The Rascals of Hellenized Christianity

Andrew Jackson (Mormonism Explained, 2008) writes,

Although Mormonism does not name a specific church or denomination as Satan’s historic great and apostate church in earliest Christianity, Mormons do generally identify and describe it as “Hellenized Christianity.”  They believe that early Christianity compromised the biblical truth and authority of salvation, and became thoroughly Hellenized by Greek culture and philosophy.  The Mormon thesis is that as the Christian church spread into the Gentile world, it revised and accommodated biblical truth to a Greek worldview.  As a result, Hebraic or biblical Christianity lost out to Hellenized Christianity, which radically exchanged New Testament truth for human authority, councils, and creeds (68).

Isn’t this the central quest of budding, contemporary LDS scholars in ANE studies?  To expose the cover-up.

But would LDS friends be able to see my point of view?  Latter-day general authority, Latter-day conferences, and the Latter-day creed make up the lens people are encouraged to wear when interpreting biblical scripture.  And I see a continual revising and accommodating, too.  Not thinking so much internationally, I find it quite evident among contemporary LDS Americans.

28 comments

  1. Ironically, Mormonism has at least as much in common with Hellenism as any other system which identifies itself as “Christian”. Take the eternity of matter for example. This is a staple of ancient Greek thought, as is the idea of general human pre-existence. Further, the notion that humanity and deity are of the same species is quite compatible with Hellenism.

  2. Could it be that in the beginning that God taught the true gospel and doctrine to Adam and Eve who in turn taught it to their children. However, over time and because of wickedness, the true gospel was defiled, corrupted, and changed into varying beliefs each having little portions of the truth. Eventually it made it down to various civilizations across the planet (i.e Greeks, Egyptians, etc) in some distorted form and becomes embedded in their culture and belief system.

    Now in the latter-days, along comes Joseph Smith, through whom God “restores” the true gospel and doctrines in preparation for the second coming and the world thinks that he “stole it” from the Greeks, or the Masons, or the Jews, etc. When in reality these civilizations had only varying resemblances of what was really the true gospel and doctrine in the first place.

    Could it be…

  3. It indeed could be, Rob, but then, one cannot use the concept of “Hellenism” to critique traditional Christianity.

    You can’t have it both ways.

  4. Rob, you’ll forgive my astonishment at your question, but here goes:

    A)As the Jackson quote above illustrates, a major critique, coming from Mormon circles, of traditional Christianity, is that it became “Hellenized”: to quote Jackson, “The Mormon thesis is that as the Christian church spread into the Gentile world, it revised and accommodated biblical truth to a Greek worldview. As a result, Hebraic or biblical Christianity lost out to Hellenized Christianity.”

    B)I point out that Mormonism itself is AT LEAST as Hellenistic as anything out there which calls itself “Christian”.

    C)You then suggest that perhaps Hellenism has embedded within it traces of a primordial revelation.

    D)I then acknowledge that your suggestion is possible, but if this is the case, then one cannot simply critique traditional Christianity for being “Hellenistic”.

    IOW, if the “Hellenism” of traditional Christianity is inherently problemmatic simply because it is Hellenism, as Jackson suggests, then its presence within Mormonism must also be problemmatic as well.

  5. Ok….but, that as far as I can tell, it is your opinion that “Mormonism itself is at least as Hellenistic as anything out there…”

    My point is that could it be that “Mormonism” is the true restored gospel and doctrine — the same that was taught to Adam and Eve in the beginning?

    It is my belief that the true doctrine and gospel exists and can be found today in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as it was restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith. I don’t believe there is any hellenism among the true doctrine and the principles taught therein.

  6. Usually, when a Mormon tries to point out the influence of Hellenization in traditional Christianity, it is only to make it clear that traditional Christians are not taking all their cues purely from the Bible, but are instead adding additional source material, from whence comes their framework for interpretation.

    It’s mostly just to burst this illusion that you guys are pure Bible people. That’s about it.

  7. Rob:

    “I don’t believe there is any hellenism among the true doctrine and the principles taught therein.”

    But, as I have pointed out, this is objectively not the case.

    Seth: I have never claimed to be a “pure Bible person”. I am not a Protestant. In any event, the fact of the matter is not that Christianity was Hellenized; rather, Hellenism was Christianized.

  8. Greg,

    Sorry, I still don’t see where you have pointed out that “this is objectively not the case”.

    So if biblical Christianity was not hellenized into what he have today — how do we explain the radically exchanged New Testament truths for human authority, councils, and creeds.

  9. Fr. Greg,

    The problem with several of your arguments is that you have failed to demonstrate that certain LDS positions are held on account of Greek influence. Simply pointing to comparisons between Greek thought and LDS thought is not an adequate methodology. For instance, you claimed at the very beginning that Greek thought, like LDS thought, posits the eternity of matter. However, every ancient Near Eastern culture and text prior to the late second century CE posited that the cosmos were created from pre-existent materials–including ancient Israel and its texts now preserved in the Hebrew Bible. However, these ancient views were clearly not held on account of Hellenic thought. Moreover, Joseph Smith himself claimed that it was the biblical texts which supported his position of creation out of matter. Joseph Smith’s reading of Genesis 1 was well ahead of its time, and virtually all biblical scholars today agree that this text argues and assumes that the heavens and the earth were formed from chaos, and that creatio ex nihilo is foreign to the text. I have a series of posts on the issue on my own blog for further reading. I think Peter Hayman’s remarks are worth quoting again here.

    “God creates order out of a pre-existing chaos; he does not
    create from nothing. Nearly all recent studies on the origin of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo have come to the conclusion that this doctrine is not native to Judaism, is nowhere attested in the Hebrew Bible, and probably arose in Christianity in the second century C.E. in the course of its fierce battle with Gnosticism.[5] The one scholar who continues to maintain that the doctrine is native to Judaism, namely Jonathan Goldstein, thinks that it first appears at the end of the first century C.E., but has recently conceded the weakness of his position in the course of debate with David Winston.[6]

    My view is that David Winston is correct to argue that the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo came into Judaism from Christianity and Islam at the beginning of the Middle Ages and that even then it never really succeeded in establishing itself as the accepted Jewish doctrine on creation. Aristotelian views on the eternity of the world were perfectly acceptable in Judaism, as also were neo-platonist views on its emanation out of the One, because creatio ex nihilo could not be demonstrated from the Scriptures. Maimonides (Guide, II.26) concedes that rabbinic texts teach creation out of primordial matter and most commentators, starting with Samuel Ibn Tibbon, the first translator of his work into Hebrew, believe that Maimonides himself privately thought that the world was eternal.[7]″

    Source: Peter Hayman, “Monotheism- A Misused Word in Jewish Studies?” (presidential address) Journal of Jewish Studies, Vol. XLII No. 1 (Spring 1991).

    Footnotes:

    [5] See H. F. Weiss, Untersuchungen zur Kosmologie des hellenfstischen und palästinischen Judentums (Berlin, 1966); David Winston, ‘The Book of Wisdom’s Theory of Cosmogony’, History of Religions 11 (1971), pp. 185-202; Georg Schmuttermayr, ‘Schöpfung aus dem Nichts in 2 Makk 7.28?’, BZ 17 (1973), pp. 203-28; Gerhard May, Schöpfung aus dem Nichts (Berlin, 1978).

    [6] ‘The Origins of the Doctrine of Creation Ex Nihilo’, JJS 35 (1984), pp. 127-45; and ‘Creation Ex Nihilo:
    Recantations and Restatements’, JJS 38 (1987), pp. 187-94. Winston defends himself against Goldstein in a reply published in JJS 37 (1986), pp. 88-91.

    [7] See Colene Sirat, History of Jewish Philosophy in the Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1985), pp. 188 ff., 218 ff.

  10. Yellow Dart:

    You are correct, of course, that the idea of creation from pre-existing matter was common in the Ancient World, and it can be argued that traces of this idea are found in the Old Testament. However, if this idea is in fact the truth, is it not remarkable that it is not spelled out in the Old Testament? Nowhere in Scripture does one find an explicit statement of the eternity of matter or, for that matter, of the other ideas which, in the broadly Christian world, are unique to Mormonism. Second, I have no idea whether or not JS, Jr.’s notions are dependent on Hellenism or not. The point is, given that his ideas in these areas, over against Traditional Christianity, line up with Hellenism, rule out critiquing TC, from a Mormon POV, on the basis of its alleged Hellenism. It is clear that wherever the notion of creation ex nihilo came from, it did not come from Hellenism, and the same can be said for the other concepts under discussion.

    Rob: Jesus (who, obviously, is himself human) says to the Apostles and through them, to their successors, the bishops of the traditional Churches: “Whatsoever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” and “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them… and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS, TO THE CLOSE OF THE AGE.”

  11. Fr. Greg,

    The reason why you find things *missing* from the Old Testament and the Bible is because many of the “plain and precious truths” were removed (1 Nephi 13:23-42)

    The giving of the keys of the kingdom is not something that it just inherited — they must be given by those already having the authority and it is done by the laying on of hands. These keys and this authority was taken from the earth after the apostles were killed because of wickedness of the people. The result was an exchange for human authority, councils, and creeds.

    Of course, all of this brings us back to the idea of a restoration of the truth and authority through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Without the claim of a restoration, there would be nothing to stand on or distinguish from the rest of the teachings.

  12. “The reason why you find things *missing* from the Old Testament and the Bible is because many of the “plain and precious truths” were removed (1 Nephi 13:23-42)”

    And your evidence for this is…?

    “The giving of the keys of the kingdom is not something that it just inherited — they must be given by those already having the authority and it is done by the laying on of hands.”

    Yup. From Apostles to bishops to bishops to bishops, right down to this very moment.

    “These keys and this authority was taken from the earth after the apostles were killed because of wickedness of the people.”

    And your evidence for this is….? IF this happened, then our Lord lied. Plain and simple. “I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.”

  13. “I have never claimed to be a “pure Bible person”. I am not a Protestant. In any event, the fact of the matter is not that Christianity was Hellenized; rather, Hellenism was Christianized.”

    A fairly reasonable statement Greg. I do happen to often find it easier to have calm discussion with Catholics and E. Orthodox – probably for reasons like this one.

  14. Yellow Dart:

    I have been working on this subject for the past couple of months and have just finished reading almost everything Blake Ostler has written on the subject. His arguments deserve to be refuted in a book or lengthy paper and not on a blog. But, I do want to take issue with this statement that comes up so often.

    “and virtually all biblical scholars today agree”

    First, one needs to get a good definition of “biblical scholar.” I am familiar with many men that have advanced degrees in biblical history and languages and are considered experts in their field of study that disagree with your premise. The reality is that you and your defined “biblical scholars” will never consider these men “scholars” for the very fact that they disagree with your premise.

    The same logic is happening in the realm of Intelligent Design. You begin with the premise that all scientists disagree with Intelligent Design, therefore, if someone does believe in Intelligent Design they must not be a scientist.

    Second, you quote these men as persuasive authorities and use the phrase “virtually all biblical scholars today agree” to advance your point. But you fail to MENTION that “virtually all biblical scholars today agree” that the book of Mormon is not actual history! That “virtually all biblical scholars today agree” that many core current or past LDS beliefs and practices are not the “Restored Truth” of original Christianity as 99.9% of LDS in my community are taught and believe. You are correct that the positions of “virtually all biblical scholars today” will take you far away from Orthodox Christian beliefs, but they will take you even further away from current and historical LDS beliefs and practices. It is my guess that you and many other LDS are already there.

    My suggestion is to first square away what “virtually all biblical scholars today agree” with your own church before trying to discredit everyone else’s. I hope you see that I’m not trying to be provocative but only keep the discussion fair and honest on a level playing field.

  15. Fr. Greg,

    Humbly I ask…what would you consider as sufficient evidence — enough to convince you and cause you to put your trust in — that plain and precious truths were removed from the Bible and that the authority was lost and taken from the Earth after the Apostles were killed?

  16. Critique or dissect or inject multiple agendas with the Prophet, Pope, or Pastor’s words, and I will stay perfectly calm. 😉

    Critique or dissect Church authority, and I will stay calm somewhat. Church tradition needs continual scrutiny. The Church is full of sinners. Big ones.

    Critique or dissect the Book of the LORD as a higher critic, and I have my sword drawn. No doubt about it. A famine of the Word has got to be the worst kind of judgment on a society.

    And Yellow Dart: you are asserting that there is no evidence of anyone believing in ideas of creation out of nothing prior to the middle ages?

    May I ask this question? (tongue in cheek) How did the idea just spring up out of nowhere?

  17. Hey, I am looking forward to a series of future posts on TYD’s blog where he shows his full disagreement with fundamental tenets among the ANE religions.

    But do scholars only show disagreements with select ideas?

  18. Christopher —

    Reading your post — the only thing that comes to me is question of “how do we know who to believe and what to believe?”

    Speaking very generically — my experience in reading historical accounts is that there can be two or three people present at a particular event, yet each account of what supposedly happened is different and often contradicting. Each person has the ability to see or interpret what they see or read differently than the next. Even though some accounts may agree, there are usually differences due to each person’s perspective.

    To me, the fact that there are so many interpretations of doctrines and teachings found in the the Bible — even among Bible scholars — is evidence that it is impossible to know who is right and who is wrong solely based on what they say.

    If you then throw into this mix things like personal egos, pride, bias, prejudice, and sometimes even intentional deceit, the ability to trust or believe one person or a group of people’s views becomes very confusing and difficult.

    So, again the question comes to mind — how can anyone distinguish between was is true and what is false? Certainly you cannot trust in the arm of the flesh. In fact, this idea is taught in multiple places in the scriptures: Jer 17:5, Matt 16:17, Eph 3:5, 2 Nephi 4:34, 2 Nephi 9:28-29,42, 2 Nephi 28:31, D&C 1:19.

    I believe that we must rely upon personal revelation to know what is wrong and what is right. We must receive that personal revelation as a witness from the Holy Ghost as talked about in 1 Cor 2:11 and Moroni 10:3-5. The eternal truths and doctrines of the Gospel and the mysteries of God are taught from on high, not from the intellectual studies of men. I have felt this witness of the Holy Ghost many times in my life and continue to feel it as I humbly seek after it.

  19. Chris Leavell,

    Your argument really isn’t helped much by invoking the total of five scholars the GOP found in the entire US who were willing to actually advocate such an obviously unscientific position.

    OK, I’m using hyperbole here – I’m sure there were more than five scientists in the entire scientific community, but not that much more….

    Really, all it does is reinforce for me what Yellow Dart was originally saying – that certain factions of Evangelicals are embracing a highly marginalized and highly dubious branch of Biblical scholarship.

    I’d pick a different analogy.

  20. Chris,

    My definition of a biblical scholar is probably more refined or qualified than yours. I consider a biblical scholar to be someone who is qualified to teach at an academic level and who publishes/has published in quality academic journals or at academic presses on subjects pertaining to the bible. Of course there are numerous individuals who have advanced degrees and know ancient languages; however, for the purposes of our discussion, how many of these persons are publishing detailed analyses in academic venues on the subject of creatio ex nihilo that engages the relevant body of biblical literature on the subject? The problem is that persons who fail to do this are usually persons who aren’t actually familiar with the body of literature on the subject. And I usually don’t consider work that fails to engage the best scholarship which opposes their view to be scholarly. Furthermore, I want to dispel the myth that it is because such authors disagree with the scholarly consensus that prevents their work from being published or taken seriously. Dissenting views are published on a variety of subjects all of the time.

    For example, take Copan and Craig’s article they wrote in TNMC or their recent book on the subject of creatio ex nihilo: they simply fail to engage the bulk of relevant biblical scholarship concerning Genesis 1. For those who are familiar with biblical scholarship on the subject, their book comes across as very misleading or uninformed. Simply, your argument isn’t with Blake Ostler. The general arguments which Blake cites are based on numerous lengthy scholarly volumes which you should take the time to read for themselves since only a fraction is/was able to be encapsulated in his essay(s).

    Finally, I don’t believe that because there is a scholarly consensus on an issue that anyone should of necessity therefore adopt that position, since scholars (even a majority) can certainly be wrong. However, when such a consensus exists it should at least be taken as a serious position and fairly engaged and not simply dismissed. Moreover, if you read my entire comment, you will notice that I referred persons to arguments that I made on a series of posts on my own blog. I wasn’t simply citing scholars as evidence in themselves–I have put forward a number of arguments myself to explain why this consensus position is held. Additionally, I typically add such a clause in my comments because I have come to realize that many persons (especially fundamentalist evangelicals) critical of Mormonism simply aren’t aware of scholarly opinion, and they should be if they are going to engage Mormons on such issues as creatio ex nihilo.

    Finally, what is the relevance of the opinion of what the majority of biblical scholars believe about Mormonism or the Book of Mormon? Are they experts in the book and the literature surrounding it as they are in respect to topics pertaining to the Hebrew Bible, such as creatio ex nihilo? How many do you think have even read the Book of Mormon? Moreover, have you read the few articles concerning the Book of Mormon which actually do exist by such high-class scholars as Krister Stendahl or James Charlesworth? Although they certainly aren’t believers in the book, they have much higher praises concerning it than you might otherwise think. Finally, I note again: I don’t believe that because there is a scholarly consensus on an issue that anyone should of necessity therefore adopt that position, since scholars (even a majority) can certainly be wrong. However, such positions should be acknowledged and fairly engaged.

    Todd,

    If you are seriously interested I recommend reading James Hubler’s dissertation and Gerhard May’s book Schöpfung aus dem Nichts which have been previously cited (May’s book can be found in translation as well); additionally, the exchange of articles between Goldstein and Winston which Peter Hayman referred to are worth reading. If you don’t have that much interest or time, just read over Blake’s or Keith Norman’s engagement of the issue in his several articles on the subject.

  21. Rob (#16):

    I grew up a devout, commited Evangelical. As you know, Mormonism inherited the idea of a “Great Apostacy”, at least in embryonic form, from confessional Protestantism. Therefore, in getting from the faith of my childhood to where I am now, I had to investigate this question very thoroughly. I was convinced, and remain convinced, that no “great apostacy” has taken place. (Even the Roman distortions of the faith, as over against the Eastern Christian Traditions, do not sink to the level of apostacy.)

    Given that, I cannot answer your question a priori; however, I invite you to give me your best shot.

    (#20)

    “I believe that we must rely upon personal revelation to know what is wrong and what is right. We must receive that personal revelation as a witness from the Holy Ghost as talked about in 1 Cor 2:11 and Moroni 10:3-5. The eternal truths and doctrines of the Gospel and the mysteries of God are taught from on high, not from the intellectual studies of men. I have felt this witness of the Holy Ghost many times in my life and continue to feel it as I humbly seek after it.”

    While I affirm that the Holy Spirit guides Christians directly, I also know that we constantly must “try the spirits”. We are all capable of self-deception (and of being deceived by spirits which are at enmity with the Holy Spirit), and we also must remember that the Holy Spirit is given to us, not as individuals, but as members of the Church, the Body of Christ, via the Mysteries of Baptism and Chrismation. You would, I am sure, find yourself confused if you felt that the Holy Spirit were leading you away from the LDS. So you, too, would admit that an external standard is necessary whereby to discern the source and accuracy of “personal revelation”. Further, human intelligence is part of the endowment we receive as those who are “created in the image and likeness of God.” God speaks to both mind and heart. In writing from all those notorious Councils, the Fathers (Bishops) present could state, in the words of the Apostles at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15: “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.”

  22. Oh, one more thing.

    Chris said:

    “…the positions of “virtually all biblical scholars today”…will take you even further away from current and historical LDS beliefs and practices. It is my guess that you and many other LDS are already there.”

    I always appreciate such judgments from my evangelical friends. If only I knew as much about Mormonism and Biblical scholarship as you do Chris!

    Best wishes,

    TYD

  23. TYD, Thanks for your clarification. It is helpful in understanding where you are coming from. You are correct that Conservative Evangelicals are pretty much silent on this issue. This is very frustrating coming from someone who believes they have something valuable to say on the subject. The only thing I can think of is they consider the issue already settled and are pursuing other subjects.

    Actually, I am in full agreement with your definition of biblical scholar. I am familiar with one man in particular who would qualify. I would love to see him deal thoroughly with this subject, but he is focusing on other areas of study.

    “However, such positions should be acknowledged and fairly engaged.”

    This is a fair statement.

    Again, please don’t think I am trying to be provocative. There is propensity for many LDS to quote scholars when they feel they agree with their position and ignore them when they do not. I’ll see if I can find you some examples.

  24. Rob:

    As a post-script, I would like to point out that many people, including myself, steeped in the various forms of Western Christianity, experienced a very deep reaction upon being introduced to Orthodox Christianity: “Wow, this is the TRUTH.”

  25. I’ve always found E. Orthodoxy fascinating theologically, and probably wouldn’t mind seriously considering joining it if I wasn’t already Mormon.

  26. Chris,

    I might add that in my original comment I was referring more to those who are Hebrew Bible scholars (as opposed to New Testament scholars), since that is the branch of scholarship with which I deal with on a daily basis. Furthermore, an important question is what scholars are actually publishing in-depth studies on the issue and hold to the notion of creatio ex nihilo in the biblical texts, not just which ones personally hold such a view. For instance, I consider both Ben Witherington III and James Dunn to be excellent NT scholars while both assert in their commentaries that Paul at one point in Romans refers to creatio ex nihilo. However, neither really engages relevant scholarship on the issue.

    Best wishes,

    TYD

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s