Welcome, once again, to the “Gospel Speculation” class. Since I am not a Ward Sunday School teacher, I am under no obligation to stick to the lesson manual or even stay true to the stated purpose of each lesson. Rather, I write these columns to entertain myself, and as motivation to keep up with the weekly reading. I expect that, in most wards, the emphasis for this lesson will be on the birth of the Savior. However, the manual also includes provision for discussion of his youth and preparation for his ministry. Of course, there is little enough provided for the gospel scholar on this subject. But there is an interesting tidbit found in D&C 93, which has piqued my interest in theosis.
In the Latter-day Saint tradition, theosis is the process of becoming a god.* This doctrine has two aspects to it. The first is that human beings, through the process of sanctification, can become pure and attain enough knowledge to be coequal with God after resurrection. The other aspect is that God was once human like ourselves, and went through this same process. This is also known as “couplet theology,” after a ditty formulated by Lorenzo Snow/Brigham Young: “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.”
In a talk given at the 2008 Sunstone symposium, Hugo Olaiz discussed his observations that although early Mormon thinkers have vigorously debated and elaborated upon this doctrine, there is a distinct change in how we approach it today. The first half of the couplet, the one dealing with the progression of God, has become nearly invisible, and while we retain the possibility of deification for man, it is reimaged as “eternal progression,” with its bolder implications being tamed. Michael Quinn, the respondent to Olaiz’ talk, dramatically defended both aspects of couplet theology. He warned against deemphasizing our early teachings to ally ourselves with the evangelical Christian movement, thus trading our birthright for a mess of pottage.
It seems to me that there is little danger of being able to escape our unique perspective of deification, especially when we consider Latter-day scripture such as the section in question. Here we have what seems to be a description of Jesus Christ himself going through the process of theosis, by going “from grace to grace.” In my mind this is somewhat confusing. Some questions that come up as I ponder this lesson are as follows:
- What does the scripture mean by “he received not of the fulness at first?”
- Was Jesus fully a God before coming to earth?
- Was Jesus a God before obtaining a resurrected body?
- Does verse 14 put Jesus in a subordinate position to God the Father?
- Does D&C 93 fit well with Luke 2:40-52 (our sole New Testament passage about the Savior’s youth), or does it go beyond what was intended?
I hope that some of you are ready to put your speculator hats on and add your thoughts and impressions on these questions!
*See Mormon Heretic’s post Eastern Orthodoxy: Theosis/Deification. The comments contain an interesting discussion on whether Mormon couplet theology can properly be considered theosis.