Bauer thesis

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The Bauer thesis is the idea that a diversity of views existed in early Christianity. These views were replaced by an orthodoxy of belief in Jesus as god, and a theology in agreement with Paul the Apostle. The consequence is that the interpretation of Jesus that prevailed in Christianity is largely arbitrary. While this view is popular, it has been sharply criticised by many historians.


Supporting arguments

For more information, see the Wikipedia article:

It is important to remember that Jesus was a Jewish reformer Matthew 15:24 Bible-icon.png who claimed that Jewish law was to be maintained Matthew 5:18 Bible-icon.png and only reluctantly interacted with gentiles (non-Jews) Matthew 15:22-24 Bible-icon.png. The Gospels claim direct descent from Abraham and David. He was raised by Jewish parents following the usual customs Luke 2:22-24, 27, 41 Bible-icon.png. He taught at the temple with great knowledge Luke 2:46-52 Bible-icon.png Mark 12:35 Bible-icon.png. He was crucified for claiming to be the Jewish Messiah/King of the Jews Luke 23:38 Bible-icon.png. The original twelve apostles were probably all Jews. Because for its origins and background, the early church was strongly influenced by Jewish beliefs and practices.

After Jesus's death/ascension, various churches emerged with different beliefs. Leaders included Peter and James the Just, probably the leader of the first church in Jerusalem Acts 15:13 Bible-icon.png [1] and Paul the Apostle, originally a Roman Jew from what is now Turkey Acts 21:39 Bible-icon.png, who emphasised breaking with Jewish traditions and the argued for the divinity of Jesus. Unlike James, Paul never met Jesus (except in alleged visions). Some Bible commentators have pointed out that Paul's writings are at odds with the Gospels.

"No matter where you come [from] it is to James the Just that you shall go, for whose sake heaven and earth have come to exist."

— Jesus in the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas[2]
"James and the other early believers in Jerusalem still regarded themselves as Jews. They worshiped regularly in the main Jewish Temple, and they continued to adhere to the old Jewish religious laws. Outsiders regarded them as a new Jewish sect and called them Nazarenes, a name of uncertain origin. [3]"

However, as Paul attracted more converts in his churches, the influence of the church in Jerusalem was diminished. Paul accused the Jerusalem church of lapsing back into Judaism but many critics of Paul thought he was an apostate.[4] Over time, the failure of Messianic prophesy made the alternative Pauline "Jesus died for your sins" version more attractive. [5] The Christian community essentially schismed as soon as it was founded. [6] The community in Jerusalem suffered a setback in 70AD when the Romans destroyed the main temple and most of the city, as well as killing or exiling community leaders. Persecution of the Jews caused them to increase their emphasis on identity and orthodoxy, and this turned them against the Jewish Christian movement [7]. This effectively consigned the original Jewish Christian church to obscurity.

For more information, see the Wikipedia article:
For more information, see the Wikipedia article:

The Ebionites were a group who believe that believed Jesus was the Jewish Messiah but not actually God. Some historians consider them to be the original Christian community in Jerusalem, starting with the followers of John the Baptist, then Jesus, then the Nazarenes mentioned in Acts 24:5 Bible-icon.png. [4][8] They thought the law as described in the Torah was to be preserved (following Matthew 5:18 Bible-icon.png). They were adoptionist in that they believed Jesus was born as a man but was adopted as a son of God. They also rejected the concept of atonement and the virgin birth and pre-existence of Jesus. [9] They revered James the Just but rejected Paul the Apostle. They may have practiced vegetarianism and blood line succession of leadership.[4] The movement was condemned as heretical by later church leaders who were affiliated with Pauline Christianity.

"Jewish Christianity, according to the witness of the New Testament, stands at the beginning of the development of church history, so that it is not the gentile Christian 'ecclesiastical doctrine' that represents what is primary, but rather a Jewish Christian theology. This fact was forgotten quite early in the ecclesiastical heresiological tradition. The Jewish Christians usually were classified as 'Ebionites' in the ecclesiastical catalogues of sects or else, in a highly one-sided presentation, they were deprecated as an insignificant minority by comparison with the 'great church.' Thus implicitly the idea of apostasy from the ecclesiastical doctrine also was applied to them.[10]"
"I use Ebionite/Nazarene as an historical designation to refer to those original, 1st century, largely Palestinian followers of Jesus, gathered around Yaaqov (James) in Jerusalem, who were zealous for the Torah, but saw themselves as part of the New Covenant Way inaugurated by their “True Teacher” Jesus. James is a key and neglected figure in this whole picture. [4]"

Bart Ehrman wrote:

"That the earliest Christians did not consider Jesus God is not a controversial point among scholars. Apart from fundamentalists and very conservative evangelicals, scholars are unified in thinking that the view that Jesus was God was a later development within Christian circles. [...] Whether or not Jesus really was God (a theological, not a historical question), the earliest followers did not think so. [11]"

Multiple sources indicate that the divinity of Jesus was not uniformly accepted.

"I can’t point you to explicitly low Christological views in the second century other than the Ebionites. But an implicitly low Christology in both the first and second centuries seems clear in such writings as James and the Didache. In the second century the Monarchialists were certainly at odds at times with those who explicitly espoused a high Christology but they were well within the fold of the church. I think the Monarchialists’ low Christology is more evident in what they did not affirm rather than in any explicit denial of high Christology.[12]"

Also, the pseudo-Clementine literature does not mention Paul or his theology but its content rather is Ebionite.


The Didache is an early Christian document describing the practices of their religion. It was written between the end of the first century to the beginning of the second.

"The most remarkable thing about the Didache is that there is nothing in this document that corresponds to ­Paul's "gospel" -- no divinity of Jesus, no atoning through his body and blood, and no mention of Jesus' resurrection from the dead. In the Didache Jesus is the one who has brought the knowledge of life and faith, but there is no emphasis whatsoever upon the figure of Jesus apart from his message. [13]"
"There is nothing on the person of Jesus, or the resurrection. There is no specific reference on the atonement. There is nothing on the virgin birth. There is nothing on the authority of any scripture. There is no mention of Christ's presence in the eucharist. [14]"

Apologists counter this by pointing out that a document of Christian practices does not necessarily have to describe theology, so they lack of it being mentioned is not significant.

"This is a guide to personal behavior and church policy, not a place to review what must have been the most cherished beliefs uniting all Christians.[14]"

The Synoptic Gospels do not claim Jesus is God

The Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke) seem to present Jesus as Human, while the Gospel of John appears to present Jesus as divine. Claiming to be the Son of God or Messiah are potentially distinct from being an incarnation of God.

Apologists counter this by saying the authors made many implicit references to the divinity of Jesus, such as having Jesus fulfil prophesy that God himself was coming Mal 3:1 Bible-icon.png Is 40:3 Bible-icon.png. [15] On the other hand, this could just be reading too much into the figurative language of the text.


For more information, see the Wikipedia article:
For more information, see the Wikipedia article:
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There is more evidence for a diversity of Christian views in the fourth century. This included various interpretations of Jesus and his significance including Arianism, Subordinationism, Anomoeanism and Nontrinitarianism. These are suggestive of a diversity of views that may have gone back to the first believers in the church. However, these views may have arisen after the first century and is no clear evidence of what the first believers accepted.


Proponents of Bauer's thesis has been criticised for using scant evidence in a way that cannot support its conclusion. Other documents have also come to light since Bauer's work which cast further doubt on his idea. [16]

"the evidence is too scanty and in many respects too flimsy to support any theory so trenchant and clear-cut as Bauer proposes [17]"
"Over the years ... important studies have rather consistently found Bauer’s thesis seriously incorrect.... In fact, about all that remains unrefuted of Bauer’s argument is the observation, and a rather banal one at that, that earliest Christianity was characterized by diversity, including serious differences of belief."

The theory was also discussed in the fictional novel The Da Vinci Code, however the story is more concerned with entertainment than history or evidence.

Competing historical theories

Other historians view the Nazarenes and Ebionites as separate groups, with the Nazarenes being both directly following from the original church in Jerusalem and holding conventional Christian beliefs. Justin Martyr described the Judaic sect as similar on theology to mainstream Christianity, as well as being more orthodox to original church beliefs. In contrast, the Judaistic group were the innovators in theology by teaching adoptionism and rejecting Paul the Apostle.

"From Justin to Jerome, however, the Nazarenes were viewed as doctrinally within the fold of what could be called “catholic Christianity.” Although this term for Jewish believers goes back to apostolic times (Acts 24:5), it eventually morphed into a term that describes all believers in the Nazarene, Jesus. [...] But that diversity was held together by a common commitment to the essentials of the Gospel which have always formed the common kernel of Christian belief, whether it was reflected in a Jewish or a Gentile dominated faith — a high Christology that saw Jesus as the Messiah of Israel and God’s Son, the risen Lord raised from the dead.[7]"


  1. [1]
  2. [2]
  3. [3]
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 [4]
  5. Paula Fredricksen, From Jesus to Christ Yale university Press. pp. 136-142
  6. [5]
  7. 7.0 7.1 William Varner, Baur to Bauer and Beyond: Early Jewish Christianity and Modern Scholarship, in Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christian Contexts: Reconsidering the Bauer Thesis, edited by Paul A. Hartog, 2015
  8. [6]
  9. [7]
  10. [8]
  11. Bart Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York, Harper Collins, 2012), 231.
  12. Gary on December 13, 2014 at 3:22 pm [9]
  13. [10]
  14. 14.0 14.1 [11]
  15. [12]
  16. [13]
  17. Turner, The Pattern of Christian Truth, 1954
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