Friday, November 18, 2011

Bowman on Joseph Smith, Theosis, and Daniel Peterson

A while ago (early August 2011), BYU professor and LDS apologist Daniel C. Peterson authored a somewhat popular-level article for Deseret News, "Joseph Smith's restoration of 'theosis' was miracle, not scandal", in defense of the claim that the LDS conception of 'exaltation' was original to apostolic Christianity. In the course of this brief defense, Peterson appeals to a variety of ancient Jewish and Christian writings.

More recently, however, Christian apologist Robert M. Bowman Jr. has replied to Peterson's arguments in a five-post series titled "Did Joseph Smith Restore Theosis?", hosted at the Parchment and Pen blog. I've found Bowman's critique to be quite worthwhile reading, and I'd invite any of my readers to seriously consider making their way through it entirely:
  1. The Mormon Doctrine of Exaltation
  2. The New Testament and Joseph Smith's Doctrine of Exaltation
  3. The Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith's Doctrine of Exaltation
  4. Esoteric Jewish Theology and Joseph Smith's Doctrine of Exaltation
  5. Early Church Fathers and Joseph Smith's Doctrine of Exaltation
I for one really hope that someday Bowman expands this critique in some more suitable venue to also interact with the best LDS scholarship in detail. What he's done here, I think, is quite good; an in-depth critique of the academic treatments of exaltation by Peterson and others, however, would have the potential to be utterly magnificent in pushing the dialogue forward.


  1. As a life-long LDS, I've never been taught that we were adopted in the pre-existence. But our spirits were all procreated by God. This is evident by reading Jeremiah 1:5, and the question posed to Jesus by his disciples (who knew his doctrine) "Master who did sin, this man or his parents that he was born blind?" Bowman's problem with the semantics of the word adoption is splitting heirs (pun intended). A joint heir with Christ is a joint heir with Christ. The Book of Mormon (the translated and unsealed portion at least)has the purpose of convincing Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, not heavy doctrines that really don't pertain to us yet. See Michael Coogan (co-editor to the Oxfords Companion to the Bible) for a better education on the history of Theosis. I find it very telling that traditions of the Maya and Aztecs and other native tribes speak of a character that fits the description of Christ in uncanny ways. If a=b and b=c then a=c too. If the Book of Mormon is True then Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. Many many other evidences that the Book of Mormon is true. Go to the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for more. Daniel Peterson and others like him really know their stuff. They present the facts in a professional and unbiased way. BTW A very prominent Population Geneticist joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after examining the evidences of DNA studies. See also Nahom, Bountiful, Chiasmus, Polysyndadons(sp?), Plain of Olishem, and on and on. Warning: These evidences will never convince you, but if you pray and ask God having faith in Christ if these things are not true, the Holy Ghost will manifest the truth of it to you and by the power Holy Ghost you may know the truth of all things.

  2. Greetings!

    I have heard the adoption suggestion from a number of Latter-day Saints before, but primarily from LDS intellectuals; I'd surmise that the more literal sense of 'begetting' would be the more common view. I haven't discussed the disagreement within LDS circles much, but I would recommend this post:

    I would disagree with you in your interpretation of both Jeremiah 1:5 and John 9:2. I don't think either requires the affirmation that an individual exists prior to conception in his/her mother's womb. The former seems to be sufficiently explainable as just divine foreknowledge and/or a slight tad of poetic license, whereas the latter likely reflects then-current Jewish controversies regarding the possibility of pre-natal sin.

    I haven't read that particular book (The Oxford Companion to the Bible), though I do note that 'theosis' is absent from its index. Did you have a particular work by Coogan in mind? I'd be glad to slide it into my to-read list, if you think it would be informative. Considering that Coogan mainly writes introductory books on the Old Testament, I'm not sure what of his you might have in mind.

    It's been some time since I've looked much at the archaeological evidences for and against the Book of Mormon. I am familiar with the claim regarding 'NHM' in the Arabian Peninsula, but I haven't found it persuasive on its own. Nor, given the prevalence of knowledge of chiasmus during Joseph Smith's day, have I seen a convincing argument from any chiasmus in the Book of Mormon to its purported ancient Hebraic origin. I haven't looked much into any argument from polysyndetons, but that - like chiasmus - seems to be something that any astute reader of the King James Version might naturally pick up without necessarily even being aware of the feature itself. I don't, off the top of my head, know what evidence you mean by the references to the land Bountiful and to the Plain of Olishem. But if you have any particular references for those, I'd be glad to look into it further. The same goes to your statement about the traditions of the Maya and Aztecs; are you talking about Quetzalcoatl? If so, then I'm at least familiar with that, and have yet to see an detailed presentation of that argument that relies on verifiable pre-Christian Mesoamerican sources. [To be continued]

  3. [Continued] Additionally, I find your claim about the population geneticist interesting; could you provide a source for that? In turn, I'm sure you're also familiar with geneticists who have left the LDS faith because of the results of DNA evidence.

    I'm also not certain that I would endorse your claim that Daniel Peterson and others with the Neal A. Maxwell Institute "present the facts in a professional and unbiased way". I'm not claiming here that Peterson, et al., deliberately distort the facts, but their presentation is of course selective and shaped by their LDS faith. That's not to say it's either accurate or inaccurate; just that it does represent the case presented by one of two sides.

    I would also disagree with your presentation of the relationship between evidence and faith. If the evidence were convincing, then yes, I'd follow where it led and believe. I have no problem with that. I also have put 'Moroni's promise' into action and gotten results contrary to what you assure me is the inevitable result. I'm not sure if you read my "welcome and introduction" page here (see upper right-hand corner for a link), but if you haven't, I'd invite you to read my account of what happened as I "pray[ed] and ask[ed] God having faith in Christ if these things are not true".

    I do confess that, in your comment, I found relatively little that was directly pertinent to the disagreement between Daniel Peterson and Rob Bowman over theosis and exaltation. The most I can find as I read and re-read your remarks is that "a joint heir with Christ is a joint heir with Christ", which in this context reads somewhat like a dismissal-out-of-hand; it doesn't address whether, as Peterson claims, there really is precedent in Jewish and Christian tradition for the robust version of 'exaltation' that is affirmed by Latter-day Saints, as Bowman sets that teaching forth. I do think, on the other hand, that Bowman convincingly shows that Peterson's alleged precedents do not have anything more than superficial verbal similarities at best to LDS notions of exaltation, and that claims such as Peterson's are belied by the context (sociohistorical and literary) of the original quotations.

    Thank you very much for stopping by! I hope very much that you do so again. Feel free also, if you would, to adopt a consistent nickname here other than 'Anonymous' to make things easier in recognizing when it's you.

    God bless,

  4. Hi JB, this is the anonymous KH.

    Wow JB, I am very impressed with your academic credentials, Christlike demeanor, willingness to take a third or fourth look at LDS ideas. I have no academic credentials in Theology like you, but I do believe I have a sound interpretation of what the Bible says and doesn't say, what the prophets meant and what they didn't mean. I was impressed with your response to my post. I hadn't read your introduction, and wasn't aware of your missionary experiences. I am (a little) befuddled as to why you haven't been satisfactorily convinced of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon given your sincere effort. I do believe you have given it a good, sincere effort, but I can't help but wonder if the Lord has a unique mission for you.
    JB, please forgive my brevity, and typos, and incomplete sentences in my post. Your language and completeness puts my composition to shame. But please know this about me. I'm the husband of one good wife, and the father of nine children. I'm also a businessman struggling to make a living. Hence my time is somewhat constrained by these and other responsibilities. Therefore, I would ask your patience in my responding to your very good and thoughtful questions as well as to certain points in your introduction which I just read.

    I would also like to eventually share some spiritual things with you in the future if I feel it would be right.

    So in essence, I won't be able to answer everything in one or even two or three posts. I just don't have the time. But I would welcome the dialogue and the chance to discuss some of your concerns and challenges with LDS beliefs.
    Your words make you sound very sincere. If I didn't detect it I wouldn't waste my time. I understand that you probably feel a need to convince me of what you perceive as the truth. Fine. I must say I've already heard everything you could possibly throw at me, including Ed Decker, The Tanners, Owen and Mosser, and even the dissidents who still claim to be LDS. I don't have a complete answer for everything out there, but I, like you, have had some spiritual guidance after sincere prayer directing me along my flight path.

    [continued] KH

  5. It occurs to me that one of the big difficulties Nicene Christians have with Latter-day Saint Christians is a hang-up over the words monotheism and polytheism. To you, Christ has to also be God the Father because, as it says in Isaiah 45 "a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me." Obviously you know from your perusals of LDS literature, that we LDS view Christ as Jehovah of the Old Testament. I can't speak officially for the Church, but I can give you my opinion that Jehovah is speaking with the divine, yet submissive, investiture of authority He received from His Father. He shows deference by talking of a saviourhood of the two because of the Father's sacrifice of his blameless son. This points us back Abraham's great heart-rending but obedient intent to sacrifice his beloved, only begotten son (through Sarah), Isaac.

    While you may have a problem with this "investiture of authority" interpretation, please try to understand my difficulty with reading the combined gospel accounts of Christ's final moments on the cross and seeing a triune God. As I read them, it appears that God the Father first withdrew His spirit from supporting His Son. Then Christ cries out in agony saying, "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Note: He didn't (and I don't mean any irreverence here), He didn't exclaim "Oh me, oh my, why have I forsaken myself?" What would be the purpose? Then moments later Jesus says, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." Think about that. He commended His spirit to the Father who had previously withdrawn His Spirit from Jesus and abandoned Him in order to fulfill the price of redemption. We have two or three different divine beings here, all of whom must have been suffering. Are they all God? Yes! Are they different persons? It is very obvious that they are. Do we LDS worship them both? I think it is obvious we do. Do we see the Father as the head, supreme God. Definitely. And Christ wouldn't want it any other way. Is Christ our Savior? Most definitely. In a sense he becomes a father of our new birth. Because of Him we can be joint heirs of God with Him. Because of Him, we can actually attain to His admonition "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect." What exactly does that mean? To be perfect like God the Father? What does that entail? Obviously the first part of that endeavor would be show our faith in Christ by keeping His commandments, or in other words, not being goats, but being His sheep...being a peculiar people zealous of good works.
    I could belabor this by citing all the "proof texts" such as "Is it not written, I said ye are gods?" (John 10:34), but I'm limited on my time and I suspect you've already chosen to embrace the evangelical explanations of those scriptures.


  6. Now, to address the questions in your responding post. Forgive me if I can't give you the exact references in all cases, but I'll try my best to point you in the right direction.

    As for Coogan's treatment of Israel's ancient belief in theosis, he says the following:

    "Thus, within institutional Christianity, we can discern a selective approach toward biblical
    texts, but institutional Christianity is not the only party responsible for this situation. That widely accepted scholarly ideas have not penetrated the thinking of the laity is partly the fault of biblical scholars themselves. One area especially lacking in courage is Bible
    translation. Many translations do not convey exactly what the original biblical languages–
    Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek–say. In this way translators avoid shocking people by making
    the Bible seem like one book with internal consistency, rather than an anthology exhibiting
    development of doctrines and a concomitant inconsistency.
    For example, the high mythology of some biblical traditions is often softened by a
    backreading of monotheism. Biblical texts repeatedly refer to a group of divinities called
    "the sons of God" (see, for example, Job 1:6, in Hebrew), associated with Yahweh, the
    personal name of the God of Israel. Most translations render the phrase with something
    vague like "heavenly beings" (NRSV, Job 1:6) or "members of the court of heaven" (REB,
    Job 1:6), obscuring the idea of a high god presiding over an assembly of other deities, a
    concept the Israelites shared with their ancient Near Eastern neighbors.
    Another example is the repeated references to angels. The development of an elaborate
    angelology is, like monotheism, a late phenomenon that should not be retrojected
    anachronistically. The angels who appear in biblical texts dated prior to the fifth century
    B.C.E. are simply minor deities, messengers of the assembly of the gods, much like Iris,
    Hermes (Mercury) and other gods of classical mythology." The Great Gulf Between Scholars and the Pew, Bible Review, June, 1994.

    Please note that what Coogan refers to as "high mythology" could in actuality be the pure, true doctrine of Theosis as the LDS believe it to be. But Coogan isn't LDS and probably hasn't considered it from that standpoint. Hence his term, "high mythology".