The Doctrine of the Firstborn and Only Begotten
Rodney Turner, “The Doctrine of the Firstborn and Only Begotten,” in The Pearl of Great Price: Revelations from God, ed. H. Donl Peterson and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1989), 91–118.
Rodney Turner was a professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University when this was published.
Although I believe my remarks to be compatible with accepted Church doctrine, I speak for no one but myself. Nor would I have them written in granite. As time goes on they will undoubtedly be modified by the “line upon line” principle of revelation. Six days before his death, the Prophet Joseph Smith said, “All I want is to get the simple, naked truth, and the whole truth” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 372; hereafter TPJS). This sentiment is one of the critical factors that distinguishes Latter-day Saints from the rest of mankind. The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth is the business of Mormonism. The following is presented in the spirit of that business.
In spite of all that we know of Jesus of Nazareth, he is still a glorious enigma. In the closing moments of his life, Joseph Smith told his people: “You don’t know me; you never knew my heart. No man knows my history. . . . When I am called by the trump of the archangel and weighed in the balance, you will all know me then” (TPJS 361–62). To what extent might Jesus have spoken these words of himself? Who but the Father ever really comprehended the Son? Who but the Father ever really knew the heart of his Beloved and Chosen?
While knowing about Jesus is one thing, knowing him is quite another; the former is but a means to the latter. Therefore, what we can know, we should know. He admonished: ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me” (Matthew 11:29). In doing so we learn of him in the deeper sense of the word and thereby come to love him. In loving him we keep his commandments. In keeping his commandments, we become one with him and truly know him. And in thus knowing him, we find eternal life (John 17:3).
Jesus of Nazareth has many titles and epithets associated with his name. While we understand them in part, it is doubtful that any mortal grasps their full implications. A superficial consideration of them, or of scripture in general, can only produce superficial understanding. Careful searching of the word of the Lord reveals nuances of meaning missed by the casual reader. Nowhere is this more evident than when we consider the deeper implications of two familiar titles borne by Jesus: the Firstborn, and the Only Begotten Son of God.
The First Vision
The Pearl of Great Price contains the definitive account of Joseph Smith’s 1820 vision upon which the LDS definition of God is experientially based. Twenty-four years after that vision the Prophet said: “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character [physical nature] of God” ( TPJS 345). The Restoration is founded upon that principle.
A fourteen-year-old boy was instrumental in restoring the long lost truth that the Father and the Son are two separate, distinct beings. While scripture records face-to-face manifestations of God to a number of individuals, as far as we know, the only prophet to behold and converse with both the Father and the Son on the same occasion was Joseph Smith. 
This vital revelation was a death-blow to the prevailing doctrine of trinitarianism, a doctrine which strips the three members of the Godhead of their inherent individuality by merging them into one formless, immaterial, spirit essence. Bowing to Greek philosophy, trinitarianism rendered Deity the “perfect monad”—the Indivisible One. This triune doctrine robbed the Father of his literal fatherhood and the Son of his literal sonship.
But the First Vision not only reconfirmed the individuality of the Father and the Son, it also reconfirmed the reality of their interpersonal relationships. There is a synergetic bond between the Father and his Only Begotten which is altogether peculiar to them. This bond was forged not only out of their oneness of minds, hearts, natures, and attributes, but also out of their interdependent missions. As the Father needed the Son to accomplish his purposes, so did the Son need and look to the Father for direction, power, and exaltation. By their acts of mutual service, each fulfilled, and was fulfilled, in the other. Hence, Jesus’ prayer: “Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee” (John 17:1; cf. D&C 88:60).
“Where was there ever a father without first being a son?” (TPJS 373). Joseph Smith’s answer to his own rhetorical question was, “Nowhere.” As with any man, there was a time when God the Father was childless, when he had not yet begun the procreation of his spirit family. Consequently, the Godhead as we know it did not exist; there was no Son of God and no Holy Ghost. 
Then, at a precise moment in eternal time, a son was begotten of the Father who was to be known on this earth as Jesus of Nazareth, the first of the Father’s myriad male and female spirit offspring. Hence, Christ’s declaration: “I was in the beginning with the Father, and am the Firstborn” (D&C 93:21; cf. Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:6). 
Our Lord’s spirit birth to an immortal mother was as literal as was his physical birth to the mortal Mary.  Subsequent to the spirit birth of the Firstborn, the Father begat his other children, including those who were destined for this, as yet, unorganized planet (D&C 49:16–17; Moses 3:5; Abr. 3:22).  Consequently, mankind is older than this earth.
Being the first-born of the human family, Jesus is rightly regarded by Latter-day Saints as our Elder Brother. This nonscriptural title reflects the literalness of the spirit relationship which exists between the Father, the Son, and all mankind. As we shall see, this spirit relationship is perfected in the spiritual relationship achieved through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.
Was it mere coincidence that the Father’s first spirit child was also the greatest of them all? One’s answer to this question depends upon one’s beliefs concerning that eternal, uncreated, self-existent spirit element called intelligence (Abr. 3:18; D&C 93:29). Those who believe that intelligence—whatever its nature, and regardless of any possible gradations thereof—was devoid of agency or volition prior to spirit birth would be inclined to answer in the affirmative. They believe that God, being no respecter of persons, equally endowed the organized (begotten) intelligences with his own divine attributes, including moral agency.
Because Jesus “suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning” (3 Nephi 11:11), he outdistanced his younger brothers and sisters and eventually achieved an exalted position over them. On the other hand, Lucifer—who, like all others in the first estate, was “on the same standing” (Alma 13:5) with Jesus insofar as heredity and environment were concerned—was subsequently cast out for rebellion.
Others, such as B. H. Roberts, have interpreted Joseph Smith’s teachings on this subject to mean that the intelligences existed as separate and distinct egos or life entities prior to spirit organization.  They are, wrote Roberts, “of various degrees of intelligence, doubtless differing from each other in many ways, yet alike in their eternity and their freedom.”  This has led some to conjecture that the intelligence which became the Father’s firstborn was so honored because he was inherently superior to all other intelligences begotten thereafter. There is merit in both positions, but neither can be proved nor disproved at this time.
However, scripture describes Jesus as the Firstborn of the Father, not only in terms of the human family, but in terms of every world and every form of life organized under the Father’s direction. Paul wrote: “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible [seen and unseen]. . . . And he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (Col. 1:16–17; emphasis added; cf. Rev. 3:14).  In other words, our God’s first creative act as a Father was to sire his Firstborn and Only Begotten Son.
Thereafter, the Firstborn went forth as the Father’s “word of my power” (Moses 1:32, 35)—”the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning” (Mosiah 3:8; cf. John 1:3; Hel. 14:12; Moses 2:1). Under the law of primogeniture, and because he was the Creator of all things, the Son was rightfully declared the “heir of all things” (Heb. 1:2). 
The Son of God
Although the Father spoke of the Only Begotten as “my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning” (Moses 4:2), Jesus’ mission as Savior was not imposed upon the human family; it was presented for a sustaining vote. Said Joseph Smith: “At the first organization in heaven we were all present, and saw the Savior chosen and appointed and the plan of salvation made, and we sanctioned it” (TPJS 181).
Jesus’ preeminence in spirit birth was followed by his preeminence in acquiring the authority and powers possessed by the Father. He was the first to enter into a governing relationship with the Father. He was the first to become a son of God pertaining to the Holy Priesthood. Indeed, the uniqueness of his priestly relationship to the Father is suggested by the title, the Son of God.
Paul wrote of this singular priesthood bond between the Father and the Firstborn when, in referring to priesthood, he wrote: “And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee. As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec” (Heb. 5:4–6, emphasis added; cf. 1:5; Ps. 2:7; 89:26–27). 
So ordained, the pre-mortal Christ was anointed God and Savior over the human family: ‘Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre. Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows” (Ps. 45:6–7; emphasis added; cf. Heb. 1:9). In achieving godhood, the Son was also elevated to the Godhead or First Presidency of heaven.
Sons of God
The first estate encompassed a vast period of time in which God’s work pertaining to this earth was begun (Moses 1:39). It involved critical opportunities for growth and development in accordance with the moral and spiritual agency the Father had bestowed upon his children (Moses 4:3; D&C 93:31). Many followed the “Good Shepherd,” became familiar with his voice (John 10:27; D&C 84:52), and “on account of their exceeding faith and good works” (Alma 13:3) are described by Abraham as “the noble and great ones” (Abr. 3:22).  This number was led by the pre-mortal Jesus—the “one among them that was like unto God” (Abr. 3:24). At least some of these superior “intelligences,” or “spirits,” or “souls” functioned as co-creators with him in organizing this earth (Abr. 3:24–25). They were among those “sons of God [who] shouted for joy” at the dawn of creation (Job 38:7).
The Prophet Joseph Smith seems to have been alluding to them when he said; “I believe those Gods that God reveals as Gods to be sons of God, and all can cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ Sons of God who exalt themselves to be Gods, even from before the foundation of the world, and are the only Gods I have a reverence for” (TPJS 375; emphasis added). 
Having kept their first estate in a superior fashion, these individuals are eminently qualified to “keep their second estate” (Abr. 3:26). They know the voice of the Shepherd, “And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers” (John 10:4–5).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote:
Men are born into mortality with the talents and abilities acquired by obedience to law in their first estate. Above all talents—greater than any other capacities, chief among all endowments—stands the talent for spirituality. Those so endowed find it easy to believe the truth in this life. . . . The word of truth is sent to some before it goes to others because they earned the right to such preferential treatment in preexistence” (Millennial Messiah 234–35).
In keeping their second estate, these noble and great men and women “shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever” (Abr. 3:26).
Great as they undoubtedly were, the Son’s companions, his “fellows,” did not attain his excellence. They did not merit the mighty mission assigned to him. He alone had been appointed Creator, the Grand Organizer of this and other worlds. He alone was designated God over the earth, Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel, the divine Redeemer. But when he came to earth as Jesus of Nazareth, he “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” (Philip. 2:7).
Yet it is apparent that as the Firstborn and Only Begotten, Jesus received a higher endowment of the Father’s nature than did any other spirit. The Prophet Joseph Smith observed: "None ever were perfect but Jesus; and why was He perfect? Because He was the Son of God, and had the fullness of the Spirit, and greater power than any man” (TPJS 187–88).
Firstfruits of the Resurrection
Being foremost in all things in the pre-mortal spirit estate, the Firstborn is also foremost in all things in the post-mortal spiritual estate—that of resurrection.  He was “the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence” (Col. 1:18). Thus, in breaking the bands of death, both for himself and for all mankind, Christ became the “firstfruits” of the resurrection (2 Nephi 2:8–9; Mosiah 16:7; Rev. 1:5). 
Upon obtaining a celestial body of flesh and bone, the Son of Man became perfect even as his Father was perfect.  He was in every sense “the express image . . . of the Majesty on high” (Heb 1:3; cf. Col. 1:15).  Being so, he was prepared to enter upon a fourth dimension of fatherhood—literal divine parenthood, or “eternal lives” (D&C 132:22–24).  His was now the power to beget spirit progeny, even as he possessed the power to create those worlds they would someday inhabit. 
The Son Followed the Father
The progression of the Firstborn Son of God to a fulness of the Father’s celestial status was noted by the Prophet Joseph Smith in two of his final public addresses—the “King Follett” discourse (TPJS 342–62), and the discourse on the “Plurality of Gods” ( TPJS 369–76).
The Prophet stated that the Saints must “learn how to be Gods yourselves . . . the same as all Gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one . . . until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power” (TPJS 346–47; emphasis added).
He then cited Jesus Christ as an example of one so enthroned:
What did Jesus do? Why; I do the things I saw my Father do when worlds came rolling into existence.  My Father worked out his kingdom with fear and trembling, and I must do the same; and when I get my kingdom, I shall present it to my Father, so that he may obtain kingdom upon kingdom, and it will exalt him in glory. He will then take a higher exaltation, and I will take his place, and thereby become exalted myself. So that Jesus treads in the tracks of his Father, and inherits what God did before ( TPJS 347–48; cf. John 5:19; D&C 130:9). 
Although we know none of the specific details of the Father’s pre-resurrection life, the Prophet Joseph Smith revealed the following (all page numbers are to TPJS): that “God the Father took life unto himself precisely as Jesus did  (181) . . . [that he] was once as we are now (345) . . . that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth ( 3 4 6 ) . . . [and] worked out his kingdom with fear and trembling,” (347) and then laid down his life and took it up again as a resurrected being. Thereafter, his Son, Jesus Christ, did “the things I saw my Father do when worlds came rolling into existence” (347). However, opinion is divided as to how closely the Son’s career paralleled that of his Father.
Eleven days before his death, Joseph Smith spoke—in what appears in retrospect to be somehow prescient of his own imminent martyrdom—of the death and resurrection of both God the Father and his Father: “Jesus said that the Father wrought precisely in the same way as His Father had done before Him. As the Father had done before? He laid down His life, and took it up the same as His Father had done before. He did as he was sent, to lay down His life and take it up again; and then was committed unto Him the keys” (TPJS 373).
These and the Prophet’s earlier remarks are believed by some to infer that our God and his father once sacrificed their lives in a manner similar to the atonement of Jesus Christ. It is argued that the Prophet’s words  suggest that these gods did not simply live and die as all men do, they “laid down” and “took up” their lives in the context of sacrifice. Only after making this sacrifice were “the keys” [of the celestial earth?] committed to them. Therefore, in Christ’s atonement and subsequent resurrection, he was repeating ordinances his Father and his father’s father had performed.
This extrapolated doctrine rests upon a somewhat inadequate, if not shaky, foundation. Indeed, it is highly doubtful. The basic process of laying down and taking up one’s life is similar for all even though it is not identical for all. The road to exaltation walked by Jesus is not the road we are required to walk. It is not necessary to become a Savior before one can become a god. We simply do not know the extent to which Jesus did the things he saw his Father do when worlds came rolling into existence.
The previously quoted remarks of Joseph Smith have been interpreted as supporting the concept of different saviors for different worlds—or systems of worlds. Yet the Atonement of Jesus Christ is described in the Book of Mormon as being”infinite for all mankind” (2 Nephi 25:16; Alma 34:10, 12, 14). However, “all mankind” probably refers only to the inhabitants of this earth.  Nephi quoted his brother Jacob as teaching, “our God . . . suffereth the pains of all men . . . who belong to the family of Adam” (2 Nephi 9:20–21; emphasis added).
That which is infinite by nature need not be unlimited in scope.  Christ’s atonement was infinite in that it was an act of God, rather than an act of finite man (2 Nephi 9:7; Alma 34:10; 42:15; D&C 20:17–18). While the Atonement was unquestionably “infinite” or all-encompassing pertaining to everything that fell in consequence of Adam’s transgression, it is doubtful if its efficacy was literally boundless. Scripture indicates that the Fall and the Atonement, like the two sides of a coin, are inextricably linked together and co-extensive in their effects (1 Cor. 15:22; 2 Nephi 2:22–26). If so, Jesus’ atonement was not infinite in an absolute sense anymore than Adam’s fall was infinite in an absolute sense. 
Statements of Brigham Young indicate that he believed in the concept of multiple saviors.  After pointing out that the Son came as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, President Young asked: “Is it so on any other earth? On every earth. . . . Sin is upon every earth that ever was created. . . . Consequently every earth has its redeemer, and every earth has its tempter; and every earth, and the people thereof, in their turn and time, receive all that we receive, and pass through all the ordeals that we are passing through” (Journal of Discourses 14:71–72; emphasis added; hereafter JD).
It might be argued that his remarks only mean that every earth has to be redeemed by the Savior. However, “its redeemer” is in juxtaposition with “its tempter.” If there is but one Savior for all worlds, is there but one devil for all worlds as well? A single, cosmic Satan is highly unlikely. 
Paul wrote that Jesus “is before all things, and by him all things consist. . . . [He is] the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence” (Col. 1:17–18). Since the processes of creation, birth, death, resurrection, and salvation were on-going realities eons of time before Jesus came into organized existence, his preeminence must be relative, not absolute.
Then too, if there is but one redeemer for all possible worlds, those individuals who achieved godhood prior to Jesus’ sacrifice on this earth, or who will attain it in the endless future, were, or will be, dependent for their salvation upon an individual extremely remote from their own time and circumstance.
Finally, Jesus—being his own Father’s savior, as well as the savior of those fathers who preceded him—would be superior to all of them, even as he is superior to all of those he saves from this earth. Yet Jesus repeatedly declared himself the instrument of his Father’s will and said: “. . . my Father is greater than I” (John 14:28; cf. 10:29).
However, Elder Bruce R. McConkie stated that there is but one savior for this and all other possible worlds: “When the prophets speak of an infinite atonement, they mean just that. Its effects cover all men, the earth itself and all forms of life thereon, and reach out into the endless expanses of eternity. . . . the atonement of Christ, being literally and truly infinite, applies to an infinite number of earths” (Mormon Doctrine 64–65).
He supported this position by quoting from Joseph Smith’s poetic version of Doctrine and Covenants 76:23–24:
And I heard a great voice bearing record from heav’n,
He’s the Saviour and Only Begotten of God;
By him, of him, and through him, the worlds were all made,
Even all that careen in the heavens so broad.
“Whose inhabitants, too, from the first to the last,
Are sav’d by the very same Saviour of ours . . .”
(Mormon Doctrine 66).
The context of the passage is our God and Father and his Only Begotten. Did Joseph Smith intend to include all Gods and all Fathers in this paraphrase?
Semantic vagaries being what they are, especially when compounded by poetic subjectivity and scriptural imprecision, it is possible that these seemingly conflicting views are not as far apart as they might first appear.
Mormonism is simultaneously monotheistic, tritheistic, and polytheistic. There is but one God, yet there is a Godhead of three, and beyond them, “gods many, and lords many” (1 Cor. 8:5). But regardless of the multiplicity of personages bearing divine titles, they are one in that priesthood which governs throughout the eternities. Unlike the carnal gods of mythical Olympus, they are not competing against one another for status and dominion. To the contrary, true Gods are welded together by the universal Spirit of the Lord, as well as by shared attributes, ideals, and purposes (D&C 88:13, 41). Hence, the passage: “Which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end” (D&C 20:28; emphasis added).
Just as there is ultimately but one God in principle, so is there but one Spirit, one priesthood, and one Savior. Lucifer, “a liar from the beginning” (D&C 93:25), sought to become a redeemer even though he lacked the “grace and truth” so essential to the labors of a redeemer (Moses 1:6, 32; 6:52). His rebellion aside, he had to be rejected. Whether one or many, there can be but one Savior, in principle, for all worlds.
Then too, there is the matter of terminology. Such titles and epithets as God, Father, Lord, Creator, Most High, Eternal, Everlasting, Endless, and Almighty are employed rather interchangeably in referring to either the Father or the Son. 
However, in current LDS usage, such expressions as Eloheim, Man of Holiness, Heavenly Father, and Ahman, are reserved for God the Father. Likewise, Firstborn, Only Begotten, Alpha and Omega, the Word, Son of Man, Son Ahman, Lamb of God, Savior, Redeemer, Great I Am, Jehovah, Holy One or Shepherd of Israel, Messiah, Christ, etc., are reserved for the Son. All of these terms are rightfully identified with Jesus of Nazareth, being descriptive of his multifaceted mission in relationship to his Father, the human family, and all creation.
We are inclined to employ these many name—titles in a rather loose fashion—as much for variety’s sake as anything. While little or no harm is done in this somewhat careless usage of terms, the fact remains that each is significant in itself; each is a nuance of the overall mission of Jesus of Nazareth in both time and eternity.
However, it may be that virtually all names, titles, and epithets are shared by the Father and the Son. To the extent that this proves the case, they are indeed, one, for shared honors implies shared activities and attainments.
Many Gods, Many Worlds
The “Lord God Almighty” told Moses: “ . . . mine Only Begotten is and shall be the Savior . . . but there is no God beside me” (Moses 1:3, 6). This means that pertaining to this earth no other God stands next to, or is equal to, the Father; he is the Most High. Paul confirmed this fact when he wrote the Corinthians, “there be gods many, and lords many, but to us there is but one God, the Father . . . and one Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 8:5–6, emphasis added; cf. TPJS 370–71). 
Joseph Smith’s teaching of a plurality of Gods is paralleled by the revelation that there is a corresponding plurality of inhabited earths as well. Moses “beheld many lands [worlds]; and each land was called earth, and there were inhabitants on the face thereof (Moses 1:29). He also learned that these “worlds without number” were created for a divine purpose by the Son, the Only Begotten (Moses 1:33). However, Moses’ knowledge of God’s creative enterprises was limited to our own planet: “But only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you” (Moses 1:35).
A plurality of gods and inhabited worlds is essential to the validity of the doctrine of exaltation wherein millions of men and women from this one earth will reign as kings and queens over their endless posterities—posterities that will inhabit the endless earths yet to be organized (D&C 132:19–20).
The process of begetting spirit offspring, preparing earths on which they may dwell, and perfecting all things, is an endless divine cycle—”one eternal round” (1 Nephi 10:19; Alma 7:20; 37:12; D&C 3:2; 35:1). Among other things, such a “round” may equal one eternity or one creative epoch of the gods. Of interest in this respect is the statement of W.W. Phelps in a letter to William Smith, dated 25 December 1844 in which Phelps wrote: “ . . . eternity, agreeably [sic] to the records found in the catacombs of Egypt, has been going on in this system, (not this world) almost two thousand five hundred and fifty-five millions of years” (Phelps 758).
The Lord told Abraham that Kolob was set “to govern all those [worlds] which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest” (Abr. 3:3; emphasis added). ‘This system” and “the same order” may be related, if not synonymous, terms. According to Joseph Smith, this earth was but one of a number of worlds organized within a given time frame: ‘The grand councilors sat at the head in yonder heavens and contemplated the creation of worlds which were created at the time” ( TPJS 348–49; emphasis added). He later stated: “The heads of the Gods appointed one God for us” (TPJS 372; cf. 370–71; D&C 121:32). Thus, “every man who reigns in celestial glory is a God to his dominions” (TPJS 374). These statements suggest that, since there is more than one god, more than one creative enterprise can be going on concurrently. If so, then God’s “one eternal round” may include the labors of many of his sons pursuing their own creative cycles (D&C 76:58–59).
The foregoing suggests that although the word eternity maybe used as a synonym for infinite time, it is also used in LDS discourse to refer to a given segment of “eternal time” (TPJS 371) during which spirits are born and progress in accordance with a universal plan of salvation to their final state as resurrected beings. Thus one divine epoch follows another under the direction of that God who “is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity” (Moroni 8:18; cf. Alma 13:7; D&C 76:4).
The restored gospel cannot be confined to the narrow, closed system of traditional Christianity. It bursts the bonds of man-made doctrines and soars into the limitless reaches of endless time and space. Even modern astronomical theory, which measures cosmic distances in the millions of light years, pales before those truths revealed through Joseph Smith and poetically described by W. W. Phelps:
If you could hie to Kolob
In the twinkling of an eye,
And then continue onward
With that same speed to fly,
Do you think that you could ever,
Through all eternity,
Find out the generation
Where Gods began to be?
Or see the grand beginning,
Where space did not extend?
Or view the last creation,
Where Gods and matter end?
Methinks the Spirit whispers,
“No man has found ‘pure space,’
Nor seen the outside curtains,
Where nothing has a place.”
The works of God continue,
And worlds and lives abound;
Improvement and progression
Have one eternal round.
There is no end to matter;
There is no end to space;
There is no end to spirit;
There is no end to race (Hymns 284).
In drawing aside the curtains of eternity and revealing the multiplicity of interrelated gods, lords, fathers, mothers, kings, queens, sons and daughters who make up a celestial cavalcade stretching forever backward and forever forward along the intersecting highways of endless time, the Prophet Joseph Smith demolished once and for all those confining doctrines concerning the Creator and his creations.
Just as Copernicus  overturned the myopic medieval notion of a Ptolemaic physical universe in which the sun, moon, and stars revolved in obeisance around this one tiny planet, so did Joseph Smith destroy the equally myopic notion of a lone triune deity creating and sustaining all things throughout the boundless reaches of absolute space.
When the Prophet Joseph Smith revealed that the true theological universe really was Copernican in nature, the Latter-day Saints were freed from the traditional scriptural strait-jacket worn by most Christians. For the fact that there really are “gods many, and lords many” ruling over “worlds without end” simply will not allow for a theological Ptolemaic universe, a universe that never did, and never will, exist.
The Almighty gave Moses “only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof (Moses 1:35). As there is but one specific God for us, so is there but one specific Savior for us—Jesus of Nazareth. How many other worlds are encompassed by his infinite sacrifice is yet to be revealed. Also unknown is the extent of his labors as the Creator, the Father’s “word of my power” (Moses 1:32, 35).
Worlds Organized by the Only Begotten
Elder John Taylor in an article in Times and Seasons (1845) delimited Jesus’ vast sphere of influence:
Truly Jesus Christ created the worlds, and is Lord of Lords, and as the Psalmist said: “Judges among the Gods.” . . . [he is] the Son of the Living God, meaning our Father in heaven . . . and who with Jesus Christ, his first begotten son, and the Holy Ghost, are one in power, one in dominion, and one in glory, constituting the First Presidency of this system, and this eternity. . . . And again the “twelve kingdoms” which are under the above mentioned presidency of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, are governed by the same rules, and destined to the same honor (“The Living God,” 6:809, emphasis added; quoted in Taylor 76).
Later as president of the Church, John Taylor reiterated the foregoing, prefacing it with:
The translated residents of Enoch’s city are under the direction of Jesus, who is the Creator of worlds; and that He, holding the keys of the government of other worlds, could, in His administration to them, select the translated people of Enoch’s Zion . . . to act as ambassadors, teachers, or messengers to those worlds over which Jesus holds the authority (Taylor 76; emphasis added). 
In his 1845 article he quoted Doctrine and Covenants 88:51–57, the parable of the twelve servants, which describes the successive visits of the Lord to twelve different kingdoms. Some have interpreted that parable as meaning Christ organized only twelve worlds.  Benjamin F. Johnson, a confidant of Joseph Smith, wrote in a letter to George A. Gibbs: “He [Joseph Smith] gave us to understand that there were twelve kingdoms, or planets, revolving around our solar system, to which the Lord gave equal division of His time or ministry; and now was his time to again visit the earth” (see Turner 219n).
Interpreting Doctrine and Covenants 88:51–61 as limiting the creative labors of Jesus Christ to but twelve worlds is unwarranted. It is, after all, a parable. The question is, did He organize a limited number of worlds, or is He the very individual who organized and redeemed all of the worlds (“worlds without number”—Moses 1:33) that were, are, and will be?
Both Abraham and Moses speak of the numberless creations of God (Abr. 3:12; Moses 1:4, 33, 38; 7:30). And both provide parallel accounts of the organization of this planet. However, only Moses refers to the actual organization of “worlds without number” (1:33, 35).  In doing so, he consistently identifies their organizer as the Only Begotten, the Son, the “word of my power.”  While Jesus Christ is clearly the organizer of this and other worlds, at no time is that name-title used in the standard works in connection with the formation of all worlds.
In his vision of the degrees of glory, Joseph Smith saw that by, through, and of the Only Begotten, “the worlds are and were created” (D&C 76:23–24, emphasis added; cf. 93:8–11). Thus “the Only Begotten” appears to be an all-inclusive title for the universal Creator. Consequently, when any creative enterprise is carried out, the one appointed to be Creator is also called the Son of God, the Only Begotten. Therefore, all of the “innumerable” worlds, that have been and will be organized, came into existence through the composite Only Begotten. In other words, such expressions as Firstborn, Only Begotten, and Son of God are not absolute titles belonging to one individual, but are priesthood designations bestowed from time to time by appointment.
The Holy Priesthood is one priesthood shared by many in a hierarchy of offices and callings having its apex in the First Presidency of heaven. How many creative “systems” there may be under the all-inclusive name “Eternal God” is a mystery. In 1839, the Lord promised the Saints that “in the days of the dispensation of the fulness of times” (D&C 121:31) there was a “time to come in the which nothing shall be withheld, whether there be one God or many gods, they shall be manifest” (v. 28). Although this seems to suggest that the question of one or many gods was unresolved in the mind of men, the Lord went on to speak of “the Council of the Eternal God of all other gods before this world was . . .” (v. 32). The Prophet Joseph’s previously cited 1844 discourses on the gods were surely a partial fulfillment of this promise.
The vast, complex network of interlocking families, kingdoms, governments, and systems arising out of the infinite matrix of creation defies human comprehension. In our present state of development, it is enough for us to know that such an order exists and that through “our God and his Christ” (D&C 76:28; emphasis added) we are part of this magnificent enterprise. Let us now return to our own “system,” to “our God” and the specific mission of “his Christ,” Jesus of Nazareth.
The Firstborn and Only Begotten
It is customary to speak of Jesus Christ as “the Firstborn in the spirit, and the Only Begotten in the flesh.” The qualifying phrase, “in the flesh,” while not scriptural, is added to emphasize the uniqueness of Jesus’ mortal birth.  However, scripture suggests that Christ did not simply become the Only Begotten at mortal birth, he was the Only Begotten from the beginning—not just the beginning of this earth, but perhaps from the beginning of all of the Father’s creative endeavors as a resurrected being (Moses 1:32–33, 35). 
A basic creative principle is “that the first shall be last, and that the last shall be first in all things whatsoever I have created” (D&C 29:30).  What is first organized—the immortal spirit—is the last to be perfected as a resurrected or spiritual being. Thus, the Father first begat his children as immortal spirit beings. Upon entering mortality these spirits receive a temporal (physical) tabernacle. Finally, in the resurrection, the two organizations (spirit and body) are “inseparably connected,” becoming one immortal, spiritual being (D&C 93:33; 88:26–27). In achieving wholeness or inseparable union, the spirit and the body have become “first” or supreme.
Jesus, like his Father before him, followed this basic process and “worked out his salvation with fear and trembling” (TPJS 347). “In the beginning,” he progressed from “grace to grace” as the Firstborn, the Son of God, the Only Begotten, the Spirit of truth, the Word (D&C 93:6–14, 21). His progression toward the Father’s “fulness” continued after he came to earth.
He is, therefore, “Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end” (D&C 38:l)—not only pertaining to his all-encompassing labors as Creator-Redeemer, but also in working out his own salvation. The overall context of the statement, “I was in the beginning with the Father, and am the Firstborn” (D&C 93:21; emphasis added), indicates that the resurrected Jesus was bearing witness of his own progression from spirit birth to ultimate exaltation. What he had been at first was perfected in what he became at last—hence, “I am the first and the last” (D&C 110:4). The first to be born into the Father’s spirit family had become the first to be born into the Father’s fulness—the fulness of priesthood, exaltation, and godhood (D&C 93:4, 12–14).
The Savior’s progression to this fulness is emphasized in Joseph Smith’s revision of Romans where the referent is changed from converted Jews and Gentiles to Christ:
For him [Jesus] whom he [the Father] did foreknow, he [the Father] also did predestinate [foreordain] to be conformed to his [the Father’s] own image, that he [Jesus] might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover, him [Jesus] whom he [the Father] did predestinate, him he also called; and him whom he called, him he also sanctified; and him whom he sanctified, him he also glorified (JST Rom. 8:29–30).
Thus Jesus was the first of the Father’s offspring to complete the “first and last” cycle.
Indeed, Jesus was the first and only spirit begotten into the Father’s fulness in pre-mortality. All others are spiritually begotten through the Son (D&C 93:22). Therefore, as Jesus was the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh, so is he the Only Begotten of the Father into the fulness of immortal glory.
“Firstborn” and “Only Begotten” are companion titles; they complement one another. Jesus attained their fulness when he became perfect even as the “Father who is in heaven is perfect” (3 Nephi 12:48). So too, those divine attributes man acquires in the first estate are “added upon” in mortality, and perfected in the resurrection. The degree of success in this process is relative to each individual’s compliance with divine law.
Jesus told the Twelve: “No man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6; emphasis added). We are fully reconciled to the Father only after being adopted into the spiritual family of Christ, becoming his sons and his daughters (Mosiah 5:7; Ether 3:14; Moroni 7:48; D&C 25:1; 39:4). Unlike Jesus (who was never “born again” ), every true Saint has been “born of the Spirit” and become one in Christ, as Christ is one in God (Moses 6:65; D&C 35:2). They become, in the highest sense, sons and daughters of God through the Son who shares His own divine sonship with them. Adoption to the Son is, therefore, the gateway to a place in the immortal celestial family of the Father. Christ declared: “For if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fulness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father” (D&C 93:20; emphasis added).
In coming unto the Father, the sanctified have relied mightily upon the “merits” of Christ (2 Nephi 2:8; 31:19; Moroni 6:4; cf. Moses 7:59). They are saved by and through the Firstborn and the Only Begotten. They are perfected and exalted by union with the Son of God. As the great patriarch Enoch testified: ‘Thou hast made me, and given unto me a right to thy throne, and not of myself but through thy own grace” (Moses 7:59; emphasis added; cf. 2 Nephi 25:23).
John wrote: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2; emphasis added; cf. Moroni 7:48). Being “like him” means possessing as he possesses. His progression “from grace to grace” (D&C 93:13) to ultimate perfection enables the Saints to progress from grace to grace in like manner (D&C 93:20). Ultimately, his worthiness is their worthiness, his holiness is their holiness, his glory is their glory.
Not only that, his inheritance becomes their inheritance. The Father’s sole heir has consecrated his inheritance in behalf of those he has made “joint heirs” with him in all that the Father possesses (Rom. 8:17; cf. D&C 84:37–38). At least part of that inheritance is the celestialized earth; he will continue to be its God (see D&C 130:9; 1 Nephi 13:41; cf. TPJS 347–48). And so the Redeemer shares his nature, attributes, powers, and glory with his lesser brothers and sisters so that they might become one with him in all things.
Such is Christ’s “amazing grace.” Such is the nature of divine consecration. Out of their incomprehensible love, the Father and his Only Begotten Son condescended to sacrifice and to share so that they might reach down and lift up—according to each individual’s desires and works—the family of Man. Truly, the infinite goodness and generosity of God are beyond all human understanding. “Behold, who can glory too much in the Lord? Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy and of his long-suffering towards the children of men?” (Alma 26:16).
The Church of the Firstborn
The preeminence of the Firstborn continues after the earth is glorified. He is the “head” of the immortal church. Those just men and women who have been “made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant” (D&C 76:69), follow their Savior-Shepherd into his eternal sheepfold, the church of the Firstborn: “And now, verily I say unto you, I was in the beginning with the Father, and am the Firstborn; And all those who are begotten through me are partakers of the glory of the same, and are the church of the Firstborn” (D&C 93:21–22, emphasis added; cf. 88:5). In partaking of the glory of the Firstborn, they receive a “fulness of the Father”—eternal life and exaltation (D&C 76:71, 94; cf.l07:19).
There is yet much to be revealed in this world of the things of God, and even more in the eternity to come. But what we do know—what we see eye to eye—is worth worlds. Salvation is a miracle. And it is wrought by and through the Firstborn and Only Begotten Son of God, the lowly Galilean, Jesus of Nazareth. He is the Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, and Sanctifier of men and worlds. If that is all we presently know of him, it is all we need to know.
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Cannon, George Q. Gospel Truth. Salt Lake City: Zion’s Book Store, 1957.
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Hancock, Mosiah Lyman. The Mosiah Hancock Journal, n.p.: n.d.
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McConkie, Bruce R. Mormon Doctrine. 2nd ed. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966.
The Millennial Messiah. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1982.
Millet, Robert L. “The Ministry of the Father and the Son.” The Book of Mormon: The Keystone Scripture. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988, pp. 44–72.
Phelps, W. W. ‘The Answer.” Times and Seasons 5 (1845): 757–61.
Roberts, B. H. “Immortality of Man.” Improvement Era 10 (1907): 401–23.
Smith, Joseph. History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 7 vols. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1908.
Talmage, James E. The Articles of Faith. Salt Lake City: LDS Church, cl913.
Taylor, John. The Mediation and Atonement. Salt Lake City: Stevens and Wallis, 1950.
Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Joseph Fielding Smith, comp. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976.
Turner, Rodney. The Footstool of God. Orem: Grandin, 1983.
 The brief vision granted to Stephen as his enemies “gnashed on him with their teeth” wherein he “saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:54–55) is the only other explicit instance in scripture of the Father and Son being seen at the same time. However, unlike Joseph Smith’s experience, it seems that Stephen’s did not involve a literal appearance of these personages, nor did any communication, lengthy or otherwise, take place.
 The spirit personage known as the Holy Ghost (D&C 130:22) was apparently begotten of the Father following the spirit birth of Jesus. Heber C. Kimball taught: “Well, let me tell you, the Holy Ghost is a man; he is one of the sons of our Father and our God; and he is that man that stood next to Jesus Christ, just as I stand by brother Brigham” (JD 5:179). Franklin D. Richards quoted Joseph Smith as saying that “the Holy Ghost is now in a state of Probation which if he should perform in righteousness he may pass through the same or a similar course of things that the Son has” (Ehat and Cook 245).
 Unless otherwise indicated, all statements in this article apply to the relationship of the Father and the Son to this earth and its inhabitants, not to other earths or systems. B. H. Roberts noted: ‘The fact is that the revelations from God in the Bible and all other scriptures are, in the main, local; that is, they pertain to our earth and that order of worlds with which it is connected, and that order of existence to which we belong” (Roberts 413–14n).
 The term, firstborn, does not appear in the Book of Mormon or the Pearl of Great Price. Paul also refers to Jesus as “the first begotten” (Heb. 1:6).
 Mosiah Hancock, a close friend and body guard of Joseph Smith, claimed to have seen the pre-mortal world in vision. He saw that the spirits “were arranged in pairs, male and female, and passed in front of the Eternal Father who named them; and they were clad in long white robes with girdles tied around the waists, Each pair seemed to have been created mates” (Hancock, addendum 1).
 Nothing has been revealed concerning possible offspring of our God on other worlds. If a new “family” of spirits is procreated for each new world—or system of worlds—it follows that there would be a first born pertaining to that creation. We assume, rightly or wrongly, that Jesus of Nazareth is preeminently the Father’s Firstborn. See note number 9.
 For an extensive treatment of Elder Robert’s views, see “Immortality of Man,” Improvement Era (April, 1907) 10:402–23.
 Whether Jesus was the Father’s first born in an absolute sense is not clear. B.H. Roberts took the view that Jesus was the first born of all things “pertaining to our order of existence” (Roberts 413). See note 6 above.
 It is interesting to note that under Mosaic law, a double portion of the father’s inheritance belonged to the eldest son, with the remainder to be divided among any other sons (Deut. 21:17). Two parts of the Father’s spirit family followed Christ, while a third part followed Lucifer and lost everything.
 Since all men and angels are the spirit offspring of God, the context of Paul’s words suggests that he is speaking of a spiritual, not a paternal, begetting of the Son of God.
 That priesthood covenants were entered into by some spirits in the first estate is implicit in Joseph Smith’s well-known statement: “Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was. I suppose that I was ordained to this very office in that Grand Council” (TPJS 365).
 Joseph Smith taught that “unconditional election of individuals to eternal life” was a false doctrine (TPJS 189). Lucifer is an example of a priesthood son of God who failed in the first estate. George Q. Cannon said: ‘The revelations teach us that he was an angel of God, that he was, in fact, a son of God. . . . But he was disobedient and rebellious. . . and became a fallen angel, even a devil” (Cannon 138; cf. D&C 76:25–27). Only after proving faithful in the second estate can the pre-mortal sons of God have their calling and election made sure (TPJS 298–99).
 All things are first organized as spirits; they then pass through a temporal or physical state. In the resurrection, the spirit and its mortal counterpart are “inseparably connected” (D&C 93:33; cf. Alma 11:45), becoming one immortal, spiritual body (D&C 88:27–28).
 Although Jesus is the Creator-Savior of other worlds, whether he was the “first fruits” of the resurrection pertaining to those worlds as well as this earth is unknown (Romans 8:22–23).
 “When our Lord told the Jews, ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’ (Matthew 5:48; emphasis added), he was speaking of ultimate eternal perfection in his Father’s kingdom” (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine 568).
 In his account of the first vision written to John Wentworth in 1842, Joseph Smith described the Father and the Son as “two glorious personages, who exactly resembled each other in features and likeness” (HC 4:536).
 The title, Son of God, indicates a glorious, but inferior position vis-a-vis the Father. Hence, Jesus’ statement to the Twelve: “My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28; cf. D&C 93:11–14). Jesus did not achieve ultimate perfection, becoming like the Father in every respect, until he became a resurrected being. Note that in his mortal ministry he had admonished his disciples: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). But as a resurrected being, he told the Nephites: ‘Therefore I would that ye should be perfect, even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect” (3 Nephi 12:48; emphasis added). The First Presidency explained that the title, Father, applied to the Son of God in three ways: 1) as the Father or Creator of all things, 2) as the Father of the spiritually redeemed, and 3) as the Father “by Divine Investiture of Authority” (Talmage 465–73).
 Interestingly, whereas the literal fatherhood of God is accepted without any qualms by members of the Church, the same cannot be said of Jesus either before or after his resurrection. Many are not emotionally prepared to think of the Savior as being married or, worse, having children. However, a moment’s reflection makes it clear that it can be no other way. The Prophet Joseph Smith said:
If a man gets a fullness of the priesthood of God he has to get it in the same way that Jesus Christ obtained it, and that was by keeping all the commandments and obeying all the ordinances of the house of the Lord. . . . All men who become heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ will have to receive the fulness of the ordinances of his kingdom” (TPJS 308–09; emphasis added).
A basic commandment is to “multiply, and replenish the earth” (Gen. 1:28). Then too, it was Christ who stated that the law of celestial marriage was “instituted for the fulness of my glory” (D&C 132:6; emphasis added). The Lord would hardly require men to obey a celestial law that he, himself, did not obey.
 When and how Jesus saw the Father working out his salvation prior to the Father’s exaltation and, therefore, prior to Jesus’ own spirit birth has not been revealed. However, it may be that Jesus was granted a vision of the Father’s past experiences much as we might observe films of historical events. The pre-mortal Christ dwelt in the presence of the Father “on a globe like a sea of glass and fire, where all things for their glory are manifest, past, present, and future” (D&C 130:7; emphasis added).
 The fact that the Son inherits the Father’s inheritance supports the Prophet’s doctrine that the Father was also once a Son of God.
 This statement may be taken to mean that the Father, like Jesus, was also born of an immortal father and a mortal mother. Or it may simply mean that the Father was born of woman as are all men. Without additional revelation, we are not justified in going beyond the second possibility. President Joseph F. Smith said: “Man was born of woman; Christ the Savior, was born of woman and God, the Father, was born of woman” (Andrus 179).
 The oldest copies of these sermons are not holographs; they are based upon the combined notes of the several scribes present on the two occasions.
 The doctrine of a plurality of other earths or worlds being inhabited by the human race is not found in the Book of Mormon.
 While this does not preclude the atonement extending to other worlds, the Book of Mormon never refers to such worlds. The Atonement is always defined in terms of Adam’s fall on this earth.
 Relativism, not absolutism, is a dominant characteristic of LDS theology, hence, the hierarchy and plurality of gods, worlds, glories, and exaltations.
 Other, unpublished, remarks of Brigham Young support the view that he believed that there was more than one savior pertaining to all worlds.
 Although the final fate of Lucifer has not been revealed, he is doomed to suffer the fulness of the second death (D&C 29:28–30; 76:33, 44–48). Consequently, he will be unable to fill the role of adversary in future worlds.
 It was not uncommon for the early nineteenth century Saints to refer to God the Father as Jehovah even though that title is currently reserved for Christ. For example, Joseph Smith wrote: ‘Thou eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent Jehovah—God—Thou Eloheim” (HC 5:127). Brigham Young said: “We obey the Lord, Him who is called Jehovah, the Great I AM, I am a man of war, Eloheim, etc.” (JD 12:99). Other examples: “The great Eloheem [sic] Jehovah has been pleased once more to speak from the heavens” (Clark 1:253). Discussing the Savior’s atoning sacrifice, President John Taylor wrote: “Hence His profound grief, His indescribable anguish, His overpowering torture, all experienced in the submission to the eternal fiat of Jehovah and the requirements of an inexorable law” (Taylor 146). Elder Franklin D. Richards said that the Savior, “knowing the great purposes of Jehovah could go like a lamb to the slaughter” (JD 26:172). For an extended treatment of the concept of God in early Mormon discourse, see Millet, “The Ministry of the Father and the Son.”
 Commenting on Paul’s statement, Joseph Smith said: “I testify that Paul had no allusion to the heathen gods” (TPJS 371).
 Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543) is considered the father of modern astronomy. In demonstrating that the planets revolved around the sun, he disproved the Ptolemaic theory of earth’s centrality.
 For an extended treatment of the overall mission of Enoch and his city, see Turner, 135–66.
 Orson Pratt identified the twelve kingdoms with the other planets of our solar system which were also hidden from the Lord’s presence. Hence the need to visit them (JD 19:293–94). This concept is discussed in Turner 218–20.
 Other scriptures (such as Abr. 3:12; John 1:3; and Col. 1:16) refer to God’s creations only in a general way.
 The phrase “Only Begotten” is used twenty-six times by Moses; and “Jesus Christ,” only four (6:52, 57; 7:50; 8:24). The terms for Deity in Abraham are: God, Lord, Jehovah, the Almighty, and Son of Man. Only Begotten and Jesus Christ do not appear there.
 Joseph Smith spoke of Jesus Christ as “the Only Begotten of the Father according to the flesh” ( TPJS 323).
 Prior to his mortal advent, the Only Begotten is repeatedly referred to in the present tense in the Book of Mormon and in Moses: he is the Only Begotten. While it may be argued that this simply means that he was appointed to become so, I believe that the tenor of the relevant passages in both of these scriptures is that he was functioning as the Only Begotten from the beginning. See Moses 1:6, 21, 32, 33; 2:1, 27; 3:18; 4:3; 6:52; 2 Nephi 25:12; Alma 9:26.
 Brigham Young equated this principle with “one eternal round; it is one eternity” (Unpub. discourse, General Conference, 8 Oct. 1854, p. 17).
 Only those who have suffered spiritual death through their own transgressions can be born again of water and the Spirit into the kingdom of heaven (Moses 6:59). Being sinless and holy, Jesus could not be “born again” to God since he had never spiritually “died” to God (2 Nephi 31:6, 7; Moses 6:59).