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on May 8, 2011
The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture's Fascination with Diversity has reshaped our understanding of Early Christianity by Andreas Kostenberger and Michael Kruger.

In recent years, a new "orthodox" understanding of early Christian history has been midwifed by popular culture through outlets like the Discovery Channel, the National Geographic Channel and the History Channel and through popular books like "The Da Vinci Code." The new "orthodoxy" presents a vision of early Christianity as beginning in a state of disorganized, spiritual, fissiparous "Christianities" that cooperated with each other in the milieu of the Roman Empire until at some point - probably with the conversion of Constantine - one of the "Christianities" became simply "Christianity," at which point it erased the memory of the earlier stage when all "Christianities" were equally legitimate.

For many modern people, this "new orthodoxy" is intuitively correct, i.e., it feels right. The success of "The Da Vinci Code" and the fact that there is an audience for cable television's regular unveiling of purported archeological or textual discoveries that purport to overturn the "old orthodoxy" is evidence that a lot of people are somehow "primed" for the "many Christianities" view Christian history.

The chief spokesperson today for the "many Christianities" school is Professor Bart Ehrman. Ehrman is a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He has a calm and relaxed demeanor with a slight Southern drawl and a background that includes a period when he was a "born again" Christian and went to Moody Bible Institute, until he moved into liberal Christianity and, then, into open agnosticism, apparently because of his realization that the Bible he read wasn't actually published by God. Like another great convert - St. Paul - he has used his "conversion story" to vouch for the sincerity of his position and, also, to impress people with his apparent detachment from a personal agenda.

Ehrman has used his position as a Southern, former-fundamentalist turned professor or religious studies to perform the role of providing scholarly support for the "many Christianities" theory. Over the last ten or fifteen years, Ehrman has made it his project to provide talking points to cable television documentaries about purported explosive new findings about Christianity and the Christian texts and to publish books touting such "new findings" in order to advance the "new orthodoxy" of "many Christianities" discussed above. In a number of venues, Ehrman has popularized the notion that the form of Christianity that has a historical continuity with modern Christianity was merely "proto - orthodoxy" which competed with other "Christianities" that could have lost and, thereby, lost its orthodox designation.

The "dirty secret" behind Ehrman and other's "many Christianities" school of religion is that the scholarship on which it is based is not "secret" and it is not "new" and it is trivial to the extent that it is accurate, and wrong to the extent that it might overturn the historic orthodox understanding of Christianity, facts which even Ehrman admits when pressed. Hence, Ehrman's view that there were "many Christianities" - and that historic Christianity was a minority in parts of the Roman Empire - goes back to the "Bauer Thesis" advanced by Walter Bauer in the 1930s. Similarly, although Ehrman points to "other Gospels," he has acknowledged that those "other Gospels" were written too late to be reliable and that "the four Gospels are therefore our best sources for trying to establish what Jesus himself said and did." Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium Likewise, Ehrman admits when pressed that virtually all the purported textual variations are insignificant to determining the original text, and that for the handful where the original text cannot be recovered with certainty, none affect Christian doctrine or belief (apart, presumably, from the extremely literalistic, fundamentalist understanding of how the Bible was written and propagated that Ehrman seems to have held in his youth.)

Kostenberger and Kruger's project in "The Heresy of Orthodoxy" is to address the factual and historical presumptions of the "new orthodoxy," paying particular attention to Ehrman's contributions, and to sketch an explanation for why this "new orthodoxy," which actually has so little scholarly support has such traction with the public. The authors are extremely successful in carrying out their project. The book is a valuable resource for pulling together the current state of knowledge about Early Christianity. For example, Ehrman's confident assertion that orthodox Pauline - Nicene Christianity was a minority position in parts of the empire, Kostenberger and Kruger point out that this is based on the 80 year old and discredited "Bauer Thesis," which lacked - and still lacks - any empirical support and is, in fact, discredited by actual data.

Kostenberger and Kruger's book divide into 8 chapters in 3 parts.

Part 1 is entitled "the Heresy of Orthodoxy and the Origins of the New Testament."

Chapter 1 is entitled "The Bauer-Ehrman Thesis: Its Origins and Influence." In this chapter, the authors describe the "Bauer Thesis," which is defined as "the view that close study of the major urban centers at the end of the first and early second centuries reveals that early Christianity was characterized by significant doctrinal diversity, so that there was no "orthodoxy" or "heresy" at the inception of Christianity but only diversity--heresy preceded orthodoxy." In the 1970's, the Bauer thesis gained some scholarly acceptance, and, starting in the late 1979, the Bauer Thesis went mainstream with the publication of Elaine Pagel's "The Gnostic Gospels."

Chapter 2 is entitled "Unity and Plurality: How Diverse was Early Christianity?" In this chapter, the authors examine the factual underpinnings for the Bauer Thesis. Examining the literature concerning different regions of the Roman Empire - Asia Minor, Egypt, Edessa and Rome - the authors argue persuasively that heresy could not have preceded orthodoxy. For example, for Bauer's claim that Marcionism preceded orthodox in Edessa is undermined by the fact that Marcionism didn't appear until the mid-Second Century, which would mean that there was no Christian presence in Edessa for at least a century before Marcionism's arrival. In addition, the form of Marcionism assumes a familiarity and acceptance of Pauline Christianity. Marcionism was an outreach to Christians, not to pagans.

Chapter 3 is entitled "Heresy in the New Testament how early was it?" The authors examine the New Testament texts for evidence of heresy in the First Century. The author's conclusion is that orthodox Christianity agreed on central doctrines, including the Lordship of Christ. In contrast, the heretic identified in the New Testament did not have a common doctrinal core or make a claim that their beliefs derived from Christ or his apostles.

Part 2 is entitled "Picking the Books: Tracing the development of the New Testament Canon."

Chapter 4 is entitled "Starting in the Right Place: The meaning of canon in the Early Christianity." From a historical standpoint this chapter is the most questionable, albeit from a theological viewpoint it is quite interesting. The authors' thesis is that the fact of the establishment of a new covenant in Christ, mandated the establishment of a new canon. This argument may make a lot of sense from the author's theological commitment, but from a historical standpoint, the question would be whether the early Christians understood this proposition as normative for them. The authors argue that there is evidence for such an understanding, but historical evidence seemed weak.

Interestingly, although the authors seem to be writing from a Protestant background, their argument seems generally consistent with the Catholic position of canonicity outlined in Verbum Dei. In Verbum Dei, the Second Vatican Council postulated that the inspired texts of the canon were inspired without regard to the Church, but that the Church was entrusted to recognize and safeguard the texts. In other words, canonicity is a matter of community. Texts may be inspired in the abstract, but they cannot be recognized as inspired unless the real community of Christians recognizes them as inspired.

Chapter 5 is entitled "Interpreting the Historical Evidence: The emergence of canon in Early Christianity." This chapter seemed far more successful than the prior evidence. The authors utilize the historical evidence of non-canonical sources that quoted canonical texts to argue that long prior to the first listing of canons, church fathers were accepting or rejecting texts based on the universality, apostolicity and orthodoxy of the texts. Further, the accepted texts were being used on a regular basis in "public readings" such that the tradition recognized canonicity long before any text listed what books were canonical.

Chapter 6 is entitled "Establishing the Boundaries: Apocryphal Books and the Limits of the Canon." This chapter hits hard the fashionable argument that "non-canonical" gospels could have been accepted as canonical but for the narrow-mindedness of early church fathers. The authors point out that the canon was never "wide-open" where alternative texts could have fit in. In fact, texts that could not be traced to the apostles were regularly rejected howevermuch they might have supported orthodox positions.
Also, in this chapter, the authors make the fair point that the Gospel of Thomas - a favorite of the "many Christianities" school - was never included on any canonical list and there is no evidence of its existence prior to the mid-second Century.

Part 3 is entitled "Changing the Story: Manuscripts, Scribes and Textual Transmission."

Chapter 7 is entitled "Keepers of the text: How were texts copied and circulated in the ancient world?

This is a very useful resource concerning the important role that Christian texts played in the life of the Christian community. The authors recognize that Christian texts were read in public liturgy on a regular basis - which certainly would have meant that incidental errors would be discovered and corrected than would have been the case if the texts were copied and put on a book shelf to be read by individuals. The authors also describe the professionalism attendant to the copying and publication of the books which provides a guarantee against gross and frequent mistakes.

Chapter 8 is entitled "Tampering with the text: Was the New Testament text changed along the way." In this chapter, the authors take on Ehrman's tendentious special pleading that the Christian texts contain manifold errors by pointing out the undisputed fact - which even Ehrman acknowledges when he isn't grandstanding - that we actually have the accurate contents of the original Christian texts.

The authors conclude with the fair question as to how such an empirically discredited theory as the Bauer-Ehrman Thesis could have such widespread acceptance, amounting to taking the place of "conventional wisdom." Their theory is that post-modernism has permeated culture such that the average person innately understands that there is no such thing as "truth." Hence, since there is no "truth," moderns start with the presumption that all truths are equally valid. Hence, there is a built in audience for the Ehrman thesis, no matter how weak its factual support.

This is clearly a very useful book for people who want to know more than they get from the normal sources of "pop theology."
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on November 25, 2016
Having read Kostenberger and Kruger before, I've greatly enjoyed both their level of scholarship, their organization of information for a general and technical reader(s), and their commitment to actually declaring their active beliefs in Christian theology. So many scholars today want "a seat at the table" and so will put aside their Christian beliefs in order to take a naturalistic, populist viewpoint/assumptions in order to be accepted by the academic at large. This book unapologetically comes from a Christian viewpoint which is entirely what one should expect. If you believe in the God of the Bible and that He has communicated His Word to His people then there are outcomes you're going to expect. This position is the only ethical one available and the one anyone should expect.

The main contention of the book is to dismiss the Bauer-Ehrman hypothesis that generally says that the strongest theological positions won out in the early church. Those positions became the standard (aka orthodox) belief and all others became heretical. Really, that position clearly comes from the post-modern viewpoint we seem to be swimming in currently. Where objective truth is not possible and truth is a temporal claim.

Kostenberger and Kruger blow the theory out of the water - completely and fairly. While the authors have some co-authoring, previous writings show where the individual authors' strengths lie. However, here and in previous books, both authors treat the otherside accurately and fairly. Which can't be said too often when it comes to the otherside. When dealing with issues of uncertainty or weakness in knowledge of their own side they clearly state so while also giving suitable answers that bring confidence in their overall contention.

I would recommend anything by these two authors. This book is no exception and is very helpful with the current claims of today. This was a joy to read and interesting as well. I learned a lot more about the early Christian church and the groups around that day. Final Grade - A+
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on November 25, 2014
Not being a theologian, nor seminary-trained, I found this book to be very clear, readable, and understandable. The evidence and arguments presented against the Bauer thesis were forthright and honest, and more than anything else, a death blow to the "evidence" of many modern scholars who still support Bauer. It is encouraging to know there are orthodox scholars fighting the good fight against those who promote heresies under the guise of scholarship. I believe this is a "must-read" for every Christian, especially for every student who will be confronted by people like Bart Ehrman in college/university settings. I also believe it should be used in Sunday School classes to educate and equip the Body of Christ for war against the onslaught of heretical teachings that are deceptively promoted as truth and scholarly revelation in the Church world. Despite the old saying, ignorance is not bliss. It can be lethal.
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on October 12, 2011
I took a course in college on analysis of the Christian New Testament as well as study of Gnostic texts. I regret that The Heresy of Orthodoxy wasn't included in that class. We focused primarily on the writings of Ehrman (in fact I think my professor worked with him or studied under him... I don't remember, basically he knew his Ehrman). Though Ehrman's research and collection/analysis of data is quite in depth but it did always seem like he was trying to fit the evidence collected TO his conclusions rather than drawing conclusions FROM the evidence and The Heresy of Orthodoxy shows that very clearly.

The Heresy of Orthodoxy was an exceptional read and I am glad that I didn't pass it up. I found the analysis in this book fascinating. The book is organized, well thought out, and the footnoting was very useful. The arguments were fair and all the major points were addressed. The Heresy of Orthodoxy sets out to show how the Bauer-Ehrman thesis is flawed and how the text of the New Testament that we have today can be trusted as reliable in regard to the authors' original message. Are the "orthodox" texts are accurate? Are they the "true original" Christian theology or do the beliefs of other groups (such as gnostics) hold equal claim? How do modern views on diversity bias our opinions toward truth? If there are multiple claims to truth, does that in inherently mean they're all false? Do we, today, only have the teaching of the "winners in history?" The Heresy of Orthodoxy addresses these issues and is convincing in its evidence that there was in fact an organized standard orthodoxy (and accepted texts) and not simply a "proto-orthodoxy that won out." The discussion on diversity was intriguing. Also addressed is the bias in the Bauer-Ehrman studies and how they're set up to reach their conclusions regardless of what the evidence shows. The Heresy of Orthodoxy backs up its claims.

The last couple chapters were real page-turners. BUT I have to say that the epilogue( or "appeal"), though interesting and has some good points, would only be relevant to someone who believed the spiritual truth of the NT and not relevant to analysis of historical authenticity of texts.

-Nik
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on October 11, 2014
Very good introduction to issues regarding canonicity, textual transmission, and the orthodoxy of the early Church. Personally, my favorite chapter was Chapter 5 which goes through a theological discussion regarding canon and covenant. If you adhere to any form of covenant theology, that chapter will warm your heart because it demonstrates that development of the NT canon is a consequence of the covenantal structure of the OT. In other words, the early church would have expected "covenantal documents" for the NT because of the larger covenantal structure of the OT. Thus, there are significant historical and theological reasons behind the creation of the NT canon. I have two small disappointments about the book:

(1) I know that this is meant to be an introductory book which addresses a number of Ehrman's claims about the corruption of the NT and the diversity of the early Church, but it would be nice to have a longer discussion on this textual criticism. In particular, it would have been nice to read more on how the textual critical method works.

(2) This is a pet peeve of mine, but footnotes would be much more suitable for this book than endnotes. The pace of reading slows down significantly when you have to flip to the end of each chapter to read the endnotes.

All in all, a very outstanding book that I would recommend to anyone who wants an introduction to these topics.
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on May 7, 2011
Intro:
If you have your eyes opened and can read between the lines, you know for sure what time we live in. For the last decade for sure there was a surge of books similar to Da Vinci Code. Of course those are not built on air[if they were, nobody would buy them]. All of them are growing from the 20th century postmodernism's tree. The interest in such genre, or more accurately such method of interpretation was fed into minds of masses for quite some time. It is NOT surprising that Dan Brown made fortune. This was a right time and right place to to plant a seed and get a good buck from the harvest. If Dan Brown would write his books say, 100 years ago it would not be received with such pleasant and accepting attitude. This is easy to understand. When postmodernism was pured out from academia into masses, into TV, into internet, etc... the result is - many average people, especially younger ones, have been taught postmodernism in schools and colleges.
So, why is that important and what is postmodernism? Postmodernism deserves it's own treatment somewhere else, but for time's sake it is a view which holds that truth is basically what people who had power made it to be. This way, 'evil white males' of Europe must be replaced with: feminism, queer studies, asian studies, latino studies... etc. In other words, ALL should have equal standing and everyones view is basically equal. Since, 'evil holders of power' wrote history as the wanted, we must therefore take it back, and distribute equally for all.
There is no sacred cow for postmodernism. Anything it gets hands on becomes relative. Gender is relative and socially constructed. Femininity and masculinity are too socially contracted to subjigate free and diverse people. If you was born as a man, it is not what you are. You can easily 'change sex' so that you will be who you 'truly is'. You see even absolutely obvious things are not standing to postmodernistic nonsense. Think for a second, if one's own body [what can be more obvious and accessible for introspection?] is not certainly you, do you think history, and more specifically Christian history will escape the cancer of postmodernism? Certainly not! So what are we to expect from Bart Ehrman and the rest of postmodernist decostructionists and revisionists? Of course what deconstructionists and revisionists do.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Why such a lengthy intro? Because one of the prime columns on which Ehrman (and his forerunner Bauer) thesis is built is postmodern approach to deconstruct early Christian History as to make it look like contemporary feminist class, or queer studies class in college. That is, give equal hearing for all, and not just hearing for all, but actually to distribute truth for all. Your opinion is as true as mine, even though they are contradictory. This is what postmodernism looks like.
To make case more explicit, imagine Bart Ehrman living in 2500 AD, and be postmodernist. He would most likely consider 27 books of New Testament, then all the books of Mormons, then books of Jehovah Witnesses, then Christian Science, then Scientology (because they have cross on their buildings)... etc. It may sound ridiculous, but if ALL views are considered equal, why not? There is no heresy and there is no true/real Christian theology.
To me it is really hard to comprehend Ehrmans approach to the subject. Another good example is holocaust denying. Of course it is hard to do now, since many people are still alive who witnessed WW2 where millions Jews and Slavs where killed by Nazis. But hey, in 1000 years it would be very comfortable to take Ehrman position, and say all views are equal and 'evil power hungry' people invented idea about Holocaust, when there are present writings that such thing never occurred. For Ehrman, it seems if two contradictory stories exist, BOTH MUST BE TRUE. This is about diversity and inclusion of all views, and all views are true.

So what then is the "Heresy of Orthodoxy"? It is a heresy to believe that there is such thing as heresy. Or, the true orthodoxy is such orthodoxy where there is no orthodoxy. This is both Ehrman's and Bauer's thesis. Hence the title.

So, if postmodernism is the first column on which Ehrman's shallow building is built, which is the second one? The second fallacious aspect of Ehrman's thesis is a belief(!) that inspiration requires possession of New Testament autographs and absence of any discrepancies in manuscripts [needless to say, as mentioned in the book, no textual variant exists that would undermine Christian orthodox theology]. Ehrman of course exaggerates textual variants and even says that Gnostic(!) books such as "Gospel of Marry" could easily be part of the NT cannon. Which is obviously ridiculous. For Ehrman it is not an argument that none of early post-Apostolic Christian writers never mentioned this Gospel, and if they did they would attribute it to heresies...

Authors, very nicely summarize the issue on p.229

"As a result, addressing the historical evidence (the nature and extent of textual variants) will not ultimately change Ehrman's conclusions about the New Testament. It will not change his conlusions because it is not the historical evidence that led to his conclusions in the first place. What, then, is driving Ehramn's conclusions? Ironically, they are being driven not by any historical consideration but by a theological one. At the Misquoting Jesus, Ehrman reveals the core theological premise behind his thinking: 'If [God] really wanted people to have his actual words, surely he would have miraculously preserved those words, just as he miraculously inspired them in the first place.' In other words, if God really inspired the New Testament there would be no scribal variations at all. It is commitment to this belief - a theological belief - that is driving his entire approach to textual variants. Of course, this belief has manifold problems associated with it. Most fundamentally, one might ask, where does Ehrman get this theological conviction about what inspiration requires or does not require? How does he know what God would 'surely' do if he inspired the New Testament? ..."

In other words, this reminds me of objection to God's creation based on some fallibilities in creation, as if God is going to be held in account for what and how He does things? This is nothing but a exposition of arrogance.
I know this is sort of, off topic, but reminds me of Steven J Guild, and Bertrand Russel. First, said no God would design Panda's thumb... [then, some scientists actually showed how well it is designed], or the second who said that there is too much evil in the world ... Oh well, as if they will demand God to accommodate their desires, or their self-invented criteria. Similar to critics of creation, who say they will accept nothing less than optimal design, Ehrman will accept nothing less then autographs.
Well, what can you say to such people? They better learn humility, or evetually die in their arrogance and demand God to do what they want.

All in all, this is a well written book, which deals with several issues: Bauer-Ehrman thesis, heresies facing the early Church, development of NT cannon, and textual transmission... among other thing.

My personal conclusion on the subject? Ehrman should teach feminist theory or queer studies in his North Carolina campus. Why? Because this is a hot bed of postmodern nonsense, and rhetoric. Perhaps his next title will be 'Homophobic orthodoxy which led to death of feminist woman named Jesus'. It would be queer, feminist, and scandalous because Jesus would be a female nor male. I bet it will make a quick buck for Ehrman, which will surpass Dan Brown on all levels.
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on December 26, 2010
"The Heresy of Orthodoxy" is an affordable little book that should be snapped up and devoured by anyone who cares about an accurate and easy-to-understand history of both the history and the doctrines of the New Testament Church.

It is important to note here that the New Testament provides not only "history" and "doctrine," but it is also foundational if we are to understand "the history of doctrines". All three of these are separate though related elements, and this work takes each of these seriously. I'd go so far as to say that what Jaroslav Pelikan is to "The History of the Development of Doctrine," this little work could be to "The History of the Foundations of Doctrine."

I have always believed that an understanding of the earliest church was a key to understanding what genuine Christianity was all about. This book gives a remarkable picture of the earliest church, right from the pages of the New Testament and the period immediately following.

Of course we want to believe what's true. And we believe that the word "truth" describes, to the best of our ability, "what actually happened." The authors work with the understanding that the New Testament is, among other things, a true and accurate record of the history of that time period, in all of these respects.
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on October 29, 2014
Great refutation of the Bauer thesis which claims early Christianity was a hodge podge of different beliefs until the big bad Roman church shoved "orthodoxy" down everybody's throats. The reality is much different. The authors do a good job of providing historical evidence that there was a unity of orthodox belief in the early church and creeds such as Nicea represent a preservation of that established orthodoxy, not a autocratic suppression of other equally valid and popular beliefs.
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on October 7, 2015
I just finished this great book today and I must say that I learned a lot about the Bauer thesis, Bart Ehrman's fascination with it and how it shaped his conclusions. It seems as if Ehrman is committed to his conclusions regardless of what other scholars say or what the evidence suggests. This book did an excellent job answering many of Ehrman's claims. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about the Canon and the textual criticism. There were about 70 or more footnotes per chapter which provided many resources to do further study
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on March 8, 2016
As a Christian engaging in apologetics, I have been looking to broaden my understanding of canon and the manuscript tradition to counter the arguments of anti-Scriptural scholars like Dr. Bart Ehrman.

In a world where Orthodoxy has become heresy, and what once was heresy has now become the doctrine of the day, this is a must read!
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