NOTE: This article is an edited version of a chapter in the authorís book One Lord, One Faith: Writings of The Early Christian Fathers as Evidences of the Restoration (Horizon Publishers, 1996).

Secrecy in Ancient Christianity

Michael T. Griffith


@All Rights Reserved

Revised and Expanded on 6/22/96

The New Testament contains indications that the ancient church possessed extra-scriptural teachings that were not made available to the public but were reserved for worthy followers of Christ.

"I have fed you with milk," Paul told the Corinthian saints, "and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet are ye now able" (1 Corinthians 3:2). If Paul ever gave this doctrinal "meat" to the Corinthians, it is not recorded in any extant version of the New Testament. Why not? Moreover, since Paul's first letter to the saints at Corinth discusses everything from the order and glories of the resurrection to the various kinds of spiritual gifts found in the church, what could have been the "meat" that Paul withheld?

The Corinthians were "babes" in Christ; they were still unable to handle the "meat" of the gospel (1 Corinthians 3:1-2). However, Paul told them that "mature" saints were taught a "secret and hidden wisdom" (1 Corinthians 2:6-7). This secret wisdom undoubtedly constituted part of the "meat" that the apostle withheld from the Corinthians.

When Paul was blessed to visit Paradise, he heard "things that must not be divulged" (2 Corinthians 12:4, AB). The Greek here is arreta remata, "unutterable words." The adjective "unutterable" was often used "of things disclosed in Mystery rites which the initiates were charged to keep secret" (Victor Paul Furnish, II Corinthians, The Anchor Bible, Grden City, New York: Dubleday & Company, Inc., 1984, p. 527).

The ninth chapter of Hebrews begins with a detailed discussion of the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem temple. This chapter has long puzzled scholars because of the author's sudden reluctance in verse 5 to tell us anything specific about the cherubim: "concerning which things this is not the proper time to speak" (Anchor Bible). The RSV renders the author's reluctance this way: "Of these things we cannot now speak in detail." Why not? Why isn't the full explanation to be found anywhere in the New Testament? When was the "proper time" to discuss these things "in detail"? What was it about the cherubim and their function in the Holy of Holies that made them such a sensitive subject? LDS scholar Eugene Seaich believes the reluctance to discuss the cherubim had to do with what they represented. He has gathered a considerable amount of evidence that the cherubim represented the divine model of male-female union and that this symbolism was used to teach the doctrine of eternal marriage in the temple (Mormonism, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Nag Hammadi Texts, Murray, Utah: Sounds of Zion, 1980, pp. 32-43).

Church father Ignatius told the Trallians he possessed sacred information that they were not yet ready to receive:

Am I incapable of writing to you of heavenly things? No, indeed; but I am afraid to harm you, seeing you are mere babes. You must forgive me, but the chances are you could not accept what I have to say and would choke yourselves. Even in my own case, it is not because I am a prisoner and can grasp heavenly mysteries, the ranks of angels, the array of principalities, things visible and invisible--it is not because of all that that I am a genuine disciple as yet. (Cyril C. Richardson, Early Christian Fathers, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1970, pp. 99-100)

Robert M. Grant translates this passage as follows:

Can I not write heavenly things to you? But I fear that I may do harm to "you who are infants." You must pardon me, lest you be choked by what you cannot swallow. For though I am in bonds and can know heavenly things such as the angelic locations and the archontic conjunctions, visible and invisible, for all that I am not already a disciple. (Jack N. Sparks, The Apostolic Fathers, Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1978, p. 93)

These "heavenly things" or "heavenly mysteries" were obviously not recorded in the scriptures, and Ignatius did not think the Trallians were ready to receive them.

Clement of Alexandria also acknowledged that the church had secret teachings. He said these teachings had come from Christ through the apostles. I quote from historian Frank N. MaGill's summary of Clement's teachings on this subject:

Clement concedes that the Scriptures open salvation to the many, who experience the "first saving change," when they pass from heathenism to faith, or from law to Gospel. But these are saved only in the first degree. Besides his public teaching, Christ also taught his Apostles the gnosis [hidden sacred knowledge] which leads to perfection. This knowledge, Clement claims, "has descended by transmission to a few, having been imparted unwritten by the apostles." Great preparation and previous training are necessary to receive it. But those who can obey it, achieve here and now a foretaste of eternal bliss, and, in the world to come, will take their places with the Apostles in the highest sphere. (Masterpieces of Christian Literature, New York: Harper & Row, 1963, p. 47)

According to the ancient Christian historian Eusebius, Clement taught that after the resurrection the Savior gave the higher teachings to Peter, James, and John, and they shared them with the rest of the apostles, who in turn relayed them to the Seventy (Douglas M. Parrot, "Gnostic and Orthodox Disciples in the Second and Third Centuries," in Charles Hedrick and Robert Hodgson, editors, Nag Hammadi, Gnosticism, and Early Christianity, Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1986, p. 214). Similarly, esteemed church father Origen said the true students of the higher teachings among the apostles were Peter, James, and John (Parrot, Ibid., p. 214).

In the Lord's restored church, these sacred teachings are taught in holy temples. They are conveyed in what are called the temple initiatory and endowment ceremonies. After undergoing the initiatory ceremony in a certain part of the temple, faithful Latter-day Saints are led to a special room where they receive their own endowments. During the course of these ceremonies, church members are taught the higher knowledge that will enable them to live in the highest level of God's kingdom, or in what Clement of Alexandria called "the highest sphere."



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, San Angelo, Texas.In addition, he has completed an Advanced Hebrew program at Haifa University in Israel.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.