Friday, June 4, 2010

Was Rome in Control? Walter Bauer's Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity.

This is an exert from an early draft version of an article I was working on last year on Bauer's Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity. As it wasn't the core of my argument it isn't as thorough as the rest (i.e. the Eyptian case study so be warned of the dubious nature of my Pastoral epistles):

In order to justify the argument from silence, Bauer has to explain the reason behind the decline of heresy and the rapid rise of orthodoxy in the geographical regions allegedly dominated by the former. To account for this phenomenon, Bauer postulates that orthodoxy came to dominate through the influence of the church in Rome.[1] Therefore, it must be asked as to whether we have evidence of Rome as an ecclesiastical powerbase which could eventually manufacture orthodoxy in regions dominated by heresy. In must be said that, although this may well be argued in the post-Constantinian period, it is problematic to assign Roman control in this earlier period.

In favour of Bauer, a number of new arguments may be provided. From the various papyri, it appears that the Christians of Eygpt, or at least at Oxyrynchus, had a close relationship with the Western church. Such is evidenced within the II/III period through a number of papyrological remains. An important example is the fragment of P.Oxy 3.406 (II/III) which contains Irenaeus’ Adversus Haereses 3.9, 2-3.[2] As Irenaeus was writing around the last quarter of the second century, the speed by which the text reached Egypt should be taken note of. Similarly, the popularity of the Shepherd of Hermas with around 10 manuscripts as well as citations from II-III/IV[3] also suggest that the Christian communities of Egypt were not isolated from ‘global-Christianity’ and, in fact, had early contact with Rome.[4]

However, much of Bauer’s assumptions in order to substantiate early Roman dominance are dubious. For example, the thesis argues that the Pastoral Epistles were a middle second century composition as a Roman response to Marcion (ca. 86-160) whose teachings peaked in the 140s[5] in order to restore proto-orthodox trust in the Pauline corpus.[6] The issue with this approach is that the reading is purely conjectural in order to support the hypothesis - it is substantially against contemporary scholarship and such a late date is difficult to view in light of patristic acceptance.[7] An example establishing a possibly earlier date of the pastorals would be the Muratorian Fragment[8] makes reference to the pastoral epistles. An early date for the pastoral epistles is clear as the author refers to the Shepherd of Hermas being composed “very recently, in our times, in the city of Rome, while bishop Pius, his brother, was occupying the [episcopal] chair of the church of the city of Rome.”[9] Evidently, the late date of the Pastorals which is essential to Bauer’s Roman-Control thesis is highly unlikely.

Such a questionable case is apparent in examining Bauer’s argument for ecclesiastical control by Rome. One of the chief mechanisms by which the Roman church exerted its power was through the geographical appointment of a single city bishop. However, as Norris has argued, the evidence points to this practice emerging from Jerusalem, such as James over the Jerusalem community and Ignatius and Polcyarp in Syria.[10] Similarly, a note should be made about the later control of proto-orthodoxy bishops. Within the proto-orthodox communities, the existence of the four-fold gospel tradition was an early development.[11] However, outside of accepted authoritative traditions, other texts were read in both proto-orthodox and other Christian communities as is recorded within Eusebius regarding Bishop Serapion and the Gospel of Peter. [12] Such a narrative demonstrates that there were implied checks on the people generally without any ecclesiastical intervention.



[1] Bauer, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity. 111.

[2] Papyri from the Rise of Christianity in Egypt, Conspectus of Texts. Texts 183.

[3] Hurtado (2006). The Earliest Christian Artifacts. 23.

[4] However, it should be noted that despite the possibility of close affiliation of Western Christian documents coming to Egypt, the Alexandrian New Testament text type remains independent Western text-type. This suggests a limit to the literary dependence of the Egyptian communities to Rome

[5] Tertullian, Adversus Marcionem, xix

[6] Bauer, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity. 228

[7] Ehrman, Bart D. After the New Testament: A Reader in Early Christianity p.318; furthermore, Irenaeus makes clear reference to 1 Timothy 1:4 in his opening of Against Heresies (c. 180) which, in my opinion, providing a very short (if any at all) window for the text to have gained extensive authoritative status.


[8] Although a later Latin document, the ‘Muratorian Canon’ it contains may be dated to the 150s-160s. Although such a date appears to be acceptable (e.g. Metzger and Ehrman), it is not universally accepted. A growing position involves dating the text to the fourth century; however, such a late date cannot legitimately account for the reference to Hermas being composed around the time of the fragment! For a further discussion, see “Muratorian Canon” in Anchor Bible Dictionary.

[9] Translation by Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development,

and Significance (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987) 305–7;

[10] "Ignatius, Polycarp, and 1 Clement: Walter Bauer Reconsidered," Vigiliae Christianae 30 (1976), 23-44.

[11] M. Hengel. (2000). The four Gospels and the one Gospel of Jesus Christ : an investigation of the collection and origin of the Canonical Gospels. Harrisburg, Pa., Trinity Press International.; Irenaeus, Against the Heresies 3.11.7

[12] Eusebius, Church History 6.12; Eusebius in his Church History records a narrative of Serapion, Bishop of Antioch, Syria and the Gospel of Peter. The story records the acceptable use of non-canonical proto-orthodox gospels with exclusion to when they could be abused to read as a heresy. In this case, the non-orthodox belief which may be (forcefully) exegeted from the narrative is docetism.[12] A similar scenario exists in ancient codices such as Codex Sinaiticus which include highly popular extra-canonical Shepherd of Hermas and Epistle of Barnabas.

1 comment:

  1. My sentence structure is absolutely terrible...

    ReplyDelete