Sunday, April 09, 2006

Newsweek And The Concept Of A Diverse Early Christianity

David Gates of Newsweek has a generally good article on the Gospel of Judas, but there's a portion of it that suggests a common misconception. Gates tells us that the Gospel of Judas "may simply add to our sense of how inchoate and multifarious early Christianity was, before such church fathers as Irenaeus codified it". Why should we assume that everybody who voiced an opinion in early church history was equally or nearly equally credible? Do we put local members of the Communist party in the same category as Republicans and Democrats, just because those Communists existed at the same time in history and expressed some political views? Think of all of the scientists, philosophers, artists, politicians, etc. who exist at any given time in history. Should we assume that all of them are of equal or nearly equal credibility in their respective fields?

And what was it that people like Irenaeus "codified"? Primarily concepts that were already taught by previous generations and in scripture itself. Here, below, is Irenaeus' summary of the apostolic faith held by the churches of his day. Notice that all of these doctrines are easily attainable from scripture and are advocated by sources prior to Irenaeus' time:

"For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, in that case, to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches? To which course many nations of those barbarians who believe in Christ do assent, having salvation written in their hearts by the Spirit, without paper or ink, and, carefully preserving the ancient tradition, believing in one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and all things therein, by means of Christ Jesus, the Son of God; who, because of His surpassing love towards His creation, condescended to be born of the virgin, He Himself uniting man through Himself to God, and having suffered under Pontius Pilate, and rising again, and having been received up in splendour, shall come in glory, the Saviour of those who are saved, and the Judge of those who are judged, and sending into eternal fire those who transform the truth, and despise His Father and His advent. Those who, in the absence of written documents, have believed this faith, are barbarians, so far as regards our language; but as regards doctrine, manner, and tenor of life, they are, because of faith, very wise indeed; and they do please God, ordering their conversation in all righteousness, chastity, and wisdom. If any one were to preach to these men the inventions of the heretics, speaking to them in their own language, they would at once stop their ears, and flee as far off as possible, not enduring even to listen to the blasphemous address. Thus, by means of that ancient tradition of the apostles, they do not suffer their mind to conceive anything of the doctrines suggested by the portentous language of these teachers, among whom neither Church nor doctrine has ever been established." (Against Heresies, 3:4:1-2)


  1. "And what was it that people like Irenaeus "codified"? Primarily concepts that were already taught by previous generations and in scripture itself."

    Nice beg there!

  2. Laddie, there's no question about the case that (a) The NT canon was complete by the end of the First Century: (b) the gnostic 'gospels' are Second Century productions, bearing the signs of infiltration by Greek philosophy.

    What I find most interesting about these gnostic 'gospels' (for they are very different products to the canonical Gospels) is that so far, all of them have been in Coptic, and not the languages of the Bible.

  3. Ted said:

    "Nice beg there!"

    Yes, I did assume that the readers would have enough discernment to realize that the doctrines are Biblical. If you don't think they're in scripture, then why don't you tell me which doctrines supposedly aren't there? Do you deny that monotheism is Biblical? Creation? The humanity of Jesus? The virgin birth? His suffering under Pontius Pilate? The atonement? The resurrection? What isn't Biblical? Do you deny that Irenaeus himself refers to the doctrines as Biblical in the passage I cited? He begins by saying that the concepts are in scripture, but that they could be derived from tradition as well if necessary. Irenaeus agreed with my assessment, and I see nothing in his comments that's inconsistent with his claim.

  4. Jason,

    You must remember that we live in the age of the New Gnosticism, so anyting resembling that in the Apostolic age is going to confirm these folks.


  5. "Irenaeus agreed with my assessment, and I see nothing in his comments that's inconsistent with his claim."

    So, because you don't see it, it could not possibly exist, right?

  6. Ted,

    Why don't you point out what you think the inconsistency is? Otherwise, you ought to quit trolling.

  7. Ted,

    I didn't claim that it's not possible that I'm wrong. But if you think I'm wrong, you should explain why. If you had a good argument, I would expect you to have used it by now. Maybe you'll try to come up with one before you post again. Or maybe your next post will be as insignificant as all of your previous ones. Why do you keep posting when you don't have anything significant to say?