This past year as a Seminary teacher I taught the Old Testament. I thought it might be an interesting and helpful exercise to list and comment on many scriptures from the Old Testament (OT) that reference in some way a latter-day restoration of the gospel, or that seem to support or lend validity to the claims of the Latter-day saints. Where an understanding of the OT verse may be aided by scriptures from the other LDS standard works I will draw on them as well.
One God, and Many Gods
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. (Gen 1:1)
In the beginning of what? The universe? Our galaxy? Clearly the text is referencing only the beginning of this planet, with “heaven” referencing probably the sky and atmosphere here. As far as the rest of the universe is concerned, no other worlds are mentioned, although in verse 11 God creates “lights in the firmament of heaven”. Should we take this to mean the entire rest of the universe was created in one quick stroke? What’s probably going on here is that the earth is taking it’s place in our solar system within our galaxy, and Moses is describing the creation of the earth, not the universe.
We’re not told here who God is or where he came from. We are not told where he was when he began the great work of creating this earth - we assume he lives in heaven, which obviously already exists. I have noted in my scriptures that this could have also been translated “In a beginning...”. This fits in with the LDS view where we learn from Moses 1 & 2 (Pearl of Great Price) that in fact there are many earths, “worlds without number” and that God created them all.
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness... (Gen 2:26-27)
Who is God talking to? Who is referenced by the words “us” and “our”? Are there more gods than one? Clearly there are. God is not working alone as he creates the world and creates man. From Moses in the PGP we learn that both God the Father and his son Jesus Christ (in his pre-mortal state) were participating in this work of creation.
For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened and, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. (Gen 3:5)
And the Lord said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil... (Gen 3:22)
Again, we get the clear indication here that there are more gods than one. Joseph Smith taught that the gods are a race of beings who have advanced and progressed to their current status. This level of progression and perfection is made available to all of God’s children, and is in fact the primary purpose for the creation of the earth. We are in fact children of God, and of this same race with this same potential. The introductory chapters to Genesis are missing, but were revealed through the prophet Joseph Smith in the book of Moses. From Moses 1:39 we learn about God’s purpose in carrying out this work: “This is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”
Joseph Smith taught that the first verse of Genesis would have been better translated as “the head God [or Father of the Gods] called together the Gods and sat in grand council to bring forth the world.” (TPJS p. 348-349).
He further stated:
“Here then is eternal life -- to know the only wise and true God, and 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 to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power. And I want you to know that God... is not trifling with you or me.” (TPJS, p. 346-347)
These are some of the marvelous concepts revealed that bring great purpose to our lives and create an expansive view of the universe in which we live.
Doesn't the Old Testament say there is only one God?
Moses (who wrote Genesis) also recieved the 10 commandments we are so familiar with. The first commandment states:
Thou shalt have no other gods before me. (Ex 20:3)
Notice it doesn't state that no other gods exist in the universe, only that this one god is our god, and the only one we should worship. The full context might be helpful:
2 I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
The emphasis here is on making sure that Israel did not follow after false gods and idol worship of the nations surrounding them. The true god who created the earth is the god of Moses, the same who also was the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is known in the Old Testament as Jehovah, and we learn from the Book of Mormon that this same Jehovah was born into the world as Jesus, the beloved son of his Father in heaven. We worship him as our Savior and Redeemer, and pray to the Father as he taught us to do when he came into the world. The people of the Old Testament generally may not have understood that there was a Father and a Son, the emphasis for them was to pull them away from false idol worship and turn them towards Jehovah alone.
There are other scriptures from the New Testament that reference the idea of a plurality of gods, as well as our potential to become like them (such as Romans 8:16-17) but for now we'll stay focused on the Old Testament.
Some raise the objection to the idea that Joseph Smith could have seen God, by saying that the bible teaches that no man can see the face of God. It is recorded:
And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live. (Exodus 33:20)
But earlier it is recorded that “the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.” (Exodus 33:11)
It’s also recorded that Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel saw God (Ex. 24:9-10). God also appeared in person to Abraham (Gen 18:1), Isaac (Gen 26:2), Jacob (Gen 35:9), and Solomon (1 Kings 9:2) among others.
Thus we have an apparent contradiction in the text. It seems clear that this is one of those cases where something vital has been left out or changed in the text of the bible, over the centuries from the time it was originally written to it’s current state.
Joseph Smith, in his inspired version of the bible changed this verse to the following text:
And he said unto Moses, Thou canst not see my face at this time, lest mine anger be kindled against thee also, and I destroy thee, and thy people; for there shall no man among them see me at this time, and live, for they are exceeding sinful. And no sinful man hath at any time, neither shall there be any sinful man at any time, that shall see my face and live.
(Ex. 33: 20, 23:1)
It would seem apparent from the context of the verse in Ex. 33:20, that Moses might have been asking for something which he had been granted before. But at that current moment, he was only in a position to speak with the Lord, but was not qualified to see him.
We gain further insight into what’s going on here with some further information revealed to the prophet Joseph Smith:
21 And without the ordinances thereof [of the priesthood], and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;
22 For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.
23 Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God;
24 But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory.
To endure the presence of God, a man must be sanctified and enabled by the Spirit. His glory is such that a person in their normal physical state would be consumed - much as we cannot directly look at the sun in the sky, it is simply too bright and intense. In the Pearl of Great Price it is written:
And he saw God face to face, and he talked with him, and the glory of God was upon Moses; therefore Moses could endure his presence.