The Christian religion has never been one uniform, homogenous thing. From the beginning there has been variety within the church. The Acts of the Apostles describes a split within the earliest Jerusalem church—between “Hellenists” (Greek-speaking Jews opposed to the Temple) and “Hebrews” (represented by the Twelve) (Acts 6–7). The issue involved the extent to which Christians should continue to observe the Jewish Law, especially when gentiles began to enter the church in Antioch (Acts 11:20).

By about the year 50 there were three basic views represented by different Christian leaders. James the brother of Jesus, who had become the leader of the Jerusalem church, stressed observance of the Law. Peter and some Antiochene Christians required certain minimal Jewish ritual requirements of gentile Christians but allowed for separate meal celebrations for Jews and gentiles; that is, the Eucharistic meal that is central in Christian worship. Paul, the most radical, taught that “Christ is the end of the Law” (Romans 10:4). In the messianic era brought about by the resurrection of Christ, there could be no more ritual distinctions between Jews and gentiles in the church (Galatians 3:28).

In Paul’s dispute with Peter and Barnabas in Antioch (Galatians 2), Paul’s views lost out. So he organized his own mission in Asia Minor, Greece and Rome as “apostle to the gentiles.”

Later, Christology became an issue: Some Christians stressed Jesus’ divine nature at the expense of his human nature and taught that Jesus was not really a man at all but only appeared to be one. This view is called Docetism, after the Greek word dokein (“seem”). The issue is reflected in the New Testament in the Johannine epistles, whose author rails against those who deny that “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” (1John 4:2). It was not until the fourth and fifth centuries that Christological and Trinitarian controversies were settled by decisions made in ecumenical councils of bishops. By that time the ecclesiastical establishment had the support of the emperor, and dissident groups, such as the Gnostics, were repressed.

Although there are few Gnostics today, their ancient life and times has been brought back into prominence by the rediscovery of texts like the Gospel of Judas.1