Last week I began a new blog series (see first post here) addressing the theme of unity and diversity in early Christianity, particularly as it pertains to the well-known work of Walter Bauer.
Essentially, Bauer argued there was no such thing “heresy” or “orthodoxy” during this time period. These ideas, he argues, are simply artificial constructs of the later theological victors.
This series is exploring Bauer’s thesis through a number of video conversations between myself and Andreas Köstenberger. These videos reflect on our book that critiques Bauer: The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture’s Fascination with Diversity Has Reshaped Our Understanding of Early Christianity (Crossway, 2010).
In this installment, we simply observe one of the most significant weaknesses in Bauer’s argument–a weakness that many scholars have observed over the years–namely that Bauer never really deals with the first century. Most of his attention is on the second century and later.
But if we consider Christianity in the first century we see a different picture emerge than the one Bauer promotes. The New Testament books, our earliest Christian writings, show that early Christians are already having to draw hard lines between heresy and orthodoxy. That wasn’t something that had to wait till later centuries.
Moreover, many of the “heretical” groups rejected by our NT writings look similar to the heretical groups rejected in the second century and beyond. In other words, there is a continuity between the first and second century in terms of the core commitments of early Christians.
Here’s the video that highlights these issues:
David McKay says
The point about the Old Testament seems most telling to me. All the first century witnesses portray Jesus’ message as emerging within the context of Pharasaical Judaism. Even in his disagreements with the Pharisees, he employed their words, constructs, and traditions. His message was radical (but it was Jewish radical); he wasn’t engaging Greek philosophy.
Bryant J Williams III says
It is interesting that the continued debate of “heresy” and “orthodoxy” always begins in the mid-2nd Century CE. The Gnostics and Marcion are coming into strength at this point. The Great Apologists are in full swing at this time through the first one-third of the 3rd Century CE. I find it interesting that the very first commentary on the Gospel of John is by the Gnostic Valentinius.
One other thought are the books by Dr. Larry W. Hurtado on the early Christians and their doctrines. Highly recommended.
William Duncan says
Starting the book today. I’m a simple, non-academic, follower of Christ, but I see the value for all the Saints to be always renewing our minds. This work will assist us and others in knowing what God’s will is as we live as followers until that day that we no longer require a guide. Thanks for your efforts.
Brett Williams says
Sometimes I think we need to remember that when Paul, in the first half of the first century, wrote his letters that he confirmed which books were his (canonical) and which were not. Paul and his entourage were very much concerned about which books were in and which were not. For decades, (from AD 50 to 100) the letters of Paul were well known in the first century. The same holds for the synoptic gospels. In the event there was any dispute over which NT letters were to be used in the local churches, the Apostle was still available for authenticating the NT letters. So, for 50 years. Apostles were available to confirm which books were canonical. Later (after death of last Apostle), there was bound to be some pockets of churches that were not sure if this or that letter was genuine or not, but for the most part, Paul’s letters were not in dispute among orthodox Christianity. I can’t stress how important it is that the letters of the NT were authenticated by first century Apostles, and so were the gospels. We need to be firmer on insisting that the first century Apostles did an incredible job of verifying the correct NT letters to read. When this happens for decades, the letters of the NT were pretty much solidified before the second century. The early second century simply recognized what was already the correct NT letters. Remember, for DECADES the Apostles (of course John would have been verifying which NT letters were canonical up to the AD 100 year mark) were authenticating which letters and gospels were to be viewed as canonical or not. By the time of the second century, the church had to exclude apocryphal books, but there was not as much problem with which books were in.