The Bauer Thesis is an undergirding hypothesis running through the minds of individuals worldwide, but especially in the western world. It has been popularized on a large scale by scholars such as Bart D. Ehrman, Elaine Pagels, and Karen King. In fact, the Bauer Thesis is so widespread that it even witnesses some acknowledging support among laity and leadership in the Christian church. Still, the majority of individuals are familiar with the Bauer Thesis without even knowing it. So, what is the Bauer Thesis? The Bauer Thesis is a theory of Christian origins developed by the prolific intellectual voice of German scholar Walter Bauer. In essence, as Bauer peered over the landscape of early Christianity he saw a chasm of diversity with many forms of Christian orthodoxy and heresy. Bauer argued that the existence of a central Christian orthodoxy was nowhere to be found, rather with the superior influence of the Roman church, what we know today as Christianity is merely the outpouring of the victory of one form of Christianity over many others.
Many challenges have been directed towards the claims of the Bauer Thesis and its wide-range of scholarly support. Most recently, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christian Context: Reconsidering the Bauer Thesis edited by Paul A. Hartog (Pickwick, 2015) seeks to reevaluate the grounds for Bauer’s assessment of early Christianity through the interdisciplinary effort of both New Testament and Patristic studies. Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christian Context has brought together specialists from both fields of study to reexamine the Bauer Thesis “by taking a fresh look at orthodoxy and heresy, unity and diversity, theology and ideology, and rhetoric and polemic within early Christian context” (p. 4-5).
The essays are rich with content, “supplemented by post-Bauer discoveries and refined by post-Bauer scholarship, [and] reveal new insights through careful attention to historical detail and geographical particularity” (p. 5). If the reader is unfamiliar with Walter Bauer and his contribution to biblical scholarship, the introduction by Hartog and the first chapter by Rodney J. Decker has provided an excellent overview of the Bauer and the Bauer Thesis in general. Decker also provides an annotated list of scholarly contention with the Bauer Thesis. These two chapters work well in orienting the reader in the right direction. While all ten essays are collectively beneficial in their own respect, some sure highlights for the reader will include an essay by William Varner titled “Baur to Bauer and Beyond: Early Jewish Christianity and Modern Scholarship,” and an essay by Bryan M. Litfin titled “Apostolic Tradition and the Rule of Faith in Light of the Bauer Thesis.”
The Bauer Thesis has proven itself to be a lasting plague upon the conversations that surround early Christianity. Despite dozens upon dozens of critiques directed at Bauer and the growing number of contemporary proponents to the Bauer Thesis, the conversation shows little signs of slowing down in the near future. Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christian Context: Reconsidering the Bauer Thesis edited by Paul A. Hartog helpfully brings together an interdisciplinary team of scholars unified in the effort of honest discussion about the landscape of early Christianity. If you are looking for an up-to-date engagement with one of the most important and widespread theories related to both New Testament and Patristic studies, then Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christian Context will provide you with a wealth interaction that is certain to keep your appetite under control.
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