Was There a Great Apostasy?



Some kind of “apostasy narrative” is required to explain why a group that did not exist for nearly 2,000 years can consider itself the true expression of Christianity. Obviously, if the Church founded by Jesus did not go into apostasy, there would be no excuse to create a new group or “restore” what was “lost.” Unlike most Christian sects that attempt to locate themselves (in some form) throughout Christian history, the Mormons accept and explain their non-existence by claiming the Church founded by Jesus Christ disappeared from the Earth shortly after its creation.

I wrote previously of the problem of the Latter-day Saint (LDS or Mormon) story of a “great apostasy” of the early Church HERE. Now I would like to expose some of the errors of the primary text used by the LDS in support of such an idea: Mormon Apostle James E. Talmage’s book The Great Apostasy: Considered in the Light of Scriptural and Secular History (hereafter: “TGA”). Written in 1909, the point of Talmage’s work was to present “the evidence of the decline and final extinction of the primitive Church” as evidenced by “scriptural record and in secular history.” The reason this alleged apostasy is so important to Mormons is that it under girds their movement’s very existence. This is admitted on the very first page of TGA:

If the alleged apostasy of the primitive Church was not a reality, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not the divine institution its name proclaims. (TGA, Preface – emphasis added)

Because Mormons are taught that their founder, Joseph Smith Jr., led a restoration of true Christianity which had been lost since the deaths of the apostles. Thus, if the Christian Church did not disappear from the Earth for nearly 1,800 years, then Smith had nothing to “restore” when he started the Mormon religion.

Moreover, since this apostasy was allegedly revealed to Smith by God himself. Although expunged form several online versions, Smith said that when he prayed about which church to 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.” (JS, History, 1:19 – emphasis mine)

Thus, Mormons are committed to affirming the Great Apostasy theory – for without it, Smith’s foundational story is also false.

TGA can be outlined into three sections concerning the History (ch.s 1-3), Causes (ch.s 4-9), and Results (ch.10) of the Great Apostasy. Only the first two directly concern the defense of the view, but I will have some things to say regarding the third part as well.

The “History”of the Great Apostasy

Chapter 1: Establishment of the Church of Christ

TGA’s first chapter is a brief summary of the establishment of the LDS church. It is important to note how Talmage uses historical sources in TGA. Throughout TGA, Talmage attempts to bolster his theological theory of apostasy with historical facts. It should be noted, though, that he is extremely selective with his sources.

For example, Johann Lorenz von Mosheim, a German Lutheran born in the 17th Century, is one of the two historians regularly quoted in this entire work (cited over 40 times). Given that Protestant sects must also rely on some sort of apostasy narrative to justify their existence, it is no surprise that Talmage was able to find an early Protestant historian who thought along those lines. Mosheim’s Protestant-biased  Ecclesiastical History, however, presents an apostasy theory that is no longer supported by most Protestant thinkers. (Protestants generally do not deny the Church’s existence at any point in Christian history, even during times they consider generally apostate.)

The only other historian quoted with any frequency (about 30 times) is Joseph Milner, an Anglican reverend whose object in writing was to bring into greater prominence the bright side of church history (possibly contra Gibbon). Although Milner admits of various false teachings and schisms (but not the Church’s ability to authoritatively resolve them), he is nowhere shown to affirm the idea of a Great Apostasy.

Talmage also uses the Book of Mormon as an historical source in support of the Mormon theory of apostasy! For example, at the end of chapter one, Talmage tacks on a section titled “The Church of Christ on the Western Hemisphere” to the “Jewish” Scriptures:

We have now to consider the establishment of the Church amongst those who constituted another division of the house of Israel—a people inhabiting what is now known as the American continent. . . . the Nephite scriptures published to the world as the Book of Mormon (TGA, 1:23-24 – emphasis added)

The circularity of using the Mormon scriptures to support Mormon theology is nowhere dealt with in Talmage’s book, and I need say no more about it here.

As to the establishment of the Church, Talmage admits that,

Peter, the senior member of the apostolic council, was given a position of presidency, appears from the Savior’s special admonition and charge on the shores of the Tiberian sea (John 21:15-17). That the apostles realized that though the Master had gone He had left with them authority and command to build up the Church as an established organization, is abundantly proved by scripture. (TGA, 1:16-17 – emphasis added)

This will be important later when Talmage basically has to deny that this worked. Talmage also affirms that,

separate “churches,” were established in the outlying provinces. As such branches were organized, bishops, deacons, and other officers were chosen, and doubtless ordained by authority, to minister in local affairs (TGA, 1:20)

This admission exposes a flaw in the apostasy theory. When Jesus founded the Church on Peter, he said that it would not be overcome (Mt. 16:18 cf. Heb. 12:28). As far as I can tell, this fact is mentioned nowhere in TGA. Jesus also said the Holy Spirit would lead the apostles into all truth and they would take his teachings to the end of the world (Jn. 14:16; Mt. 28:20 cf. Col. 1:23 cf. Rom. 1:8). St. Paul later called the Church the “pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). For the Mormon apostasy theory to work, the Church (headed by authoritatively ordained Bishops) would have had to fail almost immediately.

What, then, of Jesus’ promises? The answer to that question is made clear in the next chapter.

Chapter 2: The Apostasy Predicted

The Nature of the Great Apostasy

Talmage begins with a question concerning the continued existence of the Church:

A question of the utmost importance is: Has the Church of Christ, thus authoritatively established, maintained an organized existence upon the earth from the apostolic age to the present? Other questions are suggested by the first. If the Church has continued as an earthly organization, where lies the proof or evidence of legitimate succession in priestly authority, and which among the multitude of contending sects or churches of the present day is the actual possessor of the holy priesthood originally committed to the Church by the Christ, its founder? (TGA, 2:2 – emphasis added)

Unsurprisingly, Talmage answers in the negative:

We affirm that with the passing of the so-called apostolic age the Church gradually drifted into a condition of apostasy, whereby succession in the priesthood was broken; and that the Church, as an earthly organization operating under divine direction and having authority to officiate in spiritual ordinances, ceased to exist. (TGA, 2:4 – emphasis added)

It is very important to note here that the Great Apostasy = the Church’s non-existence. Thus, any attempt to “soft-sell” the Great Apostasy as teaching that only some parts of the Church went into apostasy is illegitimate. For the Mormon, the Church ceased to exist.

Talmage is not unaware of the problem of reconciling this position with Jesus’ promises regarding the Church. He asks,

Is the fact of the great apostasy,—the virtual overthrow and destruction of the Church established by Jesus Christ,—to be regarded as  an instance of failure in the Lord’s plans? Is it a case of defeat in which Satan was victor over Christ? (TGA, 2:11 – emphasis added)

His answer completely misses the point:

Consider the following. What mortal has yet measured the standard by which Omniscience gages [sic] success or failure? Who dares affirm that what man hails as triumph or deplores as defeat will be so accounted when tested by the principles of eternal reckoning?  (TGA, 2:11 – emphasis added)

This pious-sounding response is hardly sufficient. For while we may not know the Lord’s plans, we do know his words: “the gates of hell shall not overcome it.” It is difficult to see the Church’s ceasing-to-exist would be anything less than being overcome!

The biggest weakness of TGA is Talmage’s constant confusion of two different notions of apostasy that he himself lays out. He divides the concept of apostasy into two categories:

In our study of the predictions of the apostasy as embodied in scripture and of their realization as attested by later history, we shall recognize two distinct phases or stages of the progressive falling away as follows: (1) Apostasy from the Church; and (2) The apostasy of the Church. In the first stage we have to deal with the forsaking of the truth and severance from the Church by individuals, at times few, at other times many. Such conditions can scarcely be considered otherwise than as natural and inevitable. . . . In the second of the two stages. . . we find the Church sinking to the degraded level of a human institution, with plan of organization and mode of operation foreign to the constitution of the original, without priesthood or authority to officiate in spiritual ordinances, and devoid of the gifts and graces with which the Savior endowed His Church at the time of its establishment. In short, we find the Church itself apostate . . .(TGA, 2:16-18 – emphasis added)

It is very important to keep this legitimate distinction in mind: the Great Apostasy must, by Talmage’s own admission, be more than merely a collection of individuals falling away form the faith. Yet most of the evidence throughout throughout TGA proves only that individuals apostatized. Talmage claims that,

the great apostasy was foretold by the Savior Himself while He lived as a Man among men, and by His inspired prophets both before and after the period of His earthly probation. And further, we  affirm that a rational interpretation of history demonstrates the fact of this great and general apostasy. (TGA. 2:6 – emphasis added)

As will be shown, however, if one excludes circular Mormon sources and Talmage’s commentary about the historical evidence he presents, his case is never made. There is not one piece of evidence offered in the entire book – nor any when considered together – that demonstrates his thesis. This will be seen as we move through the book below.

Specific Predictions of the Great Apostasy

An Old Testament Verse

Talmage’s first evidence for the Great Apostasy is biblical prophecy. He begins with Isaiah 24:1-6, which says among other things that, “the LORD will empty the earth and make it desolate, and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants. . . The earth shall be utterly empty and utterly plundered; . . . The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. 6 Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched, and few men are left.” Did any of this happen in the last two millennia? If this passage is supposed to be taken figuratively, how would Talmage be sure what it applied to – why think this is the New Covenant?

Talmage warns that, “It may be thought that this prophecy has reference to a violation of the law of Moses under which ancient Israel lived. Let it be remembered, however, that the Mosaic law is nowhere called an everlasting covenant.” But this begs the question – there are other covenants in the Old Testament, and some are called “everlasting ” as well. For example the Noahic Covenant is called everlasting in Genesis 9:16, as is the Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis 17:7, 13, 19. The Davidic Covenant is called everlasting in Isaiah 55:3 as well. Finally, even if it is the New Covenant Isaiah is referring to (which is doubtful), it was expressed as being the salvation of Israel (Jer. 31:31), and Israel turned from the New Covenant in the first century without the Church following suit (Acts 2 cf. Rom. 9). Talmage next turns to Amos 8, which I deal with in Mormonism and the Apostasy Narrative.

And that’s it for the Old Testament.

New Testament Verses

The next alleged prediction of this Great Apostasy comes from Matthew 24. The problem here is that this passage was fulfilled by A.D. 70 – within the generation Jesus predicted (Mt. 24:34 – a fact that Talmage admits in footnote 4 and which Mormons have exploited when trying to justify Smith’s failed prophecy in D&C 84:2-4). Other NT verses are cited (Acts 20:29-30, 2 Thess. 1:2-14; 1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Timothy 4:1-4; 2 peter 2:1-3; Jude 17-18; Rev. 13) – each so general as to be fulfillable by individual apostates (which, remember Talmage does not count as being the Great Apostasy). I deal with several of these in  Mormonism and the Apostasy Narrative.

Finally, Talmage cites Revelation 14:6-7 and claims that,

While it is true that the scripture last quoted does not specifically predict the apostasy, the breaking up of the Church is treated as an event actually accomplished. . . . It is illogical to assume that the gospel was to be brought to earth by a heavenly messenger if that gospel was still extant upon the earth.  (TGA, 2:35-36)

Talmage concludes:

Equally unreasonable is it to say that a restoration or re-establishment of the Church of Christ would be necessary or possible had the Church continued with rightful succession of priesthood and power. If the gospel had to be brought again from the heavens, the gospel must have been taken from the earth. Thus the prophecy of a restoration is proof of an apostasy general and complete. (TGA, 2:36- emphasis added)

This is not illogical at all, nor is it proof of a restoration (the word is not used anywhere in the text). The gospel is brought to the world in many ways (Paul himself was visited and taught the Gospel by Jesus even while Jesus’ apostles were working nearby), the fact that an angel does it here is no proof of apostasy. Further, Mormons identify this angelic visit as that of Moroni to Joseph Smith alone – which hardly counts as “the earth . . .every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.”

The rest just of Talmage’s “evidence” comes from the Book of Mormon.

Chapter 3: Early Stages of the Apostasy

After reiterating his confident conclusion, Talmage then attempts to marshal historical evidence of the Great Apostasy.

New Testament Verses

From certain utterances of the early-day apostles it is made plain to us that the great “falling away” had begun even while those apostles were living.. . .  Scarcely had the gospel seed been committed to the soil before the enemy came, and by night sowed tares amongst the wheat; (TGA, 3:2)

Note here that it is only a “beginning” that is being claimed, but – and this cannot be repeated enough, apparently – by Talmage’s own admission, evidence for individual apostasy is not evidence of the Great Apostasy. In fact, this truth is implied in the very proverb Talmage refers to in this passage. Note that when tares arise in the field, Jesus says to leave them be – for they will grow together until the end (Mt. 13:30)! A total apostasy would be pictured as the tares completely replacing the wheat of the field.

Talmage then turns to Galatians 1:6-9, claiming that,

“the churches of Galatia” were in danger of falling. They were embroiled in a discussion as to whether they were bound by certain requirements of the law of Moses, notably that respecting circumcision. . . .  We have here indication of the effort so persisted in even by those who had joined the Church, to modify and change the simple requirements of the gospel by introducing  the elements of Judaism. . . . this had been settled by their prayerful efforts to learn the Lord’s will in the matter; ” (TGA, 3:5)

First, this is just another instance of certain persons perverting the gospel – not a Great Apostasy. Moreover, this was a live debate at the time – one that was settle dby an authoritative council by the appointed leaders of the Church (Acts 15) – not “prayerful efforts to learn the Lord’s will in the matter.” These same sorts of councils also determined the orthodox creeds Mormons reject as well as the contents of the Bible they accept.

Talmage goes on listing other instances of individual false teachers (e.g., 2 Thessalonians and 2 Timothy) that also do not count toward evidence of a Great Apostasy. Then he makes this startling claim:

Prominent among the early perverters of the Christian faith were those who assailed its simplicity and lack of exclusiveness. This simplicity was so different from the mysteries of Judaism and the mysterious rites of heathen idolatry as to be disappointing to many; and the earliest changes in the Christian form of worship were marked by the introduction of mystic ceremonies. (TGA, 3:9)

I’m sorry – but did a Mormon just complain about a complicated gospel, exclusivity, and mysterious ceremonies? Wow. Talmage then turns to Revelation. He sees the fact that John was asked to write to seven churches as meaning that there were only seven left:

During the banishment of John the Revelator on the Isle of Patmos, when nearly all the apostles had been taken from the earth, many of them having suffered martyrdom, the apostasy was so widespread that only seven “churches,” i. e., branches of the Church, remained in such condition as to be considered deserving of the special communication John was instructed to give. (TGA, 3:13)

The Bible indicates no such thing. Like much of Talmage’s “proof,” this is not history, it is theological speculation. It is far more likely that, like most other numbers in Revelation, it is symbolic of ALL of them. John calls his work “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass . . . and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John . . . to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne” (Rev. 1:1-4).

An Early Church Father

Talmage then bravely turns to the early Church in search of support for his apostasy theory. He writes,

The testimony of the early “Christian fathers” who wrote in the period immediately following the passing of the apostles, is to the same effect.  (TGA, 3:15)

Talmage cites exactly one Church Father to back up this outrageous claim: Hegesippus, whose works are lost save eight passages quoted by Eusebius (who tells us that he wrote concerning the tradition of the Apostolic preaching and appealed principally to tradition as embodied in the teaching which had been handed down through the succession of bishops). What did Hegesippus write that Talmage thinks confirms his apostasy theory? Simply this:

the Church continued until then as a pure and uncorrupt virgin;whilst if there were any at all that attempted to pervert the sound doctrine of the saving gospel, they were yet skulking in dark retreats; but when the sacred choir of apostles became extinct, and the generation of those that had been privileged to hear their inspired wisdom had passed away, then also the combinations of impious error arose by the fraud and delusions of false teachers. These also, as there were none of the apostles left, henceforth attempted, without shame to preach their false doctrine against the gospel of truth.”(Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book III, chapter 32.)

At worst, Hegesippus was saying the Church was beset by false teachers just as it had been in Galatia, Corinth, Laodicea, etc. No one disagrees that this was the case – but, for reasons already listed above, it does not help Talmage’s case one bit.

Talmage would have been better off skipping this “section.” Had he actually followed the writings of the early Church he would have had to admit that the last living apostle, John, is thought to have died in the early 2nd Century when Clement of Rome (a disciple of Peter) was teaching apostolic succession and Ignatius of Antioch (who was martyred sometime between A.D. 98 and 117) was commanding Christians to “follow, all of you, the bishop, as Jesus Christ followed the Father; and follow the presbytery as the Apostles,” and, “wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be, even as wheresoever Christ Jesus is, there is the catholic church. (To the Smyrnaeans, VIII). Talmage might have also noted that when Irenaeus – who was Polycarp’s (John’s disciple) student – faced the Gnostic heretics in the second century, he listed the succession of bishops in Rome to combat their claim that the Gnostic teaching was in line with the historical Church (Against Heresies, 3.3).

The rest of TGA expounds on Talmage’s views of the causes and results of the Great Apostasy. Given that he has failed to make his case concerning the fact of the Great Apostasy, these can be dealt with in a more summary fashion.

The Causes of the Apostasy

Chapters 4-5: External Causes of the Apostasy

In chapter 4 Talmage lists persecution first as an external cause of apostasy. He first reiterates that the Great Apostasy resulted in the Church’s non-existence:

It is a matter of history, undisputed and indisputable, that from the time of its inception to that of its actual cessation, the Church established by Jesus Christ was the object of bitter persecution, and the victim of violence. (TGA, 4:3 – emphasis added)

As noted above, this conclusion is completely unwarranted base don the evidence Talmage provides. What follows is simply Talmage’s speculation that Jewish (ch. 4) and pagan (ch. 5) persecution caused the Church to fall away. His historical summaries are all moot without these speculations in place.

One footnote is worth mentioning, however. Talmage notes of persecution in different “dispensations” that,

The permanency of the Latter-day Church has been not less surely predicted than was the temporary duration of the Primitive Church. Satan was given power to overcome the saints in former days, and the persecutions he waged against them and the officers of the Church contributed to his passing success. It has been decreed that he shall not have power to destroy the Church in the last dispensation, and his persecution of the saints today will be futile as a means of bringing about a general apostasy in these latter times. (TGA 4:fn1 – emphasis mine)

Besides contradicting Jesus’ promises concerning the Church above, Talmage’s method can be used against him here. If it is the case that fallen-away Christians constitute a Great Apostasy, then the existence of Mormon sects like the RLDS or FLDS or Jack Mormons should count as evidence of an LDS Great Apostasy.

At the end of Chapter 5, Talmage concludes,

how different was the Church under the patronage of Constantine from the Church as established by Christ and as built up by His apostles! The Church had already become apostate as judged by the standard of its original constitution. (TGA, 5:24)

It is important to note that the Great Apostasy – the apostasy of the Church, resulting in its non-existence – is said to have occurred by the mid-4th century. This is interesting, as basically the whole of Christian orthodoxy and the biblical canon were yet to be determined. Mormons, therefore, are free to reject all of the Church’s standards of orthodoxy. They must do this, of course, in order to claim adherence to original Christianity when their distinct doctrines are nowhere to be found amongst it. The additional fact that Mormons accept the New Testament canon produced by this “non-existent” Church (not to mention the Protestant Old Testament canon that would not come about for another 1,200 years!) shows how incoherent this idea is.

Chapters 6-9: Internal Causes of the Apostasy

Chapter 6 is a mixed bag of historical facts and commentary – some form Talmage, some from Milner or the anti-Christian historian Gibbon. Christians who failed to remain steadfast in the face of death, and others who succumbed to poor moral conditions are listed, but the required doctrinal destruction of the Church is not found.

Chapter 7 is essentially a summary of various heresies that developed over time. Of course, they were heresies identified by the Church authorized to make such a judgment (a fact which does not help Talmage’s thesis in the least). Talmage makes an interesting slip when he notes that, “We shall consider therefore only the most important of the dissensions by which the Church was troubled.” His list includes post-Constantinian “dissensions which troubled the Church” (TGA 7:14) – but an apostate (i.e., non-existent) Church is hardly troubled by apostasy!

Another common feature of this and other forms of anti-traditionalism is the tired claim that some theological position was “rooted in pagan philosophy.” While various responses have been given by different thinkers in the Christian community, it cannot be denied that virtually any belief can be said to have early philosophic foundations. In fact, some of the heresies Talmage lists sound quite Mormon! (E.g., the Gnostic belief in “the prolific union of these two beings, others arose, which were also followed by succeeding generations; so that in process of time a celestial family was formed in the Pleroma” or the “early Platonics held that unorganized matter has existed from all eternity” – see TGA 7:6 and 11).

The rest of the chapter engages in theological question-begging wherein Talmage identifies any doctrine with which Mormons are in disagreement as further evidence of the Church’s apostasy.

Chapter 8 is more of the same, focusing more on sacramental theology and making the same theological and historical mistakes most people do when making the attempt. One interesting problem is raised with regard to baptism, though. He introduces the subject by saying that, “baptism is essential to salvation calls for no demonstration here; this has been generally held by the Christian Church in both ancient and modern times” (TGA 8:9). he goes on to attack the Church for changing baptism’s mode or timing etc., but what he does not mention is that if the Church was apostate, then no valid baptisms even could be performed. And if baptism is required for salvation, then no one was saved for about 1,500 years!

Ironically, Talmage then devotes an entire section of this chapter to “Changes in the Ordinance of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.” Now, whatever disagreements Talmage might have over the Communion meal, it is noteworthy that Mormons substitute water for wine. Any complaints that follow such a dramatic change seem to be special pleading! A very telling admission comes in at the end of the chapter in footnote 6. Talmage agrees that, “There can be no doubt as to the antiquity of the idea of the real presence of the body and blood of Jesus in the eucharist; but that proves—as we said of infant baptism—not that the doctrine is true, but that soon after the apostles had passed away, the simplicity of the gospel was corrupted or else entirely departed from.” Apparently whether a doctrine is early or late it counts as evidence of apostasy!

Chapter 9 focuses on Church government and its relation to the state. As above, much of what follows is theological not historical in nature.

As one can see, the evidence in these chapters depends on the Mormons being right in order to count as proof that Mormonism is right. Without Talmage’s continued commentary on historical events, and question-begging assessments of Church theology, there is little help for his theory offered. Further, there is a decidedly western focus through all of this material – as if the Great Apostasy just is the history of Roman Catholicism. Talmage concludes that,

This apostasy, all the concurrent marks and characters will justify us in charging upon the church of Rome.” (TGA, 9:fn4)

One must ask, though – even if it were so that the Roman Catholic Church was an utter flop, what about the Eastern Orthodox or non-Roman rite Catholics? It is at least theoretically possible that the entire West went into apostasy, leaving the East untouched. Without accounting for this fact, Talmage’s thesis fails. As we will see, the western-focused treatment of the history of the Church continues in the third and last section of TGA.

The Results of the Apostasy

Chapter 10

The final section of TGA looks at Church history from the Reformation era forward. After several paragrpahs of basic history, Talmage notes that,

Many theologians who profess a belief in Christianity have declared the fact. Thus we read: “We must not expect to see the Church of Christ existing in its perfection on the earth. It is not to be found thus perfect, either in the collected fragments of Christendom or still less in any one of those fragments.” (Smith’s “Dictionary of the Bible.”)  (TGA 10:27)

First, “imperfection” is hardly an admission of apostasy or extinction! Second, the fact that a few Protestants thought the Church to have gone awry (but not completely, nor ever out of existence) is no surprise. Protestants, too, need an explanation for their existence and some kind of apostasy narrative fits the bill. As usual, the best Talmage can do is find evidence for his “category one” apostasy (apostasy from the Church) that he admitted does not count as evidence for his “category two” apostasy (apostasy of the Church),

Talmage finishes his work with a self-congratulatory “Sequel” to the Great Apostasy: the rise of Joseph Smith, Jr.and the Latter-day Saints. He describes this event as being  “when the Father and the Son manifested themselves to man, and when the Holy Priesthood with all its powers and authority was again brought to earth.”


It is worth repeating the importance of The Great Apostasy to the Mormon religion:

If the alleged apostasy of the primitive Church was not a reality, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not the divine institution its name proclaims. (TGA, Preface)

Chapters 2 and 3 of TGA constitute the main body of evidence Talmage musters as proof of the Great Apostasy of the Church. As noted in the beginning, not one of them consitutes proof of “the Church sinking to the degraded level of a human institution, with plan of organization and mode of operation foreign to the constitution of the original, without priesthood or authority to officiate in spiritual ordinances, and devoid of the gifts and graces with which the Savior endowed His Church at the time of its establishment,” thus, we do not “find the Church itself apostate.”

All the historical evidence proves is something with which any student of Christian history will agree upon: that there have been a “forsaking of the truth and severance from the Church by individuals, at times few, at other times many,” and all can agree with Talmage that, “such conditions can scarcely be considered otherwise than as natural and inevitable” (TGA, 2:16-18). These minor apostasies from the Church actually serve as the exceptions that prove the rule that there is no apostasy of the Church. Just as Jesus predicted, tares have grown up with the wheat – but the field has not been overcome!

Without  the support of Talmage’s question-begging commentaries and theology, nothing in the entirety of The Great Apostasy proves that the Great Apostasy ever occurred, and some of it lends support to the exact opposite. The biblical predictions and historical facts offered as evidence of the Great Apostasy only show what all agree upon: that there have been individuals and groups throughout history who have apostatized from Christianity. By Talmage’s own admission, such apostasies from the Church do not constitute an apostasy of the Church. Since Talmage’s work remains the most robust defense of the latter, Mormonism itself appears to simply be just another example of the former.


10 thoughts on “Was There a Great Apostasy?

  1. Pingback: Mormonism and the Apostasy Narrative | Soul Device

  2. It’s not just the Mormons. It’s the anabaptists as well, particularly the International Churches of Christ, of which I was a part of. We were restorationists like the Mormons.

  3. I agree with Mr. Davis. An examination of Talmage might be somewhat useful when examining development over time, but given recent scholarship, critiquing Talmage is really rather pointless. It is not necessarily that the overall élan has changed since Tamlage, but the scholarship has advanced considerably, and I am not referring to Mormon scholarship, but Biblical era scholarship in general. Mormons can, and do, find ample evidentiary support in scholarship that states that the actual message of Christ had little to do with the later churches that sprung up afterwords, though those same scholars may not believe in the divinity of Jesus at all is really rather secondary.

  4. Christian Piper,

    I was asked to read Talmage and I did. I was not purporting to have settled the question. If you have some recent sources worth reading I’d be happy to see them too.

  5. Pingback: mid-week apologetics booster (10-9-2014) « 1 Peter 4:12-16

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