Mormonism and Human Deification

The ultimate goal in Mormonism is to become increasingly perfect and eventually attain godhood. Brigham Young asserted that “the Lord created you and me for the purpose of becoming Gods like himself.” We were created “to become Gods like unto our Father in heaven.”[1]

Exaltation to godhood is known as attaining “eternal life” in Mormonese. The official Gospel Principles manual (LDS church curriculum) tells us that “exaltation is eternal life, the kind of life that God lives…. We can become Gods like our heavenly Father. This is exaltation.”[2] Joseph Fielding Smith said that “eternal life is the name of the kind of life possessed by the Father and the Son; it is exaltation in the eternal realm.”[3]

The theory of eternal progression is essential for a proper understanding of the Mormon concept of exaltation. Mormons believe that we do not merely seek perfection in this life. It begins before birth and extends beyond death. Exaltation to godhood ultimately involves not just what one does in this earthly life (mortality) but also what one has done in premortality (one’s “preexistence” as a spirit child) and postmortality (one’s return to the spirit world after physical death).

A key concept related to this process is the word “agency”—which describes each human being’s right to choose between good and evil. People allegedly progress toward godhood by making “wise use” of their agency in premortality, mortality, and postmortality.

In premortality, spirit children (born of the heavenly father and heavenly mother) begin their journey to godhood. This is a probationary period. Mormons think that the fact that they were born on Earth is evidence that they used their agency properly in the preexistence. It demonstrates that they did not follow Lucifer when he revolted against God. Mormons believe that passages such as Jeremiah 1:5 and John 17:5 illustrate the reality of human preexistence. (More about these verses shortly.)

Mortality—our earthly life, or “Second Estate”—is a period of testing for Mormons. To become a deity, one must confront (and conquer) physical temptations and tribulations. Spirit children cannot be physically tempted because they do not have a physical body. Hence, spirit children take on human bodies, encounter bodily temptations, and grow toward godhood during their mortal lives.

Furthermore, during mortality, one is confronted with an incredible array of criteria for advancement to godhood, including repentance, baptism, membership in the Mormon church, endless good works, a variety of temple rites, and much more. All of this is necessary in the Mormon system of salvation.

In terms of postmortality, Mormons believe that when someone dies, their spirit joins the spirit world. Mormons go to a realm called “paradise,” where they continue their journey toward godhood. Non-Mormons inhabit a spirit prison where Mormon spirits evangelize them through missionary activities. If a spirit in prison adopts Mormonism, they can leave and enter paradise as long as someone (a living relative) has been baptized on their behalf in a Mormon temple. Otherwise, one remains in spirit prison until a living relative performs the ritual. After entering paradise, the spirit can pursue its path toward eventual exaltation.[4]

Mormons think that the Bible supports their claim that they can become gods. In John 10:34, Jesus addressed the Jews: “You are gods.” In 1 Corinthians 8:5, the apostle Paul mentioned gods in heaven and earth. Romans 8:16-17 refers to believers as “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” and states that they shall “share in his glory.” Mormons believe that the doctrine must be true if Jesus and the highest-ranking apostle preached the plurality of gods and that humans can become gods of glory. 

The Biblical Emphasis: Human Beings Are Mere Creatures

Contrary to the Mormon view, the Bible is emphatic that human beings are creatures in submission to the one true God. God created man from nothing; one moment he did not exist; the next moment he did. He was created as a direct result of God’s creative command (see Genesis 1:27-27; 2:7,18,20-24). Humans were formed in God’s image (Genesis 1:26), but that doesn’t mean they become God. (Humans only finitely reflect certain aspects of God.) Scripture says that man forever remains a creature. Even in heaven, man is a redeemed creature.  

In Acts 14, the apostle Paul demonstrated that he was an uncompromising monotheist. There is only one God, he taught. After Paul healed a man in Lystra, the people began to worship him and Barnabas as gods. When Paul and Barnabas realized what was happening, “they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: ‘Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them’” (Acts 14:14–15, italics added). Paul and Barnabas rejected the idea that they were gods and spoke about the one true God who created the cosmos.

The attitude Paul and Barnabas exhibited in Acts 14 starkly contrasts with Herod’s stupidity in Acts 12:21-23. After Herod delivered a public speech, the crowd chanted, “It is the voice of a god, not a man.” Because Herod did not honor the one true God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was consumed by worms and perished. God certainly disapproves of human pretenders to the divine throne.

Contrary to any claim that humans can become gods, the true God wants us to understand our inherent weakness, helplessness, and dependence upon Him. In 2 Corinthians 3:5, the apostle Paul writes, “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God” (italics added). In John 15:5, Jesus affirms, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (italics added). We do not progress to godhood; rather, as God’s creatures, we are eternally dependent on Him.

This acknowledgment of creaturehood should result in humility and a worshipful attitude towards God. The psalmist urges us: “Come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For he is our God” (Psalm 95:6-7). Such humility is indicative of someone who is correctly related to God. Micah, the prophet of Israel, asks, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). James 6:4 assures us, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

The Perverted Desire for Godhood

It is worth noting that this warped longing for godhood has been around for a long time. If it is correct that Isaiah 14:12-14 and Ezekiel 28:12-19 refer to the fall of Lucifer (and there is good reason to believe this), then this appears to be the beginning of the yearning for godhood in the universe. Lucifer was initially created as the most magnificent of angels. But then an unspeakable desire flooded his heart. Lucifer’s evil desire is shown in the phrase, “I will make myself like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14). Lucifer desired to take God’s position. The one true God expelled the self-inflated Lucifer from His holy presence.

This wicked angel later attempted to seduce Eve into eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. He tempted her by saying, “God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5, italics added). The fall of man was the result of this encounter. To this day, fallen man continues to want sinfully and proudly to be “like God.”

THE PREEXISTENCE

As noted previously, the Mormon’s journey toward godhood begins in the “preexistence.” Let us now consider two critical verses that Mormons reference to support the idea of a preexistence: Jeremiah 1:5 and John 17:5.

Jeremiah 1:5—“I Knew You”

God told Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; and ordained you a prophet to the nations.” Mormons think this verse proves the doctrine of “preexistence”—the idea that humans were in the spirit world before being born physically.[5]

Contextually, however, this verse speaks not of the soul existing before physical birth but of God calling and preparing Jeremiah for his vocation long before birth. “I knew you” does not relate to a preexisting soul but rather to the prenatal person. God knew Jeremiah “in the womb” (see Psalm 139:13-16).

The Hebrew word for “know” (yada) implies a special relationship of commitment (see Amos 3:2). This word is related to other words like “sanctified” (meaning set apart) and “ordained,” which reveal that God had a very special assignment for Jeremiah even before birth. “Know” in this context indicates God’s act of making Jeremiah the special object of His sovereign choice, even while he was in his mother’s womb. Thus, this verse does not imply Jeremiah’s preexistence but confirms Jeremiah’s appointment to a unique ministry prior to his birth. 

John 17:5—“Before the World Began”

This verse contains a portion of Jesus’ High Priestly prayer to the Father: “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” Mormons think that this verse supports the concept of a spirit existence before a physical existence.[6]

The fundamental mistake in Mormon thinking is the assumption that everyone preexisted as actual spirit offspring of the Father and that Jesus (the “firstborn”) is our “elder brother.” In contrast to the Mormon view, Scripture indicates that Jesus is the only person who has ever preexisted. This is because He was more than just a man. He has existed as God throughout eternity (John 8:58).

John 3:13,31 tells us, “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man…. The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all.” John 8:23-24 says, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.”

Such verses point to the clear distinction between the One from heaven (Jesus) and the ones from Earth (human beings). These essential verses would be meaningless if we all come from a preexistence in heaven. Scripture thus contradicts the Mormon belief that all humans preexisted. Mormons are reading something into the text that just does not exist.

HUMAN DEIFICATION

Mormons also misinterpret certain Bible verses as teaching the plurality of gods and that humans can become gods. Let us take a brief look at three key verses that Mormons reference: John 10:34, 1 Corinthians 8:5, and Romans 8:16-17.

John 10:34—“You are Gods” 

In this verse, Jesus addresses a group of Jews, saying, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods.’” Mormons think that this verse supports their polytheistic belief that there are multiple gods and that humans can become gods.[7]

There are numerous reasons why this text should not be utilized to support such a position. First, such an interpretation contradicts the whole context. Jesus is not addressing polytheists (those who believe in multiple gods) but rather orthodox Jewish monotheists who believe that God is the sole Creator of the cosmos (see Genesis 1:1). Even the Ten Commandments indicate the existence of a single God who should be worshiped (Exodus 20:4-6). So Jesus’ words should not be taken out of its Jewish monotheistic context and given a polytheistic twist.

Second, Jesus’ statement must be taken as part of His more expansive reasoning here, which takes the form of this argument: “If God even called human judges’ gods’ (with a small ‘g’), then how much more is it appropriate that I call myself the Son of God since that truly is my identity.” Christ had just affirmed His unity with the Father, declaring, “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30). The Jews intended to stone Him because they believed He was blaspheming and claiming to be equal with God (verses 31-33). Jesus responded by referencing Psalm 82:6, which states about human judges, “I said, you are gods.” Jesus reasoned that since human judges can be called “gods” (in a limited sense, with a small “g”), why can’t the Son of God be called “God.” If these judges can be termed “gods” in a restricted sense because of their work (making life and death decisions for human beings), why can’t the Son of God be called “God” because of His works (incredible divine miracles)?

Third, the context makes it evident that these judges were referred to as “gods” only in the narrow sense of standing in God’s place while deciding on life and death issues. They were not known as “gods” because they were divine beings. Indeed, the psalm that Jesus references (Psalm 82:6) goes on to explain that these judges were “mere men” and would “die” as such (verse 7).

Fourth, many scholars have concluded that when the psalmist Asaph proclaimed, “You are gods” of the unjust judges (Psalm 82:6), he was speaking ironically. He may have been saying to these judges, “I have called you ‘gods,’ but in reality, you will die like the men you are.” If this is so, then when Jesus alluded to this psalm in John 10, He was saying that what the Israelite judges were called in irony and judgment, He is in reality. 

Regardless of one’s position, Jesus in John 10:34 was defending His deity, not the deification of humanity. Hence, this verse does not support the Mormon view that there are many gods or that humans can become gods.

1 Corinthians 8:5—“Many Gods” 

This verse refers to “many gods and many lords.” Mormons believe this verse confirms their belief that there are multiple gods in the universe.

Taken alone, this verse might seem to teach that there are many gods. However, the context of 1 Corinthians 8 is monotheistic. The context is set for us in verse 4: “We know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.” Then, in verse 6, we read: “But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him” (italics added). In verse 5, Paul does not claim that there are numerous bona fide “gods” and “lords.” He is referring to fake pagan entities that some people wrongly think are gods and lords—such as Baal in the Old Testament. So, in context, this verse does not support the Mormon view. 

Romans 8:16-17—Co-Heirs with Christ

This passage states, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Mormons think this verse signifies that we can one day be elevated as gods and thereby enjoy divine glory.[8]

Contextually, this verse does not teach that people can be exalted as gods. To begin with, verse 16 reveals that believers become God’s children through adoption into God’s family rather than natural birth. Second, being a “coheir” with Christ does not imply becoming exalted as God, but rather inheriting all spiritual blessings in this life (Ephesians 1:3) and all the riches of God’s glorious kingdom in the next life (1 Corinthians 3:21-23). Third, throughout Scripture, God consistently condemns human pretenders to the divine throne (Acts 12:22-23; see Exodus 9:14; Acts 14:11-15).

Conclusion

Mormons have engaged in substantial Scripture twisting to arrive at the belief that humans can be exalted as Gods (see 2 Peter 3:16). Someone once stated, “There is a God, and YOU ARE NOT HIM.” Always remember—God abhors pretenders to the divine throne (Acts 12:21-23). 

To study this subject in depth, I recommend that you consult my rather large book, Reasoning from the Scriptures with Mormons (published by Harvest House). It will not only explain the Mormon view with clarity, but it will also give you the scriptural answers you need to intelligently dialog with a Mormon.

  1. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses (London: Latter-day Saint’s Book Depot, 1854-56), 3:93.
  2. Gospel Principles (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1986), p. 290.
  3. Joseph Fielding Smith, The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, n.d.), p. 327.
  4.  Bruce McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1977), p. 601.
  5.  James Talmage, The Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1982), p. 197.
  6. Talmage, p. 197.
  7. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 24.
  8. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 24.

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