Exaltation (also referred to as eternal life or eternal progression) is a belief in Mormonism, most prominently among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), that mankind can return to live in God's presence and continue as families. Exaltation can be viewed as a literal belief in the ancient and modern Christian doctrine of deification or divinization. The LDS Church teaches that, through the atonement of Jesus Christ, believers may become joint-heirs with Jesus Christ, and that God's primary "work and ... glory" is to bring about the exaltation of his children. The objective of adherents is to strive for purity and righteousness and to become one with Jesus, as Jesus is one with God the Father. The Doctrine and Covenants contains a verse that states that those who are exalted will "be gods" and, thus, will inherit God's glory through Christ's atonement. Those who are exalted are said to live with God the Father as resurrected beings in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom.
As the primary source for the doctrine, Mormons look largely to the teachings of their modern (or what they refer to as "latter-day") prophets. However, many LDS theologians and scholars also have also commented on several biblical passages as support for a belief in exaltation. LDS scholars also have referenced the writings of first-, second-, and third-century historians and theologians of the early Christian Church as being evidence supporting the belief in exaltation as being similar to the beliefs of early, pre-Nicean Christians.
When discussing the belief in eternal progression, various Mormon and non-LDS scholars generally refer to a couplet written by Lorenzo Snow, the fifth president of the LDS Church: "As man now is, God once was; As God now is, man may be."
This doctrine is generally referred to by scholars both inside and outside Mormonism as the Christian deification. It has been noted by LDS and non-LDS scholars that the LDS expression of this ancient Christian doctrine is often misrepresented and misunderstood when it is applied to Mormons.
Because of the misunderstanding, several LDS scholars (and occasionally LDS authorities and theologians) have sought to clarify the beliefs of Mormonism regarding the subject of exaltation. Adherents do not believe that human beings will ever be independent of God or that they will ever cease worshipping and being subordinate to God. Rather, adherents believe that to by as God means to overcome the world through the atonement of Jesus Christ. Thus, the faithful become heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, and will inherit all things just as Christ inherited all things. LDS commentators have stated that, therefore, the Mormons believe they are received into the "church of the firstborn" and they inherit as if they were the firstborn.
LDS scholars, particularly at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at Brigham Young University, argue that there are no limitations on these biblical passages and declarations; those who become as God shall inherit all things. They believe that in that glorified state, those who overcome the world through the grace and mercy of Christ will resemble Christ and will receive his glory and be one with him and with the Father.
Mormons believe that the primary source and references for their belief come from the teachings of their modern prophets. Nonetheless, members of the LDS (like other ancient and modern Christian faith groups who believe in a literal form of deification) claim to find support for their belief in the Bible, which, like most other Christians, the LDS believe to be the "word of God."
LDS commentators have highlighted biblical passages which members of the LDS refer to in support of a literal belief in Christian deification. Some of the passages are as follows:
- Paul the Apostle taught that men are sons of God (for example, Epistle to the Romans chapter 8). Paul conceives of the resurrection as immortalization of both the body and the soul (1 Cor 15:42–49). 2 Corinthians 3:17–18 says that "we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another."
- In John 10:34, Jesus defends himself against a charge of blasphemy by stating, "Have I not said that ye are gods?" It is widely believed that Jesus is referring to Psalms 82:6 in saying, "Ye are gods and children of the most high."
- Jesus' defence against the charge of blasphemy includes the following passages from John chapter 10:
- 33 The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.
- 34 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?
- 35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;
- 36 Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?
- In (1 John 5:4–5; Revelation 2:7–11), the apostle John speaks about how men can overcome the world, as Christ did, through Christ's sacrifice.
- In Philippians 2:6, Paul talks about deification and that it is not insulting to God to suppose that someone [Christ] could become equal to God.
- There are several Bible verses that state that through Christ, men may become "heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ" and "will inherit all things" just as Christ inherited all things.
Like other Christian denominations that believe in a literal meaning of deification, Mormons note that there are no limitations on these scriptural declarations; those who become as God shall inherit all things. Nonetheless, Mormons believe man will always be subject to God (1 John 3:2; 1 Corinthians 15:28; 2 Corinthians 3:18; John 17:21–23; Philippians 3:21).
Patristic writings of early Christianity
According to both LDS and non-LDS scholars, there are similarities between the Mormon belief of eternal progression and the beliefs found in the patristic writings of the first, second, and third centuries AD. There exist many references to a more literal belief in deification in the writings of the Church Fathers which some LDS and non-LDS scholars and early Christian Church historians claim most closely resemble the beliefs of Mormonism than the beliefs of any other modern faith group derived from the Christian tradition.
In the second century, Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (c. 130–202) said that God "became what we are in order to make us what he is himself." Irenaeus also wrote, "If the Word became a man, It was so men may become gods." He added: "Do we cast blame on him [God] because we were not made gods from the beginning, but were at first created merely as men, and then later as gods? Although God has adopted this course out of his pure benevolence, that no one may charge him with discrimination or stinginess, he declares, 'I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are sons of the Most High.' ... For it was necessary at first that nature be exhibited, then after that what was mortal would be conquered and swallowed up in immortality."
At about the same time, Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–215), wrote: "Yea, I say, the Word of God became a man so that you might learn from a man how to become a god." Clement further stated that "[i]f one knows himself, he will know God, and knowing God will become like God.... His is beauty, true beauty, for it is God, and that man becomes a god, since God wills it. So Heraclitus was right when he said, 'Men are gods, and gods are men.'" Clement also stated that "he who obeys the Lord and follows the prophecy given through him... becomes a god while still moving about in the flesh."
Justin Martyr (c. 100–165) insisted that in the beginning men "were made like God, free from suffering and death" and so they are "deemed worthy of becoming gods and of having power to become sons of the highest."
Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 296–373), stated his belief in literal deification: "The Word was made flesh in order that we might be made gods.... Just as the Lord, putting on the body, became a man, so also we men are both deified through his flesh, and henceforth inherit everlasting life." Athanasius also observed: "For the Son of God became man so that we might become God."
Augustine of Hippo (354–430) said: "But he himself that justifies also deifies, for by justifying he makes sons of God. 'For he has given them power to become the sons of God' [quoting John 1:12]. If then we have been made sons of god, we have also been made gods." "To make human beings gods," Augustine said, "He was made man who was God" (sermon 192.1.1). Augustine goes on to write that "[they] are not born of His Substance, that they should be the same as He, but that by favour they should come to Him".
Notable scholars and historians specializing in the studies of Early Christianity and the beliefs of first-, second-, and third-century Christians have noted that the above writers were not just important theologians in Christian orthodoxy, but all eventually became revered as saints as a result of the early church councils. LDS historians and scholars Robert L. Millet and Noel B. Reynolds also point out that three of the above early fathers of Christianity wrote within a span of less than 100 years from the period of the apostles and so the writings of these three early Christian saints are reliable sources representing the beliefs of early Christians around and near the time of the apostles.
Non-LDS Christian beliefs on deification
According to Millet and Reynolds, there are similarities between the Mormon belief of eternal progression and certain statements made by CS Lewis about his personal belief in the subject of deification:
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.
In a fuller statement on his beliefs in literal deification, Lewis explained in his book, Mere Christianity:
The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were "gods" and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him—for we can prevent Him, if we choose—He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.
For a more recent example of commentary on the doctrine of deification in modern Christianity, M. Scott Peck stated the following in his book The Road Less Traveled:
For no matter how much we may like to pussyfoot around it, all of us who postulate a loving God and really think about it eventually come to a single terrifying idea: God wants us to become Himself (or Herself or Itself). We are growing toward godhood.
Millet and Reynold have noted the similarities between these statements of modern non-LDS Christian commentators and the resemblances to the correlating Mormon belief in a more literal form of deification.
According to LDS beliefs, certain ordinances, such as baptism, are required of all those who hope to obtain exaltation. Latter-day Saints are taught that they can become kings and queens in God's kingdom through performing ordinances such as the temple endowment and by doing their best to be faithful to the covenants that the ordinances represent. Celestial marriage, or sealing to an opposite-sex spouse, is also a requirement for exaltation.
For those who have lived and died throughout history without having performed these ordinances, it is believed that exaltation will be available through LDS Church ordinances performed vicariously by proxy in Mormon temples, such as baptisms for the dead. LDS doctrine teaches that all individuals will have an equitable and fair opportunity to hear the "fulness of the gospel" as taught in this life, or in the life to come, and will subsequently have the opportunity to either accept the message of Jesus Christ and his gospel or reject it.
Acceptance of the ordinances by those who have died is entirely voluntary in the spirit world, and does not remove the free will of those individuals. Should an individual who is in the spirit world reject ordinances performed on their behalf, it would be as if these ordinances were never performed. It is taught that some will accept them, and others will reject them.
Those who reject the ordinances are still believed to have the opportunity to inherit a kingdom of glory distinct from, and of less glory, than the celestial kingdom: either the terrestrial kingdom or the telestial kingdom. The celestial kingdom is reserved for people who were baptized—either while living or by proxy for the dead—who have a testimony of Christ and lived a good life. Children who died before age eight will also automatically receive exaltation in the celestial kingdom. The terrestrial kingdom is for the honorable and virtuous people of the world who rejected the gospel message and for those who were baptized but who were subsequently not valiant followers of Christ. The telestial kingdom is for those who fall short of the terrestrial standard and for "liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie."
The celestial kingdom has three degrees within it; those who attain to the highest degree are those who were sealed to a spouse. It is only those of this highest degree in the celestial kingdom who receive exaltation. Those were not married during their mortal life will be given the opportunity to be married and sealed to a spouse by proxy prior to their resurrection.
- God in Mormonism
- Mormonism and Christianity
- Mormon cosmology
- Plan of salvation (Latter Day Saints)
- "Eternal Life", Gospel Topics, LDS Church
- Romans 8:16–17.
- Moses 1:39.
- Joseph Smith, King Follett Discourse. See also: King Follett discourse
- D&C 132:20.
- Millet & Reynolds 1998
- Lorenzo Snow often referred to this couplet as having been revealed to him by inspiration during the Nauvoo period of the church. See, for example, Deseret Weekly, 3 November 1894, 610; Deseret Weekly, 8 October 1898, 513; Deseret News, 15 June 1901, 177; and Journal History of the Church, Historical Department, LDS Church, Salt Lake City, 20 July 1901, 4.
- For example, evidence of the Mormon doctrine of exaltation can be seen in D&C 76:58; 132:19–20, as well as in sermons delivered by Joseph Smith, who Latter Day Saints believe was the first prophet of the latter days (modern times).
- See Joseph Smith, comp., Lectures on Faith (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1985), 5:3; and Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 346–48.
- Lund, Gerald N. (February 1982), "I Have a Question: Is President Lorenzo Snow’s oft-repeated statement—'As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be'—accepted as official doctrine by the Church?", Ensign
- "Becoming Like God", Gospel Topics, LDS Church
- See 1 John 5:4–5; Revelation 2:7, 11.
- See Romans 8:17; Galatians 4:7; 1 Corinthians 3:21–23; Revelation 21:7.
- See Hebrews 12:23.
- See 1 John 3:2; 1 Corinthians 15:49; 2 Corinthians 3:18; John 17:21–23; Philippians 3:21.
- See, Articles of Faith 8 (which states, "We believe the Bible to be the Word of God as far as it is translated correctly").
- (Romans 8:17; Galatians 4:7; 1 Corinthians 3:21–23; Revelation 21:7)
- Jacobs, Jonathan D. "An Eastern Orthodox Conception of Theosis and Human Nature" (PDF).
- Adversus haereses, book 5, preface - Factus est quod sumus nos, uti nos perficeret quod et ipse.
- Irenaeus, Against Heresies, bk. 5, preface.
- Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.38 (4); compare 4.11 (2): "But man receives progression and increase towards God. For as God is always the same, so also man, when found in God, shall always progress towards God."
- Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Greeks, 1.
- Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, 3.1. See his Stromateis, 23.
- Stromata 716,101,4 (Ed. Stählin): ὁ τῷ κυρίῳ πειθόμενος καὶ τῇ δοθείσῃ δι' αὐτοῦ κατακολουθήσας προφητείᾳ τελέως ἐκτελεῖται κατ' εἰκόνα τοῦ διδασκάλου ἐν σαρκὶ περιπολῶν θεός
- Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 124.
- Athanasius, Against the Aryans, 1.39, 3.34.
- St. Athanasius, De inc. 54, 3: PG 25, 192B
- "Αὐτὸς γὰρ ἐνηνθρώπισεν, ἵνα ἡμεῖς θεοποιηθῶμεν (Migne, Patrologia Graeca, 25, 192 B De incarnatione Verbi, 54: literally, "... that we might become ...". Grammatically, the verb θεοποιηθῶμεν could be translated as "be made God" Himself or "be made gods."
- Augustine, On the Psalms, 50.2. Augustine insists that such individuals are gods by grace rather than by nature, but they are "called gods" nevertheless.
- C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, rev. ed. (New York: Macmillan, Collier Books, 1980), 18.
- Lewis, Mere Christianity, 174–75.
- M. Scott Peck, (New York: Simon and Schuster), 269–70 (1978).
- "Baptisms for the Dead", Gospel Topics, LDS Church
- Condie, Spencer J. (July 2003), "The Savior's Visit to the Spirit World", Ensign (LDS Church), retrieved 2011-11-10,
No one will be coerced into accepting ordinances performed on his or her behalf by another. Baptism for the dead offers an opportunity, but it does not override a person's agency. But if this ordinance is not performed for them, deceased persons are robbed of the choice to accept or reject baptism.
- Doctrine and Covenants 76:103.
- "Kingdoms of Glory", Gospel Topics, LDS Church
- Adams, Lisa Ramsey (1992), "Eternal Progression", in Ludlow, Daniel H., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Mcmillan, pp. 465–466, ISBN 0-02-904040-X.
- Hardy, Grant R. (1992), "Godhood", in Ludlow, Daniel H., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Mcmillan, pp. 553–555, ISBN 0-02-904040-X.
- Millet, Robert L.; Reynolds, Noel B. (1998). "5. Do Latter-day Saints believe that men and women can become gods?". Latter-day Christianity: 10 Basic Issues. Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies. ISBN 0934893322. OCLC 39732987.
- Pope, Margaret McConkie (1992), "Exaltation", in Ludlow, Daniel H., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Mcmillan, p. 479, ISBN 0-02-904040-X.
- Ricks, Shirley S. (1992), "Eternal Lives, Eternal Increase", in Ludlow, Daniel H., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan, p. 465, ISBN 0-02-904040-X.
- "Chapter 47: Exaltation," Gospel Principles, (2009), LDS Church
- "Gospel Topics: Becoming Like God", LDS.org (LDS Church)