Is the New Testament a compendium of the only 27 books of Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Revelation that was written in its entirety soon after Christ’s death? Is the Christianity of today the same Christianity that existed at the time of Jesus Christ, and is it the only form of Christianity that existed?
Ask the majority of Christians and they will say yes. Ask if most think that these 27 books are all there ever was on the subject of the teachings of Jesus Christ and most will say yes again.
The truth (as is far more often the case than not with the Roman Catholic Church) is far more plausible and sensible than what is purported to be the “true story” of the origins of the New Testament canon put out by the early orthodoxy. The truth is that early Christians couldn’t even agree what it meant to be a Christian during the first and second centuries.
There were actually a number of equally as powerful groups fighting in the first two centuries to have their beliefs become what would eventually become the orthodoxy for all of Christianity. Several early Christian groups were all equally as influential; there wasn’t one main group of Christians who had the “right” set of Scriptures and beliefs, and any other were just rogue sects trying to be heard. That’s an often overlooked key point when contemplating the New Testament as being the definitive words of Jesus, and the reality is that all of the Christian groups that were fighting to be the dominant form of Christianity all had Scriptures they claimed were written by one or more of Jesus’ apostles.
Gathering the New Testament into the 27 books of the Bible was actually a several centuries-long battle that was eventually decided by just a few key points in history. And these 27 books were arbitrarily whittled down from a much larger pool of Scriptures. In fact, when the battle over what would constitute the New Testament canon raged in the first two centuries, a set of man-made rules in relation to what would Scriptures would or could be considered as candidates for inclusion was devised and implemented.
The truth is that beliefs were so widely varied and Scriptures so plentiful, that equally influential Christian groups had beliefs that covered the spectrum of what it meant to be a Christian. It wasn’t even until 367 CE that there was any mention of the New Testament canon consisting of 27 specific books and only 27 books. This specific list of books was put forth by a man named Athanasius; a powerful Alexandrian bishop who took part in the First Council of Nicaea and one of the “Church Fathers.”
New Testament: 300 Years After the Fact
So, for the first time in history, the New Testament was finally taking shape, more than 300 years after the death of Jesus. As mentioned above, part of Athanasius’ criteria for which of the many Gospels, Acts, and Epistles could be considered for inclusion in the New Testament were few: The writing had to be ancient, it had to be written by one of Jesus’ apostles, it needed to be widely recognized throughout the church, and perhaps most importantly; the writing had to be what he considered as being orthodox.
This immediately arbitrarily excluded any book that embraced any other viewpoint, further sealing the fate of Christianity and narrowing it down to only a small sliver of the plentiful words of Jesus’ apostles that existed during that time. And this version of Christianity couldn’t have been more biased, more narrow-minded, more exclusionary, and most-likely; far from what Jesus’ teachings had intended to convey.
It’s actually the Ebionites who many scholars believe were most aligned with the teachings of Jesus. The Ebionites chose the Gospel of Matthew as their Scripture, thinking that Jesus was the most righteous Jewish man who ever lived, following Jewish law, to the letter, and therefore adopted by God at his baptism to be the Son of God. It’s ironic to me that the ones who were perhaps most closely aligned with the original teachings of Jesus, were labeled as heretics, with all of their writing obliterated from the Earth.
The Romans Ruined Religion Twice
As all of these Christian groups were competing to be the dominant version of Christianity, the Roman Empire was still working hard to become the center of the universe. They are also credited as being the prime persecutors of Christians in the first few centuries. Despite that fact, the capital of Syria; Antioch, the 3rd city just after the city of Rome and Alexandria is where Paul of Tarsus preached his particular form of Christianity, which would eventually flourish and spread throughout the empire. (The term Christian to designate someone who believes Jesus is the Messiah is reportedly first used in Antioch.)
And what was Paul’s particular form of Christianity?
He taught that Gentiles (non-Jewish people) need not become Jews in order to convert to Christianity. This was perhaps the single-greatest act that paved the way for what most refer to today as “true” Christianity. It was also the beginning of the end of truth in many respects, although at the time, no one could have known what the future had in store. Christians today may call it “God’s will,” but a growing legion of scholars call it the beginning of the end.
And why was Paul’s brand of Christianity so appealing to the Roman Empire?
Most of the Roman Empire consisted of Gentiles (non-Jewish people) who had little desire to follow the strict requirements of Jewish law such as kosher dietary rules and “works” rather than just “faith” were required for salvation (among numerous others as posited by a great number of authors). Despite Rome’s infamous prosecution of Christianity, a revolution was brewing. Paul of Tarsus; form of Christianity happened to be a perfect fit for a people who were changing the face of humanity by making some of the greatest societal evolutionary advances in history.
By 300 C.E. (See a Roman Timeline HERE), Rome had an estimated population of about 60 million people, about 15 million of whom were Christians. Rome had organization, political might, administration, and was the largest single Empire on Earth. With that comes amazing and unheard of power when it comes to both shaping the world and dictating what history would have to say in relation to almost all aspects of humanity.
The battle still raged on by different groups to be the dominant form of Christianity, but the fate of the religion was all but sealed when Constantine claimed to have a vision in 312 C.E. that convinced him that Christianity was going to be the officially recognized religion of the Roman Empire. I know it was only out of a sincere desire to for Constantine and his empire to commune with Jesus Christ, but coincidentally enough, it also happened to be what many consider was one of the greatest political maneuvers in history.
Just a decade later, a 10-volume book called “Ecclesiastical History” by Eusebius appeared in its final form. In this 10-volume book, Eusebius falsely rewrote the history of Christianity to make it seem as though the proto-orthodoxy form of Christianity that was adopted and being vigorously spread by the Roman Empire was the only Christianity that ever existed. He made it appear that what was first a minority group of Christians (proto-orthodoxy) was actually the majority, and that the majority groups such as the Ebionites, the Marcionites, or the Gnostics were the minority. Worse yet, Eusebius vividly portrayed any group that weren’t Roman Catholic Christians as heretical groups led by the devil himself in an attempt to distort and pervert the true message of Jesus Christ.
A short 2 years later, the Council of Nicaea was convened and constructed the Creed of Nicene; a document that set forth a specific set of rules in relation to Christianity. From that point on, the world and Christianity would never be the same. As the victors write and rewrite history, it was no different for the history of Christianity. The victorious brand of Christianity rewrote the history of the struggle for dominance and made it appear as though its minority view had always been the majority view.
“True” Christianity’s Last Gasps
The might of this advanced civilization was used to full advantage in spreading this particular brand of Christianity, known from that point on, as orthodox Christianity and the Roman Catholic Church, while destroying all traces (or so it thought) of any other views from the historical record. And, this destruction occurred by absolutely any means necessary, including murder, the burning of documents and people, and literally burning “heretical” churches and/or temples to the ground, replacing them with Roman Catholic churches throughout the empire and eventually; throughout the world.
Unfortunately for the Roman Catholic Church, though, all traces of the dominant forms of Christianity weren’t eliminated. Little did the victors know at the time of the discoveries, the unified efforts of researchers and scholars, the recently-discovered sacred texts that were buried and lost to time, or the power of the internet and worldwide travel that have now uncovered the true story of Early Christianity. The revolution may not have started for 16 centuries, but a bombshell of a book published in 1934 called “Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity” by Walter Bauer authoritatively revealed the true history of early Christianity; the history that had been brutally and systematically destroyed since the start of the Roman Catholic Church.
Bauer’s book systematically goes, region by region, to the places that Early Christianity was known to exist. He examined every last surviving trace of evidence and found, almost irrefutably many argue, that the truest earliest forms of Christianity were non-orthodox! Throughout Egypt, Syria, and Asia Minor, the dominant forms of Christianity were NOT the brand that the Roman Catholic Church often brutally forced on the world throughout history. Bauer’s book provided the glimmer of light that I think has been the catalyst which will eventually spell the downfall of the Roman Catholic Church sometime in the future. Bauer’s book is available today, and a critically important read for anyone interested in an astounding alternate view of the history of Christianity.
Almost more incredible than Bauer’s stunning revelation was the discovery just a few years later in 1945 of what seems as though it should have been the most important discoveries of our time in relation to the Christian Church; the Nag Hammadi Library Discovered in Egypt, it provided a long lost and vividly clear picture of one of the early dominant Christian groups; the Gnostics. Unfortunately, the Roman Catholic Church has grown so powerful, the propaganda machine such a juggernaut, and the network of brainwashed believers so vast, that instead of working to share these truths with the world, the Church immediately set to work at hiding, mutating, and re-writing the truth, as they had done in early Roman times.
SIDE NOTE: The Dead Sea Scrolls are often confused with the Nag Hammadi Library. The Gnostic Library Society explains the distinction, but even the Dead Sea Scrolls have a story not unlike the Nag Hammadi Library in terms of suppression of the truth. In short, John Allegro (http://www.johnallegro.org/main/) was one of the original, highly respected scholars chosen to translate the Dead Sea Scrolls. Unlike his fellow translators, Allegro was not a pawn of the Catholic Church and therefore free to develop his theories and interpretations free from Catholic dogma. The result were unbiased interpretations of the scrolls, claims that outraged the Catholic Church. With a swiftness bordering on surreal, the Catholic Church got to work at discrediting this truth-speaking revolutionary, just as they had with any figure throughout history that they disagreed with.
There are more and more authoritative books appearing on the subject of the true beginnings of Christianity, and they paint a starkly different picture than the one that has been painted since the fourth century to the present time. Some of my favorites at the moment include “Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament” by Bart D. Ehrman, the “Gnostic Gospels” by Elaine Pagels, “The Nag Hammadi Scriptures” by Marvin Meyer, and “The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot” by Bart D. Ehrman.
These books, if nothing else, outline the large number of ancient texts that did actually exist but never made it into the New Testament canon. The fact that every one of these books came straight from the mouth of Jesus Christ and through the writing instruments of his apostles means that they still are equally as valid since every one of them (besides the forgeries), and perhaps should now be considered and welcome additions to the New Testament.
My Intent, As Usual
If history unfolded just a little differently, we could be living in a world where Egypt’s Gnostic version of Christianity became the accepted orthodoxy rather than Rome’s version. We would have a completely different understanding of the exact same Christian faith, based on the exact same books and Scriptures that existed. The fact that mere men arbitrarily decided, many centuries ago, which books were worthy of inclusion of the New Testament canon and which ones weren’t, is, in my opinion, one of the greatest human travesties in relation to our ability to connect with god.
The fact that the Roman Catholic Church was so successfully able to accomplish this task while obliterating (or so they thought) all traces of the other Christian groups and their Scriptures for so many years is a feat unparalleled in human history. I doubt it will happen in my lifetime, but I, as always, am convinced that the truth will always win in the end and the truth will eventually be accepted by mainstream humanity. In an article called “If Only I Knew the Love of God“ elsewhere on my blog, I discuss the most common reaction I get to my writing on Christianity, which is a sentiment that states something along the lines of, “If you only knew what the love of god felt like, you could never write the things you write.”
It’s because I know my personal Divine so intimately that I am compelled to write what I write.
Until followers of the Christian Church can break free of the indoctrination that has left them blind to some simple and critical truths regarding their own religion (truths I firmly believe possess the power to set them free and can give them what they’ve always dreamed of in relation to their faith), change can never come. I always hope to help, in some small way, to help empower Christians to start to take back their own faith that was hijacked from them from them in the first few centuries after the death of Jesus Christ.
In fact, one of the most difficult tasks I have in my research on Christianity is to take what is an extremely overwhelming amount of information that most Christians are aware even exists, and boil it down to an easily understandable, bite-size piece that can help any of us to construct a narrative that makes sense. More often than not, I have to sift through multiple books, Bible readings, articles, papers, and websites in order to construct something that will provide a clear picture of the truth without being way too many pages long.
So, if much of what I write doesn’t seem researched well enough or if it seems like an egregious oversimplification, it’s typically because I’m trying not to fall into the caveat of providing so much information that the main point and any hope of a narrative is lost. I include links whenever I can, and both Wikipedia and the New World Encyclopedia provide a wealth of authoritative details on some of the briefly mentioned topics such as the Council of Nicaea, details about Paul of Tarsus, the Gnostics, and many others. I leave the details to you, so you can find out more about specifics in your own time and in your own interest.
As always, I welcome counterpoint and debate, as long as it’s not mean-spirited and threatening. There are so many truths that have been systematically suppressed by those in power, and to hide the truth from your own followers as a means of control, profit, and political gain is one of the oldest tricks in the book. The connection I feel with my own personal spirituality is perhaps the most important experience of my life, and I hope to be a beacon in some way, to perhaps empower Christians to find their own truths that are based on contemplation and thinking rather than brainwashing and indoctrination. Perchance to dream.
NOTE: Please be respectful of the immense effort and research that goes into writing my articles. Do not re-print or re-post any of my work without receiving explicit and express permission from me first. Feel free to link to my articles whenever you wish, though, and I am always available for interviews or comments.