Armstrong's "Lost Century" Is A Myth
10 Dec 2020 - PCG Watch
- Why Does Armstrong Need A "Lost Century"?
- The New Testament
- Other Early Christian Writers
- Ignorance or Deception
One of the most gross historical distortions Herbert W. Armstrong ever made was the claim that the period of 50 AD to 150 AD was a “lost century” of church history, a period in which there “was a well-organized conspiracy to blot out all record” of early Christian events.
Armstrong made this claim in The Incredible Human Potential:
"Satan moved this man [Simon Magus] and used him as his instrument to persecute and all but destroy the true Church of God. Before the end of the first century—probably by A.D. 70—he managed to suppress the message Christ had brought from God.
There ensued “the lost century” in the history of the true Church of God. There was a well-organized conspiracy to blot out all record of Church history during that period. A hundred years later, history reveals a “Christianity” utterly unlike the Church Christ created." - p. 5.
He then repeated the claim in The Mystery of the Ages:
"Already the curtain was rung down on the history of the true Church. You read of it in the book of Acts, but it doesn’t go much beyond that. But the curtain seems to lift, and we begin to get a little bit of the history in about A.D. 150. There we see a church calling itself Christian, but it’s a totally different church, as different as night is from day, down from up, or black from white. But it called itself Christian.
Now we quote from a book of history, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume I and chapter 15: “The scanty and suspicious materials on ecclesiastical history seldom enable us to dispel the dark cloud that hangs over the first age of the Church.” I have often called it “the lost century,” because the history of that Church was lost at that time.
Scholars and church historians recognize that events in the early Christian Church between A.D. 50 and 150 can only be seen in vague outline—as if obscured by a thick mist." - pp. 215-216.
Following this false claim that “scholars and church historians” agree with his “lost century” idea, Armstrong quotes a number of early church historians to try to prove the point. Every one of these quotes is badly out of context and conveniently cropped to hide its actual meaning: you can read Kelly Marshall’s analysis of these quotes here.
Why Does Armstrong Need A “Lost Century”?
Let’s be clear on why Armstrong needs there to be a “lost century” in church history. The reason is that it allows him to suggest that:
- There was, and thus always is, a conspiracy against the “true church”.
- Satan was able to change true christianity into a false christianity.
- But there is no record of how this happened, which is why traditional historians haven’t been able to discover this conspiracy.
This is classic Armstrong, always claiming that traditional scholars have failed to see what he has been divinely revealed to himself. Unfortunately, none of that is true.
The New Testament
One of the things which never fails to surprise about Armstrong’s historical claims is how easy it is to prove them incorrect.
Consider these two facts:
- Armstrong claims the period 50 AD - 150 AD is a “lost century” where the history of the church is obscured.
- Literally every book of the New Testament was written in the period of 50 AD - 150 AD.
Very few scholars would date the writings of Paul (the earliest of the New Testament books) before 50 AD. And while the dates for the later books are uncertain, most scholars date the latest books of the New Testament to no later than around 120 AD.
Armstrong and Flurry also agree (roughly) with the dates provided for the New Testament books. So why do they say there is a lost century? Because it supports their theory about a changed christianity–unknown to traditional historians.
Other Early Christian Writers
Not only is every single New Testament book written within the “lost century” of Christian history, there are dozens of other primary sources available to historians. Peter Kirby, creator of the “Early Christian Writings” site, lists a huge number of them (with the approximate date of authorship attached):
|Date||Early Christian Text|
|40-80||Lost Sayings Gospel Q|
|50-140||Gospel of Thomas|
|50-140||Oxyrhynchus 1224 Gospel|
|50-150||Apocalypse of Adam|
|50-150||Eugnostos the Blessed|
|50-200||Sophia of Jesus Christ|
|65-80||Gospel of Mark|
|70-100||Epistle of James|
|70-160||Gospel of Peter|
|70-200||Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs|
|73-200||Mara Bar Serapion|
|80-120||Epistle of Barnabas|
|80-150||Gospel of the Egyptians|
|80-150||Gospel of the Hebrews|
|90-120||Gospel of John|
|100-150||Apocalypse of Peter|
|100-150||Secret Book of James|
|100-150||Preaching of Peter|
|100-160||Gospel of the Ebionites|
|100-160||Gospel of the Nazoreans|
|100-160||Shepherd of Hermas|
|100-200||Odes of Solomon|
|100-200||Gospel of Eve|
|100-230||Thunder, Perfect Mind|
|101-220||Book of Elchasai|
|105-115||Ignatius of Antioch|
|110-140||Polycarp to the Philippians|
|110-160||Oxyrhynchus 840 Gospel|
|110-160||Traditions of Matthias|
|111-112||Pliny the Younger|
|120-130||Quadratus of Athens|
|120-130||Apology of Aristides|
|120-180||Apocryphon of John|
|120-180||Gospel of Mary|
|120-180||Dialogue of the Savior|
|120-180||Gospel of the Savior|
|120-180||2nd Apocalypse of James|
|120-180||Gospel of Perfection|
|130-150||Aristo of Pella|
|130-160||Epiphanes On Righteousness|
|130-170||Gospel of Judas|
|130-200||Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus|
|140-170||Infancy Gospel of James|
|140-170||Infancy Gospel of Thomas|
|140-180||Gospel of Truth|
|150-160||Martyrdom of Polycarp|
|150-180||Excerpts of Theodotus|
|150-200||Ascension of Isaiah|
|150-200||Interpretation of Knowledge|
|150-200||Testimony of Truth|
|150-200||Acts of Peter|
|150-200||Acts of John|
|150-200||Acts of Paul|
|150-200||Acts of Andrew|
|150-225||Acts of Peter and the Twelve|
|150-225||Book of Thomas the Contender|
|150-250||Paraphrase of Shem|
|150-250||Fifth and Sixth Books of Esra|
|150-300||Coptic Apocalypse of Paul|
|150-300||Prayer of the Apostle Paul|
|150-300||Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth|
|150-350||Preaching of Paul|
|150-350||Epistle to the Laodiceans|
|150-350||Questions of Mary|
|150-350||Allogenes, the Stranger|
|150-350||Act of Peter|
|150-360||Concept of Our Great Power|
|150-400||Acts of Pilate|
|150-400||Dialogue Between John and Jesus|
Admittedly, many of the later book’s date’s almost certainly fall outside the range of 50 AD - 150 AD, as only the earliest estimate would suffice. And yet, these still eliminate a number of texts which would have to be considered, if–as Gerald Flurry does–we change the range of the “lost century” to 70 AD - 170 AD.Strangely, Flurry has changed this date, possibly in order to eliminate all the authentic Pauline writings, which likely fall within the range of 50 AD - 70 AD. I have heard Flurry say this is because Armstrong gave multiple ranges for the “lost century” but I do not think this is true. It is more likely that Flurry has taken Armstrong’s statement that Satan had managed to “suppress the message Christ had brought from God” by roughly 70 AD to mean that the “lost century” could have started at this date instead.1
If we include this altered range, there are even more early church documents to consider:
|Date||Early Christian Text|
|160-170||Tatian's Address to the Greeks|
|160-250||Octavius of Minucius Felix|
|161-180||Acts of Carpus|
|165-175||Melito of Sardis|
|165-175||Dionysius of Corinth|
|165-175||Lucian of Samosata|
|170-200||Dura-Europos Gospel Harmony|
|170-200||Treatise on the Resurrection|
|170-220||Letter of Peter to Philip|
|170-230||Thought of Norea|
Ignorance or Deception
Considering the abundance of primary sources, the fact that no other scholar acknowledges any type of “lost century”, and the realization that Armstrong deliberately cropped the only possible quotes from real historians which could sound like something of a dearth of primary sources, I see no way his “lost century” was a innocent mistake.
No doubt people had questioned him on this topic and no doubt they were simply dismissed by Armstrong, as was his custom when challenged on any factual evidence for his theories.
Gerald Flurry, on the other hand, has continued to write about the “lost century”, but with his usual style of following Armstrong to the letter. One can probably only blame his ignorance, considering he once quoted in a Key of David, verbatim, the same misleading quotes that Armstrong used in Mystery of the Ages.
But in the end, it really is no excuse to be ignorant, especially when you write books called The True History of the True Church.This is the name of Flurry’s book which he purports to be a history of his god’s church throughout the last two millennia. Yet if you compare this book to Andrew Dugger’s and Clarence O. Dodd’s A History of the True Church you will find that Flurry’s book is virtually a direct copy. When in doubt, Armstrong and Flurry just copy from someone else.2
Strangely, Flurry has changed this date, possibly in order to eliminate all the authentic Pauline writings, which likely fall within the range of 50 AD - 70 AD. I have heard Flurry say this is because Armstrong gave multiple ranges for the “lost century” but I do not think this is true. It is more likely that Flurry has taken Armstrong’s statement that Satan had managed to “suppress the message Christ had brought from God” by roughly 70 AD to mean that the “lost century” could have started at this date instead. ↩
This is the name of Flurry’s book which he purports to be a history of his god’s church throughout the last two millennia. Yet if you compare this book to Andrew Dugger’s and Clarence O. Dodd’s A History of the True Church you will find that Flurry’s book is virtually a direct copy. When in doubt, Armstrong and Flurry just copy from someone else. ↩