If you have not read my previous post on Theo1689, it may be helpful for you to browse what I have written there to provide context for what I discuss here.
Before seeking to answer Theo1689’s questions about Mormon doctrine and dogma as it relates to the Biblical text, it is important to put a few things in context. First, we must acknowledge that Mormonism, just like all religions, is a living organism. It changes and adapts over time. Some dogmas, which were emphasized even as few as 10 – 20 years ago, are not spoken of much today. Second, it must be understood that Mormonism has no official creed. This can make it extremely difficult to pin down exactly what is, and what is not, Mormon doctrine or dogma – especially on ancillary issues or speculative points. Third, Mormonism is not evangelical Christianity. It does not claim to be evangelical Christianity nor does it claim to be constrained by the biblical text.
On to Theo’s first question:
Why do you believe in “plural gods”, when the Bible teaches monotheism (Deut. 4:35,39, 1 Kings 8:60, Isa. 43:10, 44:6,8, 45:5,21,22, 46:9, John 17:3, 1 Cor. 8:4-6, etc.)?
The first thing I would like to address is Theo’s statement that “the Bible teaches monotheism.” This would seem to imply that the Bible is a monolithic autograph that expresses singular meaning, without ambiguity, throughout. This is simply not the case. The Bible is a collection of 66 (73 in Catholic Bibles) individual and distinct books. Some of these books are clearly related to each other while others have no apparent relation at all. Very few share the same author and other than the letters of Paul (which the exception of Hebrews), book authorship is ambiguous at best. Thus to claim that the Bible, as a whole, teaches anything consistent throughout is to ignore the very nature of the text itself.
But, let’s take a look at the Biblical verses Theo cites, starting with those found in the Hebrew Bible (NRSV):
35 To you it was shown so that you would acknowledge that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him.
39 So acknowledge today and take to heart that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.
1 Kings 8:60
60 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no other.
10 You are my witnesses, says the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.
6 Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.
8 Do not fear, or be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? You are my witnesses! Is there any god besides me? There is no other rock; I know not one.
5 I am the LORD, and there is no other; besides me there is no god. I arm you, though you do not know me,
21 Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the LORD? There is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is no one besides me.
22 Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.
9 remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like me,
What I find most interesting about these verses that Theo has chosen to cite is that they all fall under the auspices of the proposed Deuteronomist. Most Biblical scholars agree that the text of the Hebrew Bible, as we have it today, was compiled, redacted (in a limited sense) and organized both during the Babylonian exile, and after the return of the Jews to their homeland in what is known as the Second Temple period. Even as we read the earliest texts of Genesis we see hints of this late influence. However, it is the book of Deuteronomy that fully exposes the theological agenda of these late Jewish redactors. This theological influence can also be seen in the books of Samuel and Kings – again, take note of the verses Theo cites. A key component of this late theology is a strict monotheism and a complete and absolute rejection of the gods of other nations.
It is also important to note that the Isaiah is actually comprised of two distinct books or sections; what scholars call 1st Isaiah (chapters 1-43) and 2nd Isaiah (chapters 44-66), also known as Deutero-Isaiah. 1st Isaiah was clearly written before the Babylonian exile (i.e. prior to ~600 B.C) while 2nd Isaiah was written during the Babylonian exile. This is significant because the period of Jewish captivity in Babylon seems to have caused a major theological shift in Israelite religion and, incidentally, gave rise to the concept of a Messiah.
Now, let’s take a look at the New Testament verses Theo cites:
John 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
1Cor. 8:4 ¶ Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.”
1Cor. 8:5 Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords—
1Cor. 8:6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
I am surprised that Theo chose to cite John 17:3 as there are many more passages in John which would provide much more support for his argument. In any case, that strict monotheism is espoused in the New Testament should come as no surprise. Remember, that it was during the period of the Babylonian Exile when this Jewish theological position became solidified and of course, this theological position was carried through the Second Temple period and on into first century Christianity.
The paradox here, of course, is that by professing the divinity and Godhood of Jesus, early Christians faced a significant problem. Jesus consistently proclaimed himself to be the Son of God, and even John 17:3 indicates a distinction between Jesus Christ and God. If both God and Jesus are divine, then this constitutes a plurality of divine beings – Father and Son – a concept clearly at odds with strict monotheism. It is very important to note that Jesus’ divinity is most strongly put forth in John – the latest of the Gospel records. Mark, Matthew, and Luke hint at Jesus’ divinity but do not state it nearly as explicitly as John. This is significant because John represents over 60 years of theological development within the early Church.
The early Church struggled with this issue of Jesus’ divinity as it related to monotheism for a very long time until the issue was “officially” settled at the Council of Nicea – over 300 years after the ministry of Jesus! The result, of course, is the concept we now know as the Trinity – a term which is found nowhere in the Biblical text.
Again, Theo would like us to believe that both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament present a monolithic picture of theological monotheism. This is simply not the case.
I will discuss Biblical passages that paint a slightly different picture in Part Two.