Archive for the ‘Early Christianity’ Category

Serapion on Addition to Scripture
June 1, 2009

Serapion, bishop of Antioch

Serapion, bishop of Antioch

Serapion, bishop of Antioch at the turn of the third century, has no extant writing outside of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History. He gave Christians at Rhossus permission to read the [now apocryphal] Gospel of Peter in their meeting, but, upon reviewing the gospel, changed his mind. Here is his summary reason:

Since we have been furnished with this gospel…, we have been able to go through it and find many things of the correct word of the Savior, but also some things which were added, which we arrange for you below.1

Compare the words of those who stole the 116 pages:

“And if God giveth him power again, or if he translates again, or, in other words, if he bringeth forth the same words, behold, we have the same with us, and we have altered them” (D&C 10:17).

Also the revelation given to Joseph Smith concerning the OT Apocrypha:

Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you concerning the Apocrypha—There are many things contained therein that are true, and it is mostly translated correctly; There are many things contained therein that are not true, which are interpolations by the hands of men (D&C 91:1–2).

Now, lest anyone jump on me for “parallel-o-mania,” I bring up these parallels only to note 1) that the similarity exists, and 2) to put forth questions.

For instance, does this view of “heretical” gospels exists elsewhere among the early Church fathers? If so, in what context? Why did Serapion choose to highlight the dual nature of the writing instead of denouncing the entire thing as a heresy?


1. Eusebius. Hist. Eccl. 6.12.3–6. Translation is mine. In context, Serapion mentions that he obtained the gospel from the successors of the Docetists, who were using the gospel, and whose doctrine the gospel exemplified. Here is the Greek:

ἐδυνήθημεν γὰρ παρ᾿ ἄλλων τῶν ἀσκησάντων αὐτὸ τοῦτο τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, τοῦτ᾿ ἐστὶν παρὰ τῶν διαδόχων τῶν καταρξαμένων αὐτοῦ, οὓς Δοκητὰς καλοῦμεν (τὰ γὰρ πλείονα φρονήματα ἐκείνων ἐστὶ τῆς διδασκαλίας), χρησάμενοι παρ᾿ αὐτῶν διελθεῖν καὶ εὑρεῖν τὰ μὲν πλείονα τοῦ ὀρθοῦ λόγου τοῦ σωτῆρος, τινὰ δὲ προσδιεσταλμένα, ἃ καὶ ὑπετάξαμεν ὑμῖν.

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Bishops in Ignatius of Antioch
April 7, 2009

I wrote this paper a long time ago. English translations of Ignatius can be found here.

Otherwise titled:

The Wagon Wheel:
A non-hierarchical model for the episcopate in Ignatius of Antioch

Speaking of ecclesiological development from the first to the fourth century is difficult without mentioning Ignatius of Antioch, for in his letters the concept of a monarchical episcopate first emerges. In earlier texts of the New Testament and even in 1 Clement, the exact nature of bishops had been unclear, and some have even speculated that the ἐπίσκοπος and πρεσβύτερος roughly referred to the same thing.1 Even if ἐπίσκοπος (episkopos “bishop”) and πρεσβύτερος (presbyteros “elder”) were not synonymous, the elementary references to these offices in the NT appear very different from the supreme bishop as understood centuries later. Because Ignatius counsels his audiences to keep close, in faith and love, to their ἐπίσκoποι, of which there is only one in each congregation, he is seen by some scholars raising ecclesiology to a higher level.

ignatiusIn the present age when authority, especially ecclesiastical authority, has lost its potency in many circles, scholarship is quick to classify these references to ecclesiastic offices and centralized authority as evidences of an authoritarian hierarchy.2 Nevertheless, this hierarchical model fails to account for the doctrines of love, faith, and unity present in the writings of Ignatius. For such a detailed hierarchy to be present, Ignatius’ audience would expect him to at least include a delineation of command, but presbyters are never once commanded to be subject to bishops. If anything the presbyters’ authority is equal to that of the bishop. Furthermore, it is not the bishops which Ignatius calls his fellow servants, but the deacons. Ignatius’ concept of a monarchical bishop is a manifestation of the schismatic nature of his opponents and not of a delineated hierarchy, in which the bishop is supreme. (more…)

Resource for Sociology of Religion
April 3, 2009

Rodney Stark (whom I keep confusing with Tony Stark) has written several provocative books about the bearing of the social sciences on the study of early Christianity. He should be on Latter-day Saint scholars’ radar for his emphasis on the similarity between the spread of Mormonism and the spread of early Christianity. While I don’t think a social-scientific perspective will or should eclipse other critical methods, I’m sympathetic to Stark’s approach because I think it can provide a nice control when historical-criticism runs away with itself.

So I noticed this morning that there existed an Association for the Sociology of Religion, the website of which also has a bibliographic database. I searched “Early Christian” and “Mormon.”

The Third Member of the Godhead?
March 28, 2009

April DeConick, a professor of Early Christianity at Rice University sees this depiction in a 12th century Bavarian church as the Father, Son, and Mother Holy Spirit. She argues that this piece of art relates to her argument that “the original Christian Trinity was the Father, Mother Spirit, and Son.” She believes that evidence for this belief was later suppressed in manuscript transmission and hermeneutical tradition. DeConick plans to include a discussion of it in a chapter of one of her forthcoming books.

Personally, with regards to the painting alone, I’m skeptical. If it is really a graphical representation of an “original” doctrine, how on earth did it survive until the 12th century? An art historian friend of mine noticed the slight purplish hue of the female’s lower garment and postulated that the now-faded purple could indicate the Mother Mary.

As tempting as it may be for Latter-day Saints to infer an LDS Heavenly Mother from this art or DeConick’s argument, I would urge caution. Given DeConick’s interest in sexuality in the early church, I predict that her approach to this fresco will be to explore the sexual implications of this possible doctrine among early Christians using a feminist or feminist-flavored method. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, I think it sounds fascinating. It’s just that DeConick may not agree with a Mormon looking for evidence for Joseph Smith’s “Mother in Heaven.”

Nevertheless, Latter-day Saints would not be wrong to ponder how a painting like that got there? If it is really a depiction of the Holy Trinity and not some other people, why is there a woman there?

P.S. It’s worth noting that DeConick advises at least one Mormon PhD student at Rice.

UPDATE: I actually really like DeConick’s blog. Despite the fact that I disagree with much of what she says, it’s clear she sincerely loves the texts and traditions she studies. My favorite is her “Apocryphote of the Day” series, in which she highlights some of the more inspirational (read: non-psycho) passages from extrascriptural texts.

The Great Apostasy: Changing Views in Mormonism (part 1)
December 22, 2008

One of the most fundamental Mormon doctrines is that which was first communicated to Joseph Smith through theophany: that none of his contemporary churches were true, because, according to God himself (to quote both Isaiah 29:13 and 2 Tim. 3:5):

They were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed [Joseph] said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof. (Joseph Smith-History 19)

Couple this with the sixth Article of Faith:

We believe in the same organization that existed in the primitive church, namely apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists and so forth.

From these statements we have deduced the Great Apostasy: that somewhere between the time that Jesus founded his church (another doctrine in Mormonsim) and the time that Joseph Smith went into the woods to pray, the Christian church as a whole apostatized from the true Gospel of Christ. Essential doctrines were lost and the authority of stewardship over God’s economy was taken off the earth in such a way that it could in no way be regained except through direct agency of God himself (i.e. a human “reformation” as through Martin Luther and others was not enough). The result was a Christianity that primitive Christians would have difficulty recognizing. This deduction has been confirmed by various heavenly messengers who have restored key doctrines and authorities taken from the earth when the above mentioned apostasy occurred. (more…)

The Divine Council from Justin Martyr to Augustine
October 25, 2008

Otherwise entitled: Early Christians and Deification in Psalms 82:1

The Yellow Dart has posted recently on the Divine Council in the Hebrew Bible and Judaism here and here. The most descriptive passage of the divine council is Psalms 82:1 (NRSV). It is worth noting that the LXX translates the Hebrew ‏בַּעֲדַת־אֵל as ἐν συναγωγῇ θεῶν (“congregation of gods” rather than “divine council”). Conservative Christians sometimes interpret this divine council as representing something more in line with the strict monotheism to which they subscribe. This theological interpretation is evident in the NIV, which implies that the verse refers to gods so-called (not real gods) by putting the word in quotation marks. The NASB goes even further to translate the word “gods” as “rulers.”

My contention would not be that they are wrong, but that they disagree with many of the earliest Christians, who not only saw the deities as real (not false gods, idols, or demons, earthly rulers, etc.), but also as the pinnacle of human potential. In other words, the gods in the divine council are ultimately devout Christians having attained godhood and being judged of God, (more…)