As postmodern ideas have taken root in our culture, exclusive truth claims have increasingly come under attack. Jesus is the only way. The Bible is the inerrant, infallible, inspired Word of God. Orthodoxy and heresy exist.
These are not popular ideas. And in academic circles, the desire to debunk these beliefs has been making the rounds for some time—most notably with the publication of German academic Walter Bauer’s work Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity (1934). In this volume, Bauer puts forth the idea that, rather than Christianity being characterized from its earliest days as unified in the preaching of Jesus’ apostles, the earliest Christians were marked by radical diversity. Today, Bauer has found an impassioned advocate in scholar Bart Ehrman, whose books such as Misquoting Truth and Jesus Interrupted, have brought Bauer’s thesis to the popular level—to the point that today, the only heresy is orthodoxy.
That’s why Andreas Kostenberger and Michael Kruger wrote The Heresy of Orthodoxy. In this book, the authors carefully examine the Bauer-Ehrman thesis and seek to show readers why we can trust the Bible and rest in the knowledge that the faith we have is what was taught by Jesus and His Apostles.
Unity or Pluralism: Which Came First?
Divided into three parts, The Heresy of Orthodoxy first deals with pluralism and the origins of the New Testament. How did the Bauer-Ehrman thesis come about? How diverse was early Christianity? And when did heresy first arise?
While the Bauer thesis asserts that different “Christianities” developed in geographical regions and that “the Church Fathers overstated their case that Christianity emerged from a single, doctrinally unified movement” (p. 40), the authors’ brief survey of the available data suggests otherwise. Starting as Bauer did with late first/early second century sources, they reveal a Christianity that is marked by remarkable consistency, particularly when dealing with the person of Jesus Christ. The authors write:
Although the late first and early second century gave birth to a variety of heretical movements, the set of (Christological) core beliefs known as orthodoxy was considerably earlier, more widespread, and more prevalent than Ehrman and other proponents of the Bauer-Ehrman thesis suggest. . . . [W]hen orthodoxy and heresy are compared in terms of genesis and chronology, it is evident that orthodoxy did not emerge from a heretical morass . . . heresy grew parasitically out of an already established orthodoxy. (pp 66-67)
But rather than relying on comparatively late extrabiblical sources as did Bauer, Kostenberger and Kruger investigate the earliest sources we have: The New Testament itself. Their study reveals that, contrary to Bauer and Ehrman, orthodoxy even at that stage was far more widespread and the prevalence of heresy was far too narrow to suggest that there was an even playing field. [Read more…]