Recently I put together a reference guide for Mormons that are potentially in discussions with other Christians that have some interest in early Christian priesthood structure. In this post, I have confined myself to helpful LDS treatments that are available online. Perhaps in a separate post, I will consider compiling a list of articles and books written from a non-Mormon perspective, that are nevertheless worthy of attention. The most important LDS treatment, High Nibley’s Apostles and Bishops in Early Christianity has not been put online yet. Please feel free to comment on any of this literature or point out additional resources that you find helpful.
Here is a list of stuff I have written on the subject:
National Catholic Reporter on Apostolic Succession (Some coverage of Francis Sullivan’s From Apostles to Bishops.)
Deacons Then and Now (I introduce David Horrell’s theory why stationary bishops took over for traveling apostles).
Bowman on Ordination (Response to an evangelical critic, where I argue that ordination is necessary for apostleship. It is interesting that Sullivan and some other Catholic scholars have made concessions to EV scholars that all early bishops could not necessarily trace a chain of ordinations back to the apostles. Some of Father Sullivan’s positions have been criticized by Father Michael McGuckian.)
The Apostolic Foundation (I survey some scholars regarding the expections for apostles derived from the OT and Qumran texts. More importantly check out Baptist’s R. A. Campell’s arguments that apostles were meant to be continually replaced, well after Matthias and James.)
You will probably also need some familiarity with Ignatius and Clement, a couple of early Bishops. Some good written-by-a-Mormon resources:
Dave Nielsen, “Clement of Rome as Seen Through an Apostolic Paradigm” Studia Antiqua 5:2 (Fall 2007) Nielsen analyzes the letter written by Clement, a bishop of Rome usually dated around 96 AD, Nielsen approvingly cites Nibley’s observation that Clement does not claim apostolic authority. Later he relies on Nibley’s analysis that Rome became the most prominent bishopric by virtue of being the capital city of the Roman empire.
Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp: Three Bishops between the Apostles and Apostasy,” Ensign, Aug. 1976, Anderson finds that New Testament bishops “were appointed and supervised by apostles and presided in a defined area.” Analyzing the writings of three early bishops, he concludes “all notably lack the quality [revelation] that enabled the apostles to establish the church.”
Some other notable LDS authored stuff about early Christian priesthood authority.
A. Burt Horsley, Peter and the Popes. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1989 accessible through the BYU’s Religious Studies Center website at (last accessed March 3, 2009) Horsley provides biographical data of the lives of Peter and his Catholic successors. He identifies Matthew 16:18’s “rock” as revelation and argues its loss greatly weakens such succession claims. While rejecting this idea and pointing out that the book’s intended audience is exclusively Mormon, one Catholic reviewer described it as “well- ordered and reasonably accurate” while being “a step toward dialogue and mutual understanding.” See Patrick Madrid, “A Mormon Eyes the Papacy,” This Rock Volume 1:3 March 1990
John A. Tvedtnes, Rejection of Priesthood Leaders as a Cause of the Great Apostasy posted on the FAIR website in 2004. Tvedtnes argues “that the loss of the apostles alone was [not] sufficient for the Lord to withdraw his authority from the earth.” In his view, remaining priesthood holders could conceivably be authorized by revelation to reform the presiding quorum. He combs the New Testament and patristic sources for evidence that wide spread rebellion prevented this from happening.
S. Kent Brown, “The Seventy in Scripture” By Study and Also By Faith, vol. 1 of Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990): 25—45. Brown sifts through the Old Testament and other ancient texts and concludes “it now becomes clear why Jesus chose two sets of disciples, the twelve and the seventy. The twelve bore an obvious relation to the tribes of Israel, the seventy to the gentile nations of the earth as well as to an inner structural entity that existed within the tribal system of preexilic Israel.” Following this study up, John Tvedtnes in “The Lord Appointed Other Seventy Also” looks for hints in early writings for the apostolic mission of Seventy and the names of new members not originally appointed by Jesus, including perhaps, Paul and Barnabus.
C. Wilfred Griggs, “Paul: The Long Road From Damascus” . Griggs demonstrates that Paul’s line of authority is dependent on the Twelve. This counters the notion that Paul’s apostleship derived solely from a visionary experience.
Barry Bickmore, Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity (Ben Lomond, CA : FAIR, 1999). In chapter 5, Bickmore points out the importance of ordination and takes issue with the “priesthood of all believers concept.” He looks into evidence for the persistence of New Testament offices, for example pointing out the Didache’s reference to traveling apostles and prophets. He discusses differences in patristic writings between the Melchizedek and Aaronic priesthoods, but in contrast to Nibley associates bishops with Melchizedek high priests instead of Aaronic high priests.
Two articles covering the pre-Christian era, they set the stage for the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood in the Old World.
Daniel C. Peterson, “Authority in the Book of Mosiah” in FARMS Review 18/1 (2006)
David Larsen, Two High Priesthoods [parts 1,2,3] (publication forthcoming)
Finally three articles about moderating expectations when one does not find a carbon copy of the present LDS organization in the early Christian church:
Grant Underwood, “The ‘Same’ Organization the Existed in the Primitive Church” in Go Ye into All the World: the 31st annual Sperry Symposium eds. Ray Huntington, Thomas Wayment, and Jerome Perkins (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book 2002)
Kevin Barney writes in A Tale of Two Restorations:
If one is to restore the early Christian church, there are two basic ways to go about the task. One would be to restore it the way Nauvoo Restoration restored Heber C. Kimball’s home: to attempt to recreate it as it was and preserve it in precisely that setting. This is a sort of museum approach to restoration, and this was the path followed by Alexander [Campbell]. The alternative approach would be to restore not only the forms of New Testament worship, but also the means, which entail revelation between God and man. This of course is the path followed by Joseph. If one restores the means as well as the forms, however, a paradox arises, for revelation by its very nature can take the church in new directions responsive to changing conditions. It may be that a church patterned after a first century Hellenistic ekklesia is not what is needed by the Saints in, say, twenty-first century Russia. Some in the early Church of this dispensation were not prepared for this possibility.
Blair Hodges Liken with Care is worth the read: