I remember a conversation I had with an Evangelical minister in Chicago on my mission in 1991. The minister called me on the phone and asked that I come over with my companion and explain why Mormons believe that they can attain godhood. To the minister, this was blasphemous – such an idea was counter to what this individual learned in theological seminary.
My companion and I spent about an hour going through the Bible and the Book of Mormon outlining some of the scriptures outlined in this presentation. I finished my presentation sharing a couple of verses from the Doctrine and Covenants, and then bore my testimony of the simple fact that we are children of God. The prophets meant this literally – that we (humankind) are literally the offspring of Heavenly Father. Our destiny is to become like him, if we will receive it.
The minister said, “Well, young man, you have shown me your belief in my very Bible. I cannot refute your teaching. I still do not believe it to be true, but I certainly cannot argue against it based on the scriptures you have shown me.”
To me, this was a good experience. Although the minister and I were on different sides of a very important doctrine, we had a good discussion, and were respectful to each other. I appreciated that the minister made the decision to call the missionaries to hear what we believe, rather than to listen to hearsay or read it from literature that is hostile to my faith.
I still contend that my understanding of deification, or theosis, or divinization – whatever you want to call it- is tied directly to my understanding of the simple belief that I am a son of God. Man is literally in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Knowing this leads me to see the scriptures in a different light than my Christian friends of other faiths. He is a personal, real being who is a knowable God, not a God hidden in a shroud of mystery, something unrelated to man. He is not a spirit essence but rather an exalted, resurrected, and glorified man. He is the Father of our spirits, we are his children born in heavenly realms where we once lived with him, and thus we rightfully call him our Father in Heaven.
The scriptural evidence
The early Christians believed that God became man, that man might become God. This teaching is also recorded in scripture. The Savior Jesus Christ taught, “Be ye therefore perfect; even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) Likewise the vision which Jesus sees of the destiny of his followers in his grand prayer in John 17 has lofty ideals: the Savior has given them the glory of God with which he was endowed, and they will be one, even as Christ and his Heavenly Father are one, “that they may be perfect in one.” (John 17:11)
The idea that the saints are the children of God, with a divine future inheritance in the afterlife is a common one among the authors of the text of the New Testament, something that parallels the Savior’s prayer in John 17. As we read in the writings of Paul, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” (Romans 8:16-17)
The authors of 1 Corinthians and James allude to the creation of man in the image and likeness of God (1 Corinthians 11:7; James 3:9) and the author of Revelation tells us that “to him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” (Revelation 3:21) We read in 1 John 3:2 that “are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” Many more scriptures put forth this idea (see also: Matthew 25:21, Acts 17:29, Galatians 4:7, Ephesians 4:13, 2 Timothy 2:10-12, 3 Nephi 27:27, 3 Nephi 28:30, D&C 88:107, D&C 93:20, D&C 130:1, D&C 132:1-24, D&C 133:57), but these will suffice.
There is enough evidence in the scriptures of New Testament to logically lead one to conclude that divinization is not only a possibility, but something the Savior wants each of us to receive as we come unto him, and this is exactly what those temporally closest to the apostles put forth.
Justin – Discourse To The Greeks 5
The Word exercises an influence which does not make poets: it does not equip philosophers nor skilled orators, but by its instruction it makes mortals immortal, mortals god. (Ante Nicene Fathers 1.272)
Theophilius (A.D. 180)
Neither, then, immortal nor yet mortal did He make him, but, as we have said above, capable of both; so that if he should incline to the things of immortality, keeping the commandment of God, he should receive as reward from Him immortality, and should become God. (Theophilus, ca. 180, To Autolycusv 2:27, in Ante-Nicene Fathers 2:105)
Cyprian (A.D. 200-258)
What Christ is, we Christians shall be, if we imitate Christ. (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 5:469)
Irenaeus (A.D. 115-202)
God stood in the in the congregation of the gods, He judges among the gods.” He [here] refers to the Father and the Son, and those who have received the adoption; but these are the Church. (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1.419).
We have not been made gods from the beginning, but at first merely man, then at length gods. (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1:522)
Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 160-200)
It [the instruction and preparation] leads us to the endless and perfect end, teaching us beforehand the future life that we shall lead, according to God, and with gods; after we are freed from all punishment and penalty which we undergo…. After which redemption the reward and the honours are assigned to those who have become perfect; when they have got done with purification … they are called by the appellation of gods, being destined to sit on thrones with the other gods that have been first put in their places by the Saviour. (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 2:539)
… knowing God, he will be made like God … and that man becomes God, since God so wills. (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 2:271)
Hippolytus of Rome (A.D. 170-235)
And thou shalt be a companion of the Deity, and a co-heir with Christ, no longer enslaved by lusts or passions, and never again wasted by disease. For thou has become God … thou has been deified, and begotten unto immortality. This constitutes the import of the proverb, “Know thyself;” ie., discover God within thyself, for He has formed thee after His own image. (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 5:153)
Origen (A.D. 185-253)
And thus the first-born of all creation, who is the first to be with God, and to attract to Himself divinity, is a being of more exalted rank than the other gods beside Him, of whom God is the God…. The true God, then, is “The God,” and those who are formed after Him are gods, images, as it were, of Him the prototype. (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10:323)
… other beings beside the true God, who have become gods by having a share of God. They may fear that the glory of Him who surpasses all creation may be lowered to the level of those other beings [ie., exalted man] called gods. (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10:323)