Question: Why do Latter-day Saints teach that there are many Gods when the Bible states in Isaiah 44:8: "Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God: I know not any." While it is true that Mormonism accepts the Biblical teaching that there are many Gods, it is equally true that it teaches there is but one Godhead which rules and directs the affairs of this earth. It is comprised of God the Father, his son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost.
In that Godhead, as Jesus clearly and repeatedly taught, God the Father hold ultimate power and control of earthly events. Jesus Christ serves as his executive to carry out his instructions and divine will. This relationship was clearly and repeatedly taught by the Savior during his mortal ministry (see Jn. 4:34; 5:17-20, 22-27, 30-36; 6:29, 38-40, 44, 57, 65; 7:16-18, 28-29; 8:16-18, 26-29, 38, 41-42, 54-55; 10:14-18, 25-38; 11:4, 41-42; 12:26-28, 44-50; 13:3, 14:1-21, 26, 28-31; 15:10, 16, 23-27; 16:2-16, 23-24, 27-32; 17:1-26; 20:17, 21, 31). The relationship was succinctly summarized by John the Baptist, who testified that "The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand" (Jn. 3:35).
The Latter-day Saints recognize the role of the Godhead in directing the affairs of man, and give full worship and allegiance to God the Father, whom they regard as their God. Joseph Smith taught,
Paul says there are Gods many and Lords many. I want to set it forth in a plain and simple manner; but to us there is but one God--that is pertaining to us; . . . I say there are Gods many and Lords many, but to us only one, and we are to be in subjection to that one, . . . (History of the Church, Vol.6, p.474).
With this position clearly defined and established, let us deal with the question of the existence of other Gods. The following extract from the writings of a well-known Mormon apologist summarizes a portion of the Biblical evidence that many Gods exist:
The BibleTeaches of Many Gods
There are dozens of passages in the Bible that teach that there are many Gods. These passages call for discernment to differentiate them from other passages which make reference to the false gods of the pagan religions which existed in Bible times.
References to false gods speak in a derogatory tone, condemning the practice of idolatry and the sexual excesses of the fertility rites often associated with the worship of those false gods. Those passages often called for repentance, for the renunciation of false-god worship, and for the destruction of the groves and other wicked places of abomination and idolatry. The LORD God of Israel had no association with those false and evil gods, and he called for their overthrow and destruction.
In contrast, there are many passages which speak of Gods who dwell in the presence of the LORD God of Israel, who associate with him, and who have his same objectives and characteristics. The LORD of Israel is depicted as associating with them, and as laboring with and among them. This type of passage is often found in instances of high praise and adoration for God, in situations of worship, in instances of extolling the greatness and goodness of God. They assert the supremacy of Jehovah in the Old Testament, and acknowledge and teach the role of the Godhead in the New Testament. The passages cited below are regarded as examples of Bible passages which teach of a plurality of Gods.
Plural References in God's Speech Consider, for instance, those intriguing passages early in Genesis when one God speaks to another God or Gods, using those intimate words us and our. In the creation account, "God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness . . ." (Gen. 1:26).
The account of the fall of Adam and Eve also contains evidences of more than one God. When the serpent tempted Eve, he told her, "Your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil" (Gen. 3:5). Though the serpent attempted to mix falsehood with truth in his comments to Eve, God's statement after the fall confirmed that this portion of the serpent's communication with Eve was correct. After their fall the LORD said, "Behold, the man is hecome as one of us, to know good and evil" (Gen. 3:22).
Again, almost two millennia later, at the time of the tower of Babel, the LORD said, "Let us go down, and there confound their language..." (Gen. 11:7)
These passages all show that there was more than one God participating in the creation, the fall of Adam and Eve, and the confounding of tongues at the tower of Babel.
The LORD Rules Among Other Gods
There are many passages which extol the LORD as a great God who dwells among other Gods. They portray him as being exalted above them and having power and dominion over them. When Moses and the children of Israel sang praises to the LORD they sang, "Who is like unto thee, 0 LORD, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness fearful in praises, doing wonders?" (Ex. 15:11). Moses also spoke' of, "The LORD your God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great god, a mighty, . . ." (Deut. 10:17).
Joshua exclaimed, "The LORD God of gods, the LORD God of gods, he knoweth, - . ."(Josh. 22:22; see 22:5). Solomon, as he built the great temple, wrote: "The house which I build is great: for great is our God above all gods" (2 Chron. 2:5).
The psalmists repeatedly acknowledged that there are many Gods. Asaph wrote, "God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods" (Ps. 82:1; see Is. 14:13: congregation.") David wrote, "Among the gods there is none like unto thee, 0 Lord; neither are there any works like unto thy works" (Ps. 86:8). Another psalm says, "The Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods" (Ps. 95:3). And another says, "I know that the LORD is great, and that our Lord is above all gods" (Ps. 135:5). The next psalm proclaims, "0 give thanks unto the God of gods: for his mercy endureth for ever. 0 give thanks to the Lord of lords: for his mercy endureth forever" (Ps. 136:2). Another psalm of David promises, " will praise thee with my whole heart: before the gods will I sing praise unto thee. I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name. . . "(Ps. 138:1-2).
Others Not of Israel Recognized a Plurality of Gods
Even those who were not of the house of Israel knew that there were "gods" who were involved in Israel's well being. The Philistines, for instance, were frightened when the ark of the covenant was brought into the nearby Israelite camp, and wailed, "Woe unto us! who shall deliver us out of the hand of these mighty Gods? these are the Gods that smote the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness" (1 Sam. 4:8).
The Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, was recipient of the greatest prophetic vision ever revealed to one who wasn't an authorized prophet of God. The vision, revealed by "God in heaven" (Dan. 2:28), showed the future fate of empires and the rolling forth of the Lord's great work. Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged to Daniel that "your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings,..." (Dan. 2:47). He spoke of Daniel as one "in whom is the spirit of the holy gods" and told Daniel "I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in thee" (Dan. 4:8-9, 18). His queen also spoke of Daniel as one "in whom is the spirit of the holy gods" and said that he had "wisdom like the wisdom of the gods" (Dan. 5:11). Nebuchadnezzar's son, Belshazzar, also told Daniel, "I hear the spirit of the gods is in thee" (Dan. 5:14) and Daniel reminded him that "the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour" (Dan. 5:18).
Comparative and Superlative Evidences
Then there are the many passages that utilize comparatives. Many of them speak of the most high God or the highest God, which clearly indicates that there are other Gods which hold stature, but of a lesser degree. See, for instance, Gen. 14:18, 19, 20, 22; 2 Sam. 22:14; Ps. 7:17; 18:13 ,47:2, 50:14, 57:2, 78:56, 82:6, 83:18; 91:9; 92:1,8; and Heb. 7:1. Thus the LORD is Lord of lords (see Deut. 10:17; Ps. 136:3; 1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 17:14 and 19:16), and King of kings (see I Tim. 6:15; Rev. 17:14 and 19:16).
The LORD Requires Respect for Other Gods
Then there are those passages when God himself speaks to Israel, instructing them how they should show respect to other divine beings, even though they are not those whom the people directly worship. When the LORD revealed his laws unto Moses, he commanded, "Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people" (Ex. 22:10). And he also cornrnanded, "In all things that I have said unto you be circumspect: and make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it he heard out of thy mouth" (Ex. 23:13).
Other Gods Identified: Those Who Receive the Word of God
There are still other passages that define who some of the other Gods are. In a psalm of Asaph we read: "I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High" (Ps. 82:6). Jesus quoted this psalm in a confrontation with the Pharisees of his day. They accused him, saying that "Thou, being a man, makest thyself God." Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? And then he identified those who would be gods as those "unto whom the word of God came" (John 10:33-38).
Joint-Heirs With Christ. His statement aligns closely with the doctrine of heirship which is clearly proclaimed in the New Testament. Paul taught that "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together" (Ro. 8:16-17). A central promise of the gospel is that the righteous can he joint-heirs with Christ, whom God the Father "hath appointed heir of all things" (Heb. 1:2; Jn. 16:15).
As joint-heirs with Christ, and thus heirs of all things, we can also be a "lord of all" (Gal. 4:1) and realize the full glory of being an "heir of God through Christ" (Gal. 1:7; see also Tit. 3:7, Jas. 2:5, and Eph. 3:6). This helps us understand the full intent of Christ's commandment to "be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). It also helps us to grasp the full meaning of Paul's statement that "I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:14-15; Col. 1:28).
This knowledge of the doctrine of heirship also helps us understand who the Gods will be who are instructed to "worship him, all ye gods" (Ps. 97:7) when the Lord comes in glory at the beginning of his millennial reign (see Ps. 97:1-10).
Three Members of the Godhead Govern This Earth
The Bible also contains hundreds of passages which indicate that God the Father, God the Son Jesus Christ, and God the Holy Ghost are all separate, holy, divine beings holding the full status of Godhood. Though separate beings, often seen in or manifested from separate places at the same time (Mt. 3:16-17; Mt. 17:1-5; Jn. 12:28; Acts 7:55-56; Mk. 16:19; etc.), the Bible clearly indicates that they are separate individuals who fulfill separate functions (Jn. 5:17-22, 3O-36; 13:3; 14:26-28; 15:26; 16:5-7; Eph. 2:18; etc.). They are united and agree in purpose, functioning for the benefit of those here on earth as a Godhead.
The apostle John speaks of the three members of the Godhead and their combined mission, saying, "There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one, and there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one" (1 Jn. 5:7-8).
Christ Taught Concerning the GodheadJesus Christ revealed to mankind the nature of the Godhead who rules over this earth. As contrasted with the Old Testament, which repeatedly spoke of many Gods, as is illustrated above, the New Testament, as a result of Jesus's teachings, focuses on the three divine beings who govern this earth: God the Father, his Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. The Book of John, especially, contains dozens of passages where the Christ explained his relationship to his Father and to the Spirit.
With the new light which Jesus gave to man concerning the Godhead, New Testament witnesses adopted different terminology, repeatedly identifying God the Father as God, and Jesus Christ as Lord, and identifying the three as having direct rule and responsibility for this earth. Thus Paul wrote of "One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all" (Eph. 4:5-6).
Responsibility for this Earth Delegated to Christ by the Father
The New Testament indicates that God the Father has granted unto Jesus Christ, the LORD, specific and direct responsibility for governing this earth throughout its temporal existence.
Thus Jesus Christ was the executive by whom the Father made this earth (Heb. 1:2; Eph. 3:9). Christ came to the earth in the meridian of time as a mortal being and taught his people. He died on the cross to atone for their sins, broke the bands of death and began the resurrection process, and yet will come at the end of the earth's probationary period to rule and reign during the millennium as King of kings.
It is Christ who is the mediator with the Father (1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 8:6; 9:15; 12:24). It is Christ whom the Father has set to be over the Church (Eph. 1:22). It is Christ who will judge mankind (John 5:22-23, 27). It is only through belief in Christ that man can attain eternal life (John 3:16). It is only through Christ that man can attain salvation (Jn. 14:6), and it is only through Christ's grace that man can become a God: an heir of God through Christ (Gal. 4:1, 7).
It is this delegation of responsibility for the affairs of this earth that caused Paul to write,
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name. That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:9-11).
Thus, Christ is LORD!! He is the one and only God for this earth in the sense that he is the Father's executor, and the channel through which all eternal blessings flow to mankind.
The key to understanding the scriptures concerning the nature of God, then, is to recognize (1) that there are, can be, and will be many Gods, (2) that God the Father holds ultimate Godship over all mankind here on the earth, and (3) that Jesus Christ is the Father's representative and executive, with full responsibility for this earth and all its inhabitants. This is exactly what Paul explained in his epistle to the Corinthians:
For though there be that are called gods; whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)
But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him (1 Cor. 8:5-6).
[Duane S. Crowther, adapted from a "manuscript in progress."]
Now, let's turn to the matter of the Isaiah passage which was the subject of the question. Isaiah 44:8 is only one of several passages in a four-chapter section of Isaiah which emphatically warns against the evils of idolatry. Others include 43:10-12; 44:6; 45:18, 21, 22; and 46:9. Note the heavy emphasis in these chapters on waming Israel of the dangers of idolatry and rebuking the people for their sins:
1. The Lord saved when there was no strange god among them (43:12).
2. The people wearied the Lord with their iniquities (43:22-24).
3. Thy teachers have transgressed against me (43:27-28).
4. They that make a graven image are all vanity (44:9).
5. They have molten a graven image and worshipped it (44:10-17).
6. Wo to him that striveth with his maker (45:9-10).
7. They have no knowledge that set up the graven image, and pray unto a god that cannot save (45:20).
8. Their idols upon beasts are a burden (46:1-2).
9. A goldsmith makes a god, they fall down and worship (46:6-7).
In this context, the LORD asks Israel to compare him to the idols and false gods (46:5). He emphasizes that the false gods have no power, while it is he who created Israel and covenanted with them to be their God and King. Note particularly:
1. The LORD created Israel (43:1, 7, 15; 44:2, 21, 24; 45:7-8, 12, 18).
2. Israel belongs to the LORD (43:1).
3. The LORD will be with Israel (43:2, 5).
4. The LORD is Israel's king (43:15; 44:6).
5. The LORD will provide Israel water and blessings (43:19-20; 44:34).
6. The LORD is Israel's savior and redeemer (43:11, 14, 24; 45:15,21).
7. The LORD is Israel's God (43:3; 12; 44:6, 8; 45:5; 46:9).
8. The LORD will gather Israel and build Jerusalem (43:5-6; 44:26-28; 45:20; 46:13 ).
With all the passages speaking of many Gods which have already been cited in this chapter, why do these few passages in Isaiah assert that the LORD is the only God, and that there is only one God?
The Israelite nation is described in the Bible many times as a disobedient son, a son who remains faithful to his father only for short periods of time and then looks for another. Moses, for instance, had left the people of Israel while he went to receive God's will on Mt. Sinai, only to return and find them claiming that the God who had delivered them from Egypt was not Jehovah but an idol--a golden bull calf they had built (Ex. 32:4).
This type of scene was multiplied many times over before and after the Israelites reached the promised land. Is it any wonder that the Lord, through his prophets, instructed Israel that for them there was no other God besides Jehovah? Isaiah 44:8 is not a statement delineating how many Gods exist in the eternities, but a statement telling Israel there is no other God over them--no pagan or graven god has power, and only Jehovah can save them.
The monotheistic flavor of the identified verses in these four chapters of Isaiah must be interpreted in the light of the dozens of passages cited above which give clear evidence of a plurality of Gods. Obviously, these chapters were intended as extra-strong statements about the role of Jehovah as Israel's God to combat the pernicious idolatry which had gripped the nation. Taking those few verses alone, outside of the context of the entire Bible, leads to a false understanding of the nature of God.