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Was God Once a Sinner?
by W. John Walsh
Fifth LDS President Lorenzo Snow declared in June 1840, "As man is, God once was; God is, man may become". Does this mean that the God of Mormonism once was a sinner
The Church does not teach that any member of the Godhead, which is represented as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, has ever sinned. This falsehood is a classic example of The Exclusion by Misrepresentation, as explained by Dr. Stephen E. Robinson.
Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus was born to Mary, exactly as all other children are born to their mothers. Likewise, he grew to manhood, exactly as all other men grow to manhood. The Savior enjoyed the same experiences that are common to all of us. However, despite these common experiences, there were crucial and important differences between him and us. Unlike all other members of the human family, Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus Christ was perfect and free from all sin. This freedom from sin is one of the things which uniquely qualified him to perform the Atonement. To say that we believe that Jesus physically grew like a normal man does not mean that we believe the Savior sinned like a normal man. (See Teachings About Jesus Christ home page)
Now I have seen the critics argue that Latter-day Saints must believe that God is a reformed sinner from two aspects. First, in the King Follett Discourse, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught: "God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!"
They would interpret this statement to mean that Latter-day Saints believe that our Heavenly Father once lived a sinful existence. However, the Prophet never makes any such conclusion. The critics conveniently misinterpreted the Prophet's words by ignoring his reasoning behind his statement:
"I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in formlike yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with him, as one man talks and communes with another.....God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did; and I will show it from the Bible."
In no place does the Prophet argue that our Father in Heaven ever sinned. He simply says that since Adam had a body fashioned after the image of God, then God's body must be like Adam's or his descendants (us). Likewise, he says that our Heavenly Father once "dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did". Again, no statement that our Father in Heaven ever sinned. Since we believe that Jesus Christ never sinned, there is no reason to conclude that our Father in Heaven did so either, especially lacking any clear statement so stating.
The second line of false reasoning used by critics has to do with our belief in the deification of man (See Biblical Support for Deification). The critics argue that since we believe sinful men can become gods, it is a natural conclusion to say that our God was once a sinful man. However, they conveniently twist our theology to meet their reasoning. Their reasoning presupposes that when faithful Latter-day Saints become "gods, even the sons of God" (D&C 76:58), they become beings equal and independent of our Heavenly Father. However, this is incorrect. While we believe that the faithful will enjoy a life similar to our Heavenly Father, we also believe we will still be subject to and worship the God of Heaven, which is represented as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. We will never be at the same level as them or stop worshipping them, but we will be like them and enjoy a quality of life similar to theirs.
In conclusion, let me reiterate that the Church does not teach that any member of the Godhead, which is represented as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, has ever sinned. In fact, in the Lectures on Faith, the Prophet Joseph makes it clear that one cannot have "faith unto salvation" if one cannot trust that God is perfect and free from all error and sin.
Also see What do Latter-day Saints mean when they say that God was once a man? for more discussion of this topic.
(See Teachings About the Godhead home page; The Doctrinal Exclusion: Trinity and the Nature of God; Response to Criticism home page; Accusatory Questions home page)
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