Friday, April 14, 2006

McKnight on Judas, 5

Bart Ehrman, in his essay in the National Geographic presentation of the translation of The Gospel of Judas, once again raises his oft-argued point: by the time of Nicea (c. 325) there was a “winning” side and a “losing” side. The winners were the “orthodox.” The losers were the heretics. Prior to that time, Christianity was much more diverse.


This is a simplistic summary that masks a multi-faceted reality: we have an apostolic faith that was carried on fairly consistently, with developments no doubt, into the early second century into folks like Ignatius and Irenaeus. There are adumbrations of creeds that were very early that look not a little like the later ones. So, what I’m suggesting is that Bart is overcooking his claims here. Yes, these texts were there; yes, the proto-orthodox fought against these views; yes, the orthodox party became powerful; and yes, the orthodox party shaped the faith we now know as Christianity. No one should dispute that. But, really, how serious was the competition?


In my assessment, this is the foundational issue behind all the current swirling trends in anti-Christian debate.
The DaVinci Code, Bart Ehrman’s several books, Elaine Pagels’ books, and others, along with this recent publication are all rooted in this singularly potent idea: the orthodox party suppressed alternative voices. Alternative voices deserve to be heard; therefore, we need to hear what these folks believed about the Christian faith. On top of this, for many, there is the added suggestion that we should try to recover the kind of diversity, bewildering as it was, that characterized pre-Nicean Christianity.

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