I think highly of and appreciate The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ newsroom website, and also the Church’s Gospel Topic essays. These are fine and sound sources for accurate information about the Church, portions of its doctrine, and some little of its more controversial or oft-misunderstood history. However, despite the strong writing, vetting, and approvals they receive before posting, sometimes some rare error creeps in.
I suggest that one reason a few things are stated poorly (or wrongly) is because the authors explaining these varied topics are striving to diplomatically inform two very different audiences. On one hand, church members need accurate and faithful sources of information about the Church’s history and doctrine. On the other hand, non-Latter-day Saints, with little or no background or understanding of church history and doctrine, also need accurate and understandable sources of the same information. Satisfying both spectrums in one essay or a few topic paragraphs is so difficult that it is virtually impossible. Spiritually mature and faithful church members that study and love the scriptures can better understand the more advanced and difficult areas of church history and doctrine than can others (such as curious or critical sectarian Christians or atheist readers). This point is explained in President Boyd K. Packer’s superb book, The Holy Temple (25-26). Therein he wrote:
A careful reading of the scriptures reveals that the Lord did not tell all things to all people. There were some qualifications set that were prerequisite to receiving sacred information. Such things were to come “line upon line, precept upon precept,” as people were able to receive them. . . .
Most educational programs require the completion of basic or prerequisite courses before one can register for advanced courses. At a university you cannot register for a graduate course in chemistry, or even an advanced course, until completing the basic or elementary courses. This principle of prerequisites is well understood in everyday life. It should not surprise anyone when it is applied to the ordinances of the gospel. That is common sense. Without the fundamental principles of chemistry, an advanced course may well be a mistake.
Non-Latter-day Saints who read the essays and topics without prerequisite knowledge will get what they get, as also will far more informed church members.
The authors also knew these items would be scrutinized by critics that would seek to ridicule or dispute them—after all, a critic’s self-appointed goal is to keep up as much mists of darkness as possible to confuse and mislead others into forbidden paths (see 1 Nephi 8:19-28). I suppose the writers sought a middle ground. One area in which critics (anti-Mormons) have been especially active relates to the Restored Church of Jesus Christ’s doctrine that those who receive exaltation will be gods, just like our Heavenly Father and Mother are. This doctrine is way beyond apostate Christianity, and also atheists and agnostics, but is found throughout the Standard Works and church publications (i.e. Conference Reports, church manuals and magazines, etc.). As gods, the exalted will do what gods do—produce spirit children and create worlds for them to undergo the eternal plan of salvation and a probationary journey. This is God’s work and glory and will be that of His faithful spirit children who overcome the world. But this eternal truth is all gibberish to spiritually dead people (as are temple ordinances, personal and institutional revelation, priesthood, preexistence, kingdoms of glory, etc.).
I speculate that the ill-phrased wording below was caused by someone seeking to appease an unsympathetic audience instead of doctrinally-informed church members, each of whom would view the explanations differently. Certainly they could have and should have been worded much better. The following paragraph comes from a Newsroom Q&A:
12. Do Latter-day Saints believe that they will “get their own planet”?
No. This idea is not taught in Latter-day Saint scripture, nor is it a doctrine of the Church. This misunderstanding stems from speculative comments unreflective of scriptural doctrine. Latter-day Saints believe that we are all sons and daughters of God and that all of us have the potential to grow during and after this life to become like our Heavenly Father (see Romans 8:16-17). The Church does not and has never purported to fully understand the specifics of Christ’s statement that “in my Father’s house are many mansions” (John 14:2).
I think a key to better understanding this material is in how the question was phrased, which is how a critic would ask, but probably not how a church member would phrase it. And Latter-day Saints, as a generalized collective, do not determine doctrine—scripture and prophets and apostles do, in that order—so I wish that wording was phrased better. (John 14:2 may not be fully understood in all its specifics, but surely D&C 76 and 88 and 138 and other modern revelations contain much information not had elsewhere; see McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary 1:728; “mansions” means “kingdoms” of glory.)
This wording from the (woefully underwhelming) Gospel Topic essay, “Becoming Like God” could also use revision and clarification:
Latter-day Saints’ doctrine of exaltation is often similarly reduced in media to a cartoonish image of people receiving their own planets. . . .
Likewise, while few Latter-day Saints would identify with caricatures of having their own planet, most would agree that the awe inspired by creation hints at our creative potential in the eternities.
Perhaps we ought not be writing to counter critics’ caricatures, but to enlighten members instead. Church doctrine has more than “hints” in it, whether some Latter-day Saints know it or not. The fact is that we do have both scriptural and prophetic doctrine (which is really the same thing) that teaches that those who become exalted gods in eternity may not “get”—but will create “their own planets,” just as the Father and the Son (assisted by others) created this earth. Of course, one verse or quotation can’t include all the doctrine, but added up they teach so very much. We begin with JST, Revelation 2:26–27, including the interpretive (italic) chapter heading:
Those who overcome the world by obedience to Christ’s commandments will rule kingdoms [worlds/earths] in the world [resurrection/eternity] to come with faith, equity, and justice [just as the Father and Son have this earth].
26 And to him who overcometh, and keepeth my commandments unto the end [receive exaltation or godhood], will I give power over many kingdoms [creation of worlds/earths; the word “give” is here used];
27 And he [the exalted gods of this earth] shall rule them [govern as the Father and Jehovah have/are] with the word of God; and they shall be in his hands as the vessels of clay in the hands of a potter; and he shall govern them by faith, with equity and justice, even as I received of my Father [very expressive language, like Moses 1:39].
And then we have the passages found in Doctrine & Covenants 132:
20 Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things [including the elements/matter] are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.
23 But if ye receive me in the world, then shall ye know me, and shall receive your exaltation; that where I am ye shall be also.
24 This is eternal lives—to know the only wise and true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent. I am he. Receive ye, therefore, my law.
53 For I am the Lord thy God, and ye shall obey my voice; and I give unto my servant Joseph that he shall be made ruler over many things [worlds/earths];
63 …for they [plural wives] are given unto him [Joseph/the exalted] to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment, and to fulfil the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world, and for their [faithful sealed people] exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they [plural wives] may bear [give birth to] the souls [spirits] of men [and women]; for herein [continuation of the seeds] is the work of my Father continued, that he may be glorified [eternal progression of the exalted with posterity].
These scriptures do not talk about the exalted “getting” their own planet/earth from somewhere or someone else, but of creating their own to populate and govern, which is not how we define getting or being given something. So technically I suppose the poor wording quoted above is correct, but the impression given is mistaken as the scriptures teach.
And then there are the promises made by the Father to those who receive and keep the oath and covenant of the priesthood, “And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him” (D&C 84:38). I don’t think that to receive of Heavenly Father’s kingdom is to receive, or be given, those kingdom’s He has already created (worlds without number). I think that “all that my Father hath shall be given unto him” means the knowledge and power to create new kingdoms/worlds/planets, and people them with spirit children from a new pre-existence (do we see the pattern here?). That is the perfected, glorified and exalted power the Father possesses in its eternal fulness—“all that he hath.”
Another revelation says that “he that endureth in faith and doeth my will, the same shall overcome, and shall receive an inheritance upon the earth when the day of transfiguration shall come” (D&C 63:20). The exalted will receive place on this earth when it is Celestialized and becomes “a sea of glass and fire,” like the planet upon which God resides (see D&C 77:1; 130:6-9). I think all issues of “getting” and planetary ownership will be moot and meaningless at this point among the gods, while the critics spend their eternity in a Telestial Kingdom. Knowing what God’s work and glory is will surely tell us what the work and glory of the exalted will likewise be. “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); “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son” (Revelation 21:7). What does it mean for the exalted that overcome the world to “inherit all things”? Is this not long and well-settled scriptural doctrine?
Since there is always someone who wants to interpret the scriptures as saying something other than what they do, or willfully misinterpreting them, we also include formal prophetic pronouncements from the current and some past presidents of the Church. President Russell M. Nelson, from the 2018 First Presidency Christmas devotional:
Everyone will live forever after death, regardless of the kingdom or glory for which they may qualify. Everyone will be resurrected and experience immortality. But eternal life is so much more than a designation of time. Eternal life is the kind and quality of life that Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son live. When the Father offers us everlasting life, He is saying in essence, “If you choose to follow my Son—if your desire is really to become more like Him—then in time you may live as we live and preside over worlds and kingdoms as we do.”
Where did God the father “get” planet earth?—He and others (“the gods”) created it as the revealed creation accounts tell us. In a general conference address, President Kimball:
We remember when the Lord Jesus was in the hinder part of the ship and was sleeping on a pillow, and his disciples awakened him and said unto him, “Master, carest thou not that we perish?
“And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. …
“And they … said [to themselves], What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:38–39, 41.)
Perhaps there is something else that we will learn as we perfect our bodies and our spirits in the times to come. You and I—what helpless creatures are we! Such limited power we have, and how little can we control the wind and the waves and the storms! We remember the numerous scriptures which, concentrated in a single line, were said by a former prophet, Lorenzo Snow: “As man is, God once was; and as God is, man may become.” This is a power available to us as we reach perfection and receive the experience and power to create, to organize, to control native elements. How limited we are now! We have no power to force the grass to grow, the plants to emerge, the seeds to develop.
“We have no such ordinance here,” said Brigham Young. “We organize according to men in the flesh. By combining the elements and planting the seed, we cause vegetables, trees, grains, etc. to come forth.” But we do not give them life. “We are organizing a kingdom here according to the pattern that the Lord has given for people in the flesh, but not for those who have received the resurrection, although it is a similitude.” (JD, 15:137.)
Millions of us have contributed toward the creation and the development of a spirit [brought a spirit from pre-existence to inhabit a physical body that is birthed and grows], but “the germ of this, God has placed within us. And when our spirits receive our bodies [are resurrected], and through our faithfulness we are worthy to be crowned [exalted], we [heavenly parents] will then receive authority to produce [give birth to] both spirit and body. But these keys we cannot receive in the flesh.” (JD, 15:137.). . .
Let me mention one more thing. While we are in the mortal body we cannot “fashion kingdoms [or] organize matter, for [that is] beyond our capacity and calling, beyond this world. In the resurrection, men who have been faithful and diligent in all things in the flesh, [who] have kept their first and second estate, and [are] worthy to be crowned Gods, even the sons of God, will be ordained to organize matter. . . .” (JD, 15:137).
We have the teachings of the scriptures and the prophets before us. The faithful and worthy also have the revealed temple presentation. It is my hope that someday the poorly phrased and mistaken wording quoted above can be corrected to more accurately reflect the doctrine of the Church. I, for one, vastly prefer the quoted revelations and prophetic statements to the inexplicable newsroom and essay wording. “Get”?, no; “Create/organize”?, yes—though how is presently beyond our comprehension. Moses 1:38 states: “And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works, neither to my words.” Same with all exalted gods.
The truth is that many righteous and faithful mortals who live now, will live, or have lived upon this earth also helped to create it, meaning some among that elect group have already had some experience and labor in helping to create or organize an earth—this earth/world. So it shouldn’t be too hard to believe that such will again take place repeatedly for those who attain exaltation (with their pre-mortal existence memories fully restored).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote: “By and under the direction of Michael, who acted in concert with Jehovah, and both of whom served under Elohim, this earth . . . came into being. Michael and the noble and great ones went down on the successive days of creation and brought the earth and all that on it is into being. Next to Christ the Creator, none was greater than he; and he, as chief among the noble and great ones, directed the creative labors of all the others who were privileged to engage in so great a labor.” (Unpublished manuscript.)
And further, speaking of the coming endless eternities: “When the elect are exalted, when the family unit continues in the highest heaven of the celestial kingdom, when the Saints have spirit children in the resurrection, then the cycle begins again. It is, as it were, the age of the Sabbath, an eternal Sabbath in which there is rest from the toil and sorrow that went before. Exalted parents are to their children as our Eternal Parents are to us. Eternal increase, a continuation of the seeds forever and ever, eternal lives—these comprise the eternal family of those who gain eternal life. For them new earths are created, and thus the on-rolling purposes of the Gods of Heaven go forward from eternity to eternity” (Millennial Messiah, 23).
And still further:
“They are they into whose hands the Father has given all things—they are they who are priests and kings, who have received of his fulness, and of his glory.” They are the same kings and priests who lived and reigned with Christ on earth during the thousand years. And now they have received the fulness of the glory of the Father; they have all power in heaven and on earth; there is nothing they do not know and no power they do not possess. They “are priests of the Most High, after the order of Melchizedek, which was after the order of Enoch, which was after the order of the Only Begotten Son.” They hold the power and authority of God, the very power by which the worlds were made; indeed, now they are creators in their own right; and in due course worlds will come rolling into existence at their word. (Ibid, 708-09).
I wish the newsroom Q&A and the Gospel Topic essay could have contained this sublime clarity instead of worrying about responding to critical ridicule. The true doctrine is what the true doctrine is.
For those desiring further comment on this doctrine from prophetic and apostolic sources, see the below teachings:
The whole design of the gospel is to lead us onward and upward to greater achievement, even, eventually, to godhood. This great possibility was enunciated by the Prophet Joseph Smith in the King Follet sermon (see Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 342–62; and emphasized by President Lorenzo Snow. It is this grand and incomparable concept: As God now is, man may become! (See The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, comp. Clyde J. Williams, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1984, p. 1.)
Our enemies have criticized us for believing in this. Our reply is that this lofty concept in no way diminishes God the Eternal Father. He is the Almighty. He is the Creator and Governor of the universe. He is the greatest of all and will always be so. But just as any earthly father wishes for his sons and daughters every success in life, so I believe our Father in Heaven wishes for his children that they might approach him in stature and stand beside him resplendent in godly strength and wisdom.
Those who receive the Melchizedek Priesthood covenant and promise, before God and angels, to magnify their callings, to “live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God” (D&C 84:44), to marry for time and all eternity in the patriarchal order, and to live and serve as the Lord Jesus did in his life and ministry.
In return the Lord covenants and promises to give them all that his Father hath, meaning eternal life, which is exaltation and godhood in that eternal realm where alone the family unit continues in eternity.
In return the Lord admits them to his eternal patriarchal order, an order that prevails in the highest heaven of the celestial world, an order that assures its members of eternal increase, or in other words of spirit children in the resurrection. (See D&C 131:1–4.)
These are the most glorious promises given to men. There neither is nor can be anything as wondrous and great.
Peter and John had little secular learning, being termed ignorant. But they knew the vital things of life, that God lives and that the crucified, resurrected Lord is the Son of God. They knew the path to eternal life. This they learned in a few decades of their mortal life. Their righteous lives opened the door to godhood for them and creation of worlds with eternal increase. . . .”
Eternal perfection is reserved for those who overcome all things and inherit the fulness of the Father in his heavenly mansions. Perfection consists in gaining eternal life—the kind of life that God lives.
No one but a god can understand all things, but as men go toward that state of eternal exaltation which he now possesses, they gain clearer insights into the mysteries of the universe. Gradually, degree by degree and step by step, they do and will come to know what the eternal verities are relative to life and creation. When they attain exalted glory and become like Him whose they are, then comprehending all things and having all power, they will themselves become creators. They will do what all gods have done before, and the eternal purposes of the Eternal God of all Gods will roll on everlastingly.