Friday, September 25, 2009

The Doctrine of the Divine Sonship

Back in June, I wrote to Andrew about my ongoing discussions with a man who is a member of the Vineyard Church in nearby Park City.  Andrew is in the Ohio Columbus Mission where the Vineyard Church has several large congregations.  Today, son-in-law Clark sent me an e-mail saying he was having a hard time finding any information about this doctrine.  So in response, here's the letter I wrote to Andrew on June 18, 2009:

Dear Andrew:

I meant to say more about the Vineyard guy from Park City in my e-mail, but ran out of time. We met again this week. Our topic was "the nature of the Godhead." He, of course, is mired in the doctrine of the Trinity, which isn't really "doctrine," but needless to say it was an interesting discussion.

I turned every point of conversation (and I did it repeatedly throughout the night) back to the Prophet Joseph and his experience in the grove. I told him all the ideas about what God is or isn't don't amount to squat compared to the experience of Joseph in the grove.

If Joseph saw what he said he saw, if he did what he said he did, then it's a game changer. If you're just going to reject him out of hand as a tool of the devil, and one who introduced, as Paul warned, "another gospel," then so be it.

But what I said to our friend was, "You are obviously interested in Mormonism or you wouldn't be here talking to us, and you are obviously a sincere seeker of truth (I hope that's true, and for now I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt). You will not be able to meet with us much longer without having the curiosity to get down on your knees and ask God to tell you whether or not Joseph Smith is a grand and elaborate hoax, or if he's the genuine article. I'm going to do something I've never done before, and it's a little unorthodox, but I make no apology for doing it. Here's a copy of Preach My Gospel, which you can now obtain at any LDS bookstore or download it off the Church's website. Normally, Kerry would refer you to the missionaries and that would be the end of it, except for being involved during their teaching process. However, you are unique, and I'm making a gift of the Mormon missionary playbook so you can examine everything straight from the source without having to put it through a filter of any kind. We publish our message to the world without apology."

Needless to say, he was stunned and amazed. He will now be quickly discerned as sincere or just trying to unravel us.

It was a fun night. I asked him my three questions about Christ (I think I sent that to you), and his response was as predicted. When I taught him that Christ was the LITERAL Son of God, sired and conceived in the same way we are, it blew his mind, and he was on the verge of meltdown. Kerry tried to smooth it over, saying that he'd never heard that, and I had to gently tell Kerry that the teaching was correct, and I read to them five statements from the prophets that explicitly teach the doctrine. It was pretty obvious that I struck a raw nerve with what is correctly called "the doctrine of the Divine Sonship."

To our friend the "virgin birth" is a great and holy mystery that cannot be explained. To us, however, it is a simple matter that is explainable and supports the true identity of the Father and the Son, as they revealed themselves to the Prophet in the grove.

I love missionary work. I love the Prophet Joseph Smith. Either people will humble themselves and ask God about the Restoration and the veracity of Joseph Smith's audacious claims, or they won't. If they reject Joseph, they reject Jesus. The irony is that people like our friend proclaim their love for Jesus, but we are the true believers because we believe so much more about him without excuses for what we believe. When you know it, you testify boldly, and you don't leave any doubt in anyone's mind about where you stand.

There's no pussy-footing around with the way I teach people the gospel -- I don't have time to waste on nuances or political correctness. It's either true as it stands and you love the truth and will embrace it, or you are too bigoted and close-minded to entertain the thought that God might have actually appeared to a 14 year-old boy and given him directions on how to commence the Restoration of all lost truths. Which will it be? Are you sincere, or are you too closed off? Your choice.

Anyway, I was bold and I think I kind of took Kerry's breath away while I was teaching. Jim, however, seemed to be absorbing it all, and again was amazed that I wasn't pulling any punches. I said at one point, "This doctrine of the literal creation of Jesus Christ by His Father and a virgin mortal girl, is quoted extensively throughout all the anti-Mormon attacks with which I am familiar. The doctrine of the Divine Sonship is true and correct. It is inescapable that we believe it and have taught it throughout our literature and the sermons of our past leaders. There can be little doubt about it."

Kerry seemed to accept it with my explanation, but he admitted again after Jim left that he had never heard it stated as directly as I stated it ever before -- even my reference to calling it the doctrine of the Divine Sonship. We have much to do, I fear, in teaching the members of the Church what we really believe.

Here's a clear-cut declaration of the doctrine from President Joseph F. Smith. Notice, he explains it in terms the little children in the audience can understand, but for some reason we are loathe to entertain the idea in our minds today. It's just too weird to think of a God having sex with one of His spirit daughters -- too literal for our taste in our sophisticated twenty-first century minds, I guess. But anyway, here's the quote:

"You all know that your fathers are indeed your fathers and that your mothers are indeed your mothers you all know that don't you? You cannot deny it. Now, we are told in scriptures that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God in the flesh. Well, now for the benefit of the older ones, how are children begotten? I answer just as Jesus Christ was begotten of his father. The Christian denominations believe that Christ was begotten not of God but of the spirit that overshadowed his mother. This is nonsense. Why will not the world receive the truth? Why will they not believe the Father when he says that Jesus Christ is His only begotten Son? Why will they try to explain this truth away and make mystery of it?

"Now if God is a man, a glorious perfected man-that is, perfect in all his glorious attributes, and infinite in power, there never will come a time when God the Father will not have power to extend His dominion and His Glory. He is the maker of Heaven and the Earth, on which we dwell, for He made this earth by his word and by his power. How did he make it? He called the elements that are invisible to our eyes. He formed the earth on which we dwell, and has formed millions of worlds, and they are peopled with his children, for there is no end to his dominions and the worlds he has created cannot be numbered unto man.

"Now, little boys and girls, when you are confronted by infidels in the world who know nothing of how Christ was begotten, you can say he was born just as the infidel was begotten and born, so was Christ begotten by his Father, who is also our Father-the Father of our spirits-and he was born of his mother Mary.

"The difference between Jesus Christ and other men is this: Our fathers in the flesh are mortal men, who are subject unto death; but the Father of Jesus Christ in the flesh is the God of Heaven. Therefore Jesus, as he declared, received the power of life from his Father and was never subject unto death but had life in himself as his father had life in himself. Because of this power he overcame death and the grave and became master of the resurrection and the means of salvation to us all.

"Shall we as Latter-day Saints deny the truth and then claim that God made man in his likeness in the beginning? Shall we come under the impression that God possesses the power of creation, and yet did not literally create? He is not without his companion any more than I am without my companion, the mother of my children.

"These are truths and I wish they could be instilled into the hearts of these little children so that they will not be tossed about by every wind of doctrine and be confused by the teachers of atheism. Now, by and by you will be able to understand this far better than you can today. Some of us grandparents find it difficult to conceive the truth we want to think of something marvelous. We want to try to make it appear that God does not do things in the right way, or that he has another way of doing things than what we know, we must come down to the simple fact that God Almighty was the Father of His Son Jesus Christ. Mary, the virgin girl, who had never known mortal man, was his mother. God by her begot His son Jesus Christ, and He was born into the world with power and intelligence like that of His Father." (Messages of the First Presidency, 4:329-30).

I'll send this to you in a letter, as well as this e-mail. It appears you went off line while I've been writing. I got sidetracked while I was writing earlier, then when I got back to it you had already posted your messages.

Much love,



  1. Power and boldness...
    This discussion begs the question (at least in my mind):
    If God is in fact a man, glorified and exalted, and Christ was conceived by the same means that all children are (as Pres Smith explains), why then do we refer to Mary as a virgin? Virgin simply in the sense that she never "knew" a mortal man? Is this simply old tradtion - part of the mystic story that has been passed down through the generations? Have any modern day prophets addressed this question?

  2. The literature in the Church from all the prophets uniformly confirms this doctrine. The fact that so few in the Church have heard about it does not diminish either its truth nor its implications. Mary was the "virgin" because she had never known a man prior to her conception. There is no mystery associated with the virgin birth except in the minds of those who set it aside conveniently because for them it is a difficult doctrine to explain. However, when one does even a little bit of searching it will become obvious that the prophets have all taught it boldly and without excuse.

  3. One other thought -- when Catholics, for instance, refer to the "virgin birth" they are typically asserting that Mary conceived by the Holy Ghost in some mystical way that is totally inconsistent with what we know about reproduction. The Book of Mormon account clears up all the confusion (see 1 Nephi 11:18).

  4. Great article. Few in the church understand this or even seek to understand it, but it is apparent in writings. One additional thought on "virgin."

    In Strong's Hebrew dictionary there are a couple of meanings to the word "virgin." When you follow Matt 1:23 back to Isaiah 7:14 as noted in the footnotes, one reads what was stated:

    "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."

    The meaning of “virgin” in this context comes from the Hebrew word al-maw' (H5959) "a lass (as veiled or private.)"
    And the word al-maw' finds it root from "aw-lam' (H5956) which is a primitive root; "to veil from sight, that is, conceal (literally or figuratively)"

    This definition sheds another thought on what the term "virgin" could mean.

  5. I stand enlightened this morning after studying out a bit my own premature and not so well thought out question from last night. Clearly the modern day prophets have taught this doctrine - here are a few great references that I found in my studies this morning:

    From Elder McConkie, a remider that we understand this doctrine because of the modern day revelation enjoyed only in the church:
    "Now we cannot comprehend, we do not understand, we do not know nor can we in our present state, how the effects of this infinite and eternal atoning sacrifice passed upon all men. We cannot comprehend and understand how creation works, where God came from, or how we came into being. Someday these things will be within the comprehension and understanding of those who gain exaltation. But the fact that we cannot comprehend them does not lessen the fact that we have been created, that we do exist, that there is a resurrection, that in due course all men will be raised in immortality, and that those who have believed and obeyed the gospel law will be raised in addition unto eternal life in our Father’s kingdom. And all of this is possible because of the divine Sonship of Christ the Lord, because he inherited in his birth—in that day when he was born after the manner of the flesh—he inherited the power of immortality from God his Father."
    Bruce R. McConkie, “Behold the Condescension of God,” New Era, Dec 1984, 35

    From Pres Benson - pointing out what has been stated in this article and comments:

    "The most fundamental doctrine of true Christianity is the divine birth of the child Jesus. It is a doctrine not comprehended by the world, misinterpreted by the so-called Christian churches, and even misunderstood by some members of the true church."

    He continues...
    "There are those who would seek to convince you that the divine birth of Christ as proclaimed in the New Testament was not a divine birth at all—nor was Mary, the Virgin girl, a virgin at the time of Jesus’ conception. They would have you believe that Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus, was His physical father, and that Jesus was, therefore, human in all His attributes and characteristics. They appear generous in their praise of Him when they say that He was a great moral philosopher, perhaps even the greatest. But the intent of their effort is to repudiate the divine sonship of Jesus; for on that doctrine rest all other claims of Christianity.

    "I am bold to say to you young people tonight: Jesus Christ is the Son of God in the most literal sense. The body in which He performed His mission in the flesh was sired by that same Holy Being we worship as God, our Eternal Father. He was not the son of Joseph, nor was He begotten by the Holy Ghost. He is the Son of the Eternal Father!"
    Ezra Taft Benson, “Five Marks of the Divinity of Jesus Christ,” New Era, Dec 1980, 44

    Doesn't get much more clear than that...

    Good stuff!

  6. Here's some more quotes:

    "Only Begotten in the flesh, meaning mortality. This designation of our Lord signifies that He was begotten by Man of Holiness as literally as any mortal father begets a son. The natural processes of procreation were involved; Jesus was begotten by His Father as literally as He was conceived by His mother." (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, DNTC 1:144).

    "But how can a God be born into mortality? How can the Eternal One take upon himself flesh and blood, and let himself be fashioned as a Man? A child -- any child, including the Child -- must have progenitors; he must have parents, both a father and a mother. Gabriel will soon tell the Virgin of Galilee that she shall be the mother. As to the Father; it is just that simple, and it could not be otherwise. The doctrine of the divine Sonship lies at the foundation of true religion; without it, Christ becomes just another man, a great moral teacher, or what have you, without power to ransom, to redeem, and to save." (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah 1:313-14).