The Great Apostasy
by Woody Brison

Basic Principles
Supporting comments and documentation:
The first-century church of Jesus was dissolved and replaced by a man-made system that pretends or believes it is the original. This system has been operating for almost 2000 years, distributing a diluted form of the Gospel and being an influence for both good and evil among mankind. Thus a large number of Father's children have lived on the earth under these conditions, because He knew they needed such.

Jesus Organized a Church

The Lord's church having been lost, it could not be re-created by man. It would need to be restored from heaven.

2. When Jesus was on the earth, he set up his church among his disciples. But he taught them that it would not last. They would be persecuted, beaten, tortured, and killed; evil men would take over the church and the true church would disappear from the earth, for a long time. *

* Naturally, this was something that was purged from the literature (see paragraph 11) but a few hints still survive, for instance:

Luke 21:12-17) ...they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name's sake. ... And ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolks, and friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake.

John 21:15-19) ...Jesus saith to Simon Peter ... When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God.

One passage that has misled many people:

Matthew 16:18) And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

This sounds like the church would never fail; but it's not a good translation. The last word, "it", correctly rendered from the Greek word αυτης would be "hers" - those that belong to the church. "Gates of hell" is from πυλαι ἁδου – the gates of Hades, ie. death, not hell. "Shall not prevail" should be "shall not hold down or keep down" (ου κατισχυσουσιν). In this context it should be translated, "...upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of death shall not keep imprisoned those that are hers." Death won't hold his disciples, for he will resurrect them. It doesn't have anything to do with how long the church would last.


Matt. 28:19-20) Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.

I'm not certain Jesus was the source of this last statement. Mark 16:15-18, Luke 24:46-47, Mormon 9:22-25 and DC 68:8-10 all quote this same speech, and none of the others have that last part. It may be a later addition to the text, someone remembered that he said this, or something like it, or it might have been said by someone else. At any rate, this is another poor translation. "The end of the world" is from the Greek της συντελειας (consummation) του αιωνος. (age, era). He's saying he'll be with those disciples, not until the end of the world, but until the completion of that age. Rev. 6 suggests that that age ended a long time ago; Joseph Smith said each seal represents 1000 years, and the horses and other figures represent the salient characteristics of those eras. The fifth seal featured the Christian martyrs; we are now in the beginning of the seventh thousand years.

3. After Jesus departed, the Apostles led the church under His direction. They knew how to get revelation from him on what to do, and they could ordain new Apostles to replace ones that died. Acts 1:15-26) And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, ... of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, ... must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, show which of these two thou hast chosen, that he may take part of this ministry and apostleship... And they gave forth their lots (klerous, shards); and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. (See my Commentary on Acts 1:21-26.)
4. As the church began to get popular, evil men - slaves of Satan - entered the church and worked their way into positions of leadership. The Apostles opposed them, and would expel them from the Church when they found them, so they arranged to kill the Apostles and other good leaders. Often they used the law as a murder weapon, accusing the Apostles falsely of various crimes, getting them convicted and executed. Eventually, the Apostles were killed off faster than they could get together and choose new ones.

Acts 20:29-30) For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.

5. By about AD 100, the Apostles were gone. That left the church decapitated and severed from its source of life, the rock it was founded on - the power of revelation from the Lord. Matt. 16:13-18) When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church...

"What rock? Revelation." -Joseph Smith, HC 5:258

6. God allowed this to happen because the people of the church sided with the evil men, knowingly.

There were too many new people in the church who didn't have the principles of honesty and virtue ingrained in them deeply enough. They wanted to believe in the easy story rather than hear the Apostles' difficult message.

2Timothy 1:15) This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me ...

2Tim. 4:3-4) For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.

Isaiah 30:9 -11) ...this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the Lord: Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits: Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us.

7. Besides, He doesn't force his children to believe or vote any certain way. He allows them the choice.

Joshua 24:15) And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served ... or the gods of the Amorites ... but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

8. Part of the Apostles' calling was to regulate the church - including choosing, ordaining, instructing, and releasing bishops and elders. Many times when a bishop would die, an Apostle might not get around to that town for a long time, so the people would elect and ordain a new bishop themselves. They had no authority to do so but they didn't know what else to do, and when an Apostle did come along, he could confirm the choice, or straighten things out. The evil men taking over the church used this path, I think, to become bishops and other leaders.

Acts 15:36) And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do.

Acts 15:41) And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.

Acts 16:4) And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem.

Titus 1:5) For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee.

When the Apostles were all gone, the highest office left in the church was the bishop.

9. When they got control, they began to change things. They changed the rituals of the church and introduced false practices, such as
-rich decorations in the houses of worship
-impressive costumes for the priesthood
-idols in the church to be worshipped by the people (often, statues and paintings of the leaders they'd done away with, including Jesus being executed)
-taxes and levies
-the notion that the Apostles were no longer needed - God had done away with them!
-that some bishops could rule over others
-and various other abominations such as great luxuries and sex slaves for themselves
-and even torturing and murdering anyone who opposed them.

Ephesians 4:11-13) And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ...

Have we all become united? Have we all become perfect? Then it was not God that "did away" with them.

Some of these changes were implemented to get more converts from among the superstitious people of the world, and some were just selfish measures, to get luxuries and stay in power.

10. And thus there was a different church, the church of the devil, having a resemblance to, and many of the traditions of, the Lord's original church; but with a very different agenda, and ruler. This is what's called in prophecy "the Great and Abominable church". The time between AD 100 and 200 approximately, was a very dark period.

Isaiah 24:5) ...they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant.

Isa. 60:2) For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people.

1Nephi 13:4-9) And it came to pass that I saw among the nations of the Gentiles the formation of a great church. And the angel said unto me: Behold the formation of a church which is most abominable above all other churches, which slayeth the saints of God, yea, and tortureth them and bindeth them down, and yoketh them with a yoke of iron, and bringeth them down into captivity. And it came to pass that I beheld this great and abominable church; and I saw the devil that he was the founder of it. And I also saw gold, and silver, and silks, and scarlets, and fine- twined linen, and all manner of precious clothing; and I saw many harlots. And the angel spake unto me, saying: Behold the gold, and the silver, and the silks, and the scarlets, and the fine-twined linen, and the precious clothing, and the harlots, are the desires of this great and abominable church. And also for the praise of the world do they destroy the saints of God, and bring them down into captivity.

11. They arranged for the literature of the church, the books and letters written by the Apostles, to be purged of many important and vital doctrines and elements, because these things indicted them. Also, remember, they were slaves of Satan and he wanted those things destroyed. 1Nephi 13:24-28) ...when it [the New Testament] proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew [Jesus, presumably] it contained the fulness of the gospel of the Lord... Wherefore, these things go forth from the Jews in purity unto the Gentiles, according to the truth which is in God. And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away. And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men. Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God.

An honest examination of the New Testament shows that it is fragmentary. In many places, the text makes little sense (for instance, Matt. 5:29-30, 1Cor. 15:31), it gives multiple conflicting versions of the same events (Matt. 27:54/Mark 15:39/Luke 23:47, Matt. 8:5-13/Luke 7:1-10/John 4:46-54), it hops to a new subject without finishing the story (Acts 7:50-51), and briefly mentions many critical things without explanation (1Cor. 15:40, Jude 1:9).

"The scriptures that the Christians had at the beginning of the second century [AD 100] were different from those that they had at the end of the second century [AD 200]. By the end of the second century, the scriptures of the Christians were very close to those we have at present." -John Gee, The Corruption of Scripture in the Second Century [Gee bases this analysis on scripture quotations by writers of that era]
12. But why did God allow all that to happen? Because it was his plan all along to let it happen. He didn't make it happen but he allowed it to. This created conditions where the gospel was on the earth in a diluted form. Apparently He had many children who needed that kind of experience during their mortal span.

Ecclesiastes 1:13) ...this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith.

2Nephi 2:24) But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.

13. A person who has committed serious sins loses their priesthood authority, whether or not that fact is acknowledged. And a person cannot get the priesthood by being ordained to it by someone who doesn't have it. It just doesn't work. Thus the priesthood ranks became filled with men who didn't have it, but pretended or believed they did.

Doctrine and Covenants 121:36-37) ...the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and ... the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness. That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake ... any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.

14. Eventually, there were no congregations left anywhere functioning under the direction of the priesthood. The church of Christ no longer existed on the earth, and eventually there was not a man left who had the priesthood.

This loss of the true church from the earth is called the Great Apostasy.

2Thessalonians 2:1-3, my translation:) Concerning the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering unto him, we request then, brethren, that you please not quickly get shaken nor driven from the [correct] understanding; not by a [false] spirit, or rumor, nor even because of any letter as if it were from us [ie. forged] - anything to the effect that the great day of the blessed Lord is soon. None of you should be decieved by any means; that will not happen, until first, the great apostasy... [Greek: ἡ αποστασια "great falling away". Greek articles ('h, 'o, ths, tou, etc.) are universally translated into English as "the", but the usage shows they meant something closer to the -san suffix in Japanese: honorable, esteemed, great]
15. Few realized that the power of the priesthood was no longer there at all - there were no miracles of healing, no revelations, but the dogma was created that those kinds of things weren't necessary any more.

2Tim. 3:5) Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

There were a few miracles when people had enough faith; and there were fake miracles pushed forward.

16. Around AD 200 onward, I think these evil men in the upper ranks were dying out (the Lord didn't allow Satan to keep them in power) and some of the offices of powerful bishops began to be filled by good men.

So we can say that to some extent the Great and Abominable Church was reduced, but the Lord's church did not return, for it had been lost. Men without authority could not just re-create it, neither from scripture, by faith, by praying, by wishing, by pretending. It was established from heaven; so it would have to be restored from heaven again.

The Great and Abominable Church is still around today, 1Nephi 14:9-12; but will be destroyed, 2Nephi 28:18 & 1Nephi 22:14, Rev. 14:8, DC 1:16. It doesn't seem to be any specific organization but rather a thread that winds thru many organizations.

17. These new bishops and other leaders did not know the gospel to the depth the early Christians had known it, and the scriptures had been purged of many key things. Thus there was a great vacuum, a market for knowledge like the old Apostles had.

Amos 8:11-12) Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it.

18. Various entreprenuers started selling secrets said to be Jesus' higher, secret teachings. There really had been such teachings, but these men didn't have them - for material they just borrowed from other old religions, such as Zoroastrianism, Mithraism, the Jewish and Egyptian mysteries, and Greek philosophy. Thus a great deal of rubbish proliferated as Christian literature and doctrine.

19. The new generation of bishops tried to sort it out. One thing they could do was to weed out the obviously counterfeit, which they did by refining a list of valid books of scripture - any book not on that list was anathema. These lists were solidified by about AD 400. Thus the scriptures underwent a second round of purging. In the process, they rejected some books that were genuine, altho probably not in a pristine state, such as the Book of Enoch. They had no way of restoring corrupt or missing things.

The "Nag Hammadi Library" was a big jar full of condemned books, buried near Thebes, Egypt, in response to an edict that went out. The books have quotations of Jesus not found in the New Testament.

The Old Testament had already undergone a similar process of purging and canonization; in the first century AD the Jewish leaders removed many things that identified Jesus as the Messiah, and they made lists of the "correct" books (not these new books by the Apostles), because too many Jews were becoming Christians.

20. In process of time, actual books were constructed with all the books in the list in one cover, and these became the New Testament.

The oldest complete New Testaments extant are the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus, dated to about AD 350. Individual manuscripts such as John or Acts, or small books of the 4 Gospels or Paul's letters, etc. dating to about AD 300 exist. From the 1st/2nd centuries we have zero NT manuscripts - just quotations, from writers of that time.

21. In sifting doctrines, the new bishops created the dogma that everything needed for eternal life was given to man, in the Old and New Testaments, and there simply weren't any "higher teachings". A few traces of them still survive.

See my essay on Remnants of the Higher Teachings.

22. This left the church in somewhat of a strange condition. Many good and correct doctrines were lost, and some really strange things had gotten adopted, such as the worship of idols, the baptism of babies, the sale of indulgences, a celibate priesthood, and a Pope.

Matthew 23:9) And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. (The Italian phrase Il Papa means "the Father".)

23. As many questions came up, different scholars developed various answers. They did not know how to get revelation from heaven like the Apostles used to. They tried to find answers in the scriptures, appealed to tradition, discussed questions via letters and in councils, reasoned, and sometimes just guessed. Sometimes they came to absurd conclusions. And they adopted doctrines from Greek philosophy, such as God the Father being an intangible essence. Sometimes disagreements became so heated that each side excommunicated the other!

Augustine grappled with the question of infants that die unbaptized. He concluded that they must be damned. He tried to smooth this off by saying they'd only get the "mildest punishment". For what? ... It's obvious he was simply guessing from an incomplete set of gospel teachings, to put it charitably.

1Tim. 4:1-3) Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats...

There was a heated debate on the proper day to celebrate Easter, resulting in just such excommunications.

24. As the church became a man-made organization without the ability to administer the saving ordinances, the world ceased to oppose it as vigorously as before, and it enjoyed enormous success, spreading throughout most of the Old World.

It went west as far as the Atlantic; north to Scandinavia and Russia; east as far as India; and south into Africa.

25. This man-made church began to split into many factions, which generally deny the validity of each other's baptisms, and do not share resources.

1Corinthians 1:10-13) Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?

Eph. 4:1-5) I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism...

26. As the centuries went by, Christianity flourished and spread, but it was a diluted form of Christianity. They had the New Testament and other traditions, and organizations reminiscent of what he had set up, but it was an empty form. The Lord's covenants were missing, and quite a bit of nonsense had been adopted.

Anyone can make a personal covenant with God; but he has specific covenants, such as baptism, which are required for salvation and are only valid if made in his name by an authorized representative. These points were deleted from the New Testament early on.

27. With this system in place, many, many millions of Father's children have lived on the earth, children who were ready for physical bodies and mortal life, but not ready for the priesthood and the covenants. A limited text about Jesus' doings, and about his church while it was still in place, plus some tradtions from the early church, have given us a sort of half-lit earthly condition in which these children could mature and come to realize the realities of life, without brighter light and heavier responsibilities they are not ready for.

28. Today, there are something like 2 billion Christians, and many suppose, in one way or another, that they are part of the original church that Jesus founded. Others believe that he never established a church, but that this was something his later disciples did, erroneously. A small minority have discovered that the Lord has restored his church. But he didn't rebuild it on the ruins of the old one; he began again on new, true and solid foundations.

Jesus established a church.

In Joseph Smith's first vision (1820), he learned that the true church was not on the earth.

Luke 5:36-38) ...No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved.


1. Woody Brison is an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but this website is not affiliated with the church. It may be thought of as an additional, somewhat independent witness.

2. I want this page to be as accurate as I can make it. If you have a correction, please email me.

3. All biblical quotations are from the King James unless otherwise noted.

4. Another exposition of this subject, digging into the ancient sources, is Hugh Nibley's article "The Passing of the Primitive Church: Forty Variations on an Unpopular Theme" online on the Maxwell Institute's website. I've put my study notes on this article online also.

Copyright 2013 Woody Brison. All rights reserved.