This video is part 1 of 2 in showing how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints restored original Christianity. Greek philosophy became enmeshed in the development of mainstream Christian understandings of the nature of God and the Godhead. This video talks about how this happened and compares it to the Latter-day Saint understanding, which matches that of the New Testament period and earliest Christians.
Okay, in this video I want to talk about restoring original Christianity. I decided to break this up into two parts. Today, I want us to talk very specifically about the nature of God and the Godhead, and how it was viewed by the original Christians, and comparing that with with how it’s viewed today. And then of course with the Latter-day Saints, the contrast there.
I also want to indicate there’s several videos that I’ve done already. If you go check these out, if you haven’t already, the Pre-Mortal Life Teachings Restored is a great video on this topic as well. And then I did, Who Can Be Saved? Solving the Christian Dilemma, talking about about baptisms for the dead, back at the time of Christ. And Becoming like God – History and Meaning. Those three would be great videos that would be part of this topic in general as well.
And then also there’s some great books written on this topic, a good half dozen that have been in the last 10 to 15 years. I’ll put those in the show notes. Some excellent resources if you want to go deeper on this topic. So also in part two, I’m going to actually show a clip of this from Bishop Causse at the, it was at the April 2018 general conference that he talked about building the Paris temple and how they needed to get permission from the city. And how the mayor there, so they were going to conduct an investigation on the Church. And after a month they reported that it was the closest to Christ’s original church of any that they could find out there. But they had focused a lot on the people of the Church.
This video’s going to talk heavily on the some doctrine things, but the people, I want to also reference some great videos I’ve done on this. The welfare program, especially the self-reliant services initiative of the last six years, unlike anything in the world. The missionary program, tithing observance, religious health, which I did a focus on the Pew research data. And then this big study that the University of Pennsylvania had just done on service. I call it volunteerism. The average active Latter Day Saint spending nine times the average active volunteer in the United States in serving.
So if we go on, let’s start with, I wanted to share this quote from this Yale Professor, Harold Bloom. He’s considered by many as America’s most distinguished literary critic. He said, “I do not find it possible to doubt that Joseph Smith was an authentic prophet. Where in all of American history can we find his match? I can only attribute his genius or daemon his uncanny recovery of elements in ancient Jewish theurgy that had ceased to be available either to normative Judaism or to Christianity, and that survived only in esoteric traditions unlikely have touched Smith directly. As an unbeliever, I marvel at his intuitive understanding of the permanent religious dilemmas of our country.”
This will be a theme from those other videos I talked about, but also theme going forward. This video and part two in particular. W.D. Davies’s Professor of Theology at Duke University, he’s also a Congregational minister. He said “Mormonism is the Jewish-Christian tradition in American key. What it did was to re-Judaize a Christianity that had been too much Hellenized.” Now some people get thrown off by that word hellenized. Hellen was the way in Greek language to say Greece. So it was a way to basically to infuse Greek, to become Greekized. And it was really the culture of the philosophy and the philosophers that dominated that culture. But it was the language of the whole Mediterranean area there that was really affected as Christianity grew throughout that area.
So in the beginning there were three kind of groups of Christians that then really became one main focus group, but the Jewish Christians essentially, that’s where it all started. And they also had struggles there with the Law of Moses and following, how much to follow that still, and so those challenges. You had the Gnostic Christians, which believed in Gnosis, which was knowledge, which is how you’re saved. And they thought all material or matter was evil. And so they even thought of Christ was a hologram essentially there. And then the group that really ended up dominating all and became all of Christianity was the hellenized Christians and especially the the Gentiles. And as the gospel grew throughout the Mediterranean. And then like as I mentioned that it was the culture of the language. And then the critical thing was the Greek philosophy.
In fact, let’s look at these two quotes. Adolf Harnack, in his book, What is Christianity?, says, “We cannot say that the earliest Christian writings, let alone the gospel, show to any considerable extent the presence of a Greek element.” For instance, Paul warned, and this is in Colossians 2:8, “Beware, lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”
Referring to this passage. James Shields of the University of Sussex writes, “Saint Paul’s letters contain a severe warning against Greek philosophy as a dangerous deception. A few generations after the apostles, one comes upon a reversed situation. The religious message is now framed in philosopher’s language, reminiscent at every turn of Heraclitus or Plato or Aristotle. Indeed, the Christian religion is now occasionally called a philosophy and its founder described as a philosopher.”
So take a look at this quote from Edwin Hatch in The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages upon the Christian Church. He writes, “A large part of what are sometimes called Christian doctrines and many usages which have prevailed and continue to prevail in the Christian Church, are in reality Greek theories and Greek usages changed in form and color by the influence of primitive Christianity, but in their essence Greek still.”
Okay, let’s talk about the view of the Godhead that came really out of the council of Nicea, and I’ll talk about that in a minute, but if you look at the nature of God and the Godhead, the Latter-day Saints versus mainstream Christianity today. So mainstream Christian view of the Godhead: Father, Son and Holy Ghost are one, spiritual, indivisible essence called the trinity. Now this is not one person manifested in three different entities. That’s known as modalism and is a considered a heresy. No body, parts or passions because there’s no separation, they’re one substance. None of the three are subordinate to any of the others. This was a critical point I’ll mention in a minute. We are only children of God metaphorically because we are a different species. And so as this is not comprehensible, it’s considered to be a mystery to man, the mystery of the trinity as they call it.
Okay. Latter-day Saint view of God and the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are all separate individuals but one in purpose and will. Father and Son have tangible bodies of flesh and bone. The Son is subordinate to the Father, and the Holy Ghost is the testator of the other two. Not only does God have body and parts, but has passion. Enoch saw God weeping over His children. God is the Father of our spirits. We are literally children of God. And I would say which is easier to pray to when you think of those descriptions? And I love, this is one of my favorite books, the God Who Weeps by Terryl and Fiona Givens. Just the concept of a God who loves us to the point He’s weeping with us. There’s great compassion and love that infuses your spirit as you contemplate that versus something that’s hard to even comprehend or grasp in any way, shape or form.
So I put on the bottom of that slide, which view ties closest with the Bible and earliest documented Christianity? How important is this? Well, think of John 17:3. The great intercessory prayer. Christ prays and he says, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom Thou has sent.” That’s how important it is there. And you think about Christ appeared to the apostles in the upper room after being resurrected and even ate. Had them feel His body and ate with them.
So let’s talk about one of the scriptures that is often used to defend the trinity. 1 John 5:7. Isn’t that proof that early Christians believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one substance with three different manifestations? Here’s the quote. “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one.” And that could still mean one in purpose there, but here’s the key thing. Some modern Bible translations do not even include this verse anymore because it is not found in the earliest Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. Interesting.
There is only one place in the New Testament where the oneness meaning is explained, and it’s in the intercessory prayer. So back to John 17 verses 20 through 22, and I think this is crystal clear my mind. “Neither pray I for these alone.” He’s praying for His disciples there, “but for them also which shall believe on me through their word, that they all may be one as thou, Father, art in me and I in thee, that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that thou has sent me, and the glory which thou gavest me, I have given them, that they may be one even as we are one.”
So he’s obviously not praying for all of his apostles there to be one person. So this is the best way that I’ve ever seen it. It seems very crystal clear of what the oneness means when it says the word one throughout the scriptures.
Okay, here’s an early Christian Father agreeing with this, Justin Martyr. “I shall endeavor to persuade you that he who is said to have appeared to Abraham, and to Jacob, and to Moses, and who is called God, is distinct from Him who made all things–numerically, I mean, not distinct in will.” Okay.
Origen in 200 A.D., another early Christian Father. “And if any should from these words be afraid of our going over to the side of those who deny that the Father and the Son are two personages, let him weigh the passage, ‘And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul,’ that he may understand the meaning of the saying, ‘I and my father are one.’ While they are two, considered as persons or substances, are one in unity of thought, in harmony and in identity of will.”
Okay, JND Kelly at Oxford University said, “Even at the Council of Nicea the majority party,” and I’ll explain this in a minute, “believed that there are three divine persons separate in rank and glory, but united in harmony of will.” Okay.
The Trinity. The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary says, “The word trinity does not occur in the Bible. It is generally acknowledged that the church father Tertullian either coined the term or was the first to use it with reference to God.
John Whalen, New Catholic Encyclopedia, says, “Among the apostolic fathers, there had been nothing even remotely approaching such a mentality or perspective as one God in three persons.”
Edwin Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas on Christianity, “The Nicene Creed, which forcefully promoted the metaphysical dogma of the trinity, would probably have been unintelligible to the first disciples of Jesus Christ in the meridian of time.”
Okay. Now let’s take a minute to, I’m just going to mention a few things about the Council of Nicea. How did it come about? Well, Constantine, Emperor Constantine, had converted to Christianity in 312 A.D. after this amazing visionary experience that he had. He lifted the imperial ban on Christians. About, over a decade later, there had been a huge uproar that was happening in the region.
It was specifically in Alexandria, but it was between two people: Arias and Alexander. And they were essentially battling over the doctrine of Jesus Christ, what it means to be begotten essentially. And so Arias, they viewed God, that Jesus had been at one point created by God, and that was a problem. They viewed Him essentially as not being God or man because He was created by God. He hadn’t existed from the beginning in a sense. So Alexander thought and his protege, Athanasius, but they were thinking this was heresy essentially, and this would not allow Him to be God and to be able to redeem His people.
So they were basically using a Greek philosophy of that they were all in one substance essentially. And that, this is what really led to … so Constantine was fearful that this was going to split the empire in a sense that he had recently combined together. He had them all come, he invited them to come to his imperial palace in Nicea. In May of, it was mid-May of 325 A.D. He invited about 1800 bishops. There were between, there’s three accounts that were given somewhere between 250 and 320. The best estimates that people said subsequent were 318 bishops came. Well there were 22 plus areas that had the Arian view essentially, and if you ever heard this talk, it’s called the Arian Controversy that led up to all this, but, and then Alexander had a small group, too. The main group there were persuaded essentially by the risks that Alexander was proposing and that is what gave birth, essentially, to the trinity. The doctrine of the trinity.
Arias would, by the end they were threatened with exile and still there were 2 that held out of the 20 there with Arias there. But it did not solve the, there was lots of battles afterwards. There were different emperors that accepted Arias afterwards and so it became a battle for quite a period of time, many, many decades. And in some ways, even centuries, this went on. There were seven different councils by 787 A.D. to try to solve the theological arguments here.
So this was the first general council of the Church and it led to this, the doctrine of the trinity. It was steeped in Greek philosophy, and I’ll talk about that in a minute, but it did eliminate subordination of Christ to the Father in that sense, and I’ll mention that critically at the end.
So the mystery of Trinity. Barry Bickmore said they called it a mystery because you could not comprehend what they had put together there. Some of the words were not, had anything to do with anything in the Bible. “With the rejection of subordinationism, Christianity finally had resolved the issue of how the three persons of the Godhead could all be fully God, and the son and the Spirit had been melded into the one. But consider the irony of the situation. The Church had gotten itself into this mess by adopting the one as their God in the first place in order to make Christianity philosophically acceptable. But since the God of the philosophers was in many ways antithetical or directly opposed to the God of Israel, the Church ended up having to adopt a solution that was beyond human reason to maintain the full deity of Christ. What we have is the concept of combining the three persons into one God in a way that is wholly incomprehensible to the human mind. Hence the mystery of the Trinity.”
“Mainstream Christianity has been placed in the unenviable position of requiring belief in a doctrine that no one can understand.” And remember John 17:3. This is life eternal that they might know thee. Thinking about the First Vision, what Joseph learned at that moment– that God had a body and that God and Jesus Christ were two separate individuals.
Do we see that somewhere else? Let’s look at this picture here. The stoning of Stephen. Acts 7:55 and 56. “But he being full of the Holy Ghost looked up steadfast into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. And said, behold, I see the heavens open, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.”
So I say, which sounds like the most original to Christianity, the Latter-day Saint view or the mainstream Christian view from the Nicene creed. Now let’s talk about God having a body. If you look at Genesis 1:26. “And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image.'” The Hebrew word there, tselem, after our likeness, the Hebrew word, demuth. And then now compare that to Genesis 5:3. “And Adam lived an hundred thirty years and begat a son in his own likeness,” the Hebrew demuth, “after his image,” Hebrew tselem, “and called his name Seth.” Exact same words. Adam was created in God’s image and likeness and the exact same Hebrew words for image and likeness were used to describe Adam and his son, Seth. So the same exact words, God to Adam as Adam to Seth, image and likeness.
Okay. One of the early Church Fathers agreed, Clementine Homilies, early Jewish Christian work from the second or third century A.D. A conversation between Peter and Simon Magus is reported. “And Simon said, ‘I should like to know, Peter, if you really believe that the shape of man had been molded after the shape of God.’ And Peter said, ‘I am really quite certain, Simon, that this is the case. It is the shape of the just God.”
Okay, so now for some confusion. Tertullian wrote, “Whatever attributes therefore you require as worthy of God, must be found in the Father, who is invisible and unapproachable, and placid and, so to speak, the God of the philosophers.” Even sort of acknowledging this Greek influence on their view of God. The early Christian Father, Origen. He was interjecting confusion into this. Not drawing a perfect distinction of what way to go, but here it is. “For it is also to be a subject of an investigation how God himself is to be understood, whether as corporeal, and formed according to some shape, or of a different nature from bodies, a point which is not clearly indicated in our teaching.”
Okay. This is a long quote and it’s critical for understanding the Hellenization of Christianity, but it’s, I’m just going to give you some snippets from it and if you want to pause the screen, you can read the whole thing, but Barry Bickmore, which this book is really great, Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity. He starts by referring to Origen’s comment, admitted that there was considerable confusion among Christians of that era about this very question about God having a body. But why? He gave a clue in his book, his sermon on the Book of Genesis that “Jews indeed, but also some of our people, suppose that God should be understood as a man that is adorned with human members and human appearance, but the philosophers despise these stories as fabulous, informed in the likeness of poetic fictions.”
“The Jews and Christians who followed the standard Jewish interpretations believed that God had a body in human form. Why did Origen reject this? Simply because the philosophers thought it was silly.” And then he goes, and then on the screen there you can see lots of different quotes from different philosophers that sound very much like the trinity doctrine. Greek, and then he says, “Greek converts to Christianity wanted to make their faith more appealing to people in their own culture and so they adopted a definition of God from the Greek philosophers whose thought was widely respected at the time. The temptation is always there to make one’s faith more popular by modernizing it.” And then he shares that quote from Paul to warning against that philosophy, which was at that time the Greek philosophy. And then at the end here he talks about this Catholic historian who became a cardinal who said the thought and philosophical systems of the current time of Christianity, they were not ready to assimilate this Christian conception. “On the contrary, they were wholly antagonistic there too. However, within a few generations that had all changed, and philosophy ruled Christian theology.”
That’s a very long quote, but it’s one of the most critical slides here in this video. So let’s talk about actually seeing God. Here’s a quote from a Ohio State professor that wrote Theophany, the Oxford Companion to the Bible. He says, “A deity’s physical manifestation is seen by human beings. The appearance of gods and their involvement with humans are common motifs in ancient Near Eastern and classical mythology. That similar phenomena are found in the Bible seems problematic at first, for a persistent tradition in the Hebrew Bible affirm that death comes to any human who sees God. In most of these contacts, however, the narration undermines the sentiment by depicting the pleasant surprise of those who survive. The text presents this perspective as a misperception to which human being subscribed, for no humans in the Bible ever die simply because they have seen God. On the contrary. Throughout the Bible, God wants to communicate intimately with humans. The problem of how God can adequately show himself to humankind without harm is a conundrum that is never really resolved in the Bible.’
In fact, if you look at John 1:18, doesn’t it say there no man has seen God at any time? There are countless or not countless. There are many times when God has been seen there. So it is a conundrum. In fact in Joseph Smith’s inspired version of that verse says, “No man has seen God at any time except he hath born record of the Son.”
So here’s some examples of that conundrum of people seeing God and then how this may be, how we understand it through transfiguration, but people seeing God here. Isaiah, “The year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.” Now this in Exodus. “So the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” “And Jacob called the place, the name of the place Peniel; for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” And of course the famous one from Stephen where he saw both the Father and the Son there and recorded that.
Now Latter-day Saints were able to reconcile this and understand it because of our understanding of transfiguration. Moses Chapter one, verses 2 and 14. “And he saw God face to face and he talked with him and the glory of God was upon Moses; therefore Moses could endure his presence. Moses said, ‘For behold, I could not look upon God, except his glory should come upon me, and I were transfigured before him.'”
And look at this. This is an early Christian Father mentioning the same thing. Clementine Homilies, “For I maintain that the eyes of the mortals cannot see the incorporeal form of the Father or Son because it is illumined by exceeding great light. For he who sees God cannot live. For the excess of light dissolves the flesh of him who sees; unless by the secret power of God the flesh can be changed into the nature of light, so that it can see light.” Just love that.
Okay, last thing here, subordination. Subordination of the Son to the father. This was the huge thing. Part of the Nicene Creed. Now listen to this from a book, The Achievement of Orthodoxy in the fourth century. “Until Athanasias,” now remember, he was, it was his group that really led out in the Nicene Creed, “until he began writing, every single theologian, East and West, had postulated some form of subordinationism. It could, about the year 300, have even been described as a fixed theology.”
And then I wanted to put on the screen here all of the tremendous number of scriptures where the subordination of the Son to the Father, I think, is crystal clear. Jesus Christ is the Father’s Son. The Father is Jesus Christ’s God. The Father is greater than the Son. The Son teaches the Father’s doctrine not His own. Jesus Christ did not perform His own work, but His Father’s work. Jesus Christ prayed unto the Father. Jesus Christ commanded others to pray unto the Father. The Father spoke to His Son from heaven before witnesses. The Nicene Creed essentially abolishes all of this as the Son is equal to the Father and always has been. That’s the mystery of the Trinity. So I hope you enjoyed this. Part two is going to be exciting to get in a lot of different other details on restoring the original Christian Church. Thanks.
Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity by Barry Robert Bickmore
Turning from Truth: A New Look at the Great Apostasy by Alexander Morrison
Early Christians in Disarray: Contemporary LDS Perspectives on the Christian Apostasy by Noel Reynolds
The Blueprint of Christ’s Church by Tad R. Callister
All Things Restored: Confirming the Authenticity of LDS Beliefs by Matthew B. Brown
Mormonism and Early Christianity by Hugh Nibley
The Great Apostasy by James E. Talmage
2017 Fairmormon Conf: Scott Peterson – Jesus Christ, the Same Yesterday, Today, and Forever https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLxNq…
2014 Fairmormon Conf: Barry Bickmore – Joseph Smith Among the Early Christians https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jv20n…
* Also see the resources for the video Not Christians?! WHY?
Latter-day Saints’ Q&A is a video series not produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but by me, an ordinary member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an independent voice, with a passion for studying Church history and defending the faith. In this series, I provide evidences for the restoration, and address tough questions posed by critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, offering faithful answers based on accurate research and historical references which will be posted at the end of each video.