My comment to a post by jesusblogger:
I’m sure my view of Christianity is different than yours, but I appreciate you pointing out this discrepancy between early and later Christian doctrine. And it certainly isn’t the only example. One thing that I found interesting is how later Christians often judged the views of Christians prior to them as heretical. The earliest Christian church held many diverse views including those of Valentinus and Marcion. Then the heresiologists took over the church and declared heretical these early church views of Christianity.
I find it odd that all of the earliest commentators of the New Testament were later banned and burned. For instance, the first NT commentary ever written (by Basilides) was entirely destroyed by other Christians later on and the first commentators of Paul and John were labelled as not being Christian (i.e., Gnostic). The funny thing is that many of the third century Christians who judged heretical the views of some of the first and second century Christians were themselves deemed heretical (in part or whole) by fourth and fifth century Christians.
The heresiologists only came into power a century or more after Jesus and so why should we give them priority over the Christians that actually knew Christianity as it was first forming? This is a very important question considering that scholarship has shown how much the New Testament was altered (intentionally and accidentally) in the centuries after the life of Jesus. What we now consider the canonical New Testament took centuries to form and the idea of a Christian canon was originated by a Gnostic (i.e., Marcion).
It’s difficult uncovering what was original to the earliest Christians, but it’s worth the effort even if it means doubting what has become doctrine in what is called “traditional” Christianity. What seems obvious to me is that there was no single monolithic view of Jesus from the beginning. Even accepting the canonical New Testament as it is, there are very important differences between the gospels: differing details (some quite significant), different ideas and words emphasized, etc. And the differences between the gospel writers and Paul are even more interesting.
The challenge is that, if the ealiest Christians weren’t even of a single agreement about every issue, how are we to decide what is authentic almost two thousand years later? If the heresiologists from the second century on were seemingly so misunderstanding of the earlier Christians, then how are we to come to a better understanding now? It takes immense amounts of study along with soul searching doubts and questions to even begin to grasp an inkling of the common threads to early Christianity.