Merry Christmas! If you think this greeting is a little late, check your calendar–today is Christmas day. At least, in Russia it is. Because Eastern Orthodox Christianity relies on the Julian calendar, rather than the Gregorian, Christmas falls on January 7th. This gives those who don’t follow any particular institutional religion yet another option for celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ (as if anyone needs more reason to remember the mortal ministry of our Savior).
This may not be news to you, but it’s unlikely that Jesus Christ was born on December 25th, January 7th, or the equivalent date in other calendars. The accuracy of those dates are debated by historians, and it seems to me that there just isn’t any evidence that conclusively points at one particular day being Jesus’ birthday. Many Mormons point to April 6th as being the right day, based on Doctrine and Covenants 20:1, but there is reason to believe that date is also not correct, since that verse is probably an introduction from the Church Historian, and not really a part of the revelation.
In the absence of direct revelation on the subject, it seems to me that the actual date is impossible to know for sure. It probably was not on December 25th, but it may very well have been in December. It may have been on April 6th, but there is not much evidence (beyond a possibly faulty reading of D&C 20) in favor of that day either. It probably doesn’t really matter anyway–I believe Jesus is more interested in us recognizing His place as our Savior and our seeking to know him, rather than being punctually wished a happy birthday on an annual basis. I don’t think He will be upset about anyone missing the day he first drew breath as an infant on this fallen world of ours. At least, not anymore–He was probably a little disappointed, but not surprised, that so many people missed the signs of His coming in the flesh (like, almost the entire eastern hemisphere except for 3 wise men. See Matthew 2:1-2).
But, that’s not really what this post is about. I’m actually interested in pointing out a different birthday–a more spiritual one. Jesus’ baptism.
Born of Water and the Spirit
Baptism, most Christians believe, is a rebirth. It is being born again, of water and the spirit (see John 3:3-7), as a new creature, a child of God (See Mosiah 5:7). Christ’s experience was no different. Despite having no need of baptism, He underwent that ordinance to show us the way (See 2 Nephi:31:9). Immediately after it was done, God the Father confirmed the ordinance by proclaiming that He was pleased:
Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased. (Luke 3:21-22)
At least, that is what the King James version of the Bible says. There is evidence that the original was a bit different, with God the Father quoting Psalms, instead:
I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. (Psalms 2:7)
The same wording is found in Acts and Hebrews:
God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. (Acts 13:33)
For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? (Hebrews 1:5)
More information on this idea can be found here.
If this is God talking about the physical, earthly birth of His Son to Mary, then it would mean that God the Father is speaking to Jesus Christ the Baby on the very day that He was born. That doesn’t seem to fit to me. I believe that Jesus was a bit spiritually precocious (for example, instructing the learned men at the temple at the age of 12, see JST Luke 2:46), but the idea that He could hear and comprehend the voice of God as a newborn seems like a bit of a stretch to me. It makes much more sense for such a statement to be made to an older Jesus, one that is at least old enough to comprehend the words spoken.
This particular passage of scripture was probably changed around the time of the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. At that time, the doctrine of Adoptionism (the idea that Christ was adopted as the Son of God at His baptism or resurrection, but not born as such) was declared heresy. There would have been support to change the scriptures to reflect the prevalent understanding at the time, as well as well-intentioned support to remove anything that promoted the now heretical teaching.
Today, however, there is an effort to restore the scriptures to as close to the original as possible. That edition will be reverting the passage in Luke to this wording: “Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee.”
Foreordination, not Adoptionism
Even though this apparently changed verse appears to support Adoptionism, I don’t see it that way. I believe Christ was the only begotten Son of God. The Book of Mormon is very clear on that. But Christ had (and has) free will. His life and choices were not fated to happen–He could have chosen differently at any point in His life. God the Father, having all things before him, past and present (See Abraham 2:8; Yes I know that verse is Jehovah speaking, but do you really think God the Father knows anything less than Jehovah?), foresaw that Jesus would accomplish the task before him as Savior of the world. Jesus Christ was foreordained to be the Messiah, but that doesn’t mean that He had no choice but to complete the work, and it doesn’t mean that He could not fail–it just means that God the Father saw that He would choose to follow the path He was set on, and that He wouldn’t fail. During His earthly life, Christ progressed toward the completion of His preparations (See D&C 19:19). Baptism was one of those steps. Although born the only begotten Son of God, His baptism was a significant event. Just as with us, it was a spiritual rebirth for Jesus Christ, and God the Father confirmed this by stating that Jesus was begotten of God on that day. It doesn’t mean that Jesus was not begotten of God previously. It just means that on that day, He was begotten again, but perhaps in a different sense.
Either way, what does it mean for us?
Christ is the Prototype of the Saved Man (Lectures on Faith, Lecture Seventh, Paragraph 9). If we want to be like him, we need to follow the same path. Can we claim the same blessings He has received, the same status before God, if we are not willing to pay the price? We have the same path before us. It seems to me that I should do more emulating of Christ in deed instead of claiming to emulate him in word by saying that I am a child of God.
The ordinances we perform (including our physical birth, which I consider to be an ordinance) do not negate our previous states–they build upon them. Christ’s birth in this world was significant. His baptism was just as significant, if not more so. Everything that Christ fulfilled (and He did fulfill everything–see Alma 34:13) continued to build on His previous progression.
So it is with us. If you are baptized, it doesn’t mean that you were not previously born. If you are baptized a second time, it doesn’t mean that you were not previously baptized. It may just be an indication of another step in your progression. You may have been foreordained to accomplish some work. God knows if you will succeed or not, since He knows the end from the beginning. But that doesn’t mean that you have no choice in the matter. You are not fated to anything–you choose to follow the path you are on. Just because God knows about it already, doesn’t mean that you are not choosing that path. It just means that He has seen what you will choose.
When were you born as a Son or Daughter of God? Or have you been?
Are you really a child of God? That depends. In what sense? Your spirit was not created by God and is “co-equal,” or co-eternal with Him (See D&C 93:29, see also the King Follett Discourse, TPJS, 353). This world and everything on it was created by our Savior, Jesus Christ, as commanded by God the Father (See D&C 93:10, Hebrews 1:2), or “the Gods” (See Abraham 4). In many ways you could consider yourself a child of God, or a Child of Christ (See Mosiah 5:7, 4 Nephi 1:17, Moroni 7:19). The question is, does God consider you His child? Has He proclaimed it to you, personally, by His own voice, as He did with Christ or the prophets (See Moses 1:6, D&C 121:7)? Or are you assuming, as I did, that the words of the Lord to others apply to you, even though you have not done the same works?
This all doesn’t mean that I don’t like the song “I am a Child of God.” It’s still one of my favorite hymns. However, one of the problems with that song becoming so popular and entrenched in Mormon culture is that we all believe that we already are sons or daughters of God, just by virtue of being born. This is a problem, as I think you will see as you read the scriptures below. When we assume that we have already reached a milestone, such as being a son or daughter of God, then we fail to see that more is required of us. We can be tempted to think that we have no need of repentance.
And it came to pass that Noah called upon the children of men, that they should repent, but they hearkened not unto his words. And also, after that they had heard him, they came up before him, saying, Behold, we are the sons of God, have we not taken unto ourselves the daughters of men? And are we not eating and drinking, and marrying and given in marriage? And our wives bear unto us children, and the same are mighty men, which are like unto them of old, men of great renown. And they hearkened not unto the words of Noah. And God saw that the wickedness of man had become great in the earth, and every man was lifted up in the imagination of the thoughts of his heart, being only evil continually. (Moses 8:20-22)
Clearly, great wickedness can be undertaken by those who claim to be sons of God. Making the claim allows people to do what they want, and justify it all as righteousness. It allows people to believe that they have no need of repentance.
And it came to pass, that Enoch continued his speech, saying, Behold, our father Adam taught these things, and many have believed, and become the sons of God, and many have believed not, and have perished in their sins, and are looking forth with fear, in torment, for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God to be poured out upon them. (Moses 7:1)
This verse confirms that a Son of God is what you can become–you are not born that way. After believing, you can become such, but what comes between believing and becoming? And what must we believe?
Listen to the voice of the Lord your God, even Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, whose course is one Eternal round, the same today as yesterday and for ever. I am Jesus Christ, the son of God who was crucified for the sins of the world, even as many as will believe on my name, that they may become the sons of God, even one in me as I am in the Father as the Father is one in me that we may be one. (D&C 35:1-2)
Christ was crucified in order to make it possible for those who believe on His name to become sons of God, which means they are one in Him, the same as He is one with the Father. What else is required besides belief?
Wherefore, by the ministering of angels and by every word which proceeded forth out of the mouth of God men began to exercise faith in Christ and thus by faith they did lay hold upon every good thing and thus it was until the coming of Christ. And after that he came men also were saved by faith in his name, and by faith they become the sons of God. (Moroni 7:25-26)
Once again, we have it confirmed that no man is a son of God at birth. They must not only believe, but they are also required to exercise faith in this life in order to become such.
The Jews argued among themselves, demanding, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Then Jesus said to them, In the name of Father Ahman I say unto you, Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you will never have endless life in you. Those who eat my flesh, and drink my blood, will obtain endless life. I will raise him up in the resurrection of the just at the last day. Just as the Father provided this life for me, I will provide it for you if you have faith in me. For my flesh will fill you with light, and my blood will quench you with truth. If you receive these, I will fill you with light and truth and we will be brothers, sons of God. My sacrifice is the bread I descended from heaven to provide, not like the manna eaten by your deceased ancestors who rejected greater light and truth in their day. The light and truth I offer leads to endless lives, worlds without end. (Testimony of John 5:19)
Becoming a son of God requires not only faith, but also requires us to be filled with light and truth from the Lord.
Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us that we should be called the sons of God. Therefore the world knoweth us not because it knew him not. 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, for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-3)
Is John talking to you or me, or is he talking to those who have already, through sacrifice, gained promises from God? Can we call ourselves children of God if we are not like Christ? I myself have no such knowledge that I will ever be like Jesus Christ. I strive for that, but it is not nearly certain enough to use the word “shall.” In fact, when Mormon uses very similar language, it is conditioned upon acquiring charity, the pure love of Christ:
But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever. And whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with them. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart that ye may be filled with this love which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son Jesus Christ, that ye may become the sons of God, that when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is, that we may have this hope, that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen. (Moroni 7:47-48)
This is a process, one that I am far from completing. Jesus Christ has not appeared. At least, not to me. When shall He appear? Is this verse talking about the Second Coming, or some other appearance?
He who was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, only to them who believe on his name. He was born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (Testimony of John 1:2)
Hearken O ye people of my church and ye elders listen together and hear my voice whilst it is called today and harden not your hearts, for verily I say unto you that I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the light and the life of the world, a light that shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not. I came unto my own and my own received me not, but unto as many as received me gave I power to do many miracles and to become the Sons of God, and even unto them that believed on my name gave I power to obtain Eternal life. (D&C 45:6-8)
And as many as have received me, to them have I given to become the Sons of God, and even so will I to as many as shall believe on my name. (3 Nephi 9:17)
Yes, I think it is some other appearance. Receiving Jesus Christ results in having the power to do miracles and to become a son of God. What does it mean to “receive” Jesus Christ? How do we receive someone? Perhaps inviting him into our home and sitting down to talk, perhaps to eat? Abide with me, indeed.
And again, we bear record for we saw and heard, and this is the testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ concerning them who come forth in the resurrection of the just: they are they who receive the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name, and were baptized after the manner of his burial, being buried in the water in his name, and this according to the commandment which he hath given, that by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins and receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands of him who is ordained and sealed unto this power, and who overcome by faith and are sealed by that Holy Spirit of Promise which the Father sheddeth forth upon all those who are just and true. They are they who are the church of the Firstborn, they are they into whose hands the Father hath given all things, they are they who are priests and kings who, having received of his fullness and of his glory, are priests of the Most High after the order of Melchizedek, which was after the order of Enoch, which was after the order of the Only Begotten Son. Wherefore as it is written, they are Gods, even the Sons of God. Wherefore all things are theirs, whether life or death or things present or things to come, all are theirs and they are Christ’s and Christ is God’s, and they shall overcome all things. Wherefore let no man glory in man, but rather let them glory in God who shall subdue all enemies under his feet. These shall dwell in the presence of God and his Christ for ever and ever. These are they whom he shall bring with him when he shall come in the clouds of heaven to reign on the Earth over his people. These are they who shall have part in the first resurrection, these are they who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just. These are they who are come unto Mount Zion and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly place, the holiest of all. These are they who have come to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of Enoch and of the Firstborn. These are they whose names are written in heaven where God and Christ are the judge of all. These are they who are just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood. These are they whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God, the highest of all, whose glory the sun of the firmament is written of as being typical. (D&C 76:50-70)
Those who inherit Celestial glory are sons of God. The list of requirements just got bigger. This is not me. This is Christ himself, or those who are like Him. I have a very long way to go before I am enough of a child of God to claim a place within the House of the Lord.
The point of this post is not to give a definitive answer, but to provoke thought. Are you already a child of God? Perhaps, but more likely not. Like Christ, you have the potential to become a son or daughter of God. Like Christ, you may reach a point in your life when God acknowledges you as His son or daughter. Until that happens, why claim anything? It’s better to have God correct you by telling you that you are actually His son or daughter than to have Him condemn you as an imposter (See 3 Nephi 14:23).