The other day I got talking to some Mormon Missionaries in a local town centre, we had a great chat and I challenged them on a number of areas but one thing they asked me about was my belief on what the bible means by us being made in the image of God. Mormons take this very literally and believe that we are physically the image of God because God the Father has a physical human body from His time being a man.
As a Bible believing evangelical I do not accept this and thought it would be worth exploring why and maybe have some discussion about it.
The bible verse the debate starts at is here:
Genesis 1:27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
So before I get started just to sum up, Mormons say this is a physical image, and evangelicals (bible only believing types) say it means attributes not physical likeness.
Doctrine and Covenants 130:22 says “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s”
Joseph Smith in his own teaching said: “That which is without body or parts is nothing. There is no God in heaven but that God who has flesh and bones” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church – Joseph Smith p.42)
2nd Mormon President Brigham Young said:
“Our God and Father in Heaven, is a being of tabernacle, or, in other words, he has a body, with parts the same as you and I have; and is capable of showing forth his works to organized beings, as for instance, in the world in which we live, it is the result of the knowledge and infinite wisdom that dwell in his organized body. His Son Jesus Christ has become a personage of tabernacle, and has a body like his Father. The Holy Ghost is the Spirit of the Lord, and issues forth from himself, and may properly be called God’s minister to execute his will in immensity; being called to govern by his influence and power; but he is not a person of flesh as we are, and as our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ are” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p.24)
This understandably leads to this thinking.
“Some would have us believe that God is present everywhere. It is not so. He is no more every where present in person than the Father and Son are one in person” (Discourses of Brigham Young p.23-24)
I am not 100% sure if that last statement is still believed in Mormonism today however it makes sense in light of the earlier statements which are believed in the Mormon Church today.
So from a biblical perspective the first verse we understandably go to is:
John 4:24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
So this is Jesus speaking as a man with a body at this stage and He says God, (who when Jesus is speaking always means the Father) is Spirit and we worship Him in Spirit and truth.
The Mormon Apologetics institution FAIR has some thoughts on this bible verse here
Among others they make this point: Also, if God is a spirit and we have to worship him in spirit, do mortals have to leave our bodies to worship him?
And come to this conclusion: Adopting the critics’ reading of this verse leads to some strange conclusions if we are consistent. Deuteronomy 4:28 says that our God can see, eat and smell. Can an unembodied spirit do that? Exodus 9:3 says that God is a consuming fire, 1 John 1:5 says God is light, and 1 John 4:4,16 says that God is love. Is He just those things? Clearly not, and the LDS conclude that neither is He just a spirit.
I think they make a fair point in realising that all bible verses need to be viewed in light of other bible verses however their reasoning does not really make an argument as nothing in the context of the bible challenges the idea that God is Spirit, it just shows other attributes of His, however these other attributes do not contradict His being Spirit.
The concluding words : the LDS conclude that neither is He just a spirit. Is conveniant ignorance of the fact that the LDS view of God having a body is a direct contradiction to the bibles teaching, not merely an addition to it as the other bible verses they quote bring.
This still leaves the problem though, what does image mean?
Genesis 1:26 helps us out here:
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the [a]sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness, this image is according to the likeness of God.
In verse 28 it says rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, Verse 31 says God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.
So like God we rule over the earth, however unlike Him our rule is limited. This creation was declared to be very good, who did Jesus say is the only one that is good, the answer is God.
Like God this creation is good, again as finite beings this goodness is finite however it is still very much Gods attributes given to us.
Interestingly we see a lot of support for this view in Philippians 2:6-9
who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be [f]grasped, 7 but [g]emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death [h]on a cross.
If you pay close attention here you will see the problems this causes for Mormon theology is massive, here it is step by step.
- Jesus existed in the form of God,
- He emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond servant,
- Was then found in the appearance of a man, as a result of this changing of form.
Think about it, if Jesus was in the form of God then He was already like a man, however He had to empty Himself to be found in the appearance of man, surely this would be an exaltation to take the form of a man as ultimately He would be taking the form of God, however this was not the case as He was already in the form of God, which was Spirit.
So I hope you can see that the more literal interpretation of the bible is the one that looks at it more deeply than just looking at 1 verse. God the Father is an infinite being, who created an earth that cannot contain Him, (1 Kings 8:27) and is able to do far more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20)
As ever please leave a comment with your thoughts.