The marriage of religious and political conservatism in this country has brought Christianity to the forefront of all political debates. The Response, held on August 6 in Houston and supported by extremist Christian groups, with their insistence that America “find Christ” and that all who oppose them are of Satan, makes more important than ever properly identifying what a Christian is and what being a Christian means, a question I’ve tried to answer here before. To help in that regard I have put together a simple table to illustrate some various forms Christianity took in the ancient world from the time of Jesus to the fourth century, when the biblical canon was closed and the Nicene Creed formally established orthodox doctrine (that is, “right belief”).
I have left the number of “versions” of Christianity at three, though there were many more. In fact, my list presupposes dozens of different versions of Christianity from the time of Jesus’ death to the present day. I have hoped only to provide a sampling of the variances in Christian belief, even within a few hundred years of Jesus’ death in order to expose the ridiculous fundamentalist notion that we should all “get right with Christ.”
Christianity 1.0 (The Religion of Jesus – Judaism)
Beliefs About Jesus: None that can be identified. It is possible that Jesus saw himself as an apocalyptic prophet presaging the end times. Status as a messiah is more problematic given the nature of his death. See Paul’s admission that Jesus’ death was “a stumbling block to Jews” (1 Cor. 1.23). The Epistle of James puts to rest most of later Christianity’s assertions regarding Jesus:
- No reference to Paul’s view of Jesus as the Divine Son of God.
- James’ assertion that “God is one” (2.19) leaves little room for Jesus as the Divine Son of God.
- No mention of the Holy Spirit.
- No mention of Jesus’ atoning death (compare 2 Cor. 5.5.14-15, 18-21)
- No mention of Jesus’ resurrection.
- No condemnation of the Law. Law and works are as important as Grace or Faith.
- That ethical discussions draw on the Old Testament, not on examples from Jesus.
Sabbath: Saturday. Temple and after its destruction, Synagogue. Reading from Torah, prayer. We know from Acts that the community formed by Jesus’ original disciples and their followers continued to live and worship as Jews in Jerusalem, even worshiping in the temple. James’ reputation was such that he earned the sobriquet “the Just”. It can be taken as fact that these Jewish “Christians” continued also to go to synagogue, to honor their God with blood sacrifice, and to follow the Law, even as their master did.
Jesus’ Teachings: All-important, limited to collections of sayings. The Gospels are about Jesus’ teachings, not about his death (which is Paul’s focus).
Scripture: Old Testament (in Hebrew). Canon not “closed” until c. 100 CE by council of rabbis at Yavneh.
Trinity: Strict monotheism. Trinity does not exist and could not exist even if it had been suggested. God is one and indivisible.
Inerrancy of Scripture: No such idea existed.
Status of the Law of Moses: Must be kept. “For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.” (Matt. 5:17). See also James 2.14-19.
Salvation: Comes through keeping the Law of Moses.
Marriage: People should marry and procreate.
Baptism: There is no baptism in Judaism, though there is ritual purification (mikvah). Paul asserts (Rom. 6.1-6) that through baptism a person is united with Christ. But where did Jesus say this? He didn’t. It appears nowhere in the Gospels. Obviously, Jesus himself was not baptized in this way.
Status of Women: It is impossible to know with any certainty the status and role of women in Second Temple Judaism synagogues.
Jesus’ Return: Not applicable.
Christianity 2.0 (Paul of Tarsus)
Beliefs About Jesus: He died. It is not even clear whether Paul had any knowledge of Jesus’ teachings; he certainly shows little or no interest in them. This should not be surprising for as Samuel Sandmel notes, “The man Jesus…has little relevance to Paul’s thought.” And while Paul calls Jesus “Christ” he treats it more as a surname than a title.
Sabbath: Sunday. Contrary to the claim that Paul remained a good Jew is 1 Cor 9:21 which has Paul testifying that when with Gentiles he lives “as one outside the law.” Indeed, he did not even keep the Sabbath but apparently had his congregations meeting on Sundays, if we are to trust Paul at 1 Cor 16.2 and the example of Eutychus, who in Acts fell out of a window during a Sunday meeting (20.7-9). As for the services themselves, “When you come together each has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, an interpretation.” Psalms and instruction are typical of traditional Jewish worship, but once we look past this brief description to the details, the picture of worship under Paul shows none of the orderliness argued for by Cabiniss, despite Paul’s admonition that “all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:40). Morton Smith notes for instance that “It is clear from Paul’s descriptions that the services in Corinth were largely devoted to calling spirits and to expressions of utterances the spirits were thought to inspire.” This was no synagogue gathering then. Paul’s converts, as he reminds us, were in Paul’s own words, “wild about spirits” (1 Cor 14:12). “From the rules he had to lay down in 1 Cor 14:26-40,” Smith says, “it seems that his suggestion of what unbelievers would think if they walked into a Christian meeting (“that you are mad” 14:23) was on the charitable side. We should have expected, “that you are possessed” (daimonate), but Paul’s pretensions prohibited the implicit comparison of the daimonia with the spirits who came to the Christians.”
Jesus’ Teachings: Unimportant. No mention made (see above comments under “Beliefs About Jesus”).
Faith: Faith is trust in Jesus to bring about salvation through his death (Galatians 2.16, 3:11; Romans 3:27-28).
Scripture: Septuagint version of Old Testament. New Testament does not exist. Paul shows no awareness of gospels written in name of Jesus’ disciples.
Trinity: Does not exist in Paul’s thought.
Inerrancy of Scripture: No such idea existed.
Status of the Law of Moses: Faith in Christ alone will make you right with God (cite Paul). Following the Law (circumcision, keeping kosher, keeping Sabbath) will not. The Law is “garbage” (Phil. 3:8); the law is slavery (Galatians 5:1).
Salvation: Comes through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus (Gal. 2:16; 3:6-7).
Marriage: Single people should remain single, just like Paul (1 Corinthians 7).
Baptism: “into Christ” (Rom. 6.3, Gal. 3.27); “into” or “in the name of” Jesus (Acts 2.38, 8.16, 10.48, 19.5). Those who have been baptized, says Paul, “have died” with Christ (Romans 6:1-4).
Status of Women: Women may speak, even teach. “In Christ there is neither slave nor free, neither male nor female”(Gal. 3:28). Women may even prophesy but should wear veils on their heads (1 Corinthians 11:5).
Jesus’ Return: Imminent – Paul himself will be alive when Jesus returns (1 Thess. 4:14-18).
Christianity 3.0 (Orthodoxy)
Beliefs About Jesus: Increasingly complex over time. See Nicene Creed (325 C.E.) for what must be believed if you are to be a Christian.
Sabbath: Sunday. Church. Here it is possible for Jesus to destroy the Jewish Sabbath (John 5.18).
Jesus Teachings: Contained in only four contradictory Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). Irenaeus, writing in 180 CE, or 150 years after Jesus’ death was first to insist on only four gospels.
Faith: Faith is not only about a relationship with Jesus but also a body of teachings (doctrine) about Jesus (Titus 1:13). As they told the Pagan Celsus: “Do not ask questions; Just believe.”
Scripture: Old and New Testament (both in Greek). The first to use the term was the Christian apologist Tertullian, writing in the second century. In his Against Marcion he refers to two testaments (3.14), named later (4.6) as the “Old” (Vetus Testamentum) and the “New” (Novum Testamentum). The Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) differs from Hebrew version. The first Christian “canon” does not appear until c. 100 in the Bryennios manuscript, a 27-book Old Testament which is written in Koine Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew. Irenaeus, (130-202 CE) added 1 Clement and The Shepherd of Hermas but makes no references to Philemon, 2 Peter, 3 John or Jude. Even Eusebius, writing c. 300 did not have a complete “Scripture” (Ecclesiastical History 3.3 and 3.25).
Trinity: The word “trinity” (from a Latin abstract noun which most literally means “three-ness” or “the property of occurring three at once”) did not make an appearance until 200 C.E. when Tertullian, who also brought us the idea of an “Old” and a “New” testament, coined it as the Latin trinitas. By 325 C.E. it is a central tenant of Christian faith and you can be killed if you deny it.
Inerrancy of Scripture: “Every scripture passage is inspired of God” (2 Tim. 3:16). Ironically and significantly, 2 Timothy is a forgery.
Status of the Law of Moses: Law of Moses irrelevant (Ephesians 3:1)
Salvation: Salvation comes only through Jesus Christ: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16).
Marriage: People should marry. Indeed, women will “be saved” by bearing children (1 Timothy 2)
Baptism: Through the trinity in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Only men can baptize, says Tertullian in the second century (On Baptism 17).
Status of Women: Women are to be silent and subject to men and have no authority over them (1 Timothy 2:11-15; 1 Corinthians 14:34-35).
Jesus’ Return: Certain things have to happen first, including an Antichrist (2 Thess. 2:3-8), which would have been news to Paul.
 All these assumptions about the community of James in Jerusalem are attested to in Acts.
 Hannah Wortzman, “Jewish Women in Ancient Synagogues: Archaeological Reality vs. Rabbinical Legislation,” Women in Judaism: A Multidisciplinary Journal 5 (2008). For a discussion, see Bernadette Brooten Women Leaders in the Ancient Synagogue: Inscriptional Evidence and Background Issues (California: Scholars Press, 1982).
 Grant, Jesus, 178.
 Samuel Sandmel, A Jewish Understanding of the New Testament (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2005 ), 53.
 William Scott Green, “Messiah in Judaism: Rethinking the Question” in Judaisms and their Messiahs at the Turn of the Christian Era, ed. Jacob Neusner, William S. Green, Ernest Frerichs (Cambridge University Press, 1987), 4.
 Morton Smith, “Pauline Worship as Seen by Pagans,” HTR, 73, (1980), 244.
 Bart D. Ehrman, Forged (2011), 104.
 Origen, C. Cels. I, 9ff. See Celsus: On The True Doctrine, R.J. Hoffmann ed. (Oxford University Press, 1987), 53-54.
 The name for the Greek (or “Koine”) translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. They are so-called as a result of the translation being accomplished by 70 Jewish scholars (“Seventy” or Latin septuaginta, or in full, septuaginta interpretum versio, “translation of the seventy interpreters”).
The Gospels cite the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, not the Hebrew version; they have Jesus reading the Old Testament’s Greek version rather than Hebrew, which is rather bizarre, not to mention impossible.
 1 Cor. 14:34-35 is not original to Paul’s letter; it is a later fabrication. Immediately before this mention of women Paul is talking about prophecy and immediately after it he is talking about prophecy – the issue of women interrupts this discussion. See Bart D. Ehrman, Forged (2011), 244-245.