THEN AND NOW
By Jason Barker
In 2 Peter 2:12, the apostle states, But
there were false prophets also among the people, even as
there shall be false teachers among you, who privily
shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord
that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift
destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways;
by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken
The apostle accurately observed the
spread of heresy in the firstcentury church, and
his warning that false teachers would continue to arise
can easily be seen in the growth of cults and
pseudoChristian religions in our time.
Interestingly, the heresies that are popular today are
simply variations of the same heresies that have arisen
throughout the history of the Church. This article will
briefly examine some of the most influential of these
heresies, will list scriptures that refute the heresy,
and will list some of the modern groups that continue to
promote the heresies.
Judaizers 1st Century
Judaizers, or the Judaizing movements, is not a
condemnation of Judaism or ethnic Jews. Instead, it has
historically been the label for those who attempt to make
observing the Mosaic Law a requirement for Christianity
and salvation. The book of Acts refers to such people as
they of the circumcision (Acts 10:45; 11:2),
and the council at Jerusalem decisively ruled against
them (Acts 15:2329).
Despite this biblical ruling, Judaizing movements
continue to grow in our time. These movements require
such things as strict observance of the Sabbath on
Saturday, mandatory tithing, observance of the Jewish
feasts, and other regulations in order for a Christian to
Scriptural Refutation: Romans 3:2428.
Modern Groups: Seventh-Day
Adventists; followers of Herbert W. Armstrong.
Gnosticism 1st and 2nd
Centuries The Gnostics promoted three basic
teachings: 1) matter is evil, and thus Jesus only
appeared to be a man; 2) because the Bible teaches that
God created matter, the God of the Old Testament Jews is
an evil deity who is distinct from the New Testament God,
Jesus Christ; and 3) ultimate Truth is a mystery that is
available only to those who are initiated into the secret
teachings and practices of the Gnostic groups.
Gnosticism has become popular in the latter half of
the 20th century with the 1945 Egyptian discovery of the
Nag Hammadi library, a collection of Gnostic writings.
One of the most influential books in modern Gnosticism
has been Elaine Pagels The Gnostic Gospels,
an analysis of the Nag Hammadi documents. Modern
Gnosticism is commonly found in syncretistic groups,
which teach that Truth can be found by combining the
beliefs and practices of numerous religions.
Scriptural Refutation: Genesis 1:4, 10, 18, 21,
25, 27; John 10:30; 2 Timothy 3:1617; 1 John 1:1.
Modern Groups: Primarily found in
the New Age Movement.
Docetism 1st 4th
Centuries The name is taken from the Greek word dokein
= to seem. The docetics believed that the seeming
humanity of Christ, particularly his suffering, were
imaginary. They taught that the divine God cannot suffer,
and thus, since Christ is divine, his suffering was an
illusion to teach humans a valuable lesson about the
illusion of matter. Docetism was an integral part of
Gnosticism. The heresy was a major impetus for the
Chalcedonian Definition of 451, which describes that
Christ is one person with two natures: human and divine.
The heresy continues among modern groups that deny the
reality of suffering.
Scriptural Refutation: John 1:13, 14;
Modern Groups: Christian Science,
Mind Sciences, the New Age Movement.
Origenism 3rd Century The
career of Origen is one of the more unusual in Christian
history. He dedicated himself to defending attacks on
Christianity from paganism, Judaism, and Christian
heresies. His apologetic book, Against Celsus,
remains a classic piece of Christian literature.
Despite his defense of orthodoxy, Origen developed
several heretical doctrines that were eventually
condemned in 553. His most notable deviant teachings
involve the preexistence of human souls, the
subordination of the Son to the Father, and universalism.
Few groups currently adopt all of Origens
teachings. Nonetheless, groups influenced by Joseph Smith
believe in both the preexistence of souls and the
essential subordination of the Son to the Father, and
many other groups believe in both the preexistence of
souls (usually in the form of reincarnation) and
Scriptural Refutation: Hebrews 9:27; John
10:30; Matthew 7:1323; 8:1112.
Modern Groups: Mormons, Liberal
Dynamic Monarchianism / Sabellianism
3rd Century Although the heresy was first
taught in 190 by Theodotus of Byzantium, monarchianism
was most notably promoted by Sabellius in the third
century. Monarchianism denies the Trinity by teaching
that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not
separate persons. Instead, the monotheistic God (called a
monad) progressively revealed Himself as the creator and
lawgiver through the office of Father, as the
redeemer through the office of Son, and as the source of
grace through the office of Spirit.
Scriptural Refutation: John 3:16;
17:2223; 1 John 5:714.
Modern Groups: Oneness
Arianism 4th Century
Perhaps the most significant heresy faced by the Church,
Arianism (named after Arius) taught that, as the Son of
God, Christ was created by God the Father. Arius thus
denied the Trinity by teaching that Jesus is less than
fully divine. This heresy became extremely widespread,
even being promoted by many bishops. It was condemned at
the First Council of Nicaea in 325 (which proclaimed that
Christ is fully divine), and at the First Council of
Constantinople in 381 (which proclaimed that the Holy
Spirit is divine). Arianism remains one of the most
common heresies to afflict the Church. Almost all
pseudoChristian groups deny the full deity of
Scriptural Refutation: John 10:30; 1 John 5:7.
Modern Groups: Jehovahs
Witnesses, Mormons, the Unification Church.
Pelagianism 5th Century
Pelagius, a Welsh monk, taught that humanity does not
inherit original sin, and that salvation is earned by
following the example of Christ. Grace is not necessary;
instead, humans overcome the sin they gradually develop
by using Gods grace to assist them in perfecting
themselves and thus earning salvation.
This heresy, along with Arianism, is endemic to almost
all modern pseudoChristian groups.
Scriptural Refutation: Romans 3:2426;
Modern Groups: Jehovahs
Witnesses, Mormons, followers of Herbert W. Armstrong.
Nestorianism and Mono-physitism
5th Century Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople,
taught that Mary bore only Jesus human nature in
her womb, thus implicitly teaching that Christ was not
divine while on earth. In an overreaction to Nestorius,
the Monophysites taught that Christ was one person with
his humanity and divinity fused into a single nature (the
Greek roots of the word monophysite are mono =
one, and physis = nature), thus implicitly
teaching that Christ was neither fully human nor fully
Nestorianism is implicit in those groups who deny the
reality of matter. One of the most common forms of the
monophysite heresy can be found in the New Age Movement,
where many believe that Jesus was a man who developed his
Christ consciousness and thus fully achieved
Scriptural Refutation: Colossians 2:9;
Modern Groups: the New Age
Movement, Christian Science.
Heresy is not new to the Church. The book
of Colossians is Pauls response to the syncretistic
heresies present in the 1st century church in Colossae.
Colossians 1:1520, known as the Christ
Hymn, is one of the best responses to the heresies
that attack the deity and work of Christ.
Christians are commanded by God to earnestly
contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the
saints (Jude 3). One of the most effective ways to
contend for the faith is to know the various ways in
which the faith is attacked, and to know the biblical
response to these attacks.
was Jesus? by N.T. Wright.
Did the historical person Jesus really regard Himself as the Son of
God? What did He actually stand for? With professional biblical scholarship,
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Christology Issues Roy B. Zuck, General Editor.
Essays by some of the best Evangelical scholars cover the whole
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in Revelations. 171 pgs., notes. $13.
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