"Orthodoxy" and "heresy": we all know what enormous importance is attached to these two concepts for the history of our religion. Usually, however, investigation of this subject tends to focus upon the later epochs. The period of Christian origins is, as a rule, passed over rather briefly. Of course, the "errors" combatted in the earliest literature of Christianity are described and investigated from various points of view, with this or that result. But this is usually done with implicit, or even explicit, assent to the view that any such divergence really is a corruption of Christianity.

But if we follow such a procedure, and simply agree with the judgment of the anti-heretical fathers for the post-New Testament period, do we not all too quickly become dependent upon the vote of but one party -- that party which perhaps as much through favorable circumstances as by its own merit eventuaIly was thrust into the foreground, and which possibly has at its disposal today the more powerful, and thus the more prevalent voice, only because the chorus of others has been muted? Must not the historian, like the judge, preside over the parties and maintain as a primary principle the dictum audiatur et altera pars [let the other side also be heard]? When one side cannot, because of anxiety, confusion, or clumsiness, gain proper recognition, is it not the obligation of the judge -- and, mutatis mutandis of the historian -- to assist it, as best he can, to unfold its case instead of simply submitting to the mental agility and firmness, the sagacity and loquacity of the other? Does either judge or historian dare to act as though whatever cannot be read and understood by everyone as part of the public records never existed, and thus is unimportant for passing sentence?

In our day and age, there is no longer any debate [2] that in terms of a scientific approach to history, the New Testament writings cannot be understood properly if one now looks back on them from the end of the process of canonization as sacred books, and prizes them as constituent parts of the celestial charter of salvation, with all the attendant characteristics. We have long since become accustomed to undertanding them in terms of their own time -- the gospels as more or less successfuI attempts to relate the life of Jesus; the Pauline letters as occasional writings, connected with specific and unrepeatable situations, and having spatial as well as temporal limitations to their sphere of authority. We must also approach the "heretics" in the same way. We need to understand them also in terms of their own time, and not to evaluate them by means of ecclesiastical doctrine which was developing, or which later became a ready-made norm.

We can determine adequately the significance the "heretics" possessed for nascent and developing Christianity only when we, insofar as it is possible, place ourselves back into the period in which they went about their business, and without hesitation cast all our preconceived ideas aside. We must remain open to all possibilities. What constitutes "truth" in one generation can be out of date in the next -- through progress, but also through retrogression into an earlier position. The actual situation in one region may not obtain in another, and indeed, may never have had general currency.

Perhaps -- I repeat, perhaps -- certain manifestations of Christian life that the authors of the church renounce as "heresies" originally had not been such at all, but, at least here and there, were the only form of the new religion -- that is, for those regions they were simply "Christianity." The possibility also exists that their adherents constituted the majority, and that they looked down with hatred and scorn on the orthodox, who for them were the false believers. I do not say this in order to introduce some special use of language for the investigations which follow, so that "orthodoxy" designates the preference of the given majority, while "heresy" is characterized by the fact that only the minority adhere to it. Majority and minority can change places and then such a use of language, which would be able to represent this change only with difficulty, would easily lead to obscurities and misunderstandings. No, even in this book, "orthodoxy" and "heresy" will refer to what one customarily and [3] usually understands them to mean. There is only this proviso, that we will not hear the two of them discussed by the church -- that is, by the one party -- but by history.

In order to exclude from the outset all modern impressions and judgments, I will proceed from the view concerning the heretics and their doctrines which was cherished already in the second century by the ancient church, and will test its defensibility in hopes of discovering, by means of such a critical procedure, a route to the goal. The ecclesiastical position includes roughly the following main points:

(1) Jesus reveals the pure doctrine to his apostles, partly before his death, and partly in the forty days before his ascension.

(2) After Jesus' final departure, the apostles apportion the world among themselves, and each takes the unadulterated gospel to the land which has been allotted him.

(3) Even after the death of the disciples the gospel branches out further. But now obstacles to it spring up within Christianity itself. The devil cannot resist sowing weeds in the divine wheatfield -- and he is successful at it. True Christians blinded by him abandon the pure doctrine. This development takes place in the following sequence: unbelief, right belief, wrong belief. There is scarcely the faintest notion anywhere that unbelief might be changed directly into what the church calls false belief. No, where there is heresy, orthodoxy must have preceded. For example, Origen puts it like this: "All heretics at first are believers; then later they swerve from the rule of faith."1

This view is so deeply rooted, and so widely held, that it applies even to such personalities as Mani, who is supposed to have been a presbyter of the church and a valiant warrior against both Jews and pagans, but then left the church because he took it as a personal offence that his students received such scanty recognition ( see below, 39). In general, it is an opinion of orthodoxy that only impure motives drive the heretic from the church -- indeed, this must be so if the evil one is at the bottom of it all. Already Hegesippus, who was in Rome around the year 160, asserts that after the martyr's death of James the Just, Thebutis had begun to corrupt the church, which until then had been a pure virgin, [4] through false belief, because he had not succeeded James as the leader of the Jerusalem community (EH 4.22.46). We hear similar things about Valentinus (below, 39 n.91, and 128), Marcion,2 and Bardesanes (below, 38 f.).

(4) Of course, right belief is invincible. In spite of all the efforts of Satan and his instruments, it repels unbelief and false belief, and extends its victorious sway ever further.

Scholarship has not found it difficult to criticize these convictions. It knows that the ecclesiastical doctrine was not yet present with James; likewise, that the twelve apostles by no means played the role assigned to them out of consideration for the purity and revealed nature of ecclesiastical dogma. Further, historical thinking that is worthy of this name refuses to employ here the correlatives "true" and "untrue," "bad" and "good." It is not easily convinced of the moral inferiority attributed to the heretics. It recognizes there the same embarrassed, and thus artificial, claim that emanated from Jewish Christianity when it asserted that Paul had sued for the hand of the high priest's daughter and, when it was denied him, began to rage against Torah (Epiphanius Her. 30.16).

Sooner or later, however, a point is reached at which criticism bogs down. For my tastes, it all too easily submits to the ecclesiastical opinion as to what is early and late, original and dependent, essential and unimportant for the earliest history of Christianity. If my impression is correct, even today the overwhelmingly dominant view remains that for the period of Christian origins, ecclesiastical doctrine (of course, only as this pertains to a certain stage in its development) already represents what is primary, while heresies, on the other hand somehow are a deviation from the genuine. I do not mean to say that this point of view must be false, but neither can I regard it as self-evident or even demonstrated and clearly established. Rather, we are confronted here with a problem that merits our attention.

In this way, the subject of my book is defined more precisely, and I am left free to bypass much else that also could be treated under the title I have selected. For example, I do not intend to present once again a description of the tenets of the ancient heresies, but I presuppose that they are well known, along with many other things. We live in a time that demands concise discussion, and repetition of what already has been presented in a suitable manner [5] should not be tolerated. Therefore, he who opens this book in hopes of finding therein a convenient synopsis of what fellow-scholars already have contributed to this or to that aspect of the theme will be disappointed.

As we turn to our task, the New Testament seems to be both too unproductive and too much disputed to be able to serve as a point of departure. The majority of its anti-heretical writings cannot be arranged with confidence either chronologically or geographically; nor can the more precise circumstances of their origin be determined with sufficient precision. It is advisable, therefore, first of all to interrogate other sources concerning the relationship of orthodoxy and heresy, so that, with the insights that may be gained there, we may try to determine the time and place of their origins. I have chosen to begin with Edessa and Egypt so as to obtain a glimpse into the emergence and the original condition of Christianity in regions other than those that the New Testament depicts as affected by this religion. //end of introductory materials//


[1] On the person and work of Bauer, see the memorial issue NTS 9 (1962/63): 1-38 (with presentations by F. W. Gingrich, W. Schneemelcher, and E. Fascher); also "In Memoriam Walter Bauer," Theologische Literaturzeitung 86 (1961): 313-316 (addresses by W. Zimmerli and J. Jeremias at the funeral service). Bauer's bibliography can be found in Theologische Literaturzeitung 77 (1952): 501-504; and 86 (1961): 315 f. (compiled by C.-H. Hunzinger) and biographical information in the article "Bauer, W." in RGG\3, 1 (1957): 925 (by W. G. Kmmel).

[2] [W. F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: a Translation and Adaptation of Walter Bauer's Griechisch-Deutsches Wrterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der brigen urchristlichen Literatur, fourth revised and augmented edition, 1952 (ChicagCambridge [Eng.]: University Press, 1957). A revised fifth German edition appeared in 1957, and materials for a revised English edition are being gathered.] {??update}

[3] [The addition of two footnotes (51 n. 31, 59 n. 59) and a reference to Josephus at the end of 153 n. 12 should be noted, as well as the inclusion of an index of modern authors.]

[4] [The second appendix has been extensively revised and restructured by R. A. Kraft for this English edition.]

[1] Commentary on the Song of Songs, 3 (to Cant. 2.2): omnes enim haeretici primo ad credulitatem veniunt, et post haec ab itinere fidei et dogmatum veritate declinant (ed. W. A. Baehrens, GCS 33 (1925); ET by R. P. Lawson, ACW 26 (1957]), See also the fragment from Origen on Proverbs (to 2.16), ed. Lommatzsch 13,228 (= PG 13, 28 f.). Tertullian speaks similarly at the end of Prescription against Heretics 36 in his analogy of the wild olive (or fig) tree (= heresy) which springs from a cultivated seed (= orthodox doctrine).

[2] [Epiphanius Her. 42. 1.8; see also Tertullian Prescription against Heretics 30 and Against Marcion 4.4, and the Edessene Chronicle 6 (below pp. 14 ff., 38).] .