The writings of the New Testament do not provide good evidence that Christianity started out as an original unity, only to come to be fragmented with the passage of time into the second and third Christian centuries — so I argued in the previous post. Quite the contrary. And yet having them all in the same book (between covers) does seem to readers to suggest an overarching unity. That’s what I want to talk about here.
For the most part, the books of the NT are the earliest Christian writings we have, and most of the books can probably be dated to the first Christian century. Probably not 2 Peter. Possibly not Acts. But the others? Probably. Only a couple of other Christian books are to be dated this early. None of the other Gospels (including the Gospel of Thomas, I would say). But 1 Clement, is usually dated to the mid 90s CE and the Didache in its final form may be from around 100 CE (they are both in the collection known as the Apostolic Fathers and are proto-orthodox).
The four problems with thinking the books of the New Testament demonstrate early Christian unity are that:
1) The kind of obvious point to many readers, that these books themselves are often arguing against alternative Christian points of view that are disrupting the early churches;
2) These books themselves present a remarkably wide range of views, some of them at odds with one another (a point I’ve continually tried to show on the blog);
3) Insofar as there is a basic unity among these books (or at least a lot of them) it is because these are the books that later orthodox church fathers deemed scripture and worked to preserve (so that all other books from the time– whatever they were, whomever they were written by, whatever they said — have been lost to history); and
4) The formation of these 27 books into one book itself tamed the diversity found among the books.
In this post I would like to elaborate this final point in particular, but with reference to the previous ones.