[ Author: Kathy Petersen ]
“Apostasy” is derived directly from the Greek word (transliterated “apostasia”) which simply means “falling away” or “forsaking”, and is used only twice in the original Greek – once in 2 Thess. 2:3 which is talking about the end times, and once in Acts when Paul is at Jerusalem and the brethren there talk him into going through the ritual purification because so many Jews there have heard that Paul is teaching Christians to “forsake” (or “apostatize” or “fall away from”) Moses. (A similar word, from the same root, is also used three times to signify a bill of divorce.)
Using a proof text
There are many groups who believe that there was an apostasy of Christianity soon after the deaths of the Apostles. They’ll usually point to the aforementioned verse as proof, but will also sometimes invoke various OT verses, such as in Acts 20 where Paul is warning the Ephesian elders of the fact that after he leaves, “grievous wolves” will come into the congregation, teach false doctrine, and cause some to follow them instead of staying with the truth.
The main problem with invoking these verses is that there is nothing in any of them which requires a complete or near-complete apostasy! Indeed, the consistent testimony of the OT is even though the Israelites by and large forsook God and the true worship of Yahweh, following after false gods, God always preserved a remnant. This is seen in multiple places, such as the many times God says He would completely destroy the Israelites, except for the fact that He promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that He would not do so; when Elijah believed he was the only faithful man left in all of Israel, God told him that there were 7,000 men who hadn’t bowed to Baal. The very many times where we see that a “remnant” was preserved, such as the ones who went into the Babylonian Captivity, instead of being destroyed in the land of Israel.
Since the OT was written for our learning, with the context of that verse being that we should look at the OT (and particularly God’s faithfulness in dealing with His people) as a source of hope and encouragement for us, the consistent message of the OT is that God always preserves a remnant of true believers. Far from indicating that we should expect a complete apostasy, the reverse is actually the case!
The key issue
Most of the groups that speak of an apostasy necessitating a restoration (usually with additional prophecies or near-prophetic special “knowledge” their particular leader claimed to have) have their roots in various sects that arose in the 1800s, including Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Since I know most about Mormonism, I will discuss their claim, though there is broad similarity between them and other groups.
First, it is important to note that some of the claims of the modern-day LDS Church are somewhat different from and quite a bit milder than LDS claims of previous generations. [Seasoned Christian apologists who have spent decades dealing with Mormons have noted that Mormonism of the today is markedly different from what it was even 30-40 years ago, not to mention what it was like in the first century or so of its existence.
Many apologetics resources still reflect this earlier focus, so do use caution when using anything from more than 15-20 years ago, because it simply may be outdated, and may not be applicable to current LDS beliefs.] You’ll probably have no difficulty in finding numerous sources which describe the so-called Great Apostasy as being essentially complete and universal, and affecting all of Christianity, so that the Apostles were scarcely cold in their graves before Christianity morphed into something completely unrecognizable.
Modern Mormonism is much milder – and I think it is because it is forced to be, based on the evidence we have of the continuity of Christian beliefs in those early decades and centuries. Similarly, early Mormon literature makes no bones about the “fact” that much of what should have been considered NT Scripture was lost during the Apostasy, thus necessitating the Book of Mormon and other LDS Scripture to “restore” what was “lost”.
But because all historical and archaeological sources undermine that claim (e.g., none of the manuscripts we have, including the very early ones, allow for any sort of great loss of Scripture or corruption of Scripture), modern Mormonism has had to modify its stance that parts of the physical writing were lost or corrupted, so that they now claim only that the meaning has been lost or corrupted. This is a far cry from what past Mormons claimed, but those past claims are simply untenable (so much for “modern-day Prophets”, eh?).
Changing their tune
So, modern Mormons now mostly claim that what was lost was “priesthood authority” or “Apostolic authority”, and because this was lost, various extra-Biblical things were lost or not passed on, such as being able to give or impart the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands, leaders being able to explain the text of Scripture properly, and men being able to be made Apostles.
The exact mechanism for this loss may vary, but most LDS members seem to claim that it was because as the original Twelve Apostles died out, they were not replaced, and it was this lack of continuous Apostles in church leadership that caused the loss of priesthood authority. If they make the claim of “no apostles equals no authority”, you may want to have this LDS article handy, which declares that even if all the LDS Apostles and all the Q70 died before any could be replaced, there would still be sufficient authority in the remainder of the LDS Church Leadership to replace the Apostles and the rest of the LDS hierarchy. 1 Then ask why there was not sufficient authority in Christianity to do the same. Cue “moving goalposts”.
If instead they claim that the apostasy was more of teaching false things while not holding to the truth, you’ll want to brush up on the various false things Brigham Young and others of his era taught, some of which were practiced or held as doctrine and truth and revelation for decades, or in the case of the ban on black men being able to hold the priesthood, for well over a century! Again, cue the “moving goalposts” logical fallacy (and others), as they will frantically backpedal and cherry-pick and assert things like “nobody can be perfect, even God’s Prophets”, and otherwise minimize the very real false teachings of their past leaders, while still trying to claim that it was false teachings among first-century Christians that lost them the priesthood authority.
Making an exception
Oddly, the official LDS website article on The Apostasy cites the Bible for one proof that “unlike the Church in times past, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will not be overcome by general apostasy. 2 The scriptures teach that the Church will never again be destroyed (see D&C 138:44; see also Daniel 2:44).”
Now, isn’t that interesting! The D&C is the last addition to the LDS Scriptures, being canonized as having been a “vision” that then president Joseph F. Smith claimed to have had in 1918; the specific verse cites the verse in Daniel. That means that that passage in Daniel merits a closer look.
The context is the dream of Nebuchadnezzar which brings Daniel and his fellows to the King’s attention near the beginning of his reign, apparently soon after they had completed their training in the Chaldean learning. It is the famous dream that Nebuchadnezzar couldn’t remember, but which Daniel was able to tell him about and give the interpretation—the dream of the figure with the head of gold, the chest and arms of silver, the belly and thighs of brass, and the legs of iron with feet part iron and part clay; after describing the figure, a rock, cut without hands, comes out of a mountain and strikes the figure on his feet, and destroys the figure, then the rock grows to fill the entire earth. Daniel interprets the dream as each section of the figure representing a different kingdom (the first being the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar), and the other three are left unidentified, but said to arise sequentially after Nebuchadnezzar.
The specific verse in question reads:
(KJV) “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.” Daniel. 2:44
This seems plainly evident to me that the kingdoms are the Babylonian Empire (the head of gold), with the subsequent (and inferior) kingdoms being the next three “world empires” that dominated that region, including the Land of Israel – namely, the Medo-Persian Empire, the Greek Empire, and the Roman Empire. [This view is bolstered by the fact that similar visions or dreams later in Daniel are interpreted as speaking of the Medo-Persian and Greek Empires which should arise after the Babylonian, and be taken over by a fourth, unidentified kingdom.] If this view is correct, then the rock that was cut without hands which destroyed the fourth kingdom, and which kingdom would not be taken away, would have to be Jesus and Christianity!
When asked about this, though, LDS views are confusing at best. Some may simply deny that the Roman Empire was under consideration at all, but instead view the fourth kingdom as being the United States of America. I don’t know who they would view the second and third kingdoms as, or why they would skip over Rome and two thousand years of history to settle on the U.S. [Actually, I do know why – it’s because they must have it be so, in order for them to claim that this verse applies to them and proves that they can never go into apostasy. However, I’m speaking of a logical, consistent claim, made from the text itself.]
The question to ask here is how they arrived at their chronology and/or time-scale. If Babylon is the head of gold and the United States is the fourth kingdom, how do they join the “head” and the “legs and feet” of this single statue into one figure, like the dream did? Where is the logical consistency? Who are the second and third kingdoms, and how do they know?
Others may admit that this sounds like the fourth kingdom is Rome, but then invoke dual fulfillment or even cyclical fulfillment, to account for the otherwise “missing” millennia. By “cyclical” fulfillment, they would say that this dream represents not a single, one-time-only fulfillment, but that this series of kingdoms continually repeats. So with that, yes, the fourth kingdom was Rome, but there was another (or several) cycles of four kingdoms, so that in the current cycle (which may be the second cycle, or may be one of several), America was the fourth kingdom (the famous “melting pot” analogy being applied to the “iron and clay” mixture spoken of in Daniel), so that Joseph Smith in particular and/or the LDS Church as a whole, is considered the rock that rolled down the mountain.
Asking a simple question
Here’s the question to ask, though: Since the LDS Church views this as applying to itself, as a promise that it can never go into apostasy, because it is “a kingdom which shall never be destroyed”, what happened to the other “kingdom(s) which shall never be destroyed” of the past cycle(s)? If they specifically admit that Rome was the fourth kingdom in a previous cycle, then who was the rock of that cycle, whose kingdom would never be destroyed but which would fill the earth?
See, if this is about Jesus and Christianity, then Christianity can make the same claim that the LDS Church does (i.e., that it can never go into a full apostasy, even if individuals can become apostate, because the promise in Daniel is that the kingdom would never fail), but that is fatal to the LDS claim that Christianity did become apostate, which means that Jesus’s kingdom failed, until it was restored by Joseph Smith in 1830. However, if this promise of Daniel was not actually applicable to Jesus and to Christianity (despite Jesus’s claims that He was setting up a kingdom during His earthly ministry) – for whatever reason! – then how can the LDS Church claim that the promise does apply to themselves?
1. Openshaw, Geoff. “When the Prophet Dies: Reorganizing the First Presidency.” This Week in Mormons, 3 Jan. 2018, thisweekinmormons.com/2018/01/prophet-dies-reorganizing-first-presidency/. (Accessed 3/31/18)
2. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. “Apostasy.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, www.lds.org/topics/apostasy?lang=eng. (Accessed 3/31/18)