I would suspect, if I was to go back to the first, second and third centuries, I would be able to find Christians, whom living closer to the time of Jesus, who would know what true Christianity should be.
Today we have at least 30,000 sects of Christianity. Certainly in the first few centuries after Jesus death Christians all would have agreed on what Jesus wanted. This seems logical to me.
Nothing could be further from the truth. From the time of Jesus’ death to the early fourth century when the Nicene Creed was developed to solidify the core beliefs of Christianity, many different views on Jesus and Christianity existed.
What you need to know:
- During this time there was no New Testament or Christian Bible. There were many gospels, epistles, letters and apocalypse writings being circulated.
- The theology of these manuscripts did not always agree.
- The manuscripts were not copied by professional scribes but by the most educated among the early Christians. Many, many mistakes were made within the manuscripts and sometimes things were intentionally changed to change the theological meaning.
- There wasn’t an orthodox (“right belief”) Christianity during this time but what scholars call a proto-orthodox. This group stifled its opposition and deemed its opponents as heretical.
Since so many different beliefs existed conflicts on which belief was correct ensued. What we have as the core belief is basically what the men who won decided. This wasn’t divinely inspired. This wasn’t God’s word. This was what men of the fourth century eventually chose for Christians to believe. All other beliefs were deemed heretical and destroyed. Luckily, some survived.
The Ebionites were a Jewish-Christian sect. Had they won the battle Christians would not believe that Jesus was born of a virgin. They believed Jesus was not divine and that he was a regular man born of Joseph and Mary. I find it fascinating that The Ebionites, who are perhaps one of the earliest Christian sects known did not believe in the virgin birth. Wouldn’t they have known much better than us today since they lived so closely to the time of Jesus? Clearly this myth of the virgin birth was not accepted across the board with early Christians.
If the Ebionites would have won the orthodox battle, Christians would still be observing Jewish law. They would believe that Jesus was not divine but in fact a true flesh-and-blood human born by human parents that was “adopted” by God. This Christology was known as “adoptionistic” because of this. Simply put, when Jesus was baptized, God adopted him because he was the most righteous in following the Jewish law. Christians would only have the Gospel of Matthew (minus the birth narrative) as our Holy Book. Perhaps there would have some other Ebionite gospels but nothing exists anymore for us to know what that would be.
There are scriptural proofs that support what the Ebionites believed. There is also evidence that reveals the proto-orthodox Christians manipulated manuscripts in order to curb adoptionistic beliefs and to read more like the beliefs of the proto-orthodox Christians. Pretty sleazy if you ask me.
Early Christians clearly didn’t know shit about Jesus and what the dogma should be. So many manuscripts existed with different theologies. Because of this, there wasn’t one Christianity in the beginning but many Christianities. Men decided what Christians now believe. They decided not only what books would be in the bible but what translations of those books would be in the bible. If two versions of Mark existed–one that had verses that were adoptionistic and one that omitted or changed those verses, we ended up with what the anti-adoptionistic changed versions that men chose.
Tomorrow I will discuss another fascinating Christianity that was lost to history. This one is the complete opposite of the adoptionistic Christology known as docetists.