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What Are Orthodoxy and Heresy?

In my previous post I began to explain what I meant by the title of my 1993 book, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.   One of the terms of the title is non-problematic:  by “Scripture” I meant specifically the writings of the New Testament.  Another term, “corruption,” is a bit trickier, and as  I indicated I was using it both in a technical sense to refer to any kind of alteration of a text by a scribe who was copying it (that is what textual critics have traditionally called any change of the text, since for them the most important thing was the “original” text as written by the author) and in an ironic sense because I wanted to talk about changes of the text away from, rather than toward, a possible heretical meaning.

And that takes me to the other two terms of importance, “orthodoxy” and “heresy.”

These are two much debated terms, and part of the issue has to do with their literal or etymological meaning.   In terms of etymology, the word “orthodoxy” comes from two Greek terms that mean something like “correct opinion” or “right belief.”   The word “heresy” comes from a Greek word that means “choice.”   And so someone subscribes to orthodoxy if they hold to the right belief, but they hold to a heresy if they have “chosen” to believe a wrong belief.

Throughout the history of Christian discourse, these terms were taken to be non-problematic.   Orthodoxy was the correct view of things and heresies were false views of things.  Heretics were the ones who held those false beliefs.  And they did so either because they were evil, or inspired by demons, or stupid, or something else equally bad.

So, let me provide some reflections on these terms and their traditional meanings.   The first thing to stress…

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A Radically Different View of Orthodoxy and Heresy
What is An Orthodox Corruption of Scripture?

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    RGM-ills  July 2, 2015

    So, at the time of Eusebius, would he have considered a spherical earth as Orthodoxy or Heretical?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 3, 2015

      It wasn’t an issue of theological dispute.

      • Avatar
        RGM-ills  July 4, 2015

        Maybe Copernicus and Newton would have appreciated the less disputed times of Eusebius..

        • Bart
          Bart  July 6, 2015

          There were pretty hair disputes going on. Eusebius himself was embroiled in some.

  2. Avatar
    shakespeare66  July 2, 2015

    As you have noted in your writings, the evolution of “orthodoxy” and “heresy” happened over time, and those who dissented from the main view were heretical. Who held the main view though? I think it was a matter of how many any given “group” could convince people to join them because they bought the program.

    I find that the dissenting groups of protestants are an example of those who have strayed from what was once considered the orthodox view—I am not sure there is one in the protestant world.

  3. Avatar
    Steve  July 2, 2015

    Off topic: I’ve been reading about crucifixions and one author had this to say, “Odd thing, the idea that Jesus was crucified – I mean on a cross – didn’t crop up in any texts of known authenticity until a century or two after the fact. What they actually did to him is anybody’s guess.” Is there any corroboration from any other source other than the Gospels that Jesus was in fact put to death by crucifixion?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 3, 2015

      The apostle Paul talks about it all the time (and has to explain how a crucified messiah was possible).

  4. Avatar
    Oscar81  July 3, 2015

    I know what I choose to believe is wrong, because what is right is beyond the capabilities of the human mind, based on a limited perception of the world. It’s not about knowing what’s right, but seeking it in all of your decisions. That was my take on Jesus’ teachings that we all fall short to the glory of the one true God.

    • Avatar
      Oscar81  July 3, 2015

      I mean the universe. We’ve got this planet pretty well explored besides some marine world’s.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 3, 2015

      Yes, but you don’t believe something that you know is wrong when there is something else that you *could* believe that you know is right.

  5. Avatar
    dragonfly  July 3, 2015

    I think it’s a bit of a problem for a historian to decide what is the “right” belief, especially when it comes to religion. That sounds like a judgement. If we knew exactly what Jesus taught, we could possibly say whether a belief aligned with that teaching or not. But I don’t think we can be certain about what Jesus taught. It probably didn’t include most of the Christian doctrines.

  6. Avatar
    Marko071291  November 19, 2018

    Hi Bart,

    I’m really interested in the history of the word “heresy”. I would really like to know much more about it. What did the word mean in Ancient Greek, what sources from that time we have, how did Christianity changed the meaning etc.

    Please, point me to some good articles or books.

    Thank’s!

    • Bart
      Bart  November 21, 2018

      In Greek the word originally simply meant “choice” and came to mean “sect” — a group of people who chose to belong together because of common interests. Eventually it came ot mean “sect” in a negative sense of a nefarious group that promoted wrong and harmful ideas.

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