Reading your Bible in context is an antidote to wrong theology. Reading your Bible in context is a safeguard to incorrect thinking. Reading your Bible in context powerfully shapes your worldview to what is true. That’s why the first and primary marker of a healthy church is careful Bible exposition.
“What has God said?” is the question of the Berean believer who searches the Scriptures to see if the things spoken are true (Acts 17:10–15). In my growing exposure to the worldview of Mormonism, I am more and more convinced of both the simplicity and the necessity of reading the Bible contextually and helping other people do the same.
I want to demonstrate the importance of this by comparing the LDS doctrine of God and show how it fails against the Bible’s presentation of the true God.
Historical LDS Teaching on God
In 1844, Joseph Smith uttered this defining statement on the LDS understanding of God, “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens” (Joseph Smith Jr., “How God Came to Be God,” in Joseph Smith: Selected Sermons and Writings, 131–132).
This statement was part of a funeral message preached now commonly known as the “King Follet Discourse.” Another early leader of the LDS church, Orson Pratt further explains “The true God exists both in time and space and has as much relation to them as man or any other being” (Orson Pratt, The Essential Orson Pratt, 52).
This concept of God leads to the Mormon doctrine of progression, the idea that men advance or progress to become like God themselves. This conception of God by these LDS teachers demonstrates that there is nothing transcendent about God. There is nothing that sets him apart from other beings, except for the fact that somehow he advanced to his present status.
The True God as Incomparable
Now consider this “God” in relation to a familiar passage in Isaiah, chapter 40:12–31. Isaiah 40 begins a new section in the prophet’s argument focused upon Israel’s restoration. The tone of the chapter is meant to be one of comfort.
Chapter 40:9–11 proclaims that Israel’s God will come in rescue as a mighty warrior and a tender shepherd. And then, verse 12 following to the end of the chapter presents the true conception of what Israel’s God is like. We could sum up the true God of the Bible from this passage with the word, “incomparable.” Notice the way that Isaiah presents this especially in verse 18, and then again in verse 25. See them side by side below:
“To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare with Him?”
“‘To whom then will you liken Me that I would be his equal?’ says the Holy One.”
Creator vs. Creature
These questions elicit only one response, “absolutely, no one!” Yahweh is incomparable. He is utterly unique. He is the Holy One, a name that Isaiah uses throughout this latter half of the book to denote God’s transcendent uniqueness.
But notice as well that these statements function as conclusionary responses to the preceding argument. Verses 12–17 begin with a series of rhetorical questions about the process of creation and then set the nations in perspective to God’s greatness. These verses are meant to orient our eyes upward to God’s greatness in contrast to the surrounding powerful nations. They are “less than nothing” compared to God (v. 17).
And then again in verses 21–24, the same format is followed. Rhetorical questions elicit our understanding of God’s greatness, and then direct statements teach us about His sovereign authority over the world’s most powerful men. Reading this entire section carefully, noting the building argument brings the reader to a clear understanding of God’s transcendence over creation.
Historically, in Christian theology this truth has been explained as the Creator/Creature distinction. This distinction between God as transcendent in contrast to all other created things is both central to the Bible’s theology and pervasive throughout biblical text.
The Conclusion for LDS Theology
The “God” proposed by Joseph Smith and Orson Pratt falls wholly short of the true God which the Bible proclaims. One only needs to read Isaiah 40:12–26 to come away with the proper exalted view of the Creator set in contrast to created things. When we read the Bible as it was meant to be read, not isolated verses here and there, but rather carefully in context seeking to understand the text as the author intended, we behold the richness of who God is.
This is just one example, but I hope a poignant one of how important it is to carefully follow the biblical writer’s argument and see the truth of who God is. Let me encourage you in your conversation with your LDS friends to not cherry-pick Bible verses as much as to show the progression of the biblical writer’s argument.
As a final encouragement, you should make sure there is built into your life a regular habit of reading the Bible through verse by verse and chapter by chapter. Doing this will help you become better equipped to engage your LDS friends with the truth of the Bible.