do Mormons Believe God was Once a Man?
Among the questions that have rarely been addressed by the professors of religion, but which we hunger for answers, are these:
- Where did God come from?
- If God has always existed, but we only just came into existence a few thousand years ago as a race, what did He do before creating us?
- What will God do after His work with us on earth is complete?
- What does He do today?
- Does he just create beings to worship him? Or is there a loftier purpose?
Many people in the Christian faith’s reject the idea that God was once a man because they largely believe in a trinity concept wherein Jesus and the Father are the same being. Yet they believe Jesus was born into this world so obviously He was a man. All of Christianity believes God was once a man! The difference with the LDS faith is we do not believe the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to be the same being, but separate beings who are one in purpose. That is what the Bible teaches. This article will explain our beliefs about the origin of God the Father. Follow this link for more information on the Godhead being separate beings.
To begin, we first need to understand God’s purpose in what his work is all about. What motivates Him? Among the scriptures that members of the LDS faith quote most is this passage in the book of Moses. Specifically verse 39. In this experience as Moses converses with the Lord, the Lord has just told him about the vastness of creation and Moses asks to see it all. The Lord answers with a declaration of why he does what he does.
36 And it came to pass that Moses spake unto the Lord, saying: Be merciful unto thy servant, O God, and tell me concerning this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, and also the heavens, and then thy servant will be content.
37 And the Lord God spake unto Moses, saying: The heavens, they are many, and they cannot be numbered unto man; but they are numbered unto me, for they are mine.
38 And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works, neither to my words.
39 For behold, this is my work and my glory-to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.
It is God’s purpose to create and exalt his creations. He wants them to have immortal bodies and enjoy the blessings of eternal life in His presence. He created us for this purpose and he labors to achieve this objective, within the bounds of eternal law.
In order to better understand why we are here on earth, we need to understand that we were created by God prior to life in this mortal realm, and there existed as his spirit children. There are a number of scriptures which illustrate this.
God is the father of our spirits.
Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?
In Job 38:1-7 the Lord asks Job where he was when the foundations of the earth were laid “and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” We were there. We are the children of God as Paul explained in Romans 8:16-17.
The disciples understood the doctrine of a pre-mortal life and here asked Jesus if one individual had done something there to warrant being born blind. The Savior doesn’t correct any false understanding of the notion of living before mortal birth, but instead declares the man innocent of sin before being born.
1 And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.
2 And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?
3 Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.
This one very clearly illustrates that Jeremiah lived prior to this life and was in God’s presence.
4 Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
5 Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.
Purpose of Life
If you will look back up at verses 24 and 25, you will see that the purpose of this life is to be tested to see if we will keep the commandments. In our pre-mortal state, we did not have a physical body, but our Heavenly Father did (Jesus did not until he came to earth to be born and then resurrected). We wanted to be like our Heavenly Father and enjoy the blessings that a perfect immortal body would afford us. We, as children of God, wanted to be like our loving Father (and naturally a Mother as well though she is not discussed openly in scripture).
Paul taught in Hebrews 9:23 that things on Earth are created after the pattern of heavenly things. We also know that the word “God” as used in Genesis 1:1 is the Hebrew word Elohim and the -im on the end makes it a plural word. There are a couple ways to comprehend what this means, but one is that we don’t just have a Father in Heaven. Whenever did a child exist who had a father but not a mother? God has declared us His children and we are. In Genesis 1:26-27 we see this borne out when the Lord declares, “let US make man in OUR image…after our likeness…male and female created he them.” Who is the “us” and “our” if not a Heavenly Mother to pattern Eve after?
Our purpose in coming to earth was two-fold.
First to gain a body so that it would someday be resurrected and glorified and we would physically become like our Heavenly Parents.
Second, to be tested to see if we would obey the Lord’s commandments and be able to return to His presence.
Successfully passing the test of life does not mean one is saved by works. The prophet Nephi in the Book of Mormon said it best when he declared:
2 Nephi 25:23 For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.
We know that it is only through the grace and mercy of God, wrought by the blood of Christ through his atonement, that we can have hope to be saved in the kingdom of God. We also know that declaring a belief in God without actually keeping the commandments, will not be sufficient to bring us into heaven. As Jesus declared,
Matt 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
There is much that could be said here about the spirit world and preparation for judgment. To save space in this post, I will direct the reader to another article I recently posted which explains our beliefs in the kingdoms of glory that await us (Do Mormons believe everyone else is going to hell?). As Jesus said,
John 14:2 In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
If you will read the article just referenced, you will see the scriptural case for what we term “degrees of glory.” In short, Paul makes the case that in the resurrection there are varying degrees of resurrected bodies, some as glorious as the sun, some likened to the moon, and others like the stars “for one star differeth from another star in glory” (1 Cor. 15:40-42). He also speaks of being caught up to the third heaven in 2 Cor. 12:2. We believe these kingdoms of glory are what Jesus referred to as the “many mansions,” or places where we would be comfortable living for eternity, according to the light and truth we were willing to follow in this life. The highest degree of glory is termed the Celestial kingdom and it is the place where God dwells.
Are we God’s Children?
So now to get to the heart of the matter. Does the reader accept that we are God’s children and that we have Heavenly Parents? If not, why do we call God our Heavenly Father? How can we have a Father without a Mother? What do children do but learn and grow and move toward becoming parents? What greater joy is there for a parent in seeing their children succeed in life, marry, and produce grandchildren for them to love and nurture as part of their family. Does it diminish the parent or grandparent to see the child or grandchild attain the title of “adult”? No. Parents build an inheritance for their children and try to prepare a better world for them to inhabit. This was taught by Paul in Romans 8:16-17.
16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
What does it mean to be an heir of God and a joint-heir with Christ? What does it mean that glory will be revealed in us? Again Paul responds in Philippians 3:13-14.
13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
What is Paul saying? Put the past behind you and push on toward our final objective. The prize to which we seek is to become perfect through Christ and arrive at the stature of a spiritual adult and attain the calling of God. To be an heir of God and inherit all things. To acquire the power of creation. This does not diminish God, it exalts Him. Recall that his work and his glory is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” Immortality is living forever with a resurrected body. Eternal life is God’s life. It is to become “like” God, but never replace Him. He experiences joy in watching his children create, just as kindly parents experience joy watching their children create. He wants us to have what he has. This is what John the Revelator taught when he said in Revelation 1:5-6:
5 And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,
6 And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
What does it mean to be a king and priest unto God through Christ? It means to have our sins washed away through the atoning sacrifice of Christ, grow from grace to grace, line upon line, in this life and the next, until we become as perfect in our attributes as God himself, and he is then comfortable bestowing upon us powers and kingdoms to rule over in the same way He Himself would, with love and perfection.
When the Psalmist wrote ”I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High” (Psalms 82:6), the Lord later confirmed in John 10 when the Jews took up stones to kill him.
34 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?
35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;
36 Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?
In other words, “if the word of God calls you gods and children of the most High, why would you call me a blasphemer for saying I am the Son of God?”
To me, this is a comforting doctrine. It explains our grand purpose in life, the reason for which God created us, and gives us hope that by living by God’s word, we may in fact become like God, not to diminish Him, but to further exalt and honor Him. To reject this concept wholesale means that one would have to provide an alternate set of explanations to all the questions that could be asked. Where did God come from? What did he do before creating us? What will he do after the millennium? What did Paul mean by explaining there are 3 different types of bodies in the resurrection? How was Jeremiah ordained a prophet before he was born unless he lived prior to birth? And what does it really mean to be a child of God?
God the Father was Once a Man
With this foundation laid, the LDS doctrine is that God the Father was also once a spirit child of loving Heavenly parents who placed him in a mortal realm to be tested and tried and eventually exalted. He lived a mortal life on an earth just like this experience we are having. He was exalted to be a God and our Father is the only God whom we worship. It doesn’t take away from God that there are other Gods throughout the eternities. God the Father is the object of our adoration and love and we worship none other. We desire to be like Him. Jesus said:
John 5:19 “Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.”
What did Jesus do? He came down to earth, took upon himself a body, experienced death, was resurrected, and has received eternal glory.”
Don’t take my word for it
In my life I have heard no compelling argument to explain these scriptures away in any logical fashion contrary to what I have expressed here. On the other hand, I have a witness by the Holy Ghost that these things are true and I know that anyone who opens their heart and asks God with sincerity and real intent, can come to know these things are true as well. The key is, asking God with sincerity and intent to act on the knowledge. Let God tell you if it’s true. You don’t need my testimony or someone trying to explain these things away. Joseph Smith received his call to be prophet simply because he followed the counsel given in James 1:4-5.
5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
I do know these things are true and that anyone who asks God with an open heart to know if these things are true, can in fact come to the same knowledge that you are a literal child of God, he loves you, he created you in his image, he created this world for you, he sent his Son to die for you, that you might return and live with him forever. I will love and praise my Heavenly Father and his Son forever for what they have done for me.
Miscellaneous Quotes from LDS Prophets
“We are destined and foreordained to become like God, and unless we do become like Him we will never be permitted to dwell with Him. When we become like Him you will find that we will be presented before Him in the form in which we were created, male and female.”
Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p. 276, June 12, 1898
“The fact that we receive the Holy Ghost is proof that the Spirit in warring with the flesh has overcome, and by continuing in this state of victory over our sinful bodies we become the sons and daughters of God, Christ having made us free, and whoever the Son makes free is free indeed. Having fought the good fight we then shall be prepared to lay our bodies down to rest to await the morning of the resurrection when they will come forth and be reunited with the spirits, the faithful, as it is said, receiving crowns, glory, immortality and eternal lives, even a fullness with the Father, when Jesus shall present His work to the Father, saying, “Father, here is the work thou gavest me to do.” Then will they become gods, even the sons of God; then will they become eternal fathers, eternal mothers, eternal sons and eternal daughters; being eternal in their organization, they go from glory to glory, from power to power; they will never cease to increase and to multiply, worlds without end. When they receive their crowns, their dominions, they then will be prepared to frame earths like unto ours and to people them in the same manner as we have been brought forth by our parents, by our Father and God.”
- , Journal of Discourses 18:259
“As man now is, God once was-even the babe of Bethlehem, advancing to childhood-thence to boyhood, manhood, then to the Godhead. This, then, is the “mark of the prize of mans high calling in Christ Jesus.” 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.”
-Lorenzo Snow, Journal of Discourses 26:368, January 10, 1886
“It is for the exaltation of man to a state of superior intelligence and Godhead that the mediation and atonement of Jesus Christ is instituted; and that noble being, man, made in the image of God, is rendered capable not only of being a son of man, but also a son of God, through adoption, and is rendered capable of becoming a God, possessing the power, the majesty, the exaltation and the position of a God.”
-John Taylor, The Mediation and the Atonement-John Taylor, p. 140-141
“If I improve upon what the Lord has given me, and continue to improve, I shall become like those who have gone before me; I shall be exalted in the celestial kingdom and be filled to overflowing with all the power I can wield; and all the keys of knowledge I can manage will be committed unto me. What do we want more? I shall be just like every other man-have all that I can, in my capacity, comprehend and manage.”
-Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 6:276, August 28, 1852
“You have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation.”
-Joseph Smith, Jr., Times and Seasons August 15, 1844
I love this question because it gets to the heart of the unique LDS beliefs about the afterlife. One of the wonderful things about the restored gospel is the understanding of where we came from, why we’re here, and where we are going. The answers to those three questions constitute what Mormons refer to as “the plan of salvation.” This plan of our Heavenly Father was designed to allow us to leave a pre-mortal world and journey to earth to receive a body and be tested to prove ourselves worthy of returning to Father and inheriting a glorified, resurrected body, and an eternity of possibilities for growth. For a short video explaining this in more depth, please visit this page (plan of salvation).
One of the most satisfying doctrines (to me at least) is the notion that when Christ said, “in my Father’s house there are many mansions” he literally meant it as “there’s a place for just about everyone.” That’s not to say that everyone gets the same reward no matter what they’ve done in life, because actions have consequences in the eternities. However, God’s great love for all of his children will allow them to have a place to dwell in which they will be comfortable.
The notion of “degrees of glory” was first expressed by the apostle Paul. In 1 Corinthians 15, he begins by talking about the resurrection of Christ and then discusses how God gave to every creation a body which will someday be “quickened” or resurrected (including the animals which have an eternal home with God as well for fulfilling the measure of their creation). Then Paul describes the human body and how there are differing degrees of glory that are as different as the sun is from the moon and the stars. He says it this way:
40 There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.
41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:
Later in 2 Corinthians 12, Paul says
2 I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.
What does Paul mean by these things? Obviously he has something very specific in mind about at least 3 heavens and 3 types or classes of resurrected bodies.
If all we had to turn to were these few verses, we would dwell in confusion. Thankfully, in our day God called the Prophet Joseph Smith to restore the gospel and the understanding of these things. Joseph received a revelation now published in a book we refer to as the Doctrine and Covenants, which contains modern day revelation just as ancient revelation and teachings were written and recorded in the Bible and Book of Mormon.
This revelation explains that a loving God established 3 degrees of glorious heavens for his children to inhabit, contrasted by a place of outer darkness which is hell. Those who inhabit these kingdoms of glory and hell differ in the following meaningful ways.
Celestial kingdom: Likened to the glory of the sun. The Father dwells here in everlasting glory but straight is the gate and narrow the way which leads to this kingdom of glory (Matt 7:14). Only the humble followers of Christ may enter here after having made covenants (promise between God and man beginning with baptism) by the proper priesthood authority which God bestows on men he calls (Hebrews 5:4). The reward of the celestial kingdom is that of eternal life, or life as God lives (Philippians 3:14).
Terrestrial kingdom: Likened to the glory of the moon. This kingdom is a place for all the good and noble people of the world who loved the Lord and tried to do their very best to live according to the light they possessed. They failed to attain the celestial kingdom by rejecting the messengers of salvation who legally and lawfully administer God’s covenants. Throughout all eternity they will be damned, or stopped in their upward progression and never attain to the presence of the Father, but they may from time to time enjoy the presence of the Son, whom they loved in life, but not enough to take his name upon them through covenants. This kingdom will also accept of the “heathen” nations those who lived a good and moral life according to the amount of light and truth God saw fit to bestow upon them.
Telestial kingdom: Likened to the glory of the stars. This kingdom is a place where the wretched and wicked of this world will eventually dwell after they pay the price of their sins through torment and suffering and finally accept the atonement of Jesus Christ. This will still be a place of glory, but as Paul declares it differs in glory as the sun does from the stars, which is obviously an incredible difference, yet to those who inhabit this place, they will be grateful and filled with the joy they are able to obtain at this level of glory. These too are damned and may not progress to any higher kingdom. In this, they will not complain but with those in the Terrestrial kingdom, may feel a longing and sorrow over their separation from their Heavenly home and parents. They will never receive the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, but may from time to time receive the presence of the Holy Ghost to comfort them.
Those in a higher kingdom may visit those in a lower kingdom, but there is no way for those in a lower to attain to a higher kingdom.
Outer darkness: This torment is reserved for those miserable souls who were once fully enlightened by the gospel, embraced the covenants of salvation which would lead them to the celestial kingdom, and then so fully rejected the light, they become as Judas, willing to see their Lord crucified and turned to persecuting their Lord and His followers. Those for whom this terrible judgment is pronounced upon will be cast out into a realm devoid of light.
To me, there is no more tolerant concept of heaven available on earth than in the LDS faith. A loving Father in Heaven desired all of his children to return and live with him, yet in order to do so, they must prove themselves willing to make sacred promises and then fulfill them, in preparation for life in a Celestial world. No one in that realm can make a promise and not keep it or they would not be worthy of such a glory. Covenants such as baptism help prove us worthy of inheriting such a place as this. God maintains his status as God because his word is always good. For every law there is an associated blessing, and rejection of the law means there is a consequence of not receiving the blessing.
To read the actual revelation Joseph Smith received on these kingdoms of glory, please visit this link (kingdoms of heaven).
If you have questions, please feel free to ask us a question and we will try to answer it for you.
So what do Mormons believe is the purpose of life? This little video does a good job explaining our beliefs. The coolest thing (in my opinion) about LDS beliefs is the knowledge of having lived before coming to earth and agreeing to come here with a veil drawn over our minds so we could learn to walk by faith, tuning in to the light of God to experience growth through personal choices. It was there that Jesus Christ was fore-ordained (or specially chosen and set apart) for his role as Savior. With the knowledge that there would be a Savior to pay the price of our sins, we agreed to come to earth knowing that there was a path home to heaven.