Ronald Huggins in a JETS article refutes Fuller Seminary President Richard Mouw’s denial that Mormons still teach, “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be.”
During his appearance with Ravi Zacharias in the Mormon Tabernacle on November 14, 2004, Fuller Seminary President Richard Mouw apologized on behalf of evangelicals for “bearing false witness” against Mormons. When challenged about his remarks, Mouw sent out an e-mail identifying places where he felt evangelicals had misrepresented Mormon teaching. Among these was the claim that “Mormonism teaches that God was once a human being like us, and we can become gods just like God is now,” a belief, Mouw goes on to assure us, that has “no functioning place in present-day Mormon doctrine.” As anyone familiar with Mormonism will immediately recognize, Mouw’s words allude to the famous couplet coined by the ﬁfth LDS Church President Lorenzo Snow:
As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be.
This assertion is contrary to Mormon history. On 7 April 1844 Joseph Smith provided public conﬁrmation to the theology of Snow’s couplet in the famous King Follett Discourse. This is clearly seen in the following excerpts:
God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! . . . I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea. . . . It is the ﬁrst principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself . . . you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace Eliza R. Snow Smith, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret News, 1884) 10. Ibid. 46.
Mouw’s assertion concerning the teaching of Lorenzo’s Snow’s couplet is remarkable given the fact that (for most of this writer’s lifetime, at least) it has fallen into the category of things Mormons know even if they know nothing else about their faith. The Osmond Brothers even included a song that alluded to this teaching called Before the Beginning on their 1973 album The Plan.
If by “no functioning place” Mouw means that the couplet is no longer taught or mentioned in ofﬁcial and semi-ofﬁcial Mormon publications, then he is again incorrect. On that level all one needs to do is ﬂip through the pages of the LDS Church’s ofﬁcial weekly newspaper, the LDS Church News, in order to ﬁnd examples of the couplet being taught. The September 13, 1997 issue, for example, included this quotation from Albert E. Brown: “Temple Marriage is not just another form of church wedding; it is a divine covenant with the Lord that if we are faithful to the end, we may become as God now is.”
This passage not only quotes the couplet, it also clearly explains its continuing functioning place as a lynch-pin doctrine of the LDS Church relating to Temple Marriage.
Richard Mouw has served very faithfully as a kind of evangelical statesman, and I believe he has much to contribute to the evangelical/Mormon dialogue in the future. In relation to the continuing currency of Lorenzo Snow’s Couplet, however, Mouw is simply incorrect when he says that it has “no functioning place in present-day Mormon doctrine.” Mouw’s recent apology also places him in a somewhat ambiguous position given the fact that he contributed an enthusiastic preface to a book published in 2002 containing two articles presenting Snow’s couplet as representative of Mormon teaching. In that preface, Mouw offered an apology similar to the one rendered in the Mormon Tabernacle. He stressed how “ashamed” he was “of our record in relating to the Mormon community” and spoke of how “we evangelicals” had been “bearing false witness against our LDS neighbors.”
Against this he set the essays contained in the book, which he represented as “a laudable attempt to set the record straight.” The question raised by Mouw’s more recent apology in the Tabernacle is whether he has changed his mind in the past two years and come to believe that the book he previously praised is guilty of bearing false witness as well, and that he now wishes to distance himself from it.
However that may be, it has been the writer’s purpose in the present article to show that Snow’s couplet is not irrelevant to current Mormon teaching. Unlike relics of old Mormonism such as Brigham Young’s Adam God doctrine or plural marriage,
Lorenzo Snow’s couplet summarizes a truth that still lives at the heart and logical center of the whole Mormon religious system. Evangelicals are not therefore “bearing false witness” when they regard it as representative of Mormon belief and critically discuss it as such.