In 1992 Aspen Books released a new book titled Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints, written by Dr. Daniel C. Peterson and Dr. Stephen D. Ricks. The book indicates that it was made “possible in part by the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (F.A.R.M.S.), a non-profit educational and research organization dedicated to the study of ancient scripture, especially the Book of Mormon.” In late 1998 F.A.R.M.S. re-issued Offenders for a Word under its own name, making it a F.A.R.M.S. publication. No change in content was made to the text, only the cover was updated.
Both Peterson and Ricks are notable figures in F.A.R.M.S., Peterson graduating from the University of California and Ricks from the Graduate Theological Union and University of California, Berkley. Peterson’s field is Islamic Studies, his dissertation title being, “Cosmogeny and the Ten Separated Intellects in the ‘Rahat Al-‘Aql’ of Hamid Al-Din Al-Kirmani (Rahat Al-‘Aql).” Ricks’ field is Hebrew and Semitic Languages, his dissertation being “A Lexicon of Epigraphic Qatabanian.”
While both obviously are well trained in their specific areas, neither, from the titles of their doctoral studies, have any particular expertise in the topic of this book. And, specifically, since we will be focusing upon the author’s comments on the subject of the history of the Christian Church, we enter into an area where, to my knowledge, neither author has experience teaching, nor any specific graduate training. This is not, obviously, to say that one can not move out of one’s area of expertise into other areas. It is simply an observation that may prove useful at a later point.
I have focused upon this work for one obvious reason: it is one of the few directly apologetic works offered by Mormonism that is not LDS-specific; i.e., it is not focused upon obscure arguments attempting to find archaeological parallels to the text of the Book of Mormon, nor does it contain esoteric attempts at finding hidden memory devices in the Egyptian Book of the Dead. This is one of the few works that actually attempts to engage in an apologetic response to the criticisms of Mormonism voiced by conservative Christians. And while I believe Peterson and Ricks are guilty of broad-brushing their critics (failing to differentiate between the wide variety of responses that have been offered to Mormonism, some good, some bad), at least this work attempts to provide an answer that deals with the specific charge that Mormonism is not Christian. Despite the large volume of material produced by FARMS and LDS scholars in general, there is precious little meaningful apologetic material with which to interact. That is, in comparison to works specifically defending the Book of Mormon or dealing with other LDS-specific topics, there are very, very few LDS works engaging the specific theological and historical issues raised by Christian apologists. And since this work represents FARMS and two of the most vocal FARMS representatives, it seems the perfect work to use to compare scholarly methodology and fairness.
However, it is not my intention here to focus upon the book as a whole, as edifying as that would prove to be. Instead, I wish to focus upon two issues: 1) the use of scholarly material by Peterson and Ricks, and 2) their attempt to respond to my own article on theosis and the early Church, found on pages 76 through 92. Such a focus will allow us to evaluate both the consistency and scholarship of my own presentation on the topic, and more importantly, the application of sound scholarly principles to the presentation made by Drs. Peterson and Ricks.
I invite the reader to compare the scholarship presented in Offenders for a Word, now a FARMS publication, with that presented in The Forgotten Trinity (Bethany House Publishers, 1998), and my chapter in the 1995 work, Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible (Soli Deo Gloria, pp. 27-62) as a means of comparing my own handling of historic and theological topics in a scholarly and fair manner, and how Drs. Peterson and Ricks handle similar information.
The March, 1988 issue of the Ensign magazine contained an article titled “Comparing LDS Beliefs with First-Century Christianity.” It was written by Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks. One of the questions answered by the authors was, “Is it true that because Latter-day Saints believe that human beings can eventually become like God, they are not Christian?” In response to this question, Peterson and Ricks offered, in synopsis form, the same response they provided four years later in Offenders for a Word. The next question answered by the article was, “Is it true that because Latter-day Saints practice baptism for the dead, they are not Christian?” Likewise, the brief response appears in expanded form in Offenders for a Word.
In early 1992 I encountered this article upon the recommendation of a correspondent. I was teaching Church History at Grand Canyon University, a fully accredited undergraduate institution. Since reference was made to the history of the Christian Church, I took the time to write a letter to Peterson and Ricks, dated March 12, 1992. A selection of citations from the early Fathers was attached to the four-page letter. As it is relevant to the issue at hand, I include the text of this letter below:
I am writing concerning an article you co-authored with Stephen D. Ricks entitled Comparing LDS Beliefs with First Century Christianity that appeared in the March, 1988 Ensign magazine, pages 7-11. While I had received this magazine when it was first published, I somehow missed your article, until a copy of it was sent to me by a local LDS gentleman with whom I have been corresponding. As one who teaches Church History, I was quite surprised by what I read in your article. I am writing first to verify that my interpretation of what you have said is correct; secondly, if it is, to challenge the validity of your statements.
There is much in your article with which I disagree, but I would like to limit my focus to matters of historical fact. If a discussion of the theological issues raised by your article is of interest to you, I would be glad to engage such a discussion in a context of mutual respect. I am most concerned about what I find in the section that proposes to answer the question, Is it true that because Latter-day Saints believe that human beings can eventually become like God, they are not Christian? and Is it true that because Latter-day Saints practice baptism for the dead, they are not Christian? In both of these sections statements are made regarding patristic beliefs that I find to be completely out of harmony with the actual beliefs of the Fathers.
I first wish to emphasize that I am assuming that your concept of the teachings of the LDS Church would be in line with that which one will find in such works as Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, edited by Joseph Fielding Smith, Articles of Faith by James Talmage, Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie, and Doctrines of Salvation by Joseph Fielding Smith. Inherent in the concept as presented in these works is the idea of a plurality of gods and the idea that God Himself “was once a man like us” (to quote Joseph Smith). A popular phrase among LDS goes, “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.” This involves not a mere “likeness” to God, but an ontological sameness, where God’s being, and man’s being, are said to be the same, with God simply existing in an exalted state. Hence, the LDS Scriptures can say that “man was also in the beginning with God” (D&C 93:29). I would think that the readers of your article would interpret your words within this context. If you are not alleging that men can be exalted, then my following comments are not relevant to the position you take. On the other hand, the article makes no attempt to say that men cannot be exalted to the status of a God, so I feel that the classical LDS doctrine of eternal progression lies behind the statements you have made.
Again with regards to the concept of theosis, you make it sound in your article as if this concept was part and parcel of nearly all of the patristic writings. Your specific phrase is that it is to be found “virtually everywhere.” I think that this is just a bit of an exaggeration. Surely the concept of theosis is to be found in patristic writings, especially in Eastern Fathers, but it is completely absent from particular of the Fathers, so that to make it sound as if it is a nearly universal concept is misleading.
With reference to your citation of Jaroslav Pelikan’s works, I feel that a fair analysis of Pelikan’s writings reveals that those who presented the concept of theosis were not, in any way, presenting a concept that compromised absolute monotheism. A review of the two works of Pelikan cited in your article (volumes 1 and 2 of his The Christian Tradition series) make this quite clear. First, we note that the early Christians believed in creatio ex nihilo (1:36), and that “God alone made it [the creation], because he alone is God in his being [
?????ontwV]. By his sheer act of will he creates [??????????dhmiourgei]; and after he has merely willed, it follows that things come into being.” Nowhere is such an ability predicated of the deified man. They denied the concept of the coeternity of God and matter (ibid.). Irenaeus is quoted as saying that God the Creator “is discovered to be the one and only God who created all things, who alone is omnipotent, and who is the only Father founding and forming all things, visible and invisible” (1:36-37). The concept of “strict monotheism” is predicated of the Fathers over and over again throughout Pelikan’s works, and the “disgust” that Christians had for polytheism is noted as well (1:66).
Pelikan’s chapter entitled “Vindication of Trinitarian Monotheism” also affords important information. We read,
According to the Christian doctrine of creation, neither matter nor time could be coeternal with God, who alone possessed true eternity. He also possessed true oneness….Similarly, God was the beginning [????arch] of all beings, not in the sense that he was the first in a series, but in the sense that he transcended all being and that all beings were dependent on him. It was orthodox doctrine that God was “beyond and above all things that are known and all things that exist.” The distinction as well as the link between the Creator and his creation had to be maintained: immanence without pantheistic identification, transcendence without deistic isolation (2:248).
But most significantly, we find the following section from Pelikan regarding the nature of the concept of theosis:
The emphasis on the reality of the divine in revelation applied also to the divine in deification. Maximus had expressed this unequivocally in the formula: “All that God is, except for an identity in ousia, one becomes when one is deified by grace.”…Yet the reality being discussed in the two questions was not the same; for in the clarification of what it meant to be deified, the qualification added by Maximus, “except for an identity of ousia,” proved to be crucial….A way had to be found, Palamas maintained, to preserve the reality of salvation as deification without implying the absurd and blasphemous idea that those who were deified became “God by nature”…The absurdity and the blasphemy were avoided by the teaching that “the deifying gift of the Spirit is not the superessential ousia of God, but the deifying activity [energeia] of the superessential ousia of God.”
To avoid saying that deification made a human being God by nature, it was necessary to insist that grace was supernatural, that is, beyond nature. For if deifying grace were “according to nature,” it would indeed produce an identity of nature and of ousia between the deifying God and the deified man…But the illumination and the deifying activity of God which made its recipients participants in the divine nature could not be the very nature of God…the nature of God could not be shared, and hence deification could not be “natural”…so also here the participation of man in the divine nature through salvation as deification needed to be interpreted in such a way as to safeguard the unchangeability of God, without in any way jeopardizing the reality of the gift of deification (2:267.268).
G. L. Prestige’s discussion below will bring out many of the same points. LDS apologists are, I feel, quite wrong in attempting to find in theosis a parallel to their own theology, for those who taught theosis were monotheists to the core; the entire concept of eternal progression in LDS theology is based, as I see it, upon Joseph Smith’s belief, represented in the King Follett Funeral Discourse,
We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see.
By rejecting the eternity of God, which surely involves the strict monotheism of the Christian people, Joseph Smith separated himself fundamentally even from those who taught that men could be deified. Their concept obviously did not create “gods,” while Joseph’s did.
You next say that the concept of a “plurality of gods” and the “idea of becoming like God” are mentioned in Psalm 82:6, John 10:33-36, and Philippians 2:5-6. While this is a theological issue, I would like to mention in passing that a Psalm that deals with the unrighteous judges of Israel, a citation of that Psalm in a debate between the Lord and the Jews, and the direct assertion of the eternal nature of the Son as one who has shared the divine being with the Father throughout all eternity, is hardly a solid foundation for the LDS concept of a plurality of gods and exaltation to godhood. To say that the early writers took these passages “seriously” is to suggest that an interpretation which sees in these passages a denial of monotheism is the “serious” way of understanding them. I strongly disagree, and, as we shall see below, no Father of the Christian Church ever dreamed that these passages denied the strict monotheism that was theirs.
To further demonstrate that the concept of theosis does not bear any similarity to the LDS idea of eternal progression and exaltation, I submit the following for your consideration:
There are a number of passages in the early fathers that speak of men being “deified.” But what do these passages actually mean? Dr. G.L. Prestige commented:
All such expressions of the deification of man are, it must be remembered, purely relative. They express the fact that man has a nature essentially spiritual, and to that extent resembling the being of God; further, that he is able to attain a real union with God, by virtue of an affinity proceeding both from nature and from grace. Man, the Fathers might have said, is a supernatural animal. In some sense his destiny is to be absorbed into God. But they would all have repudiated with indignation any suggestion that the union of men to God added anything to the godhead. They explained the lower in terms of the higher, but did not obliterate the distinction between them. Not only is God self dependent. [sic] He has also all those positive qualities which man does not possess, the attribution of which is made by adding the negative prefix to the common attributes of humanity. In addition, in so far as humanity possesses broken lights of God, they are as far as possible from reaching the measure and perfection with which they are associated in the godhead. Real power and freedom, fullness of light, ideal and archetypal spirit, are found in Him alone. The gulf is never bridged between Creator and creature. Though in Christ human nature has been raised to the throne of God, by virtue of His divine character, yet mankind in general can only aspire to the sort of divinity which lies open to its capacity through the union with the divine humanity. Eternal life is the life of God. Men may come to share its manifestations and activities, but only by grace, never of right. Man remains a created being: God alone is agenetos [i.e., uncreated] (G. L. Prestige, God in Patristic Thought, pp. 74-75).
Note well what Prestige says. He asserts that the early Fathers did not “obliterate the distinction” between God and man (Mormonism most definitely does, teaching that God was once a man who has progressed to godhood). Prestige says that “real power and freedom” are found in God alone, not in the creature man. And, in as clear a denial of the concept that is presented by Mormonism that one could find, Prestige says, “The gulf is never bridged between Creator and creature.” He closes by saying, “Man remains a created being: God alone is agenetos.” Clearly, Prestige is saying that the early Fathers did not teach that men could become gods in the sense that Mormonism would like us to believe.
Some leading ideas about the nature of God may be illustrated in a few quotations from early writers. Tatian writes (ad Gr. 4.1,2), “Our God does not have his constitution in time. He alone is without beginning; He Himself constitutes the source (arch) of the universe. God is spirit. He does not extend through matter, but is the author of material spirits and of the figures (schmata) in matter. He is invisible and intangible” (Prestige, p. 3).
Note that Prestige is giving what he views as representational views of the early Fathers. Note the many things that are directly contradictory to LDS teaching. First, God is eternal, that is, he does “not have his constitution in time.” The LDS God has progressed to his current position—obviously, then, he undergoes a progression of time. Tatian states that God is without beginning; yet Mormonism speaks of God’s once having been a man, so, obviously, he had to enter into the condition of a god at some point in time. Tatian says God is spirit. Mormonism says He is flesh. Tatian says that God is the “author” of “material spirits and of the figures in matter.” Joseph Smith taught that “God never had the power to create the spirit of man at all” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 354). Tatian says that God is invisible and intangible; Doctrine and Covenants 130:22 says just the opposite. I continue with Prestige:
Athenagoras (suppl 10.1) expresses allegiance to “one God, the uncreated, eternal, invisible, impassible, incomprehensible, uncontainable, comprehended only by mind and reason, clothed in light and beauty and spirit and power indescribable; by whom the totality has come to be.”…But, in brief, this statement implies that God is transcendent and everlasting; free alike from limitations of time or space and from subjection to sense or affections; and possessed of supreme supernatural power and glory. Theophilus speaks similarly (ad Aut. 1.3) of the abstract qualities of the deity. “The form of God is ineffable…in glory He is uncontainable, in greatness incomprehensible, in height inconceivable, in might incomparable, in wisdom without peer, in goodness inimitable, in well-doing indescribable…He is without beginning because He is uncreated, and He is unchangeable because He is immortal.” And again, (ib. 2.3), “it belongs to God, the highest and almighty and the truly God, not only to be everywhere, but also to overlook all things and to hear all things, and yet, nevertheless, not to be contained in space” (Prestige, p.3).
We again note the completely different view of God presented here than that of Mormonism. The God of the early Fathers is uncreated, eternal, invisible, impassible, incomprehensible, and uncontainable. The God of Mormonism entered into godhood at a particular point, he has not eternally been God, He is not invisible (in the sense the Fathers meant the term), he is certainly not impassible, incomprehensible, or uncontainable; many LDS mock these very aspects of the Christian doctrine of God. But Prestige did not stop there. He continued on:
His absolute independence is a corollary to His absolute goodness and wisdom, as well as to His absolute capacity to create. Thus the emphasis…on God being uncreated (agenhtoV) implies that He is the sole originator of all things that are, the source and ground of existence; and the conception is taken as a positive criterion of deity. The insistence that God is uncontained spatially (acwretoV) conveys a very necessary warning against Stoic pantheism. Though the created universe contributes an implicit revelation of God through His works, it is by no means a complete or perfect revelation of His being; He is infinitely greater than His creation. Thus Justin claims (dial. 127.2) that God is uncontained either in one place or in the whole universe, since He existed before the universe came into being (Prestige, pp. 4-5).
That all of this is directly contradictory to the LDS doctrine of a finite, limited God who has a physical body of flesh and bone (D&C 130:22) and who was once a man is too obvious to require further comment. The early Fathers did not present the LDS concept of God in any way, shape, or form.
One of the greatest patristic scholars, J. N. D. Kelly, has written,
The classical creeds of Christendom opened with a declaration of belief in one God, maker of heaven and earth. The monotheistic idea, grounded in the religion of Israel, loomed large in the minds of the earliest fathers; though not reflective theologians, they were fully conscious that it marked the dividing line between the Church and paganism. According to Hermas, the first commandment is to ‘believe that God is one, Who created and established all things, bringing them into existence out of non-existence’. It was He Who ‘by His invisible and mighty power and great wisdom created the universe, and by His glorious purpose clothed His creation with comeliness, and by His strong word fixed the heavens and founded the earth above the waters’. For Clement God is ‘the Father and creator of the entire cosmos’ and for ‘Barnabas’ and the Didache ‘our maker’. His omnipotence and universal sovereignty were acknowledged, for He was ‘the Lord almighty’, ‘the Lord Who governs the whole universe’, and ‘the master of all things’. The reader should notice that at this period the title ‘almighty’ connoted God’s all-pervading control and sovereignty over reality, just as ‘Father’ referred primarily to His role as creator and author of all things (J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, p.83).
I am appending a selection of quotations from the early Fathers that substantiates the conclusions of Prestige and Kelly quoted above. I believe that it is incumbent upon anyone who would cite the concept of theosis being reflective of a concept even remotely similar to the LDS view of a plurality of exalted beings to be able demonstrate the foundational aspect of a anthropomorphic deity; that is, if one is going to parallel theosis with eternal progression, one must be able to demonstrate that the same Fathers who spoke of deification also spoke of God becoming God through a process of exaltation. As we have seen, this is not to be found in the Fathers. The Christian Church has always believed God to be eternal—without origin, without source, totally independent of all else. The concept of God having become a god through a process is totally absent from the Fathers. Hence the foundation upon which any parallel with the LDS concept of eternal progression would have to be laid is missing. Therefore, the bare citation of an early Father or two who presented an idea of deification does in any way support the early existence of the LDS concept, for it is clear that the early Fathers had a radically different view of God.
In the next section, you addressed the concept of baptism for the dead. Since you only provide one paragraph on the subject, and basically refer the reader to Nibley’s discussion of the issue, I shall pass over it so as to be able to concentrate on what I found to be most irregular in what followed. I refer specifically to the following two paragraphs:
Mormon temple ritual in general is another source of controversy, largely because many think that the reticence to talk about it is not Christian. But the New Testament scholar Joachim Jeremias has shown that “the desire to keep the most sacred things from profanation”—a concern shared by Latter-day Saints—is widely found in the New Testament and in the early Christian community.
The second century church father Ignatius of Antioch was known to have held “secret” doctrines. The historian Tertullian (second century A.D.) even takes the heretics to task because they provide access to their services to everyone without distinction. As a result, the demeanor of these heretics becomes frivolous, merely human, without seriousness and without authority.
First, the citation of Jeremias is, again, misleading. Surely, desiring to keep the sacred from being profaned is a common element of any religion, and parallels could be drawn in a hundred different ways. But Jeremias’ comments are quite plain in his book, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, from which you are citing. He is not in any way speaking of secret ceremonies, nor is there any indication that the “initiated” are put under an oath not to reveal the “secrets” of any “rituals.” Instead, Jeremias is talking about “esoteric teachings” such as Jesus’ rnessiahship, the prediction of the passion, and the eschatological prophecies (pp. 129-130). The partial quotation you give from page 130 reads in full,
When we turn to the early Christianity, we repeatedly come across cryptic sayings and a concern to keep the most sacred things from profanation.
He gives as examples Paul’s description of himself and his co-workers as “stewards of the mystery of God” at I Cor. 4:1, and of his speaking of the “divine wisdom” in I Cor. 2:6-3:2. Those who are sufficient for these “esoteric teachings” are not those who have gone through ceremonies and learned rituals, but those who are “mature” and who “possess the Spirit.” In expanding upon this, we find that Jeremias is not talking about temple rituals, but instead (as we shall see in Origen), doctrines and teachings. On page 131 we see he discusses “certain eschatological teachings” as being kept “secret.” But here he is talking about the cryptic, apocalyptic language of Revelation, primarily. Later he lists “secrets of Christology” (Hebrews 7:1-10:18) and “secrets of divine nature” (Paul’s encounter with God in heaven). None of this is even remotely similar to the Mormon temple ritual.
Next, you make the assertion that Ignatius of Antioch “was known to have held ‘secret’ doctrines.” Unfortunately, no references are given for this unusual statement. Where do you derive this information? Can you show this in Ignatius’ own writings? How could you be certain enough of the nature of such writings to attempt to give credence to the LDS concept of secret temple rituals? I am quite interested in what information you might present regarding this mysterious comment about Ignatius.
Next, you cite Tertullian’s comments in De Prae. 41 (primarily). I find the attempt to connect Tertullian’s comments to the idea of secret temple rituals to be utterly without concern for the original context of the Church Father. There is nothing, whatsoever, in Tertullian’s comments in De Prae. 41 that would lead one to believe that Tertullian practiced secret temple rituals. First, the section from which you quote contrasts the concern of the Christian Church to train new converts in the faith with the laxity of the heretics. This is clearly seen in the very sentence that follows that which you cited:
To begin with, it is doubtful who is a catechumen, and who a believer; they have all access alike, they hear alike, they pray alike—even heathens, if any such happen to come among them.
Tertullian believed it important to instruct the new converts (the catechumens) in the essentials of the faith. As to having “access alike,” Tertullian is not referring to access to secret ceremonies. Instead, it is obvious that it was the practice of the early Church to dismiss the catechumens before the Lord’s Supper was celebrated. This does not make the Lord’s Supper a parallel of the LDS temple rituals, of course. Further, in a preceding section of this work (De Prae. 25, 26), Tertullian had expressly denied that there was any “hidden doctrine” in the Church. While it is very true that the early Christians were concerned about not profaning the Gospel, it does not follow that this affords any support for the LDS concept of secret temple rituals.
You then went on to reference Origen’s rebuttal of Celsus’ claim that Christianity is a “secret system of belief.” However, in examining your citation, further irregularities are seen. Here are your words:
The pagan critic Celsus (second century A.D.) probably referred to Christianity as a “secret system of belief” because access to the various ordinances of the church—baptism and the sacrament—was available only to the initiated. In his response to Celsus, Origen (third century A.D.) readily admitted that many practices and doctrines were not available to everyone, but he argues that this was not unique to Christianity.
You reference Contra Celsus 1:7, and we do indeed find Origen discussing this topic, but what he says, and what you said he said, don’t seem to match too well. I quote:
Moreover, since he frequently calls the Christian doctrine a secret system (of belief), we must confute him on this point also, since almost the entire world is better acquainted with what Christians preach than with the favourite opinions of philosophers. For who is ignorant of the statement that Jesus was born of a virgin, and that He was crucified, and that His resurrection is an article of faith among many, and that a general judgment is announced to come, in which the wicked are to be punished according to their just deserts, and the righteous to be duly rewarded? And yet the mystery of the resurrection, not being understood, is made a subject of ridicule among unbelievers. In these circumstances, to speak of the Christian doctrine as a secret system, is altogether absurd.
I pause to point out that the above citation would certainly seem detrimental to your position, for it is quite obvious that Origen is asserting that the central doctrines of the faith are not secret at all, but are well known to a broad portion of the public, Christian or non.
But that there should be certain doctrines, not made known to the multitude, which are (revealed) after the exoteric ones have been taught, is not a peculiarity of Christianity alone, but also of philosophic systems, in which certain truths are exoteric and others esoteric. Some of the hearers of Pythagoras were content with his ipse dixit; while others were taught in secret those doctrines which were not deemed fit to be communicated to profane and insufficiently prepared ears. Moreover, all the mysteries that are celebrated everywhere throughout Greece and barbarous countries, although held in secret, have no discredit thrown upon them, so that it is in vain that he endeavours to calumniate the secret doctrines of Christianity, seeing he does not correctly understand its nature.
This is the only reference you gave to your citation. Yet, you alleged that Celsus called Christianity a “secret system of belief” because “access to the various ordinances of the Church—baptism and the sacrament—was available only to the initiated.” How, may I ask, did you derive this from the citation you give? Origen did no mention “various ordinances,” but instead spoke of specific teachings. Origen did not mention baptism and the sacrament in Contra Celsus 1:7, and the only thing close to speaking of those “initiated” (a term filled with ritual meaning) is the reference to those with “insufficiently prepared ears,” again referring to teaching not to ritual. His reference to the mysteries in Greece and elsewhere is obviously meant to point out that Celsus is inconsistent if he attacks Christianity without also condemning these others; it would be an error to read into this the idea that the Christians too had their “mysteries” in the sense of secret rituals that they were keeping from outsiders.
It is my opinion that the use of patristic sources in your article is highly misleading. I believe that the Fathers have been misrepresented in this article, and I would very much like to hear back from you as to how you defend your interpretation of the passages cited above.
I included most of the text of the above letter, in edited form, in my book, Is the Mormon My Brother?
I did not receive a response to my letter for quite some time. I eventually sent a second copy. Both Dr. Peterson and Dr. Ricks responded. Both indicated that a book was soon to be released, that being Offenders for a Word. They indicated that my concerns would be addressed in this book. I was able to obtain a copy from the Deseret Bookstore in Salt Lake City during the October General Conference. I very quickly encountered the same claims I had addressed in my letter, but I did not find that my concerns were at all addressed. In fact, I found the number of misrepresentations to have increased, not decreased. But, of course, I likewise discovered that an entire section responding to my own discussion of theosis had made its way into the text of the book. The authors included a section responding to various claims of “anti-Mormons.” Claim number four reads as follows:
Mormonism teaches that human beings can become like God. But this is massively offensive to anti-Mormons of all stripes and persuasions. “Any church who [sic] preaches a gospel such as this is definitely not Christian.” The doctrine is, according to many critics, pagan, occultic, and Satanic. It is so troubling to many mainstream Christians that the producers of one slickly [sic] dishonest anti-Mormon film chose it as their central attention-getting theme, and entitled [sic] their pseudo-documentary The God Makers. (Their efforts have since spawned a book of the same name, and an even more inflammatory sequel titled Temples of the God Makers.) (p. 75).
The response that follows is standard fare in modern LDS attempts to find in theosis a parallel to Mormonism’s concept of exaltation to godhood. Some of the introductory comments made by Peterson and Ricks indicated a very cavalier attitude toward the use of patristic materials. For example:
Given our belief in an apostasy, we fully expect there to be differences, even vast differences, between the beliefs of the Fathers and Mormon doctrine. Any similarities that exist, however, are potentially understandable as survivals from before that apostasy. When any similarities, even partial ones, exist between Latter-day Saint beliefs and the teachings of the Fathers but are absent between contemporary mainstream Christendom and the Fathers, they can be viewed as deeply important.
Of course, there is another possibility—that the “partial” similarities have no meaning whatsoever. If the foundational beliefs of the Fathers regarding a particular doctrine are directly contradictory to the LDS position, any alleged “similarities” related to further extensions of that doctrine would be artificial at best. And that is the case with the attempt to find in theosis a parallel to the concept of exaltation to godhood.
With this background in mind, let us first examine the use of scholarly sources by these LDS scholars.
The Use of Scholarly Sources
The writings of the patristic period are especially susceptible to mishandling and misrepresentation. This is clearly seen in numerous citations provided by Peterson and Ricks. The most egregious example is found on page 113, where Peterson and Ricks are giving an expanded defense of their idea that Christians had “secret ceremonies,” a subject they address so as to provide a defense of the LDS endowment ceremony. I had pointed out problems in their presentation in the Ensign article in the letter above. Here we read:
Early in the third century, the Latin church father Tertullian could write that the apostles “did not reveal to all men, for . . . they proclaimed some openly and to all the world, whilst they disclosed others [only] in secret and to a few.”
Footnote reference 385 is attached, which reads,
Tertullian, On the Prescription against Heretics 25. English translation in Roberts and Donaldson (1980): 3:254-55.
If this was what Tertullian said, we might well see some kind of connection to the attempted defense by Peterson and Ricks. However, in one of the most incredible examples of out-of-context citation, our authors have managed to turn Tertullian upside down. Here is the full citation from the very same reference source provided by Peterson and Ricks. I place the segment quoted in Offenders in bold face:
But here is, as we have said, the same madness, in their allowing indeed that the apostles were ignorant of nothing, and preached not any (doctrines) which contradicted one another, but at the same time insisting that they did not reveal all to all men, for that they proclaimed some openly and to all the world, whilst they disclosed others (only) in secret and to a few, because Paul addressed even this expression to Timothy: “O Timothy, guard that which is entrusted to thee;” and again: “That good thing which was committed unto thee keep.” What is this deposit? Is it so secret as to be supposed to characterize a new doctrine? or is it part of that charge of which he says, “This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy?” and also of that precept of which he says, “I charge thee in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Jesus Christ, who witnessed a good confession under Pontius Pilate, that thou keep this commandment?” Now, what is (this) commandment, and what is (this) charge? From the preceding and the succeeding contexts, it will be manifest that there is no mysterious hint darkly suggested in this expression about (some) far-fetched doctrine, but that a warning is rather given against receiving any other (doctrine) than that which Timothy had heard from himself, as I take it publicly: “Before many witnesses,” is his phrase. Now, if they refuse to allow that the church is meant by these “many witnesses,” it matters nothing, since nothing could have been secret which was produced “before many witnesses.”
Even a brief reading immediately communicates that Tertullian is, in fact, arguing directly against the position attributed to him by the misleading form of citation found in Offenders. Indeed, the viewpoint that Tertullian identifies as “madness” is that of his opponents; yet, by slicing the citation up, Peterson and Ricks end up making Tertullian teach the “madness” of his opponents! He specifically argues against the gnostic interpretation of 1 Timothy 6:20 and 2 Timothy 1:14 which would posit some “secret” source of a “new doctrine.” He points out that what had been delivered to Timothy had been done so publicly, hence, the gnostics’ assertion that their “secret” doctrine had been passed down outside of Scripture by the Apostles (a concept very similar to the classic Roman Catholic concept of “oral tradition”) is refuted by the impossibility of such a transmission. The only way this passage could be used by Peterson and Ricks would be if they presented it as Tertullian’s recording of what the heretics claimed. But they did not do this.
There are only a few possible reasons why such a tremendously obvious error in citation could be made by scholars like Peterson and Ricks: 1) They were relying upon secondary sources, and did not bother to read the passage in context; 2) They were relying upon graduate students to do their research; 3) They knew they were misusing the passage, but did not expect anyone to check them out, so they used it anyway. We can hope the third option is not the case. But the other two options do not reflect a whole lot better upon the scholarship evidenced by such a citation as this.
All of us make mistakes. Sometimes we hurry, have deadlines, etc. One major error, such as the above, doesn’t prove much. However, if a pattern of such misuse of sources can be discerned and documented, we have cause to wonder. And just such a pattern can, indeed, be found. Let us note some more examples.
In my book Is the Mormon My Brother I noted the tremendous misrepresentation of the early Church Father Irenaeus found in the work of Stephen Robinson (Are Mormons Christians? Bookcraft, 1991, pp. 60-65) in the pages of Offenders for a Word, and in the new FARMS publication edited by Robert Millet and Noel Reynolds, Latter-day Christianity: 10 Basic Issues (p. 26, though this may just be part of Robinson’s contribution). The specific citation provided by Peterson and Ricks is as follows:
And in a chapter on “Why Man Is Not Made Perfect from the Beginning,” Irenaeus (d.
A.D. 180) wrote, “For we cast blame upon Him, because we have not been made gods from the beginning, but at first merely men, then at length gods.”
Foonote 242 is attached, giving the reference, “Irenaeus, Against the Heretics IV, 38, 4. English translation in Roberts and Donaldson (1981): 1:522; cf. Barlow (1983): 16.” Stephen Robinson provides a much longer citation of the same passage, though he, likewise, ignores the context that utterly removes this passage from the LDS arsenal. Again the mere quotation of the passage in context removes all doubt:
For we cast blame upon Him, because we have not been made gods from the beginning, but at first merely men, then at length gods; although God has adopted this course out of his pure benevolence, that no one may impute to Him invidiousness or grudgingness. He declares, “I have said, Ye are gods, and ye are all sons of the Highest.” But since we could not sustain the power of divinity, He adds, “But ye shall die like men,” setting forth both truths — the kindness of His free gift, and our weakness, and also that we were possessed of power over ourselves. For after His great kindness He graciously conferred good [upon us], and made men like to Himself, [that is] in their own power; while at the same time by His prescience He knew the infirmity of human beings, and the consequences which would flow from it; but through [His] love and [His] power, He shall overcome the substance of created nature. For it was necessary, at first, that nature should be exhibited; then, after that, that what was mortal should be conquered and swallowed up by immortality, and the corruptible by incorruptibility, and that man should be made after the image and likeness of God, having received the knowledge of good and evil.
By selective citation, even Robinson removes from this section those statements that would be detrimental to the purpose of the citation in defense of the LDS position. Yet the rest of the passage, in context, is even more devastating:
If, however, any one say, “What then? Could not God have exhibited man as perfect from beginning?” let him know that, inasmuch as God is indeed always the same and unbegotten as respects Himself, all things are possible to Him. But created things must be inferior to Him who created them, from the very fact of their later origin; for it was not possible for things recently created to have been uncreated. But inasmuch as they are not uncreated, for this very reason do they come short of the perfect.
The very distinction between the uncreated Creator and the created being man is what is denied in Mormon theology: hence, to take a passage based upon that distinction and attempt to parallel it with anything LDS is tremendously unfair and inaccurate. Irenaeus continues with his theme of man as created, God as uncreated:
There was nothing, therefore, impossible to and deficient in God, [implied in the fact] that man was not an uncreated being; but this merely applied to him who was lately created, [namely] man.
The fundamental, ontological difference between God, the uncreated One, and man, the created creature, is found on the very surface of Irenaeus’ statements. Yet to note this would make the citation of Irenaeus worthless. Even how Irenaeus defined “deification” is of little use to the Mormon cause:
For the Uncreated is perfect, that is, God. Now it was necessary that man should in the first instance be created; and having been created, should receive growth; and having received growth, should be strengthened; and having been strengthened, should abound; and having abounded, should recover [from the disease of sin]; and having recovered, should be glorified; and being glorified, should see his Lord. For God is He who is yet to be seen, and the beholding of God is productive of immortality, but immortality renders one nigh unto God.
But, like we saw above with Tertullian, a simple reading of the passage from its start should have been enough to remove it from consideration by these leading LDS scholars. Note his words:
Irrational, therefore, in every respect, are they who await not the time of increase, but ascribe to God the infirmity of their nature. Such persons know neither God nor themselves, being insatiable and ungrateful, unwilling to be at the outset what they have also been created—men subject to passions; but go beyond the law of the human race, and before that they become men, they wish to be even now like God their Creator, and they who are more destitute of reason than dumb animals [insist] that there is no distinction between the uncreated God and man, a creature of today.
A mere one sentence separates this incredibly accurate description of the LDS doctrine of God and the sentence first cited by Peterson and Ricks! Any person desirous of honestly representing the beliefs of the early Fathers could not possibly ignore the context of the passages cited, yet, this is exactly what we find in Peterson and Ricks, and in the earlier work by Robinson. Again we have to ask how this kind of a-contextual citation can end up in print, and, in fact, be reprinted by FARMS seven years later, without any correction or emendation, despite it having been pointed out in Is the Mormon My Brother? Scholarship means honestly dealing with historical facts, and quoting items fairly, and in context. How can these scholars present this kind of material?
There are, however, many more examples of this kind of lack of concern for accurately handling the words of past Christian writers. For example, Peterson and Ricks cite Lactantius in defense of their statement that the early Christians “affirmed the high morality of their faith and the bahavior it asked of them, but they did not deny that secrecy was a part of their religious belief. And, furthermore, they did not fall into the trap of revealing the secrets that has been entrusted to their care—even when revealing those secrets might have strengthened their defense” (p. 112). There follows a citation of Lactantius in the following form:
“God orders us in quietness and silence to hide His secret and to keep it within our own conscience. . . . For a mystery ought to be most faithfully concealed and covered, especially by us, who bear the name of faith. But they accuse this silence of ours, as though it were the result of an evil conscience; whence also they invent some detestable things respecting those who are holy and blameless.”
By placing the quotation in the context they do, our LDS scholars communicate the idea that Lactantius taught believers to keep hidden “secrets” that, allegedly, would be similar in content to the secret ceremonies of the LDS endowments. Yet, Lactantius was not talking about oaths, temple garments, or anything like that. Here is the full quotation:
This is the doctrine of the holy prophets which we Christians follow; this is our wisdom, which they who worship frail objects, or maintain an empty philosophy, deride as folly and vanity, because we are not accustomed to defend and assert it in public, since God orders us in quietness and silence to hide His secret, and to keep it within our own conscience; and not to strive with obstinate contention against those who are ignorant of the truth, and who rigorously assail God and His religion not for the sake of learning, but of censuring and jeering. For a mystery ought to be most faithfully concealed and covered, especially by us, who bear the name of faith. But they accuse this silence of ours, as though it were the result of an evil conscience; whence also they invent some detestable things respecting those who are holy and blameless, and willingly believe their own inventions.
Again, by simply allowing the context to stand, the import is plain: Lactantius is presenting, in the immediately preceding section, the concept of the last judgment. There is no “secret doctrine” in view at all. If Peterson and Ricks had quoted the first part of the first sentence, rather than starting in the middle, and if they had not deleted the middle section by selective citation, the meaning of Lactantius’ words would have been maintained. But again, what this early Father was talking about is of no real use to the LDS apologist, hence, the selectivity of the citation.
Even my own personal favorite patristic writer, Athanasius, comes in for the same kind of treatment (pp. 115-116). Providing a context based upon a particular stream of scholarly speculation regarding disciplina arcani, Athanasius is cited in his strong denunciation of the Arians; specifically, in this case, regarding the issue of Macarius and the Meletians. To make a long story short, Athanasius accuses his opponents of having “paraded the sacred mysteries before Catechumens, and worse than that, even before heathens” (Apologia Contra Arianos 1:11, Schaff and Wace 4:106, not 3:254-55 as cited by Peterson and Ricks). Athanasius is merely referring to the Mass, the Lord’s Supper, which was not given to unbelievers nor to catechumens (those just learning the faith). Only the idea that Christians reserved the ordinances of the Lord to believers is supported by this discussion: the idea that this has anything at all to do with secret temple ceremonies, oaths or garments is simply untrue.
On an even more basic and fundamental level of error, Peterson and Ricks show no familiarity at all with the standard works on Old Testament canonization, such as Beckwith (1985), Bruce (1988), or Sundberg (1964). They write,
It is true that Mormons irritate their critics by accepting other books of scripture not included in the traditional canon. But is this enough to exclude them from Christendom? It seems odd to take such drastic action on so flimsy and uncertain a basis. The Hebrew canon had not yet been fixed in the time of Jesus. Josephus (d. Ca. A.D. 100) was among the first to identify an authoritative collection of Hebrew scriptural texts. But the collection of which Josephus spoke consisted merely of the Pentateuch, thirteen prophetic books, and four books of “writings” —for a grand total of twenty-two, seventeen short of the canon insisted upon by fundamentalist anti-Mormons (p. 118).
Seemingly our writers are ignorant of how the Jews collected books. As Beckwith rather exhaustively documents (The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church, Eerdmans, 1985, pp. 235-273), the twenty-two books of Josephus includes the 39 books of the Protestant Old Testament canon. The minor prophets were rolled into the major prophets, some books were made appendices of larger works, etc. The comment that the twenty-two is “seventeen short” only shows that Peterson and Ricks are trained in areas other than biblical history and canon issues.
Immediately before Peterson and Ricks respond to my own article on the subject, they present a series of very surface-level assertions, almost every one of which is liable to question. But, to give a good example of the kind of research presented by these scholars, I note the assertion that “John Chrysostom (d. A.D. 407) taught that ‘man can, by his own efforts, attain the likeness of God by mastering his passions.’” Such a statement seems to be meant to communicate the idea that Chrysostom’s position would, in some way, be related to the idea they are presenting, that there is some parallel between theosis and the LDS concept of exaltation to godhood. Further, it appears that this is meant to be the words of Chrysostom himself, when, in fact, a quick glance at the endnote indicates that a secondary source is being used, specifically, J.N.D. Kelly’s fine work, Early Christian Doctrines (1978), a work that occupies a space close to my desk (for frequent reference). While it looks like Kelly is giving the words of Chrysostom, he is not. Instead, Kelly is summarizing, not Chrysostom’s doctrine of God, or even man, for that matter. He is providing a homily on Genesis, specifically discussing the biblical teaching that God made man in His own image and likeness (Migne 53.84.21). The text of this passage is not easily obtainable, as it does not appear in the standard English translations of Chrysostom. However, the Greek is available on the TLG CD-ROM. Time spent in the text would indicate that even Kelly’s summary goes beyond Chrysostom’s remarks. In any case, there is no meaningful connection between the comments of John Chrysostom at this point (or in any point of his theology, for that matter) and the attempt to substantiate the LDS viewpoint of exaltation to godhood at this point. Instead, it seems more likely that this citation was never checked against the original texts, leading to its misuse here. While we all make such errors, we should not be able to compile an entire list of such errors on the part of Drs. Peterson and Ricks.
The second half of this response will be posted as soon as possible. Certain publishing deadlines need to be met before the editing process can be finished.