found in the Pearl of Great Price of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, says that God told Smith that "all [the] creeds [of the existing religions] were an abomination in his sight". Many non-Mormons take great offense at this characterization of their religions. But I intend to show in this article that Smith used the perfect word to describe the situation, a word that, when properly understood, should not be offensive to anyone.
Quick--what's the first thing you think of when you hear the word abomination?
That's what we think of today when we hear the word abomination. But that's not what it originally meant.
We may never know exactly the words used by Christ to Joseph Smith in the sacred grove to explain the churches of the day, but the version of Joseph’s vision in our Pearl of Great price uses the words “corrupt” when referring to the professors of religion and “abomination” when referring to their existing creeds.
"Abomination" comes from the Latin ab homine, meaning "away from man", also implying that we move away from God and become more beastly--like animals. That’s actually a very good explanation of what had happened to the doctrines of God between the time when Christ lived on the earth and when Joseph Smith went into a grove of trees. Once-clear gospel truths had become perverted in such a way that they no longer gave man a correct understanding (a) that we really are created in the image of our heavenly parents, and (b) of our potential to become like them.
Understanding the original meaning of the word "abomination" also gives us a completely new understanding of “the great and abominable Church” spoken of in the Book of Mormon.
And after [these plain and precious truths] go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of [Christ] the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.
What was so noteworthy of this Church? What was abominable about it? How did it bring people into captivity? By taking away from man the covenants that gave him a correct understanding of himself--specifically of who he could become. Such theft of simple truth could only be classified as ab homine, or away from man's true understanding of himself.
At the time of Joseph Smith, there was no longer a church on the earth that taught the concept of "deification"--that man could actually become like God. In the early christian Church, this doctrine was taught, clearly and often. Evidence abounds of this doctrine in the New Testament, yet it has been explained away because the plain and precious truths were largely destroyed by "the great and abominable church". Christopher Stead, in his book Philosophy in Christian Antiquity, discovered that
The Hebrews...pictured the god whom they worshipped as having a body and mind like our own, though transcending humanity in the splendour of his appearance, in his power, his wisdom, and the constancy of his care for his creatures. But this biblical view...was radically modified in the teaching of Philo of Alexandria. Christian writers developed a broadly similar view...partly through the direct imitation of Philo...
In much less time than it took to corrupt the doctrine, Joseph Smith, through a myriad of angelic visitations and revelation from Jesus Christ, restored those plain and simple ancient truths to earth. Now, once more, this un-abominable concept is being taught on earth--that we can indeed, through the help of Christ's Atonement and our Heavenly parents, become like them.
So...were the creeds in existence at the time of Joseph Smith's First Vision really abominable? In the original sense, absolutely they were. The more I read Smith's official account of the First Vision, the more I am sure he used the perfect word to describe the creeds of the day--a word that should be considered a statement of measured and unassuming fact, and thus not offensive.