The 2nd Century Rise of Heresy (Part 3 of 3)

The 2nd Century Rise of Heresy (Part 3 of 3)

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

Last week, we began to review the false teachings that began in the mid-second century, including some specific teachers. In this week’s article, we will review two of the more influential teachers, Valentinian and Marcion. Their teachings have lasted down to our present time in some fashion or form.

For Valentinus came to Rome in the time of Hyginus, flourished under Pius, and remained until Anicetus. Cerdon, too, Marcion’s predecessor, himself arrived in the time of Hyginus…” (Irenaeus. Adversus Haereses. 3.4.3; emphasis mine).

To give you an idea of the time period we are discussing, consider the following: Hyginus was the Bishop of Rome from 138-142 AD, Pius from 142-154, and Anicetus 154-166. Valentinus desired to be a bishop in the Roman Church, but was denied the role. He then broke with them to start his own following.

Valentinians blended Bible verses with other common sayings from their day to present what they portrayed as a more perfect truth. They melded Christianity with pagan festivals and encouraged breaking the commandments of God.

“…They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures; and, to use a common proverb, they strive to weave ropes of sand, while they endeavor to adapt with an air of probability to their own peculiar assertions the parables of the Lord, the sayings of the prophets, and the words of the apostles, in order that their scheme may not seem altogether without support. In doing so, however, they disregard the order and the connection of the Scriptures, and so far as in them lies, dismember and destroy the truth…these persons patch together old wives’ fables, and then endeavor, by violently drawing away from their proper connection, words, expressions, and parables whenever found, to adapt the oracles of God to their baseless fictions” (Irenaeus, Adv. Haers., 1.8.1).

Among their other false ideas: They accused God of creating a defective earth (ibid, 4.33.3). They taught that mankind was not made from the earth as described in Genesis (ibid, 5.15.4). They declared birth as an evil event, which subsequently led them to deny the bodily birth, suffering and resurrection of Christ (Clement, Stromata, 3.17.102). They did not believe that the corruptible body could become incorruptible by the power of God (Irenaeus, Against All Heresies, 2.14.4).

They were known for shifting views and creating fables immediately to justify whatever belief was convenient at the time (Tertullian, Against the Valentinians, ch. 1). For instance, they did not believe written documents contained truth, but only voice could spread truth. His group was among the largest groups of that time; he led many astray.

“The Valentinians, who are no doubt a very large body of heretics–comprising as they do so many apostates from the truth, who have a propensity for fables…” (Tertullian. Against the Valentinians, ch. 1).

“For [they allege] that the truth was not delivered by means of written documents, but vivâ voce [by voice]” (Irenaeus, 3:2:1).

“…boast that they possess more Gospels than there really are. Indeed, they have arrived at such a pitch of audacity, as to entitle their comparatively recent writing “the Gospel of Truth,” though it agrees in nothing with the Gospels of the Apostles, so that they have really no Gospel which is not full of blasphemy…” (ibid, 3:11:9).

“…he did not invent Scriptures to square with his own subject-matter, but adapted his matter to the Scriptures; and yet he took away more, and added more, by removing the proper meaning of every particular word, and adding fantastic arrangements of things which have no real existence…” (Tertullian, Prescriptions Against Heresy, ch. 38)

The last heretic we will discuss is Marcion, who followed in the footsteps as a man named Cerdon.

Cerdo or Cerdon taught that there were two gods: one of the Old Testament and one of the New Testament. He also went on to teach that Jesus was not the Son of the God of the Old Testament. Instead, he taught Jesus was the son of an entirely different God. He came to Rome during the time of Hyginus (which was the same time Valentinus arrived). He initially professed loyalty to the Roman church and spread his false teachings secretly. He eventually taught these things publicly.

Marcion succeeded him and deepened the heresy even further. In 144 AD, Marcion came to Rome. His teachings diffused throughout the Christian world. We will briefly look at the primary sources from this time period, which discuss his life and false teachings.

Cerdon was one who took his system from the followers of Simon, and came to live at Rome in the time of Hyginus… He taught that the God proclaimed by the law and the prophets was not the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ… Marcion of Pontus succeeded him, and developed his doctrine. In so doing, he advanced the most daring blasphemy against Him who is proclaimed as God by the law and the prophets, declaring Him to be the author of evils, to take delight in war, to be infirm of purpose, and even to be contrary to Himself” (Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., 1:27:1-2; emphasis mine).

“Cerdon, too, Marcion’s predecessor, himself arrived in the time of Hyginus…Coming frequently into the Church, and making public confession, he thus remained, one time teaching in secret, and then again making public confession; but at last, having been denounced for corrupt teaching, he was excommunicated from the assembly of the brethren. Marcion, then, succeeding him, flourished under Anicetus, who held the tenth place of the episcopate” (Irenaeus, Adv Haer., 3:4:3; emphasis mine throughout).

“And there is Marcion, a man of Pontus, who is even at this day alive, and teaching his disciples to believe in some other god greater than the Creator. And he, by the aid of the devils, has caused many of every nation to speak blasphemies, and to deny that God is the maker of this universe, and to assert that some other being, greater than He, has done greater works. All who take their opinions from these men, are, as we before said, called Christians;…but we do know that they are neither persecuted nor put to death by you, at least on account of their opinions”  (Justin, First Apology, Chapter 26).

Among more of his false teachings: he taught that Christ’s statements in Matthew chapter 5 forbidding adultery, murder, and swearing were an indication that they had been overturned and no longer applied (Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., 4:13:1). He prohibited marriage (Tertullian, Against Marcion, 5:7). He taught that Christ’s actual body was not crucified – but a phantom body (ibid, 4:40). He did not believe that the resurrection of the flesh was possible, but only the salvation of the soul (ibid, 5:10).

He truly despised the Old Testament and the Law of God he hated the Sabbath. Here is a quote from him about the seventh day: “Since that day is the rest of the God of the Jews, who made the world and rested the seventh day, we therefore fast on that day, that we may not do anything in compliance with the God of the Jews” (Epiphinaus, Haers., Sec. 42, from Bingham, 1139).

These heretics laid the foundation for a large anti-Sabbatarian movement in the second century. In the next few months, look for more articles on this subject.

However, these heretics were opposed by the second century hero, Polycarp. CLICK HERE to read more about his stand against them!

Kelly McDonald, Jr.

BSA President –


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