Author Topic: Early Christianity Based on Modern Christianity  (Read 566 times)

Early Christianity Based on Modern Christianity
« on: May 22, 2019, 09:29:39 AM »
We cannot go back into time to see just what went on in Israel in the early first century when Christianity first emerged. However, I believe we can get a lot of vital clues about the inception of Christianity from modern Christianity.

Can we get a good idea about what early Christianity was like by examining Christian sects today?

I'd answer this question in the affirmative. Two thousand years might seem like a long time, but in that time people have not changed in significant ways. People are still mortal and fear death. Many of us still must struggle with incurable illnesses and life-long infirmities. We often still flock after individuals who give us hope for a brighter future and immortality. We can still be deceived by or deluded about such individuals. So yes, investigating modern Christianity should tell us a lot about emerging Christianity.

The Mormons I believe offer a good example of what early Christianity might have been like. Like early Christianity, Mormonism is frowned upon by the established Christian faith much like the Jews balked at the claims of the first Christians. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, is analogous to Paul as a real man who preached the faith. The angel Moroni who presumably gave gold tablets inscribed with the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith corresponds to Jesus and his "Father Of The Sky." In both early Christianity and in Mormonism these mythical beings only ever existed in religious doctrine.

The Pentecostals also are helpful in giving us a view of early Christianity. In particular their faith-healing corresponds to the presumed healing power of Jesus. We can see that the stories of Jesus curing illness proves miracles no more than the trickery of Peter Popoff and other modern faith healers proves miracles.

Other modern Christian groups that should shed light on this subject include the Jehovah's Witnesses, The Peoples Temple, and the Branch Davidians.

Re: Early Christianity Based on Modern Christianity
« Reply #1 on: May 22, 2019, 01:33:00 PM »
Maybe in 2000 years Scientology will be seen as the one true faith! LOL

If so, I'm really glad I won't be here to see it.
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"An experiment is a question which science poses to Nature, and a measurement is the recording of Nature's answer."
Max Planck, Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers (1949)

Re: Early Christianity Based on Modern Christianity
« Reply #2 on: May 22, 2019, 01:36:50 PM »
If you want to know what early Christians believed, you should do what no modern Christian is capable of doing. That is, reading the New Testament without apologetic BS or bias. For instance, if you read the Gospels in the order in which they were written, you'll see that the earliest Gospel (Mark) had very few miracles. Jesus' virgin birth isn't mentioned (because it wasn't made up yet), he doesn't turn water into wine, and he's still dead at the end of the book. The later Gospels, however, were more and more fantastical. Conclusion? The myth of Jesus grew quickly in the first century. He was originally just one of many faith healers, and he did not die for the sins of the world, nor was he literally God in the flesh.

Additionally, early Christians thought that Jesus was supposed to be back within their lifetimes. Jesus even said that some of the people in his company would "not taste death" before he arrived. So either there are some really, really old people out there, or Jesus ain't coming.

Early Christianity was a poor man's religion, where the rich could not enter Heaven. Quite a contrast from modern Christianity, which is ruled by the elite. Modern Christians make excuses, saying it's the "love of money" that is evil, not having money itself, despite Jesus literally saying in no uncertain terms that it was "impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

The gift of tongues was originally a gift that allowed Christians to speak other human languages, without actually taking the time to learn those languages. There was also a gift of interpretation, where people could understand a language spoken to them without learning the language. A speaker of tongues was forbidden from using his gift without someone to understand them, either someone who actually knows the language or someone who has the corresponding gift to interpret their words, lest time be wasted with useless babbling. Pentecostals, on the other hand, consider the gift of tongues to be speaking in the languages of angels, and babble constantly without anyone to understand them.

There are even some Christians who think that drinking alcohol is a sin, despite the fact that Jesus' first miracle is often cited as being turning water into wine for a bunch of drunk people at a party. Christianity has changed quite a lot over the years. If we were to go back in time and see what early Christians were like, they'd be virtually unrecognizable.
"Oh, wearisome condition of humanity,
Born under one law, to another bound;
Vainly begot, and yet forbidden vanity,
Created sick, commanded to be sound."
--Fulke Greville

Offline Baruch

Re: Early Christianity Based on Modern Christianity
« Reply #3 on: May 22, 2019, 03:55:49 PM »
Historical reconstruction is a fun parlor game, which I did 20 years ago.  Dr Richard Carrier (extensibly reviewed here, about a year ago) is a good modern scholarly debunking.

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I don't agree with all of his points.

Secular scholarship starts with "no supernatural" and "no evidence unless independently corroborated".  So there is enough evidence to outline what early Christianity was like (multiple versions actually) because of all the writings in it and about it (by pagans).  None of the various forms are at all like any Christianity or Judaism practiced today.  This objectivity doesn't work for the ministry of Jesus.  And the ministry of Paul is contentious.

In my own study, early Christianity comes from Hellenistic Judaism, which means hetero doxy and hetero praxis, with syncretism from multiple directions (aka what Hellenistic means).  There were multiple Judaisms 2000 years ago, some of which were Christian.  The Jewish and Gentile religion options had narrowed, by law, by the mid 4th century.

However I accept contemporary evidence for G-d (I am a mystic/gnostic), so I don't need to spend much time on historical reconstruction.

But, The Didache, is as close as we can get to an independent witness to what Pauline Christianity originally looked like.  But mysticism/gnosticism preceded that.  The Gospel of Mary outlines that.
« Last Edit: May 22, 2019, 04:01:07 PM by Baruch »
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luu shalmaata luu balt’aata
May you be well, may you be healthy

Re: Early Christianity Based on Modern Christianity
« Reply #4 on: May 22, 2019, 05:24:58 PM »
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The gift of tongues was originally a gift that allowed Christians to speak other human languages, without actually taking the time to learn those languages. There was also a gift of interpretation, where people could understand a language spoken to them without learning the language. A speaker of tongues was forbidden from using his gift without someone to understand them, either someone who actually knows the language or someone who has the corresponding gift to interpret their words, lest time be wasted with useless babbling. Pentecostals, on the other hand, consider the gift of tongues to be speaking in the languages of angels, and babble constantly without anyone to understand them.

As you point out, speaking in tongues or glossolalia as practiced by the first Christians and modern Pentecostals reveals how what is nonsense today was nonsense in the first century. Linguists know that glossolalia is not a real language but babbling. Yet many Christians for two thousand years have believed it to be a supernatural gift from God. So we have a good example that early Christianity was a superstition, and no miracles were required.

Offline Baruch

Re: Early Christianity Based on Modern Christianity
« Reply #5 on: May 22, 2019, 11:26:28 PM »
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As you point out, speaking in tongues or glossolalia as practiced by the first Christians and modern Pentecostals reveals how what is nonsense today was nonsense in the first century. Linguists know that glossolalia is not a real language but babbling. Yet many Christians for two thousand years have believed it to be a supernatural gift from God. So we have a good example that early Christianity was a superstition, and no miracles were required.

From a secular POV.  But Pentecostalism is clearly talked about in The Didache.  And it matches what the genuine Pauline letters speak of.  The Church, like the Synagogue, as an institution, even if not backed by State power, worked to suppress all genuine early forms of Christianity to produce a new partial synthesis that works for bishops and their suffragan congregations.  So Montanism, Gnsticism etc were suppressed.  Basically inspired religion was over-come by uninspired religion, individual mysticism with group liturgy.  That is how cultural patterns persist ... as collective activity and with rules.

You might not regard something that could be otherwise explained as natural, as being supernatural.  But that is not how most people thru most centuries have lived.  Go back far enough, and there isn't a word for supernatural or for religion.  Those are post-Bronze-age concepts, more or less dating back to 500 BCE.  Until secularism was invented (in Greece and India), being religious was simply how everyone lived.  And the supernatural was simply how all of reality was seen.  So from a modern POV, you could time travel to 2000 years ago, and have a contemporary witness and a modern witness see and hear the same things, objective not just subjective things ... but the experience of the two people would be incompatible.  Perception is a psychological process that is imposed upon sense data, something that is elementary with infants, who only have "Gestalt" processes uniformed by development or education.  Only in the last 300 years has secularism taken hold in the West, but not very much in India.  Until 100 years ago, human experience in India was quite traditional, and still is, in the villages.
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luu shalmaata luu balt’aata
May you be well, may you be healthy

Re: Early Christianity Based on Modern Christianity
« Reply #6 on: May 23, 2019, 01:15:14 AM »
Quote
you'll see that the earliest Gospel (Mark) had very few miracles. Jesus' virgin birth isn't mentioned (because it wasn't made up yet), he doesn't turn water into wine, and he's still dead at the end of the book. The later Gospels, however, were more and more fantastical.


In any fish story the fish always gets bigger with each re-telling, not smaller.
The Christian church, in its attitude toward science, shows the mind of a more or less enlightened man of the Thirteenth Century. It no longer believes that the earth is flat, but it is still convinced that prayer can cure after medicine fails.

-- H. L. Mencken

Re: Early Christianity Based on Modern Christianity
« Reply #7 on: May 23, 2019, 09:23:23 AM »
Early christians had and used different writings then as opposed to now.  The typical christian today referees to 'the bible' as tho it was and is a singular document.  Not so.  In Paul's time, scripture for him was the old testament, and a particular version called the Septuagint.   There was a huge amount of writings for the early christians to select from.  We now know that there were at least 85 gospels to chose from, with only 4 of them thought of as the opening of the NT now.  Most of the other gospels were destroyed.  So, for many hundreds of years the content of the bible was fought over and to some extent it still is.  That is why there are many, many different versions used today with each version touted as The Bible.  From Paul's writing onward, it has been a very real battle that has been fought over what the bible really is content wise.  And if one wants to get into how those various bibles are interpreted, then be prepared to select from a large group of interpretations.  The rest are of the devil--usually.  What it means to be a christian has been evolving from it's inception--and hasn't and won't stop now. 
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent,
Is he able but not willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able or willing?
Then why call him god?

Offline Baruch

Re: Early Christianity Based on Modern Christianity
« Reply #8 on: May 23, 2019, 01:41:28 PM »
And sometimes, religious ideas aren't from scripture, they just pull it out of their ass.  Oops .. that is where mystics originated the ideas that became scripture ;-(
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luu shalmaata luu balt’aata
May you be well, may you be healthy

Re: Early Christianity Based on Modern Christianity
« Reply #9 on: May 23, 2019, 08:49:53 PM »
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So from a modern POV, you could time travel to 2000 years ago, and have a contemporary witness and a modern witness see and hear the same things, objective not just subjective things ... but the experience of the two people would be incompatible.

Well, there's no way we can test what you're saying here. Time machines are scarce. Although I'm sure the centuries affect people significantly, as I point out in the OP, people are still mortal and fear death. Many of us still must struggle with incurable illnesses and life-long infirmities. We often still flock after individuals who give us hope for a brighter future and immortality. And we can still be deceived by or deluded about such individuals.

So I think that modern Christianity is a reasonable facsimile of emerging Christianity. Modern Christianity is surely the best model we have of that Christianity.

Re: Early Christianity Based on Modern Christianity
« Reply #10 on: May 23, 2019, 09:00:12 PM »
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Well, there's no way we can test what you're saying here. Time machines are scarce. Although I'm sure the centuries affect people significantly, as I point out in the OP, people are still mortal and fear death. Many of us still must struggle with incurable illnesses and life-long infirmities. We often still flock after individuals who give us hope for a brighter future and immortality. And we can still be deceived by or deluded about such individuals.

So I think that modern Christianity is a reasonable facsimile of emerging Christianity. Modern Christianity is surely the best model we have of that Christianity.
I don't know about that.  I don't think modern christianity does resemble ancient christianity all that much.  I think a better clue would be to compare the modern day Cargo Cults with the early christian cult. 
It is true that humans were human then and they are human now.  But all religions deceive, not just christianity.  That was true 3000 yrs ago and is true now.
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent,
Is he able but not willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able or willing?
Then why call him god?

Re: Early Christianity Based on Modern Christianity
« Reply #11 on: May 23, 2019, 10:48:53 PM »
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I don't know about that.  I don't think modern christianity does resemble ancient christianity all that much.  I think a better clue would be to compare the modern day Cargo Cults with the early christian cult. 
It is true that humans were human then and they are human now.  But all religions deceive, not just christianity.  That was true 3000 yrs ago and is true now.

Yes, I'm sure there are similarities between modern cargo cults and Christianity at its very earliest stages. The John Frum cult is a good example of a cargo cult that no doubt resembles Christianity in its first two decades or so. But once church groups and bishops became established in the first and second centuries, I think that Christianity as a system of faith was much like it is now.

Now, obviously there are differences between today's church and the first-century church. I don't fail to understand that fact. The sheer number of followers and the number of sects is much, much larger today than in the first century. And Christianity has been affected by other religions and philosophies. But the theology of Christianity and its practices are much the same today as in the first century. So if we look to today's Christianity, we get a glimpse of nascent Christianity.

Offline Baruch

Re: Early Christianity Based on Modern Christianity
« Reply #12 on: May 24, 2019, 01:06:38 AM »
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Well, there's no way we can test what you're saying here. Time machines are scarce. Although I'm sure the centuries affect people significantly, as I point out in the OP, people are still mortal and fear death. Many of us still must struggle with incurable illnesses and life-long infirmities. We often still flock after individuals who give us hope for a brighter future and immortality. And we can still be deceived by or deluded about such individuals.

So I think that modern Christianity is a reasonable facsimile of emerging Christianity. Modern Christianity is surely the best model we have of that Christianity.

You agreed with my actual point ;-)  I don't care what happened even last year, let alone 1000, 2000, 3000 years ago.  What is interesting isn't one time events, but recurring events or circumstances we can manifest at will.  But part of your essay, was in what way can we guess (if that is worthwhile) what happened in the past, based on what is happening now.  There are many new-religions formed in the last 200 years; Mormonism and Scientology in the US for example.  It isn't even controversial in Japan or China, where making new Asiatic-style religions (eg: Soka Gakkai, Falun Gong) is routine.  Knowing how new religions are formed in the last 200 years tells us plenty on the origin of the more famous religions.  In any event, the origin in all cases is ultimately psychology and sociology.  Metaphysics is used to articulate difficult to express ideas, but the point isn't the metaphysics, anymore than the type face in a book is the content of the book.

Contemporary Christianity is institutional and has absorbed 2000 years of political change.  So I can't agree with your particular leaning.  Unless you are comparing early Christianity with Mormonism (which is the only approximately similar situation).  Got magic seeing crystals that let you decrypt heavenly golden plates?  I say this, not because I want to debunk Mormonism.  Human behavior is what it is, and can be seen dispassionately.  As a practicing mystic though, I know where Joseph Smith was coming from.  Are you sure you aren't a Christian apologist?

The liturgical model of high church for example (Catholic, Orthodox) really have nothing to do with early Christianity, but the political institution created by Constantine.  If you look at the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Thomas, the Didache ... the theology isn't the same.  We are forced to even view Pauline theology (not the only kind in his day) as if formed by the Popes of the Byzantine period.  Can you look at something say ... the Epistle of James, as if you were never exposed to Christian culture before?  Otherwise you are seeing what you want to see, what is already familiar.  Just on the Epistle of James, almost the entire historical church is damned.  This is why Luther didn't like that one.

For example seeing the atoning sacrifice of Jesus is clearly post 70 CE.  It is a fictional interpolation into the Pauline letters, because Paul died before the destruction of the Jerusalem temple.  I don't accept prophesy now, so I won't accept it back then.  Prophesy is always post-facto.  It articulates something that has already happened, not will happen, in a way that people like to hear (I told you so!).  Jesus as a man, didn't know the future either.  But there were fortune tellers and scryers and liver analyzers on every street corner, not even counting the astrologers.  But re-interpreting the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, makes sense, particularly if you are talking to Jews (but not to Gentiles).  Jesus the man fits directly into contemporary rabbinic martyrology (but Hellenistic rather than Palestinian).  To followers of the Temple cult, then and now, people are damned if they can't carry out a latter day version of Moses in the Tabernacle.

IMHO, the Tabernacle ritual is like any other liturgy, it is a passion play (of the sacrificed animal) played out in a public venue .. a kind of theater, whose point is individual and collective catharsis (atonement).  Athenians did the same thing in their theaters.  Today we don't sacrifice sheep to Bacchus in the theater, we sacrifice our money to buy overpriced popcorn and soda pop ;-)
« Last Edit: May 24, 2019, 01:21:32 AM by Baruch »
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luu shalmaata luu balt’aata
May you be well, may you be healthy

Re: Early Christianity Based on Modern Christianity
« Reply #13 on: May 24, 2019, 04:52:55 PM »
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Are you sure you aren't a Christian apologist?

Well, I used to be a Christian apologist, but I'm very sure I'm not one now. ;)

Anyway, it might help if we take this discussion in smaller bites. As I see it, Christian belief in miracles has not changed much in two thousand years. Christians today as in the first century (or at least the latter part of the first century) believe Jesus healed the lame, restored sight to the blind, and raised the dead among other magical works. Many Christians today believe as the earliest Christians did that they can be filled with the Holy Spirit speaking in tongues and prophesying.

So do you agree with me so far? Agree, disagree, why or why not?

Re: Early Christianity Based on Modern Christianity
« Reply #14 on: May 24, 2019, 04:59:51 PM »
Well, I think the earliest Christians were gnostics, but I think there are few of those around these days. Even Saul/Paul, the founder of what later came to be called Christianity, has been accused of having been a gnostic.

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"An experiment is a question which science poses to Nature, and a measurement is the recording of Nature's answer."
Max Planck, Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers (1949)

 

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