So, who are the “Church Fathers?” I mean the Christian Church. The actual Christian Church. The Body of Christ, pre, post, pan-historically, Great Apostasy or not. That’s a long story. It’s small wonder Mormons just start out with Joseph Smith and a sacred grove. Getting back to the root of the movement takes a little more time and study.
The founding Father naturally would have to be Jesus of Nazareth, later, much much later, referred to by Greco-Roman authorities as “Christ.” The Chosen. The Anointed. The Christened. It’s important to note that Jesus of Nazareth never once referred to Himself as “Christ,” or his followers, disciples, apostles or anyone else around him, as “Christians.” We’re all fighting today over the ownership of a word Jesus Himself had absolutely no interest in.
And unfortunately, by all accounts even if we knew for certain for instance, that the Gospel of Mark was actually written by Mark (and we don’t) we don’t have a scrap of anything in his own hand, and we have no idea of the chain of human fiddling it went through, how reliable it was, or how it may or may not have been massaged by the secular and Church politics of those crafting it.
Furthermore, these Gospels and other early records attributed to the first apostles for one, were not indeed produced in their oldest known form within the lifetime of the alleged Gospel writers. They essentially all have to have been set to paper sometimes decades, sometimes lifetimes after the deaths of their claimed authors. We don’t know with any certainty if any of the material in the current New Testament for example, was copied from earlier direct transcriptions straight from the hand of the Saints, and if so, if they were gathered from separate independent writings and harmonized into a single account by editorial scribes, or if they were perhaps just written down after the death of the original apostles by associates from memory.
One also has to honestly consider that even given that the New Testament books were seriously attempting to preserve exactly and literally the printed or spoken words of the original apostles, it’s a simple human characteristic that as a story is told and told again naturally it tends to get bigger and better and more detailed and more perfectly attuned to proving or representing exactly the point or positions of the scribes and compilers or “preservationists” putting the story to the scroll. This applies even to the original apostles themselves. It’s not lying, it’s just making a better story. It’s called “storytelling.” It’s still “true” but an enhanced and cultivated version of “truth.” Not “Truth.”
Wikipedia has some interesting entries regarding the phenomenon of enhancing a point or character pertaining to the development of the story of Judas Iscariot:
The existence of conflicting accounts of the death of Judas caused problems for traditional scholars who saw them as threatening the reliability of Scripture. This problem was one of the points that caused C. S. Lewis, for example, to reject the view “that every statement in Scripture must be historical truth”. Various attempts at harmonization have been suggested, such as that of Augustine that Judas hanged himself in the field, and afterwards the rope snapped, and his body burst open on the ground, or that the accounts of Acts and Matthew refer to two different transactions.
Modern scholars tend to reject these approaches stating that the Matthew account is a midrashic exposition that allows the author to present the event as a fulfillment of prophetic passages from the Old Testament. They argue that the author adds imaginative details such as the thirty pieces of silver, and the fact that Judas hangs himself, to an earlier tradition about Judas’s death.
Matthew’s reference to the death as fulfillment of a prophecy “spoken through Jeremiah the prophet” has caused some controversy, since it clearly paraphrases a story from the Book of Zechariah (Zechariah 11:12-13) which refers to the return of a payment of thirty pieces of silver. Many writers, such as Augustine, Jerome, and John Calvin concluded that this was an obvious error. However, some modern writers have suggested that the Gospel writer may also have had a passage from Jeremiah in mind, such as chapters 18 (Jeremiah 18:1–4) and 19 (Jeremiah 19:1–13), which refers to a potter’s jar and a burial place, and chapter 32 (Jeremiah 32:6-15) which refers to a burial place and an earthenware jar.
The Gospels suggests that Jesus both foresaw (John 6:64, Matthew 26:25) and allowed Judas’s betrayal (John 13:27-28). An explanation is that Jesus allowed the betrayal because it would allow God’s plan to be fulfilled. In April 2006, a Coptic papyrus manuscript titled the Gospel of Judas dating back to 200 AD, was translated into modern language, suggests that Jesus may have asked Judas to betray him, although some scholars question the translation.
Origen knew of a tradition according to which the greater circle of disciples betrayed Jesus, but does not attribute this to Judas in particular, and Origen did not deem Judas to be thoroughly corrupt (Matt., tract. xxxv).
Most Christians still consider Judas a traitor. Indeed the term Judas has entered many languages as a synonym for betrayer.
Some scholars have embraced the alternative notion that Judas was merely the negotiator in a prearranged prisoner exchange (following the money-changer riot in the Temple) that gave Jesus to the Roman authorities by mutual agreement, and that Judas’s later portrayal as “traitor” was a historical distortion.
In his book The Passover Plot the British theologian Hugh J. Schonfield argued that the crucifixion of Christ was a conscious re-enactment of Biblical prophecy and Judas acted with Jesus’ full knowledge and consent in “betraying” his master to the authorities.
Theologian Aaron Saari contends in his work The Many Deaths of Judas Iscariot that Judas Iscariot was the literary invention of the Markan community. As Judas does not appear in the Epistles of Paul, nor in the Q Gospel, Saari argues that the language indicates a split between Pauline Christians, who saw no reason for the establishment of an organized Church, and the followers of Peter. Saari contends that the denigration of Judas in Matthew and Luke-Acts has a direct correlation to the elevation of Peter.
Mark 16:14 and Luke 24:33 state that following his resurrection Jesus appeared to “the eleven.” Who was missing? After all that had transpired one would just naturally think it was Judas. Apparently not, because in John 20:24 we learn that the one missing was Thomas. Therefore the eleven had to include Judas. To further confuse things, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:5 that following his resurrection Jesus was seen by “the twelve.” This had to include Judas because it wasn’t until after the ascension, some forty days after the resurrection (Acts 1:3), that another person, Matthias, was voted in to replace Judas (Acts 1:26). So, apparently Judas neither committed suicide nor died by accident. In Acts 1:25 we are told that Judas “turned aside to go to his own place.”
Another clue confirming the absence of the Judas story in the earliest Christian documents occurs in Matthew 19:28 and Luke 22:28-30. Here Jesus tells his disciples that they will “sit on the twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” No exception is made for Judas even though Jesus was aware of his impending act of betrayal. The answer may lie in the fact that the source of these verses could be the hypothetical Q document (QS 62). Q is thought to predate the gospels and would be one of the earliest Christian documents. Given that possibility, the betrayal story could have been invented by the writer of Mark.
The book The Sins of the Scripture, by John Shelby Spong, investigates the possibility that early Christians compiled the Judas story from three Old Testament Jewish betrayal stories. He writes, “…the act of betrayal by a member of the twelve disciples is not found in the earliest Christian writings. Judas is first placed into the Christian story by Gospel of Mark (3:19), who wrote in the early years of the eighth decade of the Common Era”. He points out that some of Gospels, after the Crucifixion, refer to the number of Disciples as “Twelve”, as if Judas were still among them. He compares the three conflicting descriptions of Judas’s death – hanging, leaping into a pit, and disemboweling, with three Old Testament betrayals followed by similar suicides.
Spong’s conclusion is that early Bible authors, after the First Jewish-Roman War, sought to distance themselves from Rome‘s enemies. They augmented the Gospels with a story of a disciple, personified in Judas as the Jewish state, who either betrayed or handed-over Jesus to his Roman crucifiers. Spong identifies this augmentation with the origin of modern Anti-Semitism.
The above sort of examination will be troubling for the Christian, but the Mormon on the other hand will most likely find it to be total gibberish. For one thing, the average Mormon won’t even know who major players in Christian doctrinal development are, like Calvin, Augustine, Origen and so forth, much less be even aware of modern scholarship and more modern discoveries of early Christian records like this Gospel of Judas.
The Gospel of Judas is every bit as ancient and valid a candidate for canon as any of the New Testament books. But even more than modern Christian scholars, the average Mormon may revile from the notion of canonizing some newly unearthed ancient papyrus… er, do I have to explain the irony of that?
Even by New Testament reckonings Judas stayed in the “Council of the Twelve” right up till Jesus returned and embraced them all. Judas Iscariot was one of the Church Fathers. Judas Iscariot was an OA. (Original Apostle.) Make of that what you will. I’m just saying the Bible alone isn’t going to give you much insight into the matter.
And so the Christian world just painted Judas as the bad guy and got on with the moral they wanted to teach: traitors to the Church come to a bad end. Faith of Our Fathers? Judas was there at the beginning. What was his faith? Should we be true to it? And if Judas is too easy a target for dismissal as any sort of early Christian model, Peter also denied Christ three times vehemently apparently just out of embarrassment and public pressure–even after being warned he was going to do it by Christ Himself. Peter’s story of betrayal is not a terribly different one than that of Jesus dipping bread with Judas and telling him, “Go quickly now and do what you must do…”
Without doubt then, starting with the original apostles, the Church fathers all had radically differing perspectives regarding what Jesus had taught them and how it fit into their lives and society. We’re two-thousand years removed from those people and that scene. If you think mankind has really been true to “The Faith,” or that mankind has ever even been certain what “The Faith” was merely because we’ve scrounged together these few scraps of anonymous scribbling we now call “The Bible,” you’re painfully naïve. With just a “Bible” Christianity can’t even pin down this one story about Judas. Christianity can’t tell us why he did what he did, what Jesus thought about it, or even what became of him as a result. If we stand all the combined writings of all the non-canonical and early Christian writers or historians at its side, the Bible still can’t tell us for certain what was going on there with Judas.
So on an important issue like the final disposition of Judas, the various sects and denominations and Biblical scholars have basically been pulling it out of their backsides for two-thousand years. Those who want to prove Jesus can forgive any sin at all, including openly denying and betraying Him, can’t reconcile that piece of their “Faith” with the tradition and sparse canonical evidence that he either killed himself out of remorse or God sort-of struck him down as punishment. And in regard to the latter allusions, scripture isn’t even very clear if it really was God’s hand in Judas’ fate, or if it was just bad luck, stupidity, emotionally-driven suicide-by-oxcart or base-jumping into a big hole in the ground or some odd disease that made his bowels explode all over the place.
If Judas did feel so repentant he wanted to hang himself, wouldn’t that automatically qualify him for redemption? And if he did kill himself, there are some who claim there’s nothing unforgivable about that sin either, and others who say, no, Jesus forgave him for the betrayal but he didn’t have the faith to accept it and damned himself—suicide or no suicide. Some might say, well, lack of faith can be forgiven too. Then still others who might say repentance, betrayal, remorse, forgiveness, that was all just fine until he hung himself and that’s the only unforgivable sin he committed and that’s why he’s going to hell.
Judas is the Christian bad guy in the story, and he’s got to go to hell for it one way, one reason or another. It’s just very hard to prove that’s what the Bible tells us happened to him, and it’s hard to send him there without screwing up a lot of longstanding Church dogma. But it simply wouldn’t do to think you’re going to live a life of Christly suffering and piety only to end up singing hymns and strumming harps with Judas Iscariot on the other side of the veil at the end of it all.
The “Bible” is no help in resolving this matter of Judas. Multiply that by thousands of other specific issues, and now you know why organized Christianity has resorted for these thousands of years, mainly to voting together in clusters of agreement on these doctrines, and then excommunicating or killing anyone who sees it could be any other way. It messes with the clergy’s claims of infallibility and Biblical completeness and perfection to allow anyone to think there might be more than one valid opinion on the canonical works. If anyone can just read canon or even supporting historical Church documents and come up with their own guess, well, what do you need the clergy for? What special authority does the clergy have over anyone else who can read? What’s the whole point of having an organized Church and trained, professional clergy to run it?
The Christian Church closed its canon five hundred years ago in a huge, heated, international, ecumenical battle in Trent Italy, so there will be no more insight to be had from that source. No more revelations on Judas or any other of the thousands upon thousands of Biblical questions nobody has ever had a good answer for in Christian history.
Mormons on the other hand, pretend to have an open canon and modern prophets to define it. This is a great work-around to the whole issue of Biblical sketchiness. In theory it’s a workaround. Unfortunately, the Mormon Church’s ability to mount an inspired examination of recently discovered manuscripts and declare it canon or not, apparently died with Joseph Smith.
Ironically, a great many Christian sects have spent a lot of time and money and effort digging back into the most accurate translation of “The Holy Bible” and the Latter-day Saints have instead spent generations in learning how to quip and scripture bash with Christian fundamentalists out of the now fading King James Version instead. This seems very odd in light the fact that a warning about Biblical shortcomings were one of the first complaints Joseph Smith chose to send out in formal print via the Wentworth Letter to organized Christianity in his day. And oddly enough, most of these new allegedly literal and scholarly translated Bibles often support Mormon interpretations and scriptural claims better than the Mormon official Bible, the King James Version.
It’s almost comical to watch a couple of Mormon missionaries contend via verses out of the King James Bible with some Southern Baptist zealot or the other. The Southern Baptist who claims it to be the inerrant, literal Word of God is, in point of fact, a heretic in the eyes of its authors. The Baptist or Presbyterian or Missouri Synod Lutheran who will eagerly go to battle for the inerrancy of the King James Bible ironically also considers the entire ecclesiastical chain of stewardship who gave it to them to be utterly corrupt. This would make the King James Version a product of the Whore of Babylon, not as they contend with foaming breath, the perfect Word of the Lord. And of course, the Mormons know it’s screwed up in many ways, but they’re just using it to get into the heads of their opponents.
Another hitch in the “inerrant King James Bible” sort of reckoning, is that for this to be true, there was then no inerrant, perfect, complete, Word of God, no Holy Bible at all for all intents and purposes, for a millennium and a half and more of Christianity. You’re already in agreement with Joe Smith and his “Great Apostasy talk.” You have to admit that neither the mean Old Testament God nor the kind and reasonable Jesus Christ did in fact write the Bible out by hand–or whatever appendage you believe He might have available to use in this effort–assuming you believe He even has appendages. Our Lord and Savior did not in truth pass on a Holy Book of Directions to the Church He left behind when He ascended into the heavens like they taught me at Bible camp you have to wonder. You have to confess that, no, Christianity and all its churches were a load of rubbish for a thousand and a half years and then God moved through an international, inter-denominational host of mutually-hating clerical perverts, despots and morons in a way so subtle and mysterious that it spontaneously led to suddenly purifying the Holy Bible into just the right language and just the right translation out of thin air and whammo—it was all back on the path to eternal glory.
That first 1500 years of really really bad Christianity gets a “do over.” It doesn’t count. If you speak English anyway. A four-hundred-year-old incomprehensible dialect of English that is. This is exactly what is meant by those who speak of the Bible being preserved through “Divine Providence.” All of Christianity was a totally corrupt, evil, despotic shambles and yet the clergy running this hellish mess was still chosen and inspired enough to sort through all the bits and pieces and save us a perfect, God-authored instruction book.
The Authorized Version, the King James Version, wasn’t published until 1611. And then, it contained the Apocrypha, which was really pretty errant. It didn’t actually get totally inerrant until 1640, when the Anglican Church stopped including the Apocrypha mostly out of budgetary concerns, and Protestantism sort of unceremoniously dropped the whole issue. And of course, the Anglicans don’t use the King James Bible any more, so the Church authorities who “authorized” the Authorized Version have since “un-authorized” it.
For that matter, many Baptists (and others) now use the New King James Version produced by one of their own in 1979. It’s not actually a version, it’s an entirely new translation from scratch, and nothing to do with the King James Version at all really. They just felt compelled to use the name for credibility. It’s the same reason Mormons hang onto the original—it’s a proselytizing strategy, not an endorsement of it’s accuracy.
Then too, millions and millions of English speaking protestant Christians don’t even remember the King James Version, and only know the New International Version, or the insipidly paraphrased Good News Bible and so forth. Non-English speakers and Roman or Eastern Catholics never did know the King James Version. Still, the Mormons on the other hand, cling to a Bible the Christian world now largely agrees, as Joseph Smith said, has some significant translation problems, and of course, is now in an obsolete, archaic language.
Mormonism first raised the issue of Biblical reliability, and is now the last to make any serious attempt to resolve it.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continues to build arguments, apologetics and doctrines out of a Bible its founding prophet claimed was glaringly errant based on his various “corrections” in his “Inspired Version.” The Authorized King James Version is a beautifully written, highly poetic, pretty bad translation of ancient scripture. But it reads well and poor old Brother McConkie went to all that trouble to memorize it and cross-reference it and all.
I mentioned the Talmud a while back. One of Mormonism’s most annoying tendencies is to try to out-Jew the Jews. They like to think they’re more Chosen than the Chosen and perpetually need to prove to themselves they’re not just adopted idiot sons in the House of Israel. That’s why they invented their own peculiar dietary restrictions and everything. In any case, what seems to be developing is an entrenchment into the King James Bible just out of hardened tradition. It’s not a question of right or wrong or if it makes sense, it’s just a question of a bunch of Utahns having gotten really good at doing it that way. There’s a whole world Mormon recruitment community based not around getting down to what Mormons really believe the Bible says, but around showing other people how other people’s Bibles really say what Mormons say it says. Instead of just coming up with a Mormon Bible, they continue to invest in correcting somebody else’s Bible. This presumes of course that anybody else still uses the King James Version, or most Christians still have any really deep investment in any one version over the other any more.
So it’s the King James Bible forever. Sort-of. Because within the LDS edition, it will be continue to grow more and more embedded with so many cross-references and footnotes in, under, over, around and throughout every verse that it’s essentially unreadable anyway. But like the Torah, you will have the full glory of Bruce R. McConkie’s life’s work at your fingertips, and instead of just going to the “Inspired Version,” full out—you’ll get Joseph Smith’s “corrections” backdoored into the links and footnotes as part of the deal. IE: Here’s what the King James Version says, but this (click/link/footnote) is what Joseph Smith said it really was supposed to say.
The online and electronic LDS King James Version will be much easier to use naturally. And you will be able to make the fonts really large on your laptop so you can read aloud in Sunday School without your bi-focals. The intuitively-retarded LDS search engines of course will happily let you find anything at all that Bruce R. McConkie figured in 1964 was important for you to find. You will have full and instant scriptural backup for any one of the dozen or so favorite topics Brother McConkie usually fixated on. Just be careful not to the use of the word “Negro” in the search field.
And remember, they just absolutely had to cram that poem of McConkie’s into the new hymnbook, all eight verses of its tomb-like solemnity and dirge-like depressing melody—even if it had to be cheated across two pages and each verse had to be doubled to pretend it was only four verses not eight, so no verses would have to be printed at the end and everyone would be forced to sing all eight verses at funeral pacing every single time because Mormons almost never drop verses under the printed music unless the high councilman goes long and the kids are screaming and primary should have started ten minutes ago, but they always drop off the extra two or three verses that get stuck on the end in block form. Yeah, we get it Paul. All eight verses and sixteen reiterations of it. You Believe in Christ. If you pound it home hard enough maybe the Christian world will just give in on the matter out of fatigue.
McConkie’s master-stroke of poetry isn’t going anywhere for a long time now, and neither is the King James Bible—whether it’s any good, whether it fits or not.