The 2nd Century Rise of Heresy (Part 1 of 3)
By Kelly McDonald, Jr.
In the second century AD, Christianity experienced a tremendous attack of false doctrine and heresy. People tried to mix the pure faith with other religions. In this three-part series, we are going to discuss the rise of heresy in the second century. We will review the events leading up to this trend and some of the specific individuals involved.
First, we will examine the quotes of two different authors who describe these turbulent times.
Hegessipus (writing between 150-170 AD)
“And, after profound peace had been established in every church, they remained down to the reign of Trajan Caesar…Symeon son of Clopas, was informed against [accused] by the various heresies, and subjected to an accusation like the rest…He was finally condemned to be crucified. Up to that period the Church had remained like a virgin pure and uncorrupted…But, when the sacred band of apostles had in various ways closed their lives, and that generation of men to whom it had been vouchsafed to listen to the Godlike Wisdom with their own ears had passed away, then did the confederacy of godless error take its rise…And the church of the Corinthians continued in the orthodox faith up to the time when Primus was bishop in Corinth. I had some intercourse with these brethren on my voyage to Rome…in every city, the state of affairs is in accordance with the teaching of the Law and of the Prophets and of the Lord…After James the Just had suffered martyrdom [62 AD], as had the Lord on the same account, again Symeon son of Clopas, descended from the Lord’s uncle, is made bishop [of Jerusalem]… Therefore was the Church called a virgin, for she was not as yet corrupted by worthless teaching. Thebulis it was who, displeased because he was not made bishop, first began to corrupt her by stealth. He too was connected with the seven sects which existed among the people…from these have come false Christs, false prophets, false apostles – men who have split up the one Church into parts through their corrupting doctrines, uttered in disparagement of God and of His Christ…” (fragments)
Clement of Alexandria (writing around 180 AD)
“The Tradition of the Church Prior to that of the Heresies… For the teaching of our Lord at His advent, beginning with Augustus and Tiberius, was completed in the middle of the times of Tiberius. And that of the apostles, embracing the ministry of Paul, ends with Nero. It was later, in the times of Adrian [Hadrian] the king, that those who invented the heresies arose…” (Stromata Book 7, Chapter 17)
Hegessipus is considered the earliest Christian historian. He noted that Christianity held to the true faith until the reign of the Roman Emperor Trajan (98-117 AD). What might have caused him to say such a thing?
During the reign of Trajan, Christians were persecuted (see Pliny the Younger’s letters 96-98 to Trajan). They were put on trial and tortured. During this time of persecution, strong leaders were martyred within Christianity. Hegessipus specifically mentioned how Simeon was turned in by the heretics.
A second important factor that Hegessipus noted was the death of the first Apostles. Of them, John passed away last in approximately 100-105 AD. Many of their followers had either passed away or were older at this time. The individuals with the freshest memories of Christ’s life were no longer around.
These two factors played a huge role in the heretics who would try to alter Christianity in the second century.
Clement of Alexandria, who lived a little later, said that during the reign of Hadrian (117-138 AD) that the heretics arose. The significant event of that occurred during his reign was the Roman-Judean war. The Jewish people lost this war. As a result, Hadrian placed a special tax on the Jewish people. He also banned all the Jewish people from Jerusalem, including the Bishop of the city (who some considered to be the bishop of all Christendom). Some troubles in Christianity started at this time, including an argument about when to keep the Passover (which we will look at in a future article).
These events converged in a time period from 98-138 AD when Christianity would be assaulted by outside belief systems. They started in secret but came out in the open when they thought the time was right.
In the next article of this multi-part series, we will look at some of these heretics and their beliefs.
Kelly McDonald, Jr.
BSA President – www.biblesabbath.org