Responding to the Bart Ehrman/Bauer Thesis

 

Over the years I have studied a good deal about the birth of the Christian faith. When I mean ‘birth’ I mean the rise of the Jesus movement pre 70 AD. I am well aware that many people view Christianity through the events of the Council of Nicaea or at a much later date than 70 AD. There is still an ongoing debate as to when we actually have an official Christianity. Anyway, I have always found the period of 33 a.d to 70 AD to be immensely important for the following reasons:

First, we still have the skeptic community preaching that the Jesus story is the result of some sort of religious syncretism. In other words, supposedly there is nothing original about the Jesus story! Secondly, we have people like Bart Ehrman writing books like Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew which causes great confusion in the minds of many people.

Ehrman has largely followed the work of Walter Bauer. A summary of Bauer’s thesis can be read here. Here is a small tidbit:

In 1934, Walter Bauer played a hand at the historians’ table with Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei im ältesten Christentum.2 Bauer presented the thesis that certain forms of Christianity that the church later regarded as “heresies” were originally not distinguished as such but were in some cities or regions the earliest and strongest forms of Christianity while the form that became orthodox Christianity was later and sometimes in the minority. Thus, according to Bauer, earliest Christianity was characterized by initial diversity and conflict. He argued that in the second and third centuries the Roman church increasingly promoted and enforced its version of orthodoxy. This eventually became the majority view while other forms shrunk to a minority or were extinguished through polemics. Bauer suggested that in the third and fourth centuries, especially with Eusebius’s version of ecclesiastical history, the reality of early diversity was replaced with what became the “traditional view”—that Jesus Christ handed down an orthodox teaching to the apostles, who were then sent with authority to establish churches throughout the world.

So the gist is that because of Ehrman’s usage of the Bauer thesis, many people assume that there was a huge power struggle in the early years after Jesus as to what books belonged in the Bible. Therefore, the ‘winners’ came out on top and the ‘losers’ fell to the waste side. Well if it was just that simple. Two books that are very helpful in dealing with this topic are the following:

The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture’s Fascination with Diversity Has Reshaped Our Understanding of Early Christianity by Michael Kruger and Andreas J. Köstenberger

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To see a short review of this book by Paul Gould, see here:

Another book by Kruger that is very helpful is Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books

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It is imperative for Christians to be informed about this topic. Give these a read. You won’t be disappointed.

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