The term proto-orthodox Christianity or proto-orthodoxy was coined by New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman and describes the Early Christian movement which was the precursor of Christian orthodoxy. Ehrman argues that this group from the moment it became prominent by the end of the third century, "stifled its opposition, it claimed that its views had always been the majority position and that its rivals were, and always had been, 'heretics', who willfully 'chose' to reject the 'true belief'."In contrast, Larry W. Hurtado argues that proto-orthodox Christianity is rooted in first century Christianity.
The New Testament is the second part of the Christian biblical canon, the first being the Old Testament. The New Testament discusses the teachings and person of Jesus, as well as events in first-century Christianity. Christians regard both the Old and New Testaments together as sacred scripture.
Bart Denton Ehrman is an American New Testament scholar focusing on textual criticism of the New Testament, the historical Jesus, the origins and development of early Christianity. He has written and edited 30 books, including three college textbooks. He has also authored six New York Times bestsellers. He is currently the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Orthodoxy is adherence to correct or accepted creeds, especially in religion. In the Christian sense the term means "conforming to the Christian faith as represented in the creeds of the early Church." The first seven ecumenical councils were held between the years of 325 and 787 with the aim of formalizing accepted doctrines.
According to Ehrman, "'Proto-orthodoxy' refers to the set of [Christian] beliefs that was going to become dominant in the 4th century, held by people before the 4th century." 7:57)(
Ehrman expands on the thesis of German New Testament scholar Walter Bauer (1877–1960), laid out in his primary work Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity (1934). Bauer hypothesised that the Church Fathers, most notably Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History , "had not given an objective account of the relationship of early Christian groups." Instead, Eusebius would have "rewritten the history of early Christian conflicts, so as to validate the victory of the orthodox party that he himself represented." 11:42) Eusebius claimed that orthodoxy derived directly from the teachings of Jesus and his earliest followers, and had always been the majority view; by contrast, all other Christian views were branded as "heresies", that is to say, willful corruptions of the truth, held by small numbers of minorities.(
Walter Bauer was a German theologian, lexicographer of New Testament Greek, and scholar of the development of Early Christianity.
Eusebius of Caesarea, also known as Eusebius Pamphili, was a historian of Christianity, exegete, and Christian polemicist. He became the bishop of Caesarea Maritima about 314 AD. Together with Pamphilus, he was a scholar of the Biblical canon and is regarded as an extremely learned Christian of his time. He wrote Demonstrations of the Gospel, Preparations for the Gospel, and On Discrepancies between the Gospels, studies of the Biblical text. As "Father of Church History", he produced the Ecclesiastical History, On the Life of Pamphilus, the Chronicle and On the Martyrs. He also produced a biographical work on the first Christian Emperor, Constantine the Great, who ruled between 306 and 337 AD.
The Church History of Eusebius, the bishop of Caesarea was a 4th-century pioneer work giving a chronological account of the development of Early Christianity from the 1st century to the 4th century. It was written in Koine Greek, and survives also in Latin, Syriac and Armenian manuscripts.
However, in modern times, many non-orthodox early Christian writings were discovered by scholars, gradually challenging the traditional Eusebian narrative. Bauer was the first to suggest that what later became known as "orthodoxy" was originally just one out of many early Christian sects (such as the Ebionites, Gnostics and Marcionists), that however was able to eliminate all major opposition by the end of the 3rd century, and managed to establish itself as orthodoxy at the First Council of Nicaea (325) and subsequent ecumenical councils. According to Bauer, the early Egyptian churches were largely Gnostic, the 2nd-century churches in Asia Minor were largely Marcionist, and so on. But because the church in the city of Rome was "proto-orthodox" (in Ehrman's terms), Bauer contended they had strategic advantages over all other sects because of their proximity to the Roman Empire's centre of power. 13:43) As the Roman political and cultural elite converted to the locally held form of Christianity, they started exercising their authority and resources to influence the theology of other communities throughout the Empire, sometimes by force. Bauer cites the First Epistle of Clement as an early example of the bishop of Rome interfering with the church of Corinth to impose its own proto-orthodox doctrine of apostolic succession, and to favour a certain group of local church leaders over another. (15:48)(
Ebionites is a patristic term referring to a Jewish Christian movement that existed during the early centuries of the Christian Era. They regarded Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah while rejecting his divinity and his virgin birth and insisted on the necessity of following Jewish law and rites. They used only one of the Jewish–Christian gospels, the Hebrew Book of Matthew starting at chapter three; revered James, the brother of Jesus ; and rejected Paul the Apostle as an apostate from the Law. Their name suggests that they placed a special value on voluntary poverty. Ebionim was one of the terms used by the sect at Qumran who sought to separate themselves from the corruption of the Temple. Many believe that the Qumran sectarians were Essenes.
Gnosticism is a modern name for a variety of ancient religious ideas and systems, originating in Hellenistic Judaism and the Jewish Christian milieux in the first and second century AD. Many of these systems believed that the material world is created by an emanation or 'works' of a lower god (demiurge), trapping the divine spark within the human body. This divine spark could be liberated by gnosis, spiritual knowledge acquired through direct experience. Gnosticism is not a single system, and the emphasis on direct experience allows for a wide variety of teachings, which may include but are not limited to the following:
Marcionism was an Early Christian dualist belief system that originated in the teachings of Marcion of Sinope in Rome around the year 144.
According to Ehrman, proto-orthodox Christianity bequeathed to subsequent generations "four Gospels to tell us virtually everything we know about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus" and "handed down to us the entire New Testament, twenty-seven books".Similar to later Chalcedonian views about Jesus, the proto-orthodox believed that Christ was both divine as well as a human being, not two halves joined together. Likewise they regarded God as three persons; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; but only one God.
Chalcedonian Christianity refers to the Christian denominations adhering to the christological definitions and ecclesiological resolutions of the Council of Chalcedon, the Fourth Ecumenical Council held in 451. Chalcedonian Christians follow the Definition of Chalcedon, a religious doctrine concerning the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ. The great majority of Christian communions and confessions in the 21st century are Chalcedonian, but from the 5th to the 8th centuries the ascendancy of Chalcedonian Christology was not always certain.
Martyrdom played a major role in proto-orthodox Christianity, as exemplified by Ignatius of Antioch in the beginning of the second century. Imperial authorities arrested him "evidently for Christian activities" and condemned him as fodder for wild beasts.He expressed eagerness to die, expecting thus to "attain to God". Following Ignatius, many proto-orthodox theorists saw it as a privilege to die for faith. In fact martyrdom became a way to tell the true believers from the heretics. If someone wasn't willing to die for what they believed, they were seen as not dedicated to the faith.
Ignatius of Antioch, also known as Ignatius Theophorus or Ignatius Nurono, was an early Christian writer and bishop of Antioch. En route to Rome, where he met his martyrdom, Ignatius wrote a series of letters. This correspondence now forms a central part of the later collection known as the Apostolic Fathers, of which he is considered one of the three chief ones together with Pope Clement I and Polycarp. His letters also serve as an example of early Christian theology. Important topics they address include ecclesiology, the sacraments, and the role of bishops.
Another facet of the faith was the structure of the church. It was common – as it is today – for a church to have a leader. Ignatius wrote several letters to several churches instructing them to let the leaders (usually the bishops) handle all the problems within the church. He exhorted Church members to listen to the bishops as they were the leaders: "Be subject to the Bishop as to the commandment…We are clearly obligated to look upon the bishop as the Lord himself ... You should do nothing apart from the bishop."The role of the bishop paved the way for hierarchies in churches that we often see today.
Another important aspect about proto-orthodox Christianity involves its views on Jews and Jewish practices. An important book for them was the Epistle of Barnabas, which taught that the Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament was improperly literal, while the Epistle offered metaphorical interpretations as the truth, such as on laws concerning diet, fasting, and the Sabbath, moreover, that the Old Testament was specifically written to presage the coming of Jesus, and that not only did Christ's covenant supersede the Mosaic covenant, but that "the Jews had always adhered to a false religion".
In order to form a New Testament canon of uniquely Christian works, proto-orthodox Christians went through a process that was complete in the West by the beginning of the 5th century.Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, Egypt, in his Easter letter of 367, listed the same twenty-seven New Testament books as found in the Canon of Trent. The first council that accepted the present canon of the New Testament may have been the Synod of Hippo Regius in North Africa (393); the acts of this council, however, are lost. A brief summary of the acts was read at and accepted by the Council of Carthage (397) and the Council of Carthage (419).
To Ehrman, "Proto-orthodox Christians argued that Jesus Christ was both divine and human, that he was one being instead of two, and that he had taught his disciples the truth." 0:21)This view that he is "a unity of both divine and human" (the Hypostatic union) is opposed to both Adoptionism (that Jesus was only human and "adopted" by God, as the Ebionites believed), and Docetism (that Christ was only divine and merely seemed to be human, as the Marcionists believed), as well as Separationism (that an aeon had entered Jesus' body, which separated again from him during his death on the cross, as most Gnostics believed). (
For Ehrman, in the canonical gospels, Jesus is characterized as a Jewish faith healer who ministered to the most despised people of the local culture. Reports of miracle working were not uncommon during an era "in the ancient world [where] most people believed in miracles, or at least in their possibility."
The traditional Christian view is that orthodoxy emerged to codify and defend the traditions inherited from the Apostles themselves. Hurtado argues that Ehrman's "proto-orthodox" Christianity was rooted into first-century Christianity:
...to a remarkable extent early-second-century protoorthodox devotion to Jesus represents a concern to preserve, respect, promote, and develop what were by then becoming traditional expressions of belief and reverence, and that had originated in earlier years of the Christian movement. That is, proto-orthodox faith tended to affirm and develop devotional and confessional tradition [...] Arland Hultgrenhas shown that the roots of this appreciation of traditions of faith actually go back deeply and widely into first-century Christianity.
Christology, literally "the understanding of Christ," is the study of the nature (person) and work of Jesus Christ. It studies Jesus Christ's humanity and divinity, and the relation between these two natures; and the role he plays in salvation.
The resurrection of Jesus, or anastasis is the Christian belief that God raised Jesus after his crucifixion as first of the dead, starting his exalted life as Christ and Lord. In Christian theology, the death and resurrection of Jesus are the most important events, a foundation of the Christian faith, and commemorated by Easter. His resurrection is the guarantee that all the Christian dead will be resurrected at Christ's parousia. For the Christian tradition, the bodily resurrection was the restoration to life of a transformed body powered by spirit, as described by Paul and the Gospels, that led to the establishment of Christianity.
The Apostolic Fathers were core Christian theologians among the Church Fathers who lived in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, who are believed to have personally known some of the Twelve Apostles, or to have been significantly influenced by them. Their writings, though popular in Early Christianity, were not included in the canon of the New Testament. Many of the writings derive from the same time period and geographical location as other works of early Christian literature which came to be part of the New Testament. Some of the writings found among the Apostolic Fathers appear to have been highly regarded as some of the writings which became the New Testament.
Pauline Christianity or Pauline theology is the theology and Christianity which developed from the beliefs and doctrines espoused by Paul the Apostle through his writings. Paul's beliefs were strongly rooted in the earliest Jewish Christianity, but deviated from some of this Jewish Christianity in their emphasis on inclusion of the gentiles into God's New Covenant, and his rejection of circumcision as an unnecessary token of upholding the Law.
Early Christianity had its roots in Hellenistic Judaism and the Jewish messianism of the first century and Jewish Christians were the first Christians. Christianity started with Jewish eschatological expectations, and it developed into the veneration of a deified Jesus after his earthly ministry, his crucifixion, and the post–crucifixion experiences of his followers.
Early Christianity covers the period from its origins until the First Council of Nicaea (325). This period is typically divided into the Apostolic Age and the Ante-Nicene Period.
The New Testament apocrypha are a number of writings by early Christians that give accounts of Jesus and his teachings, the nature of God, or the teachings of his apostles and of their lives. Some of these writings have been cited as scripture by early Christians, but since the fifth century a widespread consensus has emerged limiting the New Testament to the 27 books of the modern canon. Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant churches generally do not view these New Testament apocrypha as part of the Bible.
The authorship of the Johannine works—the Gospel of John, Epistles of John, and the Book of Revelation—has been debated by scholars since at least the 2nd century AD. The main debate centers on who authored the writings, and which of the writings, if any, can be ascribed to a common author.
The Christ myth theory is the view that "the story of Jesus is a piece of mythology", possessing no "substantial claims to historical fact". Alternatively, in terms given by Bart Ehrman paraphrasing Earl Doherty, "the historical Jesus did not exist. Or if he did, he had virtually nothing to do with the founding of Christianity."
Heresy in Christianity denotes the formal denial or doubt of a core doctrine of the Christian faith as defined by one or more of the Christian churches.
The history of early Christianity covers the Apostolic Age and the Ante-Nicene Period, to the First Council of Nicaea in 325 CE.
The Ante-Nicene Period of the history of early Christianity was the period following the Apostolic Age of the 1st century down to the First Council of Nicaea in 325. During this period proto-orthodoxy developed.
Christianity in the 1st century covers the formative history of Christianity, from the start of the ministry of Jesus, surpassing his death, and up to the death of the last of his Twelve Apostles. The latter period, subsequent to Jesus's death, resurrection and Great Commission, is, according to Christian tradition, distinguished as the Apostolic Age. During this period of time, the Apostles spread the message of the Gospel around the classical world and founded apostolic sees around the Early centers of Christianity.
Christianity in the 2nd century was largely the time of the development of variant Christian teachings, and the Apostolic Fathers who are regarded as defenders of the developing proto-orthodoxy. Major figures who were later declared by the developing proto-orthodoxy to be heretics were Marcion, Valentinius, and Montanus.
Historiography of early Christianity is the study of historical writings about early Christianity. Historians have used a variety of sources and methods in exploring and describing the history of early Christianity, commonly known as Christianity before the First Council of Nicaea in 326.
Traditionally in Christianity, orthodoxy and heresy have been viewed in relation to the "orthodoxy" as an authentic lineage of tradition. Other forms of Christianity were viewed as deviant streams of thought and therefore "heterodox", or heretical. This view was challenged by the publication of Walter Bauer's Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei im ältesten Christentum in 1934. Bauer endeavored to rethink Early Christianity historically, independent from the views of the current church. He stated that the 2nd-century church was very diverse and included many "heretical" groups that had an equal claim to apostolic tradition. Bauer interpreted the struggle between the orthodox and heterodox to be the "mainstream" Church of Rome struggling to attain dominance. He presented Edessa and Egypt as places where the "orthodoxy" of Rome had little influence during the 2nd century. As he saw it, the theological thought of the "Orient" at the time would later be labeled "heresy". The response by modern scholars has been mixed. Some scholars clearly support Bauer's conclusions and others express concerns about his "attacking [of] orthodox sources with inquisitional zeal and exploiting to a nearly absurd extent the argument from silence." However, modern scholars have critiqued and updated Bauer's model.
The Treatise on the Resurrection is an ancient Gnostic or quasi-Gnostic Christian text which was found at Nag Hammadi, Egypt. It is also sometimes referred to as "The Letter to Rheginos" because it is a letter responding to questions about the resurrection posed by Rheginos, who may have been a non-Gnostic Christian.
One other term I need to define for our period, is made necessary by the circumstance that what I'm calling 'orthodoxy' is the point of view that became dominant in early Christianity, when I'm talking about Christianity before that view became dominant. In other words, calling somebody 'orthodox' in the 4th century makes sense, because by that time, Christians had decided what the dominant form of belief would be. But what do you call people who held that point of view, who held that belief, before it became dominant? I'm gonna use a term that scholars have come up with, which is simply 'proto-orthodoxy'. 'Proto-orthodoxy' refers to the set of beliefs that was going to become dominant in the 4th century, held by people before the 4th century.