There is no question that the earliest Saints held views of God and Heaven that were consistent with their protestant roots (1). Joseph’s visions continually transformed Mormon theology with the last months of his life capturing the most radical concepts in theogony and exaltation. He was martyred and his pyre was set against the creedal hall that enclosed God and His son. We are now left to search the Mississippi among the smoke and embers for the treasures he beheld.

In the 1844 general conference, his King Follet Discourse, Joseph used the voice Jesus Christ to outline the history of God the Father:

These are incomprehensible to some but are the first principle of the gospel—to know that we may converse with [God] as one man with another & that he was once as one of us and was on a planet as Jesus was in the flesh…What did Jesus say — as the father hath power in himself even so hath the son power to do what why what the father did, to lay down his body and took it up again. (2)

Gourge Laub’s account added the sacred sacrifice as part of the divine patern:

Jesus Spake in this wise, I do as my Father before me did well what did the father doo why he went & took a body and went to redeem a world in the flesh & had power to lay down his life and to take it up again (3)

Joseph further emphasized Christ’s relation to the Father:

What did Jesus do[?] Why I do the things that I saw the father do when worlds came into existence. I saw the father work out a kingdom with fear & trembling & I can do the same & when I get my Kingdom worked out I will present to the father & it will exalt his glory and Jesus steps into his tracks to inherit what God did before.(2)

While later writers have deemphasized or obfuscated aspects of the Father’s existence (4), Joseph Smith was unequivocal that God the Father’s station is a result of an antecedent role as savior of a world. This is consistent with Joseph’s teaching that God has always been God and that Jesus Christ was wholly divine and God in his premortal and un-embodied state.

This theogony is problematic only as it relates to later exaltation theologies that state that every man has the potential of becoming a God qua the Father. While Joseph does state that all humans have the potential to become “gods�, it is evident from his discourse that the Godhead is not part of that progression.

One month later, on the morning June 16th, Joseph spoke again in the grove east of the Temple on the history of God. He reiterated that God the Father has a Father just as Christ is His son. He stated, as did Paul, that we can be joint-heirs with Christ. He then went on to state how humankind fit into the family of God:

now says God when visited Moses in the Bush – moses was a stutt[er]ing sort of a boy like me – God said thou shalt be a God unto the children of Israel – God said thou shalt be a God unto Aaron & he shall be thy spokes. I believe in these Gods that God reveals as Gods – to be Sons of God & all can cry Abba Father – Sons of God who exalt themselves to be Gods even from before the foundation of the world & are all the only Gods I have a reverence for –

John said he was a King. Jesus Christ who hath by his own blood made us Kings & Priests to God. Oh thou God who are King of Kings & Lord of Lords. (5)

This idea of godhood and exaltation is reiterated in the Holy Temple. The editor of the Millennial Star expounded on the doctrine in 1847:

The chosen vessels unto God are the kings and priests that are placed at the head of these kingdoms. These have received their washing and anointings in the temple of God on this earth; they have been chosen, ordained, and anointed kings and priests, to reign as such in the resurrection of the just. Such as have not received the fullness of the priesthood, (for the fullness of the priesthood includes the authority of both king and priest) and have not been anointed and ordained in the temple of the Most High, may obtain salvation in the celestial kingdom, but not a celestial crown. Many are called to enjoy a celestial glory, yet few are chosen to wear a celestial crown, or rather, to be rulers in the celestial kingdom. (6)

It is in this context that the revelation on the celestial society becomes coherent. And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy. (7) This doesn’t make any sense with the folk ideas that we will be off creating worlds of our own, but it is perfectly compatible with Joseph’s celestial kingdom.

This society also adds a potential dimension to the doctrine of sealings. The promise of the Abrahamic order is the “continuation of the seeds.� The mechanics of spirit birth are debated but its existence is not. There is perhaps no other principle that promotes belief in the accessibility of the Godhead to general humanity than this aspect of eternal marriage. There is, however, nothing in the sealing ordinance that suggests access to the Godhead (8). A potential reconciliation of the concept of eternal fecundity to Godhead inaccessibility is that we are sealed as a grand family with Christ taking the place as the Father (9). This concept meshes quite well with the idea of the celestial society previously mentioned as we all currently raise our children together.

Another ramification of this view of exaltation is that any eternal disparity in the sexes is obviated. Many have questioned why Mother in Heaven is not visible. We see that God the Father and Jesus Christ are beings capable of atoning for worlds. They were Gods pre-mortally. We were not. We worship God and Jesus because of their unique capacity. Both women and men lack this together. We can, however, consider the inquiry of the apostle:

Have you forgot who you are, and what your object is? Have you forgot that you profess to be Saints of the Most High God, clothed upon with the Holy Priesthood? Have you forgot that you are aiming to become Kings and Priests to the Lord, and Queens and Priestesses to Him? (10)

Joseph’s immolation was not ignominious nor is his treasure cursed. Joseph liberated humanity and God from tradition and creed. While we remember the basic Gospel of our Lord, let us not forget the details that Joseph preached at the apex of his life.


  1. Two excellent articles that document the development of Mormon conceptions of Premortal life and consequently post mortal life are Ostler, B. (1982) The Idea of Pre-Existence in the Development of Mormon Thought. Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought vol. 15 no. 1 pg. 59-78, and Harrell, C. R. (1988) The Development of the Doctrine of Preexistence, 1830-1844. BYU Studies vol. 28 no. 2 pg. 75-96.
  2. William Clayton Report, Words of Joseph Smith pg. 357
  3. George Laub Account, WoJS pg. 362
  4. E.g., Joseph Fielding Smith noted in relation to the passage: “From this remark we gather that the Son was doing what the Father had done before him. However, so far as the Father is concerned, we will leave that until we receive further knowledge, when and if we become glorified in his kingdom. So we will deal with this subject in relation to the Son, Jesus Christ.� Answers to Gospel Questions vol. 2 pg. 127
  5. Thomas Bullock Report, WoJS pg. 381, abbreviations in the original being replaced with the full words.
  6. Millennial Star vol. 9 pg. 23-24
  7. D&C 130:2
  8. Millennial Star vol. 15 pg. 215
  9. Perhaps this relationship is reflected in the language in D&C 76:24, “That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.�
  10. John Taylor, JD 1:37

30 comments for “Götterdämmerung

  1. February 3, 2006 at 7:43 am

    BTW, interesting use of “being Mormon” in a passing argument:


  2. Chad
    February 3, 2006 at 11:06 am

    Great post! I find an obvious separation between ourselves and the Savior in terms of progression, but for some reason I have always believed that Savior has—or at least had until resurrection—a similar separation with the character of the father. I think Elder McConkie led me down this path in his exposition on the unique worship that the Father requires, and that is not to be offered to the Son.

    Through this, I believed the Savior was “like unto God,� in his progression and character but not God, until such time when he had accomplished “all things� that the Father had. This was also the source of my distress at the thought of us ever being equal with God. How can we ever endure an experience that will ever compare to the Savior’s atonement? He is different form us—in what he did here and what he will do hereafter.

  3. J. Stapley
    February 3, 2006 at 11:59 am

    Thanks, Chad. I have to admit that I find McConkies position rather tenuous. There is plenty of support from Prophets throughout this dispensation that we worship the Lord Jesus and have done so from the begining.

  4. Steve L
    February 3, 2006 at 12:28 pm

    While I always considered Joseph Smith a sort of Siegfried/Sigurd, I was disappointed to click on your post and discover it was about mormon doctrine? Wagner must be rolling in his grave.

  5. Jonathan Green
    February 3, 2006 at 1:34 pm

    (J. Stapley, I enjoyed the post, and I applaud the reference to the Nibelungenlied–but, yeah, it’s not quite working for me, either.)

  6. Jim F.
    February 3, 2006 at 1:47 pm

    Comments 4 and 5: Does it work better for you if it isn’t a reference to Wagner, but to Nietzsche?

  7. LisaB
    February 3, 2006 at 2:19 pm

    I’m not understanding your point about HM here.

  8. gomez
    February 3, 2006 at 2:33 pm

    This is fascinating to think about. It reminds me of an idea a missionary once shared with me that at the time I thought was out there but since then I have often reflected on it. He put a great deal of emphasis on the fact that in the proclamation on the family it refers to our heavenly parents using a lower case h and p. He assumed that the wording and spelling would have been checked many times and therefore the lower case was deliberate. I wonder how his ideas fit with those of this post.

  9. February 3, 2006 at 3:00 pm

    the folk ideas that we will be off creating worlds of our own

    This one bugs me too. It’s one of the items badly twisted in the God Makers film(s).

    J, you referenced the fulness of the priesthood there quite a bit (#6). I believe that Pratt’s chart at the back of Ehat & Cook illustrates this pinciple beautifully — Kings and Priests in a pyramid chain all the way up to God, but never over him. So “gods” does not equal “godhood,” right? Man, that would chap some of the counter-cultists I know…

  10. February 3, 2006 at 3:10 pm

    McConkie…we worship the Lord Jesus

    Ha! I caught him! I just pulled out volume I of DNTC, blew the dust off, and turned to the back. Indeed he does comment on Matt. 28:17, but he skips commenting on the phrase “when they saw him, they worshiped him,” and goes right into “but some doubted.”

    Here’s a scary thought: a lot of NT commentaries have noted that the end of Matthew, specifically this last section from which I quote here, is a very late addition to the book, maybe even as late as 3rd or 4th century (!), when Christianity began to wonder about the godhood of Jesus and began to describe it using Greek philosophical categories of thought. That said, and considering the passage as a late addition, it makes one wonder when high christology really kicked in full swing, and if indeed it really was part of the original christology of Matthew.

  11. February 3, 2006 at 6:17 pm

    A potential reconciliation of the concept of eternal fecundity to Godhead inaccessibility is that we are sealed as a grand family with Christ taking the place as the Father (9).

    J., maybe I’m not understanding you, but it sounds like you’re saying only Saviors (Christ for us, the Father for a previous “generation”) can have a “continuation of the seeds,” and that it consists only of their redemptive work. I can see how this could explain Christ’s eternal fecundity (as in Abinadi’s discourse), but how does it explain the continuation of the seeds promised to eternally married couples?

    Another ramification of this view of exaltation is that any eternal disparity in the sexes is obviated.

    If this is so, why in Sec. 132 are the blessings of exaltation pronounced only upon a married man and woman? If there were no distinction between the sexes (and no procreative aspect to exaltation), wouldn’t the blessings of exaltation have been promised to individuals instead?

  12. J. Stapley
    February 3, 2006 at 6:26 pm

    Thanks for the question Christian. What I meant to speculate was that sealed couples will participte in the process of spirit birth (whatever that is), but Christ takes the roll of Heavenly Father to them.

  13. February 3, 2006 at 7:07 pm

    couples will participte in the process of spirit birth (whatever that is)

    Well what could it possibly be if we are beginningless, J? Christ will be the Heavenly Father to whom?

  14. J. Stapley
    February 3, 2006 at 8:09 pm

    Well, Geoff J., I argue for a covenant type relationship in the post linked to above. I do believe in the eteranal nature of spirits, as Joseph taught it, but there is still the idea that God is our Father and “the continuation of seeds.” That relationship had to start some where, some how and at some time, whatever the mechanics are.

    I speculate that Christ becomes the Heavenly Father to all those spirits rereared/prepared by those whom he redeemed.

  15. S.
    February 3, 2006 at 9:31 pm

    There are lots of people urging less literal interpretations of Snow’s “As man is God once was. As God is man may be,” and Hinckley certainly doesn’t play it up.

    But I always thought it was a nice and inspiring doctrine, much as it offends most Christians. I would sort hate to see it go. If we’re going to live for zillions of years (long enough to read every book that could possibly be written, to analyze every finite universe that could possibly be formed at every level a million times over, etc.) why shouldn’t we one day become (in the fullest sense) as God is? What else would we do with our time?

    It would be nice to get some official clarification on these issues… a really forceful declaration in place of the timid ultra-PR-sensitive waffling we usually hear on the matter…

    Incidentally, I don’t understand why Stapley feels that sociality like what we have here is incompatible with world creation. Too long a commute?

  16. February 3, 2006 at 11:38 pm

    We can spend time spliting hairs over this issue in life, but never know the truth until we are there. On Larry King the prophet said something to the effect that the jury is still out on that(God vs man). I recall on my mission the president always saying keep it simple “faith and repentance” or tell them that the question doesn’t pertain to their salvation. It sounds a little mickey mouse, but the Lord said, “milk before meat.” Now I know we are all beef eaters here because we are all full of the bull. However, I enjoy the mysteries as much as the next guy or gal. And somewhere in the scriptures it tells us to seek after the mysteries of godliness. The problem being if we really knew by our own personal spiritual experiences the truth of all things we then wouldn’t be able to tell anyone officially. Who would believe? So here is the our dilemma of faith. The answer which few of us like is:

    “The place where God resides is a great Urim and Thummim. This earth, in its sanctified and immortal state, will be made like unto crystal and will be a Urim and Thummim to the inhabitants who dwell thereon, whereby all things pertaining to an inferior kingdom, or all kingdoms of a lower order, will be manifest to those who dwell on it; and this earth will be Christ’s. Then the white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17, will become a Urim and Thummim to each individual who receives one, whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known; And a white stone is given to each of those who come into the celestial kingdom, whereon is a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it. The new name is the key word.” (D&C 130:8-11)

    The key is to live worthy to inherit the greatest blessings and then we will be given the greater knowledge as we can receive it and not before IMHO.

  17. February 4, 2006 at 7:04 pm

    J: I speculate that Christ becomes the Heavenly Father to all those spirits rereared/prepared by those whom he redeemed.

    What does this sentence mean?

    Are you saying that Kings/Queens with physical bodies somehow “rear” spirits? But that those spirits are as old (as in beginningless) as those who do the rearing? Or are you proposing a tripartite model where the Kings/Queen procreate and somehow convert “intelligences” into “spirits” and somehow give birth to and raise spirits? This model has all sorts of holes too, IMO. Is there a specific model you have in mind that you think makes sense?

  18. February 4, 2006 at 8:17 pm

    Geoff, what are the holes you see in the tripartite model?

  19. February 4, 2006 at 10:56 pm


    Most tripartite models that I have heard are connected with some kind of literal “spirit birth” (though I know J is not in favor of the viviparous birth of spirits concept). The main hole I see is that it is hard to explain how a physically embodied God (the Mother) can “give birth” to an unembodied spirit. That idea flies in the face the notion of multiplying after their own kind.

    That is why I’m asking J what he has in mind. He refers to these non-God Kings/Queens – Priests/Priestesses somehow “rerearing” (I’m not sure what that word means, actually) or “preparing” spirits… for something… (not sure what J has in mind).

  20. J. Stapley
    February 4, 2006 at 11:52 pm

    Geoff, I’m not really sure. I’m just trying to make sense of the Abrahamic promises…look up reference 8 on BYU’s e-archive. I think that the idea that post-mortal beings helping pre-mortal beings prepare for mortality is consistent with Joseph’s teaching. I believe in Joseph’s idea of eternal spirits. As I argue here, I suspect that it is some sort of Covenant relationship…but we simply don’t know for sure.

    We know what Joseph explicitly taught…this post outlines some of it. He tought some other things implicitly, this post speculates on some of those things.

  21. mormon fool
    February 5, 2006 at 4:10 am

    J: He reiterated that God the Father has a Father just as Christ is His son.

    I would say that the KFD does not require a grandfather God. Following the Ostler model, the Father’s mortality was in this generation like Jesus’s. While the Father emptied himself of his divinity, the other two members of the Godhead manned the shop, maintaining the non-changing way to define God from the very beginning. I think Ostler’s Element 1:1 article can be reconciled with the KFD but not the June 16 sermon. The KFD gets more quotations from it than the June 16th sermon in correlated material so at least from an apologetic stand point, there is more need to defend it from criticism than the latter.

    I think limiting spiritual/physical beings to only be able to give “birth” in kind is over-limiting of a god’s powers. A less assumption-laden term to describe what happens is “spiritually create.” Presumably animals were spiritually created before being physically so. I prefer a flat worship model for our generation’s “eternal increase”. The offspring will worship the original fount of all divinity, Jesus’s Father, and the original Godhead, including Jesus. Their scriptures might look a little different then ours. Abraham’s blessing could be seen this way, with competing, yet simultaneous, hierarchial (multi-generational) and flat (two-generational) structures.

  22. J. Stapley
    February 5, 2006 at 11:42 am

    You are very correct, mormon fool, that the June 16th sermon at the grove defies that reading.

  23. February 5, 2006 at 1:09 pm

    J: I think that the idea that post-mortal beings helping pre-mortal beings prepare for mortality is consistent with Joseph’s teaching.

    I think the real problem you face with your model is that you seem to reduce these Kings/Queens to nothing more than ministering spirits. They don’t have any seed of their own; they are only “helping” pre-mortal spirits (who are these people and why are they not coming here, BTW?) prepare for mortality. In what meaningful way is that a continuation of seed? It sounds like an anemic version of exaltation to me — and a pale shadow of the grand vision that I read Joseph opening to us in the KFD and Sermon in the Grove (June 16th sermon).

    I think you also face some real problems with the notion of human spirits being beginningless as human spirits. If human spirits live in time and are beginningless then we have lived in infinite amount of time already. That means that additional time is not required (or even comprehensible) for preparation — it is not like we need “infinity plus one” to prepare. I think this is a paradox that seriously hampers that whole idea. The only solution I see is that our human spirits progressed to there current point from lower forms of intelligence. That means that while our parts could be beginningless, our whole can’t be. Some variation on spiritual atomism is the only explanation that makes any sense to me. (Some might argue or an atemporal eternity for our current spirits — but they face the challenge of explaining how there can be any change or motion or progression without time.)

    The upshot is that I think this model you are proposing with an ontological gap between the type of intelligence God and Jesus are and the type of intelligence we are just doesn’t work. It relinquishes even the best of us humankind to ministering spirits and the idea of beginningless human spirits destroys the concept of eternal progress. (I’ll post on this soon too I think.)

  24. J. Stapley
    February 5, 2006 at 5:44 pm

    Geoff, it is obvious that you dislike this percpective, but is far from the “pale shadow” that you describe because this post actually uses the discourses and is based in the teaching of Joseph. To be frank, I really can only speculate as to the eternal roles of Kings and Queens and those over whom they govern. That said, their existance and exclusion to the God head is pretty well outlined in Joseph’s discourse.

    I have my personal ideas about the eternal nature of spirits and reconciling that with the present, but it is uber-speculative and will have to reserve it for a different post.

  25. gst
    February 6, 2006 at 8:55 pm

    I just wanted to register my support for words with umlauts.

  26. Jonathan Green
    February 9, 2006 at 8:03 am

    So, now that this discussion has wound down, could someone explain the title? Götterdämmerung in Wagner? Check. Siegfried in the Nibelungenlied? Check. But what do they have to do with Nietzsche?

  27. March 23, 2006 at 4:54 pm

    J. Stapley, you seem to be claiming that Godhead is not, in Joseph’s teachings, accessible to mortals. Have you reviewed records of second anointings? It’s quite explicit there that “the fulness of the eternal Godhead� is available to mortals. It just wasn’t preached in his public discourses.

  28. March 28, 2006 at 4:38 pm

    Grasshopper, I have. It is my understanding that such expansions of that ordinance occured after Joseph died. I am not aware of any extant documentation to controvert that. It is my understanding as well, that there were only a couple of instances where it was expanded thusly. I think it was simply a missunderstanding of Joseph’s teaching.

  29. March 28, 2006 at 4:40 pm

    …also, if it were a valid doctrine, you would have to accept a form of Multiple Mortal Probations in order to reconcile it with Joseph’s other teachings, which I do not.

  30. March 28, 2006 at 5:22 pm

    you would have to accept a form of Multiple Mortal Probations in order to reconcile it with Joseph’s other teachings, which I do not.

    Well there’s yer problem right there! That’s easy enough to resolve though… ;-)

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