The Johannine Corpus in the Early Church

By Charles E. Hill | Go to book overview
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1 The Making of a Consensus

The history of the current consensus in Johannine scholarship could be viewed in a number of ways. One way which makes sense is to see it as evolving in three phases: foundations—Bauer to Braun (1934-59); heyday—Schnackenburg to Koester (1959-90); and uneasy supremacy—Hengel to Nagel (1989-2000).


Foundations: Bauer to Braun (1934-1955)

Walter Bauer

The current consensus surely owes much to the labours and the authority of Walter Bauer. He is not the first to have espoused each element of the consensus, nor has his work been the single most influential on this subject. But, as we shall see, the major conclusions about the early development of Christianity set out in his epoch-making book, Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei im ältesten Christentum, 1 provided the fertile field from which a consensus could grow. Against what he perceived to be the common assumption of scholarship at the time, Bauer contended that in the second century orthodoxy and heresy were by and large very loosely defined, that the primitive expression of Christianity in many regions was a form which would later be branded heretical, and that in fact 'the heretics considerably outnumbered the orthodox'. 2 'Orthodoxy' in the period was defined and promulgated almost single-handedly by the Roman hierarchy and by its satellites in other parts of the empire. Bauer's thesis has certainly been challenged by later scholars, and even his heirs today would not accept his theories without significant modifications. Nevertheless, as a grand, organizing principle for understanding the spread of Christianity in the second century, his approach has retained much of its force among scholars, particularly since the appearance of the English translation of the book decades later in 1971. In a section

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