Notes on Early Christian Churches

Related posts:

From Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & New Testament by Philip W. Comfort (see Annotated Bibliography on New Testament Text and Canon).

By the end of the second century, there was a church in almost every major city [in the Greco-Roman world].  [Kindle location 1353]

There were, of course, other churches in villages and the countryside. But these city churches totaled forty-three in the first century and another fifty-four in the second. Roughly, one hundred local churches were in existence by the year 200.  [Kindle location 1369]

From Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World by Larry W. Hurtado, Baylor University Press, 2016, page 3.  In his footnote, Hurtado cites as his source Keith Hopkins in “Christian Number and Its Implications (Journal of Early Christian Studies, 1998) for this information.  He also cites two additional sources for this kind of information.

One recent estimate of the number of sites where there were bodies or “communities” of Christians posits a hundred or so (many of these comprising several house-based groups) by 100 AD and two hundred to four hundred sites by 200 AD.

Notes on Forgery and Pseudepigraphy

This post is about forgeries and pseudepigrapha in ancient times – whether merely alleged or actually proven, and whether alleged by ancient scholars or modern ones.


What the Ancients Thought About Forgeries

This is found in Forged: Writing in the Name of God – Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are (2011) by Bart D. Ehrman.

Most church leaders did not appreciate fabricated documents.  But there were plenty to go around.  (p. 18)

In short, there were long, protracted, and often heated debates in the early church over forged documents. Early Christians realized that there were numerous forgeries in circulation, and they wanted to know which books were written by their alleged authors and which were not.  (p. 22)


Where Bart Ehrman and J. I. Packer Agree

Chapter 2 of Forged (titled “Alternatives to Lies and Deception”), Bart Ehrman writes (on p. 115):

Scripture says that it is inspired or breathed out by God. God does not and cannot lie. Therefore Scripture does not and cannot contain lies. Forgery, on the other hand, involves lying. For that reason there can be no forgeries in the Bible.  This conservative evangelical view is still very much held by some scholars today, at least by conservative evangelical scholars. But I should emphasize it is a view that is built on theological premises of what has to be true , not on the grounds of what actually is true.

Ehrman marks an endnote right after “true” which reads (on p. 280):

A partial exception may be the view of evangelical scholar Donald Guthrie, who tries to argue on historical, rather than dogmatic, grounds that there can be no forgeries in the New Testament; see his “The Development of the Idea of Canonical Pseudipigrapha in New Testament Criticism,” Vox Evangelica 1 (1962): 43– 59.

Guthrie’s article can be found online here.   In the article, Guthrie quotes J. I. Packer in this section:

Among those who during the period since the rise of criticism have maintained the rejection of canonical pseudepigrapha two different approaches may be discerned, the dogmatic and the historical. The former approach is well represented by a recent writer, J. I. Packer, who makes the following assertion, “We may lay down as a general principle that, when biblical books specify their own authorship, the affirmation of their canonicity involves a denial of their pseudonymity. Pseudonymity and canonicity are mutually exclusive.” [49] He goes on to assert that since the New Testament books were received into the canon, that must ipso facto rule out the possibility of pseudonymous authorship for any New Testament writing. “As we have seen, if a New Testament book is not authentically apostolic, and if it makes false assertions (as on this hypothesis these books do), then it has not the nature of Scripture, and has no place in the New Testament canon. But the fact is that these books established their place in the canon of the early Church, and have been studied and expounded in the Church for centuries without anything unworthy of their apparent authors, or inconsistent with the rest of Scripture, either in teaching or in tone, being found in them.” [50]

The footnotes are to Packer’s Fundamentalism and the Word of God (1958), pages 184 and 185, respectively.  Guthrie goes on to say:

Packer argues strongly for the description of pseudonymous works as “forgeries”. He defines it as follows. “The dictionary definition of ‘forgery’ is fraudulent imitation, as such, irrespective of its aim, the point of the fraud being simply to get one’s own product accepted as somebody else’s”. [51] Moreover, in answer to those who postulate the highest motives, Packer maintains, “frauds are still fraudulent, even when perpetrated from noble motives”.[52] The difficulty which arises here is that different minds have different notions of what is meant by “forgery”.

The footnotes are, again, to Packer’s book, this time pages 183 and 184, respectively.

Parenthetically, regarding Packer’s view let me add what I myself found in his book because it defines his position in the most pithy way:

Pseudonymity and canonicity are mutually exclusive.  (p. 184)

…to deny authenticity is to deny canonicity also.  (p. 186)

 Having given Packer as his example of the “dogmatic” approach, Guthrie then goes on to give examples of the “historical” approach, which I’ll not reproduce here.  Suffice it to say that while Guthrie may respect Packer’s theological justification for rejecting pseudonymous works, he considers historical justification “more enlightened.”

The primary point for our purposes is that while Ehrman emphatically rejects Packer’s theological views, the two men are in full agreement about the definition of forgery and that any pseudonymous work deserves that label whether it is in the New Testament canon or not.  Thus Ehrman insists that the New Testament contains forgeries and Packer insists that it does not – both men fully agreeing on what constitutes a forgery.


Where Bruce Metzger Disagrees with Ehrman and Packer

Bruce Metzger wrote “Literary Forgeries and Canonical Pseudepigrapha” in Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 91, No. 1 (Mar., 1972), pp. 3-24.

The idea of pseudepigrapha being in the New Testament does not bother Metzger as it bothers Packer.  Metzger begins his concluding paragraph with:

The recognized custom of antiquity allowed historians great freedom in representing the sentiments of those about whom they wrote by means of imaginary speeches, founded more or less on what was actually said. If, indeed, an entire book should appear to have been composed in order to present vividly the thoughts and feelings of an important person, there would not seem to be in this circumstance any reason to say that it could not be divinely inspired. Why, then, should inspiration be denied if, as in the case of 2 Peter (which most scholars believe was written about A.D. 125-140), the author appears to have drawn up the treatise in the name of Simon Peter (1:1) and with details lending a high degree of verisimilitude (e.g., the reference to having been present at the Transfiguration, 1:17-18) in order to recall second and third generation Christians back to the orthodox teaching and practice held to have been inculcated by Peter himself?

Metzger then concludes his essay with this sentence:

In short, since the use of the literary form of pseudepigraphy need not be regarded as necessarily involving fraudulent intent, it cannot be argued that the character of inspiration excludes the possibility of pseudepigraphy among the canonical writings.

While Packer would say that 2 Peter must have been written by Peter or else it wouldn’t be part of the New Testament canon, Metzger says it could still be canonical even if Peter didn’t write it, and Ehrman says that irrespective of its canonicity or lack thereof it was not written by Peter.  Thus modern scholars argue amonst themselves while ancient scholars settled the matter long ago – in favor of Peter’s authorship.


Thomas Aquinas on Islam

According to Thomas Aquinas, Islam appealed to ignorant, brutish, carnal men and spread not by the power of its arguments or divine grace.

(a 3-minute read; 664 words)

Source: Why Thomas Aquinas Distrusted Islam – Breitbart

References to New Testament Persons Outside the Bible

(These could be called extra-biblical or extrabiblical sources.)

Wikipedia article:  List of biblical figures identified in extra-biblical sources

John the Baptist is mentioned by Josephus.



James the brother of Jesus is mentioned by Josephus.


Why the Ancient Christian Record About Jesus Is the Most Reliable | by J. Warner Wallace

In this substantive post, Wallace includes a three-column chart showing the major historical claims about the life of Jesus from the point of view of the biblical writers, hostile Jewish witnesses, and hostile Gentile witnesses.

(13-minute read; 3,103 words)

Source: Why the Ancient Christian Record About Jesus Is the Most Reliable | Cold Case Christianity

(HT: Greg West at The Poached Egg of Ratio Christi)

Craig Evans on the Reliability of the Bible

The link below is to the transcipt of an interview with New Testament scholar Craig A. Evans of Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Evans is a good source of information on the Bible for many reasons, but particularly because he is not given to hyperbole and because his assurance about the Bible’s historicity is based upon subtle but important facts – such as its verisimilitude wherein so many of its details are corroborated by other historical sources from its times.

For example, Evans says:

If you have an old document, one of the first tests is to ask, Does it really reflect life back then as we know it? If it does, the historian takes it seriously. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, the book of Acts—these are the basic narrative books of the New Testament. They talk about real people, real events, real places, and the archaeologist can show that; so a fictional, nonexistent Jesus makes no sense of the actual hard data we have.

Evans thus demonstrates how the biblical documents are historically valid as well as theologically informative.  This is indeed helpful scholarship and he is gentleman as well.

(12 min read; 2,986 words)

Source: Interviews: Is the Bible Reliable?

Scholars Agree: Luke and Acts are History 

In this short post, Lenny Esposito quotes respected scholar Craig Keener on the issue of the historicity of Luke’s writing.

(2 min read; 417 words)

Source: Scholars Agree: Luke and Acts are History | Come Reason’s Apologetics Notes

The Reliability of the Oral Tradition That Preceded the New Testament

This 14:49 video discusses the oral tradition about Jesus which preceded, and was the basis for, the written texts we have in the New Testament.

Excerpt (14:14 through 14:35):

Scholars estimate the reliability of an oral tradition can last for over a century before we could expect corruption to seep in.  Gilbert Garraghan says it cannot go past 150 years (A Guide to Historial Method, p. 259-262).  Marelene Ciklamini sets the limit at 200 years (Old Norse Epic and Historical Tradition, p. 21).  This is well within the time frame of when the New Testament was written down even if we take the latest dates for when the books were written.

The Reliability of the New Testament (Oral Tradition) – YouTube. (Source:  Inspiring Philosophy)

A Sub-Bibliography of Nineteenth-Century and Prior Works

This is a subsidiary post of Annotated Bibliography on New Testament Text and Canon.

Because my bibliography on text and canon (“apostolic apologetics”) is so long, and because older works have particular advantages and disadvantages, I thought it might be helpful to list here those works in the bibliography that come from prior to the 20th Century.

To be clear, this bibliography is a subset of the Annotated Bibliography on New Testament and Canon.  There is no work you will find below that is not already included in that much longer list.  However, to keep this list concise I have not included the annotations with the entries.

Alexander, Archibald (1772-1851).  The Canon of the Old and New Testaments Ascertained; or, The Bible, Complete, without the Apocrypha and Unwritten Traditions.  Presbyterian Board of Education, 1851.

Athanasius (296-373).  Festal Letter 39.  This is the earliest statement about New Testament contents that matches our own.  See Athanasius on the New Testament Canon.

Augustine (354-430).  On Christian Doctrine.  He lists the canonical books in 2.8.12-13.  See Augustine on the New Testament Canon.

__________.  Against Faustus (Contra Faustum).  In 33:6 Augustine explains how we can know, even from a purely human standpoint, whether literary works are authentic or false, using Hippocrates as an example.

Charteris, A. H.  Canonicity:  A Collection of Early Testimonies to the Canonical Books of the New Testament.  William Blackwood and Sons, 1880.

Davidson, Samuel.  The Canon of the Bible: Its Formation, History, and Fluctuations, Third Revised and Enlarged Edition.  C. Kegan Paul, 1880.

Eusebius (263-339).  The History of the Church.  Translated by G. A. Williamson.  Penguin, 1965, 432 pages.  (Also translated by Arthur Cushman McGiffert.  Archeron Press, 2012, Kindle edition.)

Hodge, A. A. (1823-1886). “Popular lectures on theological themes” in Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1887, p. 68-93.

Jerome (347-420).  Letter 53.  At 53:9, he addresses the canon.  See Jerome on the New Testament Canon.

Josephus (37-100).  Josephus: The Complete Works.  Translated by William Whiston.  Thomas Nelson, 1998, 1159 pages.

Moore, Dunlop.  “The Beginning and Growth of the Canon of the New Testament” inThe Presbyterian and Reformed Review, Vol. 7, No. 25, January 1896, 33 pages.

Reuss, Edward (1804-1891).  History of the Canon of the Holy Scriptures in the Christian Church.  Translated by David Hunter.  Gemmell, 1884, 430 pages.

Schaff, Philip (1819-1893). Editor.  The Complete Ante-Nicene & Nicene and Post-Nicene Church Fathers Collection.  Catholic Way Publishing, 2014 (originally published 1886-1900).

Tregelles, Samuel P. (1813-1875).   A Lecture on the Historic Evidence of the Authorship and Transmission of the Books of the New Testament.  Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1852.

Westcott, Brooke Foss.  A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament, 4th edition.  Macmillan, 1875.

Zahn, Theodor.  Geschichte des neutestamentlichen Kanons.  Deichert, 1888-1892.

The Term “Bible” Applied to the Scriptures

This is a subsidiary post of The Study of Canon and the Etymology of Certain Terms.

This is a placeholder post.  Material to be added.