Uneasy in RS

In an RS meeting some time ago I was mildly startled to hear the teacher explain that what the “primitive church” called “evangelists” were what we now call stake patriarchs. Since I am just Sister Mogget on the back row in RS, I sat quietly, said nothing, and began to think about it.

To the extent that the “primitive church” can be equated with the NT, I simply don’t think this is the case. The word translated “evangelist” is euaggelistēs and its denotation is “one who brings good news” (BDAG). In the wider literature of the NT world, “evangelist” was the title accorded certain polytheistic priests.

In the NT, “evangelist” connotes someone who preaches the gospel. The two men who are identified as evangelists in the NT are Philip, one of the Seven (Acts 21:8), and Timothy (2 Ti 4:5). In the post-NT world, the most famous evangelists are ironically neither Philip nor Timothy, but the authors of the four Gospels.

Now I don’t get excited about folk etymologies – in fact, there are quite of a number canonized examples in the Bible. But this made me start to think about the office of the patriarch and I realized that I can’t come up with any examples of a patriarch function as we now know it in the NT.

My natural reaction in a situation like this is to say nothing and forget about it. First, a weird understanding of “evangelist” and an inability to find a patriarch function are not important. Second, I’m not the teacher, I’m not the RS president, I don’t write lesson manuals, and I’m not president of the church. No authority = no responsibility = no need to get involved = no delay leaving church.

Nevertheless, I remain uneasy.

As a high school student, I attended seminary via released time. I was actually pretty interested in matters of doctrine and by and large I accepted the things I was taught, including the idea that evangelists were patriarchs. (I got kicked out of seminary for reasons other than lack of interest…)

Then I left for college on the east coast. Many of my fellow student knew rather more about the Bible than I. In the wider intellectual world there were philosophy professors, physics professors, and English professors who expected far more rigorous approaches to Life’s Great Questions than those I had learned in seminary. To make a long story short, I was embarrassed by many things I had accepted from seminary.

No one ever died of embarrassment and I recovered. But to this day, I rarely read anything published by any LDS printing house. It’s a “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me” reaction. And I have wondered more than once what positive influence might have been achieved had I been taught a slightly more critical approach in a friendlier environment.

Which brings me back to my dear sisters who were listening with me. I was surprised to find that this idea is still around – surely someone had found a dictionary by now! And if one of them should suggest to a biblically literate friend that an evangelist is to be identified with a patriarch, I cannot forsee a positive outcome. At the very least, the image of the church is not enhanced. Depending on the precise details of the interaction, personal embarrassment may also be a factor.

On the other hand, the church is not my responsibility in a situation like this and the women in my ward are all Big Girls and can take care of themselves. If I cannot adequately convey the balance and interaction between a faithful response and critical thinking – and I doubt that I can in the space allotted for a comment in an RS lesson – then perhaps it is best to just drop it.

But I remain uneasy. And I’d sure like to find a thirty-second “response” to the idea that an evangelist is a patriarch that won’t light anybody’s hair on fire.

27 Replies to “Uneasy in RS”

  1. I think your point is well taken. I also feel we are Bibical dwarfs when it comes to understanding much of what is written. Doctrine – ok, details a bit on the short end to say the least.

    Much of what is and was taught, like your example, is not the “truth”.

  2. What’s happening here–and I am sure you realize this–is that someone is trying to make sense of the A of F. They look at it and think:

    We don’t have evangelists.
    But we do have patriarchs.
    And patriarchs aren’t mentioned elsewhere in this A of F.
    Therefore, evangelists must be patriarchs.

    It seems to me that if you want a 30 second sound byte with which to respond to this, you would need to figure out what it was that Joseph Smith meant when he used the word ‘evangelist.’ I don’t know the answer to that question. But if we could figure that out, then your response can simply be, “Joseph Smith used evangelist to mean X” and you can present everyone with a nice authoritative source and don’t need to scare them with big Greek words ;).

  3. The key to intellectual sanity is finding and tracking the provenance of all the things you believe. The authoritative LDS provenance of this idea is the following scripture:

    It is the duty of the Twelve, in all large branches of the church, to ordain evangelical ministers, as they shall be designated unto them by revelation—

    The order of this priesthood was confirmed to be handed down from father to son, and rightly belongs to the literal descendants of the chosen seed, to whom the promises were made.
    This order was instituted in the days of Adam, and came down by lineage in the following manner:
    From Adam to Seth, …

    Three years previous to the death of Adam, he called Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch, and Methuselah, who were all high priests, with the residue of his posterity who were righteous, into the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman, and there bestowed upon them his last blessing.
    And the Lord appeared unto them, and they rose up and blessed Adam, and called him Michael, the prince, the archangel.
    And the Lord administered comfort unto Adam, and said unto him: I have set thee to be at the head; a multitude of nations shall come of thee, and thou art a prince over them forever.
    And Adam stood up in the midst of the congregation; and, notwithstanding he was bowed down with age, being full of the Holy Ghost, predicted whatsoever should befall his posterity unto the latest generation.
    These things were all written in the book of Enoch, and are to be testified of in due time.
    (D&C 107:39-57)

    Now as a useful research item, it would be very interesting to find out how the Eastern Orthodox Church came to adopt the title Patriarch and its relationship to the Roman Catholic titles Father and Pope. I can’t imagine they just made them up out of the blue.

    In fact the title patriarch is used three places in the Bible: In reference to David in Acts 2:29, in reference to Jacob’s twelve sons in Acts 7:8-9, and in reference to Abraham in Hebrews 7:4.

    So the real question is why did this title come to be used for a priesthood office, unless there was some residual understanding of the patriarchal priesthood?

  4. I don’t think there is any problem with explaining the meaning of the word evangelist and its meaning in the NT world.

    Church members are passing on Joseph Smith’s June 1839 explanation that “[a]n Evangelist is a Patriarch, even the oldest man of the blood of Joseph or of the seed of Abraham. Wherever the Church of Christ is established in the earth, there should be a Patriarch for the benefit of the posterity of the Saints, as it was with Jacob in giving his patriarchal blessing unto his sons, etc.”

  5. Whether there is any historical evidence other than the revelation of Joseph Smith that evangelist has some association with patriarch is an open question of course. The Vulgate seems to use the term as a synonym for preacher.

  6. is not the “truth”.

    Yeah, although I tried to avoid using that particular word b/c it’s quite hard to get at historicity in the first century. So the quotation marks are good and you do have a point.

    I don’t think there is any problem with explaining the meaning of the word evangelist and its meaning in the NT world

    I think that, if I did decide to get involved, there’d be no other logical approach.

    In the larger perspective, I also think that I am leaning toward the idea that dumbing-down issues is never a good choice. Baby-talk and half-baked theories are probably two big contributors to the hallway population during GD.

    It is the duty of the Twelve, in all large branches of the church, to ordain evangelical ministers

    Since JS conflated the two on more than one occasion it seems pretty clear that it wasn’t a transmission error.

    That said, multiple instances do not answer the fundamental question of how “evangelist,” a word which is clearly used for preaching or missionary work in the NT, could be associated with the functions of a patriarch as we now know them — which are not found in the NT.

    how the Eastern Orthodox Church came to adopt the title Patriarch

    It comes from the five patriarchies. The Pope is the Patriarch of the West. For curiosities sake I’ll ask the Eastern guys when they appear. At the moment, I expect it’s an innovation that’s far too late for the primitive church as we understand it.

  7. Mogget,

    An amazing post. I think that we are too often anxious to find or create direct connections between offices in ancient scriptures and offices in the latter-day church. There is often not a connection. I heard somebody in church recently comment that Family Home Evening is an eternal principle and that it must have been practiced in the ancient church. While this is ridiculous, I am sure that I am the only one in the room who thought so (or thought about it at all).

    It feels more and more that I hear comments or statements at church that make my think “That can not be right.” They are often things that I have heard before.

    I think that they should make you relief society president.

  8. Well, well. The Eastern guys are out learning Sanskrit, but here’s some written stuff.

    First, from the ABD: The office of the head of the Jewish community in Roman Palestine was called “patriarch.” Documentation exists from the 2nd century. The office was hereditary and associated with the family of Gamaliel of Yavneh. Gamaliel may have been the scion of a wealthy Jerusalemite family of the Pharsaic persuasion. The most famous Jewish patriarch was his grandson, Judah I.

    These patriarches had power to appoint, supervise, and despose officials of the local Jewish community. Eventually, they taxed, had a police force, and sent out officers known as apostoloi (apostles) to carry out their orders. This office ended for unknown reasons between 415 and 429.

    From Historical Dictionary of the Orthodox Church, Prokurat, Golitzin and Peterson:

    Within Christianity, the title of “patriarch” was an honorific attached to the bishops of the five sees of Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem. This organization, called the pentarchy, was in theory the official theory of church government from the reign of Justinian. In practice, although the titles date to Chalcedon (451), it was never implemented until Alexandria had been cutoff and Antioch weakened.

    From the New Catholic Encyclopedia

    Once again, the title is originally an honorific for venerable bishops. Later it is associated with certain powerful bishops (325). The three oldest patriarches are Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch. The bishops of these sees had the authority to ordain, supervise, and try the suffragan bishops in each area. These days, the leading bishop in a country often carries the title of “patriarch.”

    And so on. Seems a bit of a stretch but perhaps there’s more to learn.

    Family Home Evening is an eternal principle

    Well, the program is not, but the idea of teaching one’s family is at least as old as Deutronomy 6:3-10

    Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe to do it; that it may be well with thee, and that ye may increase mightily, as the LORD God of thy fathers hath promised thee, in the land that floweth with milk and honey.
    4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is bone Lord:
    5 And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
    6 And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
    7 And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.

    If you read those oppositions as merisms, you’re supposed to be talking about God all the time in the hearing of your children!

    find or create direct connections between offices in ancient scriptures and offices in the latter-day church

    Usually it’s not as hard to reconcile as this particular case. We really don’t know too much about the church in the first century, and particularly before the Deutero-Paulines were written. The ecclesiology of Eph 4:11 is behind the Sixth AoF, I expect. And of course, we’re working on an historical question, not one of authority.

    relief society president

    Please, no. I flourish in informal leadership roles such as teaching.

  9. Well, leave it to me to ask the really important question:

    >(I got kicked out of seminary for reasons other than lack of interest…)

    What DID get you kicked out? =)

    Oh, and you need to be careful when cutting & pasting from the LDS scriptures page – I had to look up your Deut. 6:4 above. Bone Lord?

  10. John Welch treats this here.

    That article and the other like it in 1993 were abbreviated version of a 30-40 page word study paper that BYU Studies used to circulate. I don’t believe it’s available any more.

  11. Weren’t, if we’re equating titles, evangelists more akin to 70’s, an office not really even used today, outside of the leadership quorums of the 70. (All of whom are High Priests)

  12. Justin gives the correct source for the idea (the JS statement), and Julie gives the correct rationale for the idea (an attempt to account for the fact that we do not have “evangelists” [under that specific name] as a particular office in our church organization).

    If this came up in a class I was attending, I think my reaction would be the same as Mogget’s, to just let it go. But I also think it would be possible to give the class some background understanding without freaking them out too much.

    I think the key to accomplishing this might be with a little bit of magician’s indirection and distraction. I would go into the etymologies of the words. Explain that the “ev-” in evangelist is the Greek adverb *eu* “well, good” and can be seen in such English words as eugenics or euthanasia. The “-angelist” part is related to our English “angel,” which is a messenger, and has to do with one who heralds or conveys news. So an evangelist means one who bears the good news of the Gospel (itself Anglo-Saxon for “good news”). Therefore, an evangelist in the NT has a role essentially like that of a missionary. (We like missionaries, so people will be nodding their heads affirmatively here.)

    If you had time (i.e., if you were leading the class and not just a student making a comment), you could point out that missionary is basically the Latin-derived equivalent of the Greek-derived apostle, each meaning one who has been sent, an emissary.

    Then you explain the etymology of patriarch, which is father-ruler.

    The tricky part, I think, is to distinguish the contextual NT usage of evangelist from the modern LDS (JS-inspired) usage.

    I think the fact is that Joseph’s restorationism was not just NT based, a la Alexander Campbell. Joseph’s was a biblical restorationism, and included a restoration of ancient Israel and many OT concepts, which made the NT-oriented Campbell blanche. (I have a paper detailing all of this at the FAIR site if anyone is interested; search on my name and “A Tale of Two Restorations” to find it.) Notice that in his explanation, Joseph gives the example of Jacob blessing his sons; that is, an OT illustration rather than a NT one.

    So Joseph was creatively melding OT and NT precedents, practices and worship into a unified whole that serves us as a religion today.

    Well, that’s more than 30 seconds worth, and some people would be annoyed by such a suggestion, so maybe there isn’t an easy way to fix this in a classroom *as a student*. But I still think a teacher could accomplish it if approached deftly enough.

  13. Hi Monk,

    I just took a look at Welch’s work. I’m not sure that linking the oracular functions of a modern patriarch more closely to a single pagan inscription (whose date I cannot find at the moment) than to the NT really advances our position. Since the TDNT piece there’s also been an identification with the priestess of Hera in an Ionic inscription (whose date I cannot find at the moment)so the spelling is different.

    In the NT, an evangelist is not ascribed an oracular function and that’s kind of the heart of this historical issue. I think oracular functions are reserved for the prophets and for John.

    Joseph’s was a biblical restorationism, and included a restoration of ancient Israel and many OT concepts

    Kevin! If I were the teacher, I could do this — if I knew the class really, really well and felt that they trusted me and if I really wanted to get involved.

    This de-links the idea of primitive church and the NT. It’s not that I disagree; I wrote the same in an email a couple of years ago, although w/o bells and whistles. But it would be news to lots of folks, I think, and a more public airing would stir up the folks who already argue we’re not Christian.

    If I did get involved as a student, I think I’d just warn folks that their neighbors and friends might not read the term “evangelist” the way JS did. That should be enough to prevent a sense of having been hung out to dry. I’d expand if someone asked for more info.

    evangelists more akin to 70’s

    They’re preachers or missionaries, depending on just who you ask and what time period you’re working with. 70’s would be my first choice. And it looks like a function rather than an office, although there is little unanimity on the matter.

    I’m not sure that the NT associates any priesthood with them, or at least any priesthood as we now understand it. Although there are leadership appointments by Paul, an activity that we might recognize as ordination seems to be most clearly found in the Pastorals. The offices there are bishop-elder-deacon.

    But historicity is an elusive goal in these matters. If JS de-linked “primitive church” from the NT, then there’s a new kid in town.

    kicked out

    Being a jerk, of course. These days, I’m a kinder, gentler Mogget.

  14. Very interesting suggestion, Kevin. One thing, though: I would be inclined to veto “eugenics” and “euthanasia” as examples. Might cause a stir.

    Perhaps “eulogy,” “euphemism,” or “euphoria” would go over better with a mixed LDS crowd.

  15. Ha, you’re right, Justin, I didn’t really think through my examples very well, did I? Better to avoid any negative associations since this would be a touchy operation anyway. I agree with your emendation.

  16. I had another thought or two overnight:

    First, the Sixth AoF is a conflation of 1 Cor 12:23 and Eph 4:11. I had tagged it to the Ephesians passage.

    The ordering of the first two items, apostles and prophets, is retained. The order of the other elements is fluid. None of the three lists match up.

    Second, it’s very interesting that the Sixth AoF omits any reference to the bishop-elder-deacon chain of the Pastorals. JS could well have intended them in the “and so forth” that concludes the Sixth AoF.

    (Yes, I know, we conflate pastors with bishops. Considering how little we know about the early church, that’s no big deal.)

    Third, the idea that the “primitive church” is linked to the NT is supported by the use of Ephesians and 1 Cor in the Sixth AoF.

    But what is the nature of this link and is it the same for each of the offices?

    I’ve begun to wonder if the link in JS’s mind between “evangelist” and the functions of the patriarch was the idea that both were traveling ministries rather than that both performed oracular functions.

    Many folks who work with Ephesians do think that the evangelists traveled from place to place rather than staying put. Some even go so far as to say that evangelists took this role over from the apostles.

    These days, patriarchs are assigned to a stake, but the first patriarch, JS Sr., seems to have done quite a bit of traveling among the branches to give blessings. Others may have as well, but I don’t know with certainty.

    Pertinent dates:

    JS Sr ordained as patriarch: Dec 1833
    Section 107: Dec 1835
    Wentworth letter published: Mar 1842

    This means that JS was referring to patriarchs as evangelists long before there was a Sixth AoF to explain. Whatever his motives for linking the two, the linkage preceded the AoF.

    However, it must be said that I know of no documentation that JS thought about his “evangelical ministers” in this way except for D&C 107: 39, which calls for this office in “all large branches.” This suggests that smaller branches are to be supported by someone who travels out from one of the larger centers.

    At the moment, it just seems like less of a logical leap and easier to deal with than getting caught up trying to explain the oracular function.

    But who knows…

  17. Evangelist = Patriarch. Interesting… But perhaps it is not this pairing that is incorrect, but rather, our modern USE of the word Patriarch. The biblical Patriarchs were Adam, Noah, Abraham, etc. What is a Patriarch? The head of the family… The leader of the children of Israel. The prophet, therefore, can rightly be called the Patriarch (of the Church), in this Old Testament sense of the word. These Prophets had quite an important duty in preaching the Word of God to the Children of Israel. Thus, anyone who goes out preaching and teaching the gospel to people would be understood as an evangelist. Merriam-Webster says Evangelist means:

    1 often capitalized : a writer of any of the four Gospels
    2 : a person who evangelizes; specifically : a Protestant minister or layman who preaches at special services
    3 : an enthusiastic advocate {an evangelist for physical fitness}

    So, quite a few people in our could be termed evangelists by this definition.

    Does “Stake Patriarch” fit into that category? Perhaps. Many other people do, as well.

  18. the functions of the patriarch was the idea that both were traveling ministries

    This is an interesting connection. Up until the early 20th century, patriarchs would go door to door from town to town and solicit opportunities for blessings. Saints would often recieve more than one blessing in a lifetime (the first often being as an infant).

  19. I haven’t read Kevin’s paper, but I believe the idea of patriarchal blessings goes back to Genesis 49, in which Israel the proto-typical patriarch says “Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days.”

    He then gives each of his sons a prophetic blessing.

    Re: the welch article above, I was simply calling attention to it. I’ve never given it a second thought beyond the JS quote and what I’d read from Welch.

  20. calling attention to it

    So I assumed. It’s a piece of the puzzle, and it did lead me into a look at the paleographic record as well as a closer look at Liddell-Scott, so thanks. Really, the word is very, very rare outside the NT and that’s interesting as well. I’ll check the TLG on Monday.

    prophet, therefore, can rightly be called the Patriarch (of the Church)

    Has anyone ever done this? I ask not because it’s necessarily wrong, but because I’ve never heard it applied to our leaders. In our time, the patriarch position seems to have been one of providing a special service rather than formally leading.

    However, it is true that just the presence of an office called “patriarch” does bring the OT into the picture, making is a “biblical restoration” to one extent or another.

    And if you use a really big dictionary, you’ll find that we Mormons have our own entry under “evangelist.” It helps distinguish us from Christians, you know.

    patriarchs would go door to door from town to town

    Now if we were to find out that they were instructed to do a little preaching in each home or meeting as part of delivering a blessing…

  21. Has anyone ever done this?

    I don’t think so. After the prophets death there was a big controversy over William Smith aka. Succession wasn’t quite figured out yet and, I believe it was by Phelps, he was called “Patriarch over the Church” in the T&S. Well that caused a stir because Willy wanted to run the show. In the next issue there was a retraction noting that he was a “Patriarch to the Church.” Now that we no longer have the office, I can’t imagine anything approaching that.

    Now if we were to find out that they were instructed to do a little preaching in each home or meeting as part of delivering a blessing…

    It is probably not unlikely. The records are a bit sketchy, but I have found that they were quite commonly asked to hold dedicatory meetings for peoples homes and bless the sick. What is a little preaching on top?

  22. Geez, if this thread continues, I’m gonna end up regretting my snarky dictionary comment. Maybe since we’re sensitive to the details now, more info will pop up.

    I guess another important piece would be to find out what the “common wisdom” of the early 19th century was concerning what evangelists did. That may also shed light on how JS approached the issue.

    Well, J. Stapley, if you ever want to put some air beneath the wings of this connection, I’ll fix you up with the NT stuff if you like.

  23. So that no one has to wade all the way through my article to find the kernel of the idea there that I thought might be relevant to the instant question, here is the extract I was thinking of:

    W.D. Davies once described Mormonism as a re-Judaizing of a Christianity that had been too much Hellenized.30 This observation helps to explain some of the differences between the restorations of Joseph and Alexander. Where Alexander seemed to be aiming at the restoration of a hypothetical church that might have seemed at home within the pages of Acts, his rejection of Old Testament relevance to the task resulted in a still very Hellenistic image of this ideal church. Joseph’s embrace of the Old Testament as well as imagery and ideals from ancient Israel meant that, in a sense, Joseph overshot Alexander, at first reflecting something like the earlier Christian church at Jerusalem, and then under the influence of his continuing revelations going on to restore Israel itself (just as the early Christians believed they were doing).31

  24. Thanks, Kevin, for the link. I was going to chase it down tomorrow PM, but you’ve saved me some time.

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