Early Christianity | BYU Studies

Early Christianity

Understanding Christian Baptism through the Book of Mormon

Early Christianity saw a wide proliferation of theories and practices concerning baptism, and now many Christians, including Mormons, commonly understand it as a means to repent and wash away one's sins. But the Book of Mormon prophets taught that baptism is a covenant and a witnessing to God that one has already repented and commits to follow Jesus Christ, and that sins are remitted by the Holy... Read more

"With the Voice Together Shall They Sing"

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) believe that in their temples, as they make covenants with God and participate in worship, they are restoring ancient practices that were lost over the centuries. Mormons have participated with people of other religions in the scholarly study of the meaning and effect of temples in history and in modern worship. This article by... Read more

Clothed Upon: A Unique Aspect of Christian Antiquity

Blake T. Ostler
Ancient texts such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Nag Hammadi codices, the pseudepigrapha, and Rabbinic and early Christian literature have much to say about the ritual significance of sacred vestments. The symbolism of donning sacred vestments, of putting on a garment in a ritual context, assumes a plan of salvation that acknowledges certain conditions necessary to obtain certain blessings. The... Read more

The Early Christian Prayer Circle

Hugh W. Nibley
The nature of the early Christian prayer circle may be described by letting the oldest documents speak for themselves, beginning with the latest and moving backwards to the earliest. The rite was depicted for the last time in a document read to the assembled churchmen of the Second Council of Nicaea in A.D. 787 and condemned by them to the flames. Their objection was to parts of the text that... Read more

Rediscovering Ancient Christianity

When materials purporting to be Christian in authorship or content are recovered from the past, one is faced with the difficulty of determining whether they formed an authentic part of early Christianity or were deviations from it. The resulting judgments concerning the value of such discoveries may be quite different to traditional Christians and members of the restored Church. Before evaluating... Read more

The Noncanonical Sayings of Jesus

Stephen E. Robinson
In 1889 a German scholar named Alfred Resch caused a minor stir in the world of biblical scholarship with the publication of his book Agrapha: Aussercanonische Evangelienfragmente (Agrapha: Extracanonical gospel fragments). For his book, Resch had drawn together and classified, from patristic authors, variant readings of New Testament manuscripts, apocryphal books, and elsewhere literally... Read more

A Historical Sketch of Galilee

Andrew C. Skinner
By the first century A.D., much of Palestine, the area known to the Israelites as the "land of promise," was divided under the Romans into five areas of provincial or semiprovincial status: Galilee, Idumea, Judea, Perea, and Samaria. Only Judea was overwhelmingly Jewish, while the other provinces, although mostly Jewish, also supported mixed populations of Jews, Greeks, and Syrians. This ethnic... Read more

The "Hymn of the Pearl": An Ancient Counterpart to "O My Father"

James V. GarrisonJohn W. Welch
One of the most endearing writings found in early Christianity is known as the "Hymn of the Pearl." This text has immediate appeal to readers of all levels and resonates a beautiful message of a soul's journey from a premortal home, through mortality, and back to heavenly parents. To this extent, the poem can be seen as an early Christian counterpart to the early Latter-day Saint hymn "O My... Read more

The Apocalypse of Adam

Stephen E. Robinson
In most forms of Gnosticism secret oral tradition is often associated with accounts of the creation of the world, the experiences of Adam and Eve in the Garden, and the fall of man. It is usually in this creation setting or in a temple or on a mountaintop that Gnosticism places the revelation of the esoteric mysteries and the knowledge needed to thwart the archontic powers and return to God... Read more

The Apocalypse of Peter: Introduction and Translation

S. Kent BrownC. Wilfred Griggs
The Apocalypse of Peter is one of the fifty-three religious treatises which comprise the Coptic Gnostic Library of Nag Hammadi. This collection of texts was discovered by Egyptian peasants about 1946 near the modern village of Chenoboskion, Egypt, just across the Nile from the town of Nag Hammadi. This introduction to the Apocalypse of Peter explains how it and other Coptic texts make up a... Read more

The Passing of the Church: Forty Variations on an Unpopular Theme

Hugh W. Nibley
In this article, Nibley brings up the seldom-discussed idea that Christ's true Church did not survive after the deaths of his Apostles. He supports this idea with the expectations of the early Christians regarding its fate; as Jesus had already told them his gospel would be rejected by all men, their strange behavior considering this expected Apostasy was due to an assumption that the gospel was... Read more

The Fruit of the Vine: Wine at Masada and in the New Testament

Jo Ann H. Seely
Blessed art Thou, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe who created sweet wine, good must from grapevines, that is pleasing to a person and good for man, that gladdens the heart and makes the face shine. It is consolation to mourners, and those of bitter spirit forget their misery. It is medicine to all who drink it. (to him who drinks it sensibly). It is heart's joy, gladness, and great delight... Read more

Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin: Languages of New Testament Judea

Roger T. Macfarlane
A trilingual inscription placed by Pontius Pilate upon the cross proclaimed "Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews." This titulus was able to be read by many of the Jews, John says, not only because of Golgatha's proximity to the city, but also because the text was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Pilate's declaration addressed the multilingual population of Jerusalem, both its residents and... Read more

Coins in the New Testament

Nanci DeBloois
The coins found at Masada—Ptolemaic, Seleucid, Herodian, Roman, Jewish, Tyrian, Nabatean, etc.—testify not only of the changing fortunes of Judea, but also of the variety of coins circulating in that and neighboring countries during this time. Such diversity generates some difficulty in identifying the coins mentioned in the New Testament. Since the beginnings of coinage in the seventh or sixth... Read more

Gammadia on Early Jewish and Christian Garments

John W. WelchClaire Foley
Among the textile fragments excavated at Masada were the remains of pieces of fabric with L-shaped cloth markings affixed to them. Dating to before A.D. 73, these are among the very earliest known examples of such marked garments. Among the textile fragments excavated at Masada were the remains of pieces of fabric with L-shaped cloth markings affixed to them. Dating to before A.D. 73, these are... Read more

The Priestly Tithe in the First Century A.D.

John A. Tvedtnes
Among the artifacts uncovered during the archaeological excavation at Masada was a terra-cotta pot with these words written on it: ma c aser kôhe¯n, "priestly tithe." It is reminiscent of a Herodian-period stone vessel fragment unearthed near the temple mount in Jerusalem, inscribed with the word qorban, "sacrifice." The Herodian vessel fragment also depicts two birds, perhaps indicating that it... Read more

The Masada Fragments, the Qumran Scrolls, and the New Testament

David R. Seely
In the years 1947–56, eleven caves in the vicinity of the ruins at Qumran produced over eight hundred documents. Yigael Yadin, who would eventually excavate Masada, was closely connected with the discovery of the Qumran Scrolls. Following the dramatic finds at Qumran, Israeli scholars organized in 1960 a systematic search in the caves to the south of Qumran, looking for any further manuscripts... Read more

Ex Nihilo: The Development of the Doctrines of God and Creation in Early Christianity

Keith E. Norman
Joseph Smith taught that the first principle of revealed religion is to know for a certainty the character of God, and his reaffirmation of Deity as the loving, personal Father of the scriptures stands in conspicuous contrast to the confusion and obscurity of traditional and modern theologies. Just as the orthodox doctrine of an incomprehensible God who creates ex nihilo is clearly odds with the... Read more

The Narrative of Zosimus and the Book of Mormon

John W. Welch
This article demonstrates certain similarities existing between texts in 1 Nephi in the Book Mormon and a little-known document entitled "The Narrative of Zosimus." The Narrative's core material was written originally in Hebrew and appears to be at least as old as the time of Christ, and perhaps much older. There is no evidence that any knowledge about the Narrative of Zosimus existed in any... Read more