Rob Bowman provides this excellent critique of a Deseret News article by Daniel Peterson on the doctrines of exaltation and theosis. I really appreciated how he took his time in covering the issues involved and was thorough in the places he felt Peterson deserves criticism. Parchment and Pen provided the review in a 5 part series. I highly recommend this series to get an overview of exaltation and theosis and their place in Ancient Christian thought.
- The Mormon Doctrine of Exaltation
- The New Testament and Joseph Smith’s Doctrine of Exaltation
- The Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s Doctrine of Exaltation
- Esoteric Jewish Theology and Joseph Smith’s Doctrine of Exaltation
- Early Church Fathers and Joseph Smith’s Doctrine of Exaltation
If you’re interested in the topic, you should also check out Jack’s article published here.
[hat tip to JB]
I replied to some of those parts when the articles came out. I think there are a couple problems going on.
Let’s take for example part 4 of the article. Peterson deserved the spanking for citing middle ages Kabbalah without qualifying the date. If someone wanted to say that Peterson got caught lying that would be far less of a stretch than Peterson’s use of the original quote.
The problem is that this analysis occurs in the context of an apologetic so the analysis stops there. There are a lot of materials which have Kabbalistic themes and go further back. For example the magical papyri which explicitly have a spell for theosis, and Jewish magical amulets that were evidentially part of angel worship we find with material directly from them. And we know this Hermeticism had bled over to the Christianity community from books like Mark, Colossians, Hebrews…
And in this sense I think Rob Bowman is being a little less than honest in his analysis. Because while this one piece of evidence from Peterson’s was weak his main point was still true. Colossians does give evidence for Hermetic Christianity being at least very early:
Col 2:8, Col 2:20 manipulation of matter through spirits, secret magick rituals;
Col 2:11 circumcision, the importance of earthly acts to control ephemeral powers, a core idea of magick.
Col 2:16-17 special ritual holidays
Col 2:18 angel worship, a truly distinctive part of Hermetic Judaism provides the strongest evidence for the identification
Col 2:21-23 legalism, a focus on ritual purity for the laity.
Further we know that ideas like the divinity of Adam which played such a huge role in Brigham Young’s thinking and theology do date back to these Hermetic Jewish groups and make their way into Kabbalah from genuinely ancient sources.
But this is where it gets a little dicey for the Mormon apologist. Because while these is lots of evidence for Hermeticism, theosis having existed in 1st century Christianity, Paul and later biblical authors were mainly opposed to it or indifferent to it. If Hermetic Christianity was the true Christianity that had the keys, most bible books were written by the people in the groups killing off true Christianity, and actively replacing it with apostate Christianity.
This is the central problem with Mormon apologetics. The Great apostasy cannot have happened as late as early Mormon theologians would like it to. People like Hugh Nibley understood this (mostly). If the apostasy happened at all, it happened during the first century or before. For Mormons to make their key case they have to identify with one of the early strands of Christianity that didn’t win the ultimate battle, for some reason they don’t seem to really get the full implications of this.
I agree with Lance Owen that had Joseph Smith lived he would have identified his church with these earlier strands. I think his direction in the 1840s was moving away from the Mormonism of the KJV and into full blown Hermetic Christianity. In his sermons he was starting to unravel the Christian veneer over the bible and genuinely starting to understand it.
The problem is ultimately Rob Bowman, director of the Institute for Religious Research is an apologist, and really Mormonism needs to dialogue with historians and get the affirmative case in better shape. What we have is a weak affirmative case being attacked by a factually true but misleading negative case. I’d love to make a better case for early proto-Christian beliefs in doctrines like theosis, there are better ones to be made. Essentially Joseph Smith was right about this, but the Mormon church isn’t.
If I am understanding you correctly Colossians 2 gives evidence for the existence of Hermetic Christianity by the fact it had to be rejected?
I don’t want to be all that critical of Dr. Peterson’s article, but he makes a bold claim that is difficult to back up in a 750 word article.
Yep. If I have the record for the RedSox playing the Phillies from the RedSox that’s evidence for the existence of the Phillies. Colossians doesn’t give us any evidence of which came first, for that we have to go elsewhere. But it is evidence for a Hermetic form of Christianity existing early. We can date Hermeticism (pagan Hermeticism) to starting somewhere in the 47 – 25 BCE range. We definitely have Hermetic Judaism by the 1st century. And Colossians gives us evidence for 1st century Hermetic Christianity. Once we have this, books like Mark provide more evidence. Corinthians provides a wonderful example where he seems to be confronted with a congregation unable to decide whether material things are of no importance (Gnosticism) or what is bound on earth is bound in heaven (Hermeticism).
Following this line of thought the answer is for Mormonism is to reject the NT canon as curupt, move the apostasy earlier during the apostolic age not after, and point to every form of religious syncretism as proof for their doctrine.
Not every form of religious syncretism. Hermeticism was a specific movement. This is meant to be historically defensible, which the current theory isn’t. For example if they were to follow this Hermetic form, the Gnostics syncretism doesn’t provide any evidence pro or con. But absolutely they would want to open the cannon. I would think things like the Great Declaration would be in. They could create a line of descent (for example):
Hermetics -> Hermetic Judaism -> Hermetic Christians -> Simonians -> Basilideans -> Priscillianism
where Priscillianism was already deeply corrupted by Gnosticism… and we know it did die out to Catholicism, so there is the complete death of the true church.
From the Hermetics you can full on theosis in the Mormon sense. From the Priscillian you have pre-mortal existence of the spirit children….
I just don’t know enough about Hermetism in the 1st century to comment intelligently, but Simonians, Basildeans, and Priscillians were all gnostics so I don’t get your proposed line of decent. I would need a better understanding of hermetism in the first century to see if they how they understood theosis, if they embraced other unique Mormon doctrines, and had an ecclesiastical structure even vaguely resembling of mainline Salt Lake.
In any case I don’t think Dr. Peterson was presenting an argument anywhere close to what you are proposing.
Peterson’s argument is taking quotes grossly out of context and attributing views to church fathers they never advanced and would have found outright blasphemous. We have enormous bodies of work from St. Jerome we know his thoughts on salvation, and he did not believe in what Mormons consider exaltation in any way shape or form.
In all fairness I feel the same way about your group assigning to the church father’s views consistent with the reformation. For example Jerome is unequivocal that even one instance of marital sexuality does permanent spiritual damage and diminishes one’s relationship with God making only lesser relationships possible. But you talk to Protestants and the church has always taught their doctrine of the family.
So I’m not sure if my standards should be in play here. I don’t see too much difference between what either of your groups do. But if my standards are in play:
1) There was never a clear separation between Gnosticism and cultic Hellenistic Judaism. All the Jewish cults had Gnosticism from the beginning. And these Gnostic elements became stronger and stronger as Judea lost more and more to Rome; and Jews interpreted this as the defeat of Yahweh by Jupiter. Gnosticism is a flavor of Judaism, and Jewish sects.
2) The doctrine of the great apostasy is fundamental to Mormonism. If not the Hermetics then who? I can’t think of any group that is remotely similar on more than a few of the major distinctives. But lets hit your specifics:
The Hermetics believed that through magick rites one could manipulate heavenly forces. One could induce permanent change in themselves, becoming a “divine man” which was a being both supernatural and natural, a being with the ability to create and manipulate matter using spiritual energy. That was their interpretation of what happened to Jesus at the baptism. And that sounds a lot like the Mormon definition of a god. The Simonians believed Simon Magus (yes, the guy from Acts) had also achieved this.
Remember there are a bunch of “they” here. Hermeticism was not a church but a movement.
Simon appears to have ties both with Christianity and Hermetic Judaism… and was a very influential 1st century figure by all accounts (including Catholics). He may also have been the author of the unredacted versions of the Pauline epistles (the historical character behind “Paul”).
Ritual purity for laity (words of wisdom) — check
Focus on righteousness and morality — check
An active spirit world. Everything on earth is spiritual and physical. — check
Modern revelation — check
Jesus visited America — (??) I’m not sure what they would have thought of that
Patriarchal blessing (i.e. lay priesthood greater than the religious one) — check
multiple heavens — check
Henotheism — They worshipped angels and believed in divine hierarchies so they had a pantheon of gods. Call it 1/2.
Nope. But they didn’t have the same historical situation either.
Well they liked the idea of prophetic leadership. But you could make a case they might have developed the same structure if they lived in early 20th century America. What would Mormon’s have had as an ecclesiastical structure of Mormonism had evolved in Tibet and was being actively persecuted by the Chinese?
I think, as nearly always, CD-host brings an interesting point.
The broad brush op-ed apologetics of Peterson are a co-opting of a smattering of ancient evidence, barely in context if at all. I think the Parchment and Pen response correctly points out that the church fathers quoted by Peterson wouldn’t support Mormonism at all, even if some of their writings can be colored that way. However, the ultimate point of the Peterson’s apologetics seems to be that revered church fathers believed things that are colorably similar to Mormonism, therefore Mormons are in good company and not completely out to lunch. Its basically the same way Mormons use C.S. Lewis.
However, Peterson’s broader point is still made by CD-host, i.e. that the Mormon ideas of God and the universe are not unprecedented in antiquity and there may be an actual case that revealed truths of Mormonism were believed and then lost. But it would take more careful scholarship to make such a case. I think CD-host has a good argument that this sort of case needs to be made to do Mormon apologetics properly. i.e. it is critical to show where the correct truth was lost and who had it last. I think, as CD points out, Protestant’s have a similar if less pronounced problem, they have to show which early church fathers would have uniformly supported Evangelical Christianity. Many church fathers promulgated very distinctive Catholic doctrines and acknowledged the authority of the church and its priesthood. It seems like they need a first century Evangelical in the same way that Peterson needs a first century Mormon
Why is it Protestants need to show Church fathers that uniformly support their theology? Why not just let the fathers be who they are? We are children of the Reformation not the Restoration.
Mainly because you like to claim your religion is the religion of historic Christianity. In other words you don’t claim to be a restoration, essentially a new religion in the 15th and 16th century (though I would argue American evangelical Protestantism is really 19th century). And this comes into the whole idea that churches are a divine institution, staffed by men but that churches exist in a way that other Christian organizations (para-churches) do not.
To quote an obvious source:
Hence the Church is called Catholic or Universal, (August. Ep. 48,) for two or three cannot be invented without dividing Christ; and this is impossible. All the elect of God are so joined together in Christ, that as they depend on one head, so they are as it were compacted into one body, being knit together like its different members; made truly one by living together under the same Spirit of God in one faith, hope, and charity, called not only to the same inheritance of eternal life, but to participation in one God and Christ. For although the sad devastation which everywhere meets our view may proclaim that no Church remains, let us know that the death of Christ produces fruit, and that God wondrously preserves his Church, while placing it as it were in concealment. Thus it was said to Elijah, “Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel,” (1 Kings 19: 18.) (John Calvin Institutes IV.1.2
And this assumption of continuity comes up all the time. For example, to pick a recent controversy the whole Elephant Room T.D. Jakes fracas. Your denominations whole claim to being able to call T.D. Jakes a “heretic” in any objective is sense, is the idea that the “time proven creeds” have some universal validity. That the Nicene Creed is more than just opinion and that all reading of scripture are not on an equal footing. Without claims to history what can you present to a T.D. Jakes other than an opinion that Sabellianism is unbiblical? You think it is unbiblical he thinks it is an open question. The entire objection to MacDonald’s invitation to Jakes is Modalism is a heresy, being a modalist disqualifies someone from being Christian and therefore no discussion of secondary matters is possible. But that is all based on the assumption that you are heirs to the Athanasian Creed.
Your argument doesn’t follow. A connection with history doesn’t require uniform support from a particular father at a particular time.
There is a huge difference between uniform support and essentially uniform disagreement.
The church fathers would have almost unanimously rejected:
1) 4 of the 5 solas
2) 3 of the 5 assertions of Dort, the LIP in TULIP
3) The religious tie between capitalism and Christianity. Particularly the Right Protestantism of the last few decades which rejects notions like welfare economics on principle.
4) The CBMW view of gender, sexuality and sex. Example: on the issue of virgins as a gender and marital sexuality as an intrinsic evil overcome partially by the good of procreation.
5) The validity of sacraments with apostolic authority.
6) They would have all rejected your ecclesiology, and asserted the absolute importance of one God, one Bishop, one church.
Do I need to keep going? The whole claim against Mormons, or T.D. Jakes is they aren’t Christians because they disagree with the traditional definition, where by traditional you mean Catholic, not the entire world of early Christianity. You can’t on the one hand apply that definition and then ignore how deeply the early Catholics would reject crucial aspects of your own faith.
Sorry typo in the above. Should be “ULP” in TULIP.
“Your argument doesn’t follow. A connection with history doesn’t require uniform support from a particular father at a particular time.”
The contention is that Protestantism (not Catholicism), in its key tenants, is the true successor of the true Christianity of Jesus and the early church.
If that is true, there must be some early fathers that were protestant-like and not Catholic or orthodox. If Protestant Christianity is the real deal, practiced by the earliest adherents of Christianity, then at some point you have to have believers that look like Protestants. If there was no such father, the probability that Protestantism is not just another one of the numerous “heresies” increases dramatically. Protestantism becomes the same type of after-the-fact gloss on the scriptures that it claims Catholicism is. Protestant’s can’t fall back on new revelation to rectify differences. If the earliest Christians didn’t believe like Evangelicals in critical respects, they have a harder justifying their brand of Christianity than Mormons do.
By all means continue, if it makes you happy.
But since as you are aware, I am sure, that the monarchial episcopacy is a second century development 5 and 6 are beside the point. It would be anachronistic to expect to find 1 and 2, 16th and 17th century theological questions, in the early Fathers. I am unaware of a doctrine of capitalism and am not particularly concerned with CBMW or any para-church organization, with the exception of seminaries.
I understand the premise, but I don’t think that it matches what we see in the history of the Church. The development of doctrines is more complicated than that. I know that some evangelical apologists turn to the Church fathers in the same way that Dr Peterson does, but I have read enough Church history to understand it simply isn’t that easy. In most cases the early Church simply was not asking the same questions we are and it is anachronistic to force our debates on them.
Read the Didache. Read what is says about the Eucharist. Does is mention transubstantiation, consubstantiation, spiritual presence, memorialist view? Not so much. Read what it says about Baptism. Does it enter into the creedo/padio baptism debate? Not so much. Does this document support an episcopal monarchy? Not so much. This document only mentions Faith 3 times and Grace once. Does that mean that faith and grace were not important in the life of the early Church? Not so much.
Jaroslav Pelikan writes in his first volume of the history of Christian doctrinal development that, “Tradition is living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” Doctrine, what the Church believes, teaches, confesses and practices on the basis of the word of God, develops from our understanding of the word of God not who can find the most proof texts from the ANCF.
Well Happy Thanksgiving. Your response to me and your response to Jared are similar, that we are asking different questions.
I think the monarchial episcopacy developing in the 2nd century is unclear. Further I’m in kind of a weird position here.
a) As a matter of historical reality, I mostly agree with you it is mostly a 2nd-4th century development.
b) The Catholic Church asserts that it ges back to Jesus and has evidence for this, mostly from Ignatius.
Ignatius = Bishop of Antioch
Onesimus = Bishop of Ephesus (possibly Paul’s disciple mentioned in Philemon)
Polycarp = Bishop of Smyrna (a disciple of the Apostle John)
Damas = Bishop of Magnesia
Polybius = Bishop of Tralles
XXX [Unnamed] = Bishop of Philadelphia
c) Mormons seem to me to agree with the Catholic position on this. It is in fact a crucial element of their theology since the divisions are what caused the keys to be lost. And then without the keys the true doctrine was soon lost.
So while I personally believe the Ignatius evidence is an assumption, assume there was no apostolic succession is essentially assuming Mormonism and Catholicism are false religions. So for the purpose of argument I don’t think we can assume it and I’ll play the traditional Catholic apologetic for 1st century monarchial episcopacy going back to Jesus.
As for the the early church didn’t have the same arguments …. I again agree with you. In general is that in most denominational disputes the early church would not agree with any of the present day positions. Though I think the Catholics are the most faithful to the church fathers.
I think the CBMW stuff is a dodge. Your sub-denomination was founded over the issue of impermissibility of female ministers which was an active area of dispute then as now. While you may not be interested in CBMW as a parachurch, you choose to identify with an organization that is a major supporter and proponent of CBMW.
But you and the Catholics agree on female ministers, however, an issue that has even changed less is the indissolubility of marriage. My guess is your church has a bunch of remarried people in it, that divorced for a variety of reasons. The early fathers clearly taught that marriage was indissoluble. Calvin argued that impotence was grounds for dissolubility. From a purely neutral perspective how is what Calvin changed permissible while what T.D. Jakes changed impermissible?
My understanding is that Calvin argued that impotence concealed prior to the mirage was a ground of annulment. I am not a master of canon law but a marriage that cannot even be consummated because of deceit seems to be grounds for an annulment in Rome as well as Geneva.
If Calvin argued that impotence developed after the marriage was grounds for dissolving a marriage, I would disagree. But let’s look at your primary sources for that so that we can evaluate them in context. In any case the Larger Catechism clearly explains that unjust divorce violates the will of God, but to not allow for repentance and forgiveness offered by the Gospel smacks of Donatism, doesn’t it?
I was unaware that my denomination was providing support for the CBMW, how precisely are they doing that? I am also unaware that there has ever been a question over female Elders so you will have to fill me in.
Someone needs to write a popular book articulating Evangelical theosis. Any takers?
Evangelicals believe in glorification, not theosis.
According to Jack you believe in theosis.
If the Church fathers look very little like Evangelicals(or Mormons), there has to be some justification for all the changes. The Mormons have the apostasy theory. . . do evangelicals have a parallel explanation?
That comment was mine by the way….. somehow it didn’t log me in.
There are a bunch of theories you can line up on a continuem.
Catholic — The modern church is a continuation of the ancient and doesn’t disagree in anything meaningful. Where it appears to disagree it is general a result of different context, or statements that were “unofficial”, official positions have never changed.
Original Reformers — The modern church is only marginal different than what existed in the ancient world. Most of the corruption happened recently and is surface. The church needs a mild corrective reform, but not a wholesale overhaul. The current leadership is blocking this and that’s bad but we need to not throw the baby out with the bathwater and open the doors to every ancient heresy because of problems like excessive papal authority or indulgences (or for more modern Protestants the extra 9 books of the canon..).
Modern Protestantism — realizes that the original reformers position is historically falsifiable. Most of what they object most strongly to, goes back to 2nd and 3rd centuries. And over the centuries the faith communities have forked and now the revisions they seek would need to be much deeper. So they create a mythic group of Protestants religiously and mostly ignore everything we know about the 2nd through 16th centuries in their teaching and preaching.
They want the authority of the ancient church over other sects while they themselves get to pick and choose doctrines freely. And every generation they end up switching sides on one of the major doctrines that separated the ancient Gnostics from the Catholics, gutting the meaning from the creeds they pay lip service to. Though if they keep this up a few more generations they will have a historically defensible church to return to.
Landmarkism — Fundamentalist baptist have found a way out, and possibly the what Protestantism will eventually embrace wholesale. For them, the ancient church was a faithful remnant that has existed alongside the Catholic church down through the centuries. God engages in continual revelation keeping his faithful remnant alive while allowing the mass church to fall counterfeit Christianity. Landmarkism even has historical timelines (example Trial of Blood chart and text). Religiously though Landmark Baptists are not open enough to actually embrace these groups as they existed historically, the whole thing is not defensible.
For example Charles Spurgeon (who is now popular more broadly), “We believe that the Baptists are the original Christians. We did not commence our existence at the reformation, we were reformers before Luther and Calvin were born; we never came from the Church of Rome, for we were never in it, but we have an unbroken line up to the apostles themselves. We have always existed from the days of Christ, and our principles, sometimes veiled and forgotten, like a river which may travel under ground for a little season, have always had honest and holy adherents.
Restorationism — Takes Landmarkism a step further, understanding its spirit. The ancient church was completely destroyed and its teachings along with it. A counterfeit Christianity took its place, there was no faithful remnant of note. Generally these groups fail to understand how late many of the things they do value in historical Christianity happened when they start. Some follow the road right out of anything that’s identifiably Christian, the onion is the layers. Others, like Mormons, Adventists and the 19th century liberal Protestants stop short and turn back. Joseph Smith went much further down that road than Ellen White, and Mormonism may be finding they went down that road too far and there is no direction but continuing down it.
My answer is a little simpler. 2000 years of doctrinal development justifies the changes. As the Church has been confronted with theological crises she has responded, sometimes correctly, sometimes in error, sometimes with heresy.
That’s why you need the entire theological encyclopedia, biblical theology, systematic theology, historic theology, etc.
What Gundek said. Early church fathers didn’t have the foreknowledge to know how every form or doctrine would be exploited or over-indulged. We have to always be recontexualizing our faith in our culture and reflecting it against the Bible.
I don’t really think CD’s accusations are all that threatening. We don’t claim to be practicing our faith in exactly the same way 2nd Century Christians did. It would be fool-hardy to make that historical claim. Restorationists have the bigger burden of proof.
OK I contend my theory is true. Either of you willing to play 20 questions?
Type up your 20 questions. I’ll post them as a blog post
Isn’t it the pot calling the kettle black when the 1st Romans claim supernatural, (unproven or provable) events and then contend when their offspring claim the same. Just a couple specifics, such as corporeal bodies floating into airless space and golden plates. If any of you would be willing to play in the physical universe without claiming supernatural jokers, try netzarim.co.il. We never include the supernatural because the ONE we serve made everything perfect, (because He is) and plan B is not an option for Him. BTW there was a real man, living then dead, messiah, but you aren’t even warm.
Where are the 20 questions?
Ran into this while doing some research on another thread:
This is from Maximus the Confessor so you can’t get more official:
Who would have thunk that Maximus the Confessor believed in the incarnation.