Early Christian heresies (2 Corinthians 10)

Bilderesultat for heretics

Illustration: In medieval times Jewish heretics were burned at the stake

In  his New Testament epistles, Paul frequently warned his readers to be on guard against false teaching (e.g. 2 Corinthians 11:3-4). These cautions reveal that from an early point Christianity was open to distortions and heresies that took many forms through overemphasis on some and denial of other central Christian teachings.

The “super-apostles” who opposed Paul in 11:5 appear to have erred by overemphasizing their own righteousness (11:15) and boasting about revelations they had purportedly received (12:1). Perhaps they were similar to the Judaizing opponents Paul faced in Galatia, whose teaching required the continuation of Jewish customs and led to an imposition of circumcision and dietary laws upon Gentiles. Paul condemned those who distorted the gospel through the addition of Jewish requirements (Galatians 1:8) and preached salvation on the basis of faith rather than works. Montanism was a later heresy that placed strict emphasis on law observance. It arose during the second century and encouraged excessive prophetic utterances in the hope of speeding Christ’s return.

Other early Christian heresies that denied central Christian beliefs included Gnosticism, Docetism, Ebionism and Arianism.

  • Gnostics were a diverse group, but the main tenet of their philosophy was that the material world was by nature evil and that by knowledge one could ascend to the pure spirituality of the heavenly realm.
  • Docetists, a subgroup of the Gnostics, affirmed the deity of Jesus but denied His humanity, believing that a divine being was incapable of suffering and concluding that Jesus merely appeared to be human and to experience pain.
  • At the opposite extreme, beginning at the end of the first century A.D., a Jewish Christian sect known as the Ebionites denied the deity of Jesus, preferring to uphold Him as a human being who perfectly obeyed the law and was rewarded by being made the Messiah.
  • Similarly, in the fourth century Arians denied the divinity of Jesus, demoting Him to the status of a demigod (a being with more power than a mortal but less than a god, or a person so outstanding as to seem to approach the divine). They argued that upholding the divinity of Jesus would contradict a belief in the oneness and immutability of God.

The creeds composed by the early church were an attempt to combat heresy and identify orthodox teaching. They emphasize the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, who is simultaneously fully God and fully man.


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