Early Christian Writings Claiming Apostolicity, but Rejected as Such

What distinguishes the writings of the New Testament from all other early Christian writings was their apostolic origins.  That is, all writings that were ultimately determined by the ancient church to be apostolic were included in the New Testament.  This required the ancient church to make decisions because there were many writings in the first three hundred years making a claim to to have been from the apostles, including those listed below.

Probably because of their claim to apostolicty, the following books achieved what Bruce Metzger has called “temporary and local canonicity.”  That is, they never received widespread acknowledgement as apostolic and were ultimately rejected from the New Testament canon.

The Gospel of Peter

The Acts of Paul

The Acts of John

The Acts of Peter

The Epistle of the Apostles

The Third Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians

The Epistle to the Laodiceans

The Correspondence Between Paul and Seneca

The Apocalypse of Peter

The Apocalypse of Paul

Source:  Metzger, Bruce M.  The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance, Oxford University Press, 1987.

The Reliability of the New Testament (Textual Corruption) – YouTube

The Reliability of the New Testament (Textual Corruption) – YouTube. (from the InspiringPhilosophy YouTube channel)

This video quotes Dan Wallace, Darrell Bock, and Craig Evans.  Perhaps its greatest value is in demonstrating one-by-one that the textual variants presented by skeptics like Bart Ehrman are not signficant.

The chief limitation of the video is that it fails to explain how much more sure we can be of the New Testament’s fidelity to what was originally written than we can about any other ancient document.

The Historicity of the Resurrection of Christ

“I have been used for many years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God hath given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead.”  –  Thomas Arnold (1795-1842), Professor of History Oxford, Author of the three-volume History of Rome (Source: Christian Life, Its Hopes, Its Fears, and Its Close, 6th ed., London: T. Fellowes, 1859, pp. 15-16. per Apologetics 315)

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Speaking of his doctoral studies under Wolfhart Pannenberg at the University of Munich, William Lane Craig writes, “I was astonished to discover as a result of my study that the main facts undergirding the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection are actually agreed upon by the majority of historical Jesus scholars today, not just conservative scholars but the broad mainstream of New Testament scholars, including a good number of Jewish scholars, who teach at secular universities and non-evangelical divinity schools. So I think faith in Jesus is historically quite well-founded.”  (Source: Response to a question on Reasonble Faith, Craig’s Blog; by this statement Craig, of course, is not saying that the majority of today’s scholars believe in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, but that they agree about the main historical facts upon which belief in that resurrection is based.)

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The Historicity of Jesus

Whether or not a scholar of ancient times believes that Jesus was raised from the dead may be considered a spiritual, theological, or religious question.  But whether or not said scholar believes that Jesus was in fact a Jewish preacher who was crucified in Jerusalem by the Romans under Pontius Pilate 25-35 AD is simply a historical question.  Practically speaking, modern scholars unanimously attest to these facts, as evidenced by the quotes that follow.

“Today nearly all historians, whether Christians or not, accept that Jesus existed.”  –  Graham Stanton, The Gospels and Jesus (Oxford University Press, 1989) 145.

“That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be, since both Josephus and Tacitus … agree with the Christian accounts on at least that basic fact.”  –  John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (HarperOne, 1995). p 145.

“Biblical scholars and classical historians now regard it [theories of the nonexistence of Jesus] as effectively refuted.”  – Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Eerdmans Publishing, 2000) p. 16

[The theories of non-existence of Jesus are] “a thoroughly dead thesis.”  –  James D. G. Dunn, “Paul’s Understanding of the Death of Jesus” in Sacrifice and Redemption, ed. S. W. Sykes (Cambridge University Press: 2007) 35-36.

“Combining the evidence of Thallus, Pliny, Tacitus, and Suetonius one can accumulate enough data to refute the fanciful notion that Jesus never existed without even appealing to the testimony of Jewish or Christian sources.”  Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Downers Grove: IVP, 1987)  p 197.

“Despite [an] enormous range of opinion [on Jesus], there are several points on which virtually all scholars of antiquity agree.  Jesus was a Jewish man, known to be a preacher and teacher, who was crucified (a Roman form of execution) in Jerusalem during the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea.  […T]his is the view of nearly every trained scholar on the planet…”  –  Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (p. 12). HarperOne, 2012) 

“I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.”  —H.G. Wells (Source: Apologetics315.com)

The source for the first five quotes above is How to Answer a Jesus Critic (p. 7-9) by Scott M. Sullivan, PhD.  In these same pages, Sullivan himself says:

“When we use the same historical standards as we do in other areas of ancient history, the historical evidence that Jesus existed is overwhelming.”

“[T]he evidence for Jesus is far greater than nearly all other figures from ancient history.”

“Virtually every professional historian regards the existence of Jesus as historically certain.”

“The Christian has every good reason to comfortably rest within the academic mainstream that Jesus really existed.  Those who deny this intellectually marginalize themselves to the crackpot realm.”

See also the Wikipedia article “Historicity of Jesus,” from which the following two quotes are taken:

“There is near unanimity among scholars that Jesus existed historically…”

“Virtually all modern scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed, and most biblical scholars and classical historians see the theories of his non-existence as effectively refuted.”

“There is no evidence today that the existence of Jesus was ever denied in antiquity by those who opposed Christianity.”

Abundant substantiation for these statements, and other like them, can be found in the article.  While some scholars can vary wildly from the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, there is near-universal agreement among all scholars to 1) Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, and 2) his crucifixion under Pontius Pilate.  (Perhaps needless to add, John the Baptist, Paul, James are likewise acknowledged as actual historical persons.)

To say that Jesus did not exist puts you in a category with the sort of people who say that the 1969 moon landing was faked or that the U.S. was behind the 9/11 attack.

All that said, merely believing that Jesus lived and died is not what He’s looking for from us.  Rather, it’s believing that He was raised from the dead and that He lives and reigns forevermore that He wants to see.  But if you let someone talk you into the absurd notion that Jesus never existed, you’ll spend your life as a conspiracy theorist and never even give yourself a chance to believe in His resurrection.

Even Bart Ehrman Believes That Jesus Lived and Died

Like John Dominic Crossan, Bart Ehrman is a biblical scholar who denies that Jesus was raised from the dead.  But also like Crossan, Ehrman, along with practically all other modern scholars, is convinced of certain historical facts about Jesus.  When he says “virtually all scholars of antiquity” in the quote below, Ehrman indeed means “all” – he is not just talking about Christian scholars.

“Despite [an] enormous range of opinion [on Jesus], there are several points on which virtually all scholars of antiquity agree.  Jesus was a Jewish man, known to be a preacher and teacher, who was crucified (a Roman form of execution) in Jerusalem during the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea.  […T]his is the view of nearly every trained scholar on the planet…”

Source:  Ehrman, Bart D. Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (p. 12). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.  (373 pages total)

Early Christian Literature

Christian literature, it stands to reason, consists of all those texts having to do with Christ, Christians, or Christianity (the second two in that list obviously tracing their own origins to the first).  Since Christ in this context refers to Jesus of Nazareth, and since the calendar distinctions BC-AD (or BCE and CE, if you prefer) pivot on him, we may say that Christian literature did not exist before the 1st Century AD.  Therefore, “early Christian literature” would be that subset of Christian literature whose origin was closer to the 1st Century than to our own.

Christian writers were prolific even in the early stages of Christian history.  Noted scholar Larry W. Hurtado says:

Early Christianity was exceptionally productive of texts, also copying and disseminating them (we know of a few hundred composed within the first three centuries). Texts were sometimes a part of other religious options as well, but, with the possible exception of ancient Judaism, no other group or tradition seems to have been so given to the production, copying, distribution and reading of texts as central activities.

Of course, the most notable collection of early Christian literature is the New Testament.  Beyond this first significant wave, there is, however, an ocean of other writings.  This post will seek, as I add to it over time, to identify some of this other literature.

Note especially that Hurtado says in the quote above, “we know of a few hundred composed within the first three centuries.”  (The website Early Christian Writings lists and links to 226 of them.)  Therefore, whatever writings I list here can only be a mere sample.

(Writings are shown in italics; writers are in regular print.)

1 Clement  – Included in Codex Alexandrinus (400-440).

2 Clement  –  Included in Codex Alexandrinus (400-440).

Ignatius

Polycarp

Shepherd of Hermas  –  A Roman work of about 110 AD or earlier.  Included in Codex Sinaiticus (c. 330-360).  Mentioned, along with the Didache, positively but as non-canonical by Athananius in his festal letter of 367.

Didache  –  Mentioned, along with Shepherd of Hermas, positively but as non-canonical by Athananius in his festal letter of 367.

Epistle of Barnabas  –  Included in Codex Sinaiticus (c. 330-360).

Gospel of Barnabas

Papias

Quadratus

Epistles to Diognetus

Revelation of Peter

Gospel of Thomas  –  Found in 1945 at Nag Hammadi.  Though it identifies itself as a ‘gospel,’ it is in fact a collection of sayings attributed to Jesus given without any compositional order and lacking descriptions of deeds or miracles, crucifixion or resurrection stories, and especially any overall narratival or biographical framework (Crossan’s description).

SOURCES

Bruce, F. F.  The Canon of Scripture, 1988.

Bruce, F. F.  The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?  1943-1981.

Early Christian Writings

Wikipedia

Content Moved

This post was originally titled Bibliography on the New Testament Canon.  Its content has been moved to, and incorporated with, Bibliography on New Testament Text and Canon

Even John Dominic Crossan is certain that Jesus was crucified.

 “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be, since both Josephus and Tacitus … agree with the Christian accounts on at least that basic fact.”

Crossan, John Dominic (1995). Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. HarperOne. p. 145.

Source: Wikipedia article on the Crucifixion of Jesus

Did Paul Meet Jesus Before the Damascus Road? Stanley E. Porter

On February 19 – 21, 2014, Dr. Stanley E. Porter gave a series of four lectures titled “Did Paul Meet Jesus Before the Damascus Road?  The Evidence and the Implications.”  This lecture series was part of the H. Orton Wiley Lecture Series in Theology held by Porter’s alma mater Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU) in San Diego, California.

Lecture 1  –  “What Scholars Have Said in the Past”

(During the period 1901-1913, William Ramsey, Johannes Weiss, James Hope Moulton argued that Paul indeed had interaction with Jesus during the days of His flesh.)

Lecture 2  –  “What Scholars Now Say”

(F.C. Bauer, William Wrede, and Rudolph Bultmann drove a wedge between Jesus and Paul which, more or less, eliminated the question from consideration.)

Lecture 3  –  “What the Bible Does and Does Not Say”

(Acts 9:1-9; 1 Corinthians 9:1; 2 Corinthians 5:16 can be best understood if Paul had encountered Jesus during the latter’s earthly life.)

Lecture 4  –  “The Implications of Paul Having Met Jesus”

(The implication is that we should look for continuity between Jesus and Paul, not discontinuity.)

The parenthetical notes above are mine.  I should add that while Porter did not convince me that Paul interacted with Jesus before the crucifixion, he did convince that Paul might have interacted with Jesus before the crucifixion.  In other words, there’s no basis for assuming that Paul had no interactions with the earthly Jesus.

You should be able to find this lecture series on iTunes University.  You can also find PLNU’s page describing all this here.

What Former Evangelical Luke Muehlhauser Says About the New Testament in Which He No Longer Trusts

Luke Muehlhauser grew up Christian but renounced his faith and became a vocal atheist.  One of his endeavors in this regard is the blog Common Sense Atheism.  In one of his blog posts there, he points out the how reliable is the text of documents he no longer believes.

Although Luke heartily agrees with Ehrman’s rejection of Christian faith (Ehrman, too, is a former evangelical Christian), he chides Ehrman for misrepresenting just how reliable the New Testament text is, especially when compared with all other ancient texts.

What is Ehrman’s fault is how astonishingly misleading his book is. He writes that “there are more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament” (p 90), and that the manuscripts “differ from one another in so many places that we don’t even know how many differences there are” (p 10). Ehrman gives the impression that there are so many variants in our manuscripts that we could never know what the New Testament authors originally wrote.

But of course Ehrman knows (p 87) that the vast number of textual variants we have is a blessing not a curse, because his books for a scholarly audience spend every page using those variants to reconstruct the original text. In comparison, we can do no such thing with the works of Plato: our earliest manuscript comes 1200 years after Plato lived! We have no hope of reconstructing Plato’s original text, but when it comes to the New Testament we have thousands of copies, and dozens of manuscripts from within just two centuries of the originals.

Reject the New Testament if you wish, but don’t try to claim that you’re doing so because we can’t really be sure what the New Testament authors wrote.

Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman (Review).