Challenges from the Gnostic Texts

One of the favorite theses advanced by some of those who make claims on behalf of the authority of the Gnostic texts is that, in some sense, these writings should be viewed on an equal footing with the canonical New Testament books. Perhaps the classical modern expression of such a contention was promoted by Walter Baur in his 1934 volume, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity.^3

Baur argued that second century Christendom witnessed a wide variety of theological viewpoints. Gnosticism existed in this milieu as an alternative to what was later recognized as the orthodox position. In fact, in some areas, Gnostic tendencies may have been the chief expressions of Christianity. However, out of this multiplicity, orthodoxy still emerged, but not necessarily because it was the original position of Jesus and his disciples.^4

1 James M. Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library. ^2 2 Nonetheless, a number of these areas will be noted as we proceed. ^3 3 This work was originally published in German. An English translation, ed. by Robert

Kraft and Gerhard Krodel, was issued by Fortress Press (Philadelphia) in 1971. ^4 4 Ibid., p. xxii, for example.

Such a theme reappears, in one form or another, in current discussions of this subject, as well. Frederik Wisse is one of the most recent scholars to revive a contention quite similar to Baur’s. He also insists that orthodoxy surfaced from the second century amalgam of views by asserting itself over the other positions involved in the conflict.^5

More popularly but not as recently, A. Powell Davies also argued that orthodox Christianity existed in the midst of various other competing religious ideologies. After an intense struggle between such differing philosophies, orthodoxy triumphed in the third century AD.^6 Thesis of Pagels