six prominent heresies [bible college papers]

Written by Dan King

Christ-follower. husband. father. author of the unlikely missionary: from pew-warmer to poverty-fighter. co-author of activist faith: from him and for him. director of family ministry at st. edward's episcopal church. president of fistbump media, llc.

December 30, 2009


Note: This essay is part of a series that I am doing for a class on church history. This part of the series is a summary of some of the heresies that plagued the early Christian church.

As the church started to grow and spread into various cultures, practices that contradicted the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles began to infiltrate the church and lead people astray. During the time of the Apostolic and Early Medieval church, there are six prominent heresies that threatened authentic Christianity.

Ebionitism was a heresy that came from the early Jewish Christians who attempted to blend elements of their traditional Jewish roots with new elements of the Christian movement. They rejected the inclusion of anyone outside of Judaism, and that salvation came from keeping the Law. Because faith in Jesus was not needed for salvation, He was reduced to being a man who became the Messiah by keeping the Law.

Gnosticism is a philosophical heresy that states that people can achieve salvation through knowledge. One of the specific forms of Gnosticism is Marcionism. Using passages from Paul and Luke’s writings Marcion separated the Old and the New, even to the extreme position of claiming that the Old was evil. He also rejected New Testament writings that contradicted his view. His Bible only contained the writings that supported his own Docetic theology.

Another form of Gnosticism was Manichaenism. This heresy contained a combination of Christianity and Zoroastrianism (and other ancient Oriental religions). This form of Gnosticism taught the dualist perspective that light (God) is good and darkness (matter) is bad. Therefore salvation was achieved by releasing the spirit (divine light) from the body (material prison).

Montanism was a heresy that sprung from a protest in the church. Montanus was disturbed by a move away from reliance upon the Holy Spirit and more towards human organization. Montanus went so far as to refer to himself as the Paraclete (commonly identified as the Holy Spirit). This movement led to an elevation of spiritual gifts over the Scriptures.

Monarchianism was a theological heresy that denied the idea of the Trinity. While there were various forms of this belief, the basic idea was that God was one person (a monarchy). This ultimately diminished the deity of Jesus Christ. This theology is still manifest in cultic beliefs today, including Unitarianism.

Donatism was a church policy issue more than anything else. It developed out of a rejection of leaders who lacked moral/spiritual character. It was a protest movement that rejected the Catholic church and Roman influence. Its followers (mostly in Africa) followed strict spiritual guidelines and ascetic practices.

Regarding heresies Earl E. Cairnes states, “One would have thought that the decision at the Jerusalem Council to free the Gentiles from the ceremonial and ritualistic demands of the Jewish law as requirements for salvation would have been final.” However, it is obvious that the Truth was regularly attacked from philosophical, theological and ecclesiastical perspectives.

Many of these heresies continue centuries later.

Paul L. Maier states in his commentary on the work of Eusebius that, “In 1952, the debate raged over the new Revised Standard Version of the Bible, which translated Isaiah 7:14: ‘Behold, a young woman [rather than ‘virgin’ as in the KJV] shall conceive and bear a son…” This debate could be associated with a Monarchianism perspective that would claim that Jesus was born just like any other man. Because many of these heresies still exist in some form today, the modern church still has much to learn from how the early church dealt with these problems.


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six prominent heresies [bible college papers]

by Dan King time to read: 3 min