Dialogue With A Mormon Apologist on the  Christian Doctrine of God, and Doctrinal Development

Dave Armstrong vs. Dr. Barry R. Bickmore (bbickmore@earthlink.net)

Part Two
Go to: Part One

IV. Mormon Historian Lance Owens' Hypothesis Concerning the Occultic, Kabbalistic, and Gnostic Origins of Mormonism

It is the Mormon conception of God, not the Christian one, which is derived from non-biblical and non-apostolic sources, if we accept the fascinating and quite plausible Mormon arguments in the following works: Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection, Joseph Smith: America's Hermetic Prophet (both by Lance S. Owens), D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1987), and John L. Brooke, The Refiner's Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

Harold Bloom (himself a Jewish Kabbalist), cited in Owens' first article above, expands upon the Gnostic influences upon Joseph Smith:

What is clear is that Smith and his apostles restated what Moshe Idel, our great living scholar of Kabbalah, persuades me was the archaic or original Jewish religion. . . .  My observation certainly does find enormous validity in Smith's imaginative recapture of crucial elements, elements evaded by normative Judaism and by the Church after it. The God of Joseph Smith is a daring revival of the God of           some of the Kabbalists and Gnostics, prophetic sages who, like Smith himself, asserted that they had returned to the true religion. . . . Either there was a more direct Kabbalistic influence upon Smith than we know, or, far more likely, his         genius reinvented Kabbalah in the effort necessary to restore archaic Judaism.
(The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation, New York: Simon & Shuster, 1992, 99, 105; see also Moshe Idel, Kabbalah: New Perspectives [New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988, 260] and Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism [New York: Schocken Books, 1974, 21] )

Mormon historian Lance S. Owen, in the same article, lays out his case for the occultic, Gnostic, Masonic, and theosophical origins of Joseph Smith's ultra-heterodox doctrine of God. I shall quote it at some considerable length, since it sheds much light on the mysterious origins of Mormon theology. Significantly, this paper was awarded the Mormon History Association's prestigious award for "Best Article in Mormon History":

Though yet little understood, from Joseph's adolescent years forward he had repeated, sometime intimate and arguably influential associations with distant legacies of Gnosticism conveyed by Kabbalah and Hermeticism . . .  there is substantial documentary evidence, material unexplored by Bloom or Mormon historians generally, supporting a much more direct Kabbalistic and Hermetic influences upon Smith and his doctrine of God than has previously been considered possible.

Through his associations with ceremonial magic as a young treasure seer, Smith
contacted symbols and lore taken directly from Kabbalah. In his prophetic translation of sacred writ, his hermeneutic method was in nature Kabbalistic. With his initiation into Masonry, he entered a tradition born of the Hermetic-Kabbalistic tradition. These associations culminated in Nauvoo, the period of his most important doctrinal and ritual innovations. During these last years, he enjoyed friendship with a European Jew well-versed in the standard Kabbalistic works and possibly possessing in Nauvoo an extraordinary collection of Kabbalistic books and manuscripts. By 1844 Smith not only was cognizant of Kabbalah, but enlisted theosophic concepts taken directly from its principal text in his most important doctrinal sermon, the "King Follett Discourse."

Smith's concepts of God's plurality, his vision of God as anthropos, and his
possession by the issue of sacred marriage, all might have been cross-fertilized by this intercourse with Kabbalistic theosophy--an occult relationship climaxing in Nauvoo . . .

. . . new Hermetic philosophers.There are, they suggested, two realms of reality--call them heaven and earth, spirit and matter, God and man--in relation to each other, shadowing each other. What happens in one realm echoes in the other, the Divine life reflects itself in the life of women and men, and they by their intentions and actions affect the Divine.

This idea infused Kabbalah, one example being the image of God as archetypal Man,
the Adam Kadmon: Man below reflected the Divine form above. The influential
seventeenth-century Hermetic philosopher Robert Fludd interpreted this idea to imply a spiritual creation which preceded the physical. God's first creation, stated Fludd, was "an archetype whose substance is incorporeal, invisible, intellectual and  sempiternal; after whose model and divine image the beauty and form of the real     world are constructed." The terms macrocosmos and microcosmos--the outer form     and the inner form--also reflected this duality. The outer formed creation of the     universe--the macrocosmos--reflected (and was a reflection of) the     microcosmos--the inner mystery of creation and seed of God in man. To this view,     both microcosmos and macrocosmos ultimately were dual mirrors of the Divine.     These concepts resonate in Joseph Smith's theosophy.

[Footnote 33 for this section] In Joseph Smith's translation of the Book of Genesis, begun in 1831, one finds a clear parallel. Smith gives this new reading for Genesis 2:5-9: "For I the Lord God, created all things of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth . . . for in heaven created I them, and there was not yet flesh upon the earth . . . . all things were before created, but spiritually were they created and made, according to my     word." In Genesis 6:66 he continues the idea, "And behold, all things have their likeness . . . . both things which are temporal and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth...both above and beneath, all things bear record of me." (Joseph Smith's "New Translation" of the Bible, [Independence, MO: Herald Publishing House, 1970], 30.) Brigham Young developed the idea: "We cannot talk about spiritual things without connecting with them temporal things, neither can we talk about temporal things without connecting spiritual things with them. They are inseparably connected...." Leonard Arrington emphasized the importance of this concept for an understanding of early Mormonism's evolution: "Joseph Smith and other early Mormon leaders seem to have seen every part of life, and every problem put to them, as part of an integrated universe in which materialities and immaterialities were of equal standing, or indistinguishable, in God's kingdom. Religion was relevant to economics, politics, art, and science." (Leonard Arringtion, Great Basin Kingdom: Economic History of the Latter-Day Saints [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1958; reprinted Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press], 5-6.) It is a view closely parallel by the Hermetic tradition . . .

Eighteenth-century Masonry was forcefully shaped by esoteric Hermetic-Kabbalistic traditions . . . during the period of Joseph Smith's life Masonry was not uncommonly believed to be associated with a Rosicrucian legacy of alchemical, Kabbalistic, and Hermetic lore and its reformative religious aspirations . . .

The eighteenth century was a fertile breeding ground for occult societies, almost all of which had groundings in a Hermetic-Kabbalistic framework and upon a bedrock of Masonry and Rosicrucianism . . . Existing orders and lodges were not uncommonly transmuted by the force of strange  individuals, new visions, and claims of ever more enlightened, ancient origins. Examples come easily: Adam Weishaupt who sought through his Masonic order of the Illuminati, founded in 1776, to transform German politics and society; the mysterious Comte de Saint-Germain (ca. 1710-85), a devotee of alchemy and occult arts, who widely influenced continental lodges of Masonry; Count Alessandro di  Cagliostro (ca. 1743-95) who blended Egyptian and Kabbalistic symbolism into his Egyptian Masonic rite, an order which included men, women, and rumors of ritual sexual liaisons; Martinez de Pasqually (ca. 1715-79) and his Order of Les Elus Cohen (the Elect Priests), claiming a Kabbalistic, Masonic restoration of the ancient priesthood of Judaism, a notion echoed in other esoteric manifestations of Masonry; and Louis Claude de St. Martin (1743-1803), disciple of de Pasqually, who long remained an influence upon French occultism. To these must be added the brilliant Swedish seer Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), founder of a religious movement that touched esoteric Masonry.

[Footnote 72 (partial) ] In his nineteenth-century encyclopedia of Freemasonry, Macoy gives a partial summary of these, listing forty-eight rites or systems of symbolical ceremonies designed to convey "Masonic ideals"; the vast majority of these originating between about 1750 and 1810 (Robert Macoy, General History, Cyclopedia and Dictionary of Freemasonry [New York: Masonic Publishing Co., 1872], reprinted as A Dictionary of Freemasonry [New York: Bell Publishing, 1989], 326-29) . . .

In summary, common threads of a specific mythos weave through these movements and societies, even if they are not of one common cloth. In the occult inclinations of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries one finds a recurrent theme of restoration: restoration of a more perfect, ancient order; of forgotten priesthood; of secret mysteries and rituals; and of lost occult words and powers. Often there mingles in the visionary fabric a practical thread: Man is intrinsically and eternally imbued     with uncreated divine intelligence, an elixir by which he may alchemically transmute the dark material world--including its social and political structures--and thus restore Zion upon the earth . . .

. . . D. Michael Quinn's seminal study Early Mormonism and the Magic World View . . .  In his introduction [ix-x], Quinn began by exorcising the forgeries and summoning the facts:

               . . . Sources [whose authenticity are beyond question] provide
               evidence of Joseph Smith's participation in treasure digging;
               the possession and use of instruments and emblems of folk
               magic by Smith, his family members, and other early LDS
               leaders; the continued use of such implements for religious
               purposes in the establishment and early years of Mormonism;
               and the sincere belief of many early Mormons in the magic
               world view.

Subsequently, Quinn moved beyond these simple data. Indeed, "comprehensive" is     hardly an adequate description of his survey. Magical rituals, Kabbalah, Hermes     Trismegistos, Rosicrucians, Seer's stones, divining rods, Masonic lore, and astrology: Quinn binds them all, by evidence weak and strong, to Joseph . . .

Whatever one concludes about the varied hints of scattered early associations with  Hermeticism, Joseph Smith had well-documented connections with one of the    tradition's major legacies, Masonry. The prophet's associations with the Masonic     tradition are thoroughly documented . . .

The ubiquitous influence of Kabbalah upon the occult traditions of the nineteenth     century has been stressed, but its specific import in Masonry requires repeated     emphasis. Noted historian of occultism Arthur Edward Waite suggested in his . . .    [A New] Encyclopedia of Freemasonry [London: William Rider and Son, 1923, 1:47]. that much of the "great" and "incomprehensible" heart of Masonry came from Kabbalah, "the Secret Tradition of Israel." He finds such important Masonic symbols as the Lost Word, the Temple of Solomon, the pillars Jachin and Boaz, the concept of the Master-Builder, and restoration of Zion, all derived from the lore of Kabbalah. The organizer of Scottish Rite Freemasonry in America, Albert Pike, manifested a similar sentiment and indexed over seventy entries to the subject of Kabbalah in his classic nineteenth-century study, Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry [Charleston, SC, 1871]. Though Pike's work was published in 1871, his views reflected lore already established in Masonry during the period of Joseph Smith's Masonic initiations three decades earlier. Indeed, one of the earliest documentary mentions of Masonry appearing in 1691 specifically linked it with these Jewish traditions.

As Homer notes, the Scottish Rite developed by Pike was an evolution of the
eighteenth-century Frenh Masonic Rite de Perfection, which in several degrees was
influenced by Kabbalah  . . . Given the wide diffusion of a Christianized and Rosicrucian version of Kabbalah into Masonry, Joseph Smith probably heard something about the tradition during the course of his almost twenty-year association with Masons and Freemasonry . . .

With the tools of allegory, symbol, and imagination, and in a format suggesting great mysterious antiquity, men touched by the Masonic mythos began producing new "ancient" rituals. One is reminded of Ireneaus' complaint about the Gnostics responding to the creative muse of their times: "every one of them generates something new, day by day, according to his ability; for no one is deemed mature, who does not develop . . . some mighty fiction." [Adversus haereses, 1.18.1] . . .

In Nauvoo, in 1842 and after, I suggest Joseph Smith encountered a reservoir of     myths, symbols, and ideas conveyed in the context of Masonry but with complex and  more distant origins in the Western esoteric tradition. They apparently resonated with Smith's own visions, experiences modulating his spiritual life from the time of his earliest intuitions of a prophetic calling. He responded to this stimulus with a     tremendous, creative outpouring--the type of creative response Gnostic myth and     symbol were meant to evoke, and evidently had evoked across a millennium of     history . . .

Van Hale, in his analysis of the [King Follett] discourse's doctrinal impact, notes four declarations     made by Joseph Smith which have had an extraordinary and lasting impact on Mormon doctrine: men can become gods; there exist many Gods; the gods exist one above another innumerably; and God was once as man now is. Interestingly, these were all concepts that could, by various exegetical approaches, be found in the Hermetic-Kabbalistic tradition. But even more astoundingly, it appears Joseph     actually turned to the Zohar for help in supporting his introduction of these radical  doctrinal assertions . . .

. . . Brigham Young's assertion that "Adam is God." Brigham claimed that Joseph had taught him this doctrine--although there is no evidence that Joseph ever publicly avowed such a view.147 In Kabbalah the theme is, however, prominent: Adam Kadmon is indeed "God," and His form is in the image of a Man--as noted earlier. Given the evidence that Joseph did know some elements of Kabbalah and had access both to the Zohar and to a Jew familiar with a wide range of Kabbalistic materials, it seems probable that Brigham heard this concept in some form from Joseph. The Adam-God doctrine may have been a misreading (or simplistic restatement) by Brigham Young of a Kabbalistic and Hermetic concept relayed to him by the prophet . . .

Joseph Smith did indeed bring into America elements of an ancient culture--but that culture was not temporally very distant from the prophet. When Joseph was     introduced to Jewish Kabbalah in its classic form in Nauvoo, he found -- consciously or unconsciously -- the fiber of a thread woven throughout the fabric of his life. The magic he met as a youth, the prophetic reinterpretation of scripture and opening of the canon to divine revelation, the Masonic symbol system: all of these were reflections of an heterodox Hermetic religious tradition that had persisted in various occult fashions within the Western religious tradition for centuries, a tradition of which Kabbalah was a most important part . . .

As interwoven into Hermeticism, Kabbalah was a tradition not just of theosophic assertions, but of return to prophetic vision. For a millennium or more--perhaps dating all the way back to the suppressed heresy of the Gnostics--men and women within this larger tradition asserted the reality of their vision . . . Individuals caught in this experience not uncommonly saw themselves as prophets . . . They probed the mystery of Adam and Eve, and primal creation, they embraced rituals and symbols as non-verbal expressions of ineffable insights. Their sexuality was sacralized, and not infrequently their sacred sexual practices ranged beyond the bounds of    expression accepted by the societies of their times . . . They authored pseudoepigraphic works, invoking ancient voices as their own . . . When Joseph sought a mirror to understand himself he found reflections in a  history not so distant as that of ancient Israel. His story, the prophet's story, lived within the occult legacy of his time. He touched that legacy often, and he saw in it the     image--even if dimmed and distorted--of a priesthood he shared.

(Lance S. Owens [Mormon], Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection, originally published in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Fall 1994)

What does the Mormon "orthodox establishment" think of all this? Owens writes about that as well:

. . . a fundamental crisis looms before Joseph Smith's church--and the crux of the predicament is Joseph Smith. Late twentieth-century Mormonism is being forced into an uncomfortable confrontation with its early nineteenth-century origins--an inevitable encounter given the preeminent import of the founding prophet to his religion . . . now, one hundred and fifty years after his death, Smith's place in Western religious history is undergoing an important and creative reevaluation. Historians and religious critics alike are examining him anew. And in his history's newest reading, themes unrecognized by its orthodox interpreters are quickly moving to stage center.  Quite simply put, modern Mormonism--guardian of the Prophet's story--has no idea what to do with the rediscovered, historical, and rather occult Joseph Smith . . .

Joseph Smith a modern Gnostic prophet? Certainly nowhere within the vast domains  of America religion did this proclamation cause more consternation or amazement     than within its Mormon provinces and borderlands . . . In the form now foreshadowed, Joseph Smith's story is, of course, almost entirely unknown to his church . . .  investigators soon brought to the surface a wealth of unquestionably genuine historical evidence--much of it long available but either misunderstood, suppressed, or ignored--substantiating that Smith and his early followers had multiple involvements with magic, irregular Freemasonry, and traditions generally termed occult.

Though a work still very much "in progress", Joseph Smith's story is now being pieced together in a new and entirely unorthodox fashion . . . between 1822 and 1827 he was enlisted to act as "seer" for several groups engaged in treasure     digging. Not only did he possessed a "seer stone" into which he could gaze and locate things lost or hidden in the earth, but it has recently became evident this same stone was probably the "Urim and Thummim" later used to "translate" portions of the Book of Mormon . . .

Three very curious parchments and a dagger owned by Joseph Smith's brother, Hyrum, have been careful preserved by his descendants as sacred relics, handed down from eldest son to eldest son after his death. Family tradition maintained they were religious objects somehow used by Hyrum and Joseph. When finally allowed scrutiny by individuals outside the family, it was recognized they were the implements of a ceremonial magician. The dagger bears the sigil of Mars. The three parchments, each apparently intended for a different magical operation, are inscribed with a variety of magic symbols and sigils. Another heirloom also fell into perspective: a "silver medallion" owned by Joseph Smith and carried on his person at the time of his murder in Carthage jail, was identified to be a talisman. It is inscribed front and back with the magic square and sigil of Jupiter, the astrological force associated with the year of Joseph Smith's birth. All of these items could have been constructed using the standard texts of ceremonial  magic available in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century: Agrippa's Occult Philosophy, Sibly's Occult Sciences, and Barrett's The Magus . . .

In the autumn of 1994 pieces of the prophet puzzle began falling into place; a unifying pattern was discerned within the unusual array of historical information outlined above. Joseph Smith's quest for a sacred golden treasure buried in dark earth, his involvement with ceremonial magic, the angelic visitations, the pseudepigraphic texts he "translated", his declaration of Masonry as a remnant of priesthood, and his restoration of a Temple with its central mystery of a sacred wedding--all could be fitted into one very recently recognized context: Hermeticism . . . John L. Brooke, professor of history at Tufts University, has recently explored this subject in a seminal 1994 study of Mormonism and Hermeticism, The Refiner's Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 [New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994]. Brooke notes the "striking parallels between the Mormon concepts of coequality of matter and spirit, of the covenant of celestial marriage, and of an ultimate goal of human godhood and the philosophical traditions of alchemy and Hermeticism . . . Smith's religion-making imagination was allied in several ways with remnants of an hermetic tradition frequently linked to gnosticism . . .

For a decade, Brooke suggests, Smith's emergent hermetic theology was disguised     under the coloring of traditional Christian restorationism and formed as new Christian church. But finally, in the last years of his life, the veil was parted [Brooke, 281]:

          At Nauvoo he publicly and unequivocally announced his new theology of
          preexistent spirits, the unity of matter and spirit, and the divinization of
          the faithful, and he privately pursued the consummation of
          alchemical-celestial marriage as the ultimate vehicle to this divinity. The
          alchemical-hermetic term of coniunctio powerfully summarizes the
          resolution that Smith had achieved at Nauvoo by the summer of 1844.
          He had established a theology of the conjunction--the unification--of the
          living and the dead, of men and women, of material and spiritual, of
          secular and sacred, all united in a "new and everlasting covenant" over
          which he would preside as king and god. In these circumstances the
          conventional boundary between purity and danger, right and wrong, law
          and revolution, simply melted away . . . In effect the greater Mormon
          emergence can be visualized as meta-alchemical experience running from
          opposition to union, an experience shaped and driven by the personality
          of Joseph Smith

(From: Joseph Smith: America's Hermetic Prophet, an article which first appeared in Gnosis: A Journal of Western Inner Traditions, Spring 1995)

In a thoroughly hostile Mormon review of Owens' thesis on the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) site (Brigham Young University), William J. Hamblin, while raising many worthy and legitimate points of contention, by and large uses the old lawyer's tactic of "obfuscate and deny everything," with excruciating (though, on one level, brilliant) use of historiographical relative minutiae, a methodology which a skeptical (albeit unsophisticated) observer might regard as not being able to see the forest for the trees. His "give no quarter" approach is illustrated in such passages as the following:

                         There is no contemporary primary evidence that Joseph himself owned or
                         used the parchments or dagger; one late source claims he had a
                         talisman in his pocket at the time of his death. We do not know
                         why Joseph had the talisman, or even if he really did. And we do
                         not know—if he had it—what he thought of it. We do not know
                         when, how, or why these items became heirlooms of the Hyrum
                         Smith family. Again, there is no contemporary primary evidence
                         that mentions Joseph or anyone in his family using these
                         artifacts—as Quinn himself noted, "possession alone may not be
                         proof of use." There is no evidence that Joseph ever had any
                         magic books. There is no evidence that Joseph ever had an occult
                         mentor who helped him make or use these items.

                         The methodology used by Owens is a classic example of what
                         one could call the miracle of the addition of the probabilities. The
                         case of Quinn and Owens relies on a rickety tower of unproven
                         propositions that do not provide certainty, rather a geometrically
                         increasing improbability . . .

                         We now come to the heart of Owens's article, the contention that
                         Joseph was influenced by Kabbalah. This is the only part of his
                         argument for which he provides new evidence and analysis. But,
                         like the rest of his thesis, this argument evaporates under critical
                         scrutiny . . .

                         The great methodological problem of Owens—again mirrored in Brooke's
                         method—is his failure to provide parallels between unique
                         kabbalistic ideas and Latter-day Saint thought . . .

                         He provides no solid primary evidence to demonstrate that Joseph Smith had a
                         profound knowledge of the esoteric traditions . . . The ideas that Joseph
                         allegedly borrowed from kabbalism are also found in biblical texts,
                         which Joseph Smith is known to have studied intensely . . . Throughout his
                         article Owens employs some interesting forms of rhetorical legerdemain in an
                         attempt to bolster his flimsy case. He is selective in which evidence he presents
                         and which he ignores . . .

                         His relatively few references to primary sources are frequently
                         misrepresentations or misunderstandings. He often simply
                         asserts his conclusions with no supporting evidence.

                         My friend Matt Moore aptly described Owens's theory as another
                         attempt in the grand tradition of Quinn and Brooke at historia ex
                         nihilo—the creation of history out of nothing. His efforts to pull a
                         magic rabbi out of his hat to bolster environmental explanations of
                         Joseph Smith's revelations are simply smoke and mirrors. While
                         some in the audience may applaud, most will immediately be
                         able to "bust" the trick.

V. Creation Ex Nihilo (From Nothing)


The idea that God is an eternally indivisible, simple, unchangeable spirit essence is the basis for the mainstream Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo—creation from nothing.

We have seen how the Book of Mormon teaches God's eternal immutability or unchangeability, as a "Great Spirit," and that He "created all things" (Alma 18:26-29, Alma 22:9-10, Mormon 9:11-12, 2 Nephi 11:7, Mosiah 4:9) so it is not quite so easy for Dr. Bickmore to draw a Mormon-Christian contrast on this score as he seems to think.

. . . Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men . . . (2 Nephi 29:7; cf. Jacob 4:9, Mosiah 2:20,23,25, 4:12)
How can God (or gods, as the case may be, depending on which Mormon Scripture one consults) create all men, yet also evolve from men? Is this logical? Or is logic and the law of non-contradiction up for grabs in Mormonism too? So if we ask, "which came first, the chicken [God] or the egg [man]?", does the post-Book of Mormon Mormon say "both"? Perhaps Dr. Bickmore can explain to us baffled outsiders how this sort of thinking (i.e., granting the inspiration of the Book of Mormon for the sake of argument) is to be understood and coherently set forth.
For if there be no Christ there be no God; and if there be no God we are not, for there could have been no creation. (2 Nephi 11:7)
This is nothing less than a spectacular and striking refutation of post-Book of Mormon LDS theology regarding matter and its relation to the Creator-God. For here we have "philosophy," if you will -- the very thing that Dr. Bickmore apparently claims is entirely absent from Mormonism (and that which supposedly fatally corrupted Christianity), as if it has no philosophy. What this establishes -- at least as explicitly as the Holy Bible itself does; perhaps more so -- is the philosophical (very Aristotelian and Scholastic and Thomistic) notion of First Cause, Efficient Cause, or Prime Mover. This is actually a primitive version of the cosmological argument for God's existence (just as Romans 1 offers a primitive teleological argument, or Argument from Design -- another instance of "philosophy" in the Bible; cf. Alma 30:44).

Note that without God there is no creation. It is very simply and eloquently stated. Therefore, God is the cause of creation (or, logically, at least one of the causes or necessary antecedents -- but as no other "god" is mentioned in the Book of Mormon, we can safely assume that this one "God" was the sole cause). Therefore, He Himself must be uncreated, and the universe of matter is not eternal, because it relies on God's existence for its own coming-into-existence, which would appear to support creatio ex nihilo.

All of this flies in the face of "mature" Mormon theology that God is somehow (mysteriously) created (or transformed) like everything else, and that matter is eternal (a denial of the clear biblical doctrine of the transcendence of God, which the above passage appears to assert or support). In Mormonism, God (at least the "god" of this world, with whom we have to do, whom Brigham Young taught was Adam) is just a few steps further up the ladder of cosmic evolution. There is nothing particularly unique or special about him. He is not different in kind, or qualitatively, from us (not in his essence).

He was once like us, and we shall be like him. He has a body and wives and sex as we do. All of this heresy, however, was developed after the Book of Mormon, so that it blatantly contradicts it. If Mormons regarded the Book of Mormon as less than Scripture, then they wouldn't have to grapple with the massive, insurmountable contradictions here detailed (a stroke of great fortune for Christian apologists such as myself! Such profound internal incoherence makes my job much easier).

That is, if God is “distinct from the world in fact and by essence,” as was stated by the Vatican Council, the question naturally arises as to whether matter is another fundamental principle apart from God. On the other hand, Joseph Smith taught that “The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and re-organized, but not destroyed. They had no beginning, and can have no end.” (14)

Aside from severe difficulties with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, whereby the universe is running down -- therefore must have had a beginning, lest it would have endured annihilation billions of years ago, and present Big Bang cosmology, which also holds that the universe of matter that we now know (i.e., according to the presently-understood laws of nature) had a beginning, and is not eternal, this would also seem to contradict the verse above. Dr. Bickmore is a geologist, so I assume he would appreciate these things (and no doubt understand them far better than I do). But how does he square these very strong scientific findings with Joseph Smith's contention that matter is eternal, and that God didn't create, but merely "re-organized" what can't even then be called "creation"?

Creatio ex nihilo is a biblical doctrine, too, even explicitly in at least one instance:

HEBREWS 11:3 (RSV) By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear.
Taken in conjunction with Genesis 1:1, this strongly indicates that creation did not involve pre-existent material, but was indeed out of nothing, by God's Omnipotent Word and Will. Passages having to do with His omnipotence and providence and sustaining of the material universe also support this notion, as well as God's transcendence and essential distinction from (i.e., superiority over, and cause of) His creation:
NEHEMIAH 9:6 . . . thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all {things} that {are} therein, . . . and thou preservest them all . . .

ACTS 17:24-25,28 God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth . . . Neither is he worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things . . . For in him we live, and move, and have our being; . . . For we are also his offspring.

ROMANS 11:36 For of him, and through him, and to him, {are} all things: to whom {be} glory for ever. Amen. (cf. Rom 9:5, Eph 4:6)

PHILIPPIANS 3:20-21 . . . we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: (21) Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.

COLOSSIANS 1:17 . . . by him all things consist. (cf. Mosiah 3:8)

1 TIMOTHY 6:13 . . . God, who quickeneth all things, . . .

HEBREWS 1:3 . . . upholding all things by the word of his power, . . . (cf. Jacob 4:9)

Thus, biblically speaking, creation was a free act of God, determined by His will alone; in no way a necessary act. God didn't have to create. And if He had chosen not to, there might have been no matter in the universe; only spirit, if that were His will -- since His will, providence, and omnipotence are the ultimate determinants of all things (Col 1:17, Heb 1:3). This is the biblical position. And it refutes the contrary Mormon doctrine of "re-formation" of existing eternal materials.

2 MACCABEES 7:28 (RSV) also explicitly teaches creatio ex nihilo:

. . . look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed. Thus also mankind comes into being.
Of course, Protestants (and perhaps Mormons as well) will immediately object that this is not Scripture, being part of the so-called Apocrypha, or what Catholics call the Deuterocanonical books (see my paper on why these books are Scripture, and regarded as such by the early Church). Even granting that hostile assumption, however, Dr. Bickmore's contention (see his next lengthy quote below) that creatio ex nihilo came into being around the second century A.D., due to Christian-Gnostic conflicts, and the incursion of "pagan" Greek philosophy into Christianity, is absolutely demolished. For no one denies that 2 Maccabees is a Jewish book, which recounts Jewish history and reflects Jewish beliefs, whether or not it is regarded as Scripture.

Some Jews did regard it as Scripture, since it was included in the Septuagint: translated by Jews in the 2nd century B.C. The book is thought to be an abridgement or epitome of the work of one Jason of Cyrene, who wrote in Egypt, it is thought, around 124 B.C., recounting events which took place from roughly 180-161 B.C. In any event, it far precedes both Christianity and Gnosticism, and shows that Jews accepted creatio ex nihilo (and -- for the early Christians, the Fathers, and Catholics -- that the notion is also explicitly biblical ; in the Old Testament, before Jesus was born).

In his 1990 Presidential address to the British Association for Jewish Studies, Peter Hayman asserted the following:

Nearly all recent studies on the origin of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo have come to the conclusion that this doctrine is not native to Judaism, is nowhere attested in the Hebrew Bible, and probably arose in Christianity in the second century C.E. in the course of its fierce battle with Gnosticism. The one scholar who continues to maintain that the doctrine is native to Judaism, namely Jonathan Goldstein, thinks that it first appears at the end of the first century C.E., but has recently conceded the weakness of his position in the course of debate with David Winston. (15)
I don’t have time to go into this subject more deeply, but I want to note two points about the doctrine of creation before we move on. First, the Christians who wrote the New Testament lived before anyone was teaching a doctrine of creation ex nihilo, so again we have a doctrinal trend going from something like Joseph Smith’s doctrine and toward that of mainstream Christianity. Second, there was no reason for the question of the origin of matter to even come up until Christians adopted the concept of a God who is absolutely distinct from the material universe. The fact that the question didn’t come up until Christians started explicitly teaching a philosophical concept of God’s nature is good corroborating evidence that the original Christian God was anthropomorphic and material, just as in normative Judaism.

This argument can easily be dismissed as of no consequence or merit, given 2 Maccabees 7:28. Anthropomorphism has already been dealt with at length. The Jews believed (with regard to whether God the Father is material or spirit) precisely as Christianity does, and in opposition to the novel Mormon concepts, apparently derived from Greek material polytheism and later Gnostic teaching.  St. Paul himself (a Christian Apostle, no less; perhaps the greatest one ever) makes an explicit statement of creatio ex nihilo:

ROMANS 4:17 (RSV) . . . God . . . who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.
As God can create out of nothing, so He has the corresponding power to "uncreate," obliterate or annihilate matter which He has created (see Psalm 102:25-27, written some ten centuries before Christ). So much for the contention: "the Christians who wrote the New Testament lived before anyone was teaching a doctrine of creation ex nihilo."

As for classic Greek philosophy, and its relation to this question, it is somewhat of a mixed bag, showing some similarity to Mormonism and some to Christianity, but in any event, it is not a simple, straightforward, non-controversial matter of Greek philosophy being a primary cause of the "apostasy" of non-Mormon (i.e., orthodox) Christianity (at least in the latter's doctrine of God), as Dr. Bickmore seems to believe. Concerning Plato's teaching, philosopher and historian of philosophy Bertrand Russell writes:

The world, being sensible, cannot be eternal, and must have been created by God . . . "Finding the whole visible sphere not at rest, but moving in an irregular and disorderly fashion, out of disorder he brought order." (Thus it appears that Plato's God, unlike the Jewish and Christian God, did not create the world out of nothing, but re-arranged pre-existing material).
(A History of Western Philosophy, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1945, 143-144)

And with regard to the view on God and creation of Plato's student and successor, Aristotle, Mortimer J. Adler comments:

Aristotle's God, unlike the God of the Bible, did not create the world. Aristotle would have denied the statement with which the Bible opens: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." He would have denied it because he saw no reason whatsoever for thinking that the world ever had a beginning . . .

Aristotle came to the conclusion that the prime mover is pure actuality -- a being totally devoid of matter or potentiality. In addition, this immaterial being is a perfect being, a being lacking no perfection that remains for it to attain. This perfect being, which is the prime mover of the universe, Aristotle called God . . .

It is interesting to follow the reasoning that led him to affirm the existence of the immaterial and perfect being that he called God. That reasoning provided a model for later thinkers in their efforts to prove the existence of God -- not Aristotle's God, but the God of Genesis, the God who created the world out of nothing. The conception of God as Prime Mover and the conception of God as Creator are alike in three repects: the immateriality, the immutability, and the perfection of the Divine Being . . . Aristotle did not think it necessary to explain the existence of the universe. Being eternal, it never came into existence.

(Aristotle for Everybody,  New York: Bantam Books, 1978, 163, 170-171)

So we see (according to two experts in the history of philosophy, and of ideas) that the denial of creatio ex nihilo, as in Mormonism, is a Platonic, Aristotelian, and Greek concept, over against the Jewish and Christian, precisely the opposite of Dr. Bickmore's conclusions. Plato did not believe in creatio ex nihilo and Aristotle didn't believe in creation at all. That being the case, they can hardly be blamed (as the most influential Greek philosophers) for the orthodox Christian and explicitly biblical doctrine of creation out of nothing. One must go to the Bible to attach blame on that score. In terms of God's non-creative qualities, however, Plato and Aristotle are much closer to Christianity and Judaism, believing God to be non-material, perfect, immutable, etc., as opposed to the earlier Greek polytheistic mythology, where gods had bodies like men, as in Mormonism.

It comes as no surprise to me that Mormonism is, once again, more closely linked theologically to Greek pagan philosophy and mythology than to the Bible and the Jewish monotheistic tradition, but obviously this is not a position that Dr. Bickmore would relish. One can argue all day long about "influences" and precursors, and that endeavor is highly subjective by its very nature. The Bible offers an objective basis for determining orthodoxy and theological truth, and there Mormonism fails miserably, as repeatedly shown.

VI. Response to Mormon Claims About Trinitarian Subordination, Subjection, and the Creator/Creature Distinction in Early Christianity


One feature of the New Testament all Christians must come to terms with is the fact that in some passages the Father is represented as “the only true God,”  while in others the Son and Holy Spirit are also called “God.”  How can this apparent contradiction be resolved? Mainstream Christians hold that the members of the Trinity are separate “persons” who share a single “Divine Being” or “Divine Substance.” All three persons have always existed in the same relationship to one another, and there is no hierarchy within the Trinity except in a purely “economic” sense. On the other hand, Latter-day Saints believe the members of the Godhead are separate beings, and so in a sense we believe in more than one God.

What "sense" is that? It is polytheism, or tritheism, pure and simple. Dr. Bickmore stated in his letter at the beginning of this dialogue that Mormons "believe in" the "deity [Godhood] of Christ and the Holy Spirit." So all three are regarded as God, but (we are now informed) they are "separate beings." That is polytheism. Period. What else could it be called? Not to mention that in Mormonism, men can become gods (Satan's promise in the Garden of Eden, which brought about the Fall of Mankind). What in the world is this view, if not polytheism?

However, Latter-day Saints also speak of “one God” in two senses. First, the Godhead is “one” in will, purpose, love, and covenant. Second, the Father is the absolute monarch of the known Universe, and all others are subject to Him.

It can readily be seen that these two disparate definitions of God must lead to different conclusions regarding the noted apparent contradiction. For example, if “God” is defined as an eternally indivisible, simple, unique, unchanging spiritual essence, it would make no sense to speak of three separate Beings as one God,

Agreed, which is why we do not do that; this is Dr. Bickmore's confusion (and it begs the question). We speak of one Being; one God, Who subsists in Three Persons. We don't expect that human beings (even those gifted with faith and grace) can totally comprehend this, just as (to use C.S. Lewis' fascinating analogy) a creature who lived in a one-dimensional or even a two-dimensional world would not be expected to conceptualize what a three-dimensional world would be like. The creature of a "square world" probably would have extreme difficulty visualizing a cube. We believe in the Trinity because it is revealed in Holy Scripture, unlike Mormon doctrines. It doesn't surprise us that God's nature would seem fantastic and (for lack of a better term) surreal to us, and "higher than our thoughts." That is totally to be expected, given what God has revealed about others of His extraordinary attributes, by means of legitimate revelation, and natural theology as well (Romans 1).

because that would imply a division in the indivisible, and a plurality of something that is by definition unique. Any sort of hierarchy in the Trinity would imply the same.

Again, Dr. Bickmore assumes what he is trying to prove.

Furthermore, Frances Young wrote, “underlying the most crucial episode in the emergence of the Christian doctrine of God, namely the reply to Arianism, was affirmation of creation out of nothing.”  (18) The dogma of creation from nothing puts everything into two categories—God, who is eternally unchanging, and everything else, which is created from nothing.


So, if we allow that Jesus Christ is truly divine, rather than in some watered down sense as the Arians taught, He has to be identified with the unique “Divine Being.” However, if God is an anthropomorphic Being who is not disconnected from the material universe and did not create everything else from absolute nothingness, it makes perfect sense to speak of three separate Beings who are one God in the sense of absolute mental and moral unity.

Sure, if He is a physical Being. This again assumes what it is trying to prove; hence it is a worthless argument in this context, and is convincing only to Mormon ears, which already accept it. But we have seen ample evidence that none of these heretical notions are biblical; quite the contrary: they are all decisively refuted in Holy Scripture.

Since we have no requirement that God be absolutely “simple,” or without parts, and indivisible, we have no problem with the idea of hierarchy within the Godhead.

Of course not. But Mormons do have a huge, insurmountable problem in trying to achieve consistent, coherent biblical exegesis, and with the internal contradictions of the Book of Mormon over against later Mormon doctrines which aren't found in it, and are, indeed, opposed in it.

The historical basis for the Latter-day Saint doctrine of the Divine Unity is very strong, because it was almost universally accepted among Christians before the Nicene Council of 325 A.D. that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were united in will, but separate in rank and glory.

This poses no problem, because it is a relatively abstract thing (like the filioque clause) and required considerable development to be fully understood, like many Christian doctrines. But the early Christians all thought that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were God. That is the essence of the doctrine, which is all that legitimate development of doctrine requires to be present from the beginning. Mormon doctrine is demonstrably a corruption of the "Divine Unity" held by the early Church before Nicaea.

J.N.D. Kelly of Oxford University noted that even at the Council of Nicea the majority party believed “that there are three divine hypostases [or “persons”], separate in rank and glory but united in harmony of will.”  This doctrine is called “subordinationism”, and R.P.C. Hanson wrote, “Indeed, until Athanasius began writing, every single theologian, East and West, had postulated some form of Subordinationism. It could, about the year 300, have been described as a fixed part of catholic theology.”  Henry Bettenson explained “‘subordinationism’…was pre-Nicene orthodoxy.”

This was answered in my last comment.

For example, Paul wrote that the Father is “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,”  and revealed that after the resurrection Jesus will “be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.”  Indeed, Jesus Himself said, “My Father is greater than I.”

I alluded to the Christian answer to this misunderstanding of "subjection" (a common argument of Jehovah's Witnesses and other modern-day Arians) earlier, but I see that I shall have to cite some earlier work of mine in that regard:

Jesus' subjection to the Father is seen in such verses as John 14:28: ". . . for my Father is greater than I," 1 Corinthians 11:3: ". . .the head of Christ {is} God," and 1 Corinthians 15:28: "And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all." John 14:28 is to be understood in light of passages such as Philippians 2:5-11, which show us that Christ in John 14:28 was speaking strictly in terms of his office as Messiah, which entailed a giving up, not of the Divine Nature, but of certain prerogatives of glory and Deity which are enjoyed by the Father.

PHILIPPIANS 2:5-11 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: (6) Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: (7) But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: (8) . . . he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (9) Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: (10) That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . (11) And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Compare this to what is said of God the Father:

ISAIAH 45:23 . . . unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. (cf. 66:23)

Christ subjected Himself to the Father in order to undertake His role as the Incarnate Son and Mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5). Similarly, one might say that "the President of the United States is a greater man than I am," but this would not mean he was necessarily a better man. In any event, he is still a man like us. Since Jesus is still God, even while "humbling" Himself (Phil 2:8), Scripture also indicates that the Father is, in a sense, "subject" to the Son:

JOHN 16:15 All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew {it} unto you.

JOHN 16:23 And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give {it} you.

When the Father is called the "head" of the Son (1 Cor 11:3), this also does not entail any lessening of the equality between the Son and the Father. The Bible also talks about wives being subject to their husbands (1 Pet 3:1,5), even while the two are equals (Gal 3:28, Eph 5:21-22), and indeed, "one flesh" (Mt 19:5-6). Likewise, one Person of the Godhead can be in subjection to another Person and remain God in essence and substance (Phil 2:6-8). Luke 2:51 says that Jesus was "subject" to Mary and Joseph. Yet no orthodox Christian of any stripe would hold that Jesus was lesser in essence than His earthly parents! The same Greek word for "subject" in Luke 2:51 (hupotasso) is used in 1 Cor 15:28, and in 1 Pet 2:18 below. Besides, submissiveness and servanthood is not presented as a sign of weakness or inferiority in Scripture. Quite the contrary:

1 PETER 2:18 Servants, {be} subject to {your} masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.

MATTHEW 23:11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.

The word for "greatest" here is meizon, the same word used in John 14:28. Thus, any notion that submissiveness is a lessening of equality is absolutely unscriptural.

Likewise, in 1 Cor 15:28, the subjection spoken of is that of the Son as incarnate, not the Son as Son in essence. While this verse tells us that God will be "all in all," Colossians 3:11 tells us that ". . . Christ {is} all, and in all." Thus, Jesus' office as Messiah and Mediator will cease in time, but not His Godhood, since Scripture teaches that He will be "all in all" just as His Father is.

Subordinationism took various forms in early Christianity, but one of the most popular depicted the Son and Spirit as sort of “super Archangels,” who were worshipped as Divine, but subordinate to the Father. In fact, Larry Hurtado of the University of Edinburgh and others have provided a great deal of evidence that the roots of belief in Jesus’ divinity were in earlier Jewish beliefs about a principal angelic helper to God.

An early second century Jewish Christian document, the Shepherd of Hermas, spoke of “the angel of the prophetic Spirit”  and Jesus as the “‘glorious…angel’ or ‘most venerable…angel.’”

Looking up this passage (Commandment 11) online in "ANF" (http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-02/anf02-21.htm#TopOfPage) -- Dr. Bickmore's source given in his footnote --, the only time "angel" appears in that section is in the phrase “the angel of the prophetic Spirit”: which clause Dr. Bickmore himself does not attribute to Jesus.  The alleged references to Jesus as an angel do not appear, nor do the words "glorious" or "venerable," so I can hardly comment on those, without further, more specific primary documentation, able to be examined in context. I'm not going to search through the whole book.

Justin Martyr was a converted philosopher who lived in Rome in the mid-second century, but Robert M. Grant suggested that in passages like the following, he was influenced by the Jewish Christian writings of Hermas, who lived in the same congregation.  Justin Martyr wrote that Jesus is “another God and Lord subject to the Maker of all things; who is also called an Angel.” He is “distinct from Him who made all things,—numerically, I mean, not in will.”  He also asserted the following. “We reverence and worship Him and the Son who came forth from Him and taught us these things, and the host of other good angels who are about Him and are made quite like Him, and the Prophetic Spirit.”  Robert M. Grant noted, “This passage presents us with considerable difficulties. The word ‘other,’ used in relation to the angels, suggests that Jesus himself is an angel.”  Catholic scholar Father William Jurgens admitted that here St. Justin “apparently [made] insufficient distinction between Christ and the created Angels.” He continued, “There are theological difficulties in the above passage, no doubt. But we wonder if those who make a great deal of these difficulties do not demand of Justin a theological sophistication which a man of his time and background could not rightly be expected to have.”

This is incorrect terminology and bad theology on Justin Martyr's part, but it poses no problem for the Catholic, because we believe that individual Fathers (especially the ones earlier in developmental history) can err. What is binding for us are conciliar and infallible papal decrees.

While Latter-day Saints aren’t in the habit of calling the Son and Holy Spirit “angels,” such things don’t really raise our eyebrows, because we believe Gods and angels are gradations of the same species.

This is where the far greater difficulty lies, rather than with Justin Martyr's early imprecise phraseology, because this notion is flat-out unbiblical. The Bible is inspired and infallible, unlike the writings of Church Fathers.  And the Bible says that angels and men are not to be worshiped like God, precisely because they are creatures and not the Creator; therefore on a fundamentally inferior plane (to worship them, then, would be idolatry). St. Peter refuses worship (Acts 10:25-26), as do St. Paul and Barnabas at Lystra (Acts 14:11-15). An angel twice refuses it (Rev 19:10, 22:8-9, cf. 18:1). Colossians 2:18 forbids angel worship. The angels worship Jesus in Hebrews 1:6. If Jesus is some sort of angel ("spirit brother of Lucifer"?), then these angels would be guilty of worshiping another angel (see also Neh 9:6). Further proof that Jesus is not an angel is found in Hebrews 1:4-5,7-8,13. Jude 9 informs us that Michael the Archangel didn't have authority to rebuke Satan, which Jesus certainly had (Mt 4:4,7,10).

Likewise, in the Book of Mormon, angels worship the one true God (1 Nephi 1:8, Alma 36:22), and are called "all his holy angels" (Alma 18:30), implying a difference in essence and a superiority of God over the angels (as well as His "possession" of them). God sends angels to men to "impartheth his word" (Alma 32:23; cf. 39:19) -- precisely their biblical role as heavenly messengers (the literal meaning of angel). The Book of Mormon teaches that God the Father and Jesus are to be worshiped (1 Nephi 17:55, 2 Nephi 25:16,29, Jacob 4:5, Alma 15:17, 21:22, 31:12, 32:5, 34:28, 43:10, 50:39, 3 Nephi 11:17, 17:10, 4 Nephi 1:37).

Dr. Bickmore tells us that Mormons believe in the "deity" of the Holy Spirit; yet I can't find (looking through the topical index) a passage in the Book of Mormon where the Holy Spirit is worshiped as God, even though He -- along with the Father and the Son -- is called "God" (Alma 11:44, 2 Nephi 31:21, 3 Nephi 11:27,36, Mormon 7:7). Perhaps he can inform me where this occurs, if I have missed it, or, conversely, explain why it is absent if indeed that is the case.

Thou shalt have no other God before me. (Mosiah 12:35).
Is all this really consistent with Dr. Bickmore's Mormon notion that "Gods and angels are gradations of the same species"? I think not. Once again, Mormon beliefs contradict the Book of Mormon.

So again we have clear and convincing evidence that the trend in the early Christian doctrine of the Divine Unity went from something very like the LDS doctrine, and toward the mainstream Christian doctrine.

With all due resepct, it's not clear and convincing at all. Dr. Bickmore gives  inadequate evidence to substantiate his sweeping claim, and little or no scriptural proof at all (whereas I offer much, as usual), yet he confidently asserts that the early Christian doctrine of God in one respect was "something very like the LDS doctrine." The weak nature of his case will be, I trust, evident to the impartial reader.

Again we can point to a transitional period, where even those, like Justin, who adopted a philosophical definition of God, were subordinationists. I want to point out once more that Christians from the New Testament on had taught that Jesus was fully divine. For instance, Paul wrote of Jesus, “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.”  And yet, the idea that Jesus is both fully divine and subordinate to the Father in rank and glory are not compatible with a Greek philosophical definition of God.

As I've shown, it can be demonstrated biblically that there is such a thing as subjection (as well as procession, which I haven't delved into) among the three Divine Persons, without any inequality. I believe I've shown how the doctrines concerning God which Catholics (and virtually all Christians) believe can be vigorously and consistently defended from Holy Scripture, which is objective in a way that the speculations and conjectures of history of ideas (though fun, and one of my own favorite subjects) can never be. It's fine to make strictly historical arguments, but once they delve into theological issues, then Scripture must necessarily enter into the discussion also.

14. Joseph Smith, Teachings, 350–352.
15. Peter Hayman, “Monotheism—A Misused Word in Jewish Studies?”, Journal of Jewish Studies 42 (1991): 1–15. See also Jonathan Goldstein, “The Origins of the Doctrine of Creation Ex Nihilo”, Journal of Jewish Studies 35 (1984): 127–135; Jonathan Goldstein, “Creation Ex Nihilo: Recantations and Restatements”, Journal of Jewish Studies f38 (1987): 187–194; David Winston, “Creation Ex Nihilo Revisited: A Reply to Jonathan Goldstein”, Journal of Jewish Studies 37 (1986): 88–91.
16. John 17:3.
17. John 1:1; John 14:26; Acts 13:2.
18. Frances Young, “‘Creatio ex Nihilo’: A Context for the Emergence of the Christian Doctrine of Creation,” Scottish Journal of Theology 44 (1991):  139–151.
19. J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, Revised Edition (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1978,) 247–248.
20. Hansen, R., “The Achievement of Orthodoxy in the Fourth Century AD,” The Making of Orthodoxy: Essays in Honour of Henry Chadwick, edited by Rowan Williams (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 153.
21. Henry Bettenson, The Early Christian Fathers (London: Oxford University Press, 1956), 330. See also Linwood Urban, A Short History of Christian Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 54.
22. Romans 15:6, New English Bible.
23. 1 Corinthians 15:24–8.
24. John 14:28.
25.  Larry W. Hurtado, One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism, Second Edition (Edinburgh, T&T Clark, 1998).
26. “The Pastor of Hermas, Commandment 11,” ANF 2:27–28.
27.  Specifically, Hermas seems to have identified Jesus with Michael. Jean Daniélou, The Theology of Jewish Christianity, translated by John A. Baker (Philadelphia:  The Westminster Press, 1964), 123–124. However, this may not be particularly significant, since other Jewish Christian texts speak of Jesus appearing to mortals disguised as one of the archangels. Daniélou, The Theology of Jewish Christianity, 131.
28.  Robert M. Grant, The Early Christian Doctrine of God  (Charlottesville, Virginia: University Press of Virginia, 1966), 81.
29. Justin Martyr, “Dialogue with Trypho 56,” ANF 1:223.
30. Justin Martyr, “First Apology 6,” in William A. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1970), 1:51.
31. Grant, The Early Christian Doctrine of God, 81.
32. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, 1:56, n. 1.
33. Philippians 2:6.

VII. Reply to Dr. Bickmore's Critique of Catholic Development of Doctrine


We have seen so far that in three important and interconnected areas of doctrine there were definite historical trends that point backward to something similar to LDS doctrine.

I remain thoroughly unconvinced, and I eagerly await Dr. Bickmore's counter-reply to my arguments against his contentions.

I could have multiplied these examples, and in itself I think this is excellent evidence for LDS claims about the apostasy and restoration.

I fervently hope that Dr. Bickmore does multiply his examples. If they are all this weak and insubstantial, then his case will collapse, based on the cumulative weight of strong biblical and historical disproofs and internal incoherence and inconsistency.

But how do the historical facts square with Protestant and Catholic claims?  Certainly they do not fit with simplistic notions that any of these groups—or Mormonism, for that matter—is exactly like any early Christian groups.

Development occurs, but early Christianity is much more similar to modern-day Catholicism than Protestantism, let alone Gnostic-influenced, polytheistic, Anthropomorphite Mormonism.

Latter-day Saints can easily deal with a few discrepancies by citing our belief in an apostasy, and the fact that God told Joseph Smith He would reveal things that had been “kept hid from before the foundation of the world.”  I intend to show, on the other hand, that Protestants and Catholics can deal with Christian doctrinal history only with great difficulty.

I would love to see that. But the handy "apostasy" excuse or rationalization for all difficulties will not do, since Mormons also argue that their doctrine is biblical. Furthermore, in this particular exchange, Dr. Bickmore is making various claims as to what early Christians or apostolic-period Jews believed: claims which are susceptible to disproof. He has dozens of serious difficulties to deal with, pertaining to his argument here alone, as far as I am concerned. Anyone can make an argument all by themselves -- even make almost anything sound plausible if they are clever enough and skilled at rhetoric. The real test comes in the interaction with critique: taking on all comers, so to speak. Can Dr. Bickmore do that?


The problem of doctrinal development first came into the full light of day with the 1845 publication of John Henry Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.

It was neither a problem, nor anything new. He was merely expanding upon themes present in St. Augustine in the 4th century, and especially St. Vincent of Lerins in the 5th, as I have repeatedly shown in several of my papers (see my Development of Doctrine web page).

Newman had been an Anglican clergyman and had achieved some notoriety for publishing historically sophisticated tracts in favor of Anglicanism and against Roman Catholicism. The Essay on Development was published just before he was formally accepted into the Catholic Church, and represented, at least in part, a justification of his conversion. As an Anglican, Newman argued for the idea that Anglicanism was a return to the Church of the first few centuries, whereas Roman Catholicism had added any number of unwarranted innovations. However, in his historical studies he began to notice that the early Church itself was not static, but showed a definite progression in doctrine and practice. How could this be explained? And on what basis did Anglicans and Protestants reject some doctrinal developments, but accept others?

This is a good summary, and it so happens that this book was instrumental in my own conversion: hence my abiding interest in development of doctrine. My planned fourth book will be devoted entirely to the subject, and I believe I have the most extensive web page on development online, and definitely the largest Newman page.

Certainly this is a powerful argument against Anglicanism or Protestantism, but it does not come without a price for Catholics. Before Newman, a few of the Church Fathers had indicated a belief in some sort of doctrinal progression, but among those who were not posthumously excommunicated and anathematized, this concept did not seem to progress beyond the idea of making logical deductions from the previously established deposit of faith.

Of course, Newmanian development is the same thing (it's a development of earlier notions of development <ggg>), though often misunderstood or caricatured as some sort of evolution, which it most assuredly is not.

The vast majority of Catholic writers before Newman had expressed sentiments similar to the following statements by Pope Leo the Great, who died in 461 A.D. In a letter to the Emperor he wrote, “We may not in a single word dissent from the teaching of the Gospels and Apostles, nor entertain any opinion on the Divine Scriptures different to what the blessed Apostles and our Fathers learnt and taught.”  Leo also wrote, “And in nothing have I departed from the creed of the holy Fathers: because the Faith is one, true, unique, catholic, and to it nothing can be added, nothing taken away.”

Sure, but context and interpretation of what he was saying is crucial. The same Pope Leo was also the one who presided over the Council of Chalcedon (451), and was the key force behind the adoption of the Hypostatic Union, or Two Natures of Christ, one of the most notable and consequential theological developments of all time, defined in opposition to the Monophysite heretics. So it scarcely makes any sense to imply that he was opposed to development.

The Second Council of Nicea in 787 stated, “We take away nothing and we add nothing, but we preserve without diminution all that pertains to the Catholic Church. … We keep without change or innovation all the ecclesiastical traditions that have been handed down to us, whether written or unwritten.”

Indeed; the essential doctrines as handed down must be preserved. Increased understanding and differential application of them may occur. It's really not that complicated.

Newman, who later became a Cardinal, set out to explain how developments in doctrine might be legitimate. He realized that his arguments did not constitute proof of Roman Catholic claims, but were instead meant to “explain certain difficulties in history.”  He developed a number of “notes” or “tests” by which one might distinguish authentic from spurious developments.

It is beyond my intention here to examine these criteria, except to note that they go far beyond logical connectedness. Newman used the analogy of organic growth from an original seed, and insisted that at certain stages the Church might not be cognizant of what it “really believes.” For instance, in a letter to Giovanni Perrone he wrote, “It can happen that, with regard to one or another part of the deposit, the Church might not be fully conscious of what she felt about a thing.”  Subsequent Catholic theologians have taken a variety of approaches to the problem raised by Newman. Some have insisted that logical connectedness is the only legitimate criterion, but one of the classic counterexamples is the declaration of the dogma of the Bodily Assumption of Mary by Pius XII in 1950. It is obvious to any clear-thinking person that there is no way to logically deduce such a doctrine from scripture,

It is, to the contrary, quite easy to do so (though not, perhaps, without some difficulty, grasped by someone who has never heard it). In a nutshell: death and decay came about as a result of the Fall. Mary was conceived immaculately (the angel at the Annunciation said: "Hail Mary, full of grace") and without original sin by a miracle of God, so she could bear the God-Man (the miracle of the Virgin Birth, not Greek mythological-like sex with God, as Mormons believe), because the closer one gets to God, the purer they necessarily become. She was the Second Eve, because she had the choice to follow God faithfully and not sin, just as Eve did (but blew it). Mary did not in fact sin.

Therefore, when she died, she didn't have to undergo decay; so she didn't go through the usual process of separation of body and soul. All saved persons will one day be resurrected (1 Cor 15); hers was merely uninterrupted, and was instant at death. Previous examples of persons going to heaven body and soul are Elijah the prophet and Enoch. I know this sounds implausible to those unfamiliar with the reasoning (as I once was, in my Protestant days), but I treat it in great depth in my first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, and in various dialogues, and it is very much based on biblical logical deduction, all down the line. This is not the case, however, with Mormon doctrines, as I think I have shown.

and we find no mention of such a belief in the earliest Christian centuries, even in spurious or heretical writings.  Father Luigi Gambero recently wrote, “As far as we know, no Christian author before Epiphanius [who died in 403 A.D.] had ever raised the question of the end of the Blessed Virgin’s earthly existence.”

It's true that early sources are scarce, but then, this was a slowly developing doctrine. The Church was much more concerned with the far more important Christological doctrines. After they were finalized in 451, then Marian development could more readily occur.

Giovanni Perrone thought that the deposit of faith had been given to the Church in complete form by the Apostles, but in such a way that it was scattered among the local churches, so it had to be gathered together over the centuries.  The previously made point about the dogma of the Assumption of Mary applies equally well to this thesis. Modernists like Alfred Loisy and George Tyrrell reasoned that if the Church had already undergone a series of drastic changes, more were to be expected in order to “modernize” the Church.  You can probably imagine how well that went over in the Vatican. A number of more moderate theologians, e.g. Karl Rahner, Edward Schillebeeckx, and Yves Congar, have carried on the debate in the spirit of Newman. For instance, Karl Rahner held that one could not formulate exact laws for doctrinal development, but argued that inexact laws could still be found that insured there would not be doctrinal anarchy.

This is basically rambling, subjective analysis, so I feel no particular need to reply to it, except to deny that Schillebeeckx was a moderate!

Let me point out a few reasons why I believe Catholic responses to the fact of doctrinal development have been problematic. First, Catholicism rejects the possibility of new public revelation.  However, it has often been asked how doctrinal developments are different than new revelation.

Because they are consistent with what came earlier, and merely expand upon earlier understanding.  Trinitarianism is a prime example of this, as is Transubstantiation, which was a more philosophically-sophisticated understanding of what was always believed as the Real Presence, or Substantive Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ, after consecration. It is similar to legal clarification over time: how, e.g.,  the law in the US Constitution has grown and expanded, while we still have the original "deposit." Some things are corruptions of its intent and content, such as legal abortion.

It's the same with apostolic Christian doctrine. Polytheism and Gnosticism and new Sabellian-tinged "Scriptures" found in a New York hill in the 19th century are clearly corruptions of biblical Christianity (because they were not present at all in the apostolic succession of orthodox Christianity, which was the Fathers' criteria for theological truth), whereas Marian, eucharistic, and trinitarian developments are legitimate developments, because they expand upon and contradict nothing in the essential kernel of earlier understandings and bald, creed-like statements of belief.

Newman wrote, “Supposing the order of nature once broken by the introduction of a revelation, the continuance of that revelation is but a question of degree.”  Aidan Nichols describes Dominican Francisco Marín-Sola’s and Jesuit Henri de Lubac’s differing reactions to this question.

So as to guard himself against the charge of denying that revelation is completed with the death of the last apostle, Marín-Sola had revived the ancient Thomist idea that the apostles and they alone of all early Christians, knew all doctrine in an explicit fashion. But, remarks de Lubac, what a price is being paid here in terms of historical verisimilitude! How could the apostles have expressed to themselves truths whose formulation presupposes later habits of thought? How can we explain their refusing or neglecting to pass on these truths to their successors? Or, if they did pass them on, how are we to explain…this “flood of forgetfulness”, which must have overwhelmed the Church in the second Christian generation?

Our problem admits no resolution until such time as we re-formulate—so de Lubac contends—our very idea of revelation itself. … The content of revelation is that divine redemptive action which is summed up in God’s gift of His Son. … But this is not to say, de Lubac hastens to add, that propositional truth is alien to revelation. It is simply that such propositions are arrived at on the basis of revelation only by a process of abstraction.

I have no problem with this. We must use our minds, just as we are doing now.

It is difficult to argue against de Lubac’s answer to the problem, except to ask how we are to know when propositional truth has been sufficiently “abstracted” from the original revelation to be definitive. This leads us to the next problem—the Catholic doctrine of infallibility.
Since the First Vatican Council, it has been dogmatically defined that certain doctrinal and moral declarations are to be considered infallible. For instance, the Council declared, “It is not permissible for anyone to interpret holy scripture in a sense contrary to…the unanimous consent of the fathers.”  When Catholics speak of the “unanimous consent” of the Fathers, it should be admitted, they do not mean literal unanimity, but rather an overwhelming consensus. But when exactly did this infallibility kick in? We have already noted that every orthodox pre-Nicene theologian was a subordinationist,

That's news to me. I saw documentation from Justin Martyr, which I accept, and an incompletely documented example from The Shepherd of Hermas. That's supposed to convince us that "every orthodox pre-Nicene theologian was a subordinationist"?

and that several passages from the New Testament seem to imply this.

No; they imply the subjection of the Messiah, as part of His kenosis, without any loss at all of equality, as I demonstrated in some depth.

Even though this doctrine took different forms, doesn’t this count as an overwhelming consensus that the Son and Spirit are subordinate in rank and glory to the Father?

No, because, first of all, it hasn't been shown that "everyone" believed this, let alone decisively demonstrated. Secondly, it is not of the essence of trinitarianism, therefore, poses no problem at all for Newmanian (or Augustinian, Vincentian) development. The barest essence is as follows:

1. The Father is God.
2. The Son is God.
3. The Holy Spirit is God.
4. Yet these three Divine Persons are one God.
This is the essential kernel of trinitarianism, and in this basic form it is quite explicit in Scripture and the early Fathers. From this kernel developed the later complexities of the Two Natures, the Incarnation, reflection on Mary as the Theotokos, and the logical procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son, and various other fascinating theological speculations, which took 400 years to fully work out in the Catholic Church.

A third problem that can be mentioned is the development of the concept of doctrinal development itself. I mentioned earlier that the vast majority of Catholic Fathers had claimed they were teaching exactly what the Apostles taught.

That's right: in essence. We make the same claim today. The difference lies in degree of understanding and complexity of the same doctrine handed down by the Apostles. It isn't esoteric knowledge, as in Gnostic Mormonism, but simply developed thought, similar to natural science as it better understands the processes of nature, through long centuries of thought.

A few exceptions may be noted, but the only pre-Nicene examples I have seen put forward by Catholics on this point are a very shaky foundation. For instance, in support of the proposition that “there is a certain progress in dogma,”  Father William Jurgens cites one statement by Irenaeus that actually contradicts his point, two from Tertullian during his proto-Montanist and Montanist periods, and one from Origen. It seems significant that the only passages Father Jurgens could cull from the entire pre-Nicene corpus to support the Roman Catholic concept of doctrinal development come from Origen, who was posthumously excommunicated for his doctrinal speculations, and Tertullian, who wrote the relevant passages when he was at least leaning toward the Montanists, who were a pseudo-prophetic sect condemned by the Catholics! At least in Tertullian’s case, it is not even clear that he thought the development of doctrine wasn’t supposed to happen via new public revelation. If public revelation ceased with the Apostles and the Church was supposed to “develop” that deposit of faith in various other ways, wouldn’t the Apostles have passed on at least this knowledge to the next generations?

Well, it isn't pre-Nicene (neither is the canon of Scripture), but the classic and most explicit text on development in the Fathers is found in St. Vincent of Lerins, in his Commonitoria, or Notebooks, from around 451 A.D. (261-266 in vol. 3 of Jurgens). Newman derived virtually all of his ideas from this work; very few really new ideas are added: just a few theoretical particulars which he then tries to test by applying them to Church history. I've cited this text many, many times in my papers. It can be found in the following treatment, which is somewhat similar to the present exchange: Refutation of William Webster's Fundamental Misunderstanding of Development of Doctrine (I've linked to the precise spot where I cite St. Vincent of Lerins).  See also my overviews on development for introductory treatments:

Development of Doctrine: A Corruption of Biblical Teaching?
Overview of Development of Doctrine (Transcript of a Television Interview)
And to pursue the matter of legitimate developments vs. corruptions in a bit more depth, see:
Preliminary Dialogue With an Anglican on the Nature of Legitimate Development of Doctrine (Dave Armstrong vs. Edwin Tait)
A fourth problem may be discussed in connection with the third. That is, nobody seems to have known that public revelation was supposed to have ceased with the Apostles until around the turn of the third century. For instance, the early second century Christian document, The Shepherd of Hermas, was a revelation given to Hermas, a prophet who was the brother of the one of the Roman bishops. Several of the pre-Nicene Fathers accepted this document as authoritative scripture,  but later it was excluded from the canon because it was not written by one of the Apostles or their associates. So not only are we faced with a situation where Apostles didn’t pass on the information that doctrine was supposed to develop upon the basis of the original deposit of faith, but they didn’t even pass on the information that the original deposit of public revelation was complete!

That's because the apostolic deposit wasn't regarded so much as a collection of books, as it was a body of knowledge. We think today in terms of fully-literate societies, but that phenomenon has only been possible since the mid-15th century. The Hebrew (and apostolic) culture was primarily oral. Consequently, St. Paul casually places equal authority on oral and written teachings. See my paper: Tradition is Not a Dirty Word.

34. For an excellent survey of how Catholics have confronted the problem, see Aidan Nichols, From Newman to Congar: The Idea of Doctrinal Development from the Victorians to the Second Vatican Council (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1990). For a survey of Protestant thought on the subject, see Peter Toon, The Development of Doctrine in the Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979). The reader will notice that I am heavily indebted to both these authors.
35.   D&C 124:41.
36.  Pope Leo the Great, “Letter 82,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 2, edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (New York: The Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1890–1900,) 12:67. Hereafter cited as NPNF Series 2. I thank Ted Jones for pointing this reference out to me.
37.  Pope Leo the Great, “Letter 124,” NPNF Series 2, 12:91.
38.  Timothy Kallistos Ware, “Christian Theology in the East 600–1453,” A History of Christian Doctrine, edited by Hubert Cunliffe-Jones (Edinburgh 1978), 184. I thank Ted Jones for this reference. The documents of the Second Nicene Council can be accessed at: http://www.piar.hu/councils/ecum07.htm.
39.  Newman, Essay on Development, vii.
40.  John Henry Newman, quoted in “The Newman Perrone Paper on Development; 1847,” Gregorianum, edited by T. Lynch ( 1935), 402–447.
41.  For a survey of the early development of beliefs about Mary, see Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 490–499.
42.  Luigi Gambero, Mary and the Fathers of the Church, translated by Thomas Buffer (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999), 125.
43.  Nichols, From Newman to Congar, 60.
44. Ibid., 6–7, 71–135.
45. Ibid., 217–219.
46. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994 edition, paragraph 66–67.
47.  For example, see Owen Chadwick, From Bossuet to Newman: The Idea of Doctrinal Development (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1957), 195.
48.  Newman, Essay on Development, 85.
49.   Nichols, From Newman to Congar, 210.
50.  First Vatican Council, Session 3: Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, chapter 2, paragraph 9. See http://www.piar.hu/councils/ecum20.htm.


I have quite a bit less to say about the Protestant reaction to the fact of doctrinal development, because it has largely been ignored or dismissed without much of a hearing, or they claim they only adhere to developments that can be logically deduced from scripture. I believe that’s why we recently had Evangelicals Carl Mosser and Paul Owen arguing in the FARMS Review of Books that the New Testament is Trinitarian in the same sense as the classical creeds.  Such people rarely acknowledge that one can only deduce such things from scripture if we assume a Greek philosophical definition of God.

This doesn't follow. All one needs is logic to make deductions, not a whole edifice of Greek theistic philosophy. Dr. Bickmore uses reason and logic all through his paper, while disparaging Greek philosophy as a contemptible and corrupting influence. Go figure. I've seen this sort of "anti-philosophism" (to coin a term) on many occasions in my now 20-year apologetic career. It's nothing new to me. But I never cease to be amazed at the sheer wrongheadedness of it.

Since most of the early Palestinian Jews, and a large faction of early Christians did not share this assumption, what justification do we have for insisting that the New Testament writers did?

I have made arguments from Scripture which are valid or invalid wholly apart from technical philosophical strains of thought and methodologies.

At least it should be acknowledged that they are incorporating something besides the New Testament text into their formulations.

Everyone interprets . . . no one can escape logic or some sort of hermeneutical framework in their commentary on Scripture, which will inevitably presuppose and utilize philosophy in some sense, however minimal. Dr. Bickmore labors under the self-delusion that he is beyond all that. Yet I doubt that he would deny that he brings to the table various Mormon presuppositions and biases (just as I bring a Catholic bias). And Mormonism, in turn, came from somewhere. It didn't appear in toto out of thin air (or even from New York dirt, if I may be excused an awkward and perhaps "irreverent" play-on-words). If Mormon historian Lance Owens is believed at all, there are numerous occultic, Kabbalistic, Masonic, hermetic, and other esoteric, non-biblical, non-monotheistic influences which operated upon Joseph Smith, helping him to frame his new world view.

Furthermore, there is no historical support for the proposition that the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity was believed by anyone before the fourth century,

Again, this hinges on what the essence of the doctrine was, and how Dr. Bickmore is defining it in the above statement. If indeed it was what I stated above, then it was the overwhelming consensus. Mormon polytheism and extreme anthropomorphism assuredly was not the consensus: that much, anyway, is certain.

so we again have to bring up Henri de Lubac’s questions about the neglect of the Apostles in passing on their knowledge, or the great “flood of forgetfulness” that must have occurred.

No; we simply acknowledge the obvious fact that complicated theological doctrines take time to fully understand. It's no different from the development which clearly took place all through the Old Testament era. God worked very slowly with the Jews.

Some Protestants, on the other hand, have acknowledged that a great deal of development has occurred in their own doctrines. For instance, some liberal theologians like Adolf von Harnack have posited some sort of “bare essence” of Christianity that has been obscured by corruptions through the centuries, and has at least partially been uncovered by the Reformation.  Naturally, this hasn’t proven too popular among Protestants who want to keep doctrines like the Trinity. Others, like the Evangelical scholar Peter Toon, have acknowledged that there have been both legitimate and spurious developments as the Church has moved through time and cultures.  But if so, how do we decide which ones are which?

By the patristic formula: apostolic succession; by demonstrating that the doctrine has consistently and widely been held (in its essence), and by recourse to Church and papal authority, which exists precisely to decide such matters.

At least the Catholics have the Pope and councils to decide such matters definitively. Toon laid out several criteria of his own to distinguish legitimate developments, including positive coherence with what has been believed in the past, and especially with scripture. Since Protestants disagree on any number of points about how to interpret scripture, Toon suggests that legitimate developments should not be based on anything that “has not found general acceptance among believing theologians.”  Of course, that raises the question of who is to be defined as a “believing theologian.”

I don't have time to deal with the myriad of Protestant internal inconsistencies and divisions (I have in dozens of papers on my site). I have my hands full with the truckload of Mormon internal difficulties, thank you!

I hope it is clear by now why I think the conservative Protestant reaction to the fact of doctrinal development has been even less satisfactory than that of the Catholics.

I agree with you. It is a large reason why I am a Catholic (I converted in 1990).


To conclude, I want to emphasize again a point I brought up earlier. Whatever one may think about the various explanations Catholics and Protestants have given for the fact of doctrinal development—and I certainly haven’t given them a full treatment here—I think it has to be admitted that they were formulated after the fact.

But of course, because the theory of development is itself a development, so we would expect it to be "after the fact," by its very nature. Furthermore, to be a theory or philosophy about history, it seems to me, the perspective has to be looking back. It's difficult to construct an explanatory theory about what hasn't occurred yet.

That is, Catholics over the centuries loudly proclaimed that they were teaching exactly what the Apostles explicitly taught, or at least only what could be deduced from it, until a resurgence in historical investigation brought about massive evidence to the contrary.

Funny how Dr. Bickmore and I can look at the same historical data and see such entirely different things.

The Reformers and the vast majority of their followers thought that they were in all essentials returning to New Testament Christianity. Most Protestants still hold to this belief, but certainly there is no historical basis for it.

Now there is something I can wholeheartedly agree with. A refreshing change!

On the other hand, Joseph Smith never made any study of Christian history,

That's quite obvious. He seems not to have studied the Bible much, either (or to have not understood it, if he had).

but he claimed to restore doctrines that now appear to have at least been present among the earliest Christians, and some of them, like subordinationism and creation from chaos, are almost certain to have been the original teaching.

Dr. Bickmore keeps getting more and more certain in his subjectivism. I can only hope that he will make at least an attempt at sustained, serious scriptural argument in his hoped-for counter-reply.

He restored the belief in continuing revelation that the earliest Christians evidently held, and as I believe I have shown, this is really the only principle that can adequately explain doctrinal development within a Christian religious tradition.

Was this shown??!! I must have missed it.

What I hope to have accomplished in this paper is to convince you that Latter-day Saints need to write more than we have about Christian history, because we are in a unique position to tell the story of Christianity. I say this because, frankly, I think we are the only believing Christians who can make any sense out of it.

Then certainly Dr. Bickmore -- who appears quite confident of his positions -- can easily refute the "nonsense" (as opposed to Mormon "sense") that I have submitted to him as an alternative to his perspective on Church history.

51.  William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1970), 415. Father Jurgens’ work is a compendium of statements found in early Christian documents, and is heavily used by contemporary Catholic apologists. The reason for this is that it has a “Doctrinal Index” meant to list passages that support current Catholic dogma and practice. The references cited here were taken from under the heading “Tradition.”
52. John G. Davies, The Early Christian Church (New York: Anchor Books, 1965), 81; Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, edited by Everett Fergusen (New York: Garland Publishing, 1990), 421.
53.  Carl Mosser and Paul Owen, Review of C.L. Blomberg and S.E. Robinson, How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity, 1997), in FARMS Review of Books 11/2 (1999): 1–102.
54. Adolf von Harnack, What is Christianity?, translated by Thomas B. Saunders (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1957).
55. Toon, The Development of Doctrine in the Church, 105–126.
56. Toon, The Development of Doctrine in the Church, 117–120.


Barker, Margaret, The Great Angel:  A Study of Israel’s Second God (Louisville, Kentucky:  Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992).
Bickmore, Barry, Restoring the Ancient Church (Ben Lomond, California:  Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, 1999).
May, Gerhard, Creatio Ex Nihilo:  The Doctrine of ‘Creation out of Nothing’ in Early Christian Thought, translated by A.S. Worrall, (Edinburgh:  T&T Clark, 1994).
Nichols, Aidan, From Newman to Congar: The Idea of Doctrinal Development from the Victorians to the Second Vatican Council (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1990).
Stead, Christopher, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1994)
Toon, Peter, The Development of Doctrine in the Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979).

For Catholic Critiques of Mormonism and its Heretical Precursors, see:

Who Holds the Keys?: Debate on Papacy vs. Mormonism (Steve Clifford vs. Barry Bickmore; goes far beyond this subject matter into extreme depth. EXCELLENT!)
A Catholic Perspective on Mormonism (Keith Campbell)
The Mormon Christ  (Isaiah Bennett)
Dialogue with a Mormon  (Phil Porvaznik vs. Tom Huber)
The Facts About the "Apostasy" (Sean Hyland)
Are Mormons Christians? (Cat Clark)
Mormonism & Catholicism (Cat Clark)
Christianity and the Lodge (William J. Whalen)
The Masonic Religion (William J. Whalen)
Catholic Encyclopedia: MASONRY (FREEMASONRY)
Catholic Encyclopedia: GNOSTICISM
Catholic Encyclopedia: OCCULTISM
Theosophy: Origin of the New Age, Part I (C.C. Martindale, S.J.)
Theosophy: Origin of the New Age, Part II (C.C. Martindale, S.J.)
Catholicism Confronts New Age Syncretism (Bernard Green)
For excellent evangelical Protestant Critiques of Mormonism and its Heretical Precursors, see:
Utah Lighthouse Ministry  (Jerald and Sandra Tanner: the BEST!)
The Changing World of Mormonism  (BOOK by Jerald and Sandra Tanner)
Witnessing to Mormons (Marian Bodine)
The Mormonism Research Ministry
Is Mormonism a Christian Religion? (Robert McKay et al)
Philosophical Problems With the Mormon Concept of God (Francis J. Beckwith)
Mormonism and the Question of Truth (Latayne C. Scott)
Can Man Progress To Godhood? (Kurt Van Gorden)
The Christian Research Inst. Archive
Christian Research Institute (CRI)
Walter Martin's Religious InfoNet
Ye Are Gods?" Orthodox & Heretical Views on the Deification of Man (Robert M. Bowman)
Neopaganism, Feminism, & the New Polytheism (Norman Geisler)
Gnosticism and the Gnostic Jesus (Douglas Groothuis)
Oneness Pentecostals and the Trinity (Robert M. Bowman)
Contending With Oneness Theology (Assembly of God view)
Sabellianism: 3rd and 20th Century Heresy (Rick Branch)
Go to: Part One

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Uploaded by Dave Armstrong on 22 December 2001, with the permission of Dr. Barry Bickmore.