I was horrified and appalled when my daughter told me today about the book she is reading in her college history class. The history is loaded with both falsehoods and sloppy scholarship. It is unacceptable that such a book would ever be brought by a professor into a college class except to expose the willful ignorance of some authors.
I do not have the book name or author. My daughter sent me a few screenshots of the textbook. I sent her responses to the fantasy history of the book. Some quotes from the text and my responses are below.
“Paul also taught that converts did not have to live strictly according to Jewish law. To make conversion easier, he did not require male converts to undergo the Jewish initiation right of circumcision.”
Acts 15 (in the Bible) tells us that a council in Jerusalem, led by Peter and James, was called to discuss Paul’s teaching that Gentiles (non-Jews only) did not have to keep the Law of Moses or be circumcised. The council agreed and put only 4 laws on the Gentiles.
“In early Christianity, women in some locations could be leaders—such as Lydia, a businesswoman who founded the congregation in Philippi in Greece—but many men, including Paul, opposed women’s leadership.
Acts 16 tells us that Paul is the one who found Lydia and other women meeting by a river in Philippi. He founded the church in Philippi through Lydia. He also converted a Philippian jailer there (same chapter). We have no idea who the leader was. That it was Lydia is just an assumption from the text. There is no outside literature verifying that Lydia was a leader in Philippi, just that she was the first convert. Later Paul wrote a letter to the Philippians, and he mentions bishops (literally, overseers) and deacons (literally, servants). Those words are masculine in Greek, not feminine.
“Christian leaders had to build an organization from the ground up to administer their growing congregations. Finally, Christians had to decide whether women could continue as leaders in their congregations.”
The book does not specify the time period but, as you can see, there is no solid evidence that any women were leaders in any churches. That is simply the fantasy of the author. We do know from Romans 16:2 and from the possible wording of 1 Timothy 3:11 that women could be deacons, which literally means servants. That never stopped until much later in church history, maybe in the 800’s or later.
After a really excellent section on the martyrs, your book says, “This transformation was painful because early Christians fiercely disagreed about what they should believe, how they should live, and who had the authority to decide these questions. Some insisted Christians should withdraw from the everyday world to escape its evil, abandoning their families and shunning sex and reproduction. Others believed they could follow Christ’s challenging teachings while living ordinary lives.”
In A.D. 185 (or so), Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (in modern France), who had been raised up in the faith in Smyrna (in modern Turkey) and was a counselor to Roman bishops (in Italy), wrote, “The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God … As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world.”
What the author of your book must be referring to are the tracts written by a Christian from the church in Carthage. His name was Tertullian, and he wrote about 20 years after Irenaeus. He complained about some of the worldliness going on in the churches in those tracts. This does not mean that there were Christians teaching that Christians can live ordinary lives. His tracts complain about hypocrisy in the church, Christians not living up to the standards of Christ.
What happened to Tertullian was that he was so frustrated that he ended up embracing the teachings of the prophet Montanus. Montanus was the main prophet of a movement that is named after him. His followers were called “Montanists.” Prisca and Maximilla were prophetesses with him. The churches in Asia Minor rejected their prophecies as false.
Those prophecies included things like saying that the Holy Spirit had given the churches time to mature. It had been 150 years since the apostles. While the apostles allowed widows to marry again, the Holy Spirit (through Montanus and these two ladies), was telling the churches that widows could no longer remarry. The churches at that time would allow an adulterer or murderer or robber (etc.) to repent one time and be readmitted to the church. If it happened a second time, they could never come back into the church. Montanus (and Prisca and Maximilla) taught that only God could forgive them. The churches could not forgive such people even once.
Their prophecies were rejected by the catholic churches, and their movement faded away over the next few decades.
About 20 years later—in one church, Rome—Hippolytus formed a new church because he thought the elected bishop (Callistus) was not a good person. His church stayed separate for 17 or 18 years, when another persecution arose. Both Hippolytus and the current bishop (now Pontus) were both thrown into the mines because of the persecution. There they reconciled, and that ended that.
Thirty years later, in Rome again, a man named Novatian (Greek Novatus) started a new church because he didn’t like the bishop Cornelius. This is 251 now. His split lasted for several centuries, but it did not disturb the catholic churches, which continued steadfast. In the fourth century a basic peace set in between the catholic and Novatian churches because they believed the same things. The Novatian churches were just stricter about readmitting those who sinned in some major way.
The need to deal with such tensions, to administer the congregations, and to promote spiritual communion among believers led Christians to create an official hierarchy of men, headed by bishops.
This is an extremely sloppy description of what happened. Bishops (literally overseers) had existed since the beginning of Christianity. They were also called elders. You can read about this in Acts 20, 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, and 1 Peter 5 in the Bible. You need to know the origin of the words bishop, elder, presbyter, and deacon to understand the various words used there. What those passages in the Bible say is that the Paul and Peter’s churches were led by elders (presbyters) who held the position of overseers (bishops). There were also servants (deacons) who served the churches in various capacities.
Over a century, for whatever reason, bishop (or overseer) had become separate from elders. Each church (or perhaps each city) had one bishop and many elders. From about that time (150 or so), certain bishops became preeminent. This was especially true of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch. These, along with the bishop of Constantinople after it was built and consecrated around 340, became known as patriarchs. Bishops of cities that were smaller or less important, but still big, became known as metropolitans. So, yes, a hierarchy arose, but not because of the kind of disputes claimed in your book.
Your textbook, screen capture 8: “The bishops tried to suppress the arguments that arose in the new religion. They used their authority to define orthodoxy (true doctrine) and heresy (false doctrine).
This is sloppier than the previous one. The bishops were around from the beginning. Through the second century, the heretics were the gnostics that denied the God of the Bible, thought Jesus failed in his mission, and rejected the apostles. The Montanists did arise in the late second century, but as I said, that was a minor thing.
The authority of the bishops, which really means the authority of councils of bishops, was used to resolve fights over doctrine starting in the fourth century. That really was a bad thing, and the results were terrible. I do not deny that the fourth century begins a horrific downward spiral in the churches.
However, everything this book says about women in authority in early Christianity is speculative and unlikely to be true. The only possibilities of authoritative women, Lydia and Priscilla (not Prisca, the follower of the false prophet Montanus), were brought to Christ by Paul and trained by him (Acts 16 and 18:1-2). Since Paul did not allow women to teach (1 Timothy 2), it is very, very unlikely that either of those women were leaders except in influence.
“When the male bishops came to power, they demoted from positions of leadership.”
I hope you can see by now that this is false. That book has no business being in a college classroom. I am appalled. You are welcome to show this to your teacher. I will be glad to give her more references besides the ones I gave. A lot of the history I gave can be found in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History (or Church History) written in 323. Yes, that history was written by a cleric, but we have volumes of writing from Christians before Eusebius justifying his history. The history in this book you have been given is a fantasy. I would love to see what she calls her sources.
Notice the disparity in length between the quotes from the book and my answers. It take a much longer time to refute lies than to tell them. This is why falsehood can propitiate so easily. I occasionally write about evolution and Christian anti-evolutionists. I will no longer call them creationists because the many Christians who acknowledge the truth of evolution are also creationists. Creationists pump out false science by the bucket load because it takes little research to deceive. Refutation takes a long time because it does take research to prove to the deceived that the deceivers are really deceivers.
One of the biggest problems in modern Christianity is that Bible study is done for the sake of knowledge rather than for the sake of obedience. Obedient Christians don’t lie. Theologians are dishonest regularly, though for many of them it is simply a habit of intellectual dishonesty taught to them in school.
It is wicked, and it needs to be exposed.