The Race of God
The idea that human beings can become gods and goddesses may seem "blasphemous" due to the evolution of man's belief or understanding of the character and nature of God, but this Latter-day Saint belief would have sounded more familiar to the earliest generations of Christians than they do to many modern Christians. Many church fathers (influential theologians and teachers in early Christianity) spoke approvingly of the idea that humans can become divine. One modern scholar refers to the “ubiquity of the doctrine of deification”—the teaching that humans could become God—in the first centuries after Christ’s death. The church father Irenaeus, who died about A.D. 202, asserted that Jesus Christ “did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be what He is Himself.” Clement of Alexandria (ca. A.D. 150–215) wrote that “the Word of God became man, that thou mayest learn from man how man may become God.” Basil the Great (A.D. 330–379) also celebrated this prospect—not just “being made like to God,” but “highest of all, the being made God."
Several biblical passages also intimate that humans can become like God. The likeness of humans to God is emphasized in the first chapter of Genesis: “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” After Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” God said they had “become as one of us,” suggesting that a process of approaching godliness was already underway. Later in the Old Testament, a passage in the book of Psalms declares, “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.”
New Testament passages also point to this doctrine. When Jesus was accused of blasphemy on the grounds that “thou, being a man, makest thyself God,” He responded, echoing Psalms, “Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commanded His disciples to become “perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” In turn, the Apostle Peter referred to the Savior’s “exceeding great and precious promises” that we might become “partakers of the divine nature.” The Apostle Paul taught that we are “the offspring of God” and emphasized that as such “we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.” The book of Revelation contains a promise from Jesus Christ that “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.”
Joseph Smith asked, “What kind of a being is God?” Human beings needed to know, he argued, because “if men do not comprehend the character of God they do not comprehend themselves.” In that phrase, the Prophet collapsed the gulf that centuries of confusion had created between God and humanity. Human nature was at its core divine. God “was once as one of us” and “all the spirits that God ever sent into the world” were likewise “susceptible of enlargement.” Joseph Smith preached that long before the world was formed, God found “himself in the midst” of these beings and “saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself” and be “exalted” with Him.