Universality and Standardization in the Manuscripts of Early Christianity

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APOSTOLIC FATHERS Lightfoot APOSTOLIC FATHERS

INDICATIONS OF UNIVERSALITY
IN NT MANUSCRIPTS

  • All of the earl early (125-400 C..) papyrus were in codex (book) form.
  • The standardization of the nominal sacra (sacred names) very early on: God Θεός ΘΣ; Lord Κύριος ΚΣ; Jesus Ἰησοῦς ΙΣ; Christ Χριστός ΧΣ; Spirit Πνεῦμα ΠΝΑ, being in a contracted format and with a horizontal line above the letters. Eventually, it would be 15 sacred names. The following second-century manuscripts that clearly show these nomina sacra are as follows: vP4+P64+P67 dates to (150-175 C.E.), P32 dates to (150-200 C.E.), P46 dates to 150 C.E.), P66 dates to about (150 C.E.), P75 dates to about (175 C.E.), and P90 dates to (150-200 C.E.). This means that the nomina sacra for Lord, Jesus, Christ, God, and Spirit are standard by 150 C.E. INCONSISTENCIES: Initially, there were some inconsistencies in the application but universally it was soon decided to use the nomina sacra regardless of whether the referent, meaning, or context was mundane or sacred in its use.
  • Collections of NT books, such as the Gospels, or the Gospels and Acts, the Apostle Paul’s letters, which included Hebrews.
  • The standardization of the codex size for the Gospels, like our 8.5 x 11 inches today. The standard size in the second/third centuries was 11.5-14 cm (4.5-5.5 inches) Width x 14.5-17 cm (5.7-6.7) Length. A new standard size began to develop in the third century. Just the fact that they had a standard size for the Gospels is unusual because this is not the case for Paul’s letter or any other books.
  • There were explicit requirements before someone could be baptized: the education of basic doctrinal beliefs, praying, fasting, and a commitment to live a moral life and an understanding of Christian beliefs
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NEW TESTAMENT TEXTUAL STUDIES: What Are the Nomina Sacra and Their Origin?

EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 140 books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

WHAT DOES THIS TELL US?

Colin. H Roberts tells us that there was a notable ‘degree of organization, of conscious planning, and uniformity of practice’ in the early church. (Roberts, Manuscripts, 41) There were early naysayers concerning Roberts’ arguments for universality and standardization but the combined evidence now strongly supports his conclusions. Now, this does not in any way support the argument for a cookie-cutter Christianity that was exactly alike. But do not let someone offer some exception as a means to undermine the organization of early Christianity. Consider the organized evangelism efforts alone that must have taken place to go from 120 disciples in the upper room on Pentecost 33 C.E. to more than one million disciples by 130 C.E. in a world that had mere 150 and 330 million compared to our 7.8 billion today.

The Epistle to the Hebrews Paul PAUL AND LUKE ON TRIAL

First-Century Christian Worship and the Truth

The early Christians met in congregations, which for many of them, were private homes, to take in the truth. (Rom. 16:3-5) The book of Hebrews tells us some of what took place at these meetings. They were there, in part, to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Heb. 10:24-25) Tertullian of the late second, early third century (c.155–after 220 C.E.), wrote, “We meet to read the books of God … In any case, with those holy words we feed our faith, we lift up our hope, we confirm our confidence.”[1] In order to become a Christian, certain requirements had to be met, as we can see from the Zondervan Handbook to the History of Christianity,

As before, people who converted to Christianity were baptized. First, however, the new believer would be properly instructed in the beliefs and practices of Christianity. These ‘beginner’ Christians were the ‘catechumens’ (from the Greek meaning ‘oral handing down’, that is, teaching by word of mouth) and the way in which they were instructed developed as time went on. In the First Apology, published in the middle of the second century, the Christian writer Justin Martyr (c. 100-165) gives us a valuable insight into how people were admitted into the church in Rome:[2]

As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water.[3]

Thus, there were explicit requirements before someone could be baptized: education of basic doctrinal beliefs, praying, fasting, and a commitment to live a moral life and an understanding of Christian beliefs. These new believers were discovered by taking the message into the community. Then, they were taught to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. They were then organized into Christian congregations. These same disciples (learners) were trained to make more disciples in the same way, preaching the Good News, and sharing the basic doctrinal beliefs.

Jesus Paul THE EVANGELISM HANDBOOK

Acts 5:40-42 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

40 At this they were persuaded by him,[25] and they summoned the apostles, flogged them, and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 So they went out from before the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day in the temple and from house to house they kept right on teaching and proclaiming the good news that the Christ was Jesus.

Acts 14:21-23 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
21 After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to remain in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” 23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every congregation,[80] with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

Acts 20:20 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house,

The Ends of the Earth

Jesus had just recently given his disciples The Great Commission, to ‘go and make disciples of all nations … teaching them … you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Matt. 28:18-20, Ac 1:8) Now, “he was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received him out of their sight.” (Ac 1:9) Jesus was taken back to heaven, to be with the Father. It was just ten short days later that this making disciples and teaching began, Pentecost 33 C.E. As Jesus had promised, when he said, “I am sending the promise of my Father upon you,” for they were to “be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Ac 2:1-4; compare Lu 24:49 and Ac 1:4-5.) They were then filled with zeal and strength that they had never felt before, and so they preached, they taught about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as well as his return in Kingdom power and authority.

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The disciples followed Jesus’ instruction and began their preaching, teaching and making disciples; just he had laid it out, saying, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” They began bearing witness about the Father and the Son right there in Jerusalem. ‘They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven and they were bewildered because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.’ (Acts 2:5-11, 40) “But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.” “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 4:4; 6:7) Later, ‘Philip followed Jesus’ course direction by preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ’ to the Samaritans.—Acts 8:12.

For seven years, only the Jews and proselytes were brought into the Christian congregation. However, in 36 C.E., Peter aided in the conversion of the first Gentile Cornelius, taking the good news to the Gentiles, i.e., non-Jewish people. (Acts 10) With the travels of Paul, Christianity grew so quickly; Paul could write about 60 C.E. that the gospel “has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven.” (Col. 1:23) We find that by the begging of the second century, Jesus disciples had taken the good news all throughout the Roman Empire, Asia, Europe, and Africa, with Christians numbering more than one million.

This offers us hope. If the Christian disciples of just 120 could grow to such numbers, in such far-reaching places, in just 70-years, with no modern-day technologies, what could be accomplished today? Jesus had asked, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lu 18:8) At present, this is a troublesome question, because the one Christianity that Jesus founded and the disciples grew, it has become 41,000 different varieties, with over eighty percent being liberal, who have failed to carry out the Great Commission as commanded. Nevertheless, in our day, with our technology, things could change directions very quickly, and grow at tremendous speed. Moreover, Jesus made it very clear that most would reject him and that there would be false, imitation Christians, with a remnant being faithful followers.

The Reading Culture of Early Christianity From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts 400,000 Textual Variants 02

Structure and Functioning on a Large Scale

From the days of Moses Exodus from Egypt, the Israelite nation was working and functioning on a large scale under the direction of God and involving the systematic coordination of many different considerations. Israel had its elders and heads, its judges and officers, who were organized by God himself, by way of the Mosaic Law. (Josh. 23:1-2) However, the Israelites lost their favored position because of 1,500 years of on again off again false worship (e.g. immoral sexual relations, sacrificing their children to the god of Molech, and leaders abusing and oppressing their people), culminating in their rejecting and having executed the Son of God. (Matt. 21:42, 43; 23:37, 38; Acts 4:24-28) Therefore, the Christian congregation that Jesus founded, and the apostles grew replaced the nation of Israel on Pentecost 33 C.E.

How was that first-century Christian congregation structured to function to the point of growing from 120 to over one million in just 70 plus years? We are fortunate that Luke offers us, in the book of Acts, a summary report of how the Christian congregation was doing. “Here we have the first. In it our author describes what a biblical church really looks like, not only in the first century but in every century from the Lord’s ascension until his second coming … A biblical church is marked by teaching. Thousands of new converts needed to understand precisely how Peter linked Old Testament text with the ministry of Jesus.” (K. O. Gangel 1998, 31) From the very beginning we are told that they “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” (Ac 2:42) Moreover, we are also told that was ‘attending the temple together, day by day’ (Ac 2:46) The proclaiming, teaching and making disciples spread, to the point of forming one congregation right after another, inside and outside of Jerusalem. (Acts 8:1; 9:31; 11:19-21; 14:21-23) These early Christians assembled together (Greek homothumadon, translated together 1:14; 2:46; 4:24; 5:12), as well as in private homes.—Acts 19:8, 9; Rom. 16:3, 5; Col. 4:15

Jesus has one other thing that he used to maintain the oneness of the Christian congregation. He had the apostles, faithful men, who were appointed to serve in different capacities, traveling apostles with authority to affect change in any church, and the apostles and older men (i.e., elders) in Jerusalem. This group was initially the apostles (including Paul) and ones such as James, the half-brother of Jesus. Eventually, it came to include elders within the Jerusalem congregation as well. Persons such as Paul, Barnabas, Philip (not the apostle), and Peter were sent out to visit congregations, to establish new congregations, to pen letters, offering counsel, giving direction. These early Christians recognized that Jesus Christ was using Jerusalem’s elders, to lead and direct the whole of the church. (Acts 2:42; 6:1-6; 8:14-17; 11:22; 15:1-31) What was the result? Luke sums it up nicely,

Acts 16:4-5 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
And as they went on their way through the cities, they delivered them the decrees to observe that had been decided on by the apostles and the elders who were in Jerusalem. So the congregations were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in number daily.

The P52 PROJECT THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS 4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS

These “apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem,” appointed those who would travel to set up and visit the congregations, appointing elders and servants within the congregations. There were qualifications for these overseers and servants. (1 Tim. 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Pet. 5:1-3) The overseers were expected to be obedient to the Scriptures, which included the Old Testament and any letters that they received from the Holy Spirit appoint apostles and elders in Jerusalem, and the visiting apostles. (Acts 20:28; Titus 1:9) The congregation members were expected to ‘obey their leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over their souls, as those who will have to give an account.’ (Heb. 13:17) There was no local church autonomy, which was not bound to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, as well as the visiting apostles. What do we mean by autonomy?

Autonomy means freedom, independence, i.e. that each church, selects its leadership, determines its form of worship, decides financial matters and directs other church-related affairs outside of any outside influences. In other words, there is no body of elders, no organizational head, which has any authority over an autonomous church, even if it is a denomination of tens of thousands of churches. The Baptist denomination is of this structure. This is not a biblical concept and is a twisting of Scriptures, to get the desired outcome. Let us just offer one example of taking the Scriptures out of context.

Some cite Acts 6:3-6 and say that the churches of the New Testament were allowed to select individuals from their church to care for their needs. First, this is in the very beginning, before the church grew into tens of thousands of congregations. Second, the congregations were directed to do it this way, it was not something that they came up with on their own, but rather it was in the direction of the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. Third, see how it is worded, ‘churches of the New Testament were allowed to select persons from their own church.’ This is wrong on two fronts. If one were allowed to do something, it would mean that there was a higher authority that could just as easily disallow it. Moreover, it was not that they were allowed, but that this is the way, they were told to do it. Notice verse 3, which says what the apostles told to do, “Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men.” (Ac 6:3) Now, look at verse 6, which says, “These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.” Therefore, it actually went like this,

  • there was a disagreement over the dispensing of food,
  • the apostles and elders told the congregations to appoint “seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (criteria set by apostles and elders),
  • which was followed by the congregations, and
  • approved by the apostles and elders, i.e., the Holy Spirit, because they laid hands on them.
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What we see in the first-century Christian congregation was Jesus Christ being their leader. We further see the Holy Spirit appointing apostles and elders, who were then guided to send out apostles. The apostle who was sent out was then guided to appoint congregation overseers and servants. Finally, we see that the congregation members were obligated to obey the ones taking the lead, and all obeying the Scriptures and the apostles and elders. Moreover, Knute Larson commenting on Titus 1:9, a letter from Paul to a person, Titus, he has assigned to appointing overseers in the congregations (Tit 1:4-5), “Having described the personal qualities of a person fit for church leadership, Paul finished with one more necessity. The leader must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught. Those who presume to lead must embrace the traditional teachings which came through Christ and the apostles.” (Larson 2000, 345)

The Great Apostasy Began
in the First Century

2 Thessalonians 2:1a, 3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
Now we request you, brothers, with regard to the coming[4] of our Lord Jesus Christ … Let no one deceive[5] you in any way, for it will not come unless the apostasy[6] comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction,

On 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.,[7] 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, 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 position, 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. 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, 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.[8] 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

“[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[9] of God, which he obtained with the blood of his own Son.[10] 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.

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,[11] although we gave them no instructions,

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 at 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. In the second and third centuries, many dozens of varieties of Christianity would start to break off from true orthodox Christianity, largely over their doctrinal difference. Christianity would become one again, a universal religion, i.e., Catholicism.

Gnostic Belief

  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 “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 some 1,300 years later in the 16th century. 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 mere appearance and illusion, which would have included his death and resurrection.

Manes (c. 216-274) was the 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 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.

Jesus and the apostle gave Christianity the greatest start one could ask for but both Jesus and the NT author prophesied that were going to be divisions. Historian Will Durant states: “Celsus [a second-century enemy 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 [C.E.] Irenaeus listed twenty varieties of Christianity; about 384 [C.E.] Epiphanius counted eighty.”—The Story of Civilization: Part III—Caesar and Christ.

Today, we have 41,000 different denominations that call themselves Christians. How did the first-century Christian congregation stay one in Christ? They had one leader. From the beginning, the Father gave Jesus, who was both Lord and Christ (anointed one) as head over all things to the church.’ (Acts 2:34-36; Eph. 1:22) After his ascension back to heaven, Jesus Christ sent the Holy Spirit, and he led the Christian congregation as a unit. He did this through the Holy Spirit and angels.—Acts 2:33; compare Acts 5:19, 20; 8:26; 1 Pet. 3:22

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[1] Thomas C. Oden, Ministry Through Word and Sacrament, Classic Pastoral Care, 59 (New York: Crossroad, 1989).

[2] Jonathan Hill, Zondervan Handbook to the History of Christianity, 46 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006).

[3] Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin”, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I: The Apostolic Fathers With Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, 183 (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885).

[4] Presence; Coming: (Gr. parousia) The Greek word literally means,” which is derived from para, meaning “with,” and ousia, meaning “being.” It denotes both an “arrival” and a consequent “presence with.” Depending on the context, it can mean “presence,” “arrival,” “appearance,” or “coming.” In some contexts, this word is describing the presence of Jesus Christ in the last days, i.e., from his ascension in 33 C.E. up unto his second coming, with the emphasis being on his second coming, the end of the age of Satan’s reign of terror over the earth. We do not know the day nor the hours of this second coming. (Matt 24:36) It covers a marked period of time with the focus on the end of that period. – Matt. 24:3, 27, 37, 39; 1 Cor. 15:23; 16:17; 2 Cor. 7:6-7; 10:10; Php 1:26; 2:12; 1 Thess. 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:2.

[5] Or seduce

[6] 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.

[7] 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.”

[8] In the Greek New Testament, the noun “apostasy” (Gr., apostasia) has the sense of “desertion, abandonment or rebellion.” (Acts 21:21, ftn.) There it predominantly is alluding to abandonment; a drawing away from or abandoning of pure worship.

[9] Gr ekklesia (“assembly;” “congregation, i.e., of Christians”)

[10] Lit with the blood of his Own.

[11] This means that some, who left the Christian faith and were not trying to subvert (undermine) the faith of others.

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