The Epistles of John
The Epistles of John are believed to have been written around 100-110 AD by John the Apostle.
Fighting the Heretic Gnostics
In this time period of early Christianity, the church was fighting various factions that taught different teachings regarding Christ. Perhaps one of the most challenging groups of heretics would be the Gnostics. The term Gnostic comes from the word “gnosis” which means a hidden knowledge or secret. There were several different groups of Gnostics, each with varying beliefs. However, most had some concepts in common. First, they believed they held secret knowledge from the apostles or through revelation that extended the gospel to another level. Many would attend regular Christian meetings, but then also have their own meetings, where they believed the higher knowledge was taught. For a time, some versions of Gnosticism dominated certain areas of the Christian world, and even threatened to overtake what is called the “proto-Orthodox” Christian Church.
Heresy #1, good Jehovah and bad Elohim
1 John begins by telling us, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1:5). Many of the Gnostics believed that the Garden of Eden story was about a god that created mankind in order to mess with them. This god, Elohim, did not want to bless mankind, but to toy with them. Meanwhile, the god Yahweh/Jehovah sought to save the people from the cruelty of the god Elohim.
John was teaching that God Elohim was and is a God of light, and not an evil god. The apostle then explained that we are to follow God and Jesus in the light. The Gnostic concept is that man was sinless, because it was God that caused the Fall, not man. However, we read, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1:8). Gnostics blamed sin on Elohim, and hoped for salvation through Yahweh. Yet, John teaches that we are responsible for our own separation from God, through our own sins.
Early Christians saw that Jesus was the Messiah, or the mortal Yahweh. He is the Son of God and the Angel of God’s Presence (Shekinah). There was no battle going on between Elohim (God the Father) and Yahweh (God the Son). John emphasizes this concept:
“Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: [but] he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also” (2:22-23).
Connected to the concept of “God is Light” is that we must also seek the light, and reject the darkness. This includes the concept that hatred equals darkness.
“He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes” (2:9-11).
Heresy #2 - Christ as Spirit, Jesus as Man
Among the key heretic issues taught by many Gnostic sects was a belief in the docetic (dual) nature of Jesus:
1. They believed that the man Jesus and the God Christ were separate individuals. When Jesus was baptized, the God Christ entered into him (the dove descending), and God the Father spoke saying, “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee....I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son” (Hebrews 1:5). They did not think that Jesus the man was born the Son of God, but was begotten at baptism through a spiritual rebirth, when the God Christ entered into Jesus and became a part of him through mortality.
2. Christ did not suffer, Only Jesus did. The Christ did the miracles and taught the people. But the man Jesus went through the suffering. Upon the cross, “... about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46, Psalms 22:1). In other words, prior to the suffering, the God Christ left Jesus to suffer and die alone.
3. The man Jesus was rewarded for his sacrifice by being the first to resurrect. The God Christ, however, continued as a Spirit, never having been born , suffered, nor died as a mortal.
On this topic, John warns us about the danger of such a heresy:
“Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world” (4:2-3).
As we can see from the Gnostic belief of a separate Jesus and Christ, they did not believe that Christ came in the flesh. Here, John intentionally uses the full name Jesus Christ, to show that Jesus the man and Christ the god are both the same being. Jesus is god and man, Christ is god and man. Jesus = Christ.
And this is a sign of an anti-Christ (not necessarily THE Anti-Christ of the last days), which was in the Christian world in 100AD. The Gnostics believed Christ continued as a spirit, never suffering nor truly interacting with mankind directly, but indirectly through Jesus the man. For the Gnostics, Christ never resurrected in the flesh, and never will have a resurrected body.
Today, we can partially judge a Christian Church by determining whether it believe Jesus came in the flesh (mortality), died on the cross, and resurrected. Resurrection means he forever retains his physical body, just as he retains his spirit. Resurrected Jesus is God.
Modern heresy of the Athanasius creed
The current concept of the Trinity came about through two councils: the Council of Nicea and the Council of Chalcedon, both done in the 4th century AD. Prior to this time, many Christians believed that Christ came in the flesh and resurrected. They believed that God the Father and God the Son were two separate beings. For example, the early Christian defender Origen taught that Jesus was a God subordinate to the Father.
However, from the end of the second century to the fourth century AD, more and more Christian leaders embraced Hellenistic (Greek) philosophy and embedded several such concepts into Christian belief. Among these was the concept that there is only one God and he is of a pure substance (Spirit) that is completely different than any other substance. Bishop Athanasius pushed for a new creed or belief that would designate the Father, Son and Holy Ghost as only one Spirit with three persons. Other bishops, such as Arius and the historian Eusebius disagreed, but lost when Constantine (not yet baptized as a Christian) accepted Athanasius’ creed and established it as the Nicene Creed. Constantine sent many “heretic” Christians, who did not accept the Trinity, to the copper mines, which essentially was a death sentence.
It would still take over a century for the Nicene Creed to become Christian doctrine, as it almost lost out again in the 4th century. Still, the Nicene Creed left many questions. How could Christ be spirit and still have a physical body? At the end of the 4th Century, the Council of Chalcedon began and determined the duality of Christ. Today, most Christian religions embrace the two creeds as doctrine, even though the Bible is rather silent on such issues.
In fact, early Christans intentionally changed First John to reflect the Trinity in it. 1 John 5:7-8 tells us:
“For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.”
This clearly sounds like evidence of the Trinity creed. However, scholars now call this the “Comma Johanneum”, or Johannine Comma or Clause. The portion that was the later addition is: “in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth”.
Without the clause, the verse originally stated, “For there are three that bear record, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.”
The clause does not appear in any texts prior to the ninth century AD. Such an effort to intentionally change the feel and thought of First John goes entirely against his teaching in the epistle! He stated that Christ resurrected and had a body, while also being the Son of God. Historically, the comment was added in a later Bible version called the Textus Receptus, which was used in all Bible translations from 1522 onward until the past century. Yes, it is even in the King James Bible, which is one reason why LDS believe the Bible to be correct and the word of God insofar as it is translated correctly (Article of Faith 8).
Jesus taught that “God is a Spirit” (John 4:24), which is often used as evidence of the Trinity. However, here John teaches that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). God as spirit and love show attributes of God, not a specific statement that God is only one thing. God can be a spirit, love, resurrected being with a physical body, and many other things. To define him only as a spirit is to delimit him and our understanding of whom he really is.
What we do know, John teaches us:
“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he (God) is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).
Background on Jude
Scholars differ on which Jude is the author of this epistle: whether it is the apostle Jude, the brother of Jesus, or if they are the same individual. All agree that Judas Iscariot is not the author of the epistle.
The epistle was controversial in the early days of Christianity. All early Christian leaders believed in its authenticity, but argued over whether to include it in the canon of scripture, because of controversial concepts contained within it, including its quoting or referencing of non-canonical writings. Origen discusses the early controversy over the epistle of Jude by some church leaders, though he personally accepted it. The controversy continued into the 4th century, as noted by Eusebius of Caesarea in his Ecclesiastical History.
The epistle was not directed towards any particular Christian congregation, but was written to be distributed throughout all the churches of Christ. Jude’s few verses are very similar to that found in 2 Peter (mostly chapter 2). Scholars believe that either there was a previous source both used, or that one was the source for the other.
Keeping your First Estate
Jude begins his epistle discussing the importance of contending for the faith, and fighting against apostates who seek to turn believers from following Christ and his gospel.
“ 5 I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not.
6 And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.
7 Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” (Jude).
Israel in Egypt is compared with the premortal existence. From Egypt, Israel was offered a fresh start, a freedom, as they moved to the Promised Land. Yet, many fought with Moses, thinking they knew better. In doing so, they were destroyed.
So it was in the premortal existence. We were spirit children of God in the prior life. Yet, as only spirits, we were limited to our growth, agency, and free will. To move forward, we required a fresh start in mortality, with the expectation that we would believe in Christ and follow God through his appointed prophets.
In Abraham 3, we read about this premortal experience:
“ 22 Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;
23 And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.
24 And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;
25 And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;
26 And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.
27 And the Lord said: Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me. And another answered and said: Here am I, send me. And the Lord said: I will send the first.
28 And the second was angry, and kept not his first estate; and, at that day, many followed after him” (Book of Abraham 3).
Here we see that some chose to rebel, rather than follow the plan God set forth. Lucifer and many others rejected their first estate, or the experiences of the premortal life. Instead of coming down to gain a body and have a chance at choosing eternal life through Christ, they rejected everything and were cast down from heaven, becoming Satan and his demons. As Jude notes, these are they who rejected their first estate and are to be enchained in Outer Darkness in the final day of judgment.
So will it be for those who indulge in fornications and sexual pleasures that do not fall under the mandate of God. Sodom and Gomorrah is noted as a place that was destroyed for its sinfulness. Professor Harold Bloom wrote that Sodom and Gomorrah were not destroyed for its sinful sexual behaviors (including homosexual and heterosexual acts), but for the inhabitants not being hospitable. In other words, God put up with their sinful natures until they attempted to impose that lifestyle upon others (such as on Lot and his angelic visitors).
Jude warns us that such sinful nature is the cause for destruction for a people.
Body of Moses
One of the two very controversial portions of the Epistle of Jude is the story regarding Moses’ body.
“9 Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.”
Here, the greatest of the angels, Michael, contends with Satan for the body of Moses. Origen noted that this was a part of an ancient Jewish text entitled the “Assumption of Moses” (also known as the Testament of Moses), believed by modern scholars to have been written in the 1st century AD. The Assumption of Moses that is now available no longer contains this story, but is believed by many to have been at the end in the original. This is part of the controversy that arises with Jude’s epistle. He is actually quoting from a non-canonical source!
The concept comes forth that rather than dying, Moses is to ascend to heaven, even as Enoch or Elijah did. In Jude, Michael must fight for Moses that he may ascend in a translated or raptured state, rather than die.
“14 And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints,
15 To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”
Again, Jude quotes from another non-canonical source. This time, it is from one of the various surviving books of Enoch. The writings of Enoch were well accepted by many Jews and Christians from the 2nd century BC and until St Jerome rejected it for his compilation of the Bible. Enoch is quoted or referenced dozens of times in the New Testament, with Jude as the most well known.
Fragments of Enoch writings are found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, suggesting that the ancient Essenes accepted Enoch as scripture. Interestingly, the fragments within the Dead Sea Scrolls are only one of two places wherein we find a person named Mahujah/Mahijah who questions Enoch. The other known writing of Enoch that has this encounter is found in Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Moses (Moses 6:40)!
Jude’s connection between Moses and Enoch is an important one. Both are called of God to be an important prophet in their days. Both have a heavenly vision and then are sent back to earth with the commandments and teachings of God. Both foresaw the coming of the Lord in glory and power among men. In LDS belief, Enoch prepared his city of Zion to be lifted to heaven, while Moses tried to bring the children of Israel into the presence of God at Sinai, and then into the Promised Land. Enoch saved his people from the evil that occurred before the Flood, while Moses saved his people from the evils in Egypt.
There is another place, besides Jude, where both prophets are discussed and offered as symbols of the coming Lord Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith received a revelation while studying the Bible regarding the Creation, the Fall of Man, and the times of Enoch before the Flood. All of this Joseph received through the eyes of the prophet Moses.
As with Enoch, Joseph Smith also proclaimed that the Lord would return for his Second Coming in great power and glory. Our job is to keep the commandments, be chaste, virtuous, and righteous in following Christ. In doing so, the day may come when the archangel Michael may contend with the devil over us, that we may gain our second estate and receive a crown of glory.
Nag Hammadi Library (Primarily Gnostic writings found at Nag Hammadi, Egypt):
First Peter - wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Epistle_of_John
“Condemned to the Mines, Copper Production and Christian Persecution”, Biblical Archaeological Review, Nov/Dec 2011, pg 30: http://www.bib-arch.org/bar/article.asp?PubID=BSBA&Volume=37&Issue=6&ArticleID=2
Comma Johanneum - wikepedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comma_Johanneum
Epistle of Jude - wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistle_of_Jude
Epistle of Jude - Catholic Encyclopedia: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08542b.htm
Epistle of Jude - Early Christian Writings: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/jude.html
Inhospitality of Sodom - http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2010/02/lds-gospel-doctrine-class-old-testament_15.html
Lack of Hospitality by Sodom - Book of J, Harold Bloom, pp 299-301: http://www.amazon.com/Book-J-Harold-Bloom/dp/0802141919/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1320158037&sr=8-1
Assumption of Moses - wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assumption_of_Moses
Assumption of Moses (AKA Testament of Moses): http://www.piney.com/Testament-Moses.html
Book of Enoch (as quoted by Jude): http://www.piney.com/ApocEnoch1.html
Book of Moses: http://lds.org/scriptures/pgp/moses?lang=eng