Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

The body of Jesus Christ is the eternal image of all bodies, spiritual and physical alike.

January 20th, 2012 by G.

I’ve sometimes had the weird experience of learning new truths about the gospel from an outsider.

Joseph Smith taught that spirit is a finer form of matter. Which made no sense to me.

But a Christian scholar trying to make sense of Mormonism for his Christian audience has explained the belief in a way that I can finally comprehend.

The most significant difference is that Mormons believe that Jesus Christ was never purely immaterial. Smith developed his materialistic interpretation of the spiritual realm mainly after the Book of Mormon, but it is anticipated in that book’s most extraordinary scene. In an appearance to the unnamed brother of Jared, Jesus is so sensitive to the overwhelming impression of his corporeal form that he reveals only his little finger. Jared’s brother says, “I saw the finger of the Lord, and I feared lest he should smite me; for I knew not that the Lord had flesh and blood” (Ether 3:8). Later Jesus shows Jared’s brother his whole body, which, it turns out, is a pre-mortal spirit body, comprised of a finer material substance than anything known on earth.

Christianity has always affirmed the goodness of matter and the integrity of the human body, but Mormonism offers that Christian dogma gone mad. For Smith, Christ’s pre-existent form was as physically real as we are today. Christianity teaches that the incarnation happened in a particular place and time, but for Smith, taking Hebrews 13:8 (“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever”) very literally, the Son has always been Jesus. The body of Jesus Christ is the eternal image of all bodies, spiritual and physical alike. The incarnation is a specification (or material intensification) of his body, not the first and only time that God and matter unite.

The eternal embodiment of the divine is metaphysically audacious, and it explains why Mormonism is so inventive. Mormon metaphysics is Christian metaphysics minus Origen and Augustine—in other words, Christianity divorced from Plato. Mormons are so materialistic that they insist that the same unchanging laws govern both the natural and the supernatural. They also deny the virgin birth, since their materialism leads them to speculate that Jesus is literally begotten by the immortal Father rather than conceived by the Holy Spirit.

By treating the spiritual as a dimension of the material, Smith overcomes every trace of dualism between this world and the next. Matter is perfectible because it is one of the perfections of the divine.

That is beautiful. That is powerful. I still may not wholly accept that spirit is just a finer form of matter, but I can now understand what someone could mean by it. I can at least grasp and even admire the possibility.

The whole essay is well worth your while. It’s a model of real tolerance, which requires real differences and real attempts at understanding.

Comments (8)
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January 20th, 2012 17:10:19
8 comments

Vader
January 20, 2012

It’s a quibble, but:

“They also deny the virgin birth, since their materialism leads them to speculate that Jesus is literally begotten by the immortal Father rather than conceived by the Holy Spirit.”

Is one of the more salacious misstatements of Mormon belief routinely expressed by non-Mormon critics.

It’s a shame, because in other respects it’s a pretty perceptive essay.


Bookslinger
January 20, 2012

Sometimes we have to step outside of our own framework and look back in in order to understand our own theology. Missionaries who grow up in the church experience this paradigm as they learn to see the church through the non-member eyes of investigators.

I had a similar epiphany reading The Enchiridion by Epictetus. Epictetus helped me let go of things that I could not control, and relinquish them to Christ. Epictetus was only marginally Christian, but there is a lot of overlap between Stoicism (the philosophy principally associated with Epictetus) and Christianity.

I’ve come to a better (supposed) understanding of certain passages of the scriptures after reading about Stephen Hawking’s cosmology. If I understand him, our universe is a bubble in a much larger “multi-verse” in which time does not exist. Time only exists within the temporal bubble of the Universe. Time is measured from the Big-Bang up to the Big-Crunch. Outside of the bubble there is no time, before the Big-Bang there was no time, after the Big-Crunch there will be no time. However, the cycle eventually starts again. (And there may even be mini- or sub-cycles with bangs/crunches at the galactic level within the overall “Universe” level. As there appear to be black holes at the center of all observable galaxies.)

And that could be how the Eternal Father exists “from eternity” “to eternity”; from before the Big Bang (before time begins) through and continuing on after the Big Crunch (after time ends).

And that could be how non-exalted individuals suffer “eternal” death. When the universe goes through the Big Crunch, perhaps the exalted ones will have gotten off the merry-go round, and continue on in “eternity” outside of these temporal bubbles. I do not know the fate of non-exalted individuals in the Big Crunch. But perhaps it has something to do with Joseph Smith’s line of “one eternal round.”

Combining this with the King Follet discourse, that might be how the Eternal Father was _always_ God in this universe, from the _beginning_ of this universe, but His mortal probation and attainment of exaltation happened outside of our Universe bubble, in a Universe bubble pertaining to _His_ Heavenly Father, in a previous “eternity”, not this “eternity”. That way we can say He has _always_ been God, since the beginning of time, but the scope is still limited to “our” or “this” time, or the beginning of “our” Universe.

And to bring the scope down from macro to micro level, String Theory and theories of Dark Matter may end up shedding light on our theology of “spirit matter.”


Bookslinger
January 20, 2012

Vader: I was going to quibble with your quibble, but I deleted my comment and I’ll just say: That’s too sacred to discuss in public. Email if you want more.


Adam G.
January 21, 2012

“They also deny the virgin birth, since their materialism leads them to speculate that Jesus is literally begotten by the immortal Father rather than conceived by the Holy Spirit.”

Is one of the more salacious misstatements of Mormon belief routinely expressed by non-Mormon critics.

I think its more of an overstatement than a misstatement. Some Mormons did and do believe something like what he describes.

Books.,
if God exists in your outside timeless multiverse, then in some sense he’s always been God no matter what universe you are talking about.


Vader
January 21, 2012

if God exists in your outside timeless multiverse, then in some sense he’s always been God no matter what universe you are talking about.

Which raises the interesting question: If we eventually come to partake of the divine nature, do we then have an existence in this outside timeless multiverse? If so, what are the implications for the doctrine of election?

I know some Mormons, particular in earlier times, made speculations giving substance to the claim that we deny the virgin birth. I believe these speculations directly contradict our own scriptures, and I don’t see it as necessary. Furthermore, if our crude medical technology can impregnate a woman without sexual intercourse, it should be a snap for the Holy Spirit to do so.


Zen
January 21, 2012

I recall reading something by Nibley where some ancient document had Mary participating in a prayer circle with Pres. Peter (it called him that) and she started to tell the Apostles exactly what happened about that whole Virgin birth thing. However, Christ appeared and put the kibosh on that. However, from the angle Mary was going at, it sounds a lot more like those speculations.

I can think of good reasons to wonder if Adam had a belly button, but I can’t think of any for the virgin birth.

In general, I thought it was an excellent article, though I wearied at hearing the whole Bethlehem/Jerusalem misunderstanding crop up again.


Bookslinger
January 21, 2012

“… if our crude medical technology can…”

Oooh. Excellent way of putting that. I’ll have to remember that.


Adam G.
January 23, 2012

The Mormon luminaries who speculated that Jesus was conceived coitally didn’t think it because they couldn’t imagine any alternative modes of conception. They thought it because they saw no need for alternative modes of conception.

Yes, that Bethlehem/Jerusalem bit made me laugh.

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