Sunday, February 26, 2012
Was the Trinity always the "Orthodox" position?The Truth!
Bart Ehrman is an apostate from the Christian faith.I do not in any capacity advocate much of what he claims or represents.He,however,because he's an agnostic now,has no reason to "take sides" so to speak in theological debates about the nature of Christ.It wouldn't really concern him whether God is one or three or three people in one "homoousios" since he doesn't even worship him anymore.As abhorrent as I find many of his sentiments and beliefs,I have to admit that he's seemingly on the mark with much of what he says about the "orthodox corruption of scripture" in his book of the same name.Not all of his opinions on the scriptures are sound,but with a little discernment it's easily detectable what should be heeded or discarded in what he has to offer in his book.All the quotes in this blog are taken from his book "The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament."I won't be getting into how certain texts have been corrupted to make them seem a little more "orthodox"(as that term is so defined today anyway)right now,but rather how Christians(some willfully selective and ignorant..others just simply innocently ill informed about their own history)neither herald nor profess the real truth about what the earliest Christians believed.
Yes,one prevailing Christian trend is to rewrite history to make it more palatable in conformity to our own ideas regarding doctrine.For instance,most Christians wouldn't hesitate to tell you that in nascent Christianity,everyone was clearly a true saint who believed God was three people.Is this accurate?Or is it as about as true and unbiased as the "Jehovah's Witnesses: Proclaimers of God's Kingdom" book?Well,the least we can do is examine the other side to all the issues for a balanced & honest approach.Just like an orthodox Christian would desire to urge a devout Jehovah's Witness to examine their "true" history,I as an unorthodox Christian urge you to examine the history of your system of beliefs just as seriously.After all,when we take bias men's selective assessment(ones with a specific agenda mind you)as unquestionably true without critical thinking of our own weighing all the information,we're wide open for being fooled.Ehrman says:
"During its first two and a half centuries,Christianity comprised a number of competing theologies,or better,a number of competing Christian groups advocating a variety of theologies.There was as yet no established "orthodoxy,"that is,no basic theological system acknowledged by the majority of church leaders and laity.Different local churches supported different understandings of the religion,while different understandings of the religion were present even within the same local church."..p. 4
"The classical understanding of the relationship of orthodoxy and heresy met a devastating challenge in 1934 with the publication of Walter Bauer's "Recht-glaubigkeit und Ketzerei im altesten Christentum",possibly the most significant book on early Christianity written in modern times.Bauer argued that the early Christian church in fact did not comprise a single orthodoxy from which emerged a variety of competing heretical minorities.Instead,early Christianity embodied a number of divergent forms,no one of which represented the clear and powerful majority of believers against all others.In some regions,what was later to be termed "heresy" was in fact the original and only form of Christianity.In other regions,views later deemed heretical co-existed with views that would come to be embraced by the church as a whole,with most believers not drawing hard and fast lines of demarcation between the competing views.To this extent,"orthodoxy",in the sense of a unified group advocating an apostolic doctrine accepted by the majority of Christians everywhere,did not exist in the second and third centuries.Nor was "heresy" secondarily derived from an original teaching through an infusion of jewish ideas or pagan philosophy.Beliefs that were,at later times,embraced as orthodoxy and condemned as heresy were in fact competing interpretations of Christianity,one of which eventually(but not initially)acquired domination because of singular historical and social forces.Only when one social group had exerted itself sufficiently over the rest of Christendom did a "majority" opinion emerge;only then did the "right belief" represent the view of the Christian church at large."p.7
Ehrman goes on to note that Bauer's claims were based upon the closest scrutiny of the evidence from ancient sources for the Christianity in various regions,particularly Edessa,Egypt,Antioch,Asia Minor,Macedonia,and Rome.He found that,contrary to the claims of Eusebius(a fourth century bishop who was influential and who was deemed the so-called "father of church history"),the predominant Christian view was what today would be deemed "heretical."Ehrman further notes that even though there were folks scattered in these regions who embraced some form of what later became "orthodox",they were the minority to be sure.Much of the literature and opinions produced by the so called "heretics"(by today's standards that is) would NOT survive because,as Ehrman says:
"One would naturally not expect the victors of the struggle to reproduce the literature of their opponents."p.9
As Ehrman also notes,even those who seemed at least somewhat orthodox by today's standards(some of the much-hailed and quoted early church fathers,namely) had certainly not imagined today's trinity formulation and all it's nuances so definitively or meticulously.There was definitely "social ostracism,economic pressures,and political machinations"(as Ehrman puts it,p.15) that led to the "orthodoxy" held today.Not only that,the Early Church Fathers that are venerated in some respect by so many Christians today as fathers of their faith had some truly peculiar and "heretical" beliefs themselves!A small sampling:
"Both Clement of Alexandria and Origen,for example,acknowledge that Jesus' body could readily change appearance at will--a decidedly docetic notion--with Clement claiming that Jesus ingested food not for nourishment but simply to convince his followers that he actually had a body."..p.10
Irenaeus believed there were four gospels because there were "four winds" and "four corners of the earth",and therefore four pillars,or Gospels,upon which it is built.(Adv. Haer. III,11,7-8)
I see Christians all the time condemning Jehovah's Witnesses for following an organization and men with such a dubious history of peculiar beliefs,yet they do the same thing.If you're going to tell a Jehovah's Witness that one reason the Watchtower organization is corrupt is because of some of the particularly peculiar things Charles Taze Russell believed,did and taught,then the very least you can do is recognize the imperfections and peculiarities in the beliefs of the "fathers" of your faith.You will often hear trinitarians hailing the Early Church Fathers (yes,the same ones with beliefs that were heretical)as if they are true heroes.Even the Jehovah's Witnesses aren't bold enough to call the governing body their heroes.And if it's ok to be so selective when presenting the beliefs of these "heroes",then I suppose,if we're going to be unhypocritical,I could present a good case for the Watchtower.All I would have to do is omit all the lies,all the bloodguilt,all the hypocrisy,all the questionable beliefs.
Just like the Watchtower compels JW's to accept their interpretations of scripture by use of the power exerted over them by certain men with weapons of intellectual intimidation and salvation threats intact,"orthodoxy" accomplishes acceptance of it's questionable dogmas much the same way.
"For it is a historical fact that ,owing to a variety of reasons,one group within early Christianity achieved social dominance and enforced its views on other groups that had supported divergent opinions.Looked at in sociohistorical terms,orthodoxy and heresy are concerned as much with struggles over power as with debates over ideas."p.12
Should we really want to garner our "truth" from the effects of power struggles,social dominance,bloodshed,intellectual intimidation,threats,and the like?The history of the establishment of what is now termed "orthodox" has an ugly trail of blood.Besides,:
"If the term orthodoxy means the dominant form of Christianity,then prior to its domination,the views of this group are scarcely orthodox.."..p.12
So it's kinda funny how orthodoxy wasn't always "orthodox" at all yet people choose to believe it was because they don't or won't look outside the box where they are anymore than the average Jehovah's Witness would.If they do,the repurcussions might not be anymore attractive than those suffered by conscientious JW's who question the protocol of the Watchtower "organization."
Fact is,our "traditions" and what we've always been taught,that which is thoroughly and stubbornly ingrained in our conscious,is not necessarily true or real.But how palatable it is to continue believing it is and deceiving ourselves at all costs to maintain the comfort it compels!How horrible it would be to have to tell ourselves we've been deceived,receive possible shunning from our respected and well loved piers,receive constant labels and threats to our salvation,etc.Such terrible things would of course scare most any human being/Christian from the kind of critical thinking and genuine truth seeking they should embrace wholeheartedly.After all,if there's any possible way to take scriptures,twist them,and make them "fit" our heritage,that is often undertaken to ensure the comfort that results from ALREADY being completely and utterly right about everything.Pier approval.Cozy traditions.Feels good.And as human beings,it's only natural to run vigorously toward what feels good and away from what hurts.Even though Jesus said we are called to suffer as he did.
Even if Jesus seems to contradict what we've been taught and come to believe(everywhere,left and right),common sensically and earnestly,we human beings have a consistent and concerning history,right along with the Pharisees ,of insisting that we have the truth that Jesus lacks.(when it's the other way around of course!)I mean,it's so easy to find a few texts here and there that can conform to our ideas,just like the Jews who opposed & persecuted the Christ had in their arsenal.They too possessed a particular understanding of sacred texts.They just KNEW they were right.Deception wasn't possible for them at all.Being blind was real for others,but not for themselves!Yah's simple words and Christ's simple words weren't good enough at all.But they sure knew the scriptures!Right?
Doctrines that are true don't need to have their history of development concealed,colored, or fabricated.They also don't need to be "formulated" at all because Christ stated creeds that were simple,clear,and not mysterious at all.God didn't want us to calculate the number that he is while we ignore common sense mathematics and qualify his Son's words at every turn.Just to make them fit a cherished belief,of course.The Pharisees had cherished beliefs too.Christ challenged those.Christ also challenges you.Let him.
I'm not supporting Ehrman or even the nontrinitarians who had the majority position at certain points in history.There are certainly differing views within the nontrinitarian community about who exactly Christ was.I'm also not suggesting the Early Church Fathers mentioned in the video weren't Christians just because they didn't have every belief accurate.I'm never the one who determines who a true Christian is in God's eyes.