12. The Process of Apostasy in the New Testament and the Book of Mormon

By Daniel L. Belnap

Daniel Belnap, “The Process of Apostasy in the New Testament and the Book of Mormon,” Shedding Light on the New Testament: Acts–Revelation, ed. Ray L. Huntington, Frank F. Judd Jr., and David M. Whitchurch (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2009), 247–70.

The Process of Apostasy in the New Testament and the​ Book of Mormon

Daniel Belnap

Daniel Belnap is an assistant professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University.

One of the salient concepts in the New Testament for Latter-day Saints, particularly in those texts following the four Gospels, is the emerging scene of apostasy within the primitive Church. Though the Greek term apostasia is only used in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, the word apostasy has become the common expression used by members of the Latter-day Saint faith to describe the period of time in which gospel principles and priesthood authority were gradually lost in the early Church. The word literally means “to desist” or “to remove oneself,” and in contexts outside of the New Testament even “contention” or “political revolt.”[1] The writings of Paul, Peter, and John suggest that such separations were ongoing in the Church even while they struggled to teach true gospel principles to the members.

Though this volume is concerned with the doctrines and teachings of the New Testament following the Gospels and insights into these texts garnered from the Book of Mormon, this study concerning apostasy begins with a dialogue between Christ and His disciples before His crucifixion. Following their request for information about the impending destruction of Jerusalem and the events surrounding the Second Coming, Christ responds in this manner: “Take heed that no man deceive you; for many shall come in my name, saying—I am Christ—and shall deceive many; then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you, and ye shall be hated of all nations, for my name’s sake; and then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another” (Joseph Smith—Matthew 24:5–8).

 In the above reference, Christ provides the reader a template of events by which one can understand apostasy: deception by false Christs, offense taken by the members, betrayal by member against member, and eventually hatred towards other members. The elements of this pattern are found in the writings of Paul, Peter, and John, and when identified in their letters to the early Church, the ongoing apostasy is revealed. The Book of Mormon also depicts these elements and enhances our understanding of them by describing the full consequences of the elements within Nephite society. Finally, the pattern suggests the solution to the threat of apostasy; thus, recognizing the solution in the letters of the New Testament and the unique perspective that the Book of Mormon provides concerning the solution allows us to prevail over the threat of apostasy today.

“Many Shall Come . . . a​nd Shall Deceive Many”

The first element of this process is the warning of false Christs. The writers of the different New Testament texts use two terms to refer to these deceptive individuals. The first of these, pseudochristos, meaning “false christ,” which is derived from the roots pseudomai, meaning “to lie” or “to say what is false,” and christos, meaning “anointed one,” thus this term describes those who would pretend to have the authority and power of the true Christ.[2] The second term antichristos, or “antichrist”, is only used in the writings of John and also describes those who would supplant Christ as the one holding authority. Because the Greek prefix anti- can mean not only “over, against” but also “in place of” or “because,” and even “substitution,”[3] the term can refer to the same being as pseudochristos.[4] These terms reveal the dangerous nature of these individuals as they would oppose Christ by simulating him in purpose and in presentation.[5]

According to the New Testament, conflict within the Church emerged from dissenters and individuals falsely claiming authority. The letters of Paul written throughout his three-year mission record in many places the concern of Church leadership over these false Christs. Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians exhorts the membership to “withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. . . . For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly” (2 Thessalonians 3:6, 11). To the saints of Corinth he warned of “false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13).[6]

Peter, John, and Jude also express concern over false leadership. In his second letter, Peter declares: “There shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them. . . . And many shall follow their pernicious ways. . . . And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you, . . . beguiling unstable souls” (2 Peter 2:1–3, 14). In his second letter, John warns: “deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh” (2 John 1:7).[7] Finally, Jude records that “there are certain men crept in unawares . . . ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4).

While it is clear from the above texts that the New Testament ecclesiastical leadership knew of and warned their people concerning these false Christs emerging among the members of the Church, nothing is told of the effect the individuals actually had on the greater Church membership. By taking our understanding of the Greek terms and applying these definitions to individuals in the Book of Mormon, we can understand the dangerous effect these individuals had on the larger community, both religious and secular. Based on the definition provided, at least four individuals in the Book of Mormon can be understood to be false Christs or anti-Christs: Sherem in the book of Jacob and Nehor, Korihor, and Amalickiah in Alma.[8] The latter two, in particular, left lasting legacies that included apostasy not just among Church members but also among the greater social and political spectrums of the community reflected in the doctrine of later apostate groups, culminating in the founding of the Gadianton robbers.[9]

Yet the Book of Mormon’s value is that we not only see the results of these individuals upon the greater society, but we also learn the personal consequences each paid for repudiating the truth and engaging in their self-deception, an important lesson missing from the New Testament. Following his confrontation with Jacob, Sherem admitted that he had been deceived by Satan and now feared that he had committed the unpardonable sin: “For I have lied unto God; for I denied the Christ, and said that I believed the scriptures” (Jacob 7:19). Nehor died an “ignominious death” (Alma 1:15) because he reacted with violence when confronted with the truth. Korihor experienced death by being trampled after he admitted that he too had been deceived by the devil: “I always knew that there was a God. But behold, the devil hath deceived me. . . . And I have taught his words; and I taught them because they were pleasing unto the carnal mind; and I taught them . . . insomuch that I verily believed that they were true” (Alma 30:52–53). Though we have no final words of Amalickiah, he too dies dishonorably, alone and rendered useless. Certainly, one can only deduce that the inevitable consequence of the anti-Christ is that which Mormon himself noted: “And thus we see the end of him who perverteth the ways of the Lord; and thus we see that the devil will not support his children . . . but doth speedily drag them down to hell” (Alma 30:60).

“And Then Many ​Shall Be Offended”

The New Testament writers were especially concerned with the conditions in which these false leaders found fertile ground. As pointed out earlier, Christ outlined three elements following the presence of false Christs which facilitated apostasy. The first mentioned was that of being offended. The word offend comes from the Latin offendere, meaning “to stumble,” reflecting the original Greek skandalizo meaning to trip or to cause to fall.[10] The King James Version used by Joseph Smith in his translation of Matthew 24 presents the passive form of this verb, meaning that many will be offended, or many will stumble without necessarily being the cause of such stumbling themselves. In other words, the actions of some will lead to the stumbling of others.

Today the phrase “be offended” (Matthew 24:10) is used to describe an act in which one’s feelings are hurt by another. Importantly, this sense of hurt is not necessarily based on what actually happened or was intended, but on the perception that a wrong had been done.[11] Either way, often the result is increased strife and contention between the two individuals which can spill out into the larger community, leading many to stumble in their spiritual progression.[12]

Though the Greek term skandalizo is found forty-five times in the New Testament, only thirteen of these references are in the letters of the Apostles. Of these thirteen references, four of them are in verb form; the rest are nouns and are often translated as stumbling block. Of the four verb forms, three refer to a very specific cause of stumbling in the early Church—eating meat originally offered to an idol. In Romans 14:21, Paul states, “It is good neither to eat flesh . . . nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.” In 1 Corinthians 8:13, responding to the same concern, he declared, “Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh . . . lest I make my brother to offend.”

Yet idol meat would not be the only stumbling block for the Church. In Romans 14:13, Paul suggests that offense had been taken by members judging one another: “Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.” Elsewhere, Paul speaks of the contentions, strifes, and envyings that can characterize both offensive behavior and the taking of offense (see 1 Corinthians 3:3; 2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:20). In Ephesians Paul exhorts the members to “put on the new man, . . . putting away lying” (4:24–25). Paul also asks, “Can ye be angry, and not sin?” (Joseph Smith Translation, v. 26). Because the answer is no, Paul continues, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you” (v. 31). To the Philippians he warns: “Do all things without murmurings and disputings” (Philippians 2:14). To Timothy Paul suggests that he avoid those who are “doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth” (1 Timothy 6:4–5).

Paul demonstrated the seriousness of offense by correlating the divisions in the Church with the preaching of heresy or false doctrine: “I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you” (1 Corinthians 11:18–19).[13] Peter also recognizes this relationship as he warns in his second letter that false teachers have secretly brought in heretical concepts, creating divisions among the members (see 2 Peter 2:1–3; 1 Peter 2:1). In light of the above, we can appreciate Paul’s exhortation recorded in Romans 16:17: “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.”

Again, the value of the Book of Mormon is not so much in its description of the same apostate elements, but in the presentation of its effects on the majority of Church members and society. While the New Testament simply warns of them, the Book of Mormon allows us to discern why they are so dangerous. Though the term offend is rare in the Book of Mormon, the text of the Book of Mormon does describe the “stumbling” experienced by those who turn from the truth.[14] Jacob speaks of the “stumbling of the Jews,” declaring that they “despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand” (Jacob 4:14–15). In his vision recorded in 1 Nephi 11–14, Nephi was warned that “because of the many plain and precious things . . . which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb, an exceedingly great many do stumble” (1 Nephi 13:29). Nephi also revealed the root of stumbling when he proclaimed, “The Gentiles are lifted up in the pride of their eyes, and have stumbled” (2 Nephi 26:20).[15]

 In their own society, the destructive nature of the divisions that can arise from offense are made evident. Alma chapter 1 records that members of the Church “began to contend warmly with their adversaries, even unto blows” (v. 22). This, we are told, was “the cause of much affliction in the church; . . . many withdrew from among them” (vv. 23–24). In the eighth year of the reign of the judges, following a brief period of prosperity, we are told that there “were envyings, and strife, and malice, and persecutions, and pride” in the Church as members had begun to “be scornful, one towards another, . . . despising others” (4:8–9, 12). All of this led to the church itself becoming: “a great stumbling-block to those who did not belong to the church; and thus the church began to fail in its progress” (4:10). Following a major battle with the Gadianton robbers about 110 years later, the Nephites again experienced the offenses associated with apostasy: “Some were lifted up unto pride and boastings . . . even unto great persecutions. . . . Some did return railing for railing. . . . And thus there became a great inequality in the land, insomuch that the church began to be broken up” (3 Nephi 6:10, 13–14).

Finally, while both the New Testament and Book of Mormon have spoken of the destructive nature of offense and of the stumbling blocks that impeded Church members, the term was also used to describe Christ Himself. Of the nine Greek noun forms of skandalon, four speak of Christ as a stumbling block or rock of offense because accepting Him was incompatible with the doctrines of some faiths (see Romans 9:33; 1 Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 5:11; 1 Peter 2:8). The Book of Mormon also recognizes Christ as a stumbling block. Yet Jacob’s discussion of the allegory of the olive tree, a text not found in its entirety anywhere else, teaches plainly that the stumbling block is also the foundation upon which all can be established, a doctrine only hinted at in 1 Peter 2:8. Thus, by providing the consequences of offense and the true nature of accepting Christ as a stumbling block, the Book of Mormon provides unique lessons concerning this step of apostasy, helping us understand with greater appreciation the warnings of offense in the New Testament.

“And Shall Betray O​ne Another”

According to Christ, another step towards apostasy is betrayal of members by members. The root of the Greek term translated as betrayal means “to give up or to hand over” and is used both in the negative sense (betrayal) and in the positive sense (deliverance).[16] While there are many places in the New Testament where we are told that individuals will be “delivered up” to their enemies, outside of Matthew 24 we are not told of a time when the members handed over other members to enemies.[17]

Because the term is not used to describe the turning of member upon member in the New Testament, especially in the letters of Paul, Peter, and John, it may be supposed that this was not a problem. Yet in 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses what appears to be such a crisis. According to chapter 6, one of the issues facing the congregation was suing one another in court. As Paul states: “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? . . . I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? No, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another” (vv. 1, 5–7).

The tension between some of the Jewish converts of the Church and their Gentile counterparts, as described in Galatians, can be understood as a betrayal, even though the term is not used in the text. These Galatian individuals were “false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage” (Galatians 2:4). Though the false brethren were not handing over the Gentile converts to opposition groups, their ulterior motive to place the coverts into the bondage of the Mosiac law suggests that this event can be understood as a betrayal, particularly since the Greek term often describes the delivering of an individual to prison or bondage.[18] Later in the chapter, similar individuals exacerbated this tension by forcing Peter into a situation in which individuals were going to be offended either way. If he chose to remain sitting with the Gentile converts, he would offend the Jewish converts, and vice versa. The seriousness of this division can be reflected in the query by Paul concerning this potential betrayal: “Am I therefore become your enemy?” (Galatians 4:16).[19]

As before, the value of the Book of Mormon is not just in showing betrayal, but in revealing the devastating consequences of betrayal, something missing in the New Testament directly. In at least two references, Book of Mormon prophets are betrayed or delivered into prison by their own people. Mosiah 12 records Abinadi’s second mission among his own people, which resulted in his being bound and brought before the king. The people themselves declare: “Behold, here is the man, we deliver him into thy hand” (Mosiah 12:16). Another such betrayal, or handing over of the prophets by their respective congregations, is recorded in Alma 10:13. Here, Alma and Amulek are confronted with the lawyers of Ammonihah who “thought to question them, that by their cunning devices . . . they might deliver them to their judges . . . that they might be slain or cast into prison.” Beyond the prophets, we are also shown a great betrayer who betrays not one but three different communities. Amalickiah, in Alma 46 and 47, successfully betrays his own supporters (Alma 46:33), the renegade Lamanite army, and the Lamanite king (Alma 47:13–14; 20, 35).

The consequences of these betrayals as depicted in the Book of Mormon are devastating as they render the communities involved in the betrayals helpless to respond to other crises that arise. For Abinadi’s people, their betrayal of Abinadi leads to the persecutions of Alma the Elder by the king and his army. This in turn creates a division among the people themselves, allowing the Lamanites to invade and take over (see Mosiah 19). Similarly, following the betrayal of Alma and Amulek, the people of Ammonihah “were destroyed; yea every living soul of the Ammonihahites was destroyed. . . . In one day it was left desolate, . . . and so great was the scent thereof that the people did not go in to possess the land of Ammonihah for many years” (Alma 16:9–11).

Amalickiah’s betrayals may be the most vivid of the three examples since they precipitated the most catastrophic war the Nephites had yet experienced and demonstrated the most insidious consequence of betrayal—the engendering of other betrayals. As attested by Morianton in Alma 50 and the king-men in Alma 61, who later betrayed the country and people by entering into an alliance with Amalickiah’s brother, Amalickiah’s betrayals engendered thirteen years of immediate conflict. The subsequent betrayals which arose from his original betrayal threatened to destroy Nephite civilization more than once. Such consequences, though not found in the New Testament, are vividly on display in the Book of Mormon and leave an indelible impression on the serious nature of betrayal.

“And Shall H​ate One Another”

The last criteria Christ listed in His conditions leading to apostasy is that of hatred stemming from the offense and betrayals within the Church community. The Greek term translated as hate is found forty-two times in the New Testament, yet the only references that discussed hatred among members at any length are in the writings of John, particularly in his first and second letters,[20] though it is mentioned briefly as one of many qualities that Paul exhorts the Saints to avoid (see Romans 1:30; Galatians 5:20; Titus 3:3).

John begins his discussion of hate by declaring: “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. . . . He that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth” (1 John 2:9, 11). Later, in chapter 3, John states bluntly that “whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15).[21] Of course, John is not necessarily saying that all who hate will, at some point, physically murder another. But he is suggesting that one who hates has lost a certain understanding of his fellowmen—that when one reaches the state of hatred for another he has lost the ability to recognize the intrinsic value of that human life.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, we are not given any indication within the New Testament that Church members reached this state, though John’s mentioning of the apostates in his second and third letters certainly suggests it was present. Yet the consequences laid out by John are on display in tragic fashion in the Book of Mormon. In fact, the primary conflicts described throughout the book—Lamanites versus Nephites, Gadianton robbers versus the righteous, the final conflict between the Nephites and the Lamanites—are all grounded in hatred.[22]

Of the thirty-four references to hatred in the Book of Mormon, nineteen describe the hatred of the Lamanites for the Nephites. Though not as common, the Book of Mormon does note that the hatred went both ways; according to 2 Nephi 1:18, Lehi worries that all his sons’ descendants would be “visited by sword, and by famine, and are hated.” Later, Jacob addresses three concerns he has with his people all stemming from inequalities based on perceptions. The last of these false perceptions had led to racism, in which the Nephites: “hate [the Lamanites] because their filthiness and the cursing which hath come upon their skins” (Jacob 3:5).

The Gadianton robbers were formed in the fortieth year of the reign of judges in response to the execution of Paanchi, who lost the bid for the chief judgeship and sought to instigate a rebellion. According to Helaman 1:7, “That part of the people that were desirous that he should be their governor, was exceedingly wroth.” A few verses later we are told, “Those people who were desirous that he should be their governor . . . they were angry . . . and murdered Pahoran as he sat upon the judgment-seat” (v. 9). In 3 Nephi 3:4, the letter from the Gadianton chief, Giddianhi, states their willingness to go to war because of their “everlasting hatred towards you because of the many wrongs which ye have done unto them.” Not surprisingly, the Book of Mormon points out that it is from perceived wrongs that this hatred finds root.

The final conflict between the Nephites and Lamanites also emerged from hatred for one another. According to 4 Nephi 1:36–39: “There arose a people who were called the Nephites, and they were true believers in Christ. . . . Therefore the true believers in Christ, and the true worshipers of Christ . . . were called Nephites. . . . And it came to pass that they who rejected the gospel were called Lamanites . . . ; and they did teach their children that they should not believe. . . . And they were taught to hate the children of God, even as the Lamanites were taught to hate the children of Nephi from the beginning.” This hatred eventually reaches the point at which the people “have become strong in their perversion; and they are alike brutal, sparing none, neither old nor young. . . . They are without principle, and past feeling” (Moroni 9:19–20).

In all these cases, we are provided explicit examples of the spiritual darkness created by hatred as described by John. Hatred arose from real or perceived offenses and betrayals, leading to breakdown of the social norms by which one can relate to another. In the case of the Lamanites and Nephites, a family is separated; in the case of the Gadianton robbers and the righteous, a society is destroyed; in the case of the final conflict, two entire civilizations ripped each other apart. All this occurred because individuals had completely lost sight of the intrinsic value of human beings; their very ability to reason or think clearly and even feel, especially concerning the value of another man, was lost. And in this, the real lesson concerning apostasy is taught: that apostasy is ultimately a rebellion against the truth.[23]

“But Then S​hall I Know Even As Also I Am Known”

If apostasy is the result of hatred, which itself arises from internal offenses and betrayals, then the ability to overcome apostasy must be found in hatred’s opposite: love.[24] As noted above, John recognized the destructive apostate condition of hatred, particularly in his first letter to the Saints. Therefore, much of, if not the entire tenor of, the letter is his attempt to instill a set of qualities that could overcome hatred by concentrating principally on the true natures of Christ and ourselves and how recognition of these are related to the concept of love: “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now we are the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:1–2).

Clearly from the first clause, it is God’s love that leads to our designation as sons and daughters of God. Moreover, John teaches us that we recognize this designation in ourselves when we are able to see God “as he is.”[25] This designation is one that holds great promise. Paul, speaking to the Romans, stated: “For as many are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. . . . And if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:14, 17). John suggests that what makes us like God is not so much what we see as the fact that we will possess the ability to see. Thus, God’s love for us is demonstrated by our receiving the revelation concerning His nature, which in turn demonstrates our own divine nature. His love, demonstrated by his revealing to us our true, divine natures, becomes an anchor to us allowing us to “have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17).

The same doctrine is recorded in the Book of Mormon, but with insights missing from both the Gospels and the letters that make the rest of New Testament. First, the book includes a definition of truth not found in any biblical text: “For the Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are and of things as they really will be” (Jacob 4:13).[26] This definition speaks of the actuality of truth, the inclusion of the adverb really suggesting that it is to be understood as contrasting the way things seem and the way things actually are. Thus, charity, or seeing the way God really is, can be plainly understood as a revelatory act of the reality of God’s true nature or self, which is exactly what Mormon suggests in Moroni 7.

With language similar to that used by John, Mormon exhorted the peaceful followers of Christ: “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (Moroni 7:48). While much of this is similar to that which John wrote, they are important differences including both instruction as to how to gain charity and the reasons why one would want charity in the first place. More importantly, while Mormon notes that seeing God as He really is makes us akin to Him, similar to the statements of John, he also reveals that it is our own possession of charity that becomes the means by which we become the sons and daughters of God. It is our love that allows us to see God as He really is.

The small but significant clause, “that ye may become the sons of God,” missing from John’s version, teaches us that the love which makes us like God is meant for us to use, not merely be passive agents receiving His love. Mormon’s statement suggests that when we actively experience this revelatory love we become the heirs of God, the joint-heirs of Christ, doing the work that such beings engage in. The pure love that Christ possesses gave Him the strength to provide deliverance for everyone whether they accepted this gift or not because He saw their right to a divine nature. Similarly, when one possesses this love, one has the knowledge necessary to see through the deception that causes offense and hatred and therefore act according to the recognition of the divine nature of others, transforming us into the Christ-like beings we are ourselves.[27] Of course, knowing God means that we can see the same truth in others, the same true nature of others, and by so doing we are able to overcome the deception that lies at the heart of apostasy.[28]

“Therefore ​. . . Love One Another As I Have Loved You”

The Restoration of the true Church emerged from a period of time characterized by a lack of priesthood authority and the distortion of doctrine.[29] This period began with the death of Christ’s original twelve Apostles and ended with the call of Joseph Smith in the spring of 1820.[30] Yet while that Apostasy is over and both priesthood authority and correct doctrine can be found again, the process of apostasy as outlined by Christ is as much a threat today as it ever was in days of the New Testament apostles and Book of Mormon prophets.

By studying this process—offense and taking offense and betrayal, and hatred caused by anti-Christs—both in the warnings of the New Testament and in the recorded effects of them in the Book of Mormon, we can fortify ourselves against the elements of apostasy. The instructions provided in both books concerning the importance of charity, particularly the doctrines found in the Book of Mormon, provide the reader the knowledge necessary to “remain steadfast” against the false truths that are the hallmark of apostasy. Though both the New Testament and Book of Mormon dispensations collapsed under apostate conditions, their examples and exhortations have been kept and passed down through the centuries. By heeding these teachings we can avoid similar pitfalls and become the Saints that we are meant to be.


[1] Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, trans. and ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–74), s.v. “αφιστημι, αποστασια, διχοστασια”; see also Kent P. Jackson, From Apostasy to Restoration (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996), 9.

[2] Kittel and Friedrich, Theological Dictionary, s.v. “ψευ̃δος.” “The primary meaning is ‘false’ in the broad sense. . . . The noun ψευ̃δος means ‘what is untrue,’ ‘deceit,’ ‘falsehood,’ ‘lying,’ ‘lie.’”

[3] Kittel and Friedrich, Theological Dictionary, s.v. “α̉ντί.” “In its basic meaning of ‘over against’ it does not occur in the NT, but is mostly used in the sense of . . . ‘in place of.’ . . . In this respect it makes little difference whether the word denotes an actual replacement, or intended replacement, or a mere equivalent in estimation.” See also Glenn L. Pearson and Reid E. Bankhead, Building Faith with the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1986), 74. “The word antichrist is the Bible term for the false teachers in the Church who taught a false Christ instead of a true Christ. The Greek preposition anti, roughly translated, means instead of. It also carries the meaning of ‘face to face’ or mirror image. The image in the mirror, looking back at you, is face to face with you. It looks like you. Yet it has no substance. It is a counterfeit of you, in a sense. It only appears to be you.”

[4] The term antichristos is found in 1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3, and 2 John 1:7. For more on the meaning of the term see Raymond E. Brown, The Epistles of John, The Anchor Bible (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1982), 333. “If we examine the term, the Greek preposition anti, ‘in place of,’ is used for substitution; and sometimes nouns compounded with it imply only that, e.g., antibasilieus, ‘viceroy, the substitute for the king.’ Other times, however, substitution involves a false thing taking the place of the real; and so a term like antichristos need not be far from the pseudochristos, ‘false Christ,’ of the Synoptic warnings. Finally, there can be antagonism between the substitute and the real, giving Greek anti- compounds the force of English anti- compounds.”

[5] Book of Mormon Student Manual: Religion 121 and 122, rev. ed. (Salt Lake City: Intellectual Reserve, 1996), 48. “An anti-Christ is a person who opposes the Lord. . . . An anti-Christ may set himself up as a savior of the people and offer pseudosalvation based on his own principles. . . . Through either word or action the anti-Christ says, ‘I am the source of salvation and power.’”

[6] In the pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus, the same concern is expressed. To Timothy, Paul gives the responsibility of charging church members “that they teach no other doctrine . . . From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm” (1 Timothy 1:3, 6–7). Later, in the same chapter, Paul actually names some of these false teachers by name: “This charge I commit unto thee, . . . holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander” (vv. 18–20; see also 2 Timothy 2:16–18).

[7] In 1 John 2:22, John states that “he is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.”

[8] Of these four only Korihor is called anti-Christ in the text itself, but Sherem and Nehor have been considered as such by latter-day Apostles and Book of Mormon scholars. The most current Book of Mormon Student Manual implies that more than one anti-Christ is mentioned in the text (see page 48). Bruce R. McConkie seems to have been the first to associate Sherem and Nehor with the term in Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1979), 40: “Sherem (Jac. 7:1–23), Nehor (Alma 1:2–16), and Korihor (Alma 30:6–60) were antichrists who spread their delusions among the Nephites.” In a more recent volume, Richard Dilworth Rust (Feasting on the Word: The Literary Testimony of the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo, UT: FARMS, 1997], 40) describes the similarities between Jacob and the anti-Christ Sherem and Alma and Korihor. Though Amalickiah is not normally part of this list, his qualifications certainly fit the definition presented above.

[9] The effect these individuals had on the greater Book of Mormon history is staggering. The effects of Nehor continued after his death as at least three apostate groups: the Amlicites, Amalekites and the Amulonites were all Nehorian in doctrine. The apostasy of Ammonihah as well as the annihilation of the same city all came about because of the followers of Nehor. The doctrine of Korihor existed decades after his death, his political teachings being reflected in Amalickiah’s later claims and in the purpose claimed by the Gadianton Robbers for their existence. Approximately one-third of the Book of Mormon (approximately 117 pages) is concerned with events directly or indirectly connected to these individuals. This is even more striking when one considers that the books of Alma, Helaman, 3 Nephi 1–7 (approx. 214 pages) are primarily about the impact that Nehor, Korihor, Amalickiah, and the various groups spawned by these had on Nephite society.

[10] Kittel and Friedrich, Theological Dictionary, s.v. “σκανδαλίζο.”

[11] This has been the emphasis of a number of recent addresses in conference, see David A. Bednar, “And Nothing Shall Offend Thee,” Ensign, November 2006, 89–92; see also Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Tongue of Angels,” Ensign, May 2007, 16–18; James E. Faust, “The Healing Power of Forgiveness,” Ensign, May 2007, 67–69; Richard G. Scott, “Removing Barriers to Happiness,” Ensign, May 1998, 85–87; Boyd K. Packer, “The Balm of Gilead,” Ensign, November 1987, 16–18.

[12] Kittel and Friedrich, Theological Dictionary, s.v. “σκανδαλίζο.” “In both Rome and Corinth tensions of faith in members of the churches are the cause of the skandalizo. . . . In both churches the collision of divergent views and attitudes causes a skandalizo for the weak. . . . The skandalizo can lead to division in the community or to the separation of the weak from it.”

[13] For Paul, if there are divisions, no matter the cause for such, then heresy must also be present. Thus, one cannot separate offense from incorrect doctrines. This provides new insight into those New Testament passages concerned with false doctrine, such as Paul’s defense against docetism and other Gnostic elements as recorded in the letters to Colossians and Philippians. Though these two letters do not necessarily mention any explicit false leadership issues, the fact that Paul needs to address these doctrines suggests that divisions did exist among the two communities. See Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983), 43:xliv–xlvii; Peter T. O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1982), 44:xxx–xli; Walter Shmithals, “The False Teachers of the Epistle to the Philippians,” in Paul and the Gnostics, trans. John E. Steely (Nashville, New York: Abingdon Press, 1972), 65–122.

[14] The terms offended or offense are found only nine times in the Book of Mormon. The verb “to stumble” and its derivatives, including the noun form, “stumbling block” are found sixteen times in the Book of Mormon.

[15] In his conference address “Beware of Pride” (Ensign, May 1989), President Ezra Taft Benson taught, “The Doctrine and Covenants tells us that the Book of Mormon is the ‘record of a fallen people.’ Why did they fall? This is one of the major messages of the Book of Mormon. Mormon gives the answer in the closing chapters of the book in these words: ‘Behold, the pride of this nation, or the people of the Nephites, hath proven their destruction.’ And then, lest we miss that momentous Book of Mormon message from that fallen people, the Lord warns us in the Doctrine and Covenants, ‘Beware of pride, lest ye become as the Nephites of old’” (4).

[16] Kittel and Friedrich, Theological Dictionary, s.v. “δίδωμι.” The term is often used to describe the positive nature of God’s delivering, or handing over, of man from Satan and sin.

[17] Kittel and Friedrich, Theological Dictionary, s.v. “δίδωμι.” “παραδίδωμι: The word occurs frequently in the passion story, being used for the betrayal of Jesus by Judas (Mk. 14:10 and par. etc.).”

[18] In Acts 8:3 and 22:4, Paul is described as delivering Christians up into imprisonment.

[19] The Antioch confrontation described by Paul in Galatians 2 is problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the difficult syntax. Most scholarship has seen the confrontation as an open presentation of the division between Paul and Peter (see Richard J. Bauckham, “James, Peter and the Gentiles,” in The Missions of James, Peter, and Paul: Tensions in Early Christianity, ed. by Bruce Chilton and Craig Evans, Supplements to Novum Testamentum 115 [Boston: Brill, 2005], 91–142; also in the same volume, Jacob Neusner, “What, Exactly, Is Israel’s Gentile Problem? Rabbinic Perspectives on Galatians 2,” 275–306; also Robert Jewett, “Gospel and Commensality: Social and Theological Implications of Galatians 2.14,” in Gospel in Paul: Studies on Corinthians, Galatians and Romans for Richard N. Longenecker, ed. by L. Ann Jervis and Peter Richardson, Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 108 [Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994], 240–52). Yet others have suggested that while differences existed among the Apostles, they were in overall agreement, suggesting that this episode was not so much highlighting divisions among the leadership, but an attempt by some in the church to exacerbate the potential for division among the leadership (see Vincent M. Smiles, The Gospel and the Law in Galatia: Paul’s Response to Jewish-Christian Separation and the Threat of Galatian Apostasy [Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1998], 48): “The essential facts are clear for Paul: his relations with the Jerusalem authorities are basically harmonious.”

[20] Kittel and Friedrich, Theological Dictionary, s.v. “μισέω.”

[21] In 1 John 2, following these statements, John warns of anti-Christs even then among the community: “They went out from us, but they were not of us” (v. 19). His second letter warns of deceivers (see 2 John 1:7), and in the third letter he acknowledges that apostates had so turned some congregations that the Apostles were no longer welcome: “Diotrephes . . . receiveth us not . . . neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church” (3 John 1:9–10).

[22] In the last conflict (between the Nephites and the Lamanites) it is unclear whether or not the distinction is according to genetic lineage.

[23] M. Catherine Thomas, “From Malachi to John the Baptist: the Dynamics of Apostasy,” in Studies in Scripture, vol. 4, 1 Kings to Malachi, ed. by Kent P. Jackson (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1993), 471–83: “Satan was the first apostate and the father of apostasy. He revealed the essential motive behind apostasy when he challenged God: ‘Wherefore give me thine honor’” (472); see also George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth: Discourses and Writings of George Q. Cannon, ed. Jerrell L. Newquist (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1987), 496. “Every apostate from the truth, Judas-like, indulges in this same feeling; and the hatred which they bear to the principles they once rejoiced in and its believers, their former brethren, is varied in intensity by the progress they made in the knowledge of truth when they loved it and the extent to which they abandon themselves to the influence which their master exercises.” See also David O. McKay, in Conference Report, October 1965, 10–11: “Fundamental in all Christ’s teachings was the crime of wrong thinking. . . . He who harbors hatred and bitterness injures himself far more than the one towards whom he manifests these evil propensities.”

[24] See Robert F. Orton, “The First and Great Commandment,” Ensign, November 2001, 81: “Hatred is the antithesis of love.”

[25] Interestingly, this principle is perhaps what Christ Himself suggested in Joseph Smith’s translation of Matthew 24:1, “For I say unto you, that ye shall not see me henceforth and know that I am he of whom it is written by the prophets, until ye shall say: Blessed is he who cometh in the name of the Lord, in the clouds of heaven, and all the holy angels with him.” The verse is taken from Psalm 118:26, and though this is often taken as a reference to the Second Coming of Christ, a closer look reveals that the point of His declaration can also refer to one’s seeing and knowing Christ, recognizing Him through scripture study and revelation, regardless of place or time. If taken from this point of view, the scripture quoted by Christ can have multiple applications, even referring the condescension of His mortal birth as well His triumphal Second Coming. (See J. Ross Wagner, “Psalm 118 in Luke–Acts: Tracing a Narrative Thread,” in Early Christian Interpretation of the Scriptures in Israel: Investigations and Proposals, ed. Craig A. Evans and James A. Sanders, Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 148 [Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1970], 154–78): “The association of Psalm 118 with the acts of divine deliverance celebrated at Tabernacles, Hannukah and Passover may have encouraged readings of the psalm that focused on the hope of God’s future deliverance of Israel through the agency of his Anointed One” (160). See also Andrew C. Brunson, Psalm 118 in the Gospel of John, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2. Reihe 158 [Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2003].)

[26] Similarly, in Doctrine and Covenants 93:24, “And truth is knowledge of things as they are, as they were, and as they are to come.”

[27] It would seem that during his final discourse, Christ still sought to instill this teaching in His disciples. His intercessory prayer, recorded in John 17, is particularly revealing. According to the text, Christ pled with the Father that He would “sanctify them through thy truth . . . that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:17, 26). Here, as in Mormon’s doctrine on charity, a relationship is made between the acquisition of truth, the way things really are, and the love of God; the knowledge of our true nature provides us the ability to overcome apostasy.

[28] This seems to have been understood by the other New Testament prophets. To the Church in Colossae, Paul said, “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness. . . . And above all these things, put on charity, which the bond of perfectness” (Colossians 3:12, 14). To the Galatians, Paul exhorted, “Brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13). To the Corinthians he declared, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face; now I know in part; but then shall I be known even as also I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Later, he concludes his letter by exhorting, “Let all your things be done with charity” (1 Corinthians 16:14). In each of these cases, the passages are preceded by accounts of divisions, conflict, and apostasy among the congregations. Similarly, our prophets today have stressed the need for love. As recently as April of 2006, President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke of the need to “recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children,” (“The Need for Greater Kindness,” Ensign, May 2006, 58). In April 2002, Elder Gene R. Cook provided a personal example of the knowledge charity provides when he spoke of his friend Betty, “She felt God’s love . . . [and] partook of His divine nature. . . . Her love for others increased. . . . She learned to love herself more . . . and started loving herself the way God loved her. Her image of herself became His image of her” (“Charity: Perfect and Lasting Love,” Ensign, May 2002, 82). And in 2001, Elder Robert F. Orton declared, “Brothers and sisters, if we are obedient to the commandment of love, there will be no disputations, contention, nor hatred between nor among us. We will not speak ill of one another but will treat each other with kindness and respect, realizing that each of us is a child of God” (“The First and Great Commandment,” Ensign, November 2001, 81).

[29] Within the church this period of time is commonly referred to as the Great Apostasy (see Alexander B. Morrison, Turning from the Truth: A New Look at the Great Apostasy [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005], 1: “Mormonism, so-called, stands or falls, in major ways, on the reality of what Latter-day Saints commonly term ‘The Great Apostasy.’”)

[30] Secondary sources on the Apostasy are too numerous to mention. The following should only be understood as a list to begin study: Tad R. Callister, The Inevitable Apostasy and the Promised Restoration (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2006); Early Christians in Disarray: Contemporary Perspectives on the Christian Apostasy, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, UT: FARMS, Brigham Young University Press, 2005); Alexander B. Morrison, Turning from Truth: A New Look at the Great Apostasy (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005); Kent P. Jackson, The Apostasy and the Restoration (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996); Apostasy and Restoration (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1982); James E. Talmage, The Great Apostasy (1909; repr., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1998).