Though our readers might not know who Walter Bauer is, I’m sure many of you have heard of Bart Ehrman. Ehrman has written scores of books, including Misquoting Jesus, Lost Christianities, Lost Scriptures, and The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (among others). One major part of Ehrman’s writing is his revival of Bauer’s 100-year-old thesis. What is Bauer’s thesis? Briefly stated, Bauer taught that heresy preceded orthodoxy. In other words, Bauer argued that early Christianity contained significant doctrinal diversity so much so that there was originally no such thing as orthodoxy. Kostenberger and Kruger summarize Bauer’s thesis in The Heresy of Orthodoxy.
“In the first century, claim Bauer, Ehrman, and other adherents to the ‘diversity’ doctrine, there was no such thing as ‘Christianity’ (in the singular), but only ‘Christianities’ (in the plural), different versions of belief, all of which claimed to be ‘Christian’ with equal legitimacy. The traditional version of Christianity that later came to be known as orthodoxy is but the form of Christianity espoused by the church in Rome, which emerged as the ecclesiastical victor in the power struggles waged during the second through fourth centuries.”
“What this means for us today, then, is that we must try to get back to the more pristine notion of diversity that prevailed in the first century before ecclesiastical and political power squelched and brutally extinguished the fragile notion that diversity – previously known as ‘heresy’ – is the only orthodoxy there is” (p. 16).
As Christians, what do we do with Bauer’s thesis and Ehrman’s revival of it? We certainly can’t ignore it because it is found in bookstores, the media, and even in some pulpits. And we don’t want to write it off because it is a weighty topic: if Bauer and Ehrman are right, historical Christianity is wrong, and we cannot trust the New Testament. What do we do?
One of the first things I’d recommend is getting this book by Kostenberger and Kruger: The Heresy of Orthodoxy. The authors know Bauer and Ehrman’s points quite well and engage them in a careful, courteous, biblical, and logical manner. In this book you’ll learn more about Bauer and Ehrman’s arguments, you’ll be introduced to many first and second century writings, you’ll be given a biblical (OT/NT) view of the NT, you’ll learn about early Christian scribes and books, and you’ll ultimately see some major flaws in Bauer and Ehrman’s logic. I’ll come back to this book at a later time and share some of my favorite parts. For now, again, if you want to interact with Bauer and Ehrman in a scholarly way, get this book: The Heresy of Orthodoxy.