One of the most common arguments about early Christianity—made popular by Walter Bauer’s 1934 book Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity—is that the earliest centuries had such enormous doctrinal diversity that the “heretics” were as prevalent, if not even more numerous, than the “orthodox.” It was not until the 4th century, it is argued, that the orthodox began to turn the tide.
But let’s test this theory by asking a simple question: who were the bishops in second-century Christianity? Who were the leaders of all these churches? If heresy was as widespread as orthodoxy, we should expect to find a number of bishops that are openly Marcionite, Ebionite, Gnostic, and beyond.
The problem for Bauer’s thesis is that this is precisely what we don’t find. [Read more…]