Eighty years ago, Walter Bauer promulgated a bold and provocative thesis about early Christianity. He argued that many forms of Christianity started the race, but one competitor pushed aside the others, until this powerful ‘orthodox’ version won the day. The victors re-wrote history, marginalising all other perspectives and silencing their voices, even though the alternatives possessed equal right to the title of normative Christianity.
Bauer’s influence still casts a long shadow on early Christian scholarship. Were movements later defined as heretical the original forms of Christianity? Did the heretics outnumber the orthodox? Did orthodox heresiologists accurately portray their opponents? And more fundamentally, how can one make any objective distinction between ‘heresy’ and ‘orthodoxy’? Is such labelling merely the product of socially situated power? Did numerous, valid forms of Christianity exist without any validating norms of Christianity?
This collection of essays, each written by a relevant authority, tackles such questions with scholarly acumen and careful attention to historical, cultural-geographical, and sociorhetorical detail. Although recognising the importance of Bauer’s critical insights, innovative methodologies, and fruitful suggestions, the contributors expose numerous claims of the Bauer thesis (in both original and recent manifestations) that fall short of the historical evidence.
List of Contributors
Paul A. Hartog
1. The Bauer Thesis: An Overview
Rodney J. Decker
2. Walter Bauer and the Apostolic Fathers
Paul A. Hartog
3. Post-Bauer Scholarship on Gnosticism(s): The Current State of Our “Knowledge”
Carl B. Smith
4. Baur to Bauer and Beyond: Early Jewish Christianity and Modern Scholarship
5. “Orthodoxy”, “Heresy”, and Complexity: Montanism as a Case Study
Rex D. Butler
6. Apostolic Tradition and the Rule of Faith in Light of the Bauer Thesis
Bryan M. Litfin
7. Bauer’s Forgotten Region: North African Christianity
David C. Alexander and Edward L. Smither
8. Patristic Heresiology: The Difficulties of Reliability and Legitimacy
W. Brian Shelton
9. Bauer’s Early Christian Rome and the Development of “Orthodoxy”
Glen L. Thompson
10. From Völker to this Volume: A Trajectory of Critiques and a Final Reflection
Paul A. Hartog
Endorsements and Reviews
Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christian Contexts brings up to date a longexisting debate about those other gospels and early Christianity. Covering issues tied to the Apostolic Fathers, Irenaeus, Gnosticism, and the rule of faith, here is a solid compendium of essays that issues a significant challenge to the thesis of Bauer – that orthodoxy emerged late from a largely sociological battle over the origin of the Jesus movement. It shows how orthodoxy’s roots are far older than claims of other options from the second century and beyond. This is simply profitable reading.
Darrell L. Bock, Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary