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Why Did “Orthodox” Christianity Win: Part 2

In my previous post I talked about the “Eusebian model” for understanding the relationship of orthodoxy and heresy in earliest Christianity, and then about the counter-view set forth by Walter Bauer in his important study of 1934. What do scholars think today?

Only the most conservative scholars (fundamentalists and extremely conservative evangelical Christian scholars) still hold to a Eusebian view. For them, not only was Eusebius’s form of orthodoxy taught by Jesus (who told his disciples that he was fully God and fully man, etc.), but their *own* view of the faith was taught by both Jesus and all his disciples. No one else thinks so. Jesus did not teach his disciples the Nicene Creed!

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The Hebrew Bible and Its Sources
Why Did “Orthodox” Christianity Win?



  1. Avatar
    Jerry  June 23, 2012

    Hi Bart,
    Two things: First, in both your recent posts, I noticed that you did not mention Irenaeus in the formation of the NT Canon. What was his role? Second, I have heard that Irenaeus did not believe that there was not a Fall or that he did not think that much of it. Is that close to true? I’m asking because I’d rather prefer Irenaeus over St Augustine regarding the Fall. I am wondering how different Christianity would be without an Augustine but with Irenaeus’ theodicy?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 24, 2012

      Good questions. I’m not an Irenaeus scholar (such people exist!) and haven’t studied his theology for a long time. So I’m afraid I don’t have a definitive answer off the top of my head. What he is most famous for is his view of “recapitulation,” which is that the history of the entire human race that was set on a downward spiral with Adam is “recapitulated” in the life and death of the “second Adam” Christ, so that salvation can be realized by a summing up in Christ of all that went before.

      I do know about Irenaeus and canon, however. He provides no canon list, but does insist that there are four and only four Gospels, and that “heretics” go astray in accepting only one or the other (Jewish Christians accept only Matthew, Gnostics only Mark, Marcionites only Luke, Valentinians only John). Irenaeus also quotes Paul and other books that eventually became the NT, so he is firmly within the proto-orthodox camp of those leading up, a couple of centuries later, to a relatively fixed canon of scripture.

  2. Avatar
    SJB  June 23, 2012

    Prof Ehrman

    A totally fascinating story full of frustrating gaps and haunting glimpses. Sooo…

    If someone called you up and told you they had invented a time machine when & where would you go first?

    Of course I suppose the first thing would be to go follow Jesus around for a while. (How hard would it be to master first century conversational aramaic?) But the most fascinating period might be the first two decades after his death.

    What do you think?


    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 24, 2012

      Ah, great quesition. If I could spend one year in the past, it would be with Jesus the six months before his death and with his followrs the six months afterwards!

  3. Avatar
    rbrtbaumgardner  June 23, 2012

    They were organized, cohesive and motivated with an emotionally compelling message and a good position in the market. These are the same things that make religious and political movements successful today.

  4. Avatar
    Dennis Steenbergen  June 24, 2012

    So if the Mormons existed early enough and had a hierarchy (clergy), slogan (creed) and Joeseph Smith’s edited new testament (cannon) we could be arguing today how the Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of the Latter Day Saints came to be instead of the proto-orthodoxy version we have today. Isn’t the evidence of so many branches of Christianity today sufficient to suggest the same happened after Jesus’s death?

  5. Avatar
    hwl  June 25, 2012

    The response to the Eusebian view from fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals is unsurprising. Do you also find Catholic scholars – those licensed to teach and research by the Church – are also wielded to the Eusebian view, given that the second pillar of the Catholic Church is Tradition, built from the premise that the Church has always held essentially the same theological position from the time of the apostles? The Bauer thesis undermines all ecclesiastical Christian denominations.

  6. Avatar
    fabiogaucho  December 9, 2015

    Do we have evidence that there were “heretic” books written already in the 1st Century? If not, isn’t it striking that the orthodox in a sense “got it right”, by choosing only the oldest books to include in the canon? All the heretic writings seem to date to be more recent then latest books of the NT canon. That always struck me.

    (The Gospel of Thomas doesn’t count, because its putative date is all over the place).

    • Bart
      Bart  December 11, 2015

      I suppose it depends on what you mean as heretical books, and what you would imagine evidence for their existence would look like.

  7. Avatar
    Marko071291  September 10, 2018

    If I’m looking for a good book or article on this topic (Why did ‘Orthodox’ Christianity win?) where would you send me? Thank’s.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 12, 2018

      That’s what my book Lost Christianities is about.

  8. Avatar
    Marko071291  January 14, 2019


    Can you think of any book or article that emphasized universal identity of early Church. The idea that for example church in Antioch is part of the larger community that is translocal? Are there any studies done by historians on these issues? I could only find a short article by C. Waldner “Creating Christian Space” (or something like that) where she is using Ignatius epistles to show how he emphasized the idea of universal Church and the importance of connection between various churches (from Asia Minor to Rome).
    I kind of think that is one of the biggest reasons why Orthodoxy won at the end since gnosticism (for example) didn’t had that identity connection – idea that they all belong to the same community no matter where they live.
    Hope you can think of something. Whish you all the best!

    Kind regards,


    • Bart
      Bart  January 15, 2019

      It’s an issue widely acknowledged and talked about, but now that I think of it, I can’t come up with any books that deal with just that issue. Maybe someone else on the blog knows of one?

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