Warren Christian Apologetics Center
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Articles - Miscellanea

The Heresy of Orthodoxy

The Heresy of Orthodoxy by Andreas Köstenberger and Michael J. Kruger is highly recommended. The 250-page paperback has both a Subject and Scripture Index and 642 footnotes giving valuable insight and showing the depth of scholarship. Crossway sells the book for $17.99. The book is a serious reply to Bart Ehrman’s popularization of Walter Bauer’s thesis that heresy preceded orthodoxy. Some of Ehrman’s writings have made the New York Timesbest-seller list.

What is the “Bauer-Ehrman Thesis”? Bauer argued that a careful study of some of the major urban areas, such as Edess, Egypt, Asia Minor, and Rome before the fourth century, proves there was no Christianity (singular) but only Christianities (plural). Bauer argues these four centers of Christianity, while lacking a unified theology, had many disparaging theologies (plural). By the fourth century, the strongest of these disparaging theologies emerged with the help of the church in Rome and began to assume that which is true or orthodox. In other words, what is now orthodox is the result of a power grab among the many heresies lead by the church in Rome. This is the survival of the fittest and makes heresy precede orthodoxy.

Köstenberger and Kruger ably answer the “Bauer-Ehrman Thesis” showing it is fraught with problems with the conclusion that it is not historic Christianity. Their book is composed of three sections. Part One gives the reader the origin, influence, and context of the “Bauer-Ehrman Thesis” (23-101). This background is necessary in understanding Ehrman’s present-day railing against the Bible and Christianity. Part Two discusses the meaning of the historical evidence for and the limits of the New Testament canon (105-75). Part Three shows Christianity is based on the copying, care, and circulation of the biblical manuscripts (179-35).

The History of Orthodoxy ably shows the “Bauer-Ehrman Thesis” as invalid and that the earliest form of historic Christianity cannot be described as competing theologies (Christianities, plural), but was a unified theology (Christianity, singular). Bauer, Ehrman, and others, have failed to prove their argument from the Bible and historically from Church Fathers.

The question is why Ehrman chairs the department of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and as an agnostic, has been so successful in popularizing Bauer’s thesis which was answered ably when it appeared in English in 1971? The answer to Ehrman’s contention that Jesus established Christianities (plural) is the effect of postmodernism’s teaching that the only absolute is diversity.

The major criticism of The Heresy of Orthodoxy is the lack of the role of inspiration in the canon. The word inspiration is seldom used and is totally absent in the Subject Index. While inspiration is briefly discussed, we believe a greater emphasis on the inspiration of the oral teaching and the written text of the apostolic writers would make a stronger case for answering the many questions raised in reference to the canon. This aside, The Heresy of Orthodoxy is a major contribution in answering the “Bauer-Ehrman Thesis” which underlies many present-day writings on historic Christianity and the canon of the Sacred Scriptures.