I don’t believe that any of those unorthodox sects of adulterated forms of Christianity, such as (Adoptionism, Arianism, Docetism, Ebionites, Gnosticism, Marcionism, Montanism) were a serious threat to conservative Christianity until Catholicism took over. The only exception to this might be Arianism. Some of the liberal scholars argue that Orthodox Christians rewrote history.
The discovery of the Apocrypha documents has popularized the theory that in the fourth century C.E., the Orthodox Church conspired to cover up the truth of the origins of Christianity. Elaine Pagels, liberal professor of religion, put it this way: “We now begin to see that what we call Christianity—and what we identify as Christian tradition—actually represents only a small selection of specific sources, chosen from among dozens of others.” For many liberal-moderate scholars like Elaine Pagels, Bart D. Ehrman, Marvin Meyer, Bruce Chilton, Stevan Davies, David Fideler, and many others the Apocryphal sources seem to carry far more weight than the Biblical source.
So, we have the two extremes. For the liberals, early orthodox Christianity was just another version of Christianity among many others, no greater than any other. When Constantine the Great legalized Christianity and especially when the Roman Emperor Theodosius I (also called Theodosius the Great) made Christianity a state religion, the conspiracy to wipe out all history of the unorthodox forms of Christianity began.
So, my take is not that extreme of either side. I am being balanced because that is actually the reality of it. The Christianity Jesus started had apostles who could raise people from the dead, who had miraculous powers beyond comprehension, and who traveled with Jesus for 3.5 years day and night. Speaking in tongues was the gift to speak foreign languages instantaneously for evangelism purposes. They grew from 120 to over a million in a century. When you had the apostle John alive until 100 C.E., it was very difficult to say that Jesus said or taught something different than what he said and taught. John could immediately deny it and expel whoever said such. Then you had Polycarp (studied under the apostle John), Papias (studied under the apostle John), Clement of Rome, and others who had immediate connections with the apostle John. This served at a weaker restraint than the apostles but a restraint nonetheless until about 160 C.E.
It is at this time, maybe 130-160 C.E., we fine these breakaways that would make up many sects of unorthodox “Christianity.” However, true Christianity was one million strong in a world of 100-150 million people. It was being chipped away at by these unorthodox groups, but none were a threat that could ever really take true Christianity down, not yet anyway.
The greatest threat to true Christianity that caused the weeds to overtake the wheat was Greek Philosophy, being legalized and adopted by Constantine the Great and then becoming the state religion in 380 C.E. by the Roman emperor Theodosius I. Jean-Rémy Palanque wrote: “Theodosius, while combating paganism, also came out in favor of the orthodox [Catholic] Church; his edict of 380 C.E. ordered all his subjects to profess the faith of Pope Damasus and the bishop of Alexandria and deprived dissidents of freedom of worship. The great Council of Constantinople (381) again condemned all heresies, and the emperor saw to it that no bishop would support them. Nicene Christianity had well and truly become the State religion . . . The Church was closely united with the State and enjoyed its exclusive support.” This was the downfall of what true Christianity remained, where the weeds started to overtake the wheat. Catholicism is not orthodox Christianity; Catholicism is a sect that replaced orthodox Christianity for a time.
Thus, it was not the unadulterated Christianity that Jesus began, and the apostles grew from 33 C.E. to 100 C.E. and the church fathers maintained until about 160 C.E. that became the State religion of the Roman Empire. It was fourth-century nine-part Greek philosophy, one-part Christian beginnings of Catholicism, which was imposed by force by Emperor Theodosius I and practiced became the Roman Catholic Church, which was then as it is now, truly a sect, adulterated Christianity.
The Apostasy Excursion
Within just a few short decades after the death of the apostle John, divisions were already evident among the early Christians. Historian Will and Ariel Durant write: “Celsus [Greek Philosopher and second-century opponent of Christianity] himself had sarcastically observed that Christians were ‘split up into ever so many factions, each individual desiring to have his own party.’ About 187 AD Irenaeus listed twenty varieties of Christianity; about 384 AD Epiphanius counted eighty.” (The Story of Civilization: Part III, Caesar and Christ) While this and what lies below is all true, the first century Christianity that Jesus Christ started and the apostles grew went from 120 Christians in the upper room of Pentecost 33 C.E. to shortly over one million Christians by 130 C.E. This being accomplished in a world of only a one hundred million in population.
2 Thessalonians 2:1a, 3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
2 Now we request you, brothers, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ … 3 Let no one deceive you in any way, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction,
Apostasy: (Gr. apostasia) The term literally means “to stand away from” and is used to refer to ones who ‘stand away from the truth.’ It is abandonment, a rebellion, an apostasy, a refusal to accept or acknowledge true worship. In Scripture, this is used primarily concerning the one who rises up in defiance of the only true God and his people, working in opposition to the truth. – Ac 21:21; 2 Thess. 2:3.
NOTE: B.C.E. means “before the Common Era,” which is more accurate than B.C. (“before Christ”). C.E. denotes “Common Era,” often called A.D., for anno Domini, meaning “in the year of our Lord.”
Concerning this text, New Testament scholar Knute Larson writes, “Before that great day comes, Paul declared, the rebellion must occur. The word used here is apostasia or apostasy. Before the day of the Lord, there will be a great denial, a deliberate turning away by those who profess to belong to Christ. It will be a rebellion. Having once allied themselves with Christ, they will abandon him. Within the recognized church there will come a time when people will forsake their faith. Throughout history, there have been defections from the faith. But the apostasy about which he wrote to the Thessalonians would be of greater magnitude and would signal the coming of the end.” (Larson 2000, 105)
The apostle Paul says to the Ephesian elders; there is but “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” (Eph. 4:5) Paul penned those words about 60 C.E., and he was informing them that there was but one Christian faith. Yet, today we see more varieties of Christian faith than we care to count (41,000), all claiming that they are the truth and the way. Whenever a brave soul dares to be truthful and bring up that there are doctrinal differences, different doctrinal positions, and different standards of conduct, he is shouted down as an alarmist. They claim that most of these denominations are the same on the essential doctrines, i.e., the salvation doctrines. Well, this actually is not true and is an attempt at hiding the truth, because even the salvation doctrines have anywhere from three to five different interpretations. (see image above) Regardless, we must concern ourselves with a crucial question from Jesus Christ, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lu 18:8) This is a whole other discussion. We concern ourselves with how these divisions came about in the first place.
As has already been stated in another blog article, but bears repeating, the blame lies with Satan. He attempted to have Jesus killed as a baby, he tempted Jesus in the wilderness after his baptism, and he attempted persecution right from the start. Peter wrote, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8) Initially, the persecution of this young Christian body came from Jewish religious leaders, and then from the Roman Empire itself. With “all authority in heaven” (Matt. 28:20) Jesus watched on, as the Holy Spirit guided and directed them. This infancy Christian congregation endured the best that Satan and his henchman had to offer. (See Rev. 1:9; 2:3, 19) As we know from Scripture, Satan is not one to give up, so he devised a new plan, divide and conquer. Yes, he would cause divisions within the Christian congregation. Satan broke out the ultimate weapon― the apostasy. We need not believe that all of a sudden, the apostasy came into the Christian congregation. No, Jesus was watching from heaven, and he made sure that he warned them while he was here on earth of what was to come, and he made the young Christian congregation aware of what was coming and when it was getting started.—Colossians 1:18
In the Greek New Testament, the noun “apostasy” (Gr., apostasia) has the sense of “desertion, abandonment or rebellion.” (Acts 21:21, ftn.) There is predominantly alluding to abandonment; a drawing away from or abandoning of pure worship.
“[Jesus] Be Aware of False Prophets . . .
[Peter] There Will Be False Teachers Among You.”
Matthew 7:15 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
Jesus was well aware of what Satan would try to accomplish step-by-step, and that divisions through those from within were on the list. New Testament scholar Stuart K. Weber says, “Jesus had an important reason for inserting the wolf metaphor (Acts 20:27–31)—to alert his listeners to the danger of a false prophet. If the false prophets were thought of as a source of bad fruit, then the disciples might think it was enough simply to recognize and ignore the false prophet, refusing to consume his bad fruit, and awaiting God’s judgment on him. But the wolf metaphor attributes a more active and malicious motive to the false prophet. He is actually an enemy of the sheep, and, if not confronted, will get his way by destroying the sheep.” (Weber 2000, 101)
Weber mentions Acts 20:28-30, where Paul, about 56 C.E., warned the Ephesian elders,
Acts 20:28-30 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the congregation of God, which he obtained with the blood of his own Son.* 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.
* Lit with the blood of his Own.
Yes, these, who standoff from the Truth and the Way, would not be seeking their own disciples, but rather they would be seeking, “to draw away the disciples after them.” i.e., the disciples of Christ. Jesus was well aware that the easiest way to defeat any group is to divide them, and so was Satan, who had been watching humanity for over 4,000 years, and especially the Israelites (Isaac and Ishmael / Jacob and Esau / Israel and Judah), as “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So, it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.” – 2 Corinthians 11:14-15.
The apostle Peter also spoke of these things about 64 C.E., “there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies . . . in their greed they will exploit you with false words..” (2 Pet. 2:1, 3) These abandoned the faithful words, became false teachers, rising within the Christian congregation, sharing their corrupting influence, intending to hide, disguise, or misleading.
These dire warnings by Jesus and the New Testament Authors had their beginnings in the first century C.E. Yes, they began small, but burst forth on the scene in the second century.
“[Paul says it] Is Already at Work”
About 51 C.E., some 18-years after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, division was already starting to creep into the faith, “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work.” (2 Thess. 2:7) Yes, the power of the man of lawlessness was already present, which is the power of Satan, the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:3-4), and his tens of millions of demons, are hard at work behind the scenes.
There were even some divisions beginning as early as 49 C.E., when the elders wrote a letter to the Gentile believers, saying,
Acts 15:24 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
24 Since we have heard that some went out from among us and troubled you with words, unsettling your souls,[*] although we gave them no instructions,
[*] This means that some, who left the Christian faith and were not trying to subvert (undermine) the faith of others.
Here we see that some within were being very vocal about their opposition to the direction the faith was heading. Here, it was over whether the Gentiles needed to be circumcised, suggesting that they needed to be obedient to the Mosaic Law. (Ac 15:1, 5)
As the years progressed throughout the first-century, this divisive “talk [would] spread like gangrene.” (2 Tim. 2:17, c. 65 C.E.) About 51 C.E., They had some in Thessalonica, at worst, going ahead of, or at best, misunderstanding Paul, and wrongly stating by word and a bogus letter “that the day of the Lord has come.” (2 Thess. 2:1-2) In Corinth, about 55 C.E., “some of [were saying] that there is no resurrection of the dead. (1 Cor. 15:12) About 65 C.E., some were “saying that the resurrection has already happened. They [were] upsetting the faith of some.” (2 Tim 2:16-18)
Throughout the next three decades, no inspired books were written. However, by the time of the Apostle John’s letter-writing days of 96-98 C.E., he tells us “now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.” (1 John 2:18) These are ones, “who denies that Jesus is the Christ” and ones who not confess “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” (1 John 2:22; 4:2-3)
From 33 C.E. to 100 C.E., the apostles served Christ as a restraint against “the apostasy” that was coming. Paul stated in 2 Thessalonians 2:7, “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he [Apostle by Christ] who now restrains it [the apostasy] will do so until he [apostles] is out of the way.” 2 Thessalonians 2:3 said, “Let no one deceive you in any way [misinterpretation or false teachers of Paul’s first letter]. For that day [presence, parousia (second coming) of Christ] will not come, unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness [likely one person, or maybe an organization/movement, empowered by Satan] is revealed, the son of destruction.”
We must keep in mind that the meaning of any given text is what the author meant by the words that he used, as should have been understood by his audience, and had some relevance/meaning for his audience. The rebellion [apostasy] began slowly in the first century and would break forth after the death of the last apostle, i.e., John. As a historian, Ariel Durant informed us earlier, by 187 C.E., there were 20 varieties of Christianity, and by 384 C.E., there were 80 varieties of Christianity. Sadly, Christianity would become one again, a universal religion, i.e., Catholicism, the greatest apostasy that mankind would ever know. This being one was done by the cross and the sword, not evangelism as was the case in the first and second centuries.
Marcion (85-c.160) was a semi-Gnostic, who believed that the teachings of Jesus were irreconcilable with the actions of the God of the Old Testament. He viewed the God of the Old Testament, Jehovah, to be vicious, violent, and cruel, an oppressor who gave out material rewards to those worshiping him. In contrast, Marcion described the New Testament God, Jesus Christ, as a perfect God, the God of unadulterated love and compassion, of kindness and quickness to forgive.
Montanus (late second century) was a false “prophet” from Asia Minor, who believed that their revelation came directly from the Holy Spirit, which superseded the authority of Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, James, anyone really. They believed in the imminent return of Christ and the setting up of the New Jerusalem in Pepuza. He was more concerned about Christian conduct than he was Christian doctrine, wanting to get back to the Christian values of the first century. However, he took this to the extreme, just as John Calvin would about 1,300 years later in the 16thcentury. Montanism was a movement focused on prophecy, especially the founder’s views, being seen as the light for their time. They believed that the apostle and prophets had the power to forgive sin.
Valentinus (c.100-c.160) was a Greek poet, who founded his school in Rome, and most prominent early Christian gnostic theologian. He claimed that though Jesus’ heavenly (spiritual) body was of Mary, he was not actually born from her. This belief came about because Gnostics viewed all matter as evil. Therefore, if Jesus had really been a real human person with a physical body, he would have been evil. Another form of Gnosticism was Docetism, which claimed that Jesus Christ was not a real person, i.e., it was a mere appearance and illusion, which would have included his death and resurrection.
Manes (c. 216-274) was the false prophet and the founder of Manichaeism, a gnostic religion. He sought to combine elements of Christianity, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism, based on a rigid dualism of good and evil, locked in an eternal struggle. He believed that salvation is possible through education, self-denial, fasting, and chastity. He also believed that he was an “apostle of Jesus Christ,” (Ramsey 2006, 272) although, strictly speaking, his religion was not a movement of Christian Gnosticism in the earlier approach.
Beginning with the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E., Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in an attempt at reunited the Roman Empire. He fully understood that religious division was a threat to the continuation of the Roman Empire. However, it was Emperor Theodosius I (347 – 395 C.E.), who banned paganism and imposed Christianity as the State religion of the Roman Empire. The Roman Catholic Church can trace its existence back to the council of Nicaea in 325 C.E. at best. Protestantism had its beginnings in the Reformation of the 16th century. However, there were dissensions within Catholicism for a thousand years.
Adulteration In Early Christianity
Adoptionism, also called dynamic Monarchianism, is a Christian nontrinitarian theological doctrine that holds that Jesus was adopted as the Son of God at his baptism, his resurrection, or his ascension.
Arianism is a Christological doctrine first attributed to Arius, a Christian presbyter in Alexandria, Egypt. Arian theology holds that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, who was begotten by God the Father and is distinct from the Father. However, in contrast with traditional Trinitarianism, Arianism holds that the Son of God is not co-eternal with God the Father. The term Arian is derived from the name Arius and, like the term Christian, it was not what they called themselves, but rather a term used by outsiders. The nature of Arius’s teachings and his supporters were opposed to the theological views held by Homoousian Christians, regarding the nature of the Trinity and the nature of Christ. The Arian concept of Christ is based on the belief that the Son of God did not always exist but was begotten within time by God the Father, therefore Jesus was not co-eternal with God the Father.
Docetism: In the history of Christianity, docetism is the heterodox doctrine that the phenomenon of Jesus, his historical and bodily existence, and above all the human form of Jesus, was a mere semblance without any true reality. Broadly it is taken as the belief that Jesus only seemed to be human, and that his human form was an illusion.
Ebionites as a term referring to a Jewish Christian sect who were vegetarians, viewed poverty as holy, believed in ritual ablutions and rejected animal sacrifices. They existed during the early centuries of the Common Era. The Ebionites embracing an adoptionist Christology, thus understanding Jesus of Nazareth as a mere man who, by virtue of his righteousness, was chosen by God to be the last true prophet who heralds the coming Kingdom of God on Earth. A majority of the Ebionites rejected as heresies the proto-orthodox Christian beliefs in Jesus’s divinity and virgin birth. They maintained that Jesus was the natural son of Joseph and Mary who became the Messiah because he obeyed the Jewish law.
Gnosticism is a collection of religious ideas and systems which originated in the first century AD among early Christian and Jewish sects. These various groups emphasized personal spiritual knowledge (gnosis) over the orthodox teachings, traditions, and authority of the church. Viewing material existence as flawed or evil, Gnostic cosmogony generally presents a distinction between a supreme, hidden God and a malevolent lesser divinity who is responsible for creating the material universe. Gnostics considered the principal element of salvation to be direct knowledge of the supreme divinity in the form of mystical or esoteric insight. Many Gnostic texts deal not in concepts of sin and repentance, but with illusion and enlightenment. Valentinus was the best known and, for a time, most successful early Christian gnostic theologian. He founded his school in Rome. According to Tertullian, Valentinus was a candidate for the bishop but started his own group when another was chosen.
Marcionism was an Early Christian dualist belief system that originated in the teachings of Marcion of Sinope in Rome around the year 144. Marcion of Sinope was an important figure in early Christianity. Marcion preached that the god who sent Jesus into the world was a different, higher deity than the creator god of Judaism. He considered himself a follower of Paul the Apostle, whom he believed to have been the only true apostle of Jesus Christ. He published the earliest extant fixed collection of New Testament books, making him a vital figure in the development of Christian history.
Montanism, known by its adherents as the New Prophecy, was an early Christian movement of the late 2nd century, later referred to by the name of its founder, Montanus. Montanism held views about the basic tenets of Christian theology similar to those of the wider Christian Church, but it was labeled a heresy for its belief in new prophetic revelations. The prophetic movement called for a reliance on the spontaneity of the Holy Spirit and a more conservative personal ethic. Parallels have been drawn between Montanism and modern-day movements such as Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement. About 156, Montanus launched a ministry of prophecy, criticizing Christians as increasingly worldly and bishops as increasingly autocratic. Traveling in his native Anatolia, he and two women preached a return to primitive Christian simplicity, prophecy, celibacy, and asceticism. Tertullian, “having grown puritanical with age”, embraced Montanism as a more outright application of Christ’s teaching. Montanus’s followers revered him as the Paraclete that Christ had promised, and he led his sect out into a field to meet the New Jerusalem. His sect spread across the Roman Empire, survived persecution, and relished martyrdom. The Church banned them as a heresy, and in the 6th century, Justinian ordered the sect’s extinction.
Returning to the First Century
The early Christian congregations were not isolated from one another. The Roman roads and maritime travel connected all the regions from Rome to Greece, to Asia, to Syria and Palestine, and Egypt. Following the days of Pentecost 33 C.E., Jewish or Jewish proselyte Christians returned to Egypt with the good news of Christ (Acts 2:10). Three years after that, the Ethiopian eunuch traveled home with the good news as well (Acts 8:26–39). Apollos of Alexandria, Egypt, a renowned speaker, left Egypt with the knowledge of John the Baptizer and arrived in Ephesus in about 52 C. E. (Acts 18:24-25) The apostle Paul traveled approximately 10,282 miles throughout the Roman Empire establishing congregations. The apostles were a restraint to the apostasy and division within the whole of the first-century Christian congregation (2 Thess. 2:6-7; 1 John 2:18). It was not until the second century that the next generation of Christian leaders gradually caused divisions. However, the one true Christianity that Jesus started and the apostles established was strong, active, and able to defend against Gnosticism, Roman persecution, and Jewish opposition.
It is conceivable that by 55 C.E. there would have been a thriving congregation in Alexandria Egypt, with its huge Jewish population. “Now those who had been scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen went through as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews” (Acts 11:19). While this indicates a traveling north to Antioch, it does not negate traveling south to Egypt. Antioch obviously is mentioned because it played a significant role as a commencement for first-century Christianity, in particular for the apostle Paul.
The Coptic Church claims the Gospel writer Mark as its founder and first patriarch. Tradition has it that he preached in Egypt just before the middle of the first century. At any rate, Christianity spread to Egypt and North Africa at an early date. In fact, it became a prominent religious center, with a noted scholar named Pantaenus, who founded a catechetical school in Alexandria, Egypt, about 160 C.E. In about 180 C.E. another prominent scholar, Clement of Alexandria, took over his position. Clement put this religious, educational institution on the map as a possible center for the whole of the Christian church throughout the Roman Empire. The persecution that came circa the year 202 C.E. forced Clement to flee Alexandria, but one of the most noted scholars of early Christian history, Origen, replaced him. In addition, Origen took this scholarly environment to Caesarea in 231 C.E. and started yet another prominent school and scriptorium (i.e., a room for copying manuscripts).
What does all this mean? While we cannot know absolutely, textual scholar Philip W. Comfort and others, including this author, believe that the very early Alexandrian manuscripts that we now possess are a reflection of what would have been found throughout the whole of the Greco-Roman Empire about 125–300 C.E. If we were to discover other early manuscripts from Antioch, Constantinople, Carthage, or Rome, they would be very similar to the early Alexandrian manuscripts. This means that these early manuscripts are a primary means of establishing the original text, and we are in a far better position today than were Westcott and Hort in 1881.
In addition, we can assume an effort on the part of copyists to preserve the originals unchanged, because the authors themselves spoke of their writings as being authoritative and said that no one should alter what they had published or taught. The apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians that they should consider as “accursed” anyone (even angels) who proclaimed a gospel contrary to the one they had preached. (Gal. 1:6-9) Paul went on to write, “the gospel that was preached by me is not according to man [I.e., human origin]. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation [Lit., uncovering; disclosure] of Jesus Christ.” (Gal. 1:11-12) The apostle Paul charged that ‘the Corinthian Christians had put up with false teachers, readily enough, who proclaim another Jesus and another gospel.’ (2 Cor. 11:3-4) Paul and Silas wrote to the Thessalonians that they constantly thanked God that when the Thessalonians received the word of God, which they had heard from them, they accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really was, the word of God. (1Thess. 2:3) Paul then closed that letter by commanding them “by the Lord, have this letter read aloud to all the brothers.” (1 Thess. 5:27) In 2 Thessalonians Paul ‘requested that they not be quickly shaken from their composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a word or a letter as if from us.’ (2:2) Paul closed the letter with a greeting in his own hand, to authenticate it. (3:17) Lastly, John closed the book of Revelation with a warning to everyone about adding to or taking away from what he had written therein. (Rev. 22:18-19) The New Testament authors were well aware that future scribes could intentionally alter the Word of God, so they warned them of the consequences.
Let’s look at yet another author of the New Testament. The apostle Peter wrote about 64 C.E.,
2 Peter 1:12-18 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
12 Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you. 13 I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder, 14 knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you will be able to call these things to mind.
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”—18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.
Peter was making it clear that he was sharing firsthand accounts and not devised tales. Here again, like the other New Testament authors, Peter warned his readers of false teachers, who corrupted the truth and distorted the Scriptures, such as Paul’s letters. Like Paul and John, Peter warned that this would be done to the offenders’ own destruction.
2 Peter 3:15-16 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.
Yes, “It is especially interesting that Peter writes of the distortion of Paul’s letters along with ‘the other Scriptures.’ The implication is that the letters of Paul were already regarded as Scripture at the time Peter wrote.” Verse 16 shows that Peter
…is aware of several Pauline letters. This knowledge again raises the dating issue. We know that Paul himself on one occasion had requested that churches share his letters: ‘After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you, in turn, read the letter from Laodicea’ (Col 4:16). However, it is a big jump in time from Colossians to the first concrete evidence we have of people who know more than one letter. This evidence shows up in 1 Clement, who not only knows Romans but can also write to the Corinthians, ‘Take up the epistle of the blessed Apostle Paul’ (1 Clem. 47:1). It appears later in 2 Clement and in Ignatius’s Ephesians. Thus, we are on solid ground when we accept that a collection of the Pauline letters existed by the end of the first century. It is also likely that some Pauline letters circulated independently of a collection (which is what one would expect as one church hears that another has a letter that might prove helpful in their situation), and that there were collections of a few Pauline letters before there was a collection of all of his letters. All of this is quite logical since Paul was a valued teacher in his circle of communities and, as he left an area and especially as he died, his letters were his continuing voice. Thus churches would share letters and, as they obtained funds (a few hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars in today’s money), they would make copies. Copies would turn into collections, especially since it was possible to use one scroll for several of the shorter letters. Probably by the end of the first century, the complete collection (i.e., all extant letters) was circulating to at least a limited degree (remember, these copies did not come cheap). The issue is which stage in this process 2 Peter is indicating.
This author would argue that the stage to which Peter was referring was the time when “there were collections of a few Pauline letters before there was a collection of all of his letters.” It is most likely that Peter’s first letter was written about 62-64 C.E., while Peter’s second letter was written about 64 C.E. At the time Peter penned his second letter, several of Paul’s letters from the 50s was available to Peter (Romans , 1 & 2 Corinthians , Galatians [50-52], and 1 & 2 Thessalonians [50, 51]). He could have had access to those from the early 60s as well (Ephesians [60-61], Philippians [60-61], Colossians [60-61], and maybe Titus [61-64], Philemon [60-61], and Hebrews ). The only ones that were clearly unavailable would have been 1 & 2 Timothy [61, 64] and possibly Titus [61-64]. Thus, from Peter’s reference to “in all his [Paul’s] letters, speaking in them of these things,” we garner several insights. It highly suggests (1) there were collections of Paul’s letters, (2) Peter and the early church viewed them as “Scripture” in the same sense as the Old Testament Scriptures, (3) they were not to be changed, and (4) that apostolic authors’ written works were being collected and preserved for posterity.
Second-Century Manuscripts: Once we enter the second century almost all firsthand witnesses of Jesus Christ would have died, and most of the younger traveling companions, fellow workers, and students of the apostles, would be advancing into old age. However, there were some, like Polycarp who was born to Christian parents about 69 C.E. in Asia Minor, in Smyrna. As he grew into a man, he became known for his kindness, self-discipline, compassionate treatment of others, and thorough study of God’s Word. Soon enough he became an elder in the Christian congregation at Smyrna. Polycarp was very fortunate to live in a time when he was able to learn from the apostles themselves. In fact, the apostle John was one of his teachers.
By any standard, Polycarp must be reckoned as one of the more notable figures in the early postapostolic church. Already bishop [overseer] of Smyrna in Asia Minor when his friend and mentor, Ignatius of Antioch [c. 35 C.E. – c. 108 C.E.], addressed one of his letters to him (ca. A.D. 110; cf. above, p. 131), he died a martyr’s death (see the Martyrdom of Polycarp) several decades later at age eighty-six (ca. 155–160), having served as bishop [overseer] for at least forty and possibly sixty or more years. Irenaeus (who met Polycarp as a child) and Eusebius both considered him a significant link in the chain of orthodox apostolic tradition. His life and ministry spanned the time between the end of the apostolic era and the emergence of catholic [i.e., universal] Christianity, and he was deeply involved in the central issues and challenges of this critical era: the growing threat of persecution by the state, the emerging Gnostic movement (he is particularly known for his opposition to one of the movement’s most charismatic and theologically innovative teachers, Marcion), the development of the monepiscopal form of ecclesiastical organization, and the formation of the canon of the New Testament. Polycarp’s only surviving document is a letter to the Philippians, written in response to a letter from them (cf. 3.1; 13.1). It reveals, in addition to a direct and unpretentious style and a sensitive pastoral manner, a deep indebtedness to the Scriptures (in the form of the Septuagint) and early Christian writings, including 1 Clement (with which Polycarp seems to be particularly familiar). While apparently no New Testament books are cited as ‘Scripture’ (the reference to Ephesians in 12.1 is a possible exception), the manner in which Polycarp refers to them indicates that he viewed them as authoritative documents.
Christ “gave gifts to men.” “He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:8, 11-13). The Father moved these inspired ones along by Holy Spirit, as they set forth God’s Word for the Christian congregation, “to stir [them] up by way of reminder,” repeating many things already written in the Scriptures (2 Pet. 1:12-13; 3:1; Rom 15:15). Thus, we have internal New Testament evidence from Second Peter circa 64 C.E. that “there were collections of a few Pauline letters before there was a collection of all of his letters.” Outside of Scripture, we find evidence of a collection of at least ten Pauline letters that were collected together by 90-100 C.E. We can be certain that the early Christians were collecting the inspired Christian Scriptures as early as the middle of the first century C.E. to the early second century C.E.
Clement of Rome (c. 96 C.E.) was acquainted with Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth and said that Paul wrote under the inspiration of the Spirit. Thus, we have Clement of Rome (c. 30-100 C.E.), Polycarp of Smyrna (69-155 C.E.), and Ignatius of Antioch (c. 35 C.E. – c. 108 C.E.), who wove Scripture of the Greek New Testament into their writings, showing their view of them as inspired Scripture. Justin Martyr, who died about 165 C.E., used the expression “it is written” when quoting from Matthew. Theophilus of Antioch, who died about 181 C.E., declared “concerning the righteousness which the law enjoined, confirmatory utterances are found both with the prophets and in the Gospels because they all spoke inspired by one Spirit of God.” Theophilus then used such expressions as “says the Gospel” (quoting Matt, 5:28, 32, 44, 46; 6:3) and “the divine word gives us instructions, in order that “we may lead a quiet and peaceable life.” And it teaches us to render all things to all, “honour to whom honour, fear to whom fear, tribute to whom tribute; to owe no man anything, but to love all.”
Once we reach the middle to the end of the second century C.E., it comes down to whether those who came before would stress the written documents as Scripture by
- the apostles, who had been personally selected by Jesus (Matthew, John, and Peter),
- Paul, who was later selected as an apostle by the risen Jesus himself,
- the half-brothers of Jesus Christ (James and Jude),
- as well as Mark and Luke, who were close associates and traveling companions of Paul and Peter.
We can see from the above that this largely was the case. We know that major church leaders across the Roman Empire had done just that. We know, for example, that Irenaeus of Asia Minor (180 C.E.) fully accepted 25 of 27 books of the New Testament but had some doubt about Hebrews and uncertainty about James. We know that Clement of Alexandria (190 C.E.) fully accepted 26 of 27 books of the New Testament but may not have been aware of 3 John. We know that Tertullian of North Africa (207 C.E.) fully accepted 24 of 27 books but may not have been aware of 2 and 3 John, or Jude. We know that Origen of Alexandria (230 C.E.) and Eusebius of Palestine (320 C.E.) fully accepted all 27 books of the New Testament. It has been estimated that by the close of the second century C.E., there were over 60,000 copies of major parts of the Greek New Testament in existence. This is an enormous number, even if it was only one in every fifty professing Christians who possessed a copy.
However, would there be evidence that these church leaders, going back to the days of the apostles, would influence the copyists? Moreover, were the copyists professionals? (more on this in a moment) In other words, even if some of the copyists did not see the documents as Scripture, would the church leaders, and long-standing traditions, motivate them to copy the documents with accuracy? In addition, would the professional scribe copy accurately even if he did not view them as Scripture? And if the scribe did view the texts as Scripture, the inspired Word of God, was it plenary inspiration (every word), or that the meaning was inspired? Generally speaking, from what we know about the Alexandrian scribes, they would have sought to reproduce an accurate copy regardless of their views. We can say that there were other scribes, who saw the message as inspired; thus, their focus was not on retaining every single word, nor word order. It seems that they felt they could alter the words without damaging the intended meaning of the author. These copyists added and removed words here and there, rearranged words, and substituted words, presumably in the hope of improving the text but not intending to alter the meaning. It also has to be acknowledged that there were some untrained copyists who simply produced inaccurate copies, regardless of how they viewed the text.
Then, there were scribes who willfully altered the text, with the intention of improving it. Some were seeking to harmonize the gospel accounts. An extreme example would be Tatian, a noteworthy, apologetic writer of the second century C.E. In an account of his conversion to nominal Christianity, Tatian states, “I sought how I might be able to discover the truth,” which points to his intent. About 170 C.E., Tatian compiled a harmonized account of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, combining the four Gospels into a single narrative (Diatessaron means “of the four”). Another who willfully revised the New Testament was Lucian of Antioch (c. 240-312 C.E.). Lucian produced the Syrian text, renamed the Byzantine text. About 290 C.E. some of his associates made various subsequent alterations, deliberately combining elements from earlier types of text, and this text was adopted about 380 C.E. At Constantinople it became the predominant form of the New Testament throughout the Greek-speaking world. The text was also edited, with parallel accounts harmonized, grammar corrected, and abrupt transitions modified to produce a smooth text. As a result, this was not a faithfully accurate copy. However, others willfully altered the text to have it support their doctrinal position. Marcion (c. 85-c. 160 C.E.), a semi-Gnostic of the second century C.E., is a leading example. In fact, the idea of forming a catalog of authoritative Christian writings did not come to mind until Marcion. One such catalog was the Muratorian Fragment, Italy (170 C.E.) The list shows 24 books of the New Testament is accepted without question as Scriptural and canonical, some uncertainty about 2 Peter, and Hebrews and James were not listed, possibly unknown. In the end, we must admit that there were heretics who altered the text to make it align with their doctrinal positions, but also Orthodox Christians who also altered the text to strengthen their doctrinal positions.
We must keep in mind that we are dealing with an oral society. Therefore, the apostles, who had spent three and a half years with Jesus, first published the Good News orally. The teachers within the newly founded Christian congregations would repeat this information until it was memorized. Thereafter, those who had heard this gospel would, in turn, share it with others (Acts 2:42, Gal 6:6). In time, they would see the need for a written record so Matthew, Luke, Mark, and John would pen the Gospels, and other types of New Testament books would be written by Paul, James, Peter, and Jude. We can see from the first four verses of Luke that Theophilus* was being given a written record of what he had already been taught orally. In verse 4, Luke says to Theophilus, “[My purpose is] that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.”
* Theophilus means “friend of God,” was the person to whom the books of Luke and Acts were written (Lu 1:3; Ac 1:1). Theophilus was called “most excellent,” which may suggest some position of high rank. On the other hand, it simply may be Luke offering an expression of respect. Theophilus had initially been orally taught about Jesus Christ and his ministry. Thereafter, it seems that the book of Acts, also by Luke, confirms that he did become a Christian. The Gospel of Luke was partially written to offer Theophilus assurances of the certainty of what he had already learned by word of mouth.
The appearance of the written record did not mean the end of the oral publication. Both oral and written would be used together. Most did not read the written records themselves, as they would hear them read in the congregational meetings by the lector. Paul and his letters came to be used in the same way as he traveled extensively but was just one man and could only be in one place at a time. It was not long before he took advantage of the fact that he could be in one place and dispatch letters to other locations through his traveling companions. These traveling companions would not only deliver the letters but would know the issues well enough to address questions that might be asked by the leaders of the congregation to which they had been dispatched. In summary, the first century saw the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as well as his death, resurrection, and ascension. After that, his disciples spread this gospel orally for at least 15 years before Matthew penned his gospel. The written was used in conjunction with the oral message.
In the first-century C.E., the Bible books were being copied individually. In the late first century or the beginning of the second century, they began to be copied in groups. At first, it was the four gospels and then the book of Acts with the four gospels, as well as a collection of the Apostle Paul’s writings. Each of the individual books of the New Testament was penned, edited, and published between 44 and 98 C.E. A group of the apostle Paul’s letters and the gospels were copied and published between 90 to 125 C.E. The entire 27 books of the New Testament were not published as a whole until about 290 to 340 C.E.
Thus, we have the 27 books of the New Testament that were penned individually in the second half of the first century. Each of these would have been copied and recopied throughout the first century. Copies of these copies would, of course, be made as well. Some of the earliest manuscripts that we now have indicate that a professional scribe copied them. Many of the other papyri provide evidence that a semi-professional hand-copied them, while most of these early papyri give evidence of being made by a copyist who was literate and experienced at making documents. Therefore, either literate or semi-professional copyists produced the vast majority of our early papyri, with some being made by professionals. The first-century Christians carried out their evangelism with a sense of urgency because the great apostasy was on the horizon, not so much that the end was nigh. So, yes, the spread of Christianity definitely had an impact on our efforts of ascertaining the original wording of the original text. Some facts that are found in FROM SPOKEN WORDS TO SACRED TEXTS are the early Christians were seeking to evangelize the world because of the foretold apostasy that was coming, they viewed the books of the twenty-seven New Testament books as inspired in the same way that the Jews viewed the thirty-nine Old Testament books as inspired, and, again, literate or semi-professional copyists produced the vast majority of our early papyri, with some being made by professionals.
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 People of the first three centuries sent and received letters and books from all over the Roman Empire. Hurtado has given us two examples: the Shepherd of Hermas was written in Rome and found its way to Egypt within a few decades; Irenaeus’ Against Heresies was written in Gaul and made it to Egypt (Oxyrhynchus) within short order.
 This apostasy and divisiveness did not just come into the Christian congregation from nowhere. It started developing in the first century, but was restrained by apostolic authority.
 Macquarie University, Ancient History Documentary Research Center (AHDRC), Papyri from the Rise of Christianity in Egypt (PCE),
 Philip W. Comfort, The Quest for the Original Text of the New Testament (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1992).
 Allen Black and Mark C. Black, 1 & 2 Peter, The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College Press Pub., 1998), 2 Pe 3:16.
 1 Clem. First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians
 Ignatius, Eph. 12:2, refers to Paul, “who in all his Epistles makes mention of you in Christ Jesus.” (Although one wonders how Ignatius thought the Ephesians were mentioned in every Pauline letter he knew.) On the evidence for 2 Clement’s knowledge of a collection, see Karl P. Donfried, The Setting of Second Clement in Early Christianity (NovTSup 38; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1974), 93–95.
 Jack Finegan, “The Original Form of the Pauline Collection,” HTR 49 (1956) 85–104. See also Walter Schmithals, “Zur Abfassung und ältesten Sammlung der pauli nischen Hauptbriefe” [“On the Composition and Earliest Collection of the Major Epistles of Paul”], ZNW 51 (1960) 225–45.
 Harry Gamble, “The Redaction of the Pauline Letters and the Formation of the Pauline Corpus,” JBL 94 (1971) 403–18.
 Mary Lucetta Mowry, “The Early Circulation of Paul’s Letters,” JBL 63 (1944) 73–86.
 Peter H. Davids, The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2006), 302–303.
 Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Hebrews to Revelation., vol. 4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 153.
 The attempt by H. von Campenhausen (“Polykarp und die Pastoralen,” repr. Aus der Frühzeit des Christentums [Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1963], 197–252) to show that Polycarp also authored the pastoral Epistles has met with little acceptance.
 Schoedel (Polycarp, 4–5) suggests that it is “fairly certain” that the letter “reflects more or less direct contact” with the following writings: Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Tobit, Matthew, Luke, Acts, Romans, 1–2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1–2 Timothy, 1 John, 1 Peter, and 1 Clement. Metzger (Canon, 61–62) adds to the New Testament list 2 Thessalonians and Hebrews while deleting Acts and 2 Corinthians.
 Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, Third ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007), 272–273.
 Jack Finegan, “The Original Form of the Pauline Collection,” HTR 49 (1956) 85–104. See also Walter Schmithals, “Zur Abfassung und ältesten Sammlung der pauli nischen Hauptbriefe” [“On the Composition and Earliest Collection of the Major Epistles of Paul”], ZNW 51 (1960) 225–45.
 Theophilus of Antioch, “Theophilus to Autolycus,” in Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire), ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. Marcus Dods, vol. 2, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 114.
 1 Tim. 2:2
 Rom. 13:7, 8
 Theophilus of Antioch, “Theophilus to Autolycus,” in Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire), ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. Marcus Dods, vol. 2, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 115.