Mormon Jaxon Peterson argues that Israel was “monolatristic or henotheistic” for most of its existence and that “‘the highest’ does not denote status of authority of power, but rather the idea that God dwells above the Earth.”
These are among the strongest LDS arguments against traditional Christian monotheism. How should Christians respond to this? Some thoughts:
1) Perhaps most helpful for understanding many of these issues is that an “elohim”, at generic minimum, refers to a heavenly being. Besides God himself, today we call them “angels” and “demons”. The Old Testament sometimes just calls them gods. Among all the elohim, Yahweh is THE elohim, the only true elohim. “None is like him.” As Isaiah says, “To whom will you compare him?” Authorized Israelite theology, as taught in scripture, is “polytheistic” *if* you expand the idea of “god” to include heavenly beings like angels and demons. But if you narrow the concept of God to a maximally great being who presides over all others, who is one-of-a-kind and ultimate, then authorized Israelite theology is monotheistic. Perhaps a better term for “monotheism” is “mono-Most-Highism.”
2) Given the semantic range behind “elohim”, to discover that the Old Testament affirms the existence of other elohim than Yahweh doesn’t point us in the direction of distinctive Mormon theology. Two things are needed: A) Demonstrating that these “gods” are of the same species or type of being as Yahweh. B) Demonstrating that authorized Israelite theology affirmed, or at least allowed for, the existence of greater, or higher, or prior beings than Yahweh. To support traditional Mormonism, both A & B are needed. To support neo-orthodox Mormonism (which tends to deny the existence of Heavenly Grandfather, et al.), at least A is needed. But simply affirming the existence of other “elohim” who are subordinate, inferior, finite, created beings under Yahweh does neither A nor B.
4) Isaiah 43:10.
5) If “Most High” simply describes a being that “dwells above the earth”, then that describes *all* “elohim” (Yahweh and angels and demons), since an “elohim” is by definition a being who dwells in the heavenlies. But only Yahweh among all elohim is the Most High.
6) It is natural to take superlatives about Yahweh as literal and not figurative. It is natural to take anthropomorphisms about Yahweh as figurative and not completely literal. But Mormonism flips this around. It doesn’t seem at all intuitive to call Yahweh the “Most High” if he has potentially billions of relationally superior ancestor-gods. I bring these assumptions and intuitions to the text, and also get them from the text. It’s the least awkward reading. I tell my wife in hyperbole that she is the greatest cook in the world, but with the worship of Yahweh, hyperbole hardly seems appropriate or necessary. There is a difference between the hyperbolic, “Yahweh, you are the best God EVAR”, and the non-exaggerative, completely serious, joyful eruption of praise, “Yahweh, you are the best God ever.”
Mormonism essentially teaches that we ought to make exaggerations about God when we worship him. While that kind of hyperbole might be a compliment to a human, it is an insult to God.
Israel’s neighbors, and at times, whoring, idolatrous Israelites, did believe that Yahweh (or Baal) had an ancestor-god or even a wife (Asherah). But the Old Testament consciously rejects these ideas. So by all means, if you want to join a modern-day semblance of an ancient Canaanite fertility cult, be a Mormon. But if you want to walk in the footsteps of the few faithful Israelites, reject idolatry and worship the Most High as literally being the Most High.