I’ve noticed that Michael Bird has recently posted an article on heresy and orthodoxy in early Christianity. From what I can tell (I can’t see the entire article because it’s behind the paywall), he is pushing back against the popular narrative, originally suggested by Walter Bauer in his 1934 book Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, which insists that Christianity was wildly diverse in the earliest centuries and that the heretics outnumbered the orthodox. It was not until the 3rd and 4th centuries, according to Bauer, that the orthodox began to turn the tide.
But I think there’s an additional way to test Bauer’s theory. Let’s ask a simple question: who were the bishops in second-century Christianity? 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…]