Basica — In A Nutshell
D&C 136:37: “… from the days of Adam to Abraham, from Abraham to Moses, from Moses to Jesus and his apostles, and from Jesus and his apostles to Joseph Smith…”
This should be contrasted with “mine apostles” at 29:12, 63:21, 84:63, 108, 95:9, where as at the quoted 136:37, the apostles mentioned are Jesus’ apostles from the New Testament. Thus in all the references except 136:37 it is Jesus who speaks, while in Section 136 it is not. Then it remains to be noted that the mouthpiece of Section 136 is Brigham Young rather than Joseph Smith. If this seem trivial happenstance, we might further point out that all of Joseph Smith’s revelations are given by Jesus, so that Brigham Young’s concept of the divine revealer is clearly unique in the Doctrine and Covenants, and quite distinct from Joseph Smith’s: for Young it is God, the Father of Jesus, who speaks his revealed word to man.
Concordantly Brigham Young equated Jehovah with God, the Father of Jesus, as did most of his contemporaries, while Joseph Smith clearly did not: the God who revealed himself to Smith in the name of Jesus Christ was the same God who revealed himself to Israel by the name of Jehovah. Brigham Young popularized the title “our elder brother,” and introduced the phrase “the only begotten in the flesh,” to describe Jesus, which titles have found a permanent place in the Mormon liturgy, though conspicuous by their absence in LDS canonized scripture, not to mention their incompatibility with Joseph Smith’s doctrine. Soon after the deaths of Brigham Young and Orson Pratt proponents of the identity of Jesus with Jehovah began to assert themselves, most notably George Reynolds in 1881 and Thomas W. Brookbank in 1887, culminating in the publication of Talmage’s Jesus the Christ in 1915 and the “Doctrinal Exposition” of 1916.
So the Church had returned to the doctrine espoused by Joseph Smith, at least in name: Jesus was Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament. But he was still called “our elder brother,” and “the only begotten in the flesh.” More importantly, no Mormon would ever think of praying to Jesus–church apostle Bruce R. McConkie would go so far as to condemn as heresy the notion of obtaining a personal relationship with Jesus while at the same time asserting the identification of Jesus with Jehovah. So the half measures of Talmage and the First Presidency early in the 20th century had in some serious respects created more problems than they solved: Jesus was Jehovah, Jehovah was God, but Jesus was not God, at least not God on a par with the God of the Old Testament to whom all prayer was addressed. The decalogue forbade prayer to all but Jehovah; McConkie forbade prayer to Jesus; yet Jesus was Jehovah! And one might search in vain for any recognition of the paradox by LDS theologians and modern critics alike, let alone any attempt to reconcile it.
That this paradox has its origins solely with Brigham Young and his successors and not at all with Joseph Smith’s teaching is easy to prove. As mentioned, all of Smith’s revelations come from Jesus, and it is clear that he prays to the same God who reveals the revelations: Jesus Christ. Moreover the Nephites in the Book of Mormon likewise pray to Jesus on several occasions. And the same Jesus answers the prayers of the prophets in the Book of Mormon. Accordingly there is no paradox in Smith’s theology: Christ is Jehovah and is worthy of prayer.
A number of students of Joseph Smith’s theology have asserted that he did not distinguish between the Father and the Son, that the Book of Mormon clearly asserts an absolute equation of the two. Some have insisted that his theology evolved significantly between dictating the Book of Mormon and the supposedly polytheistic doctrines of the Nauvoo period, even claiming that Smith never referred to Jesus as “Father” after such arbitrary dates as 1835. The capable rebuttals to this theory have done little to dissuade them from the seemingly unmistakable declarations of doctrine in the Book of Mormon. That “The Vision” of 1832 has Jesus stand at the right hand of his Father as in Stephen’s vision does not register in their calculation. Nor does the fact that in 1836 Smith prays to the same God who called them “friends” in previous revelations, identifying himself as Jesus, or the fact that the later revelations like Section 132, closer in chronology to Brigham Young’s Section 136, mirror a view that differs nothing from the first revelations: Jesus is the revelator.
So while there is hardly any evolution of Christology between 1829 and 1840, in order to maintain their insistence in a Book of Mormon modalism the critics would have to posit a drastic break between the theology of the Book of Mormon and that of Section 76. We might remind them that Smith’s Christology had little effect on Young’s–Young essentially was stuck in a pre-conversion rut as far as his view of the godhead was concerned–and so it is with most: unless someone drills you as with a catechism you are not likely to change your view of the divine nature. Yet the Smithian modalists would have us believe that Smith went from modalist to something entirely different almost overnight. This is far fetched for more reasons than one.
We will have difficulty further arguing our case without making this orthographic distinction: “FATHER” (in block letters) will indicate the Father God who is not Jesus, not the Son; “Father” will be retained for the fatherly role of Jesus, the Son of God, the Father of all mankind or of all those who are “born again.” We will show that there is absolutely no room in Smith’s theology in the Book of Mormon or anywhere for a modalist God, where the FATHER and Son are the same.
An accurate appraisal of Book of Mormon Christology would stress its affirmation of Jesus’ role as Father in contrast to the Christology of the New Testament, where the doctrine of Jesus’ divinity had barely reached maturity with the close of the canon. Joseph Smith’s Christology is dependent on the Johannine writings and on the Letter to the Hebrews, which interprets Psalms 2 and 110 to refer to the apotheosis of the pre-mortal messiah. According to Smith’s interpretation of Psalm 2, Jesus, who was neither God nor Son of God, but “the elder brother” (1844), through an act of “begetting” or priestly ordination equivalent to an apotheosis, became the Son of God, hence God. Accordingly the godhead now included two beings, the FATHER, who was always God, and the Son, who “was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first” (D&C 93:14, May 6, 1833).
The fatherhood of Jesus in Smith’s Christology can best be understood in terms of the phrase “only begotten,” as defined at D&C 76 (Feb. 16, 1832):
23 For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—
24 That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.
The human race is saved by being born again with Jesus as Father. Only Jesus was begotten of the FATHER. With Brigham Young’s successful modification of the phrase, “only begotten in the flesh,” the waters were permanently muddied, and Mormons and critics alike prevented thereafter from appreciating the genius of Smith’s doctrine. The practical effect of Jesus’ apotheosis was negated and Jesus was demoted to a permanent status of “elder brother.” Jehovah, who is never called “our elder brother” even in the popular jargon, was still identified with Jesus, yet prayer could not be directed to Jesus. But this paradox is only a distracting digression.
Smith’s Christology was in no wise an academic abstraction, as the conference of June 3, 1831 amply demonstrated. During this conference the “high priesthood” was restored, that is, the office of “high priest after the order of Melchizedek, which was after the order of the Son of God.” The restoration of the power of this priesthood as envisioned by Smith constituted a major part of his life’s work and ambition, and we cannot begin to appreciate his prophetic calling as he perceived it without understanding his understanding of the “high priesthood.” Alma 13 introduces us to the subject, followed by the Book of Moses, JST Genesis 14, “The Vision” –D&C 76, D&C 93, and others. What the doctrine of the high priesthood consists of is the idea that ordinary humans could participate in the same apotheosis that Jesus experienced before the earth’s existence as depicted in Psalms 2 and 110. This priesthood is named after Melchizedek not only because of the precedent in Hebrews, where his priesthood is represented as being superior to the Levitical, but because Melchizedek was supposed to have shared in this ordination, as were Enoch, Moses, Elijah, and Alma. These prophets had in common an investiture of unlimited godly power, including power over death–none of them died–not even Moses.
And it was just such a revival of prophetic miraculous power that Joseph Smith had the expectation of producing on June 3 of 1831 in Kirtland, Ohio. While the official record makes only passing mention of it, the apostate Ezra Booth gives a fairly detailed account of the proceedings in one of several letters published in the Ohio Star soon after the event. His account leaves little room for doubt that the restoration of the “high priesthood” constituted an attempt to reestablish the very priesthood shared by Melchizedek, Enoch, Elijah, and Alma–Alma the younger, that is, the Book of Mormon prophet, which illustrates how this doctrine of the high priesthood was full blown in 1829. The point being, recipients of this priesthood were ordained to the same order to which Jesus was ordained, who was ordained by his FATHER. This in turn proves what all Mormons already know, that Jesus and his FATHER are distinct beings, as Smith taught in 1829. Joseph Smith could no more equate the FATHER and Son than he could equate the Son and Alma.
And when the Book of Mormon preaches the fatherhood of Jesus it is only emphasizing his role of “only begotten,” the Father of all others begotten to his order or to any sort of rebirth, which might have been sooner understood had not Brigham Young confused the saints with his preaching of “our Elder Brother,” “the only begotten in the flesh.” But Young was never so confused as modern critics who take Joseph Smith’s Christology to be modalist, and these in turn are hardly as confused as are those who posit that some other than Smith authored the Book of Mormon. –A. G. Foster, Jr., March 15, 2012