The Rehabilitation Of Heresy: Part 2 “Misquoting” Earliest Christianity -- By: Rodney J. Decker

Journal: Journal of Ministry and Theology
Volume: JMAT 13:2 (Fall 2009)
Article: The Rehabilitation Of Heresy: Part 2 “Misquoting” Earliest Christianity
Author: Rodney J. Decker

The Rehabilitation Of Heresy: Part 2
“Misquoting” Earliest Christianity

Rodney J. Decker

Professor of Greek and New Testament

Baptist Bible Seminary

Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania


Does it matter if the description of the historical origins of Christianity in the NT is accurate? What if Christianity was originally very different? What if we don’t know for sure what Jesus actually taught? What impact would such ideas make on what we know as Christianity? These are not idle questions, but are being actively promoted in our day.

In part one of this article,1the argument of Walter Bauer, which proposes just such a thesis, was examined. After that lengthy discussion of Bauer proposal, it is time to return to one of the modern tributaries that have flowed from Bauer’s spring. Bart Ehrman’s position was summarized in the introduction to part 1.2 This section will spell out the argument of his key book on the subject, Lost Christianities.

Ehrman’s Lost Christianities

The following summary of Ehrman’s Lost Christianities will, of necessity, be selective. The purpose is not to provide a complete digest nor a detailed, point-by-point refutation.

The Argument Of Ehrman’s Lost Christianities

Part one consists of four chapters, each dealing with “apocryphal” material: The Gospel of Peter, The Acts of Paul and Thecla, The Coptic Gospel of Thomas, and The Secret Gospel of Mark.3 These represent, claims Ehrman, examples of ancient alternate portraits of Jesus and Christianity. He classes all of them as forgeries, suggesting that most of the “lost books” are just that—but so too are some which made it into the canon (e.g., the Pastoral Epistles and 2 Peter). The purpose and value

of these chapters is questionable. All they serve to do is illustrate NT apocryphal writings—this is nothing new, though it may alarm the layman (or uninformed student or pastor). The implication, however, is that these are part of the conspiracy to conceal the truth about the early history of Christianity: “heretical” groups “were eventually reformed or repressed, their traces covered over, until scholars in the modern period began to rediscover them and to recognize anew the rich diversity and importance of these lost Christianities” (11).

The second part of Ehrman’s book sketches the hi...

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