Historian John G. Turner’s Take on Mormon Theosis

In a recent post at bycommonconcent.com, historian John G. Turner provides some interesting background on Lorenzo Snow’s couplet:  that “as man now is, God once was.  As God now is, man may become.”

Snow received a patriarchal blessing from Joseph Smith Sr. in 1836 which promised that he would “become as great as you can possibly wish–EVEN AS GREAT AS God, and you cannot wish to be greater.”  Snow later recalled that on his way to England in 1840, he “saw as clear as the sun at noonday, with wonder and astonishment, the pathway of God and man.”  He then formed the couplet, which he felt explained “Father Smith’s dark saying to me.”

With all due respect to Lorenzo Snow, Brigham Young should receive a least partial credit for the formation of the “Mormon couplet.”  In February 1849, at a meeting of “the Presidency, Twelve, & Seventies,” Lorenzo Snow “laid out his opinion as to Jesus Christ being of a different grade than prophets or more than our Bren [brothers?] he is God the father, & not our Elder Brother.”

Young responded–according to minutes kept by Robert Campbell–that “it came to me in England.  As God was we shall be.  As we are so God was.”  Thomas Bullock’s minutes of the same meeting phrase Young’s response as follows:

“As he was, so are we now/

As he is now, so we shall [become?].

The language of Young’s couplet is strikingly similar to Snow’s, and the source is apparently much earlier.  It seems probable that Brigham Young brought forth Mormonism’s language into his own memory.

At first, I was confused about the dates above.  But in “Comments,” Turner explains further:  “I do think that Brigham’s formulation (and reference to receiving a revelation in England) predates Lorenzo Snow’s.”

Several other commenters on bcc mentioned the possible connection between theosis and Brigham Young’s Adam-God theory.  The latter has been ignored or dismissed by contemporary LDS Church leaders.  On bcc, DQ wrote the following:

Out of curiosity, on the spectrum of “theosis is linked to AG (Adam-God) doctrine and therefore theosis is equally as suspect” or “theosis having early linking to AG doctrine makes AG potentially more credible” where do others fall?

I realize we can say one theosis is right and AG is wrong as a third option, but when I read a lot of early teachings I can’t escape its underlying linking.

I’ve always liked the LDS theosis doctrine.  Sixty years ago, it was a much more prominent teaching in the Church.  I sincerely hope that it isn’t shuttled aside like Adam-God.

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