Orthodoxy Before There Was a New Testament

A lot of people argue against Dogma and Orthodoxy on the grounds that the early church had neither. To answer that position, Darrell Bock points to four areas of activity in the earliest churches and their worship services. Those four areas are Scripture (i.e., the Hebrew Bible, what we call the Old Testament), Schooling (Doctrinal summaries), Singing (early Christian hymns), and Sacraments (Baptism and the Lord’s Table).

Those of you familiar with my work known that I have discussed an alternative expression of Christianity I have called “Jesusanity.” (See Dethroning Jesus) It is a view that says Jesus’ teaching is an important religious guide, but his person and work are not central to Christian teaching. Such a view also argues that there was no such thing as orthodoxy in the earliest period of the movement Jesus started. Rather there were alternative views of Jesus that were not really compatible. Part of the argument goes that in the earliest period of the development of the movement, when theology was taught orally, there was room for a great deal of theological development because there was no functioning theological authority like the New Testament in place. Part of this argument is true, because the materials we have show that the New Testament, as we know it, did not really start to emerge and be used extensively until the late second century (ie, books that began to be read as a functioning unit like the four gospels and Paul’s letters). A community might have one gospel or two but predominantly operated with a variety of oral means of passing on the teaching of the community. So was there a way to pass on theology before there was a functioning New Testament? Can one speak of a core orthodoxy or proto-orthodoxy? I think one can. Let me explain…

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