Ehteshaam Gulam and Robert Holkerboer

Recently I was looking through some old files of mine in my School directory. I found a really good article on the diversity of Christianity, written by my friend and former
professor, Robert Holkerboer. Dr. Holkerboer was my professor for Biblical Studies back in early 2008. I would like to now share an article he wrote a while ago called the
Diversity of Christianity.

(Adapted from Ehrman, The New Testament; Einhorn, The Jesus Mystery)

“Christianity in the modern world is a richly diverse phenomenon.  Ask any Pentecostal preacher who has attended a Roman Catholic mass, or Greek Orthodox monk who has happened upon a Baptist tent revival, or Episcopalian nun who has visited a Jehovah’s Witness prayer meeting.  There is, to be sure, common ground among many Christian groups, but when you compare the beliefs and practices of an Appalachian snake handler with those of a New England Presbyterian, you may be more struck by the differences than the similarities.

“Is this kind of rich diversity a modern development?  Many people appear to think so.  For them Christianity was originally a solid unity, but with the passing of time (especially since the Protestant Reformation) this unity became fractured and fragmented.  Historians, however, recognize that in some ways Christian differences today pale in comparison with those that existed among believers in the distant past.  If we turn the clock back 1,850 years to the middle of the second century, we find people calling themselves Christian who subscribe to beliefs that no modern eye has seen or ear heard, Christians who believe that there are 2 different gods, or 32, or 365, Christians who claim that the Old Testament is an evil book inspired by an evil deity, Christians who say that God did not create the world and has never had any involvement with it, Christians who maintain that Jesus did not have a human body, or that he did not have a human soul, or that he was never born, or that he never died.”  (Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament, p. 1).

“Every woman who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”  (A “secret saying of Jesus” according to Didymus Judas Thomas, discovered in Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945-56.)

Principal Early Forms of Christianity

Jewish-Christian Adoptionists

Adoptionists were Jews who lived east of the Jordan River.  They believed God adopted Jesus at his baptism.  Jesus was the most righteous man but was not himself divine; he was a man, conceived like any other human.  To call Jesus God is blasphemy, because then there would be two gods, Jesus and Jahweh, and the Bible teaches that there is one God, Jahweh.  Gentiles who wish to follow Jesus must first become Jews (become circumcised, keep kosher, etc.).  Their scripture was the Hebrew Bible plus Matthew (without the first two chapters).  Paul was an arch-heretic because he taught that Jesus brought an end to Mosaic Law.

Marcionite Christians

These were followers of the 2nd century scholar-evangelist Marcion.  They lived throughout the Mediterranean world but were concentrated in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). They believed Paul was the greatest of the apostles because he abandoned Jewish law altogether.  The God of the Jews was a vicious, despotic, capricious God.  Jesus was not actually born, never ate, drank, bled, or died:  he only seemed to be human.  Their sacred scriptures consisted of a truncated version of Luke and ten of Paul’s letters as edited by Marcion.  They rejected the entire Hebrew Bible.

Gnostic Christians

Located in urban areas through the Mediterranean world, the Gnostics claimed that special insight (gnosis – Greek for “knowledge”) is necessary for salvation.  Christ and Jesus were two different beings: Christ “entered” Jesus at his baptism and “abandoned” Jesus at his death, ascending into heaven.  Christ was one of many deities who inhabited the divine realm.  The OT God and the world he created were evil.  Gnostics felt alienated from the material world; salvation meant escaping from it.  Secret meaning of the biblical texts was passed among the cognoscenti (those “in the know”) by word of mouth.  Gnostics had a preference for the Gospel of John and some apocryphal gospels.


The Ebionites were an early Jewish-Christian sect that arose in conjunction with the Bar Kochba revolt (135 CE).  They clung to Jewish law and traditions but accepted Jesus as the Messiah.  They dismissed the idea of the virgin birth.  They settled east of the Jordan River and remained active for several hundred years.

They continued to practice circumcision and opposed the apostle Paul. An early Ebionite text with an anti-Pauline bias written sometime after 135 CE and quoted by Epiphanius of Salamis (315-403 CE) charges that Paul converted to Judaism in order to marry the daughter of the high priest and, when she rejected his favors, left the Jewish faith. 

Proto-Orthodox Christians

Eventually (by the 4th century) proto-orthodox Christianity became the dominant form of Christianity.  This group won more converts than other groups and successfully stifled opposition.  They believed that Jesus was a single being both human and divine, the second member of a trinity of gods – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and that his teachings were accessible by everyone.  They accepted some scriptural texts but rejected others; those they accepted eventually became the canon of the Roman Catholic Church, confirmed by a decree from the powerful bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius, in 367 CE.

I'll try to comment more about the Ebionites and their connection to Islam, but I just wanted to share this article with everyone.