Orthodoxy and Proto-Orthodoxy – the current thread on the diversity of early Christianity actually began as a response to a question raised by a reader, which was the following:
Dr. Ehrman, I do not know if others would find this interesting, but I would love to know how you developed the idea for The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. How did you go about researching it? How long did it take? Is it a once-in-a-lifetime work?
My initial thought was that I would be able to answer the question in roughly five or six posts. But here it is, two weeks later, and I haven’t even started to answer it because it has taken this long to describe what I mean by the term “orthodox.” And I haven’t finished doing even that! But I hope to do so with this post.
Orthodoxy and Proto Orthodoxy – Right Belief vs False Belief
To this point I have tried to explain why so many scholars for the past 80 years or so have been convinced that we cannot understand the relationship of early Christian “orthodoxy” and “heresy” either by what these terms literally mean (based on their etymologies) or, relatedly, by how they have been understood over the centuries by Christian scholars.
The terms literally refer to the “right belief” and to “false belief,” and historically scholars have thought that orthodoxy represented the beliefs taught by Jesus to his disciples (for example, that he is both fully human and fully divine, but just one person, not two persons) and that heresies were corruptions of that original belief by willful and demon-inspired false teachers.
The Corruption of Scripture
I’ve shown the problems with that view by discussing the landmark work of Walter Bauer, and do not need to go over all that ground again here. But I do need to deal with one final issue before turning to the question I wanted to address in my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.
My book deals with how Christian scribes who stood within the “orthodox” tradition in the second and third Christian centuries altered the texts of the sacred books they were copying (the books that were considered to be Scripture) in order to make them say what they, the scribes, wanted them to say. As we will see, they did not do this rigorously, consistently, or thoroughly, but sporadically and occasionally. But if that is the topic of interest, we have a chronological and terminological problem on our hands.
If, as Bauer would have argued…
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