FairMormon Conf – Barry Bickmore: Joseph Smith among the early Christians

Barry Bickmore: Joseph Smith Among the Early Christians

For those who haven’t read his book, in 1999 Barry Bickmore published an awesome book entitled, Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity.  The second edition has just been released, and nicely updated.

Bickmore’s presentation covers a few points that you will find in his book.  He begins by discussing “mainstream” Christianity’s views on various topics, including

– The Trinity
– The substance of God
–  Creatio ex nihilo (creation from nothing)
–  Man’s being of a different substance than God and can never quite be like God
–  Man can be one with God but in a way that is different than the Oneness of the Trinity.

He then explains how the LDS view these same points.

– The Godhead is three physically independent beings
– These are one in love, will, desire, and purpose
–  The Son and Holy Ghost are Gods that are subordinate to the Father       – LDS believe in Creatio Ex Materia, creation from matter that already exists
– Mankind is of the same substance/species as God, like a caterpillar is the same species as a butterfly.
-Mankind can be deified, but are subordinate to the Godhead

In making his presentation, Bickmore is not attempting to prove that the LDS are right and traditional Christianity is wrong, but to show that many such LDS beliefs were, in fact, believed by at least some ancient Jews and Christians.  Joseph Smith did not just make things up out of air, but truly restored ancient teachings and concepts.

Bickmore explains that there were various Jewish and Christian sects with a variety differing fundamental beliefs.  As one moves further away from the  life of Jesus, more and more error crept in, as Christianity became very diverse in its beliefs.  He notes Danielou commenting on how the earliest Christians did not like the philosophy of the Hellenists (Greeks).  However, the scholar Shiel notes that in the 2nd century, Christians were adopting Hellenism as a key part of their belief.

The Greek philosopher Plutarch notes that “God is the One, …is mind, a separate species,…immaterial” and totally apart from mankind in all ways.  This thought grew in Christianity into a development of God as Trinity.  No longer did Christians believe (as did Origen) that Christ was a subordinate God to the Father, or that other beings (he notes archangels) could also be gods subordinate to Christ.  Quoting the Clementine Homilies, Bickmore demonstrates that early Christians believed that God and mankind, his offspring, are of the “same substance.”  He also touches upon man’s premortal existence in God’s presence as sons of the Divine.

In same manner, Bickmore discusses the other themes, including what God’s Oneness meant to the earliest Christians (see John 17),

The information is not new, as Barry Bickmore put it nicely together for us to read in 1999, but it still is as relevant as ever. I still use my copy of his book as a great reference book, filled with quotes from ancient sources that relate to LDS beliefs on many topics.  The presentation was a great refresher for me, and I’m sure an eye opener for many people who have not studied Joseph Smith’s teachings in light of ancient texts before.

For a non-LDS review of the first edition, please go here.

9 thoughts on “FairMormon Conf – Barry Bickmore: Joseph Smith among the early Christians

  1. Every person who has had their temple endowments, who might question the veracity of the ordinances and practices, should read Chapter 6 “Temples” of Barry Bickmore’s book. He clearly establishes the case for our present temple ordinances and practices being a restoration of those from Early Christianity. Because the sources Bickmore uses are all published in English post-Joseph Smith’s era simply confirm that he was inspired.

  2. Before reading Bickmore’s book I had read translations of early Christian works, particularly Eusebius, third century Christian. I was surprised to find how close to our current understanding of the Gospel his theology comes. It was with the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine in the early fourth century that Hellenistic doctrine began to take precedence. Bickmore is particularly adept at providing the history that demonstrates that Joseph Smith truly restored ancient truth.

  3. Eusebius of Caesarea, the great early Christian historian, was a follower of Origen. Origen was an early defender of the proto-Christian orthodoxy against other sects, including gnostic groups. He taught that the Son was a God subordinate to the Father.
    During the Nicene Council, Eusebius attempted to promote Origenism, but it was lost in the battles between Athanasius (who pushed the Trinity) and Arius (who taught that the Father was God and Jesus was Lord, as there is only one God). Eusebius ended up being exiled for a time after the Council, almost being excommunicated for not towing the line decided by Constantine. However, Arianism almost won out later, as the Trinity fell out of favor for about a century.

    Origen fell out of favor with the Church after the Nicene Council, and more so a century later. Augustine and Jerome pretty much turned the early defender of the faith into a heretic.

  4. My husband has a game (one of the hundreds of games) that allows you and a group of friends to fight over which doctrines should be included in early Christianity.

    Which brings me to a comment I’ve been thinking of recently, regarding the idea that the leaders of the Church will never lead us astray. I submit that we should, rather, consider this a promise that the leaders of the Church will never allow the doctrine to become fundamentally corrupted in a way that breaks the Church’s ability to effect the salvation of all mankind via proxy ordinances. But that’s a thought that deserves its own thread…

  5. Bickmore’s approach, like most LDS apologists is built upon this assumption: “we also expect that the earlier we go, the more true doctrine we are likely to find”

    But is this necessarily always true? The Jesus of the gospels seems to keep the disciples in the dark about a great many things. How do we know that the resurrected Jesus revealed the complete, totally inerent gospel to the apostles? Would He not rather, like unto Joseph Smith, reveal things line upon line, building upon existing understandings and even predjudices?

    I suppose what I mean to suggest is that the validity of early church authority may not have rested upon the utter perfection of its doctrine, but rather its authority, within an incomplete doctrinal structure, as we could not expect any set of doctrines written and understood by man to provide a fullness of the truths from the metaphysical realm.

  6. Nate, I actually agree with you. My understanding of the Restoration is Joseph Smith was given back authority that was lost. The doctrines are, for me, a side support and byproduct of the Priesthood return.

  7. If many precious things had not been lost there would be no need for the Restoration. Even so, there are sufficient proofs in what we already have in the scriptures that going back to early writings is more of a confirmation of what the witness of the Spirit has already shown. Ironically we find more evidence of unique doctrines such as baptism for the dead and the preexistence of our spirits in the Bible than in the Book of Mormon. I particularly love the vision of Stephen which reveals the true nature of the Godhead. However it took a renewal through God’s direct intervention to sift the grain of the Gospel from the chaff of tradition accrued over two millennia of theological innovation.

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