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.