The New Testament and Diversity
Over the last few decades numerous scholars have noted with some excitement that the NT comprises a certain interesting diversity. Well, the first (informed) response would be “Well, yeah. How clever to note this. That’s something commented on and wrestled over from at least as early as the second century CE.” (It’s sometimes amusing to see the self-congratulatory capabilities of modern scholarship.)
We know that, e.g., there were second-century Christians agitated about how more than one Gospel could be treated as scripture when they differ. So, Marcion’s solution was to select one and only one. And Tatian’s solution was to try to weave the four Gospels together into one harmonized work (the “Diatessaron”). Likewise, Marcion insisted that there could be only one authoritative apostolic voice, and for him that was the Apostle Paul. So, only Pauline epistles, no others in his canon.
To its credit, the emerging “Great Church” of the time instead affirmed all four Gospels (and let them stand as independent witnesses, unharmonized), and affirmed multiple apostolic voices (so Pauline epistles as well as others ascribed to John, James, Peter, Jude were included too).
So, my second point is that the NT canon reflects an affirmation of a certain Christian diversity, and right in the core documents, the religious DNA if you will, of the Christian tradition. Put another way, the “architecture” of the NT incorporates a diversity of Christian voices, emphases, “renditions” (to use a musical metaphor) of the Christian faith and testimony to Jesus.
People today sometimes refer to writings “left out” of the NT or refused entry, as if there were many texts vying to be included with the writings that came to be the NT. There were a few that seem to have been considered for a while (e.g., Shepherd of Hermas, a certain “Gospel of Peter”, maybe 1 Clement). But it is unlikely that the authors of Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Truth, Gospel of Philip, or the several apocryphal acts ever wanted their texts to be part of a NT collection. The Gospel of Thomas, for example, reflects an intense disdain for ordinary Christians, and claims to deliver a unique and secret body of teaching of which only certain believers are worthy. It’s elitist to the core, so it’s unlikely that those responsible for it ever wanted to have it treated as one text/voice among others. (As as to the mainstream Christian rejection of the stance reflected in Gospel of Thomas, I’m reminded of the quip from the American comic, Jerry Seinfeld: “Sometimes the road less taken is less taken for a reason!”)
So, historically, the NT represents the inclusiveness that characterized earliest “proto-orthodoxy” (as I’ve noted in my chapter on “Proto-Orthodox Devotion” in Lord Jesus Christ, 563-648). For Christians thinking about diversity among themselves today, there just might something there worth pondering.