by Luke Wayne
Mormonism teaches that all of us existed in heaven in spirit bodies before we began our lives here on earth. Among the passages they appeal to, one of the most common is Job 38:7. The context of the verse, they point out, is the creation of the world (38:4), and about this time it says:
"When the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" (Job 38:7)
They insist that these "sons of God" who witness God's laying of the foundations of the earth must have been us in our pre-mortal state. This, however, is a rather tremendous stretch! Not only is there nothing in Job that would equate these "sons of God" with some pre-mortal, heavenly spirit forms of human beings, the passage actually gives us good reason to reject this teaching. If the Mormon teaching were true, Job himself would have been one of those "sons of God" who was there at the creation of the world watching and rejoicing at what God did. Yet, when we read the passage in context, it is clear that this is not so:
"Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, 'Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now gird up your loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct Me! Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding, Who set its measurements? Since you know. Or who stretched the line on it? On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" (Job 38:1-7).
The passage is calling Job out on his finitude and ignorance. Yet, on the Mormon teaching, Job could simply have said, "Well, God, I was actually right there with you during literally all of that. I was standing right there! I saw the whole thing!" The whole thrust of the challenge "where were you?" is easily answered if Job was actually an eyewitness to the event. Plus, the "sons of God" are spoken of as a group distinct from Job. God doesn't say "when you sons of God rejoiced" or "when you and the other sons of God shouted for joy." The whole passage screams that the "sons of God" were there when God laid the foundations, but that Job was not. Thus, the passage in no way teaches that Job had a pre-mortal existence as a spirit son of God in the heavenly places. It is not directly related to the discussion at all, the author having had no such concept in mind. But if anything, it denies the pre-existence.
So Who Were the Sons of God?
The sons of God, in this passage, are the angels. That is to say, they are heavenly beings, messengers of God, who are distinct from and above mankind. This is how the early Jews understood this passage. In the Septuagint, the early Jewish translation of the Old Testament into Greek which was embraced and quoted from by the New Testament writers and by the early church, the verse reads:
"When the stars were born and all My angels shouted for joy?" (Job 38:7, LXX)
Likewise, among the Dead Sea Scrolls, a very early Aramaic translation of Job was found which reads:
"When the morning stars were shining together and all the angels of God exclaimed together?" (Targum of Job 38:7, DSS)1
The earliest Christian interpreters all concurred,2 Among these writings, we see not only that these "sons of God" in Job's book are angels, but that angels are a separate creation from man. They were themselves created out of nothing and they witnessed the visible creatures' creation from nothing. This was the view of all the ancient readers of Job, both Jews and Christians alike. The sons of God in Job are the heavenly angels.
God, Angels, and Men in the Book of Job
Note how the term is used earlier in the book. In the opening chapter of Job, we read:
"Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, 'From where do you come?' Then Satan answered the Lord and said, 'From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.' The Lord said to Satan, 'Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil,'" (Job 1:6-8).
The sons of God present themselves before God, and "Satan also came among them." Satan is thus distinct from the sons of God. God then speaks of Job whom he calls His "servant" and an upright "man." Job is nowhere called or treated as God's son, even though he is right with God and highly favored. Thus, the "sons of God," in this context, are distinct both from fallen angels (like Satan) and from men, even righteous men. The "sons of God" in Job are the heavenly angels. Men are a different class of being. We see this again in the very next chapter. The scene virtually repeats in chapter 2, reading:
"Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord. The Lord said to Satan, 'Where have you come from?' Then Satan answered the Lord and said, 'From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.' The Lord said to Satan, 'Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man fearing God and turning away from evil. And he still holds fast his integrity, although you incited Me against him to ruin him without cause," (Job 2:1-3).
All the same points may here be repeated, but note how Satan replies:
"Satan answered the Lord and said, 'Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life. However, put forth Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh; he will curse You to Your face,'" (Job 2:4-5).
Satan speaks to the distinctive nature of man. Because man is skin, flesh, and bone, Satan is convinced that even a righteous man will cave under physical affliction and torment. Job himself speaks of man as a lower, finite being. He repeats that his life is but a breath (7:7, 16) and declares:
"I waste away; I will not live forever. Leave me alone, for my days are but a breath. What is man that You magnify him, and that You are concerned about him, that You examine him every morning and try him every moment?" (Job 7:16-18).
Mormons believe that God is a man of flesh and bone and that we are His "children" in the sense of being offspring of he and his wife (or wives). They claim that we are the same species as God and that this is what it means to be His sons. Job, however, says of God:
"For He is not a man as I am that I may answer Him, that we may go to court together," (Job 9:32).
And afterward he cries out in protest to God:
"Is it right for You indeed to oppress, To reject the labor of Your hands, and to look favorably on the schemes of the wicked? Have You eyes of flesh? Or do You see as a man sees? Are Your days as the days of a mortal, Or Your years as man’s years, that You should seek for my guilt and search after my sin?"
Job clearly sees himself as something utterly different than and inferior to God, and he does not appeal to God as his Father, but only has his maker. The book does not present Job as a son of God but only as a thing fashioned by God. Job appeals to God on that basis alone. Job is also clear that man is a physical being with eyes and flesh and temporal existence, whereas God is not like that at all. Job again emphasizes these things, saying:
"Your hands fashioned and made me altogether, And would You destroy me? Remember now, that You have made me as clay; And would You turn me into dust again?" (Job 10:8-9).
We also read:
"If even the moon has no brightness and the stars are not pure in His sight, how much less man, that maggot, and the son of man, that worm!" (Job 25:5-6).
So, while the "sons of God" rejoice with the stars in heaven, man is but a maggot or worm by comparison! And again:
"Is not God in the height of heaven? Look also at the distant stars, how high they are!" (Job 22:12).
And the distinction between men and angels is made plain when the author writes:
"If there is an angel as mediator for him, One out of a thousand, To remind a man what is right for him," (Job 33:23).
So, when we arrive at Chapter 38 and God calls Job out on his ignorance and finitude and reminds him he was no where yet to be found when God created the world and "When the morning stars sang together And all the sons of God shouted for joy," this is in no way saying that Job is actually an ancient spirit child of God who existed before creation and descended out of heaven, nor is it meant to imply that Job is of the same species as God or can be exhaled to an equal position to that which God now holds. Quite the opposite, God is putting Job in His place. Job is but a creation, formed of breath and dust, a mortal vapor at God's mercy. We are no different.
- 1. Geza Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English (Penguin Books, 2004) 466
- 2. See, for example, Basil of Caesarea, On the Holy Spirit, Chapter 16, Section 38; Augustine, City of God, Book 11, Chapter 9; John Chrysostom, Homily on Matthew 24:16-18, Section 3; and John Cassian, The Second Conference of Abbot Serenus, Chapter 7