Not Traditional, Original


Montanism refers to a group of Christians who followed the teachings of Montanus who came into prominence in Phrygia in Asia Minor mid-second century.  Montanus was a former priest of Cybele, a goddess similar to Gaia who was revered as the Earth Mother. Prophecy was not new to the area as the cults of Men, Cybele, and Dyonysus were familiar in the area, and people were receptive to the idea of Christian prophets.

Montanus prophesied previously as a priest of Cybele, and after converting to Christianity, prophesied in Christianity.  But his manner of prophecy, according to an opponent, was to fall into a sort of frenzy and ecstasy, where he raved and babbled and uttered strange things.  He did also teach speaking in tongues and other gifts of the spirit.  According to Eusebius his manner of prophecy was different than the tradition of the church that had been handed down from the beginning.

Montanus declared that he was a vehicle of the Holy Spirit about 156 AD.[1]  Montanus preached the Paraclete of John 14:16 was working through him and two female companions, Maximilla and Priscilla, who claimed to have the same power of the spirit as Montanus.  The three of them claimed to be new prophets who had a new word from God that superseded the New Testament.  The Holy Spirit was still operational, according to them, but their doctrines were radical. They preached the end of the world was near and that the heavenly Jerusalem would be established in their area, Phyrgia.[2] People left their jobs and homes and poured into the local countryside as prophecies foretold of wars, martyrdom, and instructed fasts and abstinences.

At first, second marriages were forbidden, and then marriage itself was forbidden.  They practiced extreme fasting and other forms of asceticism.  Montanists were critical of the church at large for not practicing the gifts of the holy spirit.

The movement of Montanism was exciting and received by a lot of people. Some participants were described as “boiling over with the Spirit” and the movement spurred a yearning for martyrdom.[3]  It lasted from the first until the sixth century. Frend describes the movement as having an “extraordinary tenacity” despite the failure of the prophecies to materialize.[4] While their views were extreme and extra-biblical Montanism represented that a significant number of the believers in the first century after Christ did not believe that the power of the Holy Spirit had ended. However, the failure of their prophecies to materialize worked to dissuade some against the continuing presence and power of the Spirit to manifest in their time.

As with all movements, not all people involved with the movement adhered to all of the beliefs.  For example, Tertullian, an early church father in the Latin heritage, converted to Montanism in the year 206.  Tertullian, while attracted to the teaching of the power of the Holy Spirit, differed from the originators of the sect in the excesses.  Tertullian had a powerful impact in changing the beliefs of Montanism.  Tertullian held to some of the beliefs of mainline Christianity of the time including the fullness of the spirit in the apostolic age.  Therefore, it appears that Montanism held to more orthodox views in the later centuries of its existence than at its beginning.

The asceticism of Montanism resurfaced in Monasticism in later centuries.[5]

It is interesting to note that as the world accepted orthodox Christianity, orthodox Christians were instrumental in the persecution of Montanists.  Constantine decreed that Montanists were to be deprived of their places of worship, forbidding their services.  The emperor Justinian in the sixth century literally wiped out the movement by gathering the Montanists together with their wives and children in their places of worship and setting the places on fire.

Some modern Pentecostalists have identified with Montanus with the same criticism of the mainline church as having abandoned the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  It needs to be noted, however, that, unlike Montanists, Pentecostals are devout in their belief in the New Testament, do not practice asceticism, and don’t promote abandoning the New Testament for new prophecy.

Things that identify this group then as heretical include abandoning the tradition of the Apostles that we are charged to follow, the push for martyrdom, the push for asceticism, and false prophecies.

[1] A History Of The Christian Church, Williston Walker, Scribner, New York, 1959, p. 56

[2] Walker p.56

[3] The Rise of Christianity, W.H.C. Frend, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1984, P. 253-256

[4] Frend, p. 253-256

[5] Walker, p. 56

Other References

HERESIES, Heresy And Orthodoxy In The History Of The Church, Harold O. J. Brown, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Mass 2000, p, 66-68


Last edited 8/10/2021

August 10th, 2021 Posted by | Heresies | no comments

01.50 Marcion the Heretic is the One who Names the Old and New Testaments And Starts the Process to Canonize a List of Acceptable Scriptures, The First Creed

As the old saying goes, Marcion was the son of a preacher man.  Actually, his father was Bishop at Sinope.  But Marcion’s upbringing in the Church did not lead him to accept the orthodoxy of the times.  He was a wealthy shipowner and merchant who evidently pondered the religion of his father with the religions he saw in the places he traveled to. He made friends with a Syrian named Cerdo who apparently was a follower of the Gnostic Simon Magus.

Marcion didn’t like Jews, and he saw evil in materialism. He was convinced the world was evil, and he blamed the God of the Old Testament for that. That is indicative of Gnostic influence. 

Marcion started preaching with success. He was a master church planter. The church excommunicated him for his views. Marcion differentiated between the God of the Old Testament and the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Marcion concluded, in simple terms, that the Old Testament was bad, and the New Testament was good.

To Marcion, the God of the Old Testament was cruel. One reason he was cruel is that he selected one people above all the rest.  He set his chosen people to massacre other peoples.  The penalty for some sins was death.  In contrast to that, the Father of Jesus was inclusive, he made Christianity available to everyone. This showed a loving God, full of compassion and mercy.

Marcion concluded that Jesus couldn’t have been born of the genealogies that came out of the Old Testament and that evil god. So he simply appeared as a grown man!

This all may sound definitely off to many of you, but Marcion founded a church that lasted for centuries.  He was a persuasive preacher and church builder.  One reason was that he taught that there was no judgment; all would be saved.

Now, since the Old Testament was bad those books couldn’t be included in the list of books to be read in the churches. That’s why Marcion had to label Old Testament books and New Testament books to recognize which were the good ones to him and his followers. Apparently, our divisions of Old and New Testaments come from Marcion.

Marcion was perhaps the first to make a list of New Testament books. To Marcion, Jesus was the Son of God, and the Apostle Paul was his chief spokesman. So Marcion’s list consisted just of the epistles of Paul and the gospel of Luke.  The rest of the books in what we call the New Testament had too much of the Old Testament in them to support Marcion’s view of scripture.

Of course, the mainline Christian churches had to respond to Marcion’s list (as well as his church).  Orthodox churches began to compile their own lists, and uniformly, they included the Hebrew Scriptures.  As lists were developed it was common to include more than one gospel because it became common knowledge that no one gospel had the complete story. Other writings were gradually added to various lists compiled by different people.

Gnostic groups also began compiling Scripture lists of their own, but they also claimed books like the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Truth of the Valentinian and other Gnostic writings.

So there was a debate growing among various groups as to which list contained the list of true Scriptures. Orthodox churches, as they made contact, compared lists and slowly began building a consensus that led centuries later to the Canon of Scripture that gave us the 66 books in the Protestant Bible.

And as far as the response to the teachings of these heretical groups, there were several things done. One was the formations of the Apostle’s Creed.  This is also thought to be done in Rome circa 150 AD.[i]  It was an affirmation of orthodoxy against heresy.  The Apostles Creed is something of a misnomer in that it implies and some mistakenly believe that the Apostles wrote the creed.  On the contrary, the creed was what mid-2nd century church leaders believed that the Apostles would affirm.

Here is that original creed (notice it is different than modern versions that I have seen) formulated into a trio of questions to be presented to a candidate for baptism:

Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty?

Do you believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was born of the Holy Ghost and of Mary the Virgin, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and died, and rose again at the third day, living from among the dead, and ascended unto heaven and sat at the right of the Father, and will come to judge the quick and the dead?

Do you believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Church, and the resurrection of the flesh? [ii]

You can see that this creed is directed against the Gnostics and Marcionites in the use of the word “Almighty”. The word is usually translated “all ruling” and so it rules out the multiple gods of Marcion’s preaching.

Additionally, the creed specifies that Jesus was born, not just living a spiritual existence. This speaks against the heretical influences of Jesus just existing spiritually.  It specifies Pontius Pilate to give a historical reference point showing that he lived a physical life in the real world.

Also in response to Marcion and others, several early teachers in the church, including Iranaeus of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen of Alexandria wrote refutations against the heresies.  But in so doing the writings caused a change in perspective.  Before the writings of Paul and those in the decades following the writings were more simple and concrete.  Now the teachers had to expound on Christian doctrine and show the failings of the heresies.  That is certainly a godly enterprise, But, also in that process, some of these refutations made claims that original Christianity would not such as Christians find truth in philosophy as well as the Bible, i.e. there is more than one source for truth.  New claims also included that Christianity is a systematic theology with multiple levels of meanings, not just the simple sayings of uneducated men like in the first century, and it is a compatible and comparable philosophy to philosophers like Plato’s writings.

[i] The Story Of Christianity, Volume 1, The Early Church To The Dawn Of The Reformation, Justo L Gonzalez, HarperOne, 2010, p. 73-77

[ii] Ibid, p. 77

THE RISE OF CHRISTIANITY, W.H.C. Frend, Fortress House, Philadelphia, 1984 p. 212-217

May 31st, 2019 Posted by | Heresies, Movements | no comments


Gnosticism is the name given to a category of heretical beliefs in early Christianity and even before.  This was not a uniform body of believers with a uniform body of beliefs.  In fact, there were Gnostic “Jews” with their sets of beliefs before there were Gnostic “Christians” with their sets of beliefs.  And within the Gnostic community were numerous secret sects, all with their own baptism rite, password, sacred meal, even “final instructions to the dying”, etc.[i]

Gnostic comes from the Greek word Gnosis which means knowledge and this word is used in the Bible:

to give knowledge (gnosis) of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, (Luk 1:77 ESV)

Gnosticism refers to a secret knowledge that participants believe that they have been given either in oral traditions or in gospels and epistles as well as sources from numerous ancient religions including philosophies.  This secret knowledge made them superior to Christians that did not have them. They considered themselves the elite of the Christian world.  Only people of true understanding could obtain this knowledge.  This secret knowledge[ii] gave them salvation as well as power.

Gnostics had a skewed view of this life compared to Christians. They believed that humans are spirits trapped in bodies. They considered the spirit as exiled in this physical realm of evil. In fact, the creation of the universe was a colossal error. Even still, because the world was created by a spiritual being, it had to contain the “spark of the divine.” 

Basically, the spirits exiled in the physical bodies were really asleep. In order to wake up the spirit a messenger needed to be sent to wake up the spirit.  The messenger brings the secret knowledge to do this.  In Christian Gnosticism that messenger was Christ.[iii]

Until 1945 all we had were refutations against Gnostics to ascertain what their beliefs were.  But in 1945 thirteen ancient books containing over fifty texts were discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt.  Now, you can read some of these Gnostic writings for yourself.[iv]

One Gnostic gospel is the gospel of Thomas. Look at this opening line that talks about this very idea of special secret knowledge:

 These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down.

  • And he said, “Whoever finds the interpretation of these sayings will not experience death.” (Gospel of Thomas, opening, verse 1)[v]

Verse one says that this secret knowledge will save you.

Look at just a few lines of “secrets” in this document:

“This ignorance of the Father brought about terror and fear. And terror became dense like a fog, that no one was able to see. Because of this, error became strong.”[vi]

They are talking about the Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ here. God, our Father, is ignorant and brings about terror and fear, according to Thomas.  Boy, is that the opposite of Christianity or what?

“That is the gospel of him whom they seek, which he has revealed to the perfect through the mercies of the Father as the hidden mystery, Jesus the Christ. Through him he enlightened those who were in darkness because of forgetfulness. He enlightened them and gave them a path. And that path is the truth which he taught them. For this reason error was angry with him, so it persecuted him. It was distressed by him, so it made him powerless. He was nailed to a cross…”[vii]

This section talks about how the “perfect” are the enlightened. It also talks about Jesus Christ as a “hidden mystery”. It talks about error as a spiritual power that made Christ powerless and nailed to a Cross.  Yet he is the agent of enlightenment.

Gnostics viewed Christ as the messenger to bring the secrets that made them who they were.  In contrast, in orthodox Christianity, that the Father was going to send the Messiah is the thread that runs through the law and the prophets.  It wasn’t a secret.  And Christian salvation is available to all, not just the elite.  Christ is the agent of anyone who asks for him to provide salvation, righteousness, justification as well as the wisdom and power of the spirit.

The Gospel of Truth of Valentinus is another Gnostic gospel.   Valentinus is credited as the “father” of Gnostic Christianity because of his impact. Amazingly, he was almost selected as bishop of Rome.[viii]  Imagine where the Roman Catholic church would have gone had he been named their leader!   As a powerful leader Valentinus trained others in this systematic theology to the point that, even though persecuted by the Catholic Church, Gnosticism lasted until the seventh century.

Here are a few lines from the text.  This line talks about Christ being the sent one with the knowledge from the thought and mind of the Father:

“The gospel of truth is joy to those who have received from the Father of truth the gift of knowing him by the power of the Logos, who has come from the Pleroma and who is in the thought and the mind of the Father; he it is who is called ‘the Savior,’”[ix]

The Pleroma in the bible (Col 1:9) means fullness as in the fullness of God’s power and dominion.  It is used similarly in Gnosticism, the fullness of all that God is and has created.  However, the Gnostic definition uses terms that are Platonic in origin with the concepts of the cosmos and the demiurge, an artisan god who crafted and maintains the universe.

Another significant Gnostic document is The Teachings of Silvanus.  This document shows Gnosticism as a systematic theology.  It is rational and motivational, offering the listener an opportunity for salvation.

Look at the opening line:

“Abolish every childish time of life, acquire for yourself strength of mind and soul, and intensify the struggle against every folly of the passions of love and base wickedness, and love of praise, and fondness of contention, and tiresome jealousy and wrath, and anger and the desire of avarice. Guard your (pl.) camp and weapons and spears. Arm yourself and all the soldiers, which are the words, and the commanders, which are the counsels, and your mind as a guiding principle.”[x]

It sounds like the start of a good, rousing sermon to me.  It sounds like scripture.  It has terminology similar to the other churches. It sounds like wise advice and it offers things like:

“And if you do these things, O my son, you will be victorious over all your enemies, and they will not be able to wage war against you, neither will they be able to resist, nor will they be able to get in your way. For if you find these, you will despise them as deniers of truth. They will speak to you, cajoling you and enticing (you), not because they are afraid of you, but because they are afraid of those who dwell within you, namely, the guardians of the divinity and the teaching.”[xi]

It has a mention of the Father God, the divine Son, and all kinds of Christian terminology.  But it’s not the faith Jesus came to provide.  Look at this Gnostic verse:

“So, there is no other one hidden except God alone. But he is revealed to everyone, and yet he is very hidden. He is revealed because God knows all. And if they do not wish to affirm it, they will be corrected by their heart. Now he is hidden because no one perceives the things of God. For it is incomprehensible and unfathomable to know the counsel of God.”[xii]

This is speaking in riddles.  God is hidden but he is revealed.  This says it is impossible to perceive the things of God.  God is revealed to everyone but the counsel of God is incomprehensible and unfathomable.  Compare that to Psalm 73:

Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped…
Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. (Psa 73:1-2, 23-24 ESV)

This is an example of simple, direct reasoning in the Old and New Testaments.  No secret knowledge is required for God to hold our hand and lead us with his counsel.

Because of the persuasive nature of this heretical cult, believers responded and dealt with it. The second-century believers developed the concept of orthodoxy (right teaching). Christian writers wrote refutations against the heresies. In the process, the simple, direct, more concrete writing of original Christianity slowly changed, and we will deal with that as it develops.

[i] THE RISE OF CHRISTIANITY, W.H.C. Frend, Fortress House, Philadelphia, 1984 p. 200

[ii] The Story Of Christianity, Volume 1, The Early Church To The Dawn Of The Reformation, Justo L Gonzalez, HarperOne, 2010, p. 70

[iii] The Story Of Christianity, Volume 1, p. 72

[iv] The Nag Hammadi Library available at http://gnosis.org/naghamm/nhl.html

[v] The Gospel of Thomas available online at https://www.marquette.edu/maqom/Gospel%20of%20Thomas%20Lambdin.pdf

[vi] Ibid

[vii] Ibid


[ix] The Gospel of Truth, available at http://gnosis.org/naghamm/got.html

[x] The Teachings of Silvanus, available online at http://gnosis.org/naghamm/silvanus.html

[xi] IBID


last edited 8/24/2021

May 31st, 2019 Posted by | Heresies | no comments


Docetism comes from the Greek word “dokein” which means “seem”. Docetism was a doctrine first promoted by the Gnostics that Jesus Christ wasn’t a real man, he only “seemed” to be a real man. “Docetic Gnosticism held that Jesus was actually a kind of Phantom, and only had the appearance of flesh.”[1] Docetism is a heresy that we read about in the first epistle of John:

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 Jesus is not of God: and this is the spirit of the antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it cometh; and now it is in the world already [1John 4:2-3]

Docetism is recognized as the first of the Christian heresies.   Ignatius addresses Docetism when he uses the phrase “really, and not an appearance”.[2]  Ignatius uses it several times in the longer version of his epistles:

He was baptized by John, really and not in appearance;… He was crucified in reality, and not in appearance [3]

Now, He suffered all these things for us; and He suffered them really, and not in appearance only, even as also He truly rose again. But not, as some of the unbelievers, who are ashamed of the formation of man, and the cross, and death itself, affirm, that in appearance only, and not in truth[4]

All of the above are in the longer versions of the epistles of Ignatius which are generally treated as adulterated, with additions and textual changes from the originals.  However looking at the shorter version, which is deemed to be genuine, we see that Ignatius was addressing Docetism:

Now, He suffered all these things for our sakes, that we might be saved. And He suffered truly, even as also He truly raised up Himself, not, as certain unbelievers maintain, that He only seemed to suffer, as they themselves only seem to be [Christians]. And as they believe, so shall it happen unto them, when they shall be divested of their bodies, and be mere evil spirits.[4]

Harold Brown in his book on heresies says:

“A docetic view of Jesus Christ, which denies that he was truly a real, physical human being is often accompanied by an interest in the occult, in which the ‘spiritual’ activities of necromancy, words and magical gestures, produce a physical effect.  Human beings seem to need to have some aspect of their lives in which the spiritual and physical are seen as directly interrelated, and if this is not done in historic person of Jesus Christ, as it is in the Orthodox Christianity, other substitutes will be sought, as in magical and occult practices.  Despite the rise and apparent overwhelming dominance of the scientific worldview in the second half of the 20th century, there has been a wild proliferation of occult beliefs and practices, most pronounced in those areas where faith is the objective reality of Jesus Christ as the incarnate son of God has declined.”[5]

Docetism occurs and reoccurs throughout the ages. Key concepts to recognize Docetism include explanations where Christ’s life and resurrection are treated as metaphysical events as opposed to actual events, as well as claims that Jesus lived, died and was raised only symbolically or just in spirit.

[1] LECTURES IN SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY, Henry C. Theissen, Erdmann’s, Grand Rapids, 1979, p. 206-207
[2]  HERESIES, Heresy and Orthodoxy In The History Of The Church, Harold O. J. Brown, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Mass 2000, p. 52f
[3] Ignatius Epistle to the Magesians, Chap. X. — The Reality of Christ’s Passion, E-Sword program
[4] Ignatius Epistle to the Smyrnaeans its, Chap. II. — Christ’s True Passion., E-Sword Program
[5] HERESIES, p. 53

© copyright 2010 Mark W Smith, all rights reserved.

July 13th, 2010 Posted by | Heresies | one comment

Heresy, an Introduction

This site is adding a section in the table of contents on heresies.

There are several definitions for the word heresy.  The one that many are familiar with is that heresy is a belief that rejects the orthodox tenets of a religion. [1]   That sounds simple enough, but it is actually more complicated than that.  Heresy comes from the Greek word “hairesis” which means to divide.  With that, we see that heresy really refers to any doctrine that causes a group to split.  The negative connotation is that the doctrine that is labeled the “heresy” is the erroneous one because it caused a division within a group which in religious groups is not desirable.  With that in mind, it is easy to see that both sides of a group that split over an issue will call the other side heretics.  The Pope called Martin Luther heretic while Martin Luther rejected papal doctrine on indulgences and other issues as heresies because they were erroneous and egregious enough for Luther to split from the Catholic Church.

“In Christian usage, the term “heresy” refers to a false doctrine, i.e. one which is simply not true and that is, in addition, so important to those who believe it, whom the Church calls heretics must be considered to have abandoned the faith.”[2]

In original, primitive Christianity heretics were more easily seen to be “outside” the faith.  In modern times the distinction gets blurred.  With tens of thousands of churches and denominations in various degrees of dispute, what is the legitimate line of demarcation between a serious doctrinal dispute and petty issues?  Some have isolated heresies to what they proclaim as a few supremely important doctrines, such as the deity of Christ and the Trinity, and made those the only critical doctrines that all Christians must agree on.  While that is an understandable attempt, it falls short in reality because there are many issues, many of which are enumerated on this website, which cause divisions so bitter and/or so severe that believers from the different sides do not fellowship with each other, and in fact, may become bitter enemies.  In my time I have seen Baptists decree Pentecostals as “of the devil.”  History shows that people were banned, tortured, and even killed for issues like “believers baptism”, the belief that to be baptized one must be of the age of reason, and choose to be baptized, probably by immersion in water.

I have chosen to make this section on heresies because a lot of them will be mentioned in the section on movements and other places.  Beginning with the apologists in early Christianity, writers throughout history have been addressing heresies.

Intricately involved with the idea of heresy is the concept of orthodoxy.  Orthodoxy means right doctrine.  And of course, right doctrine depends on which side of the argument you’re on.  So once we get to, let’s say, the Reformation we will begin to see that Lutheran orthodoxy is different from Catholic orthodoxy.

There have been many heresies proclaimed throughout the ages including Docetism, Gnosticism, Marcionism,  Montanism,  adoptionism, modalism, and Arianism.   Issues like freedom of will, mode of baptism, church government, justification by grace, state-run churches, participation in war, down to modern issues like abortion, gay marriage and ordination, women’s ordination, and church involvement in social issues have all resulted in charges of heresy on one side against another.

As always, the focus of these articles will be to compare whatever stand is taken against the standards of original, primitive Christianity.

[1] http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=heresy
[2] HERESIES, Heresy And Orthodoxy In The History Of The Church, Harold O. J. Brown, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Mass 2000, p. 1

© copyright 2010 Mark W Smith, all rights reserved.

July 13th, 2010 Posted by | Heresies | no comments