Test of Scholarship
by James White
to all readers: In the following presentation Greek terms are presented using the Greek
font designed and developed by Bill Mounce. This font is available for download and
installation on your computer system by clicking on the following links: for Windows: download the Mounce font. If you
use a Mac, or if the preceding link does not work for you, go to the following URL and
download from there: http://www.teknia.com/fonts/grkfnt.html. Please note that this is the
newest edition of the Mounce font, dated 10/98. Earlier editions of the font may not
display properly in every instance.]
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. Petersons 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 authors 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 ones 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,
????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
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 [
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
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 Josephs 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
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.
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
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.
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).
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 (
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 positionobviously, then, he
undergoes a progression of time. Tatian states that God is without beginning; yet
Mormonism speaks of Gods 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:
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).
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 (
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 Gods 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 eternalwithout 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
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 Saintsis widely found in the New Testament and in the early
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 Pauls 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" (Pauls 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
Next, you cite Tertullians comments in De Prae. 41 (primarily).
I find the attempt to connect Tertullians 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 Tertullians 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
alikeeven 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 Lords 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 Origens 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 churchbaptism and the sacramentwas
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 Churchbaptism and the sacramentwas 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.)
The response that follows is standard fare in modern LDS attempts to find
in theosis a parallel to Mormonisms 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 possibilitythat 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
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
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, doesnt 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:
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."
And in a chapter on "Why Man Is
Not Made Perfect from the Beginning," Irenaeus (d.
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
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 createdmen
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).
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
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.
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
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
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,
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).
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.
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 Chrysostoms
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. Kellys 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
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