Joseph Smith’s and Morton Smith’s Similar Views of Jesus’s Deificaiton

By January 1, 2015

I’m no New Testament scholar. At all. But I had to look a few things up for my dissertation in my attempt to trace ideas in Joseph Smith’s teachings and revelations. In particular, Joseph Smith made some interesting statements about Jesus that were very much at odds with Protestantism. A handful of ideas in particular stood out and overlapped: that Jesus became God during His life, either through his baptism or through an additional temple rite and that Jesus did so even though he was a pre-existent deity. And I found it interesting that Morton Smith made all these same claims.

First, DC 93 suggests that Jesus became deified at his baptism:

And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace; And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness; And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first.

And I, John, bear record, and lo, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove, and sat upon him, and there came a voice out of heaven saying: This is my beloved Son. And I, John, bear record that he received a fulness of the glory of the Father; And he received all power, both in heaven and on earth, and the glory of the Father was with him, for he dwelt in him. (DC 93:12-17)

Jesus didn’t receive the “fulness” at first, but seemed to have after he was baptized. This fulness included “all power, both in heaven an in earth” which suggests that fulness meant full deification as JS often used the term.

Digging around a bit, I discovered that the idea that Jesus became deified at his baptism is called adoptionism, and Bart Ehrman argues that adoptionism was the original Christian belief that was later supplanted by the argument for Christ as the pre-existent Logos that is promoted in the Gospel of John.[1] This is interesting since DC 93 is an expansion of John 1 and it also claims that Christ was the “Word” “in the beginning.” Thus DC 93 combines both adoptionism and Christ as the preexistent Logos. Interestingly, Morton Smith argues that Christ believed he became deified at his baptism and also claims that a number of New Testament passages combine adoptionsim with pre-existence Christology. Morton then adds, “The two theories can be reconciled in any number of ways; their combination may go back to Jesus himself: he would not have been the only man in antiquity to think himself the son or incarnation of a supernatural power.”[2] Thus, Morton Smith asserted that Jesus taught both of the ideas laid out in DC 93.

JS later added another interesting statement about Christ’s deification. In 1843, JS taught, “If a man gets the fulness of God, he has to get [it] in the same way that Jesus Christ obtain[ed] it & that was by keeping all the ordinances of the house of the Lord.”[3] Thus JS claimed that Christ underwent additional ordinances to become deified and that such were connected with the house of the Lord. The statement indicated that such ordinances were or would be available to the Mormons; ie the rites that would be connected to the Nauvoo Temple. The Saints could become deified by going through the said ordinances that Jesus had, JS seemed to be saying.

Morton Smith also argued that Jesus instituted additional rites for ascent beyond baptism: “One could make sense of this data by supposing that Jesus, when baptized by John, had some sort of ecstatic experience in which he saw the heavens opened and the spirit took possession of him (Mk. 1.10), and that using the magical discipline of his day he developed his spiritual gift into a technique by which he was able to ascend to the heavens and also to give others the same experience and similar spiritual powers.”[4] As I’ve argued a lot around here, “magic” is a nonsense term applied to rites that some sort of establishment disapproves of. The point here is that like JS, Morton Smith argued that Christ had additional ordinances beyond baptism for this ascent. Morton Smith noted a number of traditions that had such ascents in the era, including the Jewish apocalypses that focused on a heavenly temple liturgy.[5] This tradition believed that the earthly temple was corrupt and therefore the righteous needed to undergo temple rites in the heavenly temple. Thus, though not explicit, Morton Smith, like JS, implies that such rites could have been connected to the temple. And just like JS said, Morton argued that these ordinances were to be given to others.

[1] Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 47.

[2] Morton Smith, Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973), 246.

[3] June 11, 1843, Words of Joseph Smith, 212.

[4] Smith, Secret Gospel of Mark, 244.

[5] Smith, Secret Gospel of Mark, 245.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Ehrman’s latest book How Jesus Became God gives his view of the doctrinal development from adoptionism to (in the end) trinitarianism in considerable detail. A very helpful overview.

    Morton Smith (not Mormon Smith) is an interesting case. Funny how many Christian critics are happy to link Joseph Smith to esoteric practices and ideas, yet find the same approach to be heretical and offensive when applied to Jesus of Nazareth (as attempted by Morton Smith).

    Comment by Dave — January 2, 2015 @ 10:20 pm

  2. Not once but twice! Thanks for the heads up and observations.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — January 3, 2015 @ 6:15 am

  3. Smith’s popular Secret Mark book was one of the first books I read post-mission, followed quickly by his technical book.

    Very interesting stuff.

    Comment by Ben S — January 5, 2015 @ 8:27 pm

  4. Just a note that the address that links on Dave’s comment has a typo, and instead of it takes you to a malicious website.

    Comment by Rich JJ — January 10, 2015 @ 3:47 pm


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