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Jesus Interrupted 6: How We Got the Bible

05/11/2011

Ehrman is giving a history of the beginnings of the Bible. My biggest takeaway here is that there were many different belief systems surrounding Jesus. Some thought he was fully God, others that he was fully human, and still others that he was two people. These were not “heretical” views against the “orthodox” Christianity we know today, but very popular and widespread views that equaled what we would call the orthodox beliefs. What happened in history is that once one viewpoint began to dominate, it rewrote history, and characterized all other views as fringe. Given the large popularity of these other views, that seems inaccurate. Some may even reflect authors like Matthew more closely than orthodox views.

Kindle Notes:

In the first few centuries of the church, lots of different Christian groups espoused a wide range of theological and ecclesiastical views. These different groups were completely at odds with each other over some of the most fundamental issues: How many Gods are there? Was Jesus human? Was he divine? Is the material world inherently good or evil? Does salvation come to the human body, or does it come by escaping the body? Does Jesus’ death have anything to do with salvation? The problem in the development of the canon of Scripture was that each and every one of the competitive groups of Christians—each of them insisting they were right, each trying to win converts—had sacred books that authorized their points of view. And most of these books claimed to be written by apostles. Who was right? The canon that emerged from these debates represented the books favored by the group that ended up winning (2965).

Some scholars have thought that the Ebionites may have held views very much like those of the first followers of Jesus, such as his brother James or his disciple Peter, both leaders of the church in Jerusalem in the years after Jesus’ death. James in particular appears to have held to the ongoing validity of the Jewish law for all followers of Jesus. His view, and evidently that of the Ebionites later, was that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah sent from the Jewish God to the Jewish people in fulfillment of the Jewish law (2987).

Eventually the apostle Paul came along and insisted the opposite, that the God of Jesus was the God of all people and that gentiles did not have to become Jewish to follow Jesus. For Paul, doing what the law required could not put a person into a right standing with God, and trying to keep the law was pointless when it came to salvation. Paul ended up winning this argument, but for centuries there were Christians who disagreed with him, including the Ebionites (2993).

The God of the Old Testament was a wrathful, vengeful God of judgment; the God of Jesus was a loving and merciful God of salvation. How different were these two Gods? Marcion drew a logical conclusion: these were two different Gods. The God of the Old Testament had created this world, chosen Israel to be his people, given them his law, and then condemned them, and everyone else, to eternal punishment when they disobeyed. The God of Jesus had nothing to do with this creation, Israel, or the law, and came into this world to save people from the wrath of the Old Testament God (3012).

The assumption of the various Gnostic groups was that some of us do not come from here, on this earth, and do not belong here. We come from another realm, a heavenly place, and we have become entrapped in the evil confines of our bodies. We need to learn how to escape, and for that we need secret knowledge (gnosis) (3037).

Ultimately, only one group of Christians won in the struggle to gain converts. Their victory was probably sealed sometime in the third century. When the Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in the early fourth century, he converted to this victorious form of the faith. When Christianity later became the official religion of the empire, about fifty years after Constantine, it was this form that was accepted by nearly everyone—with (3064).

In many places of early Christianity, forms of Christian belief that were later labeled heretical were the original form of Christianity, and in some parts of the church so-called heretics outnumbered those who agreed with the orthodox form of the faith. In some places Marcionite Christianity was dominant; in other places, one or another of the Gnostic systems prevailed. Moreover, a number of Christian groups saw no sharp divisions between what would later be called heresy and what would be called orthodoxy. The clear theological distinctions of Eusebius’s day were not original to the faith, but were created later when the battle lines were drawn up. Some people who were later considered heretics would have been seen, and were seen, as completely orthodox in their own day. The way Bauer saw it, the church of the second and third centuries was not made up of one massive and dominant movement known as orthodoxy, with heretical groups at the fringes. Early on there were all sorts of groups with all sorts of views in lots of different places (3319).

The Roman Christians asserted their influence on other churches; as the church in Rome, the center of the empire, this community was larger, wealthier, and better organized than other Christian groups. This Roman group acquired more converts than any of the others, eventually stamped out all of its competition, declared itself orthodox, argued that its views really were those of Jesus and the apostles, claimed that it had always been the majority view, and then—as a final coup de grâce—rewrote the history of the conflict. What emerged was a Christianity characteristic of the Roman church. It was Roman Christianity—Roman catholic (meaning universal) Christianity (3328).

Eusebius stands at the end of this process. It was his rewriting of history that made all later historians think that his group had always been the majority opinion. But it did not really happen that way (3334).

And the books that we consider Scripture came to be formed into a canon centuries after they were written. This was not, in my opinion, the result of divine activity; it was the result of very human church leaders (all of them men) doing their best to decide what was right (3459).

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