Thursday, 26 January 2012
The Heresy of Orthodoxy
The Heresy of Orthodoxy
Andreas J Köstenberger and Michael J Kruger
235 pages, 13 pages indices
Which came first … the diversity or the unity? the heresy or the orthodoxy? Is it possible that our contemporary commitment to diversity (plurality) is adversely affecting our understanding of early Christianity?
Köstenberger and Kruger, in a brief work, offer a serious historical review of the place of unity and orthodoxy in early Christianity. Responding to the influence of Walter Bauer’s Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity (1934, Eng trans. 1971), seen in the work of Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagels among others, Köstenberger and Kruger provide a scholarly refutation of this thesis and of the uncritical adoption of a thesis by using it as an unquestioned paradigm.
Bauer, followed by Ehrman and Pagels, suggests that earliest Christianity was very diverse with no theological unity, no notion of canon of Scripture until these were imposed in the fourth Century by power hunger Roman bishops. By earliest Christianity Bauer means mid to late second century, thus ignoring the evidence of the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers, which is convenient for his thesis.
By careful historical work Köstenberger and Kruger are able to demonstrate that there was considerable unity in theology, especially in Christology in the first century; that the use of the Old Testament by the first century church introduced the concept of canon and that in fact the fourth Century councils merely confirmed the canon that had already emerged and that the science of textual criticism gives us great confidence in the text of the New Testament as we have it in critical Greek editions and modern English versions. This book could have been much longer, thus adding weight to Köstenberger and Kruger’s conclusions, however the many footnotes (645 in total) in the volume illustrate the considerable scholarly consensus behind Köstenberger and Kruger’s conclusions.
The diversity, or growth of heretical opinions, in the second Century requires a unity of theology to diverge from. Orthodoxy is not an heretical idea forced upon the church, but an outworking of our unity in Christ. We are grateful to Köstenberger and Kruger for reminding us that there are limits, boundaries to Christian truth and faith, there are opinions which no matter how sincerely held are not Christian.
At least we can be grateful to Köstenberger and Kruger for demonstrating how a thesis, which even Walter Bauer described as ‘conjectural’ can over time become received wisdom without gaining any new historical support. Of great concern is the way that contemporary writers, such as Ehrman and Pagels, allow their commitment to a philosophical pluralism to drive their ‘scholarship’ into unsupported conclusions.
A scholarly debate about a bad thesis may not seem immediately relevant. However, in days when we need to recover our confidence in the gospel it is good for us to know that we can hold to orthodoxy Christianity without fear or shame; that orthodoxy Christianity is not one Christian option among many, but is in fact true. We do not need to concede that truth is a function of power and power is the only truth. Truth matters, truth exists as does error. With God’s help we can seek for truth, preach truth and live in that truth which he is.