Source:Nibley:CW03:Ch26:1:Plan of Salvation in the Early Church

Plan of Salvation in the Early Church

Plan of Salvation in the Early Church

In the original Christian church it was all very different. In those days, knowledge came by revelation. The earliest Christian documents, especially those brought forth in recent years, contain frequent references to a remarkable cosmology which the later church lost. As might be expected, people whose contacts with the other world were real and intimate would not settle for philosophical commonplaces when it came to the great plan of eternal life. Behind everything, according to the early Christians, there was a plan agreed on before the foundation of the earth, and our earthly experience was to be explained in terms of prior agreements made before the creation of the earth. A clear indication of this is given in a fragment by Papias. The case of Papias, incidentally, illustrates well how easily and how quickly the church lost the great treasures of revealed knowledge. "I shall not be ashamed," he writes, "to set down for you whatsoever I have correctly learned from the Elders, and well remembered as to their interpretations, having confirmed first their reliability. . . . If any ever came who had been a follower of the Elders, I would inquire into what the Elders had said: what Andrew or Philip or Thomas or James or John or Matthew or any of the Lord's other disciples had had to say about this or that. . . . For I did not think that I would be helped as much by what was in the books as by those things which came by the living voices that remained." Of the ten-odd surviving fragments thus collected, the most important has to do with the millennium and was, of course, firmly rejected by the churchmen of a later age; but what interests us here is the teaching of "the Elders" that "to some of them, that is, those angels who had been faithful to God (lit. Gods) in former times, he gave supervision over the government of the earth, trusting or commissioning them to rule well. . . . And nothing has occurred [since] to put an end to their order."

We cite this very brief passage because it definitely traces the doctrine of the great plan back to the original apostolic church. [1]


  1. Hugh W. Nibley, The World and the Prophets, 3rd edition, (Vol. 3 of Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, Gary P. Gillum, and Don E. Norton (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company; Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1987), Chapter 26, references silently removed—consult original for citations.