Who Holds the Keys? (Pope or Prophet)Closing Statement
by Barry Bickmore - Representing the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints'
Position on the "Restored Gospel"
As I look back on the course this debate has taken, I am happy with the results. I feel that both of us have made reasonably good cases for our respective points of view, and we have managed to disagree without being disagreeable. It seems to me that Steve and I have offered only what we saw as legitimate arguments, without resorting to the type of cheap potshots that sometimes show up in such religious debates. I leave this arena counting Steve as one of my friends, and if nothing else, I hope those who read this debate will come off understanding their neighbors a little better.
Of course, I believe the LDS viewpoint has the stronger support, and if I were following a typical debate strategy, at this point I would tie up a few loose ends, unilaterally declare victory, and give an impassioned plea for our readers to follow the dictates of reason and logic. I fully intend to summarize my major points and rebut a few of Steve's last arguments, but after that I intend to go off the beaten path. I say this because I don't believe anyone should make an important decision such as one's choice of religions based solely on a debate such as this. I don't intend to declare victory, but rather I will point readers to a source from which they can derive certainty. God Himself is that source, and my hope is that everyone will take this invitation to gain wisdom and knowledge directly from the Source of all Truth.
The Gates of Hades . . . Again
Steve revisits the issue of Jesus' reference to the "gates of Hades" in an attempt to salvage his argument that Matthew 16:18 was a promise that the earthly Church would never fall into apostasy. However, his explanation of the New Testament usage of the word "Hades" is extremely confused. To clarify the matter, I'll quote the entry on "Hell" in the Oxford Companion to the Bible:
"Both Sheol and Hades refer to a general dwelling place of souls after death (Gen. 37:35; Acts 2:27) . . . . Postexilic Judaism reserved a particular section of hell for the punishment of sinners (emphasized in 1 Enoch 22:10-11). In the New Testament, the synoptic Gospels and James in twelve places name this place of pain Gehenna (Matt. 5:22; James 3:6). Among the New Testament examples of Hades, there are three in which punishment is the point, so that Hades corresponds to Gehenna (Matt. 11:23; Luke 10:15; 16:23). In the other passages where Hades occurs, however, it is used in the neutral sense of a space where all dead are kept (Matt. 16:18; Acts 2:27, 31; Rev. 1:18; 6:8; 20:13, 14; also the variant reading in 1 Cor. 15:55 [cf. Hos. 13:14])." 1
There you have it. "Hades" is the dwelling place of all souls after death, although in a very few instances the generic term "Hades" is used to designate the particular portion of Hades reserved for the wicked. Although his exegesis is extremely confusing, Steve seems to understand this point, but still tries to maintain that Jesus was referring to the survival of His earthly Church! Certainly it is preferable (as I twice quoted Catholic apologist and scholar Michael M. Winter admitting) to interpret Jesus' statement as a promise to save His assembly of believers - His ekklesia - from the powers of evil and death.
However, most Catholic apologists just can't let go of this, their best piece of ammunition. For instance, consider the lengths to which the authors of Jesus, Peter & the Keys are willing to go to put such a promise of survival in Jesus' mouth. First, they admit the correct interpretation of "Hades":
"In this context hell, transliterated as 'hades' from the Greek, or 'sheol' from the Hebrew, means the place of the dead. Gates of Hades would mean that which prevents escape from death but the gates of death are helpless against those with eternal life. Hell as a place of punishment... is a poor translation of Matthew 16:18, according to some scholars."
But then they go on to say that "another interpretation of the gates of hell is contained in the following vivid description of the battle between Church and the Anti-Church . . . ." The authors then quote one William Hendricksen promulgating the standard interpretation - "Satan and his legions as it were storming out of hell's gates in order to attack and destroy the church." And then the grand finale:
"Viewed another way, combining the two concepts above, one may portray the Church as a fortress keep in which those seeking eternal life from the believers holding onto the fortress. Were the walls of the Church to be breached, Satan would wreak havoc and death among the erstwhile believers. It is safe in the Church, the Body of Christ. Jesus promised that the gates of hell would never prevail against the Church." 2
"Combining the two concepts above"?! Hades is either the realm of "Satan and his legions" or it isn't - and it isn't, as we have already seen. Similarly, Steve quotes Matthew 16:18 and asks, "Did He mean, as Barry would have us believe, that the church as an earthly organization can disappear and reappear periodically without violating Our Lord's promise to protect it from the powers of death?" On the contrary, my point was simply that Jesus could not have been addressing the issue of the survival of the earthly Church in this passage at all. Whether they believe other passages of scriptures support their belief or not, Catholics ought to give this one up.
In addition, one final attempt by Steve to squeeze a promise for the earthly survival of the Church out of the New Testament ought to be addressed. Steve refers to Jude 1:3, where some translations say that the gospel was given "once for all" to the saints. I addressed this issue in the last round, but since it was in a footnote, I'll quote my earlier comments here.
"Similarly, some translations of Jude 3 speak of 'the faith once for all delivered to the saints', but the word translated as 'once for all' is the Greek hapax, which can also mean 'once.' Indeed, two verses later Jude writes, 'I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once (hapax) knew this....' (Jude 1:5) Clearly it is preferable to translate hapax as 'once' in this case, and thus it is also clear that Jude was warning the saints to cling desperately to the faith that had once been delivered to them, but which was already being forgotten."Apostles and Bishops . . . Again
Steve is still missing the point on the issue of Apostles and bishops. I have no quarrel with his contention that the Apostles passed on priesthood authority to the bishops. The question at hand is whether that authority was to continue indefinitely, and whether Apostles are always meant to be at the head of the earthly Church. Steve asserts again that the writings of the early Fathers "do not give any indication that the Apostles were going about the business of shutting down the Church . . .," but then Steve has never dealt with the evidence I presented from Hermas (early second century) and Ignatius (ca. 110 A.D.). Similarly, he has never dealt with the evidence I presented from the scriptures, such as Paul's assertion that after the apostasy the son of perdition would be "revealed" and would sit "in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God." (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3) Finally, Steve has never dealt with Paul's assertion that Apostles and prophets are meant to be a part of the earthly Church indefinitely. (Ephesians 4:11-14) If Steve has alternate interpretations of these passages, he ought to advance them instead of claiming they don't exist.
Steve at least presents evidence from Clement of Rome, Irenaeus, and Tertullian for his contention that the bishops were the successors of the Apostles. However, as I have already pointed out, Clement (ca. 96 A.D.) never said anything about the relationship between bishops and Apostles, except that the bishops had been appointed by the Apostles, and he never claimed that the succession of episcopal authority would never come to an end. Whereas Clement wrote before Latter-day Saints believe the apostasy was complete, Irenaeus (ca. 180 A.D.) and Tertullian (ca. 200 A.D.) wrote well after the deed had been done. Therefore, if their particular branch of apostate Christianity had bishops, but no Apostles and prophets, what were they supposed to say except to claim that their bishops had inherited the Apostolic authority? Similarly, Protestants claim they have a "priesthood of all believers," but that doesn't negate the fact that ordination was always considered a necessity before the Reformation.
Peter And the Bishops of Rome . . . Again
While attempting to show that Peter was the first bishop of Rome, Steve really shoots himself in the foot. His star witness is Eusebius (ca. 303 A.D.), who wrote that Peter spent twenty-five years in Rome and was the first bishop of that city. However, Steve also quotes Lactantius (ca. 316 A.D.), who wrote that Peter came to Rome when Nero was already reigning and was executed along with Paul at Nero's command. The problem is that Nero reigned from 54 to 68 A.D., so if Lactantius was correct, then Peter could not have spent twenty-five years in Rome! It is clear that the traditions about Peter's stay in Rome had been muddled by the fourth century, but which tradition was older? Well, Tertullian (ca. 200 AD) noted that the Church of Rome in his time claimed Clement had been personally ordained by Peter. "For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter."3 Therefore, if Peter was still alive to ordain Clement, who was either the second or third bishop of Rome (after Linus and perhaps Anencletus,) then Peter could not have been the first "bishop" of Rome. Indeed, Tertullian's testimony is consistent with the Apostolic Constitutions, which claim that Paul ordained the first bishop of Rome - Linus. "Of the church of Rome, Linus the son of Claudia was the first, ordained by Paul; and Clemens, after Linus' death, the second, ordained by... Peter."4 This also seems consistent with Paul's letter to the Romans, where Paul wrote, "Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation . . . ." (Romans 15:20) If Peter had been in Rome when Paul wrote his letter, would Paul have written this? Similarly, Paul saluted a number of prominent Roman saints at the end of his letter (Romans 16:1-15), but did not mention Peter. The conclusions we must inevitably draw from this evidence are:
1) Peter was not the first "bishop" of Rome, and indeed was not even the first Apostle to preach there.
2) Since the Apostles ordained at least two bishops of Rome while they were still alive and residing in Rome, Apostles must have been much more than glorified bishops.
3) Since the tradition of the Roman Church recorded by Tertullian around the turn of the third century differs markedly from that recorded by Eusebius in the fourth century, the Roman Church must have doctored history in the interim to establish its authority.
The Seven Sacraments
To bolster his claim that the Catholic Church has preserved the "deposit of faith," Steve provides evidence from the scriptures and various early Church Fathers to show that the Roman Church has preserved intact the proper forms of the sacraments of the Church. He offers this challenge: "I invite members of the LDS church to make a similar examination of their own sacraments to see how well they fit into the Christian 'deposit of faith.'" Indeed, the Latter-day Saints have their own versions of the same "seven sacraments," so in response to Steve's challenge, I'll examine the question of whose version is closer to the original.
The central differences between Catholic and LDS baptism are:
1) Catholics believe that baptism removes the stain of "original sin" or "original guilt," necessitating the baptism of infants, while Latter-day Saints believe that Christ has already atoned for the "original guilt," and thus infants need not be baptized. (Catholics do not use the term "original guilt," but I use it here to differentiate between the act performed by Adam and the stain thought to be inherited by the souls of Adam's posterity.)
2) Catholics baptize by immersion, pouring, or sprinkling, while Latter-day Saints baptize only by immersion.
It is a common misconception that Latter-day Saints "don't believe in 'original sin.'" Rather, we have a different concept of the effects of "original sin." Our scriptures state that "the Son of God hath atoned for original guilt, wherein the sins of the parents cannot be answered upon the heads of the children, for they are whole from the foundation of the world." (Moses 6:54) Consistent with our belief in the premortal existence of the soul, "Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning; and God having redeemed man from the fall, men became again, in their infant state, innocent before God." (D&C 93:38) However, because of Adam's transgression, we do inherit a "fallen nature," which, for Latter-day Saints, is closely connected with the body, and implies no stain upon the infant soul. Thus the prophet Nephi lamented, "And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh?" (2 Nephi 4:27) The immortal soul is basically good and mortal life is a constant struggle between the desires of the flesh and spirit. However, the spirit can be marred and transformed as the desires of the flesh prevail, and indeed, all human souls except that of Jesus have sustained the damage of personal sin. In addition, the very environment of the fallen world and the temptations of the Devil and his angels combine with the flesh in its war against the soul. Bible-believing Christians have always believed in the fallen nature of the world and the reality of the devil, but they do not agree with the Latter-day Saints about the initial purity of the souls that come from God.
Steve cites only Romans 5:12-21, as well as Cyprian and Origen (both mid-third century,) to show that baptism must remove the stain of original sin. However, it must be admitted that Paul never said all men are guilty of "original sin." He only said that "sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned . . . ." (Romans 5:12 RSV, emphasis mine) Our task, then, is to discover whether infants were thought to be guilty of Adam's sin and thus require baptism, before the third century.
First, it is clear that the earliest Christians did not believe the soul came tainted from God, and the "fallen nature" was thought to create tension between the flesh and soul. For instance, Paul wrote, "Wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24) Peter spoke of "fleshly lusts, which war against the soul." (1 Peter 2:11)5 And little children were certainly considered innocent by Jesus, who told his disciples to let the children come to him, for "of such is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 19:14) Many of the early Fathers were even more explicit in their beliefs.
For example, the Epistle to Diognetus (early second century) asserted that "The flesh hates the soul, and wars against it . . . ."6 Clement of Alexandria (ca. 200 A.D.) elaborated that "the contest, embracing all the varied exercises, is 'not against flesh and blood,' but against the spiritual powers of inordinate passions that work through the flesh."7 And the Clementine Recognitions (third or fourth century, but based on a second-century source) preached that the Christian must go about the business of "subjecting to himself the desires of the flesh, and becoming lord of them . . . ."8 Barnabas (early second century) taught that the new birth heals the spirit so that it can become as it was in childhood: "He hath made us after another pattern, [it is His purpose] that we should possess the soul of children, inasmuch as He has created us anew by His Spirit."9 Papias (ca. 100 A.D.) wrote that the early Christians "called those who practised a godly guilelessness, children . . . ."10 Finally, the undeniably orthodox Pastor of Hermas (early second century) taught that it is impossible for evil to originate in the heart of an infant: "And they who believed . . . are as infant children, in whose hearts no evil originates; . . . for all infants are honourable before God, and are the first persons with Him."11 The Apologists of the second century concurred in the belief that infant souls are held innocent before God.12
Indeed, in St. Clement of Alexandria's time the proponents of "original guilt" were not "orthodox" Christians, but Gnostic heretics. Clement argued against the Gnostics:
"It is for them to tell us how the newly born child could commit fornication or in what way the child who has never done anything at all has fallen under Adam's curse. The only thing left for them to say and still be consistent, I suppose, is that birth is evil not just for the body but for the soul for which the body exists." 13
Around the turn of the third century, however, Tertullian began teaching that the souls of men are produced from the souls of their parents, and therefore they inherit the stain of original sin.14 Even so, Tertullian did not preach "original guilt," even though he approved of the practice of infant baptism. "The father should not bear the iniquity of the son, nor the son the iniquity of the father, but that every man should be chargeable with his own sin . . . ."15 Again, even Origen did not believe in "original guilt," although he did believe the soul was tainted at birth, and he was a proponent of infant baptism. "By these words it seems to be indicated that every sinner kindles for himself the flame of his own fire, and is not plunged into some fire which has been already kindled by another, or was in existence before himself."16 With Cyprian, on the other hand, both the tainted nature of the infant soul and "original guilt" began to be taught in Catholicism.17 This doctrine didn't become general for some time, however, and in the fourth century St. Cyril of Jerusalem was still preaching the original dogma. "And learn this also, that the soul, before it came into this world, had committed no sin, but having come in sinless, we now sin of our free-will . . . ."18
Where did infant baptism come in? The earliest reference to the practice of infant baptism was by Tertullian (ca. A.D. 200).19 But although Tertullian gave witness to this practice among Christians, he still insisted that it was preferable to wait for baptism. "And so, according to the circumstances and disposition, and even age, of each individual, the delay of baptism is preferable; principally, however, in the case of little children."20 For centuries, believer baptism appears to have been the norm, even though infant baptism was practiced. For example, in the late fourth century St. Gregory of Nazianzus argued that baptism should be delayed until a child is accountable for his actions:
"For this is how the matter stands; at that time they begin to be responsible for their lives, when reason is matured, and they learn the mystery of life (for of sins of ignorance owing to their tender years they have no account to give), and it is far more profitable on all accounts to be fortified by the Font, because of the sudden assaults of danger that befall us, stronger than our helpers."21
The Encyclopedia of Early Christianity notes that the inscriptions from this early time period which mention infant baptism place the date of baptism very close to the death of the children in question, therefore, "The principal impetus for the rise and spread of infant baptism may have been the desire that the child not depart life without the safeguard of baptism."22 But this did not necessarily imply that unbaptized infants would be damned. For instance, in the fourth century an unimpeachably "orthodox" theologian such as St. John Chrysostom could say that "We do baptize infants, although they are not guilty of any sins."23
By the fifth century, however, Augustine saw the very existence of infant baptism as proof of his doctrine of original guilt. But although he claimed all the unbaptized would be damned, he generously allowed that the damnation of unbaptized infants would be "the mildest punishment of all . . . ."24 Consider the explanation given in the online Catholic Encyclopedia, in the article on "Baptism."
"The fate of infants who die without baptism must be briefly considered here. The Catholic teaching is uncompromising on this point, that all who depart this life without baptism, be it of water, or blood, or desire, are perpetually excluded from the vision of God. This teaching is grounded, as we have seen, on Scripture and tradition, and the decrees of the Church. Moreover, that those who die in original sin, without ever having contracted any actual sin, are deprived of the happiness of heaven is stated explicitly in the Confession of Faith of the Eastern Emperor Michael Palæologus, which had been proposed to him by Pope Clement IV in 1267, and which he accepted in the presence of Gregory X at the Second Council of Lyons in 1274. The same doctrine is found also in the Decree of Union of the Greeks, in the Bull "Lætentur Caeli" of Pope Eugene IV, in the Profession of Faith prescribed for the Greeks by Pope Gregory XIII, and in that authorized for the Orientals by Urban VIII and Benedict XIV. Many Catholic theologians have declared that infants dying without baptism are excluded from the beatific vision; but as to the exact state of these souls in the next world they are not agreed."25
However, the preceeding was written in 1913, and the transcriber has inserted the following note about the current Catholic belief.
"On this subject, the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church states: 'As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children which caused him to say: "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them," allows us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.'"
The fact is that there is no mention of infant baptism in the Bible, and the evidence indicates the practice grew from small beginnings, being rejected by the "orthodox" Christian writers from the beginning. Catholics often point to Acts 16:15, 32-33 and 1 Corinthians 1:16, which speak of entire households being baptized. The problem I see with this interpretation is that I have any number of friends who have been LDS missionaries, and when we swap mission stories we often speak of "entire families" being baptized. Does this mean any infants in the family were baptized? Of course not, and no one need mention that fact, since it is implicitly understood by all. This being the case, these passages have no value whatsoever as evidence for infant baptism as a New Testament practice.
As for the issue of sprinkling/pouring vs. immersion, Steve quotes the Didache in support of the Catholic practice of pouring. However, in this document pouring is only prescribed in cases where it is impossible to find sufficient water for immersion. Certainly the Didache might contain apostate elements in the LDS view, but I prefer to think that in the desert communities such as that where the Didache was written, this eventuality was sometimes faced, and had to be dealt with somehow. Can Catholics claim that they pour only when they cannot obtain enough water for immersion?
The only substantial difference I see between Catholic and LDS confirmation rites is that Catholics anoint the forehead of the baptized with oil, while Latter-day Saints do not. In a recent essay on "Anointing in the New Testament," J. John has shown that there is no solid evidence for baptismal anointing in New Testament or in "orthodox" Christianity until Tertullian (ca. 200 A.D.) Indeed, the first unambiguous evidence for baptismal anointing comes from the Gnostics.26
Communion and Matrimony
I discussed some significant differences between the Catholic and LDS practice of Communion and Matrimony in the last round, and provided evidence for the LDS viewpoint.
Confession and Ordination
I see no differences so significant between Catholic and LDS Confession and Ordination that they need to be treated here. However, I will note that Paul's instruction that bishops and deacons should be the "husbands of one wife" (1 Timothy 3:2, 12) seems to preclude enforced celibacy among the clergy. (It might be objected that these verses also seem to preclude polygamy as it was practiced in 19th century Mormonism, but just as with the Latter-day Saints, the early Christians believed that sometimes God allows polygamy, while sometimes He allows only monogamy, according to His own purposes. See Jacob 2:30 and the footnoted references for the cases of Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Augustine.) 27
Anointing of the Sick
Both Latter-day Saints and Catholics anoint the sick with oil. Therefore, I will simply note a couple aspects of the historic Catholic rite which I feel are corruptions. For example, John Chrysostom advocated using oil taken from church lamps and from martyrs' shrines, while some others suggested the use of oil filtered through martyrs' relics.28 Also, J. Halliburton notes that after the patristic period, anointing of the sick became restricted to those who were deemed incurably ill and needed a ritual preparation for purgatory.29 I believe this has changed since Vatican II.
Yes, Genuine Early Christian Doctrines and Practices
Steve asserts that there is "absolutely no credible evidence that unique LDS doctrines such as pre-mortal existence, baptism for the dead, plural marriages, the plurality of gods, and the notion that man may become a god of his own world, were ever taught by the Church at any point after the time of Christ and prior to 1830 A.D." One might get this impression from reading the carefully selected excerpts from the early Fathers in Father Jurgens' The Faith of the Early Fathers, but it most certainly is not the case. Let me cite a few examples.
Variations on the doctrine of the pre-existence of the soul were quite common in the early centuries of Christianity. This was very natural since Christianity was in many respects a continuation of apocalyptic Judaism, in which various forms of the pre-existence doctrine were fundamental. The Catholic Bible is most explicit on this point. "As a child I was by nature well endowed, and a good soul fell to my lot; or rather, being good, I entered an undefiled body." (Wisdom of Solomon 8:19-20 RSV) Indeed, even St. Augustine believed in a premortal existence early in his career30, and the doctrine was never condemned by a council until 543 A.D. 31
J.N.D. Kelly notes that Origen taught "that the world of spiritual beings. . . , including human souls, pre-existed from all eternity. . . ."32 Likewise, Peter, in the Jewish Christian Clementine Recognitions, taught that man's "internal species is older. . . ."33 Regarding the "internal species" of man mentioned here, the Presbyterian translators of this passage declare in the footnote: "That is, his soul, according to the doctrine of the pre-existence of souls." R.G. Hammerton-Kelly, of the McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, traces this doctrine back through the New Testament and into Judaism. While the doctrine is not unambiguously taught in the New Testament, Hammerton-Kelly shows that various New Testament writers simply assumed it as background knowledge with their readers. For instance, in the case of Paul:
"One is impressed by the ease with which the idea of pre-existence is assumed as the background for certain aspects of Paul's theology, especially for his doctrines of Christ and the Church . . . . Although Paul would never have used the term 'pre-existence', the concept which it describes is constitutive of his whole soteriological scheme." 34
According to Paul's doctrine, individual men and women had a concrete existence in the eternity before the creation. Commenting on Paul's doctrine of foreordination as expounded in Romans 8:28-30, Hammerton-Kelly explains that the Greek verb for "foreknow" used in the passage means "'to take note of', 'to fix regard upon' something, preliminary to selecting it for some special purpose." But when did this selection occur? "Most commentators believe that it took place in the eternal counsels of God, before the creation of the world."35 Indeed, Paul wrote to Titus, "In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began." (Titus 1:2) To whom did God make His promises?
I could have cited many other examples, but these should be sufficient to show that not only was the doctrine of pre-mortal existence taught in the early Church, but it may well have been the original Christian doctrine.
Baptism for the Dead
"Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?" (1 Corinthians 15:29) We may argue about whether Paul approved of baptism in behalf of those who had not had the chance to receive the Gospel or not (and it would seem odd if Paul here mentioned some heretical practice in his argument for the resurrection without specifically denouncing it,) but it is certain that it was practiced by some early Christians. Commenting on this passage, the Oxford Companion to the Bible notes, "This brief allusion indicates that within the early churches it was possible to receive baptism in order to include in the body of Christ a friend or relative who was already dead. Paul does not specifically condemn the practice here, but it did not become an accepted part of Christian ritual."36 Was baptism for the dead a heretical practice that Paul neglected to condemn or was it a genuine Christian practice lost through apostasy?
It is certain that some "heretical" Christian groups, like the Marcionites and Cerinthians, continued the practice for centuries.37 However, some early "orthodox" writers seem to imply the practice, as well. For instance, the Pastor of Hermas related that the Apostles baptized the righteous dead after preaching to them in Hades:
"'They were obliged,' he answered, 'to ascend through water in order that they might be made alive; for, unless they laid aside the deadness of their life, they could not in any other way enter into the kingdom of God. Accordingly, those also who fell asleep received the seal of the Son of God . . . . The seal, then, is the water: they descend into the water dead, and they arise alive.'" 38
In a footnote to his translation of this passage, Kirsopp Lake writes, "The idea that hearing the gospel and baptism is necessary for the salvation of the righteous dead of pre-Christian times is common . . . ."39 In a Jewish-Christian context this would have had great significance with respect to baptism for the dead in light of what J.R. Porter calls "the well-known [Jewish] idea of the correspondence and the simultaneity of the earthly and heavenly ritual . . . ."40 That is, if a Jewish text mentions a ritual in the heavenly sphere, it is certain that an earthly counterpart was performed on earth.
Be that as it may, the earliest texts all insist that 1) the unbaptized dead could be saved, and 2) this had to be done via some sort of water baptism. There was no mention of any escape clauses to Jesus' mandate, like baptism of desire or blood, until later. "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." (John 3:5, emphasis mine) Jesus' statement in itself is the best argument for baptism for the dead.
Plurality of Gods
I find it ironic that Steve asserts there is no evidence for the early Christian belief in a plurality of Gods, when before he wrote it I had already posted quotes from St. Justin Martyr stating that Jesus is a "second god" and that men can become gods. If, as St. Irenaeus and many others taught, that "we have not been made gods from the beginning, but at first merely men, then at length gods,"41 it is clear that there is a plurality of Gods. Certainly there were differences among early Christians about what those concepts meant, consistent with their various concepts of the relationship between God and man. As I explained before, in a Jewish Christian context, where God had a glorious human form and men were intimately related to their creator, the concept of deification would have been very like that of the Latter-day Saints. "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." (1 John 3:2.)
As for the idea that the Trinity consists of three separate Gods, who are nevertheless "one God" in harmony of will, consider the following statements by Origen. Speaking of the Father and Son he wrote, "We are not afraid to speak, in one sense of two Gods, in another sense of one God."42 In what sense are they "one"? "And these, while they are two, considered as persons or subsistences, are one in unity of thought, in harmony and in identity of will."43 Indeed, J.N.D. Kelly writes that even as late as the Council of Nicea, the majority of Christians still believed that "there are three divine hypostases [persons], separate in rank and glory but united in harmony of will." These used the creedal phrase, "of one substance," in a "generic" sense meaning "the same kind of being."44 Therefore, it would seem that Joseph Smith's solution to the problem of Biblical "monotheism" is closer to that of the original Christians than the mainstream Trinity doctrine (which nobody can really understand, anyway.)
Actually, I think there is some (very tenuous) evidence that plural marriage was practiced among some early Christians. However, rather than get into that, I'll simply explain that the LDS doctrine has always been that sometimes God commands monogamy, and sometimes plural marriage, according to His own purposes. For instance, one Book of Mormon prophet condemned polygamy among the people of his own time, since the Lord had forbidden it, but offered this caveat: "For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things." (Jacob 2:30) Therefore, it is quite consistent with LDS doctrine that polygamy was allowed among the prophets and patriarchs of the Old Testament, disallowed in the New Testament, allowed in 19th century Mormonism, and disallowed in 20th century Mormonism. Catholic readers should consider the reasoning of their very own St. Augustine:
"Again, Jacob the son of Isaac is charged with having committed a great crime because he had four wives. But here there is no ground for a criminal accusation: for a plurality of wives was no crime when it was the custom; and it is a crime now, because it is no longer the custom. There are sins against nature, and sins against custom, and sins against the laws. In which, then, of these senses did Jacob sin in having a plurality of wives? As regards nature, he used the women not for sensual gratification, but for the procreation of children. For custom, this was the common practice at that time in those countries. And for the laws, no prohibition existed. The only reason of its being a crime now to do this, is because custom and the laws forbid it."45
The Book of Mormon and Mormon Doctrine
After pointing out all these LDS doctrines which supposedly never showed up in Christianity until after 1830, Steve notes that many LDS doctrines aren't even found in the Book of Mormon. I've never seen anyone show that the Book of Mormon teaches anything contradictory to modern LDS doctrine (except by putting forward dubious interpretations of the Book of Mormon, LDS doctrine, or both,) but why wouldn't it have such important doctrines as baptism for the dead, etc.? Why not ask the Book of Mormon why it doesn't contain every last LDS doctrine? "And when they shall have received this, which is expedient that they should have first, to try their faith, and if it shall so be that they shall believe these things then shall the greater things be made manifest unto them." (3 Nephi 26:10) One might as well ask why the Old Testament doesn't contain everything that is in the New, or why James covers different subject matter than Peter.
Total Apostasy Survivors?
Next Steve puts forward a rather strange argument. He refers to the LDS belief that three of the Twelve Nephite "Disciples" (they are never called "Apostles" in the Book of Mormon) and John the Beloved never died, and argues that if four bona fide priesthood-holders like these were still hanging around, the apostasy could not have been "total." However, Latter-day Saints believe that these men were "translated," i.e. their bodies were changed to a higher state, preliminary to the resurrection, and now "they are as the angels of God." (3 Nephi 28:30) If, as Joseph Smith said, translated beings are "held in reserve to be ministering angels,"46 how could the fact that God left priesthood-holding angels on the earth (who did not transmit their priesthood to others) have any bearing on the question of whether the apostasy was "total"? Rather, this illustrates the LDS belief in God's loving concern for His children even during periods of apostasy.
As an aside, Steve appeals to the Navarre Bible Commentary to confirm his view that Jesus' enigmatic statement in John 21:21-23 was not a promise that John would not taste of death until Jesus' Second Advent. The passage itself is ambiguous, although suggestive, but a certain tradition reported by Hippolytus (ca. 200 A.D.) seems consistent with the LDS view. "John, again, in Asia, was banished by Domitian the king to the isle of Patmos, in which also he wrote his Gospel and saw the apocalyptic vision; and in Trajan's time he fell asleep at Ephesus, where his remains were sought for, but could not be found."47 Indeed, the doctrine that some would be thus "translated" was reported by both Papias (ca. 100 A.D.) and the Jewish Christian Clementine Recognitions.48
Where Do We Go From Here?
The Wisdom of the World
Through the course of this debate both Steve and I have tried to make the best possible cases for our respective points of view. A fair amount of information has been presented, which I hope has been beneficial to the reader. However, there are always things left out due to space considerations, non-omniscient debaters, and the incalculable amount of information still waiting to be discovered. There is always an element of uncertainty that we can't get rid of. Paul wrote:
"Scripture says, 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the cleverness of the clever.' Where is your wise man now, your man of learning, or your subtle debater -- limited, all of them, to this passing age? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. As God in his wisdom ordained, the world failed to find him by its wisdom, and he chose to save those who have faith by the folly of the Gospel." (1 Corinthians 1:19-21 NEB)
The problem with "subtle debaters" like Steve and me is that we present our arguments based on the "wisdom of the world", which is "limited . . . to this passing age". For instance, we can look to scientific disciplines like archaeology to confirm certain aspects of sacred narratives like the Bible, but as noted archaeologist William Dever writes, archaeology cannot "'prove' the Bible in any sense -- either by demonstrating that the events . . . actually happened, much less by validating the theological inferences that are drawn from these events."49 The same can be said of the Book of Mormon. A stunning array of archaeological, geographic, linguistic, textual, and historical evidences can be marshaled to show that this book of scripture is exactly what it claims to be, and that no 19th century man, least of all the barely literate Joseph Smith, could have forged such a document. (Since this sort of thing lies outside the scope of this debate, however, I will simply footnote a few resources to get the interested student started.50) But all of this can never be anything but tentative. Science cannot "prove" God's purposes, because science never "proves" anything.
Follow the Holy Spirit
So what should the reader do now? Maybe this debate has confirmed for the reader the position she started with. Perhaps she has been swayed one way or the other. Alternatively, certain arguments may have left lingering doubts. "A double minded man is unstable in all his ways," says James (James 1:8), and I think we can all agree that such a condition of doubt is antithetical to that faith which is required of the Good Shepherd's sheep. How can you move beyond doubt toward certainty? Paul explained:
"And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God . . . . For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God . . . . But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor. 2:4-5, 11, 14)
"Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." (Matt. 7:14) Only the Holy Spirit can lead us on the strait and narrow path, according to Paul. I ask the reader, do you know you are on the right path? "And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us." (1 Jn. 3:24) Likewise, Paul wrote that Jesus Christ has "given us the earnest [or 'guarantee'] of the Spirit in our hearts." (2 Cor. 1:22) If the Holy Spirit has not told you so, you have no assurance of salvation. Why wallow in self-doubt? "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering." (James 1:5-6) You can have faith, right now, that God will keep His promises and answer your prayers.
Please consider taking on the challenge given by the prophet Moroni at the end of the Book of Mormon, to read, ponder, and pray about that book:
"Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts. And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost." (Moroni 10:3-4)
I promise you that it will not end there. Joseph Smith preached:
"A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon; (i.e.) those things that were presented unto your minds by the Spirit of God, will come to pass; and thus by learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation, until you become perfect in Christ Jesus." 51
If even one person accepts the invitation to seek a closer relationship with the Holy Spirit, I will consider this debate to have been worth the effort.
Forget Peter, You Can Be a Rock Yourself!
This discussion of the principle of personal revelation brings me to my final point. One of the major points of debate has been the interpretation of Matt. 16:18. "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell [Greek hades ] shall not prevail against it." Roman Catholics claim that Jesus called Simon "Peter" (Greek Petros = "rock") because he and his successors are "the rock" upon which Jesus built His Church. Joseph Smith, on the other hand, noted that Jesus made this statement after He asserted that Peter had received a knowledge of Jesus' Divine Sonship by revelation. "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven." (Matt. 16:17) Joseph preached, "What rock? Revelation."52 To me these contrasting interpretations typify the dilemma facing those who are pondering this debate. Should one accept the traditions passed down by the Popes, Peter's supposed successors, or seek personal revelation about whether God has restored the true Church of Jesus Christ?
Time and time again, Steve and I have referred to various early Christian writings to establish a historical basis for our interpretations. After all, if Catholicism is right, one ought to be able to trace its traditions back to the beginning of Christianity, and if Mormonism is right, one ought to be able to show that its doctrines and practices are, for the most part, restorations of genuine early Christian doctrines and practices.
How did the earliest Christians interpret Matt. 16:18? The two earliest citations of this verse come from the writings of Justin Martyr (ca. 150 A.D.) and Origen (mid-third century), and both authors appear to agree with Joseph Smith. Peter was called "the rock" simply because he received a revelation. First Justin: "For [Christ] called one of His disciples--previously known by the name of Simon-Peter; since he recognised Him to be Christ the Son of God, by the revelation of His Father...."53 Next Origen:
"And perhaps that which Simon Peter answered and said, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,' if we say it as Peter, not by flesh and blood revealing it unto us, but by the light from the Father in heaven shining in our heart, we too become as Peter, being pronounced blessed as he was, because that the grounds on which he was pronounced blessed apply also to us, by reason of the fact that flesh and blood have not revealed to us with regard to Jesus that He is Christ, the Son of the living God, but the Father in heaven, from the very heavens, that our citizenship may be in heaven, revealing to us the revelation which carries up to heaven those who take away every veil from the heart, and receive 'the spirit of the wisdom and revelation' of God. And if we too have said like Peter, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,' not as if flesh and blood had revealed it unto us, but by light from the Father in heaven having shone in our heart, we become a Peter, and to us there might be said by the Word, 'Thou art Peter,' etc. For a rock is every disciple of Christ of whom those drank who drank of the spiritual rock which followed them, and upon every such rock is built every word of the church, add the polity in accordance with it; for in each of the perfect, who have the combination of words and deeds and thoughts which fill up the blessedness, is the church built by God." 54
Consider that before the mid-third century, we have no record of anyone connecting this verse to Peter's supposed bishopric of Rome! Again, it is clear that the later Roman Church did not inherit this interpretation as a tradition, but invented it at some point to establish its own authority.
Furthermore, consider Origen's words. Any
disciple who receives "the spirit of the wisdom and revelation" of God is "a
rock", just like Peter was. I hope the information I have presented in this
debate has left you at least open to the possibility that Christ has restored
His true Church, and I invite you to become a "rock" by receiving a revelation
to that effect. I have received such a revelation, and it is the bedrock of
Prescription Against Heretics 32, in Roberts, A., and Donaldson, J.,
eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols., (Buffalo: The Christian
Literature Publishing Company, 1885-1896,) 3:258. Hereafter cited as
11 The Pastor of Hermas, Sim. 9:29, in ANF 2:53. Hermas also speaks of a class of people who had been "born good": "When the Lord, therefore, saw the mind of these persons, that they were born good, and could be good. . . ." The Pastor of Hermas, Sim. 9:30, in ANF 2:53.
Aristides, Apology 15, in ANF 10:278; Justin Martyr, Dialogue With
Trypho 88, in ANF 1:243; Kelly, J.N.D., Early Christian Doctrines,
Revised ed., (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1978), 168. (Hereafter
cited as ECD.) As for Irenaeus, he "nowhere formulates a specific account
of the connexion between Adam‘s guilty act and the rest of mankind." ECD
14 Wagner, W. H., After the Apostles: Christianity in the Second Century (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994), 194. Since Jesus‘ Father was God, Tertullian argued that Jesus‘ soul was not tainted by original sin because he (Tertullian) considered women to merely be channels for the male sperm, which developed into a human being.
18 Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 4:19, in Schaff, P., and Wace, H., eds., The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 2, 14 vols., (New York: The Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1890-1900,) 7:23-24. (Hereafter cited as NPNF Series 2.)
21 Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 40:28, in NPNF Series 2, 7:370. However, it should also be said that Gregory believed that unbaptized infants, and presumably even baptized infants, would receive neither reward nor punishment in the afterlife. See Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 40:23, in NPNF Series 2, 7:367.
22 Ferguson, Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, 133. Perhaps Greek religious influence had some effect, also, since H.J. Rose reports that in Greek cults "a baby was put through a ceremonial corresponding in some measure to baptism." H. J. Rose, Ancient Greek Religion (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1995), 11.
23 John Chrysostom, To
the Neophytes, in Henry Bettenson, The Later Christian Fathers (London: Oxford
University Press, 1970), 169.
34 Robert G.
Hammerton-Kelly, Pre-Existence, Wisdom, and the Son of Man (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1973),, 156, 152.
42 Origen, Dial
Heracl. 2:3, quoted in Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven: Early
Rabbinic Reports About Christianity and Gnosticism (Leiden: E.J.
Brill, 1977), 231.
50 See John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book Company and the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1985); Noel B. Reynolds, ed., Book of Mormon Authorship (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1996); Noel B. Reynolds, ed., Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1997); Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Company, 1981).
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