In Brian Birch’s class, “Mormonism and Christian Theology,” at CGU we recently discussed the “King Follet Discourse” and the “Sermon in the Grove” and the ways Mormon scholars have interpreted records of these sermons over the years. A point of conversation relates to what Smith meant in stating that God “is a man like one of yourselves” who “dwelt on a Earth same as Js. himself did.” In a related recorded statement, Smith is said to have explained that “Paul says there are gods many & Lords many” I want to set it in a plain simple manner–but to us there is but one God pertaining to us.” Smith’s words generally have been interpreted in two ways. First, thinkers like Orson Hyde, John A. Widtsoe, and B.H. Roberts believed Smith’s words supported an “Infinite Regress” model. This model proposes that Christ’s father had a father, ad infinitum. Hyde stated,
There are Lords many, and Gods many, for they are called Gods to whom the word of God comes, and the words of God comes to all these kings and priests. But to our branch of the kingdom there is but one God, to whom we all owe the most perfect submission and loyalty; yet our God is subject to still higher intelligences, as we should be to him.
While Widtsoe and Roberts might not use the term “subject to” in explaining the Father’s relationship with “higher intelligences” the general idea runs parallel with their beliefs.
Recently Blake Ostler presented a different interpretation, which is labeled “Monarchical Monotheism.” For Ostler, Monarchical Monotheism is the correct interpretation of Smith’s King Follet Discourse and his Sermon in the Grove given a few months later. Ostler argued:
the other gods that Joseph Smith refers to in the Sermon in the Grove are not gods “above” the Father, but sons of the Most High God. They are all sons of God the Father. They are all engaged in the same process of leaving behind an immortal state to become mortal, die, and then be resurrected, just as both the Father and the Son have done. Thus, the eternal God of all other gods is the Father.
Where Widtsoe believes that God the Father has a father, Ostler maintains that the Father is “the eternal God of all other gods.” No doubt Ostler will have much more to say on this topic in his forthcoming third volume.
In discussing these issues I realized I have always accepted an “Infinite Regress” model. Perhaps, this is in part because until Ostler, Smith’s words have always been presented in the former light. In attempting to read the text more closely I think I still interpret it differently from Ostler. He explained that Smith referred to the Father as “the Father of the gods” and “the head of the Gods” in reference to his interpretation of Genesis I. He concluded from these and similar statements (including verses from the Book of Abraham) that Joseph Smith taught that “the eternal God of all other gods is the Father.” Yet, I think Joseph Smith’s teachings in the grove are not definitive on this point, and in fact may suggest something more akin to Infinite Regression. Thomas Bullock reported in his shorthand:
if J.C was the Son of God & John discd. that god the Far. of J.C had a far. you may suppose that he had a Far. also–where was ther ever a Son witht. a Far.–where ever did tree or any thing spring into existence witht. a progenitor–& every thing comes in this way–Paul says that which is Earthyly is in likeness of that which is Heavenly–hence if J. had a Far. can we not believe that he had a Far. also?
Ostler interpreted this to mean that “When the Father condescended from a fulness of his divine state to become mortal, he was born into a world and had a father as a mortal.” If this is what Joseph meant, then what was he referring to in quoting Paul concerning earthly things in the likeness of heavenly things? Further, the statement makes no reference to Christ’s mortal father, but instead mentions the Father of Jesus Christ. Ostler argued that Smith made reference to the mortal father in his following statment:
I want you all to pay particr. attent. J. sd. as the Far. wrought precisely in the same way as his Far. had done bef–as the Far. had done bef.–he laid down his life & took it up same as his Far. had done bef–he did as he was sent to lay down his life & take it up again.
Again, this seems to imply that the Father of Jesus Christ had a father who laid down his life and took it up again, which suggests he is not talking about a mortal father. Earlier in the sermon, Smith is recorded as having stated, “the apost[les] have disc[overe]d. that there were Gods above–God was the Far. of our Ld. J.C.–my object was to preach the Scrip–& preach the doctrine there being a God above the Far. of our Ld. J.C.” This statement further evidences the idea that Smith believed that Christ’s Father had a father in the “Infinite Regress” model. Orson Hyde (a contemporary of Smith) interpreted Joseph Smith’s teachings in this way, and quite possibly he heard him speak on this topic on several occasions. If so, how are we to understand Smith’s statements about Christ’s Father as “the Father of the gods” and “the head of the Gods?” Is it not plausible that Smith was speaking of the “one” God and those gods subject to him? In other words, although there are other Gods not dependent on Christ’s Father, Christ’s Father is our God and hence we generally speak of him in relation to those subject to him.
I have not fully nor adequately explained Ostler’s view above, and I do this realizing that many of you are aware of his argument, but I wanted to point out a few strictures I see with a Monarchical Monotheistic interpretation of Smith’s statements. This is not to suggest that there are no problems with the Infinite Regress interpretation as Ostler pointed out. I am primarily interested in a careful examination of the primary sources in deciding what Joseph Smith believed and attempted to teach.
 Joseph Smith, The Words of Joseph Smith, 341, 350.
 Smith, 378.
 Orson Hyde, Millennial Star 9 (January 15, 1847), 23-24.
 Blake Ostler, Exploring Mormon Thought, vol. 2, 446.
 Smith, 380.
 Ostler, 444.
 Smith, 380.
 Smith, 378.