The Future of Faith (Cox, Harvey)
As we have seen, these early Christian “historians” were neither critical nor neutral. They were not even historians. They were churchmen who aspired to become the leaders of the next generation of Christians. They were anything but disinterested, and they had an agenda that was not particularly hidden. Looking for a potent way to establish their own authority, they seized upon a very compelling idea.
A historian is supposed to be a person that is critical of stated history but remains neutral as to the results. Some of the early church “historians” were as Mr. Cox mentioned not really historians at all but men, and I mean men literally, who were looking for ways to get and maintain authority in the church.
The very compelling idea mentioned here was apostolic authority. True biblical scholars knew that neither Paul nor the apostles had passed on any “apostolic authority”. They had in fact warned against that very thing! The ancient writers in this area were by no means neutral in their beliefs. They were in fact fighting for control in order to consolidate power. This is an every present thing throughout all human history.
This authority has been recently found to be self-justifying fiction. When today’s biblical scholars and historians had to cope with the new evidence from Nag Hammadi they came to understand that apostolic authority must now be understood as an invention of a much later than thought period of the church. In fact they have found that early Christianity was actually far more diffuse than previously thought.
Since this is the first time I think I have mentioned Nag Hammadi I should probably tell you a little about that. Here is what Wikipedia says:
Nag Hammadi is best known for being the site where local farmers found a sealed earthenware jar containing thirteen leather-bound papyrus codices, together with pages torn from another book, in December 1945. The mother of the farmers burned one of the books and parts of a second (including its cover). Thus twelve of these books (one missing its cover) and the loose pages survive. The writings in these codices, dating back to the 2nd century AD, comprised 52 mostly Gnostic tractates (treatises), believed to be a library hidden by monks from the nearby monastery of St Pachomius when the possession of such banned writings, denounced as heresy, was made an offence.
The contents of the Coptic-bound codices were written in Coptic, though the works were probably all translations from Greek. The Nag Hammadi codices contain the only complete copy of the Gospel of Thomas.
All the texts have been public since 1975, and are available online.
While the Nag Hammadi could take up an entire historical study I will only be referencing it a few times at the beginning of this study. It is worthy of a more critical examination which I hope to attempt and do later.