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Upholding The Light Of Jesus In A Dark World

Christianities, Just The Atheist & Skeptics Wet Dream Pt.1

Hermann S. Reimarus (1694-1768), suggested that the “historical Jesus” was a very different person from the Jesus or “Christ of faith” described in the Gospels. Reimarus was convinced that the Jesus of history and the Jesus articulated by the Council Of Nicea in 325 AD was not one in the same. Reimarus suggested that there was a “sharp distinction between the intention of Jesus during his life and the intention of his disciples after his death” (see Borg, 1994, p. 42). For Reimarus the true intention of Jesus was a political, social and military rebellion against Rome however the attempt had been thwarted by His death and eventual crucifixion. Quite naturally, his interpretations of history has led to a great “conspiracy theory” in which the church through its formative years and early bishops covered up the real Jesus’ and his true intents.

From this sort of unfounded speculation would grow additional theories that the resurrection was not factual and that the government, through Emperor Constantine, created and canonized their own brand of scripture, suppressed and stamped out all the many voices of dissent within Christian religion, and thereby went on to deify Jesus, creating an exclusive and elite group of leaders and sealing their decisions by persecuting anyone who disagreed with their doctrines and teachings. 

Almost 200 yeas ago these and similar types of arguments arose to an almost overwhelming amount of scholarship against the positions. Each argument denying the veracity of scripture was written about and put down adequately by historians and biblical scholars. Surprisingly enough, in spite of overwhelming evidence against such perversions of truth, and no new evidence in support of the assertions, accusations such as these have arisen again. They have risen with new variations and twists and a renewed sense of zeal against scripture, the Jesus of history, and a distortion of actual historical events including the events that took place at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. 

In 2006 Elaine Pagels the author of “The Gnostic Gospels”(1979) and Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas” (Random House 2003) wrote a New York Times op-ed piece called “The Gospel Truth”. This was written and released prior to the release of one of the finds at Nag Hammadi, Egypt (1945) called the “Gospel Of Judas”. This was an opportunity for historical revisionists to rewrite Biblical history and reaffirm previously unfounded positions. Concerning this new gospel Ms. Pagels wrote,   

“What is clear is that the Gospel of Judas has joined the other spectacular discoveries that are exploding the myth of a monolithic Christianity and showing how diverse and fascinating the early Christian movement actually was.”

In her book “Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas” (Random House 2003) Pagels suggests that there were no widely held or common standards for orthodox Christianity or “correct” beliefs in the first centuries of Christianity. She writes, for example, that Christianity existed for centuries “before Christians formulated what they believed into creeds” Pagels actually cites passages in Paul, John, Ignatius (d. ca. A.D. 115), and other sources that show the early existence of such beliefs, including the view that Jesus was resurrected from the dead and was both human and divine. She dismisses these scriptural teachings though by noting that they were not “universally accepted” and were interpreted to mean something quite different by the “Christians” behind the gospel of Thomas or other Nag Hammadi Gnostic texts (44–45). 

As one would expect, other New Testament scholars such as Bart D. Ehrman have assisted in the proliferation of these speculations by presenting early Christianity as rampantly diverse and unsure of it’s message. In his book, “The Gospel Of Judas” (2006) pg. 119, he states,

 “There was in fact a thriving opposition to this understanding, an opposition embodied, for example, in the recent gem of a discovery, the Gospel of Judas. Here is a book that turns the theology of the traditional Christianity on its head and reverses everything we ever thought about the nature of true Christianity”

 He further states on pg. 174,  

 

 

 “The “Gospel Of Judas” as much as any writing from antiquity, shows that there were other points of view passionately and reverently espoused by people who called themselves Christians. These alternative views show us that there were enormous struggles within early Christianity over the proper forms of belief and practice.” 

What are we to do as Christians with so much varying information from seemingly credible sources, scholars and individuals? Was our faith a creation of a Bishop’s council in 325 AD? Were there other “Christianities” which could have equally won out the day if either of them were favored by the state? Was the Jesus of history a different person than the “Jesus of Faith”? As you can see these are only some of the questions that are being asked and that we must be able to address adequately.

 In this article I will attempt to address and briefly answer the following questions:

 1- The canonization of the New Testament Scriptures, when did it occur and under what circumstances

2- Was Christianity truly as diverse as authors such as Pagels and scholars such as Professor Ehrman suggest?

3- As it pertains to Gnosticism, is there Biblical evidence that the New Testament church suffered from diverse brands of Christianity within itself?

4- Did the Council of Nicea deify Jesus or affirm the deity of Jesus?

As noted these are feature length questions requiring feature length answers but I should be able to share enough accurate information to enhance your personal and church study and evaluation of these important issues.

I – The Canonization Of The New Testament Scriptures, What Was The Criteria For Inclusion And When Did It Occur? 

The canonicity of scripture is one of the most hotly debated topics of our time. One of the current criticisms of scripture is a regurgitated and repacked lie that the bible as we have it was heavily influenced by alternate forms of Christianity that existed before the scripture was officially canonized. The word “canon” comes from the Greek word kanon and Hebrew word qaneh. These two words originally meant “reed.” The Greeks and Semitic peoples used reeds as measuring instruments, and so the meanings of kanon and qaneh changed gradually into “rule” or “measure.” To refer to a canon is to refer to those things that have been measured for acceptance; to refer to the biblical canon is to refer to the books considered Scripture—divinely inspired works that have been preserved for a purpose (Lightfoot, 2003, p. 152). The canons of the Old and New Testaments were set at different times, but each one had the influence of the “Guiding Hand”. The critic believes that this “Guiding Hand” was the hand of men, but as Christians we observe that the “Guiding Hand” was actually the hand of God working through circumstances and individuals bringing his scriptures together as he willed.

In “Reinventing Jesus”, Ed Komoszewski, James Sawyer and Daniel Wallace (Kregel 2006) pg. 123,

“That is either the twenty-seven books of the New Testament were discovered to be authoritative because of their intrinsic worth, “ring of truth” and obvious authority (thus, a collection of authoritative books), or this books were determined to be authoritative by some other authority (thus, and authoritative collection)”

Historical and Biblical scholar William Barclay further states:

 “It is a simple truth to say that the New Testament books became canonical because noone could stop them from doing so.” “The Making Of The Bible” 

The late New Testament scholar Bruce Metzger also wrote extensively about the canonization of scripture: 

 “The church did not create the canon but came to recognize, accept, affirm, and confirm the self-authenticating quality of certain documents that imposed themselves as such upon the church” “The Canon Of The New Testament” pg. 287

The Criteria For Inclusion In The New Testament Canon

The primary criteria that affirmed New Testament Canonicity was 

  1. Apostolicity – was the book written by a New Testament Apostle?
  2. Orthodoxy – Did it conform to the teachings of other books known to be written by Apostles? 
  3. Catholicity – Was it accepted early and by the majority of churches?

All eventually accepted New Testament books met these requirements for inclusion in the New Testament canon. 

The New Testament Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha

The New Testament pseudepigrapha are those books that were written in the form of New Testament works (gospels, acts, epistles, and apocalypses) but that exist outside of the New Testament canon. They often bear the names of apostles, prominent disciples, early Christian writers (e.g., Clement, Matthew, Barnabas), or famous figures from the New Testament (such as Pilate and Gamaliel). Some of them were attributed to groups of people, such as the Egyptians or Ebionites. We can quickly reject the New Testament pseudepigrapha because of their false attribution, errors, discrepancies, and false teachings. They were also written too late to be inspired, and some exist only as fragments. Moreover, most importantly, the early church rejected them as non-canonical. 

However, despite their non-canonical status, many of the New Testament pseudepigrapha are useful historical and theological writings, because they show the traditions, myths, and superstitions of some of the early Christians, as well as the heretical branches of early Christianity (i.e., Doceticism, Gnosticism, Asceticism). 

The rules of canonicity were in operation rather early in the development and proliferation of New Testament works. Surprisingly enough, one of the first Canons that we observe in history was the collection of books brought together and edited by Second Century heretic Marcion (140 AD) In this collection of scriptures Marcion presented a extremely edited version of the Gospel Of Luke, Romans, 1st and 2nd Corinthians, Galations, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1st and 2nd Thessalonians and Philemon. “Baker’s Handbook Of Bible Lists”, Andrew Hill (Baker Books, 2006) pg. 92 

Marcion’s list was heavily edited to reflect his anti-Semitic bias, his reflection of the God of the Old Testament as the demurrage, his belief in anti-materialism as taught by Hellenistic Greeks, and docetism stating that Jesus only “appeared” to be human. This becomes the bain of most skeptical arguments against early and authentic Christian writings teachings and what early Christians generally accepted as being authentic. Marcion’s list affirms an already circulating and established listing of accepted Christian literature even before “Creedal Faith” or official canon existed.

 Another devastating fact is that Marcion’s list did not include any currently known Gnostic works such as The Gospel Of Thomas, The Gospel Of Mary or the Gospel Of Peter, The Gospel Of Judas etc. All of these works were decisively Gnostic and would have needed no editing to fit Marcion’s purposes and belief statements. The best possible reason that these Gnostic works were not included in Marcion’s list was that they did not exist at the time.

 “Marcion was certainly exposed to Gnostic ideas, so why didn’t he include any Gnostic writings in his list? The most likely inference is that they did not exist, they would not have been regarded as authentic because of their obviously recent vintage” “Reinventing Jesus”, Komoszewski, Sawyer and Wallace (Kregel 2006) pg. 127 

 We must also note another canon that was produced in mid to late second century. What has become known as the Muration canon named after Lodovico Antonio Muratori and published in 1740, included all 4 Gospels, Acts, Paul’s 13 Letters, Jude, Revelation, 1st John and either 2nd and 3rd John or both. Therefore he presented 22 books that he believed were authoritative. A book disputed by the author of the Muration canon was the “Apocalypse of Peter”. One book that was deemed edifying was “The Shepherd of Hermas” which was recognized as a work to be read privately. 

Surprisingly in the West in each canon composed up until 393 the core books were always included. In the east, although lists included books not considered to be canonical they included a category of books that were possibly canonical and that were good sources of spiritual truths. In 367 AD Bishop Athanasius in his Thirty ninth Festal Letter pronounced without reservation the twenty seven books of the New Testament as canonical.  

 

 

 Summary:

  • The New Testament church recognized early on which books were authentic. This is evidenced by altered copies rendered by Marcion in effort to persuade church leaders to sway to his docetic and Hellenistic beliefs.
  •   The New Testament church even before an official affirmation used the criterion of Apostolicity, Orthodoxy, Catholicity to determine which works were authentic and which works should be circulated and accepted among the church.
  • The was that books were judged authentic suggests that the community was in touch with teachings specific to Christianity, such as the humanity and deity of Jesus, the physical life and death of Jesus, the resurrection and the confession of faith. 
 

 

 II: Was Christianity Truly As Diverse As Authors Such As Pagels And Scholars Such As Professor Ehrman Suggest?

Another of the lies currently perpetuated by many of an internet skeptic and atheist scholar is the myth that early Christianity was diverse in its acceptance of other teaching of the day including gnosticism, and that current Christianity is just one mixture of many “Christianities” that existed. 

 ” Well The early Christian movement certainly did have disagreements. But there weren’t ‘Christianities’ There wasn’t one Christianity that thought Jesus was the Messiah and another Christianity that thought he was divine and another Christianity that disagreed; and another Christianity that thought he died on the cross as a down payment for sin and another Christianity that scoffed at that. That is nonsense.” “The Case For The Real Jesus”, quoting Dr. Craig A. Evans PH.D., Lee Strobel (Zondervan 2007) pg. 34 & 35 

 Dr. Evans goes on to further state:

“There was no major questions about any of these basic points in the first decades of the Christian movement. The New Testament writings reflect the testimony of the first generation church, which very much depended on the testimony of Jesus’ own handpicked disciples. To take a second century diversity and exaggerate it, then try to smuggle those controversies into the first century by hypothesizing that there was some earlier version of second century documents, is just bogus. Real historians laugh at that kind of procedure.” “The Case For The Real Jesus”, quoting Dr. Craig A. Evans PH.D., Lee Strobel (Zondervan 2007) pg. 35 

 Dr. Evans further states:

 [Concerning the core message of Christianity] “…Is that Jesus is the Messiah, he’s God Son, he fulfills the scriptures, he died on the cross and thereby saved humanity, he rose from the dead – those core issues were not open for discussion”…”If you didn’t buy that, you weren’t Christian.” “The Case For The Real Jesus”, quoting Dr. Craig A. Evans PH.D., Lee Strobel (Zondervan 2007) pg. 35

Another of the key pieces associated with the belief of alternate “Christianities” during first century and Pre-Nicene creeds is the “Gospel of Judas”, Held in high esteem both by Bart D. Ehrman and Elaine Pagels. Although a detailed critique of this work is inappropriate for this writing, I will state the following of the Gospel in general:

  •  There were multiple God creators in the Old Testament 
  • Sakla is described as being the creator men, “after the likeness and after the image”
  • Jesus is reverenced but presented in docetic terms
  • There is no incarnation
  • There is no physical death on the Cross of Jesus
  • There are 5 rulers of the underworld and the original chaos named Seth (called Christ) Harmathoth, Galila, Yobel, and Adonaios.
  • Judas is the star of the book and not the villan (who would’ve guessed)

 As you note these ideas are not indicative of Biblical Christianity by any means. Darrell Bock and Daniel B. Wallace state the following regarding the “Gospel Of Judas”  

“…despite some claims and hype by recent scholars that these texts evidence alternative Christianity. Judas is evidence for such in second century. However its teaching also is distinct from first century Christianity that it is clear it was never regarded as a genuinely apostolic or orthodox expression of the new faith.” “Dethroning Jesus” Darrell Bock and Daniel B. Wallace (Thomas Nelson, 2007) pg. 97  

Another of the works often used to cite alternate “Christianities” in the first and second century is the Apocryphon of John. The views and concepts in this book however seems to have been addressed by Iraneus in 180 AD. The Apocryphon of John however, attributes the creation of man to Yaltabaoth who functions similarly to Sakala in Judas. Irenaeus rejects John’s Apocryphon based on that key fact among others. This is further a strong indication that The Gospel of Judas would have been rejected by early Christians and Christian leaders based on the same criteria.

Remember this is one of the strongest evidences presented by proponents of alternate “Christinities”. But we witness at least two devastating arguments presented in mostly all of the material itself and especially in the Gospel of Judas 

  1. The texts themselves do not reflect any condition of first century Christianity, the only period in which both doctrine and the actual teachings of Jesus could have been and were received by direct eyewitnesses. 
  2. The early Christians were Jewish Christians who had a high regard for Old Testament scriptures. The Nag Hammadi narratives have a low regard for the person and authority of God revealed in the Old Testament. This would have been a fatal blow in trying to obtain any acceptance from the early Christian church as acceptable doctrine. The Old Testament is highly regarded without question in all New testament writings.

Further please note this regarding all potential alternative gospels and Christianities:

“Jews and Christians would have not been attracted to a creation story in which the God of Israel is a fourth rate deity.”…”In other words, Judas would have been an alternative expression of Christianity but one that automatically disqualifies itself by its own content. Judas possesses a deviant, alternative expression of creation that is not even close to the view of the Jewish scriptures the earliest Christianity surely accepted. By implication as well, any Gospel sharing such a creation story would be disqualified” “Dethroning Jesus” Darrell Bock and Daniel B. Wallace (Thomas Nelson, 2007) pg. 101

As we can see to try to create an alternative Christianity or Christianities during the formative years of Christianity is a complete stretch of the imagination, and insult to any intelligent Christian. Not to mention the fact that the theory is totally unsupported by any evidence whatsoever. 

Summary:

The early Christian church did not suffer from diverse brands of Christianity as much as they suffered from the understanding of certain polemics as it pertained to Christian living.

  • The specific writings often cited from Nag Hammadi in support of the alternative Christianities and concepts do deauthenticate themselves based on there very content as cross referenced with what the gospels distinctly and clearly teach regarding Jesus. 
  • Although suggested by many skeptics, agnostics and atheists there is no credible evidence to assume that there were alternative brands of Christianity within the pre-Nicene Christian church. 
  • Although there were an abundance of pagan religion that existed first through fourth centuries some of which taught about certain aspects of Jesus, they were no more Christian than a Muslim who holds Jesus in high esteem or a modern day Jehovah’s Witness who also teaches about Jesus but is not a Christian.

Click Here for Christianities, Just The Atheist & Skeptic Wet Dream Pt. 2

Go to our podcasts for 5 programs outlining and discussing

The Deity of Jesus Pre-Nicea.

     

3 Responses

  1. [...] Christianities, Fact Or Atheist & Skeptic Wet Dream Pt. 1 Please Go HERE for this post Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Projected Reading List Published [...]

  2. Thank-you so much for the above clarification(s), Sir. I do appreciate your labor of love in the word and in our faith. You are a scholar without doubt. May God continue to bless you and use you. I love forward to hearing from you.

    Shalom!

  3. dunamis2 says:

    Thank you Minister Johnson,

    Go to the debate so that you can see the evidence from the other side. Mr. Armstrong puts forth a good case but the evidence doesn’t stack up in my opinion and in the opinion of most scholars whoo have studied this issue out and evaluated all evidence fairly.

    Thanks for stopping and don’t be afraid to ask questions. That’s how WE learn. God bless.

    Pastor Burnett

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