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Hot Topics in Church History. Saint Anne Adult Forum Lent 2013. Previews of Coming Attractions. Week 1: Lost Christianities Early Christians and faiths we never knew Week 2: Establishment of the Church Canon Books that didn’t make the bible and why Week 3: The Council of Nicaea

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Hot topics in church history

Hot Topics in Church History

Saint Anne Adult Forum

Lent 2013

Previews of coming attractions
Previews of Coming Attractions

  • Week 1: Lost Christianities

    • Early Christians and faiths we never knew

  • Week 2: Establishment of the Church Canon

    • Books that didn’t make the bible and why

  • Week 3: The Council of Nicaea

    • Establishment of Christian orthodoxy

  • Week 4: The Crusades

    • Religious wars in the name of Christ

  • Week 5: Establishment of the Anglican Church

    • A rift between England and Rome that became a new faith

  • Week 6: Modern Hot Topics

    • Contemporary topics, still unresolved after 2000 years of discussion

Lost christianities

Lost Christianities

Early Christian faiths we never knew


  • The Christian world of 100 to 300 AD

  • Different interpretations of what it meant to be a Christian

    • Ebonities

    • Marconites

    • Gnostics

  • Why did these different interpretations exist?

  • What became of these Christianities?

  • How do the differences in these Christian faiths continue to influence our own faith today?

The state of christianity
The State of Christianity

  • No established canon

  • No established set of beliefs (Council of Nicaea wouldn’t meet until 325 AD)

  • Many, many books available describing the life and teachings of Jesus

  • Much information about the life of Jesus was still shared by word-of-mouth

  • Different groups had very different understandings of what it meant to be “Christian”

Where does our information about these groups come from
Where Does Our Information About These Groups Come From?

  • Original texts and writings generally don’t survive

  • Irenaeus – second century author who wrote against these interpretations, and sometimes quoted their texts

The ebionites
The Ebionites

  • Accepted Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, but still kept the Jewish law

  • May have been closely associated with James, the brother of Jesus

  • Believed that Jesus was fully human (not divine), and became a “Son of God” by keeping The Law perfectly

  • Had a gospel similar to the gospel of Matthew (less the first two chapters), plus the books of the Old Testament


  • Theology developed by Marcion (85 – 160 A.D.) of Sinop

  • Believed Jesus was fully divine (not human)

  • Did not think one had to keep The Law to be right with God (i.e. did not have to be Jewish

  • Held that there were two Gods – one of the Old Testament (who also created the world) and one of the New

  • First to develop a canon of accepted scripture:

    • Book similar to gospel of Luke (called the Gospel of Marcion)

    • Ten letters of Paul



  • Very little known about Gnostics until the discovery of many Gnostic texts at Nag Hamadi, Egypt in 1946

  • Believed that the world is an evil place created by an inferior god, but many of us have the “spark of the divine” and are trying to return to the true God

  • Believed Christ entered the body of a man named Jesus, and came here to reveal this knowledge to us

  • Felt that the world wasn’t what it appeared to be, and that we aren’t supposed to be here

Gnostic texts
Gnostic Texts

  • Followed Gospel of Mark and John

  • Many other Gnostic texts, including:

    • Gospel of Thomas

    • Gospel of Truth

Alternate universe
Alternate Universe

  • What would modern Christianity be like if these other interpretations had “won”?

    • Ebionites - Christianity would be a specialized subset of Judiasim

    • Marcionites – much shorter canon (no Old Testament)

    • Gnostics – Emphasis would be on discovering your inner “divine spark”

What were the disagreements
What Were the Disagreements?

  • Who was Jesus?

    • Was he fully human, but kept the law perfectly and became a Son of God? (ebionites)

    • Was he fully divine, and only appeared to be human? (Marcionites)

    • Was he a divine being who entered the body of a man named Jesus?

  • What was Jesus’ purpose here?

    • To deliver a new interpretation of The Law?

    • To be the perfect sacrifice?

    • To deliver the knowledge needed to return to the divine realm?

How did our current understanding of christianity win
How Did Our Current Understanding of Christianity “Win”?

  • Located in Rome

    • Roads – able to communicate the theology and the scriptures which eventually became the canon

    • Wealth – churches in Rome could send funds to help support like-minded Christian churches elsewhere in the Empire

    • Old – once the Old Testament was adopted, became credible and authoritative by virtue of its age (i.e. older than Homer, Plato, etc)

    • Popular – once adopted by Constantine, Christianity became quite popular

  • Ebonites – not very appealing (must become a Jew and keep The Law)

  • Marcionites – not very old, thus lacked authority and credibility

  • Gnostics – elitist (only some, but not all, can be saved)


On display through April 14, 2013

Next week
Next Week

  • Books that didn’t make the bible and why