Bart Ehrman on Importance of Books to Early Christians
The following is from a text copy of Misquoting Jesus.
Early Christian Commentaries A good deal of the debate over right belief and false belief involved the interpretation of Christian texts, including the “Old Testament,” which Christians claimed as part of their own Bible. This shows yet again how central texts were to the life of the early Christian commu- nities. Eventually, Christian authors began to write interpretations of these texts, not necessarily with the direct purpose of refuting false in- terpretations (although that was often in view as well), but sometimes simply to unpack the meaning of these texts and to show their rele- vance to Christian life and practice. It is interesting that the first Christian commentary on any text of scripture that we know about came from a so-called heretic, a second-century Gnostic named Hera- cleon, who wrote a commentary on the Gospel of John. 9 Eventually The Beginnings of Christian Scripture 29 commentaries, interpretive glosses, practical expositions, and homi- lies on texts became common among the Christian communities of the third and fourth centuries. I have been summarizing the different kinds of writings that were important to the lives of the early Christian churches. As I hope can be seen, the phenomenon of writing was of uppermost importance to these churches and the Christians within them. Books were at the very heart of the Christian religion — unlike other religions of the em-pire — from the very beginning. Books recounted the stories of Jesus and his apostles that Christians told and retold; books provided Christians with instruction in what to believe and how to live their lives; books bound together geographically separated communities into one universal church; books supported Christians in their times of persecution and gave them models of faithfulness to emulate in the face of torture and death; books provided not just good advice but correct doctrine, warning against the false teachings of others and urging the acceptance of orthodox beliefs; books allowed Christians to know the true meaning of other writings, giving guidance in what to think, how to worship, how to behave. Books were completely cen- tral to the life of the early Christians.
From Dr. Ehrman’s assessment and, of course, the assessments of other scholars, I conclude that creeds, writings and books were very important to early Jesus followers. They used creeds, writings and books as a basis for faith in Jesus and evidence of its history.
What Should Students do with Dr. Ehrman’s Books?
Review of Misquoting Jesus