The Teachings of the Twelve Apostles show us how the first Christians were Mormons?

Early Christian Gravestone, Jesus the ShepherdIf you haven’t read the Didache, it’s a fascinating read.  Named after the Greek word for “teaching” this short work purports to contain the teaching of the twelve apostles of Christ.  Written as early as the first century, it was considered by some prominent early Christians as part of the New Testament.  The Didache is intriguing because it was not written to tell a story, or to explain theology, but as a manual for what Mormons would call “living the Gospel.”

The Didache is ostensibly the direction of the Twelve Apostles concerning how to practice Christianity.  It lays out how to live, how not to live, how to baptize, how to prepare the sacrament, how to pray and fast, how to deal with traveling preacher, how to appoint local leaders, and how to prepare for the Second Coming. One reason the book struck me as “Mormon” is that Jesus is not mentioned by name at all. The “way of life” is straightforward– love of God, the golden rule, and shunning immorality. It’s approach to religion is unsophisticated and straightforward, not unlike most LDS conference talks. 

The book is also Mormonesque in the way it directs believers to appoint church leaders from their own congregations. Professional, traveling preachers are to be accepted, but tested. Those that hang around too long, or leach off the membership, were to be rejected.  It also smacks of the Mormon worthiness narrative.  The congregations were told to confess and repent of their sins before Sunday worship so that their sacrifice to God could be pure. They were also directed to resolve all disputes with others. 

It makes me wonder how Christianity would differ today if this guidance was considered the infallible word of God.  Would Evangelical-style money-preachers be rejected more readily? How would the church look if these practical principles were enforceable as scripture?  These are some of the fascinating questions these just-barely-uncanonical works leave me asking.

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111 thoughts on “The Teachings of the Twelve Apostles show us how the first Christians were Mormons?

  1. “Written as early as the first century, it was considered by some prominent early Christians as part of the New Testament.”

    Who?

  2. That doesn’t sound characteristically (or at least uniquely) Mormon at all.

    I am not making the signs-of-the-true-church argument. But I think the comparison is apt because if Mormons had a tract like this it would undoubtedly be criticized by many Evangelicals for focusing on works and not mentioning Jesus.

    I think the focus on lifestyle is fascinating. It shows us how these communities decided to live the teachings and manage those who traveled around keeping the church together.

  3. Jared,

    I have to admit that the stuff you have been writing lately is simply baffling, and this is no exception. I guess the quickest way to respond is to answer this question you pose:

    How would the church look if these practical principles were enforceable as scripture?

    Umm, they are. When you read the Didache one thing should become quickly apparent, the author of the Didache is heavily dependent on the Gospel of Matthew. At times he quotes large sections wholesale, for example most of chapter 8 is lifted right from Matthew. At other times he paraphrases with only slight word alterations. Finally, he also rewords large themes from Matthew.

    The most coherent reading of the Didache is of an author who is trying to contextualize what he knows from Matthew to apply it to problems he sees in his own time. Since Christians do this day in and day out with the Gospel of Matthew, we are doing the same thing the author of the Didache did. That likely original context is also what makes sense of the largest section that doesn’t seem to depend on Matthew, Didache 11:1-16:2. In there the author seems to be trying to deal with organizational problems that churches were experiencing. You see something similar in 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus.

    As for money-preaching, I actually see the opposite of what you see in Didache 13:1, “But every genuine prophet who wishes to settle among you is worthy of his food.” This is the standard early Christian explanation for why one would pay the preacher (see 1 Tim 5:18 for a very similar defense).

    Finally, how you see the Didache as reflecting a Mormon view of things relies on what I think is a highly selective and idiosyncratic reading. For example, that you see the author not mentioning Jesus by name as somehow reflective of Mormonism is just confusing. I mean I sort of get what you are saying. Mormons tend to use the phrase “The Lord” and the author of the Didache also uses the Greek term “kyrios” (The Lord) when referring to Jesus. I don’t see this as relevant for two reasons. First, calling Jesus “kyrios” around the year 100 A.D. had a lot of political and religious weight that simply no longer applies to us, simply because we no longer have any social position of lord in western democracies. So even though the words are the same, the meanings are completely different. Second, Paul tended to refer to Jesus as “Christ Jesus,” backwards from the modern convention. But, I think it would be crazy to say Paul was backwards or that he wasn’t “doing it right” because he used that phrase.

  4. “The congregations were told to confess and repent of their sins before Sunday worship so that their sacrifice to God could be pure.”

    The last 9 words of that sentence aren’t even ‘Christian’.

    Sounds like something a Jew would say. Or maybe one of these modern Protestantized Jews who call themselves ‘Mormons’.

    And it doesn’t matter who wrote them. Peter could have wrote them himself. It is Christ’s sacrifice for us, and our trust in Him, and the realization that we just aren’t up to it…that makes us Christian.

  5. “The last 9 words of that sentence aren’t even ‘Christian'” – they are. This is what St. Paul talks about in Corinthians 11:27 about being “guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord” and what Malachi talks about in 1:11 “For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations.” (as quoted by the Didache itself) . The original Christians were and still are Catholics (as we can see by writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch around ~100AD) and they have always understood the Eucharist to be a re-presentation of the original once-for-all bloody Sacrifice of the Lamb on the Cross. Most if not all the early Church fathers talk about this, Hebrews is full of sacrificial language that is immediately clear and obvious to Jews, especially Jewish people of the first century. They understood the Last Supper to have clear Sacrificial overtones. Read: “The Lamb’s Supper” by Scott Hahn.

    Other Catholic things in the Didache that most evangelicals reject or at least don’t do:
    – Daily Mass
    – Prayer and Fasting
    – Sprinkling of holy water for Baptism, not necessarily only full immersion
    – Only allowing those who are Baptized to partake in the Eucharist (closed communion)
    – No mention of using Scripture to prove teachers or using Scripture as the sole rule of authority
    – Mention of bishops and deacons in the understand that Catholics have always held and hold today, not the mistaken understand that Mormons and Protestants have today of those words
    – Mention of offering prayers, alms, and good works
    – Talk about Jesus coming with the saints in Heaven – an example of Catholic understanding of holy people in heaven, alive and aware of what’s going on on the Earth and in full communion with Jesus in Heaven

    A Catholic reads this document and it all makes perfect sense and there’s nothing that’s perplexing. Both Mormons and Protestants read this and find things that don’t make sense with their traditions of men.

  6. Jared, I haven’t read the Didache so I can’t really comment on it. But I did a similar experiment with “The Shepherd of Hermas”. The only thing I really noticed was that it contradicted some New Testament teachings on marriage, but nothing really fundamental to the faith.

  7. I’m just not sure how a practical manual for running the Church is supposed to be more Mormon than Evangelical. Jared, do you not think that Evangelicals do ecclesiology as much as they do theology? It seems like this, and all your posts over the last few months, reflect some weird caricatures of both Mormonism and Evangalicalism that you have cemented in your mind but which don’t actually bear any resemblance to reality.

    Do you really think that Evangelicalism is all theology all the time, totally eschewing practical matters of living out faith and establishing and running the church?

    It’s like you have decided to conflate the arguments that Mormons have with Evangelicals online with Mormonism and Evangelicalism in their entirety.

  8. Jared, there’s a whole mess of church history that should make Reformed Christians uncomfortable, but doesn’t. The 16th C. origins of their worldview often seem to be a point of pride, not shame.

    The Mormon comp is intriguing but, I have to say – it looks more Catholic (or EO if you like) than anything. (as Chad spelled out).

  9. Jared, there’s a whole mess of church history that should make Reformed Christians uncomfortable, but doesn’t. The 16th C. origins of their worldview often seem to be a point of pride, not shame.

    1. I assume that by “Reformed Christians” you actually mean the Reformed tradition specifically and not just Protestants in general.

    2. Given how much the Reformed tradition owes to Augustine, it’s manifestly ridiculous to say their worldview originated in the 16th century.

  10. 3. The difference between the first/second c. church and the post-Reformation Protestant Church only “should” make Reformed Christians uncomfortable if they are Restorationists. They’re not. So it shouldn’t.

    Your Mormonism is showing.

  11. K-man –

    1. yes

    2. Augustine’s views were co-opted into the Reformed tradition. I get that Protestants don’t see it that way. I’m not a Protestant.

    3. Post Reformation Protestants aren’t Restorationists on paper, but many act/think like they are. (the rise in “non-denominational” of “bible” churches being one example).

    Your Mormonism is showing.

    I fear your condescending tone is going to dissuade me from returning to this thread. fwiw

  12. Post Reformation Protestants aren’t Restorationists on paper, but many act/think like they are. (the rise in “non-denominational” of “bible” churches being one example).

    I agree that many (particularly Baptist and non-denominational fundamentalist) Protestants are de facto restorationists. But that means that your “whole mess of church history” really just should make them uncomfortable. Not Reformed Christians in general.

    fear your condescending tone is going to dissuade me from returning to this thread. fwiw

    Then I apologize; I just meant to point out that it sure looked like you were begging the question with regard to restorationist/Mormon ideas about the primitive church, apostasy and the need for restoration that are not self-evident and that Protestants–including Reformed Protestants–do not necessarily share.

  13. Our sacrifice? Pure?

    Give me a break.

    What sacrifice do we do that is worth a plug nickel when it comes to making ourselves right with God?

    There isn’t any. It’s Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, for us, that accomplishes ALL…in spite of, not because of our best efforts. That’s Christian.

  14. @kullervo,

    Jared, do you not think that Evangelicals do ecclesiology as much as they do theology?

    I am sure Evangelicals do ecclesiology, but I am sure they do it without considering Didache an authority.

    I think the Didache is relevant to understanding Mormonism because it reflects an organic institution of Christian principles in a community, not guided by established tradition or philosophy. The Didache presents a view of Christianity that is not limited by the canon– in that way similar to Mormonism.

    The point is not that early Christians were actually Mormons (my provocative title notwithstanding)–they obviously were not Mormons. But they are also not Evangelical. That said, there are similarities. I could have easily posted how the Christians that followed the Didache were Evangelical-like, or as Chad Meyer aptly points out, that they were Proto-Catholics/Orthodox But again, I can see that these early Christians were also quite different than Catholics or Orthodox today.

    It’s like you have decided to conflate the arguments that Mormons have with Evangelicals online with Mormonism and Evangelicalism in their entirety.

    I actually have little idea about the typical arguments Mormons have with Evangelicals online. I don’t follow them. So I am decidedly not doing this.

  15. OldAdam,

    I don’t know why you are arguing with those first century Christians. Are you arguing that nobody got Christianity right until Luther came along to set the world straight?

  16. While I am surprised to find out that Protestants don’t believe in prayer and the second coming, I think that it takes a special pair of rose colored glassed to see the Roman Church in the Didache. Most obviously absent (besides any reference to the mass, daily or otherwise) is any episcopacy or magisterium.

    Isn’t it a little more responsible to take a document like the Didache and try to read it in its historical context to try to better understand the devotional and ecclesiastical practices of the early Church rather than trying to prove the corpus of 21st century Roman beliefs have been “everywhere and always believed”?

    When I first read the Didache, I was struck by how early in the life of the Church there is evidence for devotion, worship and prayer directly to Jesus Christ and that even in a document ostensibly concerned with ecclesiastical and moral the Lordship of Jesus (in the fullest sense of the word) is front and center. But I am not an apologist.

  17. Jared,

    St. Paul was arguing with those 1st century Christians. read the Galatian letter…or other places where Paul sets them straight. He even set St. Peter straight (as did Jesus himself).

  18. I think the Didache is relevant to understanding Mormonism because it reflects an organic institution of Christian principles in a community, not guided by established tradition or philosophy. The Didache presents a view of Christianity that is not limited by the canon– in that way similar to Mormonism.

    Mormonism explicitly rejects “established tradition and philosophy,” but in reality I think it’s got pretty strong roots in frontier Methodism, rhetoric notwithstanding.

  19. “I think the Didache is relevant to understanding Mormonism because it reflects an organic institution of Christian principles in a community, not guided by established tradition or philosophy. The Didache presents a view of Christianity that is not limited by the canon– in that way similar to Mormonism.”

    The Didache is tradition in the making and exactly the organic institution Mormonism calls apostate.

  20. The major Christian traditions have their roots in the religion of those that followed the Didache. Right understanding Mormon roots can be important in understanding Mormonism but a religion cannot be reduced to its roots. Mormon Christianity is synthesis of many roots.

  21. Gundek, I agree to some extent. The tradition seems to indicate that the teaching came from the Twelve Apostles, so it’s an open question whether Mormons would consider those that adhered to the teaching to be apostate.

  22. Don’t you need to square that with the Didache teaching that runs contrary to LDS teaching on the sacraments?

  23. Gundek,

    It’s been a long time since we’ve studied the Augsburg Confession or related statements…but what of it?

    Those documents were great documents, but they were in no way Holy Scripture. And they could have been better documents were it not for the humanist strain in Melancthon and co.

    The temptation is strong to ‘repristinate’ the church…go back to the ways of the beginning. But the church started going off the rails immediately, as is evidenced by Paul’s letters.

  24. “But every Lord’s day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure.”

    Roberts-Donaldson English Translation

    A Roman Catholic is going to glom onto any reference of “sacrifice” to assume their theory of mass, this is understandable.

    This does not mean that we should respond reflexively in an opposite direction.

    “In these we must obey God’s will, as Paul says, Rom. 12:1: Present your bodies a living sacrifice. And these are the spiritual exercises of fear and faith. 46] But in addition to this mortification which occurs through the cross [which does not depend upon our will] there is also a voluntary kind of exercise necessary, of which Christ says, Luke 21:34: Take heed to yourselves lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting. And Paul, 1 Cor. 9:27: I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, etc. And these exercises are to be undertaken not because they are services that justify, but in order to curb the flesh, lest satiety may overpower us, and render us secure and indifferent, the result of which is that men indulge and obey the dispositions of the flesh. This diligence ought to be perpetual, 48] because it has the perpetual command of God.”

    Defense of the Augsburg Confession Article 15:45

  25. Don’t you need to square that with the Didache teaching that runs contrary to LDS teaching on the sacraments?

    I don’t. But I agree that the Didache raises questions for LDS.

  26. Gundek,

    Come on. You know as well as I that anything that we do is NOT pure. The Lord’s Supper is from Him to us. NOT the other way around as the Catholics believe (a re-sacrifice). It is pure gift of Himself …to us..the ungodly in need of forgiveness and life and salvation…over and over again.

    Don’t latch on to that piety that actually believes that what ‘we do’ makes a hill of beans of difference. We come empty handed, as beggars, to receive from Him that which the world could never buy.

  27. Honestly, I think you are reading later disputes with Rome into a first century document.

    Paul tells us both to examine ourselves before coming to the Lord’s Supper and to present our “bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship”(1 Cor 11:28; 12 Rom 1).

    Where you see unchristian, I see a reliance on Paul and the early spread of his corpus.

    Rather than latching onto a piety of self justification I assume a reliance on Paul in the Didache and agree with the Lutheran teaching that “diligence ought to be perpetual” not to earn salvation but because it is the “command of God” (third use of the law).

  28. There is no “3rd use of the law”.

    That “guide for the believer” is ALREADY present in the 1st two uses.

    But I digress.

    We are worthy to receive the Supper if we know that we are unworthy of it. Paul was speaking to those who were coming to the Supper, not sharing what they brought with others, and getting drunk. That is the proper context of those verses.

    It (the Supper) is a free gift of God, for those in need of Him. It is pure gospel.

    Now…that’s the gospel.

  29. I certainly am.

    Holy Scripture trumps any wrongheaded Lutherans who buy (bought) into the errant notion that we can use the law in any way towards our betterment as Christians.

    “Christ is the end of the law for all those who have faith.”

    That’s from the Good Book, and some of us Lutherans still believe it.

  30. We cannot “accommodate Luther’s view with a so-called “third use of the law” because “Such a view rests on presumptions entirely different from those of Luther”

    I think I’ll stick with the Book of Concord on this one.

  31. You know, Gundek, I’ve always found it to be true that the law is written upon our hearts.

    We know what to do.

    We just flat out refuse to do it, so much of the time. And most of the time when we decide to do something, our motives are shot to hell.

    So I have to rely on the finished work of Christ for the ungodly.

  32. I’ll stick with the Bible…

    Except the parts that are inconvenient to your theology, of course.

    I know the Psalms are in the Bible…but grace always trumps the law.

    Hee hee.

  33. I’ll stick with ALL of it.

    But you have to do theology. When Jesus says “you must be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect”…we don’t say, “see! you must get out there and do this that and the other thing”

    We say that pronouncement is law. And it exposes us. And then we announce the gospel.

  34. If your theology cannot explain the relationship between Justification by faith, Paul’s exhortation to be “transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”, and the Psalmist exclamation to God, “With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments” it is missing something.

  35. As if you keep His commandments.

    That’s rich.

    Nobody does, Gundek.

    The obedience to the law is neither here nor there. It’s the obedience to faith that matters.

    When they asked Jesus, “What is it to do the works of the Father?” Jesus didn’t lay out the laundry list. He said, “Believe in the one whom the Father has sent. This is what it is to do the works of the Father.”

  36. Did I say I keep his commandments? Heaven no. i agree with Luther that sin is always “there, but, because of faith that struggles against it, God does not reckon sin as deserving damnation.”

    I think I have always been quite clear that we must look to God for our righteousness and that faith and salvation comes only from his mercy.

    My point has been only that any theology that ignores the exhortations of the apostle Paul that Christians are to offer themselves as a sacrifice by “putting their desires to death” [Luther] to live lives “governed by the spirit” [Luther] to “teach, preach, rule, serve, give, suffer, love, live and act toward friend, foe and everyone” [Luther] is missing something.

    As Luther said, “These are the works that a Christian does, for, as I have said, faith is not idle.”

  37. “With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments”

    That you quoted the above led me to believe that you’ve got a thing for the law…over and above the gospel. Not to mention your apparent opposition to “Christ being (is) the end of the law”

    Exhortations are great. But that’s all they are. You don’t get any points for listening to them…OR for doing them, even. Nada. Zilch. And what often happens is that people delude themselves into thinking that they are doing alright as far as those exhortations are concerned.

    Of course faith is not idle. But no one can say that this is a Christian work…and this is not…since the heathen and the Muslim are capable of them, as well.

  38. While I am sure Billings can be used to create a canon within the corpus of Luther, I’ll probably stick to the context of his introduction to Romans.

    Yes Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes, but I’m not sure why you have the obsession that the desire a mortify sin comes from a desire to score points.

  39. Gundek,

    Because we CAN’T mortify our sins. And He has already done it, anyway!

    read Romans 6

    “We are to consider ourselves DEAD TO SIN”.

    How can that be? Because our old sinner was crucified with Christ in our Baptism.

  40. Of our own power it would be impossible but, Paul seemd to think it is possible through the Spirit.

    Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.

  41. I would agree. It’s at least a clear, concise trajectory for the basic “Christian” life. It was written by true believers within a stone’s throw of Jesus’ life. The question for me is: What grounds are there for excluding it?

  42. With the exception of John of Damascus (d. 749) I am hard pressed to find a call for the Didache inclusion in the canon.

  43. What grounds are there for excluding it now or what grounds were there in the fourth century?

    Both. I have read answers to this question, but I’ve always had a very hard time figuring out how the Protestant theory of the canon holds water. The lines seem quite arbitrary as to what can be ignored and what must be considered inerrant and God-breathed. Considering that scripture is the foundation of their theology, this makes their entire theological project suspect.

  44. gundek, Ever listen to the DAB? I’ve been a semi listener for a number of years. Recently in his intro to 2 Peter, Brian Harden essentially said:

    “Scholars say that (like 1 Peter) 2 Peter was not written by the apostle Peter, but If we’re to accept 2 Peter as the inspired word of God, then we have to accept that Peter claims authorship of the text. If this is the case, it was probably written in the late 60’s…”

    Is the Evangelical propensity to reject pseudepigraphy a need for Church tradition to be honored or a need for the books to be authored by bona fide apostles? (both tied to the cause of inerrancy no doubt)

    That is to say Jared – either way, the Didache doesn’t have a chance in hell of getting into the Protestant Bible.

  45. Gundek, I get that any standard can appear arbitrary. But the current standard relies on what has consistently found to be unreliable in other contexts,i.e. tradition.

  46. @Christian,

    I agree that there is no chance that the canon will change. The practice and prestige of theology that relies on a closed canon has eclipsed significant variation in the current canon.

  47. Christian,

    I have not listened to DAB, I may try.

    I have read where some modern scholars claim that Pseudepigrapha was a widely accepted practice for representing a school of though and should not be dismissed outright. I have also read early Church writers (tradition) who reject books because they were Pseudepigrapha, So I tend to think that there is wisdom and good reason for rejecting Pseudepigrapha.

    Inerrancy is an attribute of the revelation not the writer, but I don’t think inerrancy lends itself to a bumper sticker any more than tradition does. While I think inerrancy is important most objections aren’t really against the doctrine so much as a secondary rejection of biblical authority.

  48. Jared,

    For all practical purposed the Mormon canon is as closed as the Protestant canon, unless you are from the Community of Christ. Open or closed isn’t the question really, it is the unique authority that Protestants see in the Bible that Mormons have difficulty with.

    I’m not accusing your standard of being arbitrary. I don’t even know if you have a standard. I’m asking what a non-arbitrary standard for the canon looks like? Doesn’t the rejection of Pseudepigrapha, show a propensity for the non-arbitrary categories in Protestant canonical studies?

    Like most of theology, the canon doesn’t lend itself to bumper sticker theology. I also don’t think that my tradition rejects tradition as outright as you imply. Spend some time with Calvin and you will find a pretty critical engagement with the traditions of the Church. It part of the name Protestant, you need to know what and why you are protesting.

  49. The practice and prestige of theology that relies on a closed canon has eclipsed significant variation in the current canon.

    Statements like this make me think that you are engaging with the vague impressions of Protestantism in your mind rather than with actual Protestantism.

  50. Well first you could explain how the Protestant having a closed canon is all that different from the East or Rome having an equally closed canon? Or you could explain how the Protestant closed canon is significantly different from the Mormon open canon that has not changed in over a century?

  51. On “vague impressions of Protestantism”

    Protestantism seems inherently vague theologically. If you define Protestantism with the Solae, it leaves no place to nail down answers to critical questions. It seems that Protestant theology is all over the map because of this.

    @gundek

    The Orthodox and the Catholics put tradition essentially on par with the canon, allowing beliefs that are clearly outside the canon- e.g. veneration of saints and Mary.

    Mormon open canon is radically different in theory, even if it has not changed significantly in a long time. The open canon pushes people to look to continuing revelation to apply older scripture to today’s contexts. I would suggest that the open canon is the most fundamental structural difference between LDS and older traditions.

  52. Oh Patrick…

    An open canon pushes people to look at what? So the application of scripture to today’s context is uniquely Mormon? The claim of an open canon can only be significant if the canon actually develops otherwise private revelation only makes each member their own authority. And that is just uniquely American. Unless continuing revelation produces new scripture well, prophets that don’t prophesy aren’t unique.

    But like I said that doesn’t really have anything to do with how or why the canon was closed and what a non-arbitrary selection criteria for the canon would look like. What you keep bringing up is simply how to reject that the canon should have a unique authority

  53. I’ll have to post something else on the Mormon view of canon.

    Does anyone here just, fundamentally misunderstand the Mormon view of canon, in your opinion?

  54. I am guessing that some readers have only a superficial understanding, based on a defensive posture rather than an understanding one. Those that have more than that probably don’t see the canon the way I do, and I am not sure I have been clear in my brief comments. The canon is something that is generally just taken for granted by believers.

  55. I have read where some modern scholars claim that Pseudepigrapha was a widely accepted practice for representing a school of though and should not be dismissed outright. I have also read early Church writers (tradition) who reject books because they were Pseudepigrapha, So I tend to think that there is wisdom and good reason for rejecting Pseudepigrapha.

    gundek, are you saying that early Church writers hold a particular place of authority over modern textual critics? Even in light of archeological discoveries from the past 200 years? This seems to be the Evangelical view of things, but I haven’t been able to get anyone to explicitly admit to it.

    Inerrancy is an attribute of the revelation not the writer, but I don’t think inerrancy lends itself to a bumper sticker any more than tradition does.

    If authorship is irrelevant to Biblical authority, then I’m back to square one asking why Evangelicals reject pseudepigrapha, considering the overwhelming evidence. If I had to speculate, I would say it has a lot to do with the cult of the Christian worldview. Of course, I’m, admittedly, relying on others to explain it to me.

    For example, here is a game I play with my Mormon friends: If archeological evidence pointed overwhelmingly to validate the historicity of the BoM, would you not hold it up for the world to see and immediately accept the findings as legit and important? Downplaying legitimate evidence because it doesn’t square with traditions or worldview is intellectually dishonest.

    And so I ask my Ev friends: If archeological evidence pointed overwhelmingly to validate traditional Christian views of who authored and Bible and how, would you not hold it up for the world to see and immediately accept the findings as legit and important? Downplaying legitimate evidence because it doesn’t square with traditions or worldview is intellectually dishonest.

  56. Jared

    Canon is an important issue but I get the feeling that we are talking about two different issues. The canon is the list of authoritative scripture for a group, it does not define what the role or the authority of Holy Scripture is within the group. Insisting that Mormonism has an open canon is simply contrary to the lack of any new canonical material in the standard works for the past century. You can say that Mormonism has a theatrically open but principally closed canon but, absent new material it’s hard to demonstrate openness.

    Honestly Mormonism’s claim to continuing revelation is a separate issue to the idea of an open or closed canon (at least until they start adding to the canon) and more properly belongs in the category of authority. The question of what has the most authority new revelation or the standard works is no more of a canon issue than having a prophet that isn’t sure what his church teaches is.

  57. Christian,

    I’m not sure how much world viewism has to do with the current rejection of pseudepigrapha, practically speaking there is a centuries old tradition for the practice pre-dating Christian world viewism, American evangelicalism and even Protestantism. I have often wondered the source of interest that some Mormon internet posters seem to place in various pseudepigrapha and other ancient works that there Church has not added to its canon

    There may be some archaeological evidence that I am not aware of that conclusively proves authorship of various books. You will have to let me know. I don’t see why the early Church’s use of Scripture in writing and liturgy as an external evidence for the canon should be controversial for anybody. I can understand why Mormons need to reject the early Church (despite embracing King James) but, God’s preservation of Scripture through his providential care and that the early church used scripture in writing and worship isn’t controversial?

    I know there are always textual critical claims that reject Paul’s or Peter’s or John’s authorship of this or that letter but, I also think we need to closely identify and examine the presuppositions and claims of textual critics before abandoning 1800 years of tradition.

    Honestly from a Presbyterian point of view the crux is the self attestation of Scripture through the testimony and witness of the Holy Spirit to the truth and authority of Scripture. That may sound a little subjective but Presbyterians don’t find that to controversial. So, I would say that Scripture is authoritative because it is the word of God. The Churches recognition or the Early Churches testimony or tradition doesn’t add to the authority, they witness the authority.

  58. So the application of scripture to today’s context is uniquely Mormon?

    I have read that claim before (I think it was in Bushman’s Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism).

  59. Sure enough Page 188, where an attempt is made to explain why the one true church (c) doesn’t have definable doctrine.

  60. I remember being very impressed by that claim and feeling like it rang true when I read the book on my mission. But it’s pretty much total nonsense.

  61. I’m not saying that Mormons don’t apply scripture to today but it is hard to understand how a closed canon prevents the current application of scripture. Especially if you believe it has a unique and preeminent authority.

  62. I just think it’s an easily falsifiable proposition. If other Christian denominations regularly apply scripture and apply it to their daily lives, then it can’t be said to be a characteristically Mormon practice in any meaningful way. And that’s something you can just, look and check.

    But to be fair, setting up straw men of other religions is also not necessarily a characteristically Mormon practice. Just a common one.

  63. Am I completely off base that the Mormon canon is effectively closed? Does the mere possibility of a new scripture have a discernable effect on Mormon practices?

  64. Well, I think it’s tricky because of things like the Official Declarations, the Proclamation on the Family and the statement on the Living Christ.

  65. I see more complexity in the issue lately. Canon is a type of tradition that is pretty vulnerable, but extremely useful. LDS leaders are much more hesitant to mess with it (as compared to RLDS). In that sense they were closer to Joseph’s vision of continuing revelation.

  66. Why the reticence to canonize official declarations? And how are they significantly different from Evangelii Gaudium an Apostolic Exhortation from Rome or a General Assembly statement?

  67. The Community of Christ has an open canon. New canonical revelation in 2010.

    Michael J. Kruger has influenced my thought on the canon. Herman Ridderbos has a little book Redemptive History and the New Testament Scripture.

  68. I think the Canon is one of the non-Mormon traditions that were imported back into the church. I see LDS following of the Canon as similar to the LDS adoption of the King James Bible as the standard version. Like so many other LDS practices and policies, this is a pragmatic decision made to further the goals of the Church and Christ who leads the church.

    Simply put, the adherence to the traditional canon, at root, is a policy choice not a doctrinal principle. Joseph Smith clearly had no reverence for the traditional canon per se as a guiding tradition any more than he did for the creeds. The LDS view is explicit that there are other ancient scriptures as well as future revelation of hidden things.

    The reticence to canonize the church declarations and add to the Doctrine and Covenants is deceptive and does not betray any disbelief in continuing revelation, it merely shows that the Church is not ready to abandon the usefulness of having a stable canon. The canon keeps people looking to the past to temper new ideas, a useful unifying influence and strength.

  69. I am not sure I buy that. What temperature to set the thermostat is a policy issue. I find it difficult to fathom that deciding the translation and extent of sacred scripture is a policy issue for Mormons.

    I would understand canon and continuing revelation as separate issues. Canon is simply the existence and extent of sacred documents. A charismatic Pentecostal and a Presbyterian have the same closed canon. Continuing revelation speaks to the insufficiency and a lack of authority for those documents but, a never changing the canon makes its openness moot. There is nothing wrong with Mormonism have a theoretically open but practically closed canon. It is an authority issue, a method to let everybody know who is and who is not in charge.

    This may come from a history of redemption view but assuming the openness of the Mormon canon, I would wonder why anyone (believing Mormons that is) would expect new big “S” Scripture to come from Salt Lake. Practically speaking, the history of revelation shows that new scripture is not going to come from within a religious establishment. I’m hard pressed to think of any era of revelation where the religious leaders were either the source of new revelation or came out looking good.

  70. Practically speaking, the history of revelation shows that new scripture is not going to come from within a religious establishment. I’m hard pressed to think of any era of revelation where the religious leaders were either the source of new revelation or came out looking good.

    I think a faithful Mormon could certainly stipulate to that: if the Church is functioning, there is no need for additional revelation right now.

    On the other hand, I think that cuts against some Mormon ideas about what revelation is for.

  71. I find it difficult to fathom that deciding the translation and extent of sacred scripture is a policy issue for Mormons.

    You have to realize that, in some sense, Mormons don’t consider scripture as unique or sacred as traditional Christians do. Mormons believe there that the most sacred things were not written in scripture. Some Mormons consider all conference talks as demi-scripture. I also think there was a shift after Joseph Smith was murdered. In the current LDS view, scripture is not the extent of sacred writings, but a particular outlet for sacred writings.

    This may come from a history of redemption view but assuming the openness of the Mormon canon, I would wonder why anyone (believing Mormons that is) would expect new big “S” Scripture to come from Salt Lake.

    In the LDS view, most revelation comes to individual members and local leaders not Salt Lake. It can be argued that the seeds of the new scripture added after Joseph were planted outside of the First Presidency.

  72. Jared,

    It goes without saying that Mormons don’t consider scripture as unique or sacred as traditionally held by Christianity .

    I think what I need to understand is how you, Jared, define canon because we keep going back and forth and I don’t think we are using the word the same.

    I would define canon as “the accepted corpus of sacred scripture of a religious group.” Understand that nowhere in my definition does it say how the religious group uses their canon, nothing about the role or authority.

    If I asked 100 Mormons what is their CURRENT canon of scripture, how many are going to say my bishop and conference talks?

    Overlooking the need for Keys and priesthood authority for revelation (I am not sure a local Bishop is calling up Salt Lake and telling them what to do next), regardless of a conference talk being demi-scripture (less than/partial?) category wise we are talking about the role of the canon or the authority of the canon, not the question of the never moving open canon.

  73. I think what I need to understand is how you, Jared, define canon because we keep going back and forth and I don’t think we are using the word the same.

    Ditto with the word “theology.”

  74. Gundek,

    Maybe we do have our definitions mixed, maybe I should be clearer. But I think the problem has to do with the way you define the canon in this context.

    The Canon I am speaking of is not “simply the existence and extent of sacred documents”

    For LDS it is the Bible, the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price
    .
    For other Christians it is the Old and New Testament with some variation.

    Evangelicals, as far as I understand, consider the Bible the sole source for reliable theological truth. Most other Christians don’t consider the Canon to be the only source of truth and also consider other traditions and contemporary writings to be authoritative.

    Mormons believe that there are all kinds of other ancient scriptures out there that we know about that would be considered Canon, but are not. They also believe in all kinds of sacred writings that are not included in the canon that are considered reliable sources of theological truth. I think these are statements most LDS would agree with. There has been no modern revelation that limits the Canon in the way the LDS do now. The concept of the stable Canon has been imported from the traditional Church and is not native to Jsoeph Smith’s thinking. (Arguably, if he would have lived, the D&C would be much larger and the canon would include the Joseph Smith Translation, similar to the RLDS/Community of Christ.

    My point is that the reasons Mormons limit the canon is not because there are not other works that could be included. They do so for practical reasons.

    I hope that helps.

  75. So I don’t usually use Webster’s as a theological dictionary but, I think how I am using canon is pretty standard.

    I wouldn’t say that the Bible is the sole source for reliable theological truth. I would say the Bible is the ultimate or final authority. I think the distinction between “final authority” and “only authority” is significant.

    What are some of the generally accepted examples of scripture that Mormons accept but have simply not added to their canon?

  76. There may be a common dictionary definition, but such definitions have limited use in explaining the differences in how people see scripture or how scripture is made.

    LDS writings that have the same authority as scripture include many conference talks, temple ceremonies, patriarchal blessings, the King Follet Discourse and other teachings of Joseph Smith. These trump Biblical sources all the time on theological questions.

    Regarding Evangelicalism, the fact that the Bible is viewed as the “final authority” (whatever that means) drastically effects how every other source is viewed.

  77. As I have tried to explain there are other categories to more properly express the nature of scripture or the source of scripture or how a religious group understands scripture or the relationship between scripture and external authority rather than subsuming all of these ideas under the topic of canon.

    I would suggest that by using canon as the single category for discussing scripture it is impossible to have a coherent understanding of any single category from inspiration to authority. Ignoring common distinctions only creates confusion.

    Final authority isn’t hard. In my denomination the Book of Church Order has authority to lay out the Election of officers, calling and examining of Elders and Deacons, government of the church, order of worship, etc. The Confession of Faith and Catechism have teaching and doctrinal authority. If a conflict is found between the Bible and the Book of Church Order the authority of the Bible is final and the Book of Church order must be (and has been) changed. Our confessional standards are the same, they have authority insofar as they are Biblical and can be (and have been) changed.

    This is different for the Roman Catholic as you pointed out where they must insist that the Tridentine anathemas are the same as the separated brothers of Vatican II.

  78. Jared C, please at least take like two minutes to figure out what Protestants actually mean by sola scriptura. Seriously. Just, google it real quick or Wikipedia it just briefly. Then come back and continue the conversation if you still think it is necessary.

  79. Kullervo, I’m a bit at a loss, if you have something to teach me go right ahead. If it doesn’t matter enough to you to actually respond why should it matter to me? My level of knowledge (ignorance) suits me fine for my purposes. What are you trying to say?

  80. I would suggest that by using canon as the single category for discussing scripture it is impossible to have a coherent understanding of any single category from inspiration to authority. Ignoring common distinctions only creates confusion.

    Who is doing this? I am explicitly not defining canon so generally as to encompass all scripture or sacred texts (as you seem to do).

    Why don’t you tell me again what you think canon means. Is it simply a synonym for scripture? What is scripture according to you vs. canon?

  81. I am trying to say that sola scriptura doesn’t mean what you appear to think it means, and even the most casual investigation would have told you that.

  82. “I am explicitly not defining canon so generally as to encompass all scripture or sacred texts (as you seem to do).”

    What does that mean? How about telling me how you narrowly define the canon of scripture. Why would you want to define canon as not to encompass all of the recognized sacred texts of a group, except to create confusion? I mean isn’t that what we have been talking about, the canon of scripture? At least that is what I have been talking about.

    To be honest the definition of canon isn’t controversial. We haven’t gotten to anything hard, like the source of the canon, or the attributes of scripture.

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