More Ancient Than the New Testament

Someone made this comment: I was listening to an interview in which you were talking about the current LDS church being like the New Testament church, as opposed to being like a much older patriarchal religion. I don’t see the difference between the two. On my mission, a woman related the following story:  Her brother had served his mission in Italy and on a p-day, while participating in some tourism activities, they toured an ancient Roman Catholic cathedral which had some fascinating murals on the walls. This missionary was amazed by the murals, took pictures, and she showed me copies. I requested copies of the pictures which she gave to me. They were pictures of paintings of people wearing robes which were unmistakably temple robes, the most amazing painting was depicting the veil in a temple. The temple robes were different from what we wear today in some respects, but with enough similarities there was no mistaking them. They had similar hats to what the men wear and they had the fig shaped aprons and most tellingly, they had symbols of the compass and the square. The painting of the temple depicted several posts covered by the veil between the posts. One of the posts had a little mallet hanging down and a hand sticking out between the curtain and the post. According to the story, the missionary asked the priest about the paintings and the priest could tell him nothing other than they were old paintings. The missionary knew better, as did I and anyone else who had ever been inside a modern temple.”
My response: Read Nibley’s book Temple and Cosmos and you’ll probably see these ancient paintings, murals and mosaics. He has gathered together some interesting material. Val Brinkerhoff’s two volume set The Day Star also gathers together a good deal of photographic material showing the antiquity of the temple themes and ceremonies. There is no question there are temple rites restored through Joseph Smith that relate to antiquity, and not merely to updating and correcting Masonic-inspired innovations.There was a liturgical return to antiquity in the post-New Testament era which many believe was grounded either in secret teachings of Christ during His ministry, or developed in His post-resurrection forty-day ministry.
However, in the case of the Restoration, had Joseph finished his work, there was something more coming. That is the issue I was referring to in the podcast. Look at Facsimile No. 2, Explanatory notes numbers 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21. You’ll see there was more to come. Take a look at the TPJS, also, and you will find Joseph intended for something more than the New Testament era religion. His work was intended to bring back the very religion of the first man. This was to be more than merely a church, but “this is a new and an everlasting covenant, even that which was from the beginning.” (D&C 22: 1.) 
You can also look at Margaret Barker’s work such as The Older Testament, The Great High Priest, The Great Angel, Temple Theology, The Lost Prophet, Hidden Tradition, and Temple Mysticism and you will find a Protestant scholar whose thesis is that Christ was restoring the older faith, not creating a new one. Her work has so impressed Mormon scholars that she has been invited and spoken at BYU, in addition to presenting at the Smithsonian Conference on the Bicentennial of Joseph Smith.

Margaret Barker’s writings suggest there was some very ancient covenant, along with an ancient priesthood that Christ was returning to the earth through His ministry. The New Testament church was not the objective of either Christ or Joseph Smith. Both were engaged in returning “that which was from the beginning.”

Joseph’s restored Temple rites are set in Eden. The quest to find God runs through the earliest contact between God and man involving the experience of the first man, Adam and his wife, Eve. They lived in God’s presence at the beginning and the Temple message is that we must return there. Our quest is not to stop with a partial return, but a complete return to the beginning.

We tend to think we “have it all” and we got it from Joseph Smith. We have a New Testament church which is by far better than any other form of Christian organization, Catholic or Protestant. We tend to think that was the object the Lord had in mind when Joseph was spoken to from heaven. Then we claim to have preserved it perfectly from then until now. I’m suggesting two things: First, Joseph may not have given us everything because he died before the Nauvoo Temple was completed. The Lord’s planned visit there did not happen. We got a lot, to be sure. Whether we have “that which was from the beginning” in the full panoply of what may have been received had the Lord come to restore the fullness in the completed Nauvoo Temple remains an interesting matter worth at least contemplating. Second, we may not have perfectly preserved what we were given. After the November 1845 to February 1846 endowments ended, the endowment was not performed again until 1855. It was not reduced to writing until the 1870’s. Several of the church leaders remarked at how surprised they were at how much Brigham Young could remember. That does not mean it was perfectly preserved, only that the volume of recalled material was surprising to them.
You are free to believe as you choose. You can presume the restoration was intended to deliver a replica of the New Testament church. We got that. If that was the objective, I would not dispute it was accomplished. However,  I ask the question of whether the purpose was to reach back much further, and has yet to be accomplished. Will the time come when the restoration will have a look and feel rather more like the days of Noah than like the New Testament? I think if Christ knew what He was talking about then this is likely to be the case. I am of the view that there are many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of Heaven which He has yet to reveal. (See, e.g., Article of Faith 9.)

I think the path to God will run back to the very beginning. It will involve a return to the the original, paradisaical glory which was Eden. Zion is connected to that very return. (See, e.g., Article of Faith 10.)

This is why I made the remark. It is my view, and certainly not the view of many others. You are in very good company if you think otherwise. We are, after all, allowed to believe according to the dictates of our own conscience, and are free to exercise that privilege according to how we each understand God’s will and intentions. (See, e.g., Article of Faith 11.) 

I like the idea that if an idea troubles you, then set it aside. It is either true or not true, and you are not yet in a position to comprehend it. Either way, it is not for you. Since we are all in the search to find our salvation before God, I trust God will deal with each of us in His patient, benign way and the truth will unfold before each sincere seeker. Until God in His wisdom makes a matter clear, no one should presume they can rush another person into accepting it.

I also believe the Lord will not leave the sincere seeker uninformed. He will not answer one person and deny another if they both ask and do so in sincerity willing to accept the answer. Any person who comes before God acknowledging He is a God of truth and cannot lie will learn the truth from Him. (Ether 3: 12.) That also means if you are not willing to accept truth from Him, but require Him to meet you standard then there is really no point for Him to clarify things for you.

I am personally satisfied that the objective of returning to the most ancient, original faith, both was and is the purpose of Joseph Smith’s calling. And that objective remains an unfinished work. It will finish, I think coincidentally with establishing Zion.