The Apostasy from Christ's Ancient Church. Part I.
© 1995, 1997 The Book of Abraham Project.
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2. Changes in Doctrines Concerning the Nature of God. Use of Greek Ideas.
3. Old and New Testament Predictions of Apostasy.
4. Indications that the Falling Away had Already Begun in the Days of the Apostles.
5. Biblical Reference to Conditions Incident to Apostasy.
6. Early Church Councils and Controversies.
Like the fall of Adam is necessary to the atonement of Christ (1), an apostasy from Christ's teachings was unfortunately necessary to the predicted restoration of his gospel.(2) Latter-day Saints believe that this restoration took place through Joseph Smith (1805-1844).
As Christ declared to Joseph Smith,
"their [Christian churches of Smith's day] creeds are . . . an abomination, . . . they teach for doctrines the commandments of men."(3)
Latter-day Saints believe that salvation must be administered by a legal administrator, one who holds the true priesthood of God.(4) At some point in the distant past, after it had been given by Christ to his apostles, the authority was lost to mankind with the passing of the apostleship from the earth (which alone held the right to direct the organization of the Church of Christ and ordain local Church officers).(5) It is difficult to present an exact date for this condition but since one of the functions of the apostles was to maintain the purity of doctrine and teaching(6), we may look for changes in that primitive teaching as a sign that the true authority was lost from the earth and the dark night had begun. Investigators of the LDS Church often ask how and why such an apostasy could take place. Did not Christ promise that the "gates of hell will not prevail against it [the church]" (Matt.16:18)?(6a) Why would God remove his true Church from the earth? Weren't the people between the times of Joseph Smith and the ancients as worthy and as deserving as those who have lived at other times?
These are important questions and deserving of careful answers. However, our purpose here is to demonstrate that important changes in doctrine took place after the time of the apostles and that these changes were partly a result of an attempt to understand Christianity in terms of the framework of (then) contemporary ideas of Greek philosophical systems (what became essentially the allegorical method, although many of the same ideas formed the guiding principles of the "fixed" interpretations of later "literalists"). While this framework was discarded as an explanation of Christian doctrine
(unlike Philo of Alexandria, later Christian apologists and exegetes were not always fond of a direct connection or acknowledgment of debt to Greek thought), the background structure it provided still describes the metaphysics and descriptive tools for the notions formalized by 4th century church councils and some earlier and later apologists. The questions noted above about the perpetuity of Christ's Church after his death and resurrection are best answered by the spiritual witness of the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith and the doctrines restored through him, especially salvation for the dead and the nature of life.(7) But now, we begin with an examination of the statement quoted above, made to Joseph Smith, "they teach for doctrines the commandments of men." (See Isa. 29:13-14)
2. Changes in Doctrines Concerning the Nature of God. Use of Greek Ideas.
The apostasy which took place after Christ can be traced in part to the other apostasies in human history. In some ways, each of them contributed to the perversion of the truth in the post-apostolic age. From the time of Adam, while the true authority was never taken from the earth then(8), that ancient dispensation culminated in the destruction where Noah and his family escaped in the ark as people were still laughing at Noah's warnings-they loved Satan more than God. Following Noah's time, the descendants of Noah yielded to the perversions of idolatry.(9) With the passing of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, the ancient Israelites discarded the truth themselves and fell in with the idolatrous practices and the idol worship of Egypt.(10) Moses was sent to restore the truth among them and liberate them from their captivity.(11) But they returned to their idol worship in the wilderness and forfeited the higher ordinances of the gospel.(12) While prophets and priesthood remained among Israel for long years, their reprobate nature fills the pages of the Old testament from David and Solomon to the last of the prophets sent before John the Baptist.
One key idea which helps us gauge the state of religious truth among people in history is their notion about the nature of God. The conception of the nature of God in the Old Testament is clearly a simple one.(13) Often, those in apostasy have demonstrated an abhorrence of simplicity in favor of
abstraction and sophistication. For example, the idol worship of ancient Egypt which is representative of the apostasy of Abraham's ancestors(14) actually represented in part an attempt to characterize the aspects of an otherwise incomprehensible God rather than the worship of a physical figure of an animal or the worship of an actual particular animal.(15) In our case, the criticism of Christianity by those schooled in philosophical traditions of the time led post-apostolic apologists to appeal to the same framework of discussion for their defense.(16)
One feature that many ancient apostate ideas of God have in common is immateriality. God was regarded as immaterial for various reasons. Virtually none of them have a basis in scripture(17) but are attempts to separate God from what many regarded as the corruption or crudities of matter. By the time of the end of the Old Testament prophets, Israel had drifted into nearly complete apostasy. The rise of the rabbinical tradition and the intellectual tradition of the Alexandrian Jews then filled the prophetic gap.
The influence of Greek ideas on the Jews of Alexandria (and in Palestine) was deep. Philo of Alexandria's (30 B.C. - 45 A.D.) teachings demonstrate this influence. Many of his ideas were translated into Christian doctrine after the 1st century A.D. It was in Alexandria that a thorough attempt was made to interpret Jewish thought in terms of Greek philosophy. Philo claimed to show, by the method of scriptural allegory, that the ideas of the bible were identical to those of Plato.
Aristobulus, (ca. 50 B.C.) used the method of allegory to explain away the "crude" anthropomorphic aspects of God found in the Old Testament, a motivation shared by his spiritual descendants in post-apostolic Christianity.(18) Philo accepted this enthusiastically. Philo explained, for example, the story of Adam and Eve as a myth symbolic of the creation of the human earthy soul along with the intelligence, senses, etc., and the seduction of intellect by pleasure. This is just one instance of the interpretation of scripture as a divinely authorized veil covering the whole of Greek ideas - ideas which Philo and others found more intellectuallycongenial than a literal interpretation. Guided by the Platonistic ideas which he so admired, Philo taught that God was transcendent, pure being, without quality, absolutely simple. Inhabiting (putting it crudely) Eternity, timelessness, (and hence without change or movement or action).(19) This of course separates God by so great a gulf from the temporal (time) world (and human concerns) that it was an ongoing struggle to reconcile His care for, and creation of, the physical universe.
Philo suggested that God communed with or knew the world by the "Logos" a kind of intermediary immanence. Philo speaks of it (albeit as metaphor) in personal forms like "first begotten Son," anticipating the view later taken by the Christian thinkers to avoid the problem of the Son being created by the Father. That the Son was the creature of the Father would mean that the Son was not equal to the Father but dependent on Him, an idea that seemed to hint at the polytheism they vigorously fought against (something that still guides many in current thinking about the nature of Christ where the "breaching of philosophic or theologic convention"(20) apparently looms larger than the truth). For these later Christian thinkers, the Son was "begotten" by the Father (the meaning of begotten as it was used by these early exegetes should not be confused with the act of procreation, at least not in a literal sense.It should be thought of as the thought of the Father finding expression in a divine aspect or person - the distinctions had to be carefully made, in order to avoid the barbs of pagan and Jewish critics) in Eternity, before Time was created, hence there never was a "time" when the Son was not with the Father.(21) The notion of the God of the Greek Eternal was yet another sign of apostasy among some Jews, later inherited full-scale by post-apostolic Christianity.
This is not to say that Greek ideas were accepted without criticism. The preexistence of human souls and the preexistence of matter, both hallmarks of Platonic thought, were eventually rejected on the grounds of polytheism. But Jewish and early Christian intellectuals (some of whom where post-apostolic bishops) found various Platonic, Aristotelian and Stoic notions attractive and expressive of their essentially non-scriptural concepts of God and reality. Reactionary Monotheism (which was manifested in the extreme Trinitarian simplicity theories of Augustine and later Church councils such as the Fourth Lateran Council) was the stumbling block of the apologists and their successors who found it impossible (since they denied further authoritative revelation), without the use of Platonic notions to reconcile Christ and God (to say nothing of the Holy Ghost) without admitting that there is more than one divine being in the heavens, so to speak. This form of monotheism (extreme Trinitarian simplicity) finally resulted in the adoption of non-scriptural doctrines such as ex nihilo creation (which forced repudiation of some Platonic ideas and the adoption of others). To say that early church councils condemned various ideas of Greek origin as heresy begs the question of Greek influence in so-called orthodox creeds. Plotinus, the last of the great pagan philosophers, molded the ideas of Plato into a form which was nearly completely absorbed in Christian "orthodox" counterparts.(22)
The "educated" subscribed to the distinctions and many of the ideas of Greek philosophy and it
provided intellectuals, Christian or otherwise, a framework for their ideas. Hence the apostate
ideas of God were nearly built-in among those who could express themselves in "intelligent"
discourse. An important part of most of these systems was that knowledge was not obtainable via
the senses. Only the intellect could apprehend real knowledge by rational thought. Revelation
was not really accorded a place in post-apostolic Christianity and was especially difficult to deal
with since it clearly no longer existed. Hence the comforting idea that it was no longer necessary
and had gone away with Christ and the apostles.(23)
Scholars admit that little, if any, *scriptural* support exists for Trinitarian notions adopted by Church councils of the 4th century and after.(24) Or for the notion of "ex nihilo" creation.(25) These were later "clarifications." We have observed some of the evolution away from the ideas of primitive Christianity with regard to the nature of God that occurred beginning as early as the 1st century. Now let us look at what prophetic voices in the Bible had to say about apostasy from the truth.
3. Old and New Testament Predictions of Apostasy.
Isa. 24: 5. The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. 6. Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate: therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left.
Isa. 28: 7. But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment. 8. For all tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean.
Isa. 19: 9. Stay yourselves, and wonder; cry ye out, and cry: they are drunken but not with wine ; they stagger, but not with strong drink. 10. For the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophet and your rulers, the seers hath he covered. . . . 13. Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me. and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men : 14. Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.
Isa. 60: 2. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people : but the Lord shall arise upon thee. and his glory shall be seen upon thee.
Jer. 2: 11. Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. 12. Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the Lord. 13. For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.
Jer. 16: 19. O Lord, my strength, and my fortress. and my refuge in the day of affliction, the Gentiles shall come unto thee from the ends of the earth, and shall say, Surely our fathers have inherited lies, vanity, and things wherein there is no profit. 20. Shall a man make gods unto himself, and they are no gods? 21. Therefore, behold, I will this once cause them to know, I will cause them to know mine hand and my might; and they shall know that my name is The Lord.
Amos 8: 11. Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God. that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord : 12. And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it.
Matt. 24: 4. And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. 5. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.. . . 23. Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo. here is Christ, or there; believe it not. 24. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
John 16: 2. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. 3. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me.
2 Thess. 2: 1. Now we beseech you. brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, 2. That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. 3. Let no man deceive you by any means : for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed. the son of perdition; 4. Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.... 11. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: 12. That they all might be damned who believe not the truth. but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
2 Tim. 4: 3. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4. And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
Rev. 13: 4. And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast ? who is able to make war with him? 5. And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months. 6. And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name. and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven. 7. And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. 8. And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
Matt. 24: 9. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. 10. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. 11. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. 12. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. 13. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.
John 16: 1. These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended. 2. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea. the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. 3. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me. 4. But these things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them. And these things I said not unto you at the beginning, because I was with you Acts 20: 29. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. 30. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
1 Tim. 4: 1. Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith. giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; 2. Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; 3. Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.
2 Pet. 2: 1. But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. 2. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. 3. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.
Jude 17. But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; 18. How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts. 19. These be they who separate themselves. sensual, having not the Spirit.
4. Indications that the Falling Away had Already Begun in the Days of the Apostles.
Gal. 1: 6. I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: 7. Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. 8. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
2Thess. 2: 7. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. 8. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: 9. Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, 10. And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: 12. That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
Titus 1: 10. For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: 11. Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake.... 15. Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure: but even their mind and conscience is defiled. 16. They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient. and unto every good work reprobate. (See also 1 Tim. l:6; 2 Tim. 2:18.)
1 John 2: 18. Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. 19. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
Jude 3. Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. 4. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Rev. 2: 4. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. 5. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
Rev. 3: 14. And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God ; 15. I know thy works that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. 16. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. 17. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.
5. Biblical Reference to Conditions Incident to Apostasy.
Jer. 5: 30. A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land; 31. The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so : and what will ye do in the end thereof?
Jer. 16: 16. Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the Lord, and they shall fish them ; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks. 17. For mine eyes are upon all their ways: they are not hid from my face, neither is their iniquity hid from mine eyes.18. And first I will recompense their iniquity and their sin double; because they have defiled my land, they have filled mine inheritance with the carcases of their detestable and abominable things. 19. O Lord, my strength, and my fortress, and my refuge in the day of affliction, the Gentiles shall come unto thee from the ends of the earth, and shall say, Surely our fathers have inherited lies. vanity, and things wherein there is no profit. 20. Shall a man make gods unto himself, and they art no gods? 21. Therefore, behold, I will this once cause them to know, I will cause them to know mine hand and my might and they shall know that my name is The Lord.
Jer. 23: 10. For the land is full of adulterers ; for because of swearing, the land mourneth; the pleasant places of the wilderness are dried up, and their course is evil, and their force is not right. 11. For both prophet and priest are profane; yea. in my house have I found their wickedness, saith the Lord. 12. Wherefore their way shall be unto them as slippery ways in the darkness: they shall be driven on, and fall therein: for I will bring evil upon them, even the year of their visitation. saith the Lord.
Hos. 4: 1. Hear the word of the Lord, ye children of Israel: for the Lord hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. 2. By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood. . . 6. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children. 7. As they were increased, so they sinned against me: therefore will I change their glory into shame. 8. They eat up the sin of my people, and they set their heart on their iniquity. 9. And there shall be, like people, like priest: and I will punish them for their ways, and reward them their doings.
Micah 3: 5. Thus saith the Lord concerning the prophets that make my people err, that bite with their teeth, and cry, Peace; and he that putteth not into their mouths, they even prepare war against him. 6. Therefore night shall be unto you, that ye shall not have a vision ; and it shall be dark unto you, that ye shall not divine; and the sun shall go down over the prophets, and the day shall be dark over them. 7. Then shall the seers be ashamed, and the diviners confounded : yea, they shall all cover their lips; for there is no answer of God. . . . 11. The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet will they lean upon the Lord, and say, Is not the Lord among us ? none evil can come upon us.
2 Tim. 3: 1. This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. 2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3. Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, 4. Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; 5. Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. 6. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, 7. Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. 8. Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses. so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. 9. But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs also was.
2 Pet. 3: 3. Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, 4. And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.
6. Early Church Councils and Controversies.
We have seen that the influence of Greek ideas on educated Jews and Christians after the 1st century encouraged them to adopt the notion of an immaterial god dwelling outside of space and time in a never changing eternal state completely separate from the physical universe. The reactionary monotheism among Christian apologists led to the notions of ex nihilo creation and the strange "trinity" doctrines. The crystallization of these and other ideas in official "creeds" marked the essential repudiation of the primitive Christian doctrines.
For the most part, the adoption of these creeds by church councils signaled the triumph of the Alexandrian school over the earlier literalism of Christian thought. As noted, the Platonic framework became the background of theology for so-called orthodoxy (though Augustine for example would have been loath to acknowledge it except in certain very limited ways).
This triumph of allegory over literalism is no more well illustrated than in the arguments of the Alexandrian school with the group that came to be known as Arians. The disagreements between these two schools of thought revolved for the most part around the nature of Christ. The approach of the Arian school was one of literal and typological exegesis (essentially that found in the New Testament) taking scripture as their primary source of thought and theological structure. They used scripture to provide definitions and distinctions, using the moral meaning of the texts and the particular message to the intended hearer of the passage to guide their homilies.(26)
Arians taught that Christ was not the "eternal essence" (Philo's "Logos") of the Father, but a separate being created by and hence fundamentally subordinate to the Father [the term used was "of like substance" rather than the Trinitarian "of one substance" - a distinction still regarded by many as essential to inherited 4th century Trinitarian Christology: Christ was God incarnate- the Latter-day Saint doctrine is suggested in Introduction to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints]. The emphasis was placed on those scriptures which declared the dependence of Christ on the Father. The opposition accused them of ignoring all those passages which they interpreted to mean that Christ and the Father had a common nature or essence. The resurgence of Arian thought around 350 AD may be credited with the production of the so-called Nicene Creed or the Creed of the Council of Constantinople (381 AD) and the use in that creed of the completely non-scriptural Greek inspired terminology: "of one substance" (homoousios) in reference to the Father and Christ.(27) Thus we see what has become the nearly complete divorce of theology from literalism in orthodoxy.
This was required by the ever more entrenched dogma that apprehension of the divine was only to be had by rational thought and logical justification based on postulates derived essentially from a mixture of philosophy, scripture and tradition.(28) Augustine spent a large portion of his life defending and trying to make sense of the notion of a consubstantial godhead of three "persons" (in fact, Augustine rejected the idea of three persons in the Godhead, at least in any coherent sense of the word person). He gave the tradition its mature expression in the West.(29)
Another difficulty which Augustine found essentially unexplainable was the resurrection of Christ. How could God be material and yet immaterial? Jerome solves the problem by declaring that a physical resurrection does take place, but that since matter came from nothing, it will return to nothing and with it, the resurrected body. Earlier, Origen suggested the solution of a "spiritual" resurrection, but while his distinctions have some logical content, they were definitely in the groove of anti-literalism (he being one the great proponents of the allegorical method). Of course, the purely "mental realization" interpretation of the resurrection found in Gnosticism had to be excluded and this was done on essentially technical grounds.
Origen's thought (on this issue) became more or less the position of the 5th century church.(30) Thomas Aquinas reinstated the view of a literal resurrection centuries later with his heavy reliance on Aristotelian philosophy.
It is interesting that the 19th and 20th centuries brought a movement toward a less defined theology at least among some Protestants. (31) (Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches tend to be much slower to move from the 4th century assertions.) Many Pentecostal religions have little in the way of formal creeds. It is safe to say however that modern Christianity in terms of formally pronounced belief systems has moved no closer to the primitive Christianity of the Apostles than the Orthodoxy of Alexandria although even in Roman Catholicism, the nature of God and Christ has become an issue given little space in Catholic proclamations and councils.(32)
philosophy has essentially discarded Platonism and with it the foundation of the curious ideas
which became orthodox Christian doctrines. The debate on how to replace that foundation is
currently underway among Christian theologians.
1. 1 Cor. 15:21-22.
2. Without an apostasy, there is naturally no need for a restoration, something non-Mormons are apt to point out. See Joseph Smith's history here and in The Pearl of Great Price. Also see Introduction to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
3. See note 2. The statement is often gratuitously interpreted by critics of Joseph Smith that Christian Churches of Smith's day were entirely evil and satan inspired. This gross exageration fails to account for contrary statements of Smith and his associates such as John Taylor [see JD 1:154-56; HC 5:517 for a few among many possible examples.]
4. See "The Articles of Faith", in The Pearl of Great Price.
5. Eph. 4:11-13. For a recital of confusion over doctrine and practice of ordinances after the apostles see J. N. D. Kelly, "Early Christian Doctrines,"chapter 8. Ireneaus, recognizing the problem of authority, claims that the apostles passed on their authority in perpetuity to the bishops (Against Heretics III, 3, 1:7) a position that makes one wonder "why not just continue the apostleship?" The answer is that authoritative revelatory guidance had obviously disappeared with the death of the apostles. The "bishops" claimed no such experience. But a little thought shows that authority implies communication with heaven. Otherwise it becomes an empty excuse for control.
6. Certainly the epistles of the New Testament were intended to perform this function and Acts portrays the apostles as the advocates and the eventual adjudicators of doctrine.
6a. It is somewhat ironic that this passage is often used by some as proof that Mormonism cannot be accurate in its claim that a restoration of ancient Christianity was necessary. Indeed, the Greek term "hades" translated "hell" here does not denote a place of evil. It is simply the abode of all the dead. In the context of the passage (conferring power on Peter) the phrase suggests that what is done by this power on earth, is effective "beyond the gates of hades" or after death. It would be hard for anyone even remotely familiar with Mormonism to fail to see the relevance of such a statement. See Daniel C. Peterson, "'Shall They Not Both Fall into the Ditch?' What Certain Baptists Think They Know about the Restored Gospel," FRB 10(1998) no.1, 12-93.
7. See for example Doctrine and Covenants 137, 138.
8. See Doctrine and Covenants 84.
9. See the book of Abraham, chapters 1 and 2 in The Pearl of Great Price.
10. See note 8.
11. See Exodus 6:7
12. Doctrine and Covenants 84:23-26.
13. See The Anchor Bible Dictionary (ABD), 1:962a and compare Exodus 33:22-23. Consider also ABD 1:970b ("Theology" (of early Roman Christianity)). God was clearly regarded as the prototype for human form. The idea was not killed so easily. Even at 400 A.D. virtually all the members of religious orders in Egypt rejected the attack on anthropomorphism by the bishop of Alexandria declaring that he "was corrupted by the most serious heresy" and was "someone who denied that almighty God was of human shape and this despite clear scriptural evidence that Adam was created in His image." [See Harvard Theological Review, 86, no. 2 (1993), 237.] [Grace Jantzen, "Theological Tradition and Divine Incorporeality," in God's World, God's Body (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1984), 21-35]
Origen, in his response to the 80 A.D. ( - Origen's reply is much later) criticisms of Celsus reveals his own views as "that God does not move; so how could he go from place to place? In the Parousia, `the return of the Lord, God does not descend, to the earth in a topical sense but only in a mental sense.'"Origen was familiar with the teachings that Celsus criticized and admits that primitive Christians believed them: `This is what the Brethren taught. This is what they used to teach in the church.' Some influential teachers who followed wanted to have it both ways. Early Christians said that God and the heavenly spirit world must be thought of as physical. Bousset, the Catholic defender of this position, says, "Nevertheless, the early Christians thought of God and the spirit world as physical," while he himself does not share the view. Later at the end of the second century, there was Clement of Alexandria. From Bousset: "In Clement of Alexandria the old teachings began to shrink to a purely intellectual content until he spiritualizes the sacraments to the point of being incomprehensible, nothing but a mere game of words. Tatian, one of the early apologists and a philosophy student of Justin Martyr in Rome (though he later abandoned orthodoxy), informs us that it was the pagan philosophers who laughed at the Christian anthropomorphism. Tatian says, "What the pagan philosophers laughed at in Christianity was its anthropomorphism" (the idea that God should look like or have a human-like body), showing us that the early Christians did teach the anthropomorphic nature of God. The schools of the philosophers laughed at it, and the defenders of Christianity essentially joined the schools or had come from them. (Hugh W. Nibley)
14. See note 8.
15. E. Hornung, Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt, 166.
16. See note 13.
17. Consider Genesis 1:26-27 which most commentators are uncomfortable with. They resort finally to Aristobulus' approach, rationalizing away anthropomorphic references in the bible. Compare Luke 24:39. The uncomfortable literalism of scripture was to be given wholly over to allegory. The formal teachings backing the Christian creeds of today are based on this. [For a view of Palestinian Judaism in contrast to the Hellenized versions, consider Gedaliahu G. Stroumsa, "Form(s) of God: Some Notes on Metatron and Christ," Harvard Theological Review 76 (1983): 271.]
18. See for example, J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 8. See also ABD 1:966b; 3:434b, 435b. [Many of the following comments are from Hugh W. Nibley.] The method was employed by Greek sophisticates in Alexandria to soften the "embarrassments" of literalism in Greek mythology. Aristobulus followed their lead. After noting that the Scribes and Pharisees reject the Old Testament references to Christ because they would not accept his being born in a physical body, Hilary, one of the most influential of the doctors, can still affirm that the physical resurrection of the righteous is a contradiction. (St. Hilary of Gaul who had great influence on the editing of the canon.) To rise with sinful bodies would be to be saved into nothing. A physical resurrection is only for the wicked; they deserve it. This was Hilary's teaching about the resurrection. Current descriptions of God as "Ground of Being," and similar expressions tend to the effective depersonalization of God, at least among many modern Protestant theologians. They are effective equivalents, in a sense, of Thomas Aquinas' "great first cause" or Anselm's "a being, greater than which none can be conceived" etc. Personhood could not be ascribed to God without doing damage to his "utter uniqueness." At least that is the form the idea took among influential doctrine shapers and thinkers in post-apostolic times. [See Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., "Social Trinity and Tritheism," in Trinity, Incarnation and Atonement, 21-47. Also the article by David Brown in the same volume on Trinitarian Personhood.-see note 29 for citation.]
Rufinus translated all the earliest Greek writers in the fourth century into Latin. Rufinus tells us that after the resurrection all will be spirit, bodies will not exist. (It is difficult to understand the necessity of a resurrection at all.)
Eusebius, the great historian and friend of Constantine lived in 325 A.D. He says, "Any appearance of God must necessarily be an intellectual and a spiritual one. He says, "Christ did not die; he did not suffer the death of a common criminal." Eusebius tells us, "Prophets, apostles, and high priests are still in the church, but we see them all with the pure eye of our minds." Their necessity was understood. The fact that there were none was explained by the same mental gymnastics we have already seen. This indicates the progress of the apostasy. He says, we don't need literal prophets or apostles; we don't need a high priest; we see them in our minds, and that is enough. Eusebius refutes Marcellus for teaching that God has a body like a man and his foolish teaching that Christ made human flesh immortal through the power of the resurrection. He applauds the nobility and good taste of the Greeks and Romans, the pagans, for interpreting their own deities allegorically. "We Christians should take a lesson from them and interpret our gods the way they do"
Eusebius claims it is unholy to say that matter is uncreate or was only organized at the creation. Note what was being taught by the object of his observation: matter was not created and was only organized at the creation. It wasn't created out of nothing; it was organized, (exactly the belief of Latter-day Saints). He says that's what the early church taught, but it's unholy to say it. "The real human is an intellectual, bodyless, immaterial, rational being, and as such only is he in the image of God." [A position that Augustine held but which Latter-day Saints would object to very strongly- the real human is the essential union of mind, spirit body and physical body - hence material.] He says (7th volume of the history) that it is the simple, old-fashioned Christians who believe in literalism. We leave that all behind. We don't need it anymore.
The Gnostic idea of the body as a prison was entirely at home with the doctors of the church. Matter is vile and temporary in an ultimate sense. This was later revised in some respects, but the current fashion of claiming evil matter was the exclusive property of Gnosticism does not agree with the facts.
St. Augustine observed, "Christ is with us if we believe. His dwelling in you is more real than if he were outside you before your eyes." Jerome says, "Don't go to the site of the temple in Jerusalem. Does not the sepulcher of the Lord appear more venerable to you? In the resurrection you have heard that all things will be without bodies (from the eleventh volume of the Patrologia.) There is a passage that says this is what we will do when we are resurrected. Of course, we must be resurrected physically because the scripture says we will. So you will rise up with your body, but as soon as it is completely incorporated and put together, it will start to melt and dissolve and presently go away so you won't be bothered with it anymore. So that accounts for the resurrection and makes it spiritual at the same time. He says, "All things will be without bodies for they will have no need of them, and all matter will return to the nothing from which it was once made. All matter came out of nothing originally and with the resurrection will all be restored, and then it will return to nothing."(Hugh W. Nibley)
St. Anselm argues for an incorporeal god. [Saint Anselm, Basic Writings, Proslogium (LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court Publ. Co., 1966), Chapter 2.] For a careful examination of his argument see D. L. Paulsen, "Must God be Incorporeal?," Faith and Philosophy vol. 6 no. 1, Jan. 1989, pp. 76-87.
The case that early Christians believed in a corporeal God is effectively established in Paulsen, "Early Christian Belief in a Corporeal Deity: Origen and Augustine as Reluctant Witnesses," Harvard Theological Review, 83, no. 2 (1990) 105-116, and Harvard Theological Review, 86, no. 2 (1993), 235-239.
The theory of biblical interpretation has become much more sophisticated than the simple dichotomy between literal and allegorical. But the allegorical interpretation of biblical passages regarding God, especially those which are clearly (and painfully to some) anthropomorphic is held sacred by nearly all Christian thinkers since the 4th century. Even Augustine offers that God made for Himself "temporary" bodies to show Moses and others. In fact when used in the context of formal scriptural interpretation, "literal" interpretation has come to mean often just a fixed interpretation based on textual criticism and some fixed philosophical presuppositions. The embarrassment of anthropomorphism no longer exists (outside of Mormonism). The position of Latter-day Saints on this issue may be best summed up in this quote from Joseph Smith, "that which is without body, parts and passions is nothing." [Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 181]
19. Kelly, 9.
20. Kelly, 10-11, see also "The Credo of The People of God," Proclaimed by Pope Paul VI, June 30, 1968.
21. For the incredible story of the confusion over this issue and the doctrine of the Godhead see Kelly, chapters 4 and 6.
22. Kelly, 5-6, Will Durrant, Ceasar and Christ, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1944), 610-611. "The Greek language, having reigned for centuries over philosophy, became the vehicle of Christian literature and ritual" Caesar and Christ, 595. (see Robert M. Grant, Gods and the One God, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, pp. 75-81, 132-58). "It was impossible for Greeks, . . . with an education which penetrated their whole nature, to receive or to retain Christianity in its primitive simplicity." [Edwin Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas on Christianity, (Gloucester, Mass: Peter Smith, reprinted 1970), 49]. "the human sufferings of Jesus . . . were felt as an embarrassment in the face of pagan criticism" [E. R. Dodds, Pagans and Christians in an Age of Anxiety, (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1965), 119]. "Christianity did not destroy paganism; it adopted it. The Greek mind, dying, came to a transmigrated life" (Caesar and Christ, 595). Frances Young ['Creation Ex Nihilo": A Context for the Emergence of the Christian Doctrine of Creation, Scottish Journal of Philosophy 44(1991), 139-151] takes a slightly different view, but effectively shows that the primitive Church had little to do with the dance of embracing and rejecting Greek ideas. (Embracing many ideas in terms of the nature of God, rejecting others -preexistence of matter or other beings- which were seen to threaten the uniqueness of God, including the rejection of personhood!) Instead, the adoption of ex nihilo was clearly a late development.
23. Kelly, 62. See also for example, Vatican II, "Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation," 1:4 (end) - ". . . we now await no further new public revelation before (the second coming of) Jesus Christ."
24. Kelly, chapter 5. See note 27.
25. Kelly, chapter 4. See also, D. Winston, "Creation Ex Nihilo revisited: a reply to Jonathan Goldstein," Journal of Jewish Studies, Spring 1986, 88.
26. Gregg and Groh 1981, "Early Arianism-A View of Salvation," 7f, 89f, 166ff; Gregg 1985, "Arianism. Historical and Theological Reassessments. Papers from the Ninth International Conference on Patristic Studies September 5-10, 1983, Oxford, England." 124f.
Athanasius' remarks about the Arians are instructive regarding the teachings of the primitive Church: "Four Discourses of S. Athanasius, Archbishop of Alexandria, Against the Arians," Discourse I, 11.39.3; 6.21; 5.14.7, in A Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church, Vol. 8 (Oxford, 1842)
27. ABD 1:386; Kelly 1972, 296, See also "The Credo of The People of God," Proclaimed by Pope Paul VI, June 30, 1968. Both the Arian and Alexandrian schools miss the mark for LDS doctrine. See the statement Introduction to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
We have used the term Arian to describe not only the radical group it sometimes designates but also the large group (a majority!) of anti-Nicene churchmen who found the "single substance" idea unpalatable. But political reality destroyed their reluctance. The Nicene supporting emperors Gratian and Theodosius made the unscriptural doctrine the orthodox doctrine. Indeed, scripture was corrupted for the purpose of supporting Trinitarianism, see Raymond E. Brown, The Epistles of John (Doubleday, 1982), 775-87. While the "proto-orthodox" (whose intellectual descendants founded "orthodoxy") group(s) of the 3rd century claimed that "heretics" had altered scripture for their disreputable purposes, it appears that just the opposite was frequently true. It is now altogether apparent that the current collections of NT mss don't expressly contradict the Christology of the 4th century councils because those earlier mss that did were simply destroyed. See Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, (Oxford, 1993), 26-31, 45 n116, 274-283.
28. For a modern example, see K. Barth, Anselm: Fides Quaerens Intellectum (London, 1960) 20-21, see also Vatican II, "Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation," 1:6
It is difficult to imagine a position where rational scholarship takes the place of revelatory insight and basing such a position on the New Testament. What could be more at odds with this than the response of the future apostles to the call of Jesus as narrated in the gospels.
29. For a brief sympathetic treatment of the curious convolutions developed by Augustine to defend what in the end he admits is really incomprehensible (but found according to him on every page of scripture) see Kelly, 271-279. Thomas Aquinas made the observation that the trinity doctrines of the church doctors are really rationally indefensible and one of the "mysteries of faith." This is essentially the current position of Catholicism. Some protestant sects today ignore the origins of their radical monotheism/Trinitarian-simplicity, instead citing various (generally misinterpreted and often mistranslated) passages from the AV, for example Isaiah 43:10; 44:6, etc. and employing dogmatic assertions about who is or is not a "Christian." See Daniel C. Peterson, "'Shall They Not Both Fall into the Ditch?' What Certain Baptists Think They Know about the Restored Gospel," FRB 10(1998) no.1, 12-93.
Modern analysis of Augustinian Trinity doctrine has led many theologians to admit the essentially contradictory nature of the marriage of Plato and the Bible. Even supporters of this paradox have come to admit the problem: see for example Mark Pontifex, Belief in the Trinity, (New York: Harper, 1954), 31.
30. Kelly, 484
31. It is interesting to note that a number of theologians have recently discarded the classical platonic notions of Trinity in favor of "social" Trinity. See for example, David Brown, "Trinitarian Personhood and Individuality," in Trinity, Incarnation and Atonement, (Notre Dame, Ind.: Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1989), 48-78. Also in the same volume, C. Plantinga, "Social Trinity and Tritheism," 21-47.
32. For example, the ideas are never really brought up in Vatican II, but it is clear from papal encyclicals that the 4th century creeds are still taken as defining doctrine for the Roman Church (see at note 25, for example). On the other hand, Roman Catholic theologians and Protestant theologians have, in the 20th century, gradually come to an agreement in exegetical method at least. "Ever learning, but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth" perhaps best describes the history of Christian theology after the 1st century. The statement at note 23 separates, forever it seems, LDS theology from Catholic and Protestant theology. For Latter-day Saints, the word for their Church on any religious subject in addition to their expanding written canon, is found in Christ through His living prophets that guide them; for Latter-day Saints, revelation for their Church, public or not, is alive and well.
It is rather curious (and certainly ironic) that some Evangelical and other Protestant sects and individuals have accused Latter-day Saints of being non-Christian essentially on the grounds that they do not accept some of the tenets of 4th century councils defining the relationship of Christ and God. It seems that for some, the acceptance of non-scriptural notions of Trinitarianism has become the definition of Christianity. "They teach for doctrine the commandments of men."