A Reply to John Tvedtnes's Review

of One Lord, One Faith

Michael T. Griffith

Revised and Expanded on 12/24/97

In a recent book of reviews published by the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), John Tvedtnes reviewed my book One Lord, One Faith: Writings of the Early Christian Fathers As Evidences of the Restoration (Horizon Publishers, 1996). What follows is a brief, preliminary reply to his review.

Tvedtnes repeatedly criticizes me for not including more references on a number of subjects, but One Lord, One Faith was never intended to present an exhaustive listing of every source available on a given issue. The book was aimed at investigators and average members, not at scholars. Of course there were many other references I could have cited, but my aim was to primarily cite those sources that I thought would be the most readily available to an investigator or to the average member, not to give a comprehensive list of every book and article ever written on a particular topic.

Tvedtnes faults me for not citing certain Bible passages. However, the sections presenting Bible verses are specifically entitled "selected Bible passages" [emphasis added], indicating the passages that are cited are not the only ones that could be listed.

Tvedtnes complains that I did no deal with John 4:24 ("God is a spirit") in chapter 3, which presents evidence that God has a tangible body. But I do in fact address John 4:24 at length in endnote 3, which is keyed to chapter 3. When I pointed this out to Tvedtnes in e-mail, he replied he was certain no one reads endnotes.

Tvedtnes says be believes I was confused when I said some Protestants believe elder and bishop to be the same office, and he added that he was not aware of any Protestant group that held this belief. This is rather surprising, since anyone who has had contact with the Campbellite Church of Christ knows that that church believes elder and bishop are the same office and position.The Church of Christ is a large Protestant denomination. I served in the Texas Dallas Mission, and my first area was Lubbock, where the Church of Christ has a theological seminary (at least they did when I was there. Church of Christ ministers and seminary students repeatedly made the argument to us that bishops and elders were the same thing, and that since, according to them, a bishop/elder was supposed to be married, we Mormon missionaries were not really elders (1) because we weren't married and (2) because we weren't bishops. This was quite an issue of discussion between the missionaries and Church of Christ members.

Tvedtnes spends an entire paragraph on his argument that the book does not contain enough patristic quotes and citations to warrant the subtitle. Tvedtnes knew when he wrote the review that the subtitle was not mine. My manuscript was subtitled "Ancient Christian Evidence of the Restoration." Horizon's editors changed it to how it now reads. However, that being said, some would argue that the dozens of patristic quotations and the hundreds of patristic citations in my book justify the subtitle. Tvedtnes disagrees because several chapters in the book do not cite patristic evidence. In attacking the subtitle, Tvedtnes, by his own admission to me in e-mail, failed to consider the appendix, "An Index of Selected LDS Teachings and Practices Found in Ancient Christianity," which contains several dozen patristic citations in the space of two or three pages. In fact, Tvedtnes admitted he didn't even read the appendix.

Tvedtnes says the following about my reference to "the Eastern Orthodox Church":

And as for the "Eastern Orthodox Church," there is no such entity. There are, however, eastern orthodox "churches," which are national entities (Russian, Armenian, Greek, Syrian, etc.).

Now, this criticism borders on being silly.Any serious student of religion knows there most certainly is an organization that is widely known by the designation "the Eastern Orthodox Church," although this is not that church's official title. The term "Eastern Orthodox Church," of course, refers to the Orthodox Church, to Eastern Orthodoxy. Tvedtnes might want to try to tell R. M. French that thereís no such thing as the Eastern Orthodox Church, since French authored a book titled The Eastern Orthodox Church (London, 1951). Of course, technically speaking, there is no church that formally bears the name "the Eastern Orthodox Church." For that matter, there is no church that formally bears the name "the Mormon Church," either, nor is there any church that formally bears the name "the Latin Church," nor does any group have the name "the Protestant Church." Yet, these are common terms, nicknames, used to identify these organizations or loose affiliations, even though these are not their formal, official titles. It is also true that, technically speaking, Eastern Orthodoxy is not monolithic. To put it another way, it is not a single church under centralized control the way the Catholic Church is. But, the national branches of Eastern Orthodoxy have long been known as "the Orthodox Church," and the Orthodox themselves commonly use this designation.See, for example, Orthodox scholar Tim Ware's well-known book The Orthodox Church.

Tvedtnes attacks my citation of Exodus 24:9-11 (Moses and seventy elders of Israel saw "the God of Israel" standing on a paved work of sapphire), saying,

Indeed, Exodus 24:9-11 refers to Yahweh or Jehovah, whom Griffith identifies in chapter 9 with Jesus rather than God the Father. Since, at the time Moses and the elders saw him, Jesus did not yet have a physical body, they could only have seen his spirit, as did the brother of Jared (Ether 3:6-16). This passage clearly does not prove what Griffith intends. In fairness to Michael, however, I should point out that he probably learned to misuse these passages as a missionary, as I did.

It is certainly true that the passage, as now written, appears to identify the deity as Jehovah, who of course was the pre-mortal Christ. However, we also need to keep in mind the following facts: (1) according to traditional Christianity, Jehovah is the one and only God and yet has no body, parts, or passions, and is not tangible, (2) though Jehovah didn't have a body of flesh and bones when seen by Moses and the seventy elders of Israel, he was a being of spirit essence, and we know and the ancient Christians (e.g., Tertullian) taught that spirit is not incorporeal, that spirit is not immaterial; (3) Moses and the elders saw Jehovah STANDING on an object, which implies a being of some type of substance; and (4) keeping in mind the above, let's remember that in the New Testament we read that Christ is the "express image" of the Father. If One Lord, One Faith had been aimed at scholars, certainly I would have stopped at that point to explain my usage of this passage in more depth. But, I do make it clear in another chapter that Jehovah was the pre-mortal Christ, and in endnote 3, I explain that spirit is corporeal, just as Joseph Smith and Tertullian taught. I might add that official and unofficial LDS books and pamphlets have long cited Exodus 24:9-11 as evidence of God's tangible nature and visibility.

In referring to chapter 9, which deals with the identity of Jehovah, Tvedtnes states,

In this same chapter (page 57), Griffith asserts that there was a deliberate attempt to blur the distinction between Elohim and Jehovah in ancient times. He could have provided evidence directly from the Bible for this contention, but did not do so, referring us instead to modern theological works without citing them (and significantly omitting some of the more important studies, such as those by Margaret Barker).

This is incorrect, and this is another criticism that suggests Tvedtnes did not read my book with sufficient care before he wrote his review. Contrary to Tvedtnes's claim, I do in fact provide some evidence from the Bible on the ancient attempt to blur the distinction between El and Yahweh, e.g., my discussion on Deuteronomy 32:8-9.I don't know how Tvedtnes could have overlooked this. As for the complaint that I should have cited more sources, again, yes, I could have done so, but, as mentioned, I was trying to limit the sources pretty much to those that an investigator or average member could obtain without too much difficulty. Even so, I cite numerous scholarly studies in many chapters. Furthermore, at the end of the chapter 9, I included Otto Eissfeldt's famous article "El and Yahweh" from the Journal of Semitic Studies as one of the sources recommended for further study.

Tvedtnes says,

In the next section [in chapter 9], 'Satan,' he indicates that there is evidence that 'the ancient Hebrews and Christians believed,' like the Latter-day Saints, that Satan was a spirit-child of God; but, while he gives several modern references, he fails to tell us who these ancient writers were or to cite their works. This seems strange for a book whose stated purpose is to provide early Christian evidences for the restoration.

I cite the fine analyses written on this subject by J. Barker, R. S. Kluger, E. Theodore Mullen, R. F. Smith, J. Russell, and Dan Peterson and Stephen Ricks, which are more available than the ancient works in question. And, of course, those analyses discuss the ancient sources that document the doctrine that Satan was a spirit son of God (sometimes at great length).

Tvedtnes continues,

In chapter 13, Griffith makes a number of declarations regarding "The Grand Council in the Pre-Earth Life" (page 78). While Latter-day Saints would accept his assertions, he does not support them with any references, either in LDS scriptures or in the Bible or early Christian works, though such evidence is available.

Tvedtnes has misread my intent. I was not attempting to defend or prove this point, but rather to give a brief missionary-like summary of the great pre-earth council and the unfolding of the competing plans of salvation. This was aimed at investigators and was intended to be purely instructional, which was why I made no effort to support it with citations.

In some cases Tvedtnes attacks my book for offering standard LDS interpretations of well-known verses, such as Matthew 5:48 and Philippians 2:5-11. Tvedtnes is free to disagree with the common LDS understanding of these verses, but perhaps he should have mentioned that general authority after general authority has cited these verses in the same manner I do.

Concerning my treatment of the apostasy, Tvedtnes says,

The list of scriptures cited at the bottom of page 89 merely show that some people were falling away and, again, do not provide evidence that the Church itself would be lost.

Wrong again.This is another criticism that leads me to conclude that Tvedtnes failed to read my book with sufficient care.For starters, I will point out that my discussion on the apostasy in One Lord, One Faith compares well with the discussions on this subject that one will find in nearly all other popular LDS works. I cite most or all of the same scriptures cited in other LDS books (and then some), and I provide other evidences as well. Also, widespread personal apostasy was part of what led to the apostasy of "the church." What is one of the main reasons given in LDS literature for the great apostasy? That the people turned away from the truth and began to be wicked. This is a common theme of almost any LDS discussion on apostasy, be it the great apostasy, or the frequent Nephite apostasies, or the repeated apostasy of the children of Israel. The passages in question, taken in conjunction with 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 (which I also cite), in my view, constitute good evidence of the apostasy of the ancient church. In the chapter in question I discuss 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, which predicts a complete apostasy of the church. The chapter also discusses Revelation 13:7, which is another reference to a complete apostasy. So I am at a loss to understand how Tvedtnes could have read the chapter and still have claimed it only cites verses that indicate some of the members were falling away at the time.

As for my chapter on Christ's status as the Father's "firstborn" (chapter 10), Tvedtnes states,

Chapter 10 is intended to show 'Jesus as the Firstborn of the Father.' But none of the six Bible passages cited provide evidence for this idea, and only three of them even use the term 'firstborn' or 'firstbegotten.' (Griffith omits Romans 8:29, which does call Jesus the 'firstborn.')

I disagree with Tvedtnes's view that none of the six cited biblical passages constitutes evidence of Christ's status as the Father's firstborn, and I would note that Tvedtnes does not address the arguments and evidence I present in my analysis of those passages. And, again, the cited biblical passages were "Selected Bible Passages." I agree, though, that citing Romans 8:29 would have further strengthened my argument.

Tvedtnes has more to say about my discussion on Christ as the Father's firstborn:

In light of Revelation 1:5, where Christ is 'the first begotten of the dead' and 1 Corinthians 15:20, 23, where he is 'the firstfruits' of the resurrection, one could argue that the term 'firstborn' in the Bible refers to his resurrection, not to his preexistent status. We have, of course, evidence of his status as the firstborn spirit child of God from revelations given to Joseph Smith, but the Bible itself is hardly proof of this. From the Bible, one can only conclude that Jesus was the first person resurrected from the dead.

Frankly, I'm left to wonder if Tvedtnes actually read the chapter or if he just skimmed through it. Tvedtnes does not address any of the evidence I present in the chapter. Nor does Tvedtnes discuss the patristic statements that I quote on this issue. Nor does he mention that I make note of the fact that Christ is also referred to as "the firstfruits" of the resurrection.

With regard to my discussion on secrecy in the early church in chapter 38, Tvedtnes opines,

Griffith's discussion of secret teachings in ancient Christianity is woefully inadequate. There are many more references he could have given to support his case.

I find this criticism surprising, to say the least. If my chapter on secrecy in the early church is "woefully inadequate," then how would Tvedtnes describe the treatments of this subject found in other LDS works, such as those in well-known books like Offenders for a Word and Are Mormons Christian? I present at least as much information on this issue as those fine books do, if not a little more. In what other readily available LDS source will Tvedtnes find a discussion on this subject that is as detailed and wide-ranging as the one I provide in chapter 38? What's more, to my knowledge, the information I present on ancient Christian initiation from Hugh Riley's book Christian Initiation has not appeared in any other LDS text. Nor am I aware of another LDS book that discusses Hebrews 9:5 and 1 John 2:20, 27 to the degree that I do in this chapter. And what other LDS book cites and presents evidence from Roger Adams' study The Iconography of Early Christian Initiation? (I pressed Tvedtnes in e-mail on these points, asking him to cite for me a single other published LDS discussion on this subject that provides the same or larger number of sources. He fell silent on this topic.)

With respect to my chapter on baptism for the dead (chapter 42), Tvedtnes declares,

Chapter 42 was also a disappointment. There are many ancient documents that talk about baptism for the dead, and one would expect that Griffith might have cited at least some of them.

Wrong yet again. This criticism is simply invalid.I do in fact cite the Shepherd of Hermas, an ancient Christian text that discusses baptism for the dead. And not only do I cite the Shepherd of Hermas, but I also analyze 1 Corinthians 15:29, wherein the apostle Paul refers to certain Christians who were performing proxy baptisms. In addition, the sources I list for further reading present extensive discussions on the ancient evidence of proxy baptism in the early church.

I do not mean to give the impression that Tvedtnes's review is all negative. He does make some positive comments therein. Furthermore, in e-mail correspondence, he has said there are many more good things about my book that he could have noted but didn't because he was focusing on what he viewed as the problems with the work. But I feel that most of his criticisms are invalid or highly subjective.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:Michael T. Griffith holds a Masterís degree in Theology from The Catholic Distance University, a Graduate Certificate in Ancient and Classical History from American Military University, a Bachelorís degree in Liberal Arts from Excelsior College, and two Associate in Applied Science degrees from the Community College of the Air Force.He also holds an Advanced Certificate of Civil War Studies and a Certificate of Civil War Studies from Carroll College.He is a graduate in Arabic and Hebrew of the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, and of the U.S. Air Force Technical Training School in San Angelo, Texas.In addition, he has completed Advanced Hebrew programs at Haifa University in Israel and at the Spiro Institute in London, England.He is the author of five books on Mormonism and ancient texts, including How Firm A Foundation, A Ready Reply, and One Lord, One Faith.