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disputes over what to believe and how to live that were raging in the early centuries of the Christian movement. These beliefs, and the group who promoted them, came to be thought of as “orthodox” (literally meaning, “the right belief ”), and alternative views—such as the view that there are two gods, or that the true God did not create the world, or that Jesus was not actually human or not actually divine, etc.—came to be labeled “heresy” (� false belief) and were then ruled out of court. Moreover, the victors in the struggles to establish Christian orthodoxy not only won their theological battles, they also rewrote the history of the conflict; later readers, then, naturally assumed that the victorious views had been embraced by the vast majority of Christians from the very beginning, all the way back to Jesus and his closest followers, the apostles. What then of the other books that claimed to be written by these apos­ tles, the ones that did not come to form part of the New Testament? For the most part they were suppressed, forgotten, or destroyed—in one way or an­ other lost, except insofar as they were mentioned by those who opposed them, who quoted them precisely in order to show how wrong they were. But we should not overlook the circumstance that in some times and places these “other” writings were in fact sacred books, read and revered by devout peo­ ple who understood themselves to be Christian. Such people believed that they were following the real teachings of Jesus, as found in the authoritative texts that they maintained were written by Jesus’ own apostles. Historians today realize that it is over-simplified to say that these alternative theologies are aberrations because they are not represented in the New Testament. For the New Testament itself is the collection of books that emerged from the conflict, the group of books advocated by the side of the disputes that eventually established itself as dominant and handed the books down to posterity as “the” Christian Scriptures. This triumph did not happen immediately after Jesus’ death. Jesus is usually thought to have died around 30 ce.1 Christians probably began to produce writings shortly afterwards, although our earliest surviving writings, the letters of Paul, were not made for another twenty years or so (around 50–60 ce). Soon the floodgates opened, however, and Christians of varying theological and ecclesiastical persuasion wrote all kinds of books: Gospels recording the words, deeds, and activities of Jesus; accounts of the miracu­ lous lives and teachings of early Christian leaders (“acts of the apostles”), personal letters (“epistles”) to and from Christian leaders and communities; prophetic revelations from God concerning how the world came to be or how it was going to end (“revelations” or “apocalypses”), and so on. Some of these writings may well have been produced by the original apostles of Jesus. But already within thirty or forty years books began to appear that claimed to be written by apostles, which in fact were forgeries in their names (see, e.g., 2 Thess. 2:2).


I.e., 30 of the “Common Era,” which is the same as the older designation, AD 30.

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