Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Points of division: Part I- Introduction

As I have thought about where I want to take this blog I have considered what sort of questions I should be asking, and of these questions which are the most important. In ruminating on this point it becomes obvious that the first thing to be done before continuing in my critique of specific Mormon and Catholic beliefs is to identify the most important differences between the faiths, since it is these differences that separate the two bodies. The following is a list of what I perceive to be the main differences between the LDS faith and traditional Christianity that also serves as an outline of posts to come. In these posts I will consider the different approaches each faith offers to these subjects and reveal what I believe to be the strengths and weaknesses of each respective approach.

Part II- the universe and its origin: This post will consider the ex nihilo (created from nothing) view of the universe held by Catholics (and most other contemporary Christians) and the LDS view that space, time, spiritual entities, and matter have always existed. The philosophical arguments pertaining to these views will be considered along with the historical understanding of the universe and its origins within Judaism and Christianity. Whether God created the universe has many further implications for issues such as the problem of evil.

Part III- God: Catholics view God as an unmoved mover that exists independent of space and time, whereas the LDS faith typically views God as a human being that has advanced to godhood. These views will be compared and critiqued.

Part IV- Heaven and Hell: Unlike the Catholic faith, which holds that human beings end up in either Heaven or Hell, members of the LDS faith tend to believe in an afterlife divided into three kingdoms, each better than our current existence, where humans will be assigned based on factors such as their acceptance of God and the choices they made as mortals; however, there has been wide speculation regarding the afterlife in Mormon thought.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Catholic Claim to Apostolic Succession, and Catholic vs. LDS (Mormon) view of Apostolic Succession

I recently encountered an argument from an LDS blogger that, other than Matthias and possibly Paul, the original twelve apostles didn't ordain a next generation of twelve apostles at all since, according to his view, the bishops and priests ordained in the early church should not be seen as successors of the apostles. In this post I will assess the Catholic claim to unbroken apostolic authority by consider the argument from LDS sources noted above as well as the argument that valid apostolic succession did take place but at some point was severed.

What is apostolic authority?

The Catholic Church claims that, through St. Peter and the other apostles, Christ established a special apostolic authority for acting in his name for the preservation and growth of the Church. This authority includes binding and loosing, forgiving sins, and having power over demons (Matthew 16:19, 18:18; Luke 9:1). The attribute of apostolic succession most relevant to this post is the ability to ordain others for the mission of the Church. This is seen in Paul's Message to Titus:

For this cause I left thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and shouldest ordain priests in every city, as I also appointed thee:
If any be without crime, the husband of one wife, having faithful children, not accused of riot, or unruly.
For a bishop must be without crime, as the steward of God: not proud, not subject to anger, not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre.
This ordination process involved the laying on of hands as it is still done today in multiple apostolic denominations (1 Tim. 4:14).

Evidence of continuity?

Note: The exact dates and chronological order of the books in the New Testament have been disputed. For my dates I am using this source.

One may concede that apostolic authority and succession was implemented by Christ, and further that there was a structure and hierarchy preserved by this authority, but they may question the Catholic Church's claim of unbroken continuity. There may have been a line of apostolic authority and succession that was established and continued for a generation or two, but how do we know it continued beyond that? To answer this question, let us consider the records we have and their respective dates:

2 Cor 1: 21-22 (57 AD): Paul speaks of being confirmed, anointed, and sealed.
Acts 1:20-26 (64 AD): Matthias is ordained to fill Judas' bishopric.
Acts 14:23 (64 AD): Speaks of presbyters (priests) being appointed to each church.
Titus 1:5 (65 AD): Paul instructs Titus to ordain priests and bishops in the cities of Crete.
1 Tim. 4:14 (65 AD): Ordination given "with imposition of hands of the priesthood."
Heb 7:23 (67 AD): Verse speaks of other priests being called to replace those who have died.

Clement (98 AD):
"And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first-fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe. Nor was this any new thing, since indeed many ages before it was written concerning bishops and deacons. For thus saith the Scripture a certain place, 'I will appoint their bishops s in righteousness, and their deacons in faith.'... Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry...For our sin will not be small, if we eject from the episcopate those who have blamelessly and holily fulfilled its duties." Pope Clement, Epistle to Corinthians, 42, 44 (A.D. 98).
Ignatius (110 AD):
"For what is the bishop but one who beyond all others possesses all power and authority, so far as it is possible for a man to possess it, who according to his ability has been made an imitator of the Christ off God? And what is the presbytery but a sacred assembly, the counselors and assessors of the bishop? And what are the deacons but imitators of the angelic powers, fulfilling a pure and blameless ministry unto him, as…Anencletus and Clement to Peter?" Ignatius, To the Trallians, 7 (A.D. 110).
... and the list continues here if you are interested.

There is abundant evidence that an apostolic structure that began during the ministry of Christ continued long after his death and resurrection; however we must acknowledge that it is technically possible that somewhere along the line one of these bishops or priests wasn't validly ordained, but for apostolic continuity to be completely severed there would have to have been a complete disappearance of validly ordained clergy. Given the spread of Christianity into various regions, a complete disappearance of apostolic authority seems unlikely. Further, such an event would contradict Christ's promise that "... I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it," (Matt. 16:18) and "...behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world." Even if we disregard these verses, it is hard to believe God would establish an apostolic Church only to let it die.

Apostles aren't Bishops?

This is an argument I recently heard which is essentially that because the original apostles are only recorded as having ordained bishops, but not successors to fill the role of apostle, apostolic succession ceased. Underlying this argument is the idea that the early church had a priesthood office of "apostle" that was higher and distinct from that of bishop or priest. Put simply, apostolic succession stopped because the apostles ordained bishops, not apostles. However, there are two factors that I believe defeat this argument.

1. The idea that "bishop" and "apostle" are completely distinct from one another is refuted by Acts 1: 20, which states, referring to Judas ".. let his bishopric another take." Judas, who was an apostle, is also referred to as a bishop.

James, another of the original twelve apostles, is widely held to have been the first bishop of the Christian community in Jerusalem.
" cannot help but immediately focus on the figure of St. James the Just who, without question, functioned as the one-man monarchical leader of the Jerusalem city-church after the Apostles ceased to permanently reside there. Indeed, both Scripture and the universal witness of the Fathers illustrate this fact most clearly. For example, Eusebius of Caesarea, drawing from much earlier sources, directly states that the Apostles Peter, James [bar-Zebedee], and John appointed James the Just as the monarchical head ("bishop") of the Jerusalem city-church.

Similarly, in Galatians 2:12, as St. Paul complains about some Judaizing Christians from the church of Jerusalem, he does not say that these Jewish brethren came "from Jerusalem" or from "the presbyters of Jerusalem," but rather "from James" -- thus equating James with the church of Jerusalem itself. Also, in Acts 12:17, as Peter flees Jerusalem after his miraculous escape from prison, he does not command the local flock to "report this to the presbyters"; but instead directly says, "Report this to James," thereby revealing that James was the leading authority." (source)
2. This argument presupposes that, like bishop, apostle is a priesthood office. What is important to remember, however, is that the apostles were referred to as such prior to receiving priesthood authority; thus the word apostle cannot be necessarily tied to a priesthood office. The word apostle ("apostolos" in greek) means only "one who is sent." This definition is easily applied to both the original twelve apostles and the bishops and priests who were called and sent for the good of the Church.


There are a few instances where there are minor absences of evidence for apostolic succession when the record is silent for a few decades, but there exists no evidence of the absence of a continuing apostolic structure. Further, there is nothing to suggest that the office of bishop is wholly distinct from the roles held by the original twelve apostles. In fact, there is evidence that some of the original twelve apostles were bishops. The term "apostle," meaning "one who is sent," is applied equally to apostles, bishops, and priests alike. There is no evidence that apostolic succession was severed, or that apostolic succession necessarily required the apostles to ordain other men who carried the title "apostle." Having established that there did indeed exist a structure of apostolic succession and ordination in the early Christian Church, the onus of proof is on those who doubt the Church's claim to unbroken apostolic succession.

Update (8 March 2013): Last night I ran into a Lutheran friend of mine, and we got to talking about this subject. As a Lutheran (ELCA), he believes in baptism, the celebration of the eucharist, and a church hierarchy; however, he does not believe in apostolic succession. Instead, he informed me that Lutherans (ELCA) believe the pastor assigned to each church merely fills an employment position of sorts in the church structure. Thus a priest does not have to celebrate communion or be ordained by other priests, strictly speaking. I thought I would consider this claim by examining the New Testament and Early Church Fathers along with the other claims already considered.

(My Friend's) Lutheran View of Apostolic Succession 

First off, it is important to note that there is no uniform view of apostolic succession among Lutherans. Many churches in Scandinavia still hold apostolic succession as important and trace their authority back through pre-Reformation bishops. Therefore I will only be considering my friend's view of apostolic succession, being that it is unnecessary.

Power to Bind and Loose

In Matt. 16:19, Christ gives unto St. Peter the power to bind and loose, meaning that if he establishes something or discontinues something on earth it will also be so in heaven. Further, John 20:21-23 speaks of Christ sending his apostles and giving them authority to forgive or not forgive sins. If we do not understand this authority in the sense that apostolic churches understand it, as a priesthood authority, how else might we understand it?

Perhaps we could hold that the powers to bind, loose, and forgive sins belongs to the priesthood of all believers. This would mean than anyone who is a Christian possesses these powers. This poses a problem: what if some Christians want to bind, for instance, the admittance of women to the priesthood and other Christians are opposed to this binding? Who would have the final say? Perhaps we can conclude that when Christ told St. Peter that he would give him the power to bind, loose, and forgive he intended it to be a power of consensus by which Christians can vote on issues and make them official doctrines. It is important to acknowledge, however, that any time Christ speaks of giving authority to someone it is restricted to one or all of the apostles, not all believers.

While I believe the evidence up to this point remains in favor of the importance of apostolic succession it is not conclusive. Moving on, then, the next question to consider is whether the New Testament ever states that priests must receive authority from one already imbued with apostolic authority. In Ephesians 2:19-20, Paul speaks to the local community, saying " are fellow citizens with the saints, and the domestics of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone." This verse, along with Matt. 16:18-19, does imply that the church is founded upon the apostles to whom Christ gave special authority, but it may simply be interpreted to mean that Christianity is built upon the tradition preserved and declared by apostles and prophets. A reality that is difficult to overlook is that in every instant where someone is baptized, given the holy spirit, or given the authority to do these things it is done by Christ, the apostles, or one given authority from the apostles, such as Titus and Timothy (Acts 8:14-24; 1 Tim. 4:14, Titus 1:5).

The Old Testament further reveals a priesthood, established by God through Moses, that was exclusive and hierarchical as is the apostolic priesthood today (Exodus 18:25-26, 40:15; Numbers 3:3, 16:40, 27:18-20; Deut. 34:9).

Aside from the Bible, the Early writings of the Church Fathers reveal that apostolic succession and the episcopal structure of the Church was uncontroversial, and the very method by which one's authority was judged, as is demonstrated by this passage from Tertullian:

But if there be any (heresies) which are bold enough to plant themselves in the midst Of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [that first bishop of theirs] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men,--a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the apostles. …To this test, therefore will they be submitted for proof by those churches, who, although they derive not their founder from apostles or apostolic men (as being of much later date, for they are in fact being founded daily), yet, since they agree in the same faith, they are accounted as not less apostolic because they are akin in doctrine…Then let all the heresies, when challenged to these two tests by our apostolic church, offer their proof of how they deem themselves to be apostolic. But in truth they neither are so, nor are they able to prove themselves to be what they are not. Nor are they admitted to peaceful relations and communion by such churches as are in any way connected with apostles, inasmuch as they are in no sense themselves apostolic because of their diversity as to the mysteries of the faith." Tertullian, Prescription against the Heretics, 33 (A.D. 200).
and further in this passage:
"Therefore the power of remitting sins was given to the apostles, and to the churches which they, sent by Christ, established, and to the bishops who succeeded to them by vicarious ordination." Firmilian, To Cyprian, Epistle 75[74]:16 (A.D. 256). 
There are many more passages such as these that can be accessed here and here.


There are many implicit evidences of apostolic succession found in the New Testament, such as priesthood authority being exercised only by the apostles and their successors. Further, the apostolic model of priesthood authority is akin to the Levitical priesthood structure found in the Pentateuch (first 5 books of Old Testament). Finally, the writings of the Early Church Fathers, as early as the first century, clearly show a Christian church that fully accepted the episcopal structure and the importance of apostolic continuity. Any Christian, or Christian body, that denies the importance of apostolic authority and continuity stands against the evidence presented by the early Church. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Joseph Smith's First Vision

fvNote: Before I officially embark on this in-depth assessment of the truth claims of Catholicism and Mormonism, I wanted to first state the goals I have for this project. As I have explored the internet for arguments both for and against the claims of the Catholic and LDS faiths I have found that the arguments against them have often been uncharitable and unfair. Critics often lower themselves to relying on straw men and other deceptive claims about these traditions. My intention is to be as fair and charitable as possible in my assessments. I will seek to utilize only accurate evidence and the best arguments I can muster. As part of this intention I welcome and encourage those who may come across my posts to challenge and correct me where needed.  

It has been difficult trying to figure out where exactly to begin assessing the claims of the LDS faith. Having failed to come up with any creative way to address the Mormon movement, I figured I would begin where the story begins chronologically. I will first provide the account of the first vision the LDS faith holds to be official. I will then consider some of the issues surrounding the First Vision account and then determine whether these issues are reconcilable with, or problematic for the position of the LDS faith.

The Official Version

The account of the First Vision taught by Mormon educators and missionaries reads as follows:

In accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally. After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction. But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction--not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being--just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other--"This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!" My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)--and which I should join. I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: "they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof." He again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time. When I came to myself again, I found myself lying on my back, looking up into heaven. When the light had departed, I had no strength; but soon recovering in some degree, I went home. (Source:
This is the official version of the story that was firt recorded in 1838. I have highlighted select excerpts in red since they will be most relevant in considering possible issues with this vision.

Problems with the First Vision Story

A problem apparent from the above text, is that Joseph Smith claims to have experienced this vision in 1820, but the record above does not arise until 18 years later. In fact, the first recorded instance of Joseph Smith recording this vision is not until 1832:
...I cried unto the Lord for mercy for there was none else to whom I could go and to obtain mercy and the Lord heard my cry in the wilderness and while in (the) attitude of calling upon the Lord (in the 16th year of my age) a piller of fire light above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the spirit of god and the (Lord) opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord and he spake unto me saying Joseph (my son) thy sins are forgiven thee. go thy (way) walk in my statutes and keep my commandments behold I am the Lord of glory I was crucifyed for the world that all those who believe on my name may have Eternal life (behold) the world lieth in sin and at this time and none doeth good no not one they have turned asside from the gospel and keep not (my) commandments they draw near to me with their lips while their hearts are far from me and mine anger is kindling against the inhabitants of the earth to visit them acording to th[e]ir ungodliness and to bring to pass that which (hath) been spoken by the mouth of the prophets and Ap[o]stles behold and lo I come quickly as it [is] written of me in the cloud (clothed) in the glory of my Father and my soul was filled with love and for many days I could rejoice with great Joy and the Lord was with me but [I] could find none that would believe the hevnly vision nevertheless I pondered these things in my heart  … (Source: History, 1832, Joseph Smith Letterbook 1, pp.2,3)
The first issue, and a minor one that I don't find very problematic, is that Joseph claims in the official version to have been 14 years of age, whereas in this version he claims to be in his 16th year, which can be interpreted to mean either that he was already, or going on, 16 years of age. Sometimes I forget exactly how old I was when something happened to me, too. Ultimately this minor discrepancy does not do much harm to Smith's claims.

The second issue, on the other hand, is quite problematic since Joseph Speaks of only one personage, the Lord, being present in this vision, and further idetifies him with Christ. Why is it, if the official version is accurate, that Joseph left out the crucial detail that two separate persons appeared to him in his first version? The Mormon apologist may argue that just because Smith doesn't mention a second person doesn't mean the second person wasn't there. I concede this possibility; however, there is a pivotal detail that many often overlook.
In the time preceding and even following the publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830, the evidence strongly suggests that Joseph Smith Jr. held a sabellian view of God, meaning he believed Christ and God the Father to be the same person. The Book of Mormon itself seems to speak of God in a sabellian fashion:
"And now Abinadi said unto them: I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people. And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son... And thus the flesh becoming subject to the Spirit, or the Son to the Father, being one God, suffereth temptation, and yieldeth not to the temptation..." (Book of Mormon, Mosiah 15: 1, 2, 5)
"Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have light... they shall become my sons and my daughters." (Ether 3:14)
In light of these factors, Smith's first recorded account of his vision seems to fit perfectly well with the theology he held at the time. If he truly saw the two personages of Christ and God the Father in a vision, we are left to wonder why he left out such a crucial detail, and further, why the Book of Mormon speaks of God as one person rather than two. Further, history suggests that until 1835 the Mormon movement as a whole adhered to a sabellain view. (New Approaches to the Book of Mormon, 1993, pages 82, 96-99, 103-104, 110)

Further, unknown to many modern Mormons, is the fact that the official account of the vision did not begin to be taught until 1842 (source), 22 years after it supposedly happened, and 12 years after the publication of the Book of Mormon. This likely means that the Mormon movment prior to 1842 would have been grounded far less on the Joseph Smith's encounter with God, and instead on the Book of Mormon itself.

Other Visions of the Time

Another complication for Smith is that visions like his were not that uncommon in the early 1800s, and more troublesome still is that many of these other visions had striking similarities to his own:
"I saw two spirits, which I knew at the first sight. But if I had the tongue of an Angel I could not describe their glory, for they brought the joys of heaven with them.  One was God, my Maker, almost in bodily shape like a man.  His face was, as it were a flame of Fire, and his body, as it had been a Pillar and a cloud.  In looking steadfastly to discern features, I could see none, but a small glimpse would appear in some other place.  Below him stood Jesus Christ my Redeemer, in perfect shape like a man---His face was not ablaze, but had the countenance of fire, being bright and shining.  His Father's will appeared to be his! All was condescension, peace, and love." (Norris Stearn, 1815)
"... I went into the woods ... a light appeared from heaven.... My mind seemed to rise in that light to the throne of God and the Lamb.... The Lamb once slain appeared to my understanding, and while viewing him, I felt such love to him as I never felt to any thing earthly.... It is not possible for me to tell how long I remained in that situation ..." (The Life, Conversion, Preaching, Travels, and Sufferings of Elias Smith, Portsmouth, N.H., 1816, pp.58-59)
There have been multiple versions of Joseph Smith Jr's first vision that have been circulated far and wide. Some of the discrepancies between visions are minor, such as the exact day or year that he had the vision, while others are details that have serious theological implications. A further problem for Smith's account is that there are multiple vision accounts preceding Smith's that have striking similarities to his own. While there indeed seem to be a few crucial problems with the First Vision, perhaps LDS apologists provide insight into how Mormons can overcome these problems.

LDS Apologist Responses to First Vision Problems

From the official website of the LDS Church, Milton V. Backman Jr. writes the following:

The four surviving recitals of this theophany were prepared or rendered through different scribes, at different times, from a different perspective, for different purposes and to different audiences. It is not surprising, therefore, that each of them emphasizes different aspects of his experience. When Latter-day Saints today explain this remarkable vision to others, their descriptions often vary according to the audience or circumstances that prompt such reports. If one were relating the incident to a group of high priests, for example, he would undoubtedly tell it somewhat differently than he would to individuals who had never heard of the restoration of the gospel or of Joseph Smith...

...Indeed, there are long-standing precedents for differing accounts of the same spiritual experience. For example, the four Gospels do not correspond exactly concerning the great events at the garden’s empty tomb. There are variations as to the number of women and angels who were present and whether the angels were sitting or standing. Although the Prophet Joseph Smith in his inspired translation clarified some of these details (and others cited below), minor disparities remain in the four descriptions of this event (compare 
Matt. 28 with Mark 16, Luke 24, andJohn 20). The differences, however, are not important—they may have resulted from incorrect transmissions or translations, or may be the result of recording the event from different perspectives. The glorious fact remains that the tomb was empty because Jesus had risen as the first fruits of the Resurrection.
As I stated previously, there are certain discrepancies that I would expect and not make a big fuss about. If a Mormon was recounting the Smith's story and got the year wrong, for instance, I wouldn't think much of it. However, when an account differs in a significant, theological way and also happens to correspond with the view of God Joseph Smith Jr. held at the time of the recording, it seems unlikely that such a major detail as God the Father being present along with Christ would be left out simply due to forgetfulness. Further, this was not the only time that a record of Smith's visions differed significantly from the official version:
Joseph Smith's First Vision and His Conflicting Accounts

If there exist such extreme discrepancies between New Testament accounts, I would indeed be a hypocrite to hold them to a lesser standard, so let us consider whether there are any such discrepancies. Backman states that "There are variations as to the number of women and angels who were present and whether the angels were sitting or standing" and provides Matt. 28Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20 as examples. Let us look at these verses.

Matt: 28
And in the end of the sabbath, when it began to dawn towards the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalen and the other Mary, to see the sepulchre.
And behold there was a great earthquake. For an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and coming, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it.
And his countenance was as lightning, and his raiment as snow.
And for fear of him, the guards were struck with terror, and became as dead men.
And the angel answering, said to the women: Fear not you; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.
He is not here, for he is risen, as he said. Come, and see the place where the Lord was laid.
In this account two women come to the tomb and one angel greets them.
Mark 16

And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalen, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought sweet spices, that coming, they might anoint Jesus.
And very early in the morning, the first day of the week, they come to the sepulchre, the sun being now risen.
And they said one to another: Who shall roll us back the stone from the door of the sepulchre?
And looking, they saw the stone rolled back. For it was very great.
And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed with a white robe: and they were astonished.
Who saith to them: Be not affrighted; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified: he is risen, he is not here, behold the place where they laid him.
But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee; there you shall see him, as he told you.

Once again, two women named Mary, and one being speaking to them. The only discrepancy is that this being is referred to as a man rather than an angel; however he is description sounds like that of an angel.

Luke 24

And on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came to the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared.
And they found the stone rolled back from the sepulchre.
And going in, they found not the body of the Lord Jesus.
And it came to pass, as they were astonished in their mind at this, behold, two men stood by them, in shining apparel.
And as they were afraid, and bowed down their countenance towards the ground, they said unto them: Why seek you the living with the dead?
He is not here, but is risen. Remember how he spoke unto you, when he was in Galilee,
Saying: The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.
Two people go to the tomb once again. Given the earlier gospels it seems reasonable to assume that these two beings are the Marys. This time, however, the account speaks of two angelic beings.

John 20
And on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalen cometh early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre; and she saw the stone taken away from the sepulchre.
She ran, therefore, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and saith to them: They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.

This seems like a condensed version of the three previous accounts, and this is no surprise, given that the Gospel of John is more of a theological than historical work. It would be akin a condensed version of Smith's account, such as "God the Father and Jesus appeared to me. Jesus told me not to join any of the churches in existence because they are all wrong."

Having put forward all these scriptural examples, let us now consider whether the discrepancies are on par with the serious discrepancies in Smith's accounts by first determining what are the most important  aspects of these vision.
The central theme of the four gospel accounts above is that Christ is risen. The number of women present, or number of angels revealing this reality to the Marys does not change this key theme of the story. In other words, what is significant is not who came to the empty tomb, but that the tomb was found empty. Further, Backman acknowledges that these verses have had two thousand years to be altered and changed, which would give an additional reason as to why there are minor discrepancies.

In Smith's vision, the central theme, as the LDS church has promoted it, is that God and Christ have appeared to Smith and Christ has informed him that none of the religions are correct. It is important, given LDS theology, that the Father and Christ are identified separately. Thus anything that takes away from these important elements is a serious problem. Smith getting the day, year, or exact words Christ used when speaking to him would not change the central theme, but a change with theological bearings would. Hence, the discrepancies between Smith's accounts are more problematic than the discrepancies between the empty tomb accounts in the gospels.

An article from the (unofficial) LDS apologetics site FAIR puts forward the following argument:
Even though the Savior makes a direct reference to the Father there is no indication in this portion of the 1832 document that God appeared to Joseph Smith alongside His Son.
This type of pattern is seen in the Book of Mormon, translated in 1829: The Book of Mormon begins (1 Nephi 1:8-10) with Lehi's vision of God on his throne. One [Christ] followed by twelve others descends from God to speak with Lehi—thus, Jesus and the Father are here both separate, and the role of Christ in giving instructions to the prophet while the Father looks on and approves is followed, just as it was in Joseph's First Vision. Here too, Lehi is described as praying to "the Lord," and yet has a vision of both God the Father and Christ.
The apologist here makes a good case for the belief that God and Christ being in some way distinct from one another is present in the Book of Mormon. What we are then left to ask is why other parts of the Book of Mormon speak of God and Christ as the same being. The Mormon may hold that such a discrepancy is easily accounted for, since the books comprising the Book of Mormon were penned by different authors who had different beliefs about God. Perhaps it is possible to reconcile the 1832 account with the 1838 if we grant that Smith did indeed hold the same view of the Godhead that Mormons now hold. However, evidence seems to suggest that this is not the case. As Thomas G. Alexander highlights, "...the doctrine of God preached and believed before 1835 was essentially trinitarian, with God the Father seen as an absolute personage of Spirit, Jesus Christ as a personage of tabernacle, and the Holy Ghost as an impersonal spiritual member of the Godhead." If this is indeed the case, then the FAIR apologist reaches too far in his defense by implying that God and Christ were seen as seperate in the modern Mormon sense. He instead might have used the word distinct or different.topic, see the following:

The Reconstruction of Mormon Doctrine: From Joseph Smith to Progressive Theology" by Thomas G. Alexander 


It has here been shown that there are issues with the First Vision accounts offered by Joseph Smith Jr. that may indeed be irreconcilable with the truth claims of the LDS faith. The arguments of the apologists I considered fail to make distinctions between minor discrepancies, and further, present claims that seems to run counter to the historical evidence. Even if one believes Joseph Smith Jr. really did experience a vision of the divine, or at least believes it possible, key questions remain:

1. Why doesn't Smith mention the Father in the 1832 account?

2. Why does the 1832 account of the first vision seem to coincide with the theological perspective Smith happened to have at the time? If Smith had really seen God and Christ as separate beings, why would both the Mormon movement and Smith continue to hold a view of God that varied from trinitarian to sabellian?

3. Why wasn't the First Vision taught in the LDS faith until 1842?

4. How do we account for the similarities Smith's vision has to visions that preceded his own?

5. Is it more likely that the discrepancies between the view of God in the Book of Mormon and the view of the Godhead held by the modern LDS faith is a result of ancient Mesoamerican authors having  trinitarian/ sabellian views of God, or that it was penned by 19th century authors that lived in a Protestant America where trinitarian/ sabellian views of the Godhead were the norm?

For further reading on this topic as a whole, see the following:

"Joseph Smith’s Recitals of the First Vision" by Milton V. Backman, Jr.
Mormonthink on the First Vision

Why only Catholicism and Mormonism: Pt. IV- Why Catholicism?

Note: Because I will compare Catholicism and Mormonism in much more detail, this post is concerned only with the validity and truth claims those Christian faiths that claim to have unbroken apostolic succession back to the original twelve disciples.

Even having determined that Christianity is true, and that apostolic Christianity is the most reliable and reasonable of Christian models, it remains to be seen which of the bodies claiming to have valid apostolic succession is the most true, all parts considered.

I have found that when approaching such an important and complex question it is very important to employ the various methods by which truth claims may be assessed (for example, history and philosophy), and to consider only the best arguments each side has to offer, since to do otherwise would be intellectually dishonest. As an example of why it is important to employ more than one method for determining truth, let us consider a crime scene:
In a third story Cleveland penthouse a man has been found dead with a large bruise on his head and a heavy metal pipe a few meters away from his corpse. Aside from this head wound, he appears to have been in good health. The detectives assigned to the scene, having only external data to speculate about how this man died, think it obvious that it was the impact from the metal pipe to the head that killed him. Following standard procedure, the corpse is eventually taken to the forensics experts where the body is not just examined externally, but through medical tests as well. These medical tests reveal that the bruise on the man's head was a week old at the time of his death, and that the actual cause of death was poisoning. 
As in this story, if one utilizes only one method of investigation they may not see the whole picture, and what they believe to be true, even with reason, may be erroneous.

The four major branches of self-identifying as apostolic today are the Catholic Communion, Eastern Orthodox Communion, Oriental Orthodox Communion, and the Anglican Communion. I have spent time worshiping with, and have seriously considered all but the Oriental Orthodox tradition, which I have studied briefly, and while I believe it is important to learn about these traditions I do not think it is necessary to do an exhaustive study of each body to discern which has the best claim to truth. Instead I propose that this determination can be made by addressing two questions: 1) Which of these traditions best fits the Biblical narrative, evidence, and other early Christian records (history)? 2) Which of these traditions offers the best explanatory power of the human condition, and the best philosophical and moral tradition (philosophy and theology)?

1. The question of whether evidence for the apostolic structure could be found in the Bible was addressed in my previous post (see here). Evidence from the Bible alone doesn't seem to support any of these traditions above the other. All believe in the church structure, method of priestly ordination, and method by which this ordination takes place in the New Testament. There is one exception to this apparent equality of support. In Matthew 16:18-19, a verse that has been heavily debated among Christians and biblical scholars, Christ singles out Simon Peter:
18 And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.19 And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.

Members of the Roman Catholic Church typically points to these verses above all others as evidence of their claim that the Bishop of Rome, who is the successor of St. Peter, holds primacy above all other bishops, and additionally an infallibility for the purpose of clarifying and preserving doctrine. The objections to this argument have been various. Some Orthodox Christians acknowledge, for instance, that Peter is indeed the rock upon which Christ establishes his church, and he does indeed hold a primacy among bishops, but he is not infallible. Others deny that Peter is the rock at all. However, considering the linguistic background of this passage, and further, what it clearly seems to be saying, it seems that Peter is indeed the rock to which Christ is referring. Martin Luther himself states:
Why are you searching heavenward in search of my keys? Do you not understand, Jesus said, 'I gave them to Peter. They are indeed the keys of heaven, but they are not found in heaven for I left them on earth. Peter's mouth is my mouth, his tongue is my key case, his keys are my keys. They are an office. They are a power, a command given by God through Christ to all of Christendom for the retaining and remitting of the sins of men. (Martin Luther 1530 - after he left the Church)
And further, the Protestant biblical scholar W.F. Albright states the following: "Peter as the Rock will be the foundation of the future community, the church....To deny the pre-eminent position of Peter among the disciples or in the early Christian community is a denial of the evidence."  

While the Greek translation of Matthew 16:18-19 does indeed use two different forms of the word rock (the masculine Petros for Simon Peter and the feminine petra for "rock"), it is important to remember that Jesus spoke Aramaic, and there is no such masculine-feminine distinction for the word "rock", which in Aramaic is "Keepa." (see Aramaic translation here)

There are also various instances in which the Early Church Fathers identify Peter as the rock and foundation of the Church. Here are just three early examples:

"Was anything hid from Peter, who was called the Rock, whereon the Church was built; who obtained the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and the power of loosing and of binding in heaven and on earth?" (Tertullian, De Praescript Haeret. 220 AD).
"There is one God and one Christ and but one episcopal chair, originally founded on Peter, by the Lord's authority. There cannot, therefore, be set up another altar or another priesthood. Whatever any man in his rage or rashness shall appoint, in defiance of the divine institution, must be a spurious, profane and sacrilegious ordinance" (St. Cyprian, The Unity of the Catholic Church. 246 AD) 
"Peter, also to whom the Lord commends His sheep to be fed and guarded, on whom He laid the foundation of the Church ...." (Cyprian, De Habitu Virg. 246 AD). 

The evidence demonstrates that Peter held at least a primacy among the original twelve apostles. For further reading on this topic, see the following links:

Was Peter the Rock? The "little rock, big rock" theory.
"Is St. Peter the Rock on which Jesus built his Church?" by Jimmy Akin

While the above evidence does seem to give support to the claims of the church of Rome, it must be acknowledged, as many non-Catholic Christians claim, that this primacy may have been different than what the Roman Catholic Church claims it to be. Thus more historical evidence is needed to assess the claims of Rome. Here is an interesting article called "How the Robber Council Establishes the Papacy" written by Joe Heschmeyer that provides such evidence.

2. Lets suppose that the biblical and historical evidence is inconclusive and we are left still unsure of which apostolic tradition is true. What signposts could we then look for? This is where I believe we should consider how each tradition has preserved its doctrines and the philosophical and moral foundations the church is founded upon.

Of all the faiths here being considered, I believe the Roman Catholic faith has been more unwavering and constant in its doctrines. It is important to keep in mind that there may be times when such a change is necessary.Going forward, then, I will briefly consider a few changes and preservation that have taken place in Christendom to determine whether such changes to or preservation of doctrine give credibility to one of the bodies we are considering over the others.

Until the Lambeth Conference of 1930 there existed agreement among the apostolic churches on three major issues: 1) the use of contraception is immoral 2) Priests are to be men, and 3) The Eucharist is the actual body and blood of Christ. However, the Anglican communion at this conference reversed 1900 years of Christian tradition by declaring that birth control could be used in limited circumstances. Since this time the Eastern Orthodox Church has taken a somewhat ambiguous stance. Rather than explicitly condoning or forbidding the faithful to use contraception, they instead hold that it is between a married couple and their priest as to whether the use of artificial contraception is permissible. Thus in one parish contraception may be forbidden, while in the parish in the next town over it is permitted. The Roman Catholic Church and Oriental Orthodox Communion maintain their opposition to contraception. Let us look at what earlier Christian figures have had to say about contraception:

Clement of Alexandria

"Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted" (The Instructor of Children 2:10:91:2 [A.D. 191]). 
Epiphanius of Salamis
"They [certain Egyptian heretics] exercise genital acts, yet prevent the conceiving of children. Not in order to produce offspring, but to satisfy lust, are they eager for corruption" (Medicine Chest Against Heresies 26:5:2 [A.D. 375]).  
"This proves that you [Manicheans] approve of having a wife, not for the procreation of children, but for the gratification of passion. In marriage, as the marriage law declares, the man and woman come together for the procreation of children. Therefore, whoever makes the procreation of children a greater sin than copulation, forbids marriage and makes the woman not a wife but a mistress, who for some gifts presented to her is joined to the man to gratify his passion" (The Morals of the Manichees 18:65 [A.D. 388]). 
John Calvin
It is a horrible thing to pour out seed besides the intercourse of man and woman. Deliberately avoiding the intercourse, so that the seed drops on the ground, is double horrible. For this means that one quenches the hope of his family and kills the son, which could be expected, before he is born. This wickedness is now as severely as is possible condemned by the Spirit, through Moses, that Onan, as it were, through a violent and untimely birth, tore away the seed of his brother out the womb, and as cruel as shamefully has thrown on the earth. Moreover he thus has, as much as was in his power, tried to destroy a part of the human race. When a woman in some way drives away the seed out the womb, through aids, then this is rightly seen as an unforgivable crime. Onan was guilty of a similar crime. (Calvin’s Commentary on Genesis, vol. 2, part 16)

Martin Luther
“[T]he exceedingly foul deed of Onan, the basest of wretches . . . is a most disgraceful sin. It is far more atrocious than incest and adultery. We call it unchastity, yes, a sodomitic sin. For Onan goes in to her—that is, he lies with her and copulates—and, when it comes to the point of insemination, spills the semen, lest the woman conceive. Surely at such a time the order of nature established by God in procreation should be followed. Accordingly, it was a most disgraceful crime. . . . Consequently, he deserved to be killed by God. He committed an evil deed. Therefore, God punished him” (Luther’s Commentary on Genesis)
 While there is clear evidence that, for the large part of Christian history, contraceptive sex has been seen as immoral, one may argue (and many do) that such perspectives are archaic and do not apply to the modern world in which we live. To assess the strength of this modern objection we should consider the foundations upon which such arguments are built. Because the contraception debate is an entire series of posts in and of itself I will, for the time being, let minds better than mine make the case against contraception:

Why Contraception Is a Bad Idea #1 — Natural Law
"Contraception and Chastity" by Elizabeth Anscombe

For the purpose of this post here it is only necessary to note that for most of the Christian tradition, contraception was seen as immoral, and there are still persuasive arguments to be made against it.

An issue just as controversial (perhaps more so)  in modern Christendom is that of female ordination. Like contraception, it true that only until the last century, priests in the apostolic traditions had only been men, and this tradition continues in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions. Thus the Anglican communion has tradition working against it. However, as has been previously stated, it is theoretically possible that tradition can be wrong on such matters, and to determine whether a male only priesthood is justified it is important to consider the underlying arguments.

Proponents of female ordination seem to believe the only relevant question is whether or not women can perform equally as well the duties of the priesthood. Even Catholics and Orthodox Christians will acknowledge that from a certain perspective the answer is clearly yes. For instance, women can love Christ, parishioners, recite prayers and verses just as well as men. If factors such as these were the only requirements for the priesthood, then Catholic, Orthodox, and any other religious body restricting the priesthood to males alone would be in the wrong. However, there is a way and which women are not qualified to be priests. Simply put, they are not men. Just as only men have the necessary properties to be fathers, so to do only men have the necessary properties to be priestly fathers. This claim acknowledges the important metaphysical distinction between the masculine and feminine, which holds that there are more differences between men and women than just their physical characteristics. Peter Kreeft touches on this point in this article, stating:

Advocates of women's ordination usually misunderstand sexual symbolism because they misunderstand symbolism itself as radically as they misunderstand authority. They think of symbols as man-made and artificial. They do not see that there are profound and unchangeable natural symbols, that things can be signs. Saint Thomas Aquinas based his multiple method of scriptural exegesis on this eminently sound but tragically forgotten principle. He writes: "The author of Holy Writ is God, in whose power it is to signify His meaning, not by words only (as man also can do) but also by things themselves. So whereas in every other science things are signified by words, this science [sacred science] has the property that the things signified by the words [of Scripture] have themselves a signification. Therefore that first signification, whereby words signify things, belongs to the first sense, the historical or literal. That signification whereby things signified by words have themselves a signification is called the spiritual sense, which is based on the literal and presupposes it."
The notable C.S. Lewis continues on a similar note, stating:
Why should a woman not in this [priestly] sense represent God?... Suppose the reformer stops saying that a good woman may be like God and begins saying that God is like a good woman. Suppose he says that we might just as well pray to 'Our Mother which art in Heaven' as to 'Our Father'. Suppose he suggests that the Incarnation might just as well have taken a female as a male form, and the Second Person of the Trinity be as well called the Daughter as the Son. Suppose, finally, that the mystical marriage were reversed, that the Church were the Bridegroom and Christ the Bride. All this, as it seems to me, is involved in the claim that a woman can represent God as a priest does.... ...Christians think that God Himself has taught us how to speak of Him. To say that it does not matter is to say... that all the masculine imagery is not inspired, is merely human in origin... And this is surely intolerable: or, if tolerable, it is an argument not in favour of Christian priestesses but against Christianity.... It is also surely based on a shallow view of imagery.... ...One of the ends for which sex was created was to symbolize to us the hidden things of God. One of the functions of human marriage is to express the nature of the union between Christ and the Church.
It seems that what C.S. Lewis is touching on is exactly what is occurring in protestant Christendom. A movement that began with an idea that a male priesthood, ban on contraceptives, and sacraments are necessary disregarded a male only priesthood and contraceptive ban because these things didn't make sense to the post-enlightenment mind. This has paved the way for Christians to discard any tradition that can't be understood through the lens of modernity, even to the point where clergy are able to remain in good standing while denying the divinity of Christ or the existence of God altogether. What has replaced a Christianity that calls followers to take up their cross and suffer has been replaced with a religion of hedonism.

For more on why only men ought to be priests, see the following:
Why The Catholic Priesthood Is Composed of Dudes

I believe that the Roman Catholic Church has the best claim to truth because I believe it has best maintained the Christian tradition. I believe that the office held by the Bishop of Rome provides the best answer to the question of how true doctrine is to be known and preserved. Further, I believe along with the Roman Catholic Church that the Church should not get with the times, but that the times should conform to the Church. It is an unwavering pillar of truth in a world of relativism.

Orthodoxy has thus far maintained much good in it. It retains valid ordination, valid sacraments, and promotes virtuous behavior. However, beyond separating itself from Rome, Eastern Orthodoxy has partially succumbed to modernity by holding that, in some instances, contraception is permissible. Further, I enjoy that as a Roman Catholic Christian one has available the theological traditions of both East and West available, whereas Eastern Orthodox Christians are restricted only to the Eastern tradition.

For further reading on this subject, I recommend the following:

"Russia and the Universal Church" by Vladimir Solovyev
"An Eastern Orthodox Christian Looks West" by Timothy Flanders
"Why I left the Eastern Orthodox Church"

 I have kept this series of posts brief and have obviously left some things unsaid and unexplored. The reason for this brevity is that 1) I will explore in detail many of the points I have made in more detail as I turn to the main purpose of this blog, which is comparing the truth claims of Mormonism and Catholicism, and 2) Much of what I have said has been said before by men with much more wisdom than I. This is why I included links along with my posts, and I recommend that anyone with further questions consult these links. Further, if you have questions or objections to things I have said, please raise these concerns in the comments section.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Why only Catholicism and Mormonism: Pt. III- Why Apostolic Christianity?

One of the most common objections to Christianity, and religion in general, stems from the multitude of different faith traditions, and worse still, subsequent divisions within these respective traditions. "If there is a God who loves us," the skeptic asks, "then why does he allow such division to persist?" The short answer to this is that man has free will. God grants us the liberty to make decisions that can lead us closer to, or further from the truth even when ignorance makes us unaware of our proximity to said truth. This is why, I maintain, it is of utmost importance for individuals to become informed, considering the arguments for both sides of an issue and attempting to set their biases aside (which I discuss briefly here). Having already discussed why I believe Christianity to be true above other faith traditions I now move to explain why I believe apostolic Christianity presents the best case for being the most true of denominational models. I will first consider historical evidence, and then the case for apostolic succession stemming from practicality method, including a brief argument for why the apostolic structure is reliable.

Historical Evidence

Apostolic succession is based upon the belief that Christ, along with establishing a Church, entrusted his disciples with a power or authority to act in his name. As Matthew 16:18-19 states:

18 And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
19 And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven. (Douay-Rheims)
 This verse demonstrates that Christ gave unto Peter power to act in a special way that was previously unavailable to Peter. John 20:21-23 gives further evidence to the idea that Christ gave unto his apostles a special authority:
21 He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent me, I also send you.
22 When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost.
23 Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained. (Douay-Rheims)

Even having established that Christ gave unto his apostles a special authority to forgive sins, cast out demons, proclaim the gospel, and the like, there remain several possible objections. I will here consider the following: 1) The apostles had a special authority, but did not pass it on to successors. Therefore, no apostolic succession. 2) The authority given by Christ to the original twelve disciples is an authority that belongs to all Christians. It is the priesthood of all believers, as it is often called.

1. An argument I have heard from both Mormon and Protestants is that Christ did indeed intend to establish a priesthood authority to guide his church that would be passed from generation to generation through the laying on of hands, but this authority ended with the apostles, or soon after. Because this objection does not deny the necessity of apostolic succession it is of no concern to us at this time and will be left for a future blog post in which I discuss whether there was a loss of apostolic succession and valid authority in the early Christian Church.

2. The idea of a priesthood of all believers is popular among many Protestant and Evangelical Christians, and also, though many are unaware, a doctrine recognized apostolic churches. The question,  then, is whether there exists also an ordained priesthood consisting of individuals who have received this authority from predecessors who too held this authority. While the Bible does not explicitly use the term "apostolic succession" or present lines of succession (unless you count the list of popes in the front of some Catholic bibles) I believe there is ample evidence in both the Old and New Testaments for this belief.

First, from the Old Testament, the entirety of Israel existed as a nation of priests, similar to the modern priesthood of all Christian believers. In addition, God established an exclusive priesthood that was limited to males in the tribe of Levi, with first Aaron, brother of Moses, and then his descendants fulfilling the role of High Priest (Exodus 28:1). This exclusive priesthood held the responsibility of carrying out special rituals those outside the Levitical priesthood were strictly forbidden to perform. (Numbers 18:1-7) This Levitical priesthood is similar to the structure of modern apostolic churches with ordained deacons, priests, and bishops, who are akin to the males of the tribe of Levi, while Christ now fulfills the role of High Priest. If God saw fit to have an exclusive, hierarchical priesthood prior to and during the Coming of Christ, it at least seems fitting that an exclusive, hierarchical priesthood would continue following his departure as well. However, because the covenant was fulfilled, and the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, this priesthood would have to operate differently.

Various instances from the New Testament seem to suggest that this continuation did indeed take place. Along with the verses already mentioned above, Acts :25-26 provides the example of Matthias being called to replace Judas:
25 To take the place of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas hath by transgression fallen, that he might go to his own place.
26 And they gave them lots, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
In 1 Timothy 4:14 is presented the way in which the priesthood is given to those ordained: "Neglect not the grace that is in thee, which was given thee by prophesy, with imposition of the hands of the priesthood." In 1 Timothy 5:22, Paul councils Timothy, saying, "Impose not hands lightly upon any man, neither be partaker of other men's sins" alluding to the manner in which priestly authority is transmitted.

I think the best evidence of a hierarchical, exclusive priesthood existing in the New Testament is Titus 1:5-9, which reads as follows:

For this cause I left thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and shouldest ordain priests in every city, as I also appointed thee:
If any be without crime, the husband of one wife, having faithful children, not accused of riot, or unruly.
For a bishop must be without crime, as the steward of God: not proud, not subject to anger, not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre:
But given to hospitality, gentle, sober, just, holy, continent:
Embracing that faithful word which is according to doctrine, that he may be able to exhort in sound doctrine, and to convince the gainsayers.
It seems clear in light of these verses that those who claim that apostolic succession and an exclusive priesthood have no basis in scripture are in the wrong.

For more reading on historical evidences for apostolic authority and succession I recommend the following links:

"The Priesthood Debate" by James Akin
Apostolic Authority and Succession

Apostolic authority and succession as practical and reliable

St. Augustine is quoted as stating "I would not believe in the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church already moved me", and yet many Christians today adhere to the doctrine of "sola scriptura," a belief that one needs only (or at least primarily) the bible to know the Christian truth, and relying on a perennial tradition or Church authority is at best a secondary concern. In light of the Protestant Reformation and the years that have followed, there seem to be two obvious problems with such a view. First, while these Christians claim to give much less adherence to a tradition of biblical interpretation, dialogue with such individuals reveals they have simply replaced one authoritative tradition with another. For example, a good friend of mine self identifies as a "Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide Christian." However, he manages to quote the biblical interpretations of James Denney and RC Sproul just as often as he does the verses of the Bible. Then there are those adherents of the so-called "New Perspective on Paul," for example, who interpret the New Testament letters in a way completely at odds with the traditional Reformed interpretation of my friend. How is it, then, that we can know whose interpretation of scripture, and whose deposit of truth in general, is the most correct? Further, how do we know which books should and shouldn't comprise scriptural canon?

There are only two ways in which the correct teaching and interpretation of scripture can be demonstrably known (by which I mean able to be known by a subject and then objectively demonstrated to third parties): 1) It must be possible to establish clearly through exegesis from scripture itself and argument that one interpretation of scripture is correct above others, or 2) There must be an entity independent of scripture that possesses the ability to correctly interpret, promote, and preserve truth. This entity, too, should be able to demonstrate that it does indeed have such an ability or authority. I believe Christian history shows clearly that the first is not a feasible option. The 500 years since the advent of the Protestant Reformation has yet to put forward a cut and dry case that puts to death all but the true interpretation of scripture that stands above all others. Thus there must be some other means by which truth is taught and maintained, if we hold that such truth can be known. While positing different ways by which this is accomplished, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Anglicans, and Mormons all recognize the necessity of a continuing rule by which this truth can be proclaimed and preserved from error.

One may claim that one need only ask God directly which faith tradition is true, but how does such an individual answer those with opposing faiths who too claim to have discovered truth in the same way? One may claim that scripture itself shows us how it should be interpreted, but how does such an individual account for the various individuals adhering to the same rule who have arrived at different conclusions?

The model of apostolic succession, through which one receives authority from one who traces his priesthood back to God the Son Himself, appeals to sacred tradition along with scripture and reason, and in the case of the Roman Catholic and Mormon churches, possesses leaders that prevent the church from going into grave error seems the most reasonable of methods within Christendom for maintaining true doctrine. It has been shown that there are both historical evidences for such a model, and factors that make it seem practical. 

I think it is of utmost importance for every Christian, regardless of denomination, creed, etc. to ask themselves why they believe their truth is superior to that of other self-identifying Christians.

For further reading on the problems of "Sola Scriptura" Christianity, I recommend the following links:

"The Practical Problems of Sola Scriptura" by Jimmy Akin

"The Church is "Generally Reliable"" by Devin Rose