Why Orthodoxy?


Christian orthodoxy is a set of very basic teachings in the Bible that define what salvation is, basically speaking the Gospel of Salvation.  God is perfect.  Man is not.  Take a look around you.  Man is hopelessly lost in sin, even those that we consider to be good are not perfect.  The Bible simply states that no one will be able to, nor can earn salvation, eternal life, by his or her own obedience to God’s Law simply because everybody has sinned at least once in their lifetime.  No one has lived a perfect life.  Paul states this in Romans 3:9-12, 19-20, 23-26 “….we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh God.  They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one….Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.  Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin….For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”  In the Old Testament God gave his people Israel a way to cover their sins which was to foreshadow  the salvation offered through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  This was accomplished by the sacrifice of a young lamb, one without blemish or spot, a perfect little lamb.  This was done at Passover, one lamb per family.  This was also done on the Day of Atonement, when the high priest would sacrifice a young goat for the whole nation of Israel.  Their sins were symbolically covered by the blood of these animals, which pointed to the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.  One person had to live a perfect life without having sinned once.  And that “person” had to be more valuable than any other person who had ever lived.  That person had to be God, part of the triune God.  If an ordinary person could have lived a perfect life and then been sacrificed to atone for sins, his sacrifice would only have covered one other person, or maybe only himself.  We already know from our study of John 1:1-5 that Jesus is God the Son, the Logos, the very one who created the heavens and the earth [see http://www.unityinchrist.com/john/john1-1-5.htm].



The Five Essentials of the Gospel of Salvation, the Gospel of Christ


1.  Who Jesus Is:  Without proper knowledge of who Jesus was and is, the gospel would be meaningless. If Jesus died as an ordinary man, not as the Messiah, God in the flesh, the Gospel is meaningless, pointless.  Jesus Christ himself thought it of such importance that he asked his disciples in Matthew 16:14, “Who do men say that I, the Son of man am?”  Then after the disciples gave all their answers, he asked them in verse 15 more directly, “But who do you say that I am?”.  Clearly he’s going a certain place with that question.  Important question for anybody, everybody who has ever lived.  You should be able to answer that, and by the grace of God, answer that correctly, and mean it in your heart.  The answer that you would give to that question is so, so important in your life, and the life of anyone being drawn to Christ.  What, who do you say Jesus is? You know, confession to that, the answer to that can determine even what is in your heart as far as salvation goes, are you really even saved, do you really know God?  The answer to that, 1st John 4:15 says, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.”  Peter as we see there in verse 16 of Matthew 16, says “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  1st John 5:5 says, “Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”  So first, as an essential part of the Gospel of Salvation, we have to understand that Jesus Christ is God, God the Son.  Further proof from Jesus’ own mouth would not hurt.  Jesus stated in John 8:56-58, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.  Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?  Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.  Jesus just identified himself as “I am”.  The Jews knew who “I am” was.  And because Jesus referred to himself as the “I am” they took up stones to stone him, as the next verse shows.  Why?  Because to state you were God, if you were an ordinary person, was blasphemy.  That is why they took up stones to stone him, as the next verse says, “Then they took up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.”  Why did the Jews think Jesus had just stated that he was God?  The Old Testament in Exodus identifies who “I am” is.  Let’s look.  Exodus 3:13-14, “And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name?  what shall I say unto them?  And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.”  Jesus just identified himself in John 8 as the great “I AM”, the one whom the Israelites knew as Yahweh, the very one who led the Israelites out of Egypt, the God of the Old Testament. This very God of the Old Testament became God the Son, as stated in Jesus Christ’s own words out of his own mouth.  So we see, Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Great I AM came to earth as God the Son and would sacrifice himself for the sins of mankind, everybody.  One man, greater than all the men who have ever lived, the Creator of the heavens and the earth and all physical matter, would become the sacrifice for sin, all sin.  So it’s critical to understand and know who Jesus Christ is.  [to read further proof of who Jesus Christ is see:  http://www.unityinchrist.com/prophecies/1stcoming.htm.]


2. We Are All Sinners, Lost In Our Sins:  Also we saw, knowing you are a sinner, beyond hope for salvation on your own is critical to the knowledge of salvation.  All these facts are fairly simple. Romans 3:9-12, “What then?  are we better than they?  No, in no wise: for we have before proved Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:  There is none that understandeth, there is not one that seeketh after God.  They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”  So if we’re all sinners, the Law of God has already condemned us to death, the 2nd death, without hope, as verse 20 states, “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”  So we all need a Savior to rescue us from the 2nd death, destruction in the Lake of Fire spoken of in Revelation 20:14-15.


3. Jesus Christ Died To Pay For The Sins Of Mankind:  Next it is important to understand, that just as the Passover lambs died, Jesus had to die.  The Bible states that Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay for our sins.  As we see in 1st Corinthians 15:3, “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.”  Jesus’ sacrificial blood paid for the sins of mankind, all who believe.  So belief in Jesus Christ and faith in his sacrificial death and blood, accepting Jesus into your life, asking for him to come into your life, and accepting his sacrifice for your sins is all part of the simple Gospel of Salvation. [see Matthew 26-27; John 19-20] 


4. Jesus Christ Rose From The Dead:  Also part of the Gospel of Salvation is that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.  Paul states the importance of this fact in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, 12-14, “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures: and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures…Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?  But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: and if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.”  Peter, in his first sermon in Acts chapter 2 preached the first Gospel sermon, and that ‘Gospel’ was about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Result, 3,000 were baptized that very same day and the Church was in essence born that day. [see also John 20, Luke 24.] 


5. Jesus Christ Is Coming Back To Earth Again:  This is often a part of the simple Gospel of Christ which is left out by some Christian denominations, and included by others.  But it is included within all the Old Testament prophecies about the coming Messiah, describing who Jesus Christ is.  It is also included in Luke quoting a short description of Peter preaching the Gospel before the Sanhedrin giving us an accurate synopsis of what was included in the Gospel of Christ, or Salvation, in Acts 3:18-21.  “But those things, which God before had shewed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled.  Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; and he shall send Jesus Christ, which was before preached unto you:  whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his prophets since the world began.”  For the prophecies showing the Messiah’s 2nd coming, log onto: http://www.unityinchrist.com/prophecies/2ndcoming_2.htm and to view the Bible’s teaching about the soon-coming Millennial Kingdom of God Jesus will establish at his return, log onto: http://www.unityinchrist.com/kingdomofgod/mkg1.htm. 


What’s next?  Confession and calling upon the name of the Lord


And as John 14 and Acts 2 show us, when we recognize these simple things and ask Jesus into our lives, he and God the Father enter into us by placing the Holy Spirit into us, and we become born-again believers in Jesus Christ, Christians or Messianic Jewish believers in Yeshua haMeshiach.  [Jesus explained this to Nicodemus in John 3:1-21.]  So when one has come to see his true deplorable condition, and that Christ died to pay for his or her sins, and rose again (and will return again to this earth), the next step is for that individual to call out to the Lord, acknowledging him as the Lord of their life, and ask him to come into his or her life.  Romans 10 shows this, and often Evangelicals use this in their altar calls.  It is Biblical.  Let’s read it.  Romans 10:8-12, “But what saith it?  The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart:  that is, the word of faith, which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.  For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.  For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.  For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek:  for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.”


Next step


One who truly believes Jesus Christ died to pay for their sins and rose again, and has called out to him, acknowledging him as their Savior and Lord, one who now believes this core message about Christ, now being indwelt by God’s Holy Spirit, will “repent”, that is change his or her mind about their dead works of sin in the past, and be baptized because of the remission of those sins.  As we’ll see in Acts 2:38, this was the Biblical model.  Acts 2:38, “And Peter said unto them, Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost [Holy Spirit].”  Often these two steps, asking Jesus into one’s life, and baptism, in the early Christian Church, as seen throughout the Book of Acts, was an event that was all rolled up into one, happened more or less simultaneously.  That is why some denominations, reading Acts, feel the Holy Spirit will not be given except upon baptism.  It usually happened this way with the early Church, but not always, as seen in Acts 8-10 with Cornelius and his family.  He was baptized after he received the Holy Spirit.  So right within the Book of Acts, we see it can go both ways. 


when people come to understand these five simple points, what then?


When people have come to understand these five simple facts, recognizing who Jesus Christ is, God the Son, recognizing they are hopeless sinners, recognizing Jesus Christ came as their personal Savior and died to pay for their sins, and recognizing he rose to life and lives to continue to save us through his life, indwelling us through the Holy Spirit, they are ready for a radical change in their life.  How?  Often people become born-again believers in Jesus Christ by saying a simple prayer which we see outlined in Romans 10:8-12.  It is called the sinners prayer in many Evangelical circles.  It goes something like this.  “Jesus I know that I have sinned and am a sinner.  Please forgive me.  And I ask you now Jesus to come into my life and live in me.”  Knowing who Jesus Christ is, and that he died on the cross to pay for our sins, the sins of the world, accepting that sacrifice and asking Jesus Christ into one’s life is the simple Gospel of Salvation in action.  Then if you read John 14, it will show you how Jesus Christ and God the Father come into a believer’s life, by the indwelling Holy Spirit.  What we were not able to do concerning obedience to the Law of God becomes possible through the power of God’s Holy Spirit, who now indwells the believer.  Then with Jesus acting within us through the Holy Spirit who indwells the new-believer, the believer is progressively brought more and more into harmony with God’s Law as he or she walks through life with Jesus and the Father (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34).  Even though the differing Christian denominations and groups can and do have different interpretations and definitions on the subject of law and grace, this simple result in the believer’s life is the same throughout all these Christian groups and denominations, which would indicate that all our human interpretations for what the Bible actually teaches on law and grace is somehow incorrect.  (see http://www.unityinchrist.com/whatisgrace/whatisgraceintro.htm for more on this vital subject about what law & grace is.)  Salvation is a free gift, and we now live changed and changing lives in Christ, and we live these lives by faith, a faith that comes into us by that same Holy Spirit.  It’s that simple.    That’s orthodoxy, the orthodox teaching of the Bible.  The word orthodox simply means “right teaching.”  Orthodox knowledge means proper knowledge. 


There was a ‘Jewish’ gospel being preached from the Maccabees until the time of Christ


But the Gospel of Salvation is quite simple.  It is different than the gospel or good news of the coming Kingdom of God which Jesus will establish at his 2nd coming.  It is how people enter into a living relationship with Jesus Christ and God the Father by having the Holy Spirit enter into them, once they have come to understand these four essential points listed above. There are some Sabbatarian Church of God denominations that teach a gospel about the coming Kingdom of God at the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ.  This is not a wrong gospel, but merely an expanded Biblical view taken from all the Old and New Testament prophecies, to show how God intends to redeem the whole world at and after the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ, bringing the world into a clear understanding of the Gospel of Christ, the Gospel of Salvation as well.  It is a Biblical view, and not a perversion of the gospel.  But it is not the Gospel of Salvation or Christ.  In reality, this ‘Jewish gospel’ is the Biblical exposition of  the 5th point I gave in the simple Gospel of Salvation.  So although the ‘gospel’ about the coming Kingdom of God that will be brought about through Jesus Christ’s 2nd coming is not “the Gospel of Salvation” it is an integral part of it, and not the other way around.  The confusion comes when people think this ‘Jewish gospel’ is the Gospel preached by Paul and the others.  It is not.  You can take the 5th point within the simple Gospel of Salvation and expand upon it, coming up with the whole Biblical prophetic scenario about the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God physically on this earth, and in this way make the gospel of salvation include that teaching.  It is not wrong as long as you include the other points.  Point 5 is the way Salvation will be brought to the whole world after Jesus Christ’s return.  But even then, those who come to salvation will still go through points 1 through 4.  Point 1 (Who is Jesus Christ) can be expanded in a similar fashion, for we see point 1 would include all four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, as well as any description of who Yahweh was in the Old Testament, for Yahweh was the pre-incarnate Christ.  But we must be careful not to confuse any one point in the simple gospel of Salvation for the entire Gospel.  You might say all the other information is merely the Biblical exposition of each point in the simple Gospel of Christ, the Gospel of Salvation.  Point 2, “we are all sinners,” well, you could include most of the Bible to expound on and prove that point, as well as many secular history books.  Do you get my point?  Hope so.  The Jews from the Maccabees onward to the time of Jesus Christ had a gospel, which taught to the best of their understanding the prophecies of the Coming Messiah and what they termed “the World to Come”, what we would understand as the prophecies about Jesus Christ’s 2nd coming and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth (I often call this “the Jewish Gospel”).  The very active evangelistic preaching of the  Jews throughout the Diaspora to the Gentiles brought many Gentiles during the Maccabean period into their synagogues to worship the One true God, Yahweh.  This group became known as “the God-fearers”.  (Many God-fearers became Christians under Paul’s evangelism, but that is another story, to be found at http://www.unityinchrist.com/history2/index3.htm.)  So, simple Gospel of Christ, Gospel of Salvation, preached by Paul and the apostles, some groups preach 4 points, some 5.  Bible seems to include 5 simple points.


The Great Commission to the Church


We must realize that the core message about Christ which makes up the simple Gospel of Christ, Gospel of Salvation, does not, in itself, contain any instructions about what we as new-believers must do.  We must only believe and accept Christ into our lives.  One who truly believes will call upon God, repent and be baptized.  But all of these actions, and all of our other steps of obedience occur after and as a result of truly believing the core message of the simple Gospel.  This is made clear in the order of events outlined by Jesus when he gave the apostles The Great Commission for the Church in Matthew 28:19-20.  Let’s read it:


1,) “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations,” 2) “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost…” 3) “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you…” (King James Version)


So we see Jesus’ command clearly envisions three separate steps, one of which has to do with non-believers and two of which have to do with believers and those who are becoming believers.  1), The first command involves evangelism, presenting the core message of the Gospel of Salvation to the whole world, composed of unbelievers, so that those God is calling can be led to believe it, change his or her mind, repent, and call on the name of the Lord.  Paul shows this in the very next verses in Romans 10 after he defines what many call “the sinner’s prayer”.  He says, Romans 10:14-15, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?  And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?  And how shall they hear without a preacher?  And how shall they preach unless they are sent?  As it is written:


How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!’” 


2), The second step is baptizing those who have believed “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost”.  The altar-call, coming to Christ by calling on him (ie, sinner’s prayer) followed by baptism (or all rolled up into one) is the second essential step outlined in the Great Commission of Jesus to the Church, leading people to this after their evangelistic efforts have brought some people this far along.  Step 2 in the Great Commission is the first baby-step of the new-believer.  Encouraging baptism is definitely a part of the process.  3), The third step, which is essential for all babes in Christ, they need nourishment, like all babies do.  The Church is called “the mother of us all”, and Jesus gave this essential third step in his Great Commission to the Church, a command to spiritually nourish those who had just received Christ and been baptized, “teaching them to observe all things I commanded you.”  This is the job of individual congregations whose evangelism has brought new-believers into their congregations.  This is also the first major job of this website, UNITYINCHRIST.COM, to nourish all believers online---“teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you.”  This site also supports worldwide international evangelism by promoting the $5.00 a week program, the first step in Jesus’ Great Commission (see http://www.unityinchrist.com/missionstatement.htm.) 


in summary


Those who believe the simple message of the Gospel of Salvation, Gospel of Christ---who Jesus is, that we are all sinners beyond hope, that Jesus died to pay for our sins, was buried, and that he rose again on the third day, and that he will come again---this all leads to a person to call out to God, asking Jesus into his or her life (the sinner’s prayer), which begins their having a direct relationship with God, receiving the Holy Spirit, repentance and baptism---and all this followed by spiritual growth (the lifetime sanctification process).  I want to make this perfectly clear, attendance at church meetings and performance of any particular denominational church rituals are not an essential part of the message of the Gospel of Salvation.  It is a message about Jesus Christ, who he was and is, what he did for us sinners who wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell without his sacrificial death, burial and resurrection, and our asking and acceptance of Jesus into our lives---and once he’s in our lives, he transforms us into his image.


Related links:


Who is Jesus Christ?  Log onto:

http://www.unityinchrist.com/prophecies/1stcoming.htm and read the Gospels, can start with http://www.unityinchrist.com/mathew/Matthew1-1-17.htm


Jesus Christ is coming to earth again and will set up his kingdom on earth:





Bible teachings on Law & Grace:



The spirit and meaning of the Great Commission:



The Early Christian Church:




What is heresy?


Anything that would complicate the simple gospel of Christ, or change it in any way is heresy.  Heresies pervert:

1.   The proper knowledge of who Jesus Christ is---the very key to salvation.

2.    The proper knowledge of the Gospel of Christ, the Gospel of Salvation---making it more complicated than it actually is. 


Heresy is not another understanding of what the Bible teaches in all the other areas that are secondary to the simple gospel of Christ, the Gospel of Salvation. Differing groups disagree on whether the earth and universe are 4.5 billion years old, or only six thousand years old (old earth/new earth controversy), they almost all disagree on the subject of heaven and hell.  If you read what Irenaeus taught and believed in this area, it is not what is generally taught and believed now, except within a few Sabbatarian Church of God denominations.  Was Irenaeus a heretic?  No, he was one of the most famous early apologists to have ever walked this earth.  His works are still read and used to this day.  And as I have stated, almost all disagree on the teaching of Law and Grace, but the results of being born-again are all the same, the believer comes into greater and greater harmony with God’s Law as he or she walks through life with Jesus.  Many modern apologists add their group’s personal interpretations of Bible teachings to their personal list of what is heretical and what is not.  The apostles John and Paul, and Irenaeus didn’t.  They defined heresy simply as anything that would complicate the simple gospel of Christ, as we will see below.


What is the Bible Definition of Orthodoxy and Heresy?


The apostle Paul ran into this problem in the Galatian church, and he stated in Galatians 1, verses 1-9, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.”  Now here, we can see that Paul is talking about the gospel of Christ.  That is the gospel of salvation, simply put, the four points I gave above.  Let’s continue to see what Paul said.  “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.  As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”  What were some who had come into the Galatian church from Jerusalem, some Judaizers, doing?  If you read Galatians, they were complicating the simple gospel of Christ, the Gospel of Salvation.  In the early Church, especially in Asia Minor and the whole Roman empire where it had spread, heresies and those holding heretical beliefs that perverted the simple gospel of Christ, the Gospel of Salvation, were spreading throughout all these congregations.  Paul first ran up against such heretical teachings that were trying to complicate the simple gospel of Christ in Galatia.  But the heresies got far worse as time progressed.   As time went on, worse heresies and those holding them attacked the Christian churches across the Roman empire.  Paul said this at the end of his life, in Acts 20:29-31, “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.  Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.  Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.”


Battle lines drawn between the heretical and orthodox


A massive spiritual war was beginning to be waged against the Christian Church, entering into the various congregations amid the influx of new believers.  These heresies and heretics were threatening the very core of the Christian faith, the gospel of Salvation, the simple gospel of Christ.  Some of those individuals entering into the congregations were not real believers, but carriers of these damnable heresies.  They thought they were genuine believers, but as Paul said of those who brought in any teaching that altered the simple gospel of Christ, let them be accursed.  Pretty strong words by the apostle Paul, but they are a part of God’s Word now.  During the first three hundred years of the Christian Church a pitched battle raged against these heresies and those who were spreading them into the congregations.  Many of the early Church leaders after John would start to draw up the battle-lines between the orthodox and heretical.  Polycarp was John’s trained disciple.  He trained a disciple named Irenaeus, another Jewish-Christian, who then moved up into the region of Gaul and was a bishop in what became Lyons in 177-178AD.  He wrote five lengthy books defining the heresies that were attacking the Church.  He was the Christian Church’s first major apologist.  He wrote a number of books, but the most important that survives is the five-volume On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis, normally referred to by the Latin title Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies).  Book I talks about the Valentinian Gnostics and their predecessors, who go as far back as the magician Simon Magus.  Book II provides rational proof that Valentinianism contains no merit in terms of it’s doctrines.  Book III shows that these doctrines are false by providing evidence from the Gospels.  Book IV consists of Jesus’ sayings, and stresses the unity of the Old Testament and the Gospels.  The final volume, Book V, focuses on more sayings of Jesus plus the letters of Paul the Apostle.  Irenaeus recognized the legitimacy of the church in Rome, which at this time had apparently not become an apostate church yet After 325AD this all changed, but at this time the Judeo-Christian congregations and Gentile Christian congregations co-existed peacefully, side-by-side, recognizing each other and working with each other.  All the genuine Christian churches were busy fighting these heresies and those who brought them into their congregations.  These heresies had torn into the early Judeo-Christian churches, just as John and Paul had warned, noting especially what Paul said, that when he departed, he said grievous wolves would tear into the flock.  The nature of what become the Catholic Church would all change by the 300s AD.  Irenaeus is claimed by the Catholic Church as one of their early “fathers” to this day.  As stated Irenaeus was a Jewish-Christian, and was a student of Polycarp, who was said to have been tutored and discipled by John the Apostle.  It’s interesting, Irenaeus gives us in these five volumes a sort of snap-shot picture of what the early Judeo-Christian, and even Gentile Christian churches believed, which modern apologists might label heretical, sort of proving my point that heretical beliefs should only be those that complicate the simple gospel of Christ, and nothing more. 


What Orthodoxy is Not


Early Apostolic eschatological beliefs as recorded by Irenaeus:  Irenaeus gives us a vivid snap-shot of early Judeo-Christian eschatological doctrines, which should not surprise ex-members of the Worldwide Church of God.  “Irenaeus identified the Antichrist, another name of the apostate Man of Sin, with Daniel’s Little Horn and John’s Beast of Revelation 13.  He sought to apply other expressions to Antichrist, such as “the abomination of desolation,” mentioned by Christ (Matt. 24:15) and the “king of a most fierce countenance,” in Gabriel’s explanation of the Little Horn of Daniel 8.  But he is not very clear how “the sacrifice and the libation shall be taken away” during the “half-week,” or three and one-half years of Antichrist’s reign.”  Small wonder he wouldn’t understand some of this, as these events are due to occur about 2,000 years later.  Irenaeus is at the early end of the Church age, and we now are at the end of it.  “He also understood that Rome, or some form of the Roman system, would be extant at the time of the 2nd coming of Christ.  Like the other early church fathers, Irenaeus interpreted the three and one-half “times” of the Little Horn of Daniel 7 as three and one-half literal years.  Antichrist’s three and a half years of sitting in the temple are placed immediately before the Second Coming of Christ.” 




“Irenaeus declares that the Antichrist’s future three-and-a-half-year reign, when he sits in the temple at Jerusalem, will be terminated by the second advent [2nd coming of Christ], with the resurrection of the just, the destruction of the wicked, and the millennial reign of the righteous.  The general resurrection and judgment follow the descent of the New Jerusalem at the end of the millennial kingdom.”  Well, he got the order a little mixed up, as Revelation 20:11-13 shows the general resurrection taking place, and Revelation 21:1-17, after that event, shows the descent of the New Jerusalem---after the lake of fire, and the new heavens and earth are created.  “Irenaeus calls those “heretics” who maintain that the saved are immediately glorified in the kingdom to come after death, before their resurrection.”---i.e. he does not believe that the spirit-in-man component within humans remains conscious upon death when they rise to God in heaven, but as Ecclesiastes teaches, the spirit of man rises to God, but is unconscious, which is often called the doctrine of “soul sleep”.”  So Irenaeus and the early Church during his lifetime believed that believers were to be brought back to life and made immortal at the time of the 1st Resurrection, spoken of by Paul in 1st Corinthians 15:49-56.  The doctrine of “the immortal soul” was considered Biblically inaccurate and heretical by the early Christian Church, and don’t forget this is a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of John.  So what Irenaeus pens in these five books, these beliefs here, were the doctrinal beliefs of John and the other 11 apostles, as well as those of Paul.  “He avers that the millennial kingdom and the resurrection are actualities, not allegories, the first resurrection introducing this promised kingdom in which the risen saints are described as ruling over the renewed earth during the millennium, between the two resurrections.”  “Irenaeus held to the old Jewish tradition that the first six days of creation week were typical of the first six thousand years of human history, with Antichrist manifesting himself in the sixth period.”---Wow!  No wonder his concepts of what the end-time Roman government, or some form of it, were fuzzy.  He knew he was 1800 years away from that event---“And he expected the millennial kingdom to begin with the second coming of Christ to destroy the wicked and inaugurate, for the righteous, the reign of the kingdom of God during the seventh thousand years, the millennial Sabbath, as signified by the Sabbath of creation week…he applies Biblical and traditional ideas to his descriptions of this earth during the millennium….”  i.e. he’s relying on Old Testament prophecies that describe that millennial period, such as found in Isaiah.  He saw the millennial period bounded by the two resurrections.  You know, I learned most of this information when I first became a member of the Worldwide Church of God, which was under the leadership of Herbert Armstrong at the time.  Now isn’t that a kicker?  Most other Christians and apologists like to paint Mr. Armstrong as being a fringe cook, a cultist (heretic?).  But here is described the eschatological beliefs of the early Church, and undoubtedly the apostles themselves, as recorded by the first and foremost apologist of the Christian Church.  So we see reflected in what Irenaeus wrote in his five books, as he battles heresies John and Paul also battled, the very same beliefs the early Church of God in Jerusalem believed, which are the same beliefs taught and believed by the Worldwide Church of God under Mr. Armstrong.  So what should we conclude from this snap-shot picture of early Church beliefs that are secondary to the gospel of Christ?  Secondary beliefs, in such areas as prophecy, soul-sleep verses immortality of the soul, new-earth verses old-earth beliefs, differing beliefs about heaven and hell---all these secondary beliefs are not to be considered on the list of what makes beliefs orthodox or heretical.  We must go by what Paul taught, and that is simply that anything that complicates the simple gospel of Christ is to be considered heresy.  Personal or denominational beliefs about prophecy or immortal soul verses soul-sleep, or the new-earth verses old-earth theology, even teachings about heaven and hell, all fall within the realm of secondary teachings, and can and do differ amongst the various denominations that make up the body of Christ.  Apologist’s beware, you must not aim your gun-sights on other denominations and groups just because they disagree with you on these secondary items I have just listed.  For years you have hammered at the Worldwide Church of God under Mr. Armstrong’s leadership, calling him a heretic, and you were wrong in doing that.  Now let’s take a look at some very real heresies, the very heresies that were attacking the early Christian Church, threatening its very existence.  And those that espouse and hold to these heretical belief systems are still around. 



Walter Bauer


“The classical understanding of the relationship of orthodoxy and heresy met a devastating challenge in 1934 with the publication of Walter Bauer’s Rechtglaubigkeit und Ketzerei im altesten Christentum, possibly the most significant book on early Christianity written in modern times…Bauer argued that….In some regions what was later to be termed “heresy” was in fact the original and only form of Christianity.”  [emphasis mine throughout]  Hmmm, what did we see were the early beliefs of the Church in the works of Irenaeus?  Was the Christian Church a Jewish-Christian Church in the beginning?---don’t you think?  [see http://www.unityinchrist.com/history2/index3.htm.]  “In other regions, views later deemed heretical co-existed with views that would come to be embraced by the church as a whole, with most believers not drawing hard and fast lines of demarcation between the competing views.  To this extent, “orthodoxy,” in the sense of a unified group advocating an apostolic doctrine accepted by the majority of Christians everywhere, did not exist in the second and third centuries.  Nor was “heresy” secondarily derived from an original teaching through the infusion of Jewish ideas or pagan philosophy.  Beliefs that were, at later times, embraced as orthodoxy and condemned as heresy were in fact competing interpretations of Christianity, one of which eventually (but not initially) acquired domination because of singular historical and social forces.  Only when one social group had exerted itself sufficiently over the rest of Christendom did a “majority” opinion emerge; only then did the “right belief” represent the view of the Christian church at large.”  [ibid, p.7]  Now as we saw what some of the early beliefs were under Irenaeus, a Church that was very much Judeo-Christian, after 325AD became decidedly Gentile Christian, and actually forced Judeo-Christianity out of existence for 1700 years.  So the orthodoxy of what emerged was Gentile Christian orthodoxy, which was not the simple orthodox teachings of Paul and John, but also had a decidedly anti-Jewish-Christian bias.  That’s what Bauer is trying to say, if you read between the lines.  “To establish his claims, Bauer chose certain geographical regions of early Christendom for which we have some evidence---particularly Edessa, Egypt, Antioch, Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Rome---subjected the ancient sources for the Christianity of these regions to the closest scrutiny, and demonstrated that contrary to the reports of Eusebius, the earliest and/or predominant forms of Christianity in most of these areas were heretical (i.e., forms subsequently condemned by the victorious party [i.e. the Roman Catholic Church starting with Constantine and onwsard]….It is the winners who write the history: later proponents of orthodoxy (i.e., the victors) preserved the writings of their theological forebears and insisted that they represented the opinion of the majority of Christians from apostolic times.”

          “How, though, did this one form of Christianity---the form that came to influence all major branches of Christendom down to the present day, the form responsible for the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds, for Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism---attain a level of dominance?  For Bauer this was the kind of Christianity found predominantly in the church of Rome, a church that had always used it’s superior administrative prowess and its vast material resources to influence other Christian communities.  Among other things, the Roman church urged a hierarchical structure on other churches---the monarchial episcopate---which, given the right bishop, could persuade the majority of church members to adopt certain perspectives.  And to some degree the Roman influence was purely economic: the manumission of slaves and the purchase of prisoners brought large numbers into their fold, while the judicious use of gifts and alms effected a generally sympathetic hearing of their views.” [ibid. p. 8]  Bauer saw what had happened.  The question I ask, is this:  Is the Catholic Church the true picture of Apostolic Christianity? [again, see http://www.unityinchrist.com/history2/index3.htm.]   But the early Christian church in Rome during the first two centuries had not yet become apostate, the church that was after Constantine in 325AD.  All of Christianity was fighting a massive spiritual war against the heresies and those that promoted them.  Bart Ehrman goes on to state “One would naturally not expect the victors of the struggle to reproduce the literature of their opponents.  And indeed they by and large did not, except for excerpts that they quoted simply for purposes of refutation.  This means that prior to such fortuitous findings as the library of Gnostic writings uncovered near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945, our understanding of heterodox Christianity was necessarily one-sided.” [ibid. p9]  “In some measure, the absence of clear boundary lines explains Irenaeus’s famous lament that Gnostic Christians proved so difficult to uproot from the church because they were far from easy to locate and differentiate from simple believers.”  [bid. P.10] 


The Battleground, Satan launches an all-out attack against the early Church

“Eusebius meant something relatively basic by “orthodox” Christianity: it is that kind of belief preached by the apostles and their followers from the beginning, as opposed to major deviations that came subsequent to it, deviations that deny such indispensable Christian doctrines as the goodness of the creation, or the deity of Christ, or the unity of the Godhead.  Heresies, then, are secondary incursions into the community of true believers, inspired—as is all evil for Eusebius—by the devil and his wicked demons, who move willful persons to corrupt the faith proclaimed by the apostles of Jesus”….Eusebius’s treatment of Simon Magus, portrayed as the first heretic and father of them all, exemplifies his views.  Quoting the apologist and heresiologist Justin, Eusebius claims that the demonically inspired Simon appeared in the course of apostolic mission, performing black magic and misleading others to believe that he was himself divine.  Not only did Simon advocate blasphemous and false doctrines, he also lived a profligate life, openly consorting with a public prostitute named Helen and engaging in secret and vile rituals….” [quoted from “The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture”, p5, par. 1]

          “The “classical” view of “orthodoxy” and heresy formalizes this basic understanding.  For this view, “orthodoxy” (literally meaning “right opinion”) represents the teachings advocated by Jesus and his apostles, spread throughout the world by Christians of the first generation, and attested by the vast majority of believers in all periods….Heresy represents a contamination of the original teachings of Christianity by ideas drawn from the outside, either from Jewish circles or from the teachings of pagan philosophers.”  [ibid, pp. 5-6]



early confusion


“Even before the earliest councils that were called to adjudicate among theological claims and to depose heretics from positions of authority, as far back in fact as our earliest sources go, we find Christians castigating others who similarly claim the name but differently interpret the religion.  Furthermore, all of the intolerant parties appear certain of their own interpretations, which means among other things that every group understood itself to be orthodox (i.e., to subscribe to the “right beliefs”) and every other group to be heretical.  Such as state of affairs is, of course, natural: when do persons of strong convictions ever believe themselves to be wrong?”  [ibid. pp. 11-12]


the proto-orthodox emerge


“Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, Justin, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, and even Clement of Alexandria and Origen---the writers whose works were preserved by the victorious party and who continue today to influence students concerning “the” nature of Christianity after the New Testament period” [ibid. p12] these authors emerged as the proto-orthodox apologists of the early Church.  “Given this state of affairs, how should these progenitors of the dominant party be labeled?  [Again, many of these Christian leaders were not part of the dominant party of what become the Roman Church, they came way before that church became dominant.  They were merely defenders of the faith of the apostles.  But the dominant church adopted them as their own, historically speaking.  “We may be somewhat loathe to call them “orthodox”, because, on the one hand, their positions had not yet attained a level of dominance, and, on the other, they themselves had not yet defined these positions with the degree of clarity that was later obtained.  For this reason, we might best describe them as “proto-orthodox”….”This is to say, these proto-orthodox Christians opposed anyone who claimed that Christ was a man but not God, and that he was two distinct beings, one divine and one human.  It appears to have been the opposition to variant claims that compelled the orthodox of a later generation to espouse such highly paradoxical Christologies as emerge in their creeds.”   [ibid. pp. 12-13]  The apostle John, it bears noting, opposed these same heresies.  The “proto-orthodox” were merely defining John’s early stand against such heresies. 


Defining the three major heresies


Adoptionists:  “Those groups I will describe as adoptionists believed that Christ was a full flesh and blood human being who was neither pre-existent nor (for most adoptionists) born of a virgin.  He was born and he lived as all other humans.  But at some point of his existence, usually his baptism, Christ was adopted by God to stand in a special relationship with himself and to mediate his will on earth.  Only in this sense was he the “Son of God”: Christ was not divine by nature, but was human in every sense of the term.  Orthodox Christians opposed such Christologies because, for them, Christ had to be more than a “mere man” for his work of salvation to be effectual.  He must himself have been divine.”  [ibid. p. 14]  “For adoptionists, Jesus was a flesh and blood human being, born of the natural union of Joseph and Mary.  An extraordinary man, without peer in righteousness and wisdom, Jesus was chosen to be the unique Son of God, the savior of the world.  Some early adoptionists situated Jesus’ election at his resurrection; by the second century most believed it had occurred at his baptism.  Advocates of both positions agreed that Jesus was not himself divine, but was, as their opponents put it, a “mere man.”  In opposition to this kind of low Christology, proto-orthodox Christians insisted that Christ was far more than a man, that he was himself divine.  Much of the controversy centered on the nature of Christ’s uniqueness, as the proto-orthodox claimed that he had pre-existed, that he had been virginally conceived, that he was God on earth.  A variety of passages from the emerging New Testament could be used by both sides of this debate; and, significantly for this investigation, the wording of these passages was by no means etched in stone.  To the contrary, scribes who transmitted the texts occasionally changed them to make them “say” what they were already known to “mean.” [ibid. p.97]  And these “orthodox” corruptions of the original texts the New Testament came from, corruptions of the ancient manuscripts, are plain evidence of the massive doctrinal battle that was taking place before 325AD, a battle that was being waged against these heresies.  It is interesting that such evidence of this spiritual warfare should be preserved within the various copied manuscripts.  It was wrong to do this.  But they were in a spiritual war, and weren’t so concerned with the right or wrong of it, but more so with the survival of the very congregations under their care.  So who, in today’s day and age might you consider to hold adoptionist beliefs?  And because they do, they are labeled as heretical by most modern apologists.  The Mormons, for one,  fit into this adoptionist low Christology, as do the Jehovah’s Witnesses, two modern versions of this heresy surviving into the 20th and 21st centuries. 


The Separationist Gnostics:  “Other Christians [he uses upper case for Christians, here, I wouldn’t, but the author brings out later, that Gnostic Christians thought of themselves as Christian.  You be the judge.] agreed with the adoptionists that Jesus was a full flesh and blood human and that something significant had happened to him at his baptism.  For them, however, it was not that he was adopted to be God’s Son; instead, at his baptism Jesus came to be indwelt by God.  It was then that an emissary from the divine realm, one of the deities of the Godhead, named “Christ,” entered into Jesus to empower him for his ministry.  Again at some time prior to his crucifixion, the divine Christ departed from Jesus to return to the Pleroma, the divine realm, leaving him to suffer his fate alone.  This is a Christology that I will label separationist, because it posits a division between the man Jesus and the divine Christ.  As we will see, it is a view that was prevalent among second-century Gnostics, one that the orthodox found objectionable on a number of grounds.”  Cerinthus was labeled as an archheretic.  It is recorded in early religious history that a disciple of John (not Polycarp) witnessed John as he came running out of a Roman bathhouse in Ephesus, yelling “Quick, run, the roof is going to fall in!  Cerinthus is in there!”  When you read the following description of Separatist Gnoticism, you will see why John probably did voice those words, or something similar.  He wrote 1st John in response to this heresy.  “Cerinthus is a shadowy figure of the early second century, around whom there accumulated several interesting, if apocryphal tales.”  The above mentioned one is probably one of them.  “An early Gnostic, like the adoptionists, Cerinthus believed that Jesus was a full flesh and blood son of Joseph and Mary, a man distinguished by neither a divine nature nor a miraculous birth, remarkable only for his exemplary righteousness and wisdom.  Also like them, Cerinthus maintained that Jesus’ baptism marked a turning point: he did not, however, regard it as the time of Jesus’ adoption to sonship.  Instead, at his baptism, Jesus received into himself the portion of the Godhead, the divine Christ who came upon him in the form of a dove.  This indwelling Christ empowered Jesus for ministry and remained in him until the very end; then, when Jesus was about to suffer, the Christ withdrew to return to heaven, leaving Jesus to endure his passion alone.”  [ibid. p.119]  It gets better.  This is nothing folks.


Thumbnail sketch of the notoriously complex world of Christian Gnosticism


“As Irenaeus pronounces in his famous lament over the Valentinians: “Since they differ widely among themselves both as respects doctrine and tradition, and since those of them who are recognized as being most modern make it their effort daily to invent some new opinion, and to bring out what no one ever before thought of, it is a difficult matter to describe all their opinions.” (Adv. Haer. 1, 21, 5) 

          “It is hard to engage an opponent who cannot be grasped.  Faced with a cacophony of disparate myths, beliefs, and practices, the heresiologists undertook to restore a semblance of coherence to the disparate groups of Gnostics by tracing (or better, creating) their various genealogical relationships.  These genealogies explained why Gnostics appeared so similar in outline yet so increasingly complex and discrepant in detail.  Most of the heresiological accounts draw the Gnostic line back to Simon Magus, the contemporary of the apostles who has already been discussed.  Simon’s willful disposition and passion for magic led to a remarkable self-serving form of heresy, in which he claimed to be God himself, come to bring salvation to the world.  Simon’s successors did not share their master’s exalted image of himself, and his own divine status faded quickly into oblivion.   But they retained the basic components of his soteriological system, modifying and expanding them with fantastic cosmological and cosmogonical details….For our purposes, the discrepant mythologies of these various Gnostic groups are less important than what lies behind them, namely, the Gnostic understanding of the world and of human existence with it (at least as these were perceived by the orthodox polemicists).  Gnostics were regularly attacked for taking a radically anti-cosmic stand that struck at the heart of the orthodox belief that the God who created the world and reigns as its Lord is also the God who redeemed it.  For the Gnostics, the true God did not create this world at all.  The world emerged from a cosmic disaster in which a lower deity or group of angels [Satan and his demons, anyone?], either out of malice or ignorance, created the material universe and entrapped elements of the divine within it.  The mythologies that these Gnostics espoused served to explain how these lower deities came into being (often as emanations from the true God) and how conflicts among their ranks led both to the catastrophic conception of matter and to it’s aftermath, the imprisonment of divine sparks.  While these cosmogonies struck the fathers as puzzling in their complexity and bizarre in their detail, they proved particularly disturbing in their guiding premise, that the Creator and Ruler of this world is not the true God but a lower deity whose creation comprises the realm of evil and ignorance.”

          “The material world is prison to the sparks of the divine, and the goal of the Gnostic systems is to liberate them.  It is, in fact, within human bodies that the sparks have become imprisoned and from which they must be released.  This release can only come when the divine sparks are awakened, brought back to life by acquiring the true knowledge (Greek: gnosis) of their origin and destiny.  The Gnostic religion, therefore, entails the revelation of salvific knowledge, knowledge of who we were and what we have become, of where we were and where we have been made to fall, of whither we are hastening and whence we are being redeemed, of what birth is rebirth.  When persons within whom the divine spark reside learn the mysteries of their own existence, of their fall into matter and the secret way of escape, then they have become “Gnostics,” that is, “Knowers,” those who have been set free from the ignorance and evil of the material world and enabled to return to their home.”  [Almost sounds like the current belief in the immorality of the soul doctrine may have had early Gnostic beginnings, as the early Church believed in soul-sleep, where the dead would not regain consciousness until the resurrection they were slated for, either the first to immorality, or the 2nd back to physical life.  Interesting.] 

          “Because this salvific knowledge provides a way to escape this world, it cannot be attained through normal “worldly” means.  The God of this world has certainly not provided it, as he is either evil and thus intent on keeping the divine sparks perpetually entrapped, or ignorant of any realm superior to his own.  One can only acquire the knowledge necessary for salvation through a revelation of the true God himself.  This salvific knowledge, then, is revealed by an emissary from the divine realm to a select group of followers, who in turn convey it to those deemed able to receive it.”

          “It is within this context of Gnostic revelation that we can situate the development of Gnostic Christologies.  The emissary who provides the knowledge requisite for salvation must come from the divine realm, else he would have no access to the true gnosis.  Moreover, he cannot actually participate in the material world, else he would himself be entrapped within it.  Given the logic of this system, at least as it was perceived by the church fathers, Gnostic Christians had two basic christological options: [1] they could claim either that Christ was a divine being who came into this world in the semblance, but not the reality, of human flesh, that is, that he was a phantom who only appeared to be human, or [2] that he descended from the fullness of the divine realm, the Pleroma, to indwell a human being temporarily, in order to communicate his message of salvation before returning to his heavenly home.  I will explore the former option, the one more appropriately labeled “docetic,” in the chapter that follows, and devote the present discussion to the second view, the “separationist” Christology that was embraced by the majority of Gnostic Christians.”

          “According to separationist Christologies, Christ was one of the divine aeons of the Pleroma, who entered into the man Jesus at his baptism, through whom he conveyed salvific gnosis to the disciples during his public ministry, and from whom he departed at some time prior to the crucifixion.   The view is found in relatively pure form in Irenaeus’s description of an unnamed group of heretics near the end of Book I of his Adversus Haereses:


Jesus by being begotten of a virgin through the agency of god, was wiser, purer, and more religious than all other human beings.  The anointed (Christ) in combination with wisdom (Sophia) descended into him, and thus was made Jesus Christ.  Accordingly many of his disciples---they say---did not recognize that the anointed (Christ) had descended into him; but when the anointed (Christ) did descend into Jesus, he began to perform miracles, heal, proclaim the unrecognizable parent, and openly confess himself to be the child of the first human being….And while he was being led away (to death)---they say---the anointed (Christ) himself, along with the wisdom (Sophia), departed for the incorruptible realm, but Jesus was crucified (Adv. Haer. I. 30, 12-13).


“This was not the end of the story, however, for these Gnostics maintained that Christ raised the man Jesus from the dead, and over an extended period of time revealed through him the gnosis necessary for salvation.


The anointed (Christ) was not unmindful of its own, but sent down to him a certain power, which raised him up in a (kind of) body that they call animate and spiritual, for he let the worldly parts return to the world….Now after his resurrection he remained (on earth) for eighteen months.  And because perception had descended into him (from above), he taught the plain truth.  He taught these things to a small number of his disciples, who, he knew, were able to receive such great mysteries (Adv. Haer. I. 30, 13-14).


“Thus, according to opponents of the view, Jesus’ teachings were said to be preserved only among the elect, only, that is, among those who had the divine spark within them and so were able to receive the gnosis requisite for salvation.  In the typical Gnostic anthropology, such persons were called “pneumatics” (“spiritual”).  All others were understood to be either “psychic” (“animal”) or “hylic” (“material”).  The latter were creations of the world’s “Demiurge” pure and simple, and had no possibility for existence beyond this world.  Upon death, they simply ceased to exist.  The psychics, however, could hope for a limited kind of salvation, though not one so glorious as that reserved for the pneumatics.  Included among the psychics were members of the Christian church at large, who accepted the literal teachings of Christ, but who erred in understanding their surface meaning alone, not their deeper (“real”) significance.  Such persons would be saved by faith and good works.  Only pneumatics, the Gnostics themselves, could truly understand the revelation from God; on the basis of that revelatory knowledge, they were destined to escape this material world.” 

          “In part, then, gnosis involved understanding the true but hidden teachings of Scripture.  Given the rest of their system, it is not surprising that Gnostics typically understood the Old Testament to be the book of the Demiurge, the God of the Jews who created the world and received the worship of most Christians, ignorant believers who mistook him for the true God.  But even within the Demiurge’s book had been secreted important revelations that could be discerned when one moved beyond the literal meaning to the allegorical.  [Not to go off the subject, but isn’t that what Amillennialism does, apply allegorical meanings and not literal ones to all the Old Testament prophecies?  After 325AD, the Roman Catholic Church did just exactly that, using many of Origen’s allegorical interpretations instead of the literal.]  The opening chapters of Genesis were particularly to be cherished, for here the mysterious beginnings of the universe lay hidden in allegorical form.  Even more significantly, the writings of Jesus’ own apostles conveyed secret revelations not accessible to the literal-minded psychics of the church.  Only true Knowers could unravel the meanings embedded in seemingly unrelated details of the text, meanings that comprised the secret teachings of the Gnostic system.”

          “This refusal to subscribe to a literal understanding of the text was a source of perennial frustration for the proto-orthodox church fathers.  The frustration strikes a cord of sympathy with most moderns: if a “common-sensical” or “straightforward” reading of a text (i.e., a literal interpretation} has no bearing on what the text actually means, then the text can scarcely be used to arbitrate disputes.  Since Gnostics already knew what the text meant (Christ had told them!) they were no longer constrained by what the text “said” (or at least by what the orthodox said it said).”

          As should be clear from this description, the Gnostics who were attacked by such heresiologists as Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Tertullian did not consider themselves to be a religion distinct from Christianity.  [I emphasize that because this is what makes this group extremely dangerous.  They believe they’re Christians, Christians with “more” knowledge (gnosis), and as such they can enter into Christian churches and congregations unawares, at least until they start teaching others what they believe, making converts of their own.  I am of the firm belief that Gnostic “Christians” are not Christian at all, but as Paul and John would say, wolves in sheep’s clothing.]  They instead claimed to possess the correct interpretation of Christianity itself, an interpretation allegedly transmitted secretly from Jesus to his disciples.  It is for this reason that their opponents found such persons so difficult to track down and uproot.  Gnostics could remain within their Christian communities and confess everything that any orthodox Christian confessed.  But the Gnostics understood even these standard confessions allegorically, professing the orthodox faith with their lips, but redefining the terms in their hearts:  “Such persons are to outward appearance sheep; for they appear to be like us, by what they say in public, repeating the same words as we do; but inwardly they are wolves” (Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. III, 16, 8; see also IV, 33, 3).  Thus, as a solitary example, Valentinians could profess the “resurrection of the flesh,” even though they believed that the flesh was evil and bound for destruction.  For them, the confession “meant” that people who are in the flesh (entrapped sparks) can ascend to the Pleroma through gnosis…..”

          “Thus, in a trenchant discussion in Book III of his Adversus Haereses, Irenaeus attacks those “blasphemous systems which divide the Lord, as far as lies in their power, saying that he was formed of two different substances” (III, 16, 5).  Both the Gospels and Paul, claims Irenaeus, contravene the Gnostic notion that the heavenly Christ entered into Jesus only at his baptism and left him before his passion.  To the contrary, Scripture affirms that Jesus was actually born the Christ (III, 16,2), that he was recognized as the Christ while yet an infant (III, 16,4), that he suffered as the Christ (III, 16,5), and that he died as the Christ (III, 16,5).  In contrast to the variegated separationist views, “the Gospel knew no Christ who flew away from Jesus before the Passion; but Him who was born it knew as Jesus Christ the Son of God, and that this same one suffered and rose again” (III, 16, 5).” [ibid. pp. 119-124]     


Docetic Gnosticism:  Other Christians, both among the Gnostics and outside of their ranks (e.g., Marcion), went in another direction, claiming that Jesus Christ was God himself, come to the earth for the redemption of his people.  But because he was God, he could scarcely have experienced the restrictions and finitude of humanity.  And so Jesus was not really human; he only “seemed” or “appeared” to be.  Such Christians have been traditionally called docetists (from the Greek word that means “to seem or appear.”)  They were opposed by the orthodox, who insisted that Christ’s appearance was no deception: he had actually been a real human being, the Word of God made real flesh.”      

[ibid. p. 14]

          “The representatives of docetism proved far more pestiferous for the second- and third-century defenders of orthodoxy.  As we have seen, the term docetism derives from the Greek word meaning “to seem” or “to appear,” and is normally used to designate Christologies that deny the reality of Christ’s fleshly existence.  According to these views, Christ only “seemed” or “appeared” to be human and to experience suffering.  In a general way, of course, the separatist Christologies we have already examined could be said to fit this description since they claimed that the divine Christ, contrary to appearances, departed from Jesus prior to his crucifixion.  There has consequently been no shortage of scholars who have chosen to label this Gnostic view docetic.  For our purposes, however, it is better to maintain the distinction, sometimes drawn by orthodox polemicists themselves, between separationist Christologies, which saw Jesus and the Christ as distinct entities, and docetism, which argued that the one (indivisible) Jesus Christ was completely and absolutely divine, and for that reason not a real flesh and blood human being.  According to this view, Jesus Christ was a phantom, human in appearance only.

          Docetism was not the view of one particular social group, but a christological tendency that characterized several groups, some of them unrelated.  As already seen, the tendency was in evidence among some members of the Johannine community, the secessionists denounced by the author of 1 John near the end of the first century [and that author would be the apostle John himself].  Several decades later, the church in Rome expelled Marcion of Pontus from their fellowship, in part for advancing a similar view.  There is no trace of historical communication between Marcion and the opponents of 1 John.  In the intervening years, between the aspersions of the Johannine secessionists and the castigation of Marcion, stands the sharp polemic of Ignatius, directed in no small measure against the heretics of Asia Minor who maintained that Christ only “appeared” to be a human being and to suffer.  The latter group may well have been connected with certain Gnostics denounced by Irenaeus some seventy years later, heretics whose Christology moved along docetic rather than separationist lines.  [ibid. p181]….


Johannine Community Docetics, split of John’s church


“More specifically, it appears that the Johannine community originally comprised a group of Jews who worshipped in a local synagogue, even after having come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah.  At some point I its history, prior to the penning of the Fourth Gospel, the group’s new set of beliefs created friction with nonbelievers among the Jews.  The resulting tensions eventuated in a permanent estrangement: those who believed that Jesus was the Christ were “cast out of the synagogue” (John 9:22)  More or less in exile, these estranged Christians [Jewish Christian, or Judeo-Christians] formed their own insular community.  As a consequence, their theological views developed within a context of rejection and exclusion.  One result was a Christology that accounted for the repudiation of the Christian message by Jews outside the group.  Why had “the Jews” not accepted the message of Jesus?  In the thinking of the estranged party, it was because those who were accustomed to darkness could not see the light; those who belonged to this world could not recognize the one who came from the world above, the world of God.  As the Christology of the community developed, Jesus came to be portrayed not simply as a Jewish rabbi, or as the Jewish Messiah, or even as the Savior of the world.  To be sure, he was all these things, but he was also much more.  He was the one who came from God, the very Word of God made flesh, who always existed with God and was equal with him (e.g. [John] 1:1-14; 8:58; 10:30; 20:28), who had come to call his own out of this world by revealing to them the truth of God that could set them free (e.g. [John] 8:31-32; 14:1-11).  At the same time, the identity of this one sent from God was not public knowledge; only those who had experienced the birth from the world above [i.e. being born-again, accepting Christ into one’s life] could recognize him and the truth of his message, and thereby receive the salvation that he had brought (cf. [John] 3:3, 5). [ibid pp. 182-183, par. 1]

          “The christological notions embodied in the Gospel of John, then, developed over a period of time and represent reflections inspired by the internal struggles of an ostracized Christian community.  Moreover, neither the community’s history nor its theological reflections came to a standstill with the completion of the [Fourth] Gospel.  To the contrary, as Raymond Brown, in particular, has shown, it was precisely such views as are encapsulated in the Fourth Gospel that led to the secession from the community that we have already discussed.  Some members of the group took the community’s high Christology to an extreme deemed inappropriate by others [probably John the apostle himself].  And so, sometime prior to the writing of 1 John, the community again split over christological issues, with the “extremists” (in the view of the author of 1 John) leaving the community to form a group of their own (1 John 2:18-19, “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.”)  In the preceding chapter I argued that the Christology of these secessionists was in fact docetic, that they claimed that Jesus, the Savior from above, was so much the equal of God that he could not have been manifest in the flesh in any real sense (he only “appeared” to be fleshly) and that, as a consequence, he did not actually shed blood (he only “appeared” to suffer).  Against these secessionist claims, the author of 1 John argued that Christ really did come in the flesh (1 John 4:2-3, “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God:  Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is in the world.”)  and that he [Jesus] could be sensibly perceived (1 John 1:1-4, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.  And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.”), that he shed blood (1 John 5:6, “This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood.  And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.”), and that it was this shed blood alone that effected a right standing before God (1 John 1:7; 2:2; 4:10).”  [ibid p. 183]  This was a thumbnail sketch of why the letter of 1st John was written by the apostle John.  He had come head to head with a form of Gnosticism that had split one of his congregations, a congregation of Jewish-Christians, which most of churches in Asia Minor were [see http://www.unityinchrist.com/history2/index3.htm.]  One form of Gnosticism was beginning to spread through these early Judeo-Christian churches in Asia Minor, and John was writing to try to stop it.  John had also run into Cerinthus, who was a Separatist Gnostic, considered by later apologists and scholars as an archheretic. 


Simon Magus, and his disciples Saturninus and Basilides


“As I have indicated, docetism was one of two major possibilities for Gnostic Christians who wanted to maintain that Christ brought redemption into the world without himself actually belonging to it….Chief among the “purely” docetic culprits that the heresiologist Irenaeus names is none other than the father of all heretics, Simon Magus.  According to Irenaeus, Simon claimed to be God himself, come down to bring salvation to the world.  He had previously appeared as Jesus, even though this was nothing but an “appearance”; as Jesus he had not really been a man, and had appeared to suffer even though he had not really suffered (Adv. Haer. I, 23, 3).  For Irenaeus this was only the first of several, genealogically related docetic Christologies.  Simon’s disciple was Menader, whose two most notorious followers, Saturninus and Basilides, were also docetists.  According to Saturninus, Jesus came to destroy the God of the Jews and to liberate the sparks of the divine from their bodily prisons.  He [Jesus, according to Saturinus] was not actually born and did not actually have a body, but was only mistakenly supposed to be a material, visible being (Adv. Haer. I, 24, 2).  The Christology of Basilides appears to have been somewhat more developed.  According to Irenaeus, Basilides claimed that one of the divine aeons, Nous (Mind), also called Christ, appeared on earth as a man in order to bring salvation from the powers that created the world.  But this appearance was a pure deception, which climaxed at the scene of Jesus’ crucifixion.  On his path to crucifixion, assuming the appearance of Simon of Cyrene, the bearer of his cross, while transforming Simon into his own likeness, Simon was then mistakenly crucified in Christ’s stead, while Christ stood aside, laughing at those he had deceived.  As a result, for Basilides, confessing “the crucified man” is an error; those who do so (e.g. the orthodox) worship Simon of Cyrene rather than Christ, and show themselves still to be slaves, under the power of the creator who formed bodies (Adv. Haer. I, 24, 3).  [ibid. p. 184]

          “Whether or not the historical Basilides actually held to such a remarkable view is less germane to our discussion than the undisputed fact that several of the orthodox church fathers believed he did.  It is nonetheless striking that precisely such an idea (a particular twist on the concept of vicarious  atonement!) has now turned up in some of the literature uncovered at Nag Hammadi.  The so-called Second Treatise of the Great Seth also portrays a Jesus who miraculously exchanges places with Simon of Cyrene and mocks his opponents who think they have crucified him.  Other Gnostic documents known to the orthodox polemicists advance comparable docetic views.  [ibid. p. 184]


Marcion of Pontus: “Particular infamy surrounds the best-known representative of doceticism, Marcion of Pontus.  No other heretic evoked such vitriol, or, interestingly enough, proved so instrumental for counterdevelopments within orthodoxy.  It is striking for our deliberations that Marcion’s views developed independently of the earliest form of docetism of which we are aware---that of the Johannine community---and almost certainly under a different set of social and ideological precedents.  Marcion’s relation to the Gnostic docetists is a  more disputed matter, to which we will turn in due course.

          “None of Marcion’s own writings has survived, but from the orthodox attacks against him, particularly those of Tertullian and, less reliably, Epiphanius, some biographical details can be reconstructed with varying degrees of certainty.  Marcion came from Sinope in Pontus, where his father was allegedly an orthodox bishop of the church.  He himself made a living as a commercial shipper, and as a young man amassed a small fortune.  At some point in his adulthood he left Sinope; according to the patristic sources, which are difficult to trust on this point, it was under duress: his father excommunicated him from the church for propounding deviant teachings.  After spending some time in Asia Minor, Marcion came to Rome, probably around 139 C.E. [just after the Bar Kochba Revolt put down by Rome]. Here he gained admission to the church and donated to it’s work a substantial sum---some 200,000 sesterces.  Little is known of Marcion’s activities in Rome, although there is good reason to think that he devoted most of his time to developing his theological system and establishing its basis in two literary projects, the production of his own work, the Antitheses (so named because it set the works of the Old Testament God in opposition to the God of Jesus and Paul) and the expurgation of what he considered to be heretical Jewish interpolations in the sacred text of Scripture (comprising, for him, a version of Luke and ten Pauline epistles).  Around the year 144 C.E., Marcion chose to make his theological system public, possibly with a view to swaying the church at large.  He called a council of Roman presbyters to hear his case, the first such council on record.  The outcome of the proceedings, however, was not at all what he had envisaged.  The Roman presbyters rejected his views, returned his contribution to their work, (the 200,000 sesterces) and excommunicated him from the church.  [Comment:  It’s interesting, but most of the Gentile Christian churches extant today, although they haven’t actually expunged the Old Testament or altered Scripture the way Marcion did, removing any “Jewish” traditions from it, they have by emphasis of what is taught and studied, de-emphasized the study of the Old Testament in preference for the new and especially the Pauline letters.  This happened in full force after 325AD.  The Gentile Christian churches did not absorb docetic teachings, but this refocusing away from a balanced study and teaching of both Testaments, to the exclusivity of the New did take over in the Gentile churches, distancing them from their Judeo-Christian brothers in Christ and their congregations in Asia Minor.] 

          “From this time on we lose track of Marcion, although there are reasons for thinking he returned to Asia Minor to begin a series of missionary campaigns.  It is known that within a few short years he had acquired a considerable following.  By 156 C.E., Justin could say that he had already deceived “many people of every nation” (Apol. I, 26).  Marcion’s missionary success can be gauged by the extent of his opposition; over the course of three centuries his views were attacked throughout the Mediterranean East and West by such notables as Hegessipus, Justin, Theophilus of Antioch, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Ephraem, Epiphanius, Theodoret, and Eznik de Kolb. [ibid p. 185]

          “As can be inferred from my brief description of Marcion’s literary activities, he is best understood not as a philosopher but as a biblical theologian, specifically as an interpreter of the Apostle Paul.  His theological system took its cues from the Pauline epistles, especially Romans and Galatians, in which he found a clear emphatic contrast between the Gospel of Christ and the Law of the Old Testament, a contrast evident above all in Paul’s violent opposition to those who sought to follow the Law after having come to faith in Christ.  [Comment:  I think it is plainly evident, that although Gentile Christianity never absorbed, but plainly rejected the docetic heresies of Marcion, they ended up absorbing his anti-Jewish, anti-Old Testament, anti-“Law of God” bias, which would lead in the end to religious laws being enforced against even voluntary Sabbath and Old Testament Holy Day observes, which the Judeo-Christian churches in Asia Minor were in the practice of observing.  I am beginning to see how these biases formed, even though their early progenitors themselves were rejected for their extreme views and heresies.  The author continues.]  For Marcion, these basic dichotomies between Law and Gospel, Jewish Christianity and Pauline Christianity, required yet other, more serious dichotomies.  If the Law of the Old Testament is a hindrance to salvation in Christ [which it isn’t], then Christ must have no relation to the God who inspired that Law; moreover, because the God who inspired the Law is also the God who made the world, Christ must have no relation to the Creator.  In short, there must be two Gods.  One is the God of the Jews, who created the world, chose Israel to be his people, and gave them his law.  The other is the God of Jesus, previously unknown before his coming into the world.  This is also the God whom Paul knew and preached, a God with no relation to the God of the Old Testament, a Stranger both to the world and to its Creator. [Wow!  I can see how Gentile Christianity absorbed the bias of Marcion, without the extreme specifics of his heretical views.  Plainly throughout the New Testament and even Paul’s letters, Jesus is identified as the Great I Am, the God of the Old Testament, Yahweh.  John 1:1-14; 8:56-58, just to name to passages make this plain.  Marcion’s biases ended up divorcing the Gentile Christian church from its precious Jewish roots.  Now this served a purpose, so the simple Gospel of Christ, the gospel of salvation, could span the globe into all the Gentile nations without Jewish cultural restrictions which would have hindered that gospel of salvation going to the Gentiles.  But in the process, this divorcing process brought a strong blindness of what the early Church had been like, a Judeo-Christian church.  And the Roman Catholic Church itself, as a result, would become strongly anti-Semitic (see http://www.unityinchrist.com/messianicmovement/bloodstainedhands.htm.).  Now the Lord has basically restored the Jewish branch of the body of Christ which was virtually destroyed in 325AD.  Check the other links out on the upper nav bar of the link above for the stunning story of this recent restoration of the Jewish branch of the body of Christ.]

          “Because Christ [in Marcion’s heretical theological system] came from the Stranger-God, he must have had no real ties with the world of the Creator.  This means, for Marcion, that Christ was not really a flesh and blood human being, else he would share in the materiality of the Creator’s realm.  Christ was therefore not born.  He descended in the appearance of a full-grown man during the reign of the Emperor Tiberius and ministered among his disciples before being crucified under Pontius Pilate.  It is difficult to know what Marcion actually thought about the crucifixion, although the cross remained a central component of his system.  It would appear, though, that Christ did not really suffer in the sense that other crucified humans suffered, in that he did not possess a real body of flesh and blood.  This at least was the orthodox construal of Marcion’s position (the only construal that matters for our purpose), as evidenced in the anti-Marcionite polemic of Tertullian:  “For He suffered nothing who did not truly suffer; and a phantom could not truly suffer. (Adv. Marc. III, 8).

          “I have already discussed the implications of Marcion’s theology for his canon and text of Scriptures.  Marcion was evidently the first to insist on a closed canon, a canon that excluded the Old Testament in its entirety and accepted only one Gospel (a form of Luke) and ten letters of Paul.  Marcion edited each of these books heavily, not in order to “corrupt” them but in order to “correct” them---to return them to the pristine state they had lost when transcribed by the Christian Judaizers, heretics who inserted passages that affirm the goodness of creation or that quote the Old Testament as a work of the good God or that suggest that Christ came in fulfillment of the predictions of the Hebrew prophets.  Marcion deleted such passages as contaminations of the text.  Among other things, this means that Marcion’s canon contained neither Luke’s birth narrative nor Paul’s affirmation of the Old Testament, including his reflections on the parallels between Adam and Christ.  [ibid. p. 186]

          “As can well be imagined, Marcion’s system proved problematic for orthodox Christians on virtually every ground.  It divided the creator of this world from its redeemer, it treated Scripture capriciously (in Tertullian’s words, Marcion did exegesis with a knife), and it made Jesus a phantom who merely appeared to be human.  The christological charges are particularly significant for our purpose.  In the eyes of his orthodox opponents, Marcion denied that Christ was really born, that he had real flesh, and that his crucifixion involved real pain and suffering….     “To sum up: A number of Christian individuals and groups were known to oppose the orthodox notion that Jesus was a real flesh and blood human being.  The reasons that various docetists adopted their views are not always easy to discern.  In no case can we insist that the matrix was purely ideological or purely sociological, as if these represent discrete categories.  What is clear is that all such groups were opposed by proto-orthodox Christians who insisted that even though Christ was divine, he nonetheless had a real human body, a body that was actually born; that became hungry and thirsty and tired; that suffered, shed blood, and died for the sins of the world; that was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven; and that was soon to return from heaven in glory.” [ibid. p. 187]


Nag Hammadi Texts


Bart D. Ehrman just gave us an excellent picture of the early heresies that were attacking the first to third century Christian Church throughout the Roman empire. Most of the literature from this category is known/confirmed to us in the modern age through the Library discovered at Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945.  So what follows is a list of the “Christian” Gnostic books found in the ancient library of Nag Hammadi, Egypt, essentially.


* Sethian works are named after the third son of Adam and Eve, believed to be a possessor and dissiminator of gnosis.  These typically include:

          *The Apocryphon of John

          *The Apocalypse of Adam

          *The Reality of the Rulers, Also know as The hypostasis of the Archons

          *The Thunder-Perfect Mind

          *The Three-fold First Thought (Trimorphic Protennoia)

          *The Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit (also known as the (Coptic) Gospel of the Egyptians)



          *The Three Steles of Seth


* Thomasine works are so-named after the School of St. Thomas the Apostle.  See Thomasine Church (Gnostic).  The texts are commonly attributed to this school are:


          *The Hymn of the Pearl, or, the Hymn of Jude Thomas the Apostle in the Country of Indians

          *The Gospel of Thomas

          *The Book of Thomas: The Contender Writing to the Perfect


*Valentinian works are named in reference to the Bishop and teacher Valentinius, also spelled Valentinus.  Ca. 153 AD/CE, Valentinius developed a complex Cosmology outside the Sethian tradition.  At one point he was close to being appointed the Bishop of Rome of what is now the Roman Catholic Church.  Works attributed to his school are listed below….:

          *The Divine Word Present in the Infant

          *On the Three Natures

          *Adam’s Faculty of Speech

          *To Agathopous: Jesus’ Digestive System

          *Annihilation of the Realm of Death

          *On Friends: The Source of Common Wisdom

          *Epistle on Attachments

          *Summer Harvest

          *The Gospel of Truth

          *Ptolemy’s Epistle to Flora

          *Treatise on Resurrection (Epistle to Rheginus)

          *Gospel of Philip


          *The Octext of Subsistent Entities

          *The Uniqueness of the World

          *Election Naturally Entails Faith and Virtue

          *The State of Virtue

          *The Elect Transcend the World


          *Human Suffering and the Goodness of Providence

          *Forgivable Sins


*The Gospel of Judas is the most recently discovered Gnostic text.  National Geographic has published an English translation of it, bringing it into the mainstream awareness.  It portrays Judas Iscariot as the most enlightened disciple, who acted at Jesus’ request when he handed Jesus over to the authorities.  Its reference to Barbelo and inclusion of material similar to the Apocryphon of John and other such texts, connects the text to Bareloite and/or Sethian Gnosticism.  [taken from Wikipedia]


I fully recommend Bart D. Ehrman’s book “The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture”, where he as a masterful detective has uncovered the evidence of this massive spiritual war, buried in the Scriptures. This evidence was in the form of orthodox “corruptions” added to the original texts of the Scriptures by orthodox Christian scribes, copyists, during the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD.  These “corruptions” were added to deny Adoptionists and Gnostics the ability to easily use Scripture to prove their heresies.  It’s a scholarly work by a Greek scholar, but fully readable.  Every pastor should have a copy of it in his library and read it thoroughly.  You can order it on http://www.amazon.com.