The Rejection of Pascal's Wager

Claims of Apostolic Faith

Broadly speaking there were three major groups of Christians that fought among themselves for supremacy during the second century of the common era: the Jewish-Christians, the Gnostics and the group that finally won the battle, whom we shall call the proto-orthodox. This last group ultimately became normative Christianity and the right to call itself "orthodox" and to brand everyone else as "heretics" in history. The Christian church which sprang from this group (which ultimately split into the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant churches) have always claimed an apostolic faith. This means that they alone have the authentic teachings of the apostles guaranteed by the apostolic scripture and a church leadership based on apostolic succession.

In their battle with heretics during the second century CE, the early church fathers heavily relied on the concept of apostolic succession. To these proto-orthodox Christians, theirs was the true faith because their theologies came from the apostles themselves, guaranteed by the succession of bishops who were themselves appointed by the apostles. Two prominent examples are given below from the works of Irenaeus (c120-c200) (Against Heresies) and Tertullian (c160-c225) (Prescription Against Heretics):

Irenaeus-Against Heresies 3:3:1
It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what these [heretics] rave about.

Tertullian-Prescription Against Heretics 21
Since the Lord Jesus Christ sent the apostles to preach, (our rule is) that no others ought to be received as preachers than those whom Christ appointed...If, then, these things are so, it is in the same degree manifest that all doctrine which agrees with the apostolic churches-those moulds and original sources of the faith must be reckoned for truth, as undoubtedly containing that which the (said) churches received from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, Christ from God. Whereas all doctrine must be prejudged as false which savors of contrariety to the truth of the churches and apostles of Christ and God. It remains, then, that we demonstrate whether this doctrine of ours...has its origin in the tradition of the apostles, and whether all other doctrines do not ipso facto proceed from falsehood. We hold communion with the apostolic churches because our doctrine is in no respect different from theirs. This is our witness of truth.

However, the claim that of the proto-orthodox bishops and apostolic fathers of having their authority and theology coming through an unbroken succession from the apostles of Jesus is not unique. All the disputing parties claimed the same thing!

The Jewish Christians, of course, made claims to the apostles. In the Pseudo-Clementines, we find the apostle Peter being presented as a bastion of Jewish Christian orthodoxy fighting the battle against the onslaught of "Lawless" Christianity:

Epistle of Peter to James 2
For some from among the Gentiles have rejected my legal preaching, attaching themselves to certain lawless and trifling preaching of the man who is my enemy. And these things some have attempted while I am still alive, to transform my words by certain various interpretations, in order to the dissolution of the law; as though I also myself were of such a mind, but did not freely proclaim it, which God forbid! ...[T]hese men, professing, I know not how, to know my mind, undertake to explain my words, which they have heard of me, more intelligently than I who spoke them, telling their catechumens that this is my meaning, which indeed I never thought of. But if, while I am still alive, they dare thus to misrepresent me, how much more will those who shall come after me dare to do so!

The Montanists, a heretical apocalyptic sect from Phyrgia in Asia Minor, claimed the legacy of the apostle John. They made such extensive use of the gospel of John and the book of Revelation (both purportedly written by the apostle of that name), that when the movement reached Rome around 170-180 CE, an orthodox Roman presbyter and scholar, Gauis actually tried combating the heresy by repudiating the apostolic origins of these two books. [1]

Gnosticism too made use of the apostles, although here there are more variations to the theme. Some apostles are presented as having "deeper" knowledge than others. The Gnostic writings found at Nag Hammadi [a] boasts of such titles as The Apocalypse of Peter, The Apocryphon of John, The Gospel of Thomas and The Gospel of Philip. All obviously claiming apostolic authority. The Apocalypse of Peter, for instance, presents the apostle of that name as the keeper of the mysteries which is to be revealed only to the elect. Other Gnostic writings present Peter as the defender of true Christianity (i.e. Gnosticism) against the "heretical" ecclesiastical Christianity. Clement of Alexandria (c150-c215), in his treatise Stromata (or Miscellanies), reported that the Gnostics too boasts of apostolic succession; Basilides was the pupil of Glaukia who was "the interpreter of Peter" while Valentinus was a disciple of Theudas, a follower of Paul. (Stromata 7:17). [3]

At the moment we are not concerned with the veracity of these claims. The main point is that the claim of apostolic authority for the teachings of what ultimately became "orthodox", "catholic" or "ecclesiastical" (choose your favorite adjective!) Christianity is not unique. In other words, everyone (heretics, orthodox, heterodox or what have you) was making similar claims.

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a.Nag Hammadi is a village in upper Egypt. In 1945 a jar containing thirteen codices was discovered by a camel driver who was digging for fertilizer. The codices contained 51 Coptic versions of Gnostic writings. They represent the most complete and direct information regarding gnosticism available. The writings are now housed in the Coptic Museum in Cairo, Egypt. [2]

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1.Culpepper, John: p121
2.Ferguson (ed), Encyclopedia of Early Christianity: p796
3.Ehrman, Lost Christianities: p193
Perkins, Peter: p132, 162

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