Christianity or Christianities?

Recently there have been a growing number of people that believe there was never just one Christianity, but instead many “Christianities,” and what we now call Christianity today is simply the “one” that won out. Therefore, for today’s post I will pose the question: Christianity or Christianities?

This claim of competing “Christianities” is in fact only a fairly modern assertion and favored by only the more radical elements of the New School; see my earlier post on modern scholars. This assertion is due in large part to modern sensitivities of multiculturalism and political correctness. What they are really referring to are some of the later heretical groups that started emerging in the second century and continued into the third, fourth and fifth centuries before dissipating away into obscurity. That is until many of the lost heretical texts of these groups started becoming unearthed over the last couple of centuries. Scholars have always known about these groups and their documents, mainly from the writings of the early Christian Church Fathers that wrote against them. However, with these discoveries we can now read what these heretical groups actually wrote and thought in their own words. Fascinating to be sure, but the characterization of these lost texts as “alternative gospels” from “alternative Christianities” is a gross misrepresentation of the facts. This view ignores the fact that the Gospels and books that came to form the New Testament (NT) canon have their origins in the first century, and many go back to the Apostles. Not to mention they are grounded in a thoroughly monotheistic Jewish background. Compare that now to the heretical groups who challenged the early Church in later centuries, the most popular being the ‘Gnostics’. This group (Gnosticism) was subversive in many of their writings to both Judaism and Christianity, and was grounded in Greco-Roman philosophy and paganism. Once more, none of their writings go back to an Apostle (despite their titles), they are ALL forgeries. The early Church did not consider these groups Christians, nor should we today. Now my intention for this post is not to discuss Christianity vs Gnosticism, or other heresies from antiquity (although I may post on that in the future). Instead it is simply to convey the fact that there was only one Christianity from the beginning. Therefore, I will just briefly address the false assertion regarding the premise of so called “Early Christianities” by quoting comments from renown scholar Craig Evans. Evans has addressed this topic in his books and previous interviews with Journalist and author Lee Strobel.

For some background, Craig Evans is a well renowned scholar in the field of Biblical Studies and Early Christianity and is extraordinarily well published in major journals. Evans is author of over fifty books including “Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospel.” He is highly regarded as an expert on both the Historical Jesus and The Dead Sea Scrolls. Mr. Evans response to claims by some of the more radical scholars (of the NS) espousing the idea of early competing “Christianities” is as follows:

“It’s not true at all. It sounds good today with our emphasis on political correctness, multiculturalism, and sympathy for marginalized groups. It fits in well with the modern attitude that says diversity is always good, truth is negotiable, and every opinion is equally valid. But the question is; what really did happen in the first century? What’s the evidence? What are the facts?

The early Christian movement certainly did have disagreements. But there weren’t ‘Christianities’ – plural. There wasn’t one Christianity that thought Jesus was the Messiah and another Christianity that didn’t; another Christianity that thought he was divine and another Christianity that disagreed; and another Christianity that thought he died on the cross as a payment for sin and another Christianity that scoffed at that. This is nonsense.

The New Testament quite honestly discussed disagreements when they occur – issues like circumcision, whether Christians can eat meat sacrificed to idols, those kind of tensions, but that’s not what these scholars are claiming. They’re suggesting that Christians were disagreeing about quite different issues, even though those issues weren’t part of first-century Christianity at all.

(The core message of Christianity) is that Jesus is the Messiah, he’s God’s Son, he fulfills the Scriptures, he died on the cross and thereby saved humanity, he rose from the dead – those core issues were not open for discussion. If you didn’t buy that, then you weren’t a Christian.

There was no major questions about any of these basic points in the first decades of the Christian movement. The New Testament writings reflect the testimony of the first generation church, which very much depended on the testimony of Jesus’ own handpicked disciples. To take second-century diversity and exaggerate it, and then to try to smuggle those controversies into the first century by hypothesizing that there was some earlier version of second-century documents, is just bogus. Real historians laugh at that kind of procedure.”

I could not have stated it any better myself. Then again, I am not a scholar. In any event, as is evident, there has always been one Christianity. There were disagreements to be sure (just as there are today), but never over the core message (or Gospel) i.e. the identity of Jesus – his atoning death for sin and in his resurrection. To try and take ideas from later heretical groups, that emerged in the following centuries, and then slip them back into the first century is nothing more than a distortion of the facts. Why many people today want to advocate that these later marginalized heretical groups once represented equal and legitimate forms of early Christianity, hence their term “Christianities”, is beyond me. Perhaps it really is simply just a byproduct of the politically correct times with which we live. But regardless, this view is without historical merit.

Thank you for reading. I hope some may have found this post insightful.

JDN

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2 thoughts on “Christianity or Christianities?

  1. Hello. Just a thought: Christianity relates to the ‘Christ’. If there were ‘Christianities’, would there not need to be many Christs? Christianity preaches the One True Christ. Therefore, the understanding of Christianity in its purest form relates to faith in the One True Christ. Thus, though ‘Christianities’ may well be a term being debated by some, it is an irrelevant term for Christianity since its origins are not of Christianity. People have many opinions about many things, but the opinions are not always embedded in foundational truths.

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  2. I really appreciated your insight and recognition of this issue. I’ve been struggling through this conversation myself (with an evangelical upbringing in the C&MA), having recently come into contact with a handful of Mormons (who do identify as Christians), but some of those core things are a little quirky according to what I believe to be the core beliefs that define a Christian. Thanks for unpacking it a little bit more than that.

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