During a 4-week lecture on apologetics I had given on June of 1995, one individual, a Mormon,
sat in on the final meeting entitled "Questions Against Christianity Answered." It was designed
to allow criticisms of orthodox Christianity and to answer questions about abhorrent teachings.
While this Mormon fellow remained silent during the Q & A period, he approached me at the
end and asked to see documentation on the things that I and my associate and friend were
discussing concerning Mormonism (incidently, this session was taught with the assistance of Ken
Hochstetter who is currently at work on a Masters degree). In a subsequent encounter, he had
since managed to write a paper entitled Man: Made in the Image of God. He had written it as a
Mormon apologetic piece for the purposes of equipping the bishops and elders of the LDS
church with Biblical defenses of the corporeality of God. I was given a copy and was asked to
review it. The following is the product of my review.
Although the ideological battle between evangelical Christians and Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) has been pervasive, the debate over the nature of God and elements relating to it have reached an all time high. For years I have challenged Mormon theology in light of Biblical and philosophical scrutiny. Having written, lectured, debated, and taught on radio, I have taken the initiative to respond to further attacks against the orthodox Christian view of God. This current examination of God's essence under the banner of Mormonism is credited to Elder Rusty Wells of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in his work, Man: Made in the Image of God. I deeply appreciate his willingness to assess the evidence in light of the Bible and logical reasoning; However, Christianity as a theology disagrees over the conclusions drawn in Wells' paper. Therefore, I will critique the arguments given in support of the corporeality of God the Father. Incidently, this will not be a complete critique of Mormonism or its doctrines therein.
In this rebuttal I will be defending one basic contention: The etymology of the word "image" in
both the Old and New Testaments does not demand that the source of the image has
corporeality. It must be stated at the outset that Christians accept anthropomorphic descriptions
of God. The disagreement lies in its meaning. Anthropomorphism does not mean "human form"
(p. 1) which is what Wells asserts. This is called anthropomorphous. Rather, anthropomorphism
is the ascribing to God human characteristics (Webster's Universal Dictionary and Thesaurus,
New Lanark, Scotland, Geddes & Grosset Ltd., 1993, p. 36). Be that as it may, the point of
contention is over Wells' interpretation of the Hebrew word tselem. Wells makes his first
The first five occurrences in the Old Testament can be found in Genesis
chapter one, verses 26 and 27; chapter 5, verse 3; and chapter 9, verse 6.
With only one exception, in all of these it is consistently used to describe
the resemblance or "likeness" between God and man. . . These alone are
sufficient to demonstrate the obvious idea of physical shape and form
which is intended to be conveyed in the word "tselem" (p. 1).
But Wells has not demonstrated why "these alone are sufficient." This is simply a classic case of begging the question. Wells has assumed precisely what has to be proven! The issue is whether or not image refers to copying "physical shape and form" in Genesis 1:26-27. He has not accomplished this by presupposing it.
Perhaps Wells' argument by analogy establishes this evidence. He cites Biblical passages ranging from Numbers 33 to Amos 5:26 where image supposedly refers exclusively to "shape and form." The phrases cited include such ones as "molten images," "images break," or "images of men." Wells then argues that since these passages must be discussing "shape and form," then consequently Genesis 1:26-27 must refer to the "shape and form" of God replicated in mankind. There are several problems with this argument. First, Wells fails to emphasize to his readers that, for example, Psalm 73:20 does not refer to "shape and form." The text refers to God's distaste for Asaph's enemies and despises their "images" as fantasies. The text becomes almost ludicrous if "shapes and forms" is to be inserted. It becomes rather odd for God to discuss the wicked's "pride" (v. 6), "malice," "arrogance"(v. 8), and worthiness of death (v. 27) only to despise their bodies (cf. v. 20). It must be that in some instances the notion of "character" or "soul" is intended, especially in this passage. Secondly, the late alleged prophet of the Mormon church, Joseph Fielding Smith, commented, "We know that Jesus our Savior was a Spirit when this great work (creation) was done. He did all these mighty works before he tabernacled in the flesh"(1). Further, John 1:18 states that Jesus "who is at the Father's side, has made [the Father] known" (NIV) thereby indicating that Jesus was the revealed God of the Old Testament who created in Genesis 1. Therefore, mankind could not have possibly been created in God's physical image if He had not yet received His shape and form in any body. Thirdly, not everything in the image of X must be equal in properties p and q (shape and form). An "image" of Abraham Lincoln remains erected at the Lincoln Memorial that stands some 19 feet tall. But it would be absurd to think that it was the same shape (19 feet tall) or the same form (white marble) as Lincoln himself!
Fourthly, the English rendition of the word image is not used exclusively of "form and shape."
Items can be reflected as "images" without being tangible in any way. For example, if I think of
the color orange, then I have concocted an image (hence the word imagery or imagination). The
image of orange that exists in my mind is not X inches tall and Y inches wide, nor is it something
that exists corporeally or spatially.(2) Let there be no mistake. The English image often refers to
tangible representations (and so does the Hebrew tselem), but not exclusively! Conversely,
determining what the nature of an image is does not tell us what the nature of what the image is
of. Consider Wells' argument and what it is asserting (assume: X=Man; Y=God; property
P1: Whenever image X is made, the source of the image (Y) possesses
P2: X is made.
C: Therefore, Y possesses property p.
Although the form of this argument is deductively correct, there are serious problems with the
truth value of P1. That is, Wells assumes that when image X is made then it must reflect property
p (corporeality). This has not been proven. In fact, demonstrating that Man is the image of God
tells us nothing of who Man is an image of! Must an image always reflect physicality? Certainly
not. Painters and sculptors produce physical images all the time of entities devoid of tangibility.
With this in mind I amend the above argument with this:
P3: But there are counterexamples to where image X is made, Y has
C2: Therefore, whenever X is made, Y either has property p or property
What is established here is that images are not limited to merely physical correspondences to the source(s) of the image. Wells has begged the question by assuming that an image only reflects corporeality. Therefore, he has not given any reason why we should accept a corporeal God. Fifthly, it is extremely poor exegesis (and a direct violation with hermeneutical principles) to make global pronouncements to the effect that all instances of image require the definition "shape and form."
The problem becomes even more intense when Wells makes the statement, "To be sure, it is expected that there is a physical resemblance between an idolatrous image and the god which it was made to represent." This is a poor argument for two reasons. First, responses one through five above apply here in respect to negligent exegesis. Second, it is not always the case that graven images always reflect some god "out there." Consider Exodus 32 where the newly freed Hebrew slaves form a golden calf because "we don't know what has happened to [Moses]" (v. 1). But clearly the arbitrary structure of the golden calf was not an image of something "out there" that already is believed to exist. In fact, precisely the reason that graven images are made is to create a god that does not already exist. Gods were often reared up in order to explain phenomena such as thunderstorms or human reproduction.(3) But the image is clearly an invention of the creator's mind and not a true reflection of a god "out there." Indeed, the images concocted reflect moral or transcendent descriptions of the one being imagined.
The appeal to the books of Adam and Eve purported to exist do not reflect Jewish beliefs or theistic doctrine. These books are derived from the Apocrypha which means "hidden" in reference to an extra-canonical set of books. The Jews purposely left out these literary sources due to the lack of recognition to the Jewish canon. Wells' quote on the story of Lucifer and Adam and Eve is one reason why. Strangely, though, that this passage would be quoted by a Mormon. It seems that this selection affirms the Adam-God doctrine as taught by the Mormon prophet Brigham Young.(4) Wells quotes this select passage that states that angels are to "bow down" to Adam (p. 2). As the story continues, Lucifer supposedly becomes jealous of the worship to Adam because Lucifer "was created before." Mormons reject the Adam-God doctrine (or theory) today; Hence, this passage is appealed to arbitrarily. Wells picks and chooses what he wants to believe in these rejected books while dismissing the other doctrines taught in this passage. This is simply exegetical hypocracy.
In the interpretation of tselem found in Psalm 39:6 is that which is rendered "a vain shew" or a "phantom." Wells offers no serious reason why this interpretation is least plausible. Instead, he posits a man who stands in front of a light where a shadow is cast. He argues that this shadow "represents a true reflection of the same" (p. 2). Perhaps Wells would like to reconsider his exegesis in the light of real Hebrew scholarship and weigh the options that are credible. Still, if Wells is persistent in using this analogy toward the "image of God" in the mankind thesis, then he must explain point number two above (i.e. Jesus did not yet receive His body and cannot possibly be casting a shadow of His physical form). Secondly, I must question the argumentum ad populum used on pages two through three. Who wrote the "interpreter's commentary of the Bible [sic]?" The names he mentioned are not listed in their entirety. We simply cannot tell who it is he is referring to. The Interpreter's Bible quoted on page 4 makes a category mistake. By asserting that just as mankind's bodies are extensions of mankind's being, then a body must be an extension of God's being. There is no reason to draw this correlation between two diametrically opposed categories. In fact, this citation admits, "image included likeness to them in spiritual powers--the power of thought, the power of communication, the power of self-transcendence" (p. 3). If anything is being asserted in this passage it is that an image can refer to something apart from physicality. Wells simply has no backing of any reputable Hebrew scholar on his interpretation of tselem and avoids the real passage in question (Gen. 1:26-27).
Lastly, Wells' argument concerning body parts and passions being attributed to God is
self-refuting and false. He states:
Many anthropomorphisms undoubtedly have only a metaphorical meaning--
e.g. the references to God's hands, ears, mouth, eyes, finger[sic], feet, etc. . .
But something more than metaphor is involved. . . the Old Testament
unhesitantly and consistently views God as a man (p. 4; emphasis mine).
It cannot be the case that these metaphorical descriptions are "undoubtedly. . . only a metaphorical meaning" and "something more than metaphor" at the same time! This is self-refuting. Secondly, the Old Testament makes it clear that "God is not a man. . ." (Numbers 23:19; Hosea 11:9). This is far from being "unhesitantly and consistently" viewing "God as a man." Since I have dealt with the question of metaphor in my paper A Discussion On Mormonism, then no further refutation will be allotted(5). Thirdly, Wells straw mans the Christian view of God as "impersonal" (p. 4). He confuses the idea of incorporeality with non-personality and this is simply a false dichotomy. Muslims affirm the incorporeality of God and hold to a personality behind him. Both predications can be true in a real world. Therefore, Wells' interpretation of tselem as "shape and form" is unwarranted in Genesis 1:26-27.
When our attention focuses on the New Testament, the narrative of God continues to unfold. Wells presents us with the same line of reasoning with the Greek word eikon with the notion of "shape and form." Most of the same problems discussed for tselem apply here as well. However, there are more interesting points brought to light.
Wells ignores the fact that eikon is used in a way to preclude "form and shape." Certainly Caesar is not one millimeter thick, 15 centimeters tall, and looking like a coin (Matt. 22:20; Mark 12:16; Luke 20:24). Even more interesting is the references concerning making "an image to the beast" (Rev. 13:14; emphasis mine). An eikon does not have to look like what it is representing in all ways both physical and metaphysical.
Secondly, Wells implicitly argues the following on pages 5-6:
P1: Jesus has a body of flesh and bones.
P2: Jesus is the eikon of God.
C: Therefore, God has a body of flesh and bones.
There are some problems with this argument. First, it equivocates the term God by altering the definition in premise 2 and the conclusion. In premise 2 the term God refers to essence or nature. In other words, Jesus is of the same substance with the Person commonly called the Father. In the conclusion it refers to the Personage called the Father. Wells ignores the classical Christian view that the two Persons (Father and Son) are distinct. One property can be true of the Son which is not true of the Father even though both possess the same essence as the one God. Secondly, the word eikon does not mean equal to or having the same form and shape. Again, by asserting that there is physical correspondence or equivalence in the word eikon is to beg the question. We simply have yet to find any real reason to hold this relation. Thirdly, the emphasis of 1 Cor. 15:47-49 is on point of origin, not physical reproduction. When something or someone has "borne the image of the earthy," she has been declared to be natural. Likewise, "the image of the heavenly" designates supernatural connotation. Adam was a natural man. Jesus was and is a supernatural God-man. Christians will eventually take on incorruptibly bodies that are categorized as supernatural, just like Jesus'. The context simply demands this interpretation by contrasting the natural versus the supernatural bodies, "it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body" (v. 44; also see vv. 35-43).
Wells quotes 1 John 3:2 where Christians in the resurrection will be "like him." He concludes that since him refers to Christ, then He too must have a body that is patterned. But Christians readily admit this since (1) Jesus is the designated God who is coming (Rev. 1:7, 17) and He certainly does have a physical form and (2) Christians will be "like" Christ, possibly in a moral sense as well as is apparently designated in verse three,(6) at the resurrection. This does not, however, tell us whether or not God the Father has a body of "shape and form." This remains to be seen.
Next, Wells uses negative evidence to suggest that God the Father has a body of "shape and form." He attempts to respond to the affirmation of Christian apologists that (1) God is incorporeal based on Colossians 1:15 (Wells mistakenly thinks it's 1 Corinthians 1:15--p. 6) which states, "[Christ] is the image of the invisible God" and (2) "God is spirit" based on John 4:24.
Wells attempts to redefine Greek etymology in his assessment of the word invisible in Col. 1:15. His view has us believe that "invisible" really means "that which your eyes do not behold, yet may exist tangibly." This is a rather impotent attempt to escape God's incorporeality. Consider these few things. First, the Greek manuscript uses a word meaning invisible and does not use the word meaning not seen--as in an entity unavailable to the perceiver; See Hebrews 11:1. The Greek words chosen for the driving force of the message, "seen but possibly tangible" is not supported in aoratou. In fact if one observes the structure of the sentence that uses aoratou, it is easily seen that it appears in the genitive case. Since the endings are identical (-ou), then the phrase demands that Christ is the image of (genitive indicator) the God who, as to His nature, is invisible. Grammatically, as is the case for John 4:24 (discussed later), the endings of both words invisible and God must equal one another. Just in case the reader is unconvinced by this transliteration, consider 1 Timothy 1:17. This text states, "unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible." The word invisible is used in conjunction with immortal. Since immortal cannot possibly refer to anything else but God's nature, likewise invisible must refer to God's nature as well. Thus, Wells' interpretation is unsupported etymologically.
Wells attempts to answer his critics by making a similar move in redefining the John 4:24 passage. It reads, "God is a spirit and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." In my paper, I point out the difference between the grammatical construction of in spirit and is a spirit so no further commentary is needed on this point.(7) Nonetheless, Wells asserts a contradiction with the problem of Jesus being God, Jesus being corporeal, and God remaining to be an incorporeal being. He staggers at the issue of how God can be incorporeal and corporeal via the Son. Again, treatment of this problem has been entertained in the discussion above on the God-the-Father/God-the-Son distinction. God is corporeal through the Son but not through the Father (who is invisible(8)). Such alliterations to "God is love" and "God is light" (p. 8) are not parallels to John 4:24. First John 4:8 ("God is love") and 1:15 ("God is light") are composed of completely different grammatical structures then that of John 4. Clearly, God is love is seen as attribution. No one would consider love to be a term of identity (rather, a term of predication). However, one may be a spirit (identity). Wells' objection does not stand.
One final issue remains. Does Hebrews 1:3 prove the humanity of the Father? Wells actually correctly defines charakter as an impress or a tool for engraving. Yet, he pushes his exegesis too far by asserting that this is true "and VISE VERSA" (p. 7). This is not supported in the immediate passage. The question that must be asked is: In what way does Jesus physically represent the Father? Hebrews 1:4 states that Christ "became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs." Likewise, all throughout Hebrews 1, the emphasis is on the deity of the Son (cf. v. 8). Nowhere is the humanity of the Father being considered. Verse 3 also implies much more than mere effulgence, it implies that Jesus is the icon that represents God the Father as God Himself (cf. Colossians 2:9--this passage reflects what Hebrews 1 establishes).
Finally, Wells attributes the origin of God's incorporeality to the Greek philosophers. This is a rather ignorant perception of Greek theology since the Greeks (in most cases) constantly posited gods as being corporeal (Zeus, Bacchus, Venus, etc. . .). Besides, Aristotle's god (the Prime Mover) was not necessarily personal. If anything is akin to Greek philosophy it is the Mormon doctrine of gods. Abraham 4 of the Pearl of Great Price mentions the "gods" who created the world.(9) At any rate, polytheism is condemned historically and biblically by both the Jews and the Christians. Even if the Greeks believed in a god similar to Christianity it does not mean that such a theory is false. This is known as the genetic fallacy. Further, it is interesting that Wells concludes that "critics who deny the [corporeality] view of God simply imply that the teachings of the prophets, Jesus, and the apostles were incomplete and inadequate until supplemented by the church fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries" (p. 9). This is crazy. Mormons for years have decreed that the Bible was "incomplete and inadequate until supplemented by the church [of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints]."(10) This is precisely what the foundation of the Mormon church is built on, a restoration! It is odd that a fellow Mormon would condemn exactly what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints affirms! Unfortunately for Wells, this objection fails as well. Further, Wells' focus on the alleged origin of the Christian God adds nothing to the eikon debate.
In conclusion, we have seen the arguments given by Rusty Wells on the transliterations of the
Hebrew and Greek terms for image and have concluded vehemently that they are unequivocally
false and self-refuting. Wells' further objections to the incorporeality of God never satisfy the
original Greek usage. In fact, he offers very little strength in his arguments to deal with on an
exegetical level. Most of it is either speculation or presupposed bias. Therefore, Wells has
regretfully failed to convince me of the notion that God the Father is an anthropomorphous entity.
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.
1.Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. I, p. 75; emphasis mine
2.I am using the word or as an inclusive disjunction meaning that neither properties are present.
3.I.e. the Hindu scriptures record the name Indra as the god of thunderstorms (Rig-Veda, IV. 42, 1-7, 10) and the name Shiva as the Hindu reproduction god (Geoffrey Moorhouse, Calcutta, San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971, p. 6).
4.Journal of Discourses, Vol. 1, p. 50.
5.In this paper I point out the problem of using metaphor as literal description (pp. 4-5).
6.The verse reads, "Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure." With the realization that Jesus is coming back, we may operate our lives morally with this recognition.
7.Shandon Guthrie, A Discussion on Mormonism (written in 1989; rewritten in 1994); p. 5.
8.Readers of the Scriptures knew that the nature of God was invisible and transcendent that even the Greek readers took an additional step and called God "unknowable" (Acts 17:23). This, of course, was one step too far.
9.The gods of the Greeks and of the Platonists is clearly different from the Christian God as recorded in Acts 17. In this Pauline encounter with Greek philosophers at Mars' Hill, Paul demonstrates the bankruptcy of heathen gods (v. 29).
10.1 Nephi 13:26 and 2 Nephi 29:6, 10 of the Book of Mormon.