The Origin of Heresy

“It is an obvious fact today that there is much diversity among the manuscripts, due either to the carelessness of the scribes, or the perverse audacity of some people in correcting the text, or again to the fact that there are those who add or delete as they please, setting themselves up as correctors.” -Origen, 3rd century Christian theologian

John Mark vs. John the Elder

By scholarly consensus, the epistles to the Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon, are believed to be the legitimate correspondences of the apostle Paul, written around the 50s A.D. Some epistles, like 1 and 2 Corinthians are thought to be a combination of several letters. These are the earliest canonical writings, yet they already show divisions within the church. The first epistle criticizes the Corinthians, saying, “One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?” (1:12). Cephas, here, is usually understood to be Peter, but some scholars have questioned whether Peter and Cephas are two different people. The Epistle to the Hebrews, long believed to have been written by Paul despite it’s radically different style and theology, is almost universally considered to be anonymous by both church and scholar. The epistles to the Ephesians, and to the Colossians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus are considered to be ’pious frauds’ in the name of Paul by nearly all New Testament scholars, and a smaller minority call Philippians and 1 Thessalonians into question. This is believed largely due to style and intent. Second Thessalonians is seen by scholars as being meant to address the expectation of an imminent end to the world that 1 Thessalonians implied and some believe it was originally meant as to replace 1 Thessalonians. Prof. Udo Schnelle in his book in The History and Theology of the New Testament Writings counts 17 expressions in 2 Thessalonians found nowhere else in the New Testament and 42 words and expressions repeated more than once. Only a slight majority of scholars dispute Colossians, as it shows a higher Christology than in other epistles, saying, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” (1:15). It also makes mention of false teachers whose “deceptive philosophy” depended on “human tradition and basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” which was not written about by other Christian authors until the 100s and almost certainly referring to Gnosticism.

The epistles 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus are collectively known as the Pastorals, and were supposedly written by Paul to his younger companions while in a Roman prison. But a strong emphasis on keeping accepted traditions that are handed down over that of the “false teachers” makes most scholars believe that they work of someone living after the time of Paul. The First Epistle to Timothy denounces “endless genealogies,” which is no doubt a reference to Gnostic teachings. The Pastorals are not included in the Bible of the heretic Marcion, who set his canon in 130 A.D., and are never quoted by anyone until the church father Irenaeus, around 170. The oldest New Testament manuscripts known to exist, called Papyrus 46 and dated to the early 200s, also at one time contained all the Pauline epistles except the Pastorals and possibly Philemon. In his book, The New Testament: An Introduction, Prof. Norman Perrin writes, “While statistics are not always as meaningful as they may seem, of 848 words (excluding proper names) found in the Pastorals, 306 are not in the remainder of the Pauline corpus, even including the deutero-Pauline epistles: 2 Thessalonians, Colossians, and Ephesians. Of these 306 words, 175 do not occur elsewhere in the New Testament, while 211 are part of the general vocabulary of Christian writers of the second century. Indeed, the vocabulary of the Pastorals is closer to that of popular Hellenistic philosophy than it is to the vocabulary of Paul or the deutero-Pauline letters.” Origen of Alexandria, an early Christian scholar and theologian from the early 200s, was recorded by the church historian Eusebius of Caesarea about a century later as saying that Paul had written only a few lines to a small number of churches that he had taught at, implicitly denying the authenticity of all the Pauline epistles:

“But he who was made fit to be a minister of the New Covenant, not of the letter, but of the spirit, Paul, who fulfilled the Gospel from Jerusalem round about to Illyricum, did not write epistles to all the churches he taught, and to those to whom he did write he sent no more than a few lines. And Peter, on whom the Church of Christ is built, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail left only one epistle of acknowledged genuineness. Suppose we allow that he left a second; for this is doubtful. What are we to say of him who leaned on Jesus' breast, namely, John, who left one Gospel, though confessing that he could make so many that the world would not contain them? But he wrote also the Apocalypse, being commanded to be silent and not to write the voices of the seven thunders. But he also left an epistle of very few lines. Suppose also a second and a third, since not all pronounce these to be genuine; but the two together do not amount to a hundred lines.” -Origen, Commentary on John, Book V, Chapter 3

The Gospel of Mark has a tradition of being authored by Paul’s companion, Mark, in Rome. The gospel was written in Greek, but uses some Latin expressions. Both the Greek Orthodox Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church believe Mark to be the first Pope of Alexandria. According to St. Irenaeus, St. Papias had been told by his mentor John “the Eldar” that Mark was Peter’s translator and used some of Peter’s writings in his gospel:

“And the Presbyter said this. Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord's sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements.”

The explanation that Mark did not write down everything in “exact order,” may be an apology as to the chronological contradictions between Mark and John: for example, the story of Jesus chasing the merchants away from the Temple being in the beginning of John instead of at the end, like in Mark.

Most scholars believe Mark was written some time in the 70s, soon after the second Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed. The gospel as we have it may have been written as late as the 120s, but most scholars don’t put it past 80. A Christian Samaritan of the early second century, Justin (called Justin Martyr), quotes the verse in the Gospel of Mark in which Jesus designates the 12 disciples as being from the “Memoirs of Peter” (an homage to Xenophon’s “Memoirs of Socrates”), adding another connection between the Gospel of Mark and Peter. In Acts of the Apostles, Peter's speech serves as a good summary of the Gospel of Mark (10:34-40). There also seems to be no strong motivation for the early church to attribute the second gospel to a disciple of Peter instead of directly to Peter himself.

The Gospel of Mark shows a very human prophet, proclaimed to be the Son of God at his baptism by John the Baptist. When he asks his own disciples who they think he is, some answer that he is Elijah, and others think he’s one of the prophets. Peter confesses as to Jesus that he believes him to be the Messiah, at which point Jesus warns them all that that’s a secret and not to tell anybody. It seems that Jesus is instead trying to get people to focus on his message, which is the coming Kingdom of God. When asked for a sign of the end times, he tells them that there will be no sign for that faithless generation. The healings and wonders that Jesus performs are not signs to inspire faith, as they are in the Gospel of John, but require faith in order to do good. Despite this necessity, the people who are healed usually ignore his requests to keep silent about him, and he is usually depicted as getting mauled by desperate peasants who want to be cured.

The gospel has Jesus say that if a man or a woman remarries, he or she is committing adultery, which presumes Roman law in which women were allowed to divorce rather than Jewish law that says they can‘t. Mark also contains an error in geography, placing Tyre north of Sidon rather than south. Mark tends to be more critical towards Jews than Gentiles, but this increases dramatically in the Gospel of John. Jesus’ message that it is “not what goes into your body that makes you ’unclean,’ but what comes out of your body” (lies, etc.) shows criticism towards Jews for being more concerned with ritual purity than moral correctness.

The Gospel of Mark also has two extra endings that were later appended at the end, so as to give witness to a resurrected Jesus. The earliest copies of this gospel end when Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome come to Jesus’ tomb carrying spices but instead find a young man dressed in a white robe who tells them Jesus is risen, at which point the women run away and tell no one because they were afraid. The King James Version continues to keep one of two different late additions to the gospel, without footnotes or any kind of divider. The ending it uses has Jesus come back from the dead and rebuke the 11 disciples “for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.” (16:14). This was almost certainly written against Christians who believed that Jesus rose spiritually rather than physically.

Most scholars accept the priority of the Mark’s gospel in trying to flesh out the historical Jesus, though it’s taken for granted that none of the gospel writers had any connection to Jesus’ original disciples. The gospel writers were instead forced to rely on various written sources to piece together a Jesus tradition that was compatible with their own pre-supposed sectarian beliefs. Scholars generally see the story of Jesus as having gone through a long period of oral tradition in which new traditions were added before they were finally set down in codex form. Although the gospels give no doubt to the reader that Jesus was the Christ, the “Messianic Secret” gives the impression that Jesus did not want anyone in Galilee to know he was the Messiah at the time. But this all ends when Jesus makes his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on a donkey, fulfilling a well-known prophecy which Jews at the time interpreted as referring to a Messiah from the line of David that would enter into the holy city on a donkey, cleanse the temple, and free the Jews from Roman dominion (11:9-10). But nothing like that happens. Instead Jesus is betrayed by Judas and handed over to the Romans to be crucified, as the gospels say he predicted. This would be a completely unexpected event for the Messiah, and the gospels often betray the disciples as not really believing Jesus’ predictions that it would happen that way. Less than 40 years later, the temple was destroyed by the Romans when Emperor Titus captured Jerusalem and burned most of it to the ground, making it impossible to fulfill every law as proscribed in the Torah.

The Gospel of Mark has a lot of bad things to say about the hypocrisy of religious leaders, but very little about heresy. When healing someone through exorcism, a “teacher of the law” accused Jesus of doing it through the power of Ba’al-Zebub. Jesus tells him that Satan can not drive out Satan and that “all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin." (3:28) The Gospel of Luke adds a little more to this saying: “I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” (12:8). The Gospel of Luke also contains a parable of the Good Samaritan, whose moral is that everyone is your “neighbor,” including people of other races and religions (10:25). The Gospel of Matthew also compares blaspheming the Son of Man and the Holy Spirit in the same way, but precedes it by saying, “He who is with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” (12:30). In the Gospel of Mark, the same subject comes up when Jesus catches the disciples fighting about who is the best:

They came to Capernaum. When [Jesus] was in the house, he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.’ He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.’ ‘Teacher,’ said John, ‘we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.’ ‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said. ‘No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.’ -Mark 9:33-41

Let’s look at this story a little closer. Who is this other man performing healing exorcisms in Jesus’ name? Why don’t the disciples know about him if they‘ve been with Jesus from the beginning? And why is this other exorcist in another part of the same town instead of going to catch a glimpse of the flesh-and-blood Jesus? Taken literally, the story is baffling, but taken allegorically, it seems to serve as a warning against sectarian jealousies. This message is repeated in the Gospel of Luke, but Matthew changes Mark’s “whoever is not against us is for us,” but in Matthew, it’s “whoever is not with us is against us.” (30:21). This other exorcist working miracles in Jesus’ name represents other Christian sects that performed healing exorcisms. But what’s completely remarkable is that Jesus is not teaching this lesson to just any disciple; he’s saying it to John! Compare this to what is said in the second epistle of John:

“Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.” -2 John 1:7-11

John apparently never learned his lesson. Jesus tells John not to stop other Christians who heal in Jesus’ name without ever seeing him in the flesh, and then John writes a letter warning his readers about other Christians who do not acknowledge Jesus having come in the flesh. Jesus tells John that anyone who gives a cup of water in his name will not lose his reward, and then John writes that those who give hospitality to false teachers share in their wicked work and will lose part of their reward! And this is not the only reference to John acting poorly in the Gospel of Mark. A similar event happens a chapter later:

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do for us whatever we ask.’ ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ he asked. They replied, ‘Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.’ ‘You don't know what you are asking,’ Jesus said. ‘Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?’ ‘We can,’ they answered. Jesus said to them, ‘You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.’ When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ -Mark 10:35-45

Jesus is critical of James and John for wanting to rule over people instead of serving, and prophesizes their deaths. This presumably means that both James and John are dead by the time the Gospel of Mark was written, which most scholars think happened around the 70s, after the destruction of the second Temple. Jesus also predicts his own death, but none of his disciples really believe him. The Gospel of Mark portrays James and John as wanting undue praise and insinuates a desire to rule over people like a Roman emperor. Yet the ideal of Jesus promoting equality among the disciples is ironic when compared to the Gospel of John‘s blatant display of favoritism towards a mysterious “Disciple whom Jesus loved,” long presumed to be John himself. The Gospel of John repeatedly displays this disciple’s superiority to that of Peter, and ends with the insinuation that the Beloved Disciple would live to an extreme old age, with church tradition adding that John was martyred around 90 A.D.:

Jesus said [to Peter], “Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is going to betray you?’) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?’ Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” -John 21:18-25

Today, the majority of biblical scholars, including Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant, doubt that the traditional identification of the disciple John as the author. Since chapter 21 is part of an appendix to the gospel, some believe the author may have been referring not to himself but to the one who wrote the main body of the gospel. Some think that it might have been written by a follower of the disciple John. The New Advent Roman Catholic encyclopedia, however, works hard to make the case for it being the authentic writings of John, Son of Zebedee. Many critical scholars believe that the polemic against Jews suggests that it was written by someone representing a Jewish Christian community that was expelled from the synagogue.

The Catholic Magister Artium, Ramon K. Jusino in his online article "Mary Magdalene: Author of the Fourth Gospel" makes a case for the earliest stratum of the gospel having originally been associated with Mary Magdalene and later edited by a Gnostic sect that saw her as their founder and hero. Following the work of the foremost Roman Catholic biblical scholar, Raymond E. Brown, Jusino reconstructs a portrait of Mary Magdalene authoring the earliest stratum of the gospel, with a sect honoring it’s founder as Mary Magdalene adding onto it and honoring her as “the Disciple whom Jesus loved.” Jusino points to apocryphal gospels like the Coptic Gospel of Philip and the Coptic Gospel of Mary Magdalene in which she is called “the Beloved Disciple“ to back this up. As Jusino theorizes, The Gnostic sect then faced a crisis in which it was pressured to consolidate with the more patriarchal church. The majority of them break away into their own Gnostic sect, but a smaller group redacts their gospel so that the Beloved Disciple is the mysterious unnamed male, robbing Mary Magdalene of her legacy. Jusino also notes that the antagonism between the anonymous disciple and Peter throughout the Gospel matches the same kind of antagonism seen between Peter and Mary Magdalene in the Coptic gospels. The final redactor then adds an ending in which Peter is reinstated by the risen Jesus (21:15) to make up for this.

The Gospel of John also makes the point to argue that the resurrection of Jesus was physical and not just spiritual. The ending of the gospel before the appendix reads:

“Now Thomas (called Didymium), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.’ A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’ Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” -John 20:24-31

This story of the disciple’s unbelieving nature has come to be used in the common phrase ‘doubting Thomas.’ But the relevance of having Thomas in particular touch his wounds become more significant when we consider other references to Thomas. Thomas means “twin” in Syriac and Didymus means the same thing in Greek. The other canonical gospels say nothing of Thomas other than he was disciple, but an apocryphal Gospel of Thomas tells of Jesus taking Thomas aside to give him secret knowledge. The Gospel of Thomas was found in a cache of Gnostic literature discovered in Egypt in 1945, called the Nag Hammadi library. The gospel itself is made up of a list of over 100 sayings of Jesus, many of which are found in the Synoptic Gospels.

In it, Thomas acts as the bodily reflection of the spiritual Jesus, making Jesus his spiritual twin. In Saying 28, the Coptic gospel reads: “Jesus said, ‘I stood in the midst of the world, and I appeared to them in the flesh. I found them all drunk; I found none of them thirsting, and my soul was afflicted for the sons of men; for they are blind in their heart, and they do not see that they came empty into the world, [and] empty they seek to leave the world again.’” Having Jesus “appear” to be flesh is characteristic of the Docetism.

So once again we find another coincidence, that both Thomas and later his followers would disbelieve in Jesus coming back “in the flesh.” We also know that the deceivers who “do not acknowledge Christ in the flesh” were of particular concern to the author of the Second and Third Epistle of John, who identifies himself as “the Elder.” It looks to be that the Elder wrote this story to press a point against Docetism, knowing that Thomas’ name had become affiliated with the Gnostics. Although there are many other aspects to Gnosticism, the Johannine tradition makes the question of Docetism the central division between their Presbyter (or Elder) sect and the false religion of the antichrist:

“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit [prophecy], but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and now is already in the world. You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world, and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.” -1 John 4:1-6

Presbyter denotes a rank of organizational superiority. The term reflects the same patriarchal tradition as in the Pastorals, like 1 Titus, “Rebuke not an Presbyter, but treat him like a father, and younger men as brothers.” (5:1). The term “Presbyter” is mentioned in the Epistle of James as well: “Is any sick among you? Let him call the elders of the church; and let them pray over him…” (5:14), but the term takes on a far greater significance as a title in 1 Peter, with “To the Elders among you, I appeal as a fellow Elder…” (5:1). The epistle was probably written to help make the Presbyter position look legitimate, quoting Peter as telling another community’s Elder to be “shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers: not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples of the flock.” (5:2). This is only one of many titles, as the same tradition also makes Peter out to be a disciple, an apostle, and later, a bishop. But in the Synoptic gospels the “elders” are always right beside the “chief priests” in trying to prove that Jesus was not practicing the correct form of Judaism, and yet in the late epistles, “elders” are being established for the purpose of ensuring the correct form of Christianity is practiced.

The Second Epistle of Peter looks even more inauthentic than the first one and is almost universally attested to be a forgery. The epistle’s author identifies himself as “Simon Peter” instead of “Peter,” as the first epistle did, and it claims to be a final letter written shortly before his death. Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen all believed that 1 Peter had been written by the disciple of Jesus but the first mention of 2 Peter comes with Origen in the early 200s, and even then it was disputed. Quotes used in the epistles come from the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament, not the Hebrew Tanakh, and the Hellenistic language used in 2 Peter has been especially linked by scholars as originating from the second century. There are some 15 instances of common phrases being textually dependent on the Epistle of Jude. Scholars think 1 Peter was written somewhere between 80 and 112 A.D. while 2 Peter is placed anywhere between 100 and 160 A.D. The Johannine tradition, whose roots are centered in Turkey, is thought to have been written sometime between 90 and 120.

The vehemence of the rhetoric against Docetism goes so far as to say they are “brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish.” (2:12). The epistle goes on to say that these people were orgiastic and “slaves to depravity.” The last chapter of the letter deals with scoffers who say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” Peter’s answer is that these scoffers “deliberately forget” that the universe was once made of water, and through these primeval waters, God brought the ancient cataclysm of Noah‘s Flood down to destroy the world. By the same word, the present world has been “reserved for fire,” and that “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but for everyone to come to repentance.” (3:8). Docetics are known to have considered Paul to be one, if not the most important of the apostles, and the fact that Docetics interpreted his writings differently is acknowledged near the end of the letter:

“Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” -2 Peter 3:15-16

Here, the Presbyter conception of Simon Peter acts as a counterweight to the Docetic conception of Paul, assuring the reader that although his epistles can be misinterpreted, Paul was most assuredly held the same dogmatic beliefs as the Presbyters. This is similar to Peter’s role in Acts of the Apostles, in which he acts as the center-point between Paul’s Gentile Church and James’ Jewish Church. Acts pictures Peter as a moderate when the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem become furious at Paul for teaching that Christ’s death brought an end to the Laws of Moses (21:20). Unlike the epistles, Acts of the Apostles denies Paul ever taught this. Another common source of conflict between Jewish and Gentile Christians was Jews would not sit at the same table as Gentiles who ate foods that weren’t kosher foods. This is reminiscent of the conflict over kosher foods in Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, in which Cephas (Peter) lives and acts like a Gentile until apostles from James show up, and only then begins to act kosher and eat away from the Gentile Christians. Acts remedies this conflict by having Peter is described as having a dream in which God tells him three times that all foods have been made clean. Peter denies God three times (mirroring his triple denial of Jesus from the gospels), and even after he wakes up, he is still so blunt as to ponder the meaning of the vision (10:17). Finally comprehending the message, he supposedly backs Paul up on the subject of kosher foods at a council in Jerusalem (15:7).

The Second Epistle of Peter is also the only canonical book to refer to New Testament books as scripture, and in their condemnations reveal more information about the heretical beliefs:

“For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased,’ and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” -2 Peter 1:16-2:3

By these characterizations, some heretical Christians did believe that the gospel story was only a “cleverly devised tale,” which explains why a letter written directly from the hand of Peter would be wanted as a direct eye-witness to the events that happened. The incident in the Synoptic gospels in which the author “recalls” God speaking to Jesus from the heavens was very controversial point with early Christians because some read the “voice from heaven” as being literal while others interpreted it as an inner voice only Jesus heard. The author of 2 Peter tries to convince the reader of the literalist interpretation of the voice while simultaneously using it to prove his own validity. But he forgets one important thing: Jesus’ baptism came before he met Peter in all 3 Synoptic gospels. The Gospel of John fails to mention Jesus’ baptism or the voice, but instead presents a different story that insinuates the “voice from heaven” is literal, in which Jesus asks the Father to glorify his name, to which the heavens reply, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” After that: “The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel has spoken to him. Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine….” (12:28).

Gnosticism and Platonic Gnosticism

Gnosticism is an umbrella term to describe various mystical initiatory communities and knowledge schools, that were prominent in the first few centuries A.D. Like the term Celtic, it’s a very generic term used to describe a great number of people has little evidence of any unified connection to one another, mostly due to a lack of historical sources to draw upon. There is no direct evidence that any Gnostic sect actually referred to themselves using the term, but the name is common in ancient church writings. There is a difficulty in coming up with a categorical definition of Gnosticism, and just as many scholars view the term “Celtic” as being no more meaningful than the term “Western,” Gnosticism is often described as being no more meaningful a term than “Non-Orthodox.” Despite these trepidations, the writings of the ancient fathers of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches present a clear picture that the grand majority of sects outside the church believed that in order to attain salvation one had to gain a certain secret knowledge, or Gnosis, and the unearthed findings of Gnostic literature have given a foundation for attributing some general characteristics to the school of thought.

For one, the ideas and language of Gnosticism are highly dependent on Neo-Platonism, and Gnostic literature was often read alongside Plato. Neo-Platonism differed from Platonism much the same way that religion differs from philosophy, being more focused on spirituality and the cosmos. The Neo-Platonists, a modern term, built heavily upon Plato’s ideas and taught that people could attain perfection and happiness through philosophical contemplation. Just as darkness is nothing but the absence of light, so evil is nothing but the absence of good. Things are good insofar as they exist, but all things must return to the Source, which will merge all consciousness into a super-consciousness. But whereas Neo-Platonists were Monistic, a metaphysical Universalism similar to Pantheism, Gnostics are generally believed to be dualistic. The roots of Gnosticism have been traced far and wide to the Greek mystery religions, Egyptian Hermeticism, Persian Zoroastrianism, and Babylonian astrology.

The most generalized belief that can be attributed to the Gnostics as a whole that could probably be said is that they saw the material world as being in a fallen state, and that the souls of mankind were divine sparks of energy which imprisoned in the temporal body, making this voyage on earth a pilgrimage into an unholy land. This in itself may sound strangely Orthodox to contemporary readers, but the language used to describe this process is complex and mystical. The highest God, sometimes called Monad (“Totality”), Bythos (“Deep”), or Pleroma (“Fullness”), is considered remote and unknowable. Gnostics also had divine genealogies of aeons, emanations of God, allowing a kind of syncretism with Platonic paganism. These attributes are specifically preached against in the Pastoral Epistles. In the First Epistle to Timothy: “As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer. Nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work- which is by faith.” (1:3). In the Epistle to Titus: “But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.” (3:9). It is unknown if these “vain” writings of “endless genealogies” were what divided the Gnostics apart, but if they were, so too was Orthodoxy become split up by endless contentions about the nature of Jesus.

Some Gnostics believed that the evil of this world was a reflection of the Demiurge, or “Blind God.” The Demiurge is a concept inherited from Plato, meaning “Architect,” or “Craftsman” in Classical Greece, and to differentiate them from other Gnostics, I will refer to them as Platonic Gnostics. The Demiurge was seen by them as the Creator God who formed the heavens and the earth and had fused the souls into the world of matter, but was still only an emanation of the highest god, the Idea of the Good. In Platonic lore the Demiurge was benevolent enough, intending to make the world good, but limited by the chaotic nature of matter, while in Gnosticism the Demiurge was antagonistic towards the Unknowable God. The The Demiurge is sometimes described as having the face of a lion, which presumably derives from the lion-faced seraphim form Yahweh similar to the Egyptian Bes known among polytheistic Yahweh worshippers. A possible representation of the Demiurge may be found in the image of a lion-faced serpent on a Gnostic gem recorded in L’antiquité expliquée et représentée en figures, written by a 18th century French Benedictine monk named Bernard de Montfaucon. While it seems most Gnostics considered the Creator god from Genesis, the “God of Abraham” as the Demiurge, other notably more Judaized sects continued to identify the God of Israel as the highest god.

Possible image of Demiurge found on a Gnostic gem in L’antiquité expliquée et
représentée en figures, by 18th century monk, Bernard de Montfaucon

The idea that the Creator is not the God of Heaven seemed just as strange and absurd to the Presbyters as it does to many people today, but the concept can probably best be explained through what modern thinkers call the Problem of Evil. The assumption of Monotheism is that if God exists, then God is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-seeing), and morally perfect. If God is omnipotent, then God has the power to eliminate all evil. If God is omniscient, then God knows where, when, and how evil exists. And if God is morally perfect, then God has the desire to eliminate all evil. Yet evil continues to exist. The first to expound on this fully was the Greek philosopher Epicurus, who lived in the late 300s B.C., around the time of Alexander the Great. He said, “Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to.” Gnostics seemed to use the Platonic concept to answer this question by acknowledging that because the world is imperfect, the Creator must be imperfect. The 18th century Gnostic William Blake put it another way, saying, “Thinking as I do that the Creator of this world is a very cruel being, and being a worshipper of Christ, I cannot help saying: ‘the Son, O how unlike the Father!’ First God Almighty comes with a thump on the head. Then Jesus Christ comes with a balm to heal it.” Something very similar happened in Persian Zoroastrianism in which a sect of Zurvanists became considered heretical for believing in a God, Zurvan, literally “Infinite Time,” presided over both the Ahura Mazda, the god of good, and Angra Mainyu, the Zoroastrian devil. Christian Persbyters instead answered the Problem of Evil by taking the world to be the world of evil as a test of faith, and that everything would be set right at the Second Coming. St. Augustine argued that evil was nothing but the absence of good, like a wound to flesh, and that God gave Adam and Eve the power to change nature by bringing sin into the world.

To Platonic Gnostics, the Fall of Man was usually described in many Gnostic writings as being caused indirectly by a divine feminine agent called Sophia, the Greek word for Wisdom, which was considered the lowest aeon, an anthropomorphic form taken to represent the light of God and the feminine counterpart to Jesus. She creates the animal-faced Demiurge in her attempt to emanate alone, and being ashamed of it, leaves the abortion alone in a cloud and creates a throne for it. Finding itself alone, the Demiurge assumes itself to be pre-existent and then creates the physical world without any knowledge of any higher beings. Sophia, however, manages to infuse some of the divine spark, or pneuma, into the fabric of the material world as its created. The evils created by the physical world begin to pursue Sophia so that the Pleroma sends two aeons, Christ and the Holy Spirit (Pneuma), are sent down to recover lost knowledge on the divine origins of humanity in order to save Sophia and humanity from the Demiurge.

The concept of the “fallen world” presented a conflict to mainstream Jewish thought, which taught that the goodness of the world was a reflection of a good Creator, as it says in Genesis, “God called the ground ‘land,’ and the gathered waters he called ‘seas.’ And God saw that it was good.” (1:10). The social laws written down in the Torah, though completely dependant on the localization of Jerusalem, such as in it’s monetary system and laws regarding the Temple, were nevertheless divine and expected to be performed by all Jews. The Apostolic Church accepted the Creator god of Israel as the “Most High.” From reading the Pauline epistles, one might have assumed that the earth had, at some later point in time, become the domain of the devil after his fall from heaven, but according to Irenaeus, “the devil lied at the beginning, so did he also in the end, when he said, ‘All these are delivered unto me, and to whomsoever I will I give them.’ [Matthew 4:9, Luke 4:6] For it is not he who has appointed the kingdoms of this world, but God.” Gnostics saw the Old Testament either as ancient wisdom that had been corrupted or the word of the Demiurge. In contrast, the Epistle to the Galatians explains its flawed nature by saying that the Torah was an imperfect contract made between God and man with angels acting as intermediaries (3:19). The death and resurrection of Jesus is described as the reason the Law was no longer binding.

Like the devil, the Demiurge had earth-bound servants called archons, a Greek word meaning “ruler,” or “power,” and which was also used for someone who held a public office. In some versions of the Apocryphon of John from the Nag Hammadi library, the Demiurge has three names: Yaltabaoth, Saklas, and Samael, and is described as being “impious in his arrogance” and “ignorant of his strength, the place from which he had come” for declaring “I am God and there is no other God beside me.” Samael, whose name in Aramaic means “blind god” comes from the Book of Enoch, which is also in the Nag Hammadi library. The Egyptian Gnostic Basilideans wrote of an archon named Abraxas in the 100s A.D., an aeon or archon (or an infusion of both) that commanding over 365 demons, one for every day of the year, with each one given a heaven. According to Tertullian, the Basilideans believed that the last of these archons was the Jewish god and that since Christ had been sent by Abraxas without a body, it was Simon (probably Simon Magus, but some argue Simon the Cyrenian) who had been crucified in Christ’ place. Amulets inscribed with the name Abraxas show a flail-and-shield-bearing figure with the head of a rooster, the chest of a man, and the torso of a serpent. In the Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians, from the Nag Hammadi library, Abraxas is an aeon dwelling with Sophia and other aeons in the light of the spiritual light of the Eleleth.

Abraxas, known from the Egyptian Gnostic Basilideans
and the Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians

St. Hippolytus, a Roman Anti-Pope and disciple of Irenaeus from the early 200’s quotes in his book an excerpt called the Naassene Psalm after the name of the Gnostic sect, which comes from the Hebrew word na'asch, meaning snake, because the snake worshipped the snake from the Garden of Eden. St. Hippolytus says that the sect believed in a triad made up of: an unbegotten god, a self-producing good, and a created being, so that there were “three Gods, three Logoi, three Minds, three Men.” The Psalm reads:

“The Law of Universal Genesis was the firstborn Nous [Mind]; the second Chaos shed by the firstborn. The third was received by the soul [.....] Clad in the shape of a hind she is worn away with death’s slavery, Now she has mastery and glimpses light: now she is plunged in misery and weeps. Now she is mourned, and her self rejoices. Now she weeps and is finally condemned. Now she is condemned and finally dies. And now she reaches the point where hemmed in by evil, she knows no way out. Misled, she has entered a labyrinth. Then Jesus said ‘Behold, Father, she wanders the earth pursued by evil. Far from thy Pneuma [Spirit/Wind/Breath] she is going astray. She is trying to flee bitter Chaos, and does not know how she is to escape. Send me forth, oh Father, therefore, and I, bearing the seal shall descend and wander all aeons through, all mysteries reveal. I shall manifest the forms of the gods and teach them the secrets of the holy way which I call Gnosis..…’”

The Sophia may have been equivalent to the Paraclete, or “Comforter“, of the Gospel of John (14:16) which just as the Naassene sect believed, was sent to them through Jesus. The feminine personification of Wisdom is found throughout the Canonical epistles as well:

“But the sophia that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” -James 3:17-18

Some of the earlier Pauline Epistles show qualities that could be considered to be Gnostic, but which are preached against in later epistles like the Pastorals and the Johannine tradition. With only a precursory understanding of Gnosticism and knowledge of some of the Greek words in the early Pauline epistles, we can immediately see how they can be read in a different light:

“We do speak sophia among those who are mature, a sophia, however, of this aion [age/emanation] nor of the archons [rulers/demons] of this aion, who are passing away; but we speak of Theos’ [Zeus’/God’s] sophia in a mystery, the hidden sophia which Theos predestined before the aions to our glory; the sophia which none of the archons of this aion has understood, for if they had understood it they would not have stauroo [staked/crucified] the Kurios ho doxa [Lord of glory]; but just as it is written:

‘Things which eye has not seen
And ear has not heard,
and which have not entered the heart of man,
all that Theos has prepared for those who love him’ --

For to us Theos revealed them through the Pneuma [Spirit/Wind/Breath]; for the Pneuma searches all things, even the depths of Theos.” -1 Corinthians 2:6-10, NAS

The “archons of this aion” are presumed by most readers to be human rulers like Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas, and Herod, but the Epistle to the Ephesians, the word archon is undeniably used in the Gnostic sense: “To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles… so that the manifold sophia of Theos might now be made known through the ekklesia [church] to the archons and the exousia [authorities/powers] in the heavenly places.” (3:8); and also: “For our struggle is not against sarx [flesh] and haima [blood/grape juice], but against the archons, against the exousia [authorities/powers], against the kosmo-krator [cosmos-ruler/prince of this age] of this skotia [darkness/ignorance/ungodliness], against the pneumatikos [spiritual] forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (6:12).

The short version of Ignatius’ apocryphal Epistle to the Smyrneans says “Let no man deceive himself. Both the things which are in heaven, and the glorious angelos [angels], and archons, both visible and invisible, if they believe not in the blood of Christ, shall, in consequence, incur condemnation.” (6). The Epistle to the Colossians even has Christ defeating these archons in the spiritual realm after his death and leading them in a kind of celestial procession:

“See to it that no one takes you captive through philo-sophia [love of wisdom/philosophy] and empty deception, according to the tradition of anthropos [men/Adam], according to the stoicheion [elementary principles/elemental spirits] of the kosmos [cosmos/ world], rather than according to Kristos [Christ].

For in Him all the pleroma [fullness] of Theotes [Deity] dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all arche [rulers/principality over angels and demons] and exousia [authority/powers]; and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Kristos; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of Theos, who raised Him from the dead.

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your sarx [flesh], He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the stauros [cross/stake]. When He had disarmed the archons and exousia, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.

Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day-- things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Kristos. Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angelos [angels/messengers] taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his sarx [fleshly/earthy/animalistic] mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from Theos. -Colossians 2:8-22 NAS

Some scholars such as Elaine Pagels have argued through this rereading that Paul was a Gnostic. Other later historic Christians have also managed to impart Gnostic concepts of the Sophia without being labeled a heretic by the Roman Catholic Church. The cosmic figure of the Sophia was also celebrated by a Roman Catholic polymath from 12th century Germany named Hildegard of Bingen, an artist, philosopher, physician, magistra, and one of the first composers of opera. The 17th century Protestant Theosophist Jane Leade, founder of the Philadelphia Soceity, also wrote of visions that she said had been revealed to her by the “Virgin-Sophia.”

Valentinus and Marcion

One of the most famed heretics of the second century is that of Valentinus, who was born on the Egyptian Delta at Phrenobis in 100 A.D., had a Greek education in Alexandria, joined the church in Rome in the late 130s, and was believed by some Christians in the 300s to have been the first to formulate the doctrine of the Trinity. He taught that God is three hypostases, or essences, as well as three persons: the Father (Bythos), the Son (Logos), and the Holy Spirit (Pneuma). However, they were not equal, as the Father was greater than the Logos (“Word”), which was itself greater than the Pneuma (“Spirit”). Bythos, after eons of quiet contemplation, emanated four pairs of aeons, called Nous and Aletheia, male and female, respectively. They emanate the Logos and Zoe (Sophia), who in turned created Anthropos and Ekklesia (Adam and Eve). The totality of these 30 aeons, the Pleroma, was of perfect balance. Only the Nous (“Mind”) were able to comprehend Bythos (“the Deep”), but they were limited in their ability to communicate this to the other aeons due to the Sigê (“Silence”) that surrounded the Father God. The youngest and least powerful of the aeons, Zoe, tried to gain complete comprehension of the Father God, conceiving a plan called Enthymesis, but came to a great boundary between Bythos and Sigê called Horos (“Limit”). Failing in her attempt, she falls into confusion caused by the passions of the Demiurge, which existed outside the Pleroma (“Fullness”). The material universe comes into existence through her error, with man inhabiting the spheres of both matter (hylic) and soul (psyche). The mission of Christ and the Pneuma is to redeem mankind by freeing it from its servitude to the material world.

According to St. Irenaeus, The afore mentioned Horos is also the power which came out of Jesus, such as that which healed the woman of a twelve-year menstrual ailment in Mark (5:30). It was said to have been made up of two faculties: one a sustaining power called Stauros (the Cross), referred by the verse in Luke: “Whoever does not bear his stauros cannot be my disciple” (14:27); the other a separating power called Horos, which is what the verse “I have not come for peace but a sword.” (10:34) is said to have meant. Incidentally, the Gospel of Luke uses another word for division, diamerismos, in place of “sword” (12:51). Unlike many other Gnostics, Valentinians believed that coming of Christ had caused the Demiurge to turn good and so acted as a mediator for Zoe in the material world. Although Valentinus’ belief system is characteristically Gnostic, some scholars don’t consider him to be in the same venue as the “Classical Gnosticism” which existed before the 130s.

Valentinus’ followers believed their founder had been given secret teachings that the spiritual Christ had imparted to Paul during a vision and had been revealed only to Paul’s inner circle and passed down by his disciple Theodas. The Pauline epistles themselves hint at esoteric knowledge that the author felt his readers were not yet ready for. Valentinus nearly became bishop of Rome but broke with the church after losing his bid for the seat. Tertullian, the first Latin-speaking Christian writer, accused Valentinus of making up his heresy in revenge for not becoming bishop, and Epiphanius wrote that Valentinus made it up after being shipwrecked on Cyprus and going insane. The church father Epiphanius said that Valentinus was never considered a heretic while he was in Rome and there is in fact little evidence that he was widely regarded as one before 175 A.D.

Another heretic from that time was Marcion, who had grown up in Sinope, in modern day Turkey, as a wealthy ship owner. He came to Rome in 139 A.D. and donated a large amount of money, 200,000 sesterces (equivalent to a million dollars) to the church there, just as he was known to give a large donation in Turkey. Marcion is said to have been the influenced by the Gnostic teacher Cedro, who taught that the God of the Old Testament was different from the Father God of Jesus. Marcion adopted the Gnostic concept of the Demiurge and came to believe that Paul was the only apostle who really understood what Jesus had come to accomplish. It’s said that he interpreted a verse in the Gospel of Matthew as proof that the New Testament was incompatible with the old: “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men put new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out, and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (9:16).

Marcion was excommunicated in 144, with his money returned to him, but formed a rival ecclesiastical hierarchy that has been described by the Roman Catholic Church as the most dangerous threat to Orthodoxy the church had ever known. The church father Epiphanius alleged in the early 300s that Marcion’s father expelled him from his church at home for seducing a consecrated virgin, but this is highly dismissed today as earlier witnesses speak only of Marcionite abstinence. In fact one of the heresies of the Marcionites is to consider marriage and all forms of sex to be a corruption. Marcionites were ascetic, abstaining from meat, wine, and sex, and considered marriage to be an institution of the Demiurge. Although he taught the dualism of the Demiurge and the Docetism of a phantom messiah, most scholars consider him a Pseudo-Gnostic because his religion was based on faith alone rather than claiming to hold any real secret knowledge. In this sense, and because Marcion focused on Paul much like many Protestants did, Marcion is sometimes called the first Protestant. But his identification of the God of Abraham with the Demiurge and his view of Judaism as a different religion instead of the root of Christianity fits the definition of Gnostic as laid out for this book. Marcion’s sect lasted up to the 400s in the west until it was absorbed by another monotheistic sect, Manichaeism, but continued on into the 600s in the east.

Marcion is the first person known to have combined different books of scripture into a single identifiable canon. His canon consisted of a reportedly mutilated form of the Gospel of Luke called “the Gospel of the Lord,” along with most of the Pauline Epistles, which Marcion collectively dubbed “the Apostle.” Although none of these alternate versions survived, scholars have tried to reconstruct his gospel and epistles by analyzing the quotations of Tertullian, Epiphanius, Adamntius, Origen, and Hieronymus. Tertullian devotes five books to ranting against Marcion, and much information about the text is revealed the 4th and 5th books. He accuses Marcion of “interpreting scripture with a penknife,” cutting out to the parts of scripture he didn’t like, although some have questioned whether the differences were caused by additions to scripture. He did not believe Jesus was the Messiah because the Messiah was to inaugurate a political kingdom for the Jews and Jesus came to inaugurate the spiritual kingdom of God. It is largely believed that Marcionite scripture rendered “Christ” (“Messiah”) as “Chrestos” (“The Righteous One”). Being a rich shipmaster, he set up a church with the greatest degree of ecclesiastical organization paralleled to the Catholic church. Although Marcion believed it was unworthy and foolish of God to take the form of human flesh, Tertullian asks him to consider a quote from 1 Corinthians “if indeed you [Marcion] have not erased it: ‘God hath chosen the foolish things of the world, to confound the wise.’” (1:27) Tertullian uses this verse to show that if Marcion takes that stance, he uses this to argue that “it is foolish to judge God by our own conceptions.” In Chapter 4 and 5 of his 3rd book, he writes:

But some one may say, ‘These are not the foolish things; they must be other things which God has chosen to confound the wisdom of the world.’ And yet, according to the world’s wisdom, it is more easy to believe that Jupiter became a bull or a swan, if we listen to Marcion, than that Christ really became a man.

There are, to be sure, other things also quite as foolish (as the birth of Christ), which have reference to the humiliations and sufferings of God. Or else, let them call a crucified God ‘wisdom.’ But Marcion will apply the knife to this doctrine also, and even with greater reason. For which is more unworthy of God, which is more likely to raise a blush of shame, that God should be born, or that He should die? that He should bear the flesh, or the cross? be circumcised, or be crucified? be cradled, or be coffined? be laid in a manger, or in a tomb? Talk of ‘wisdom!’ You will show more of that if you refuse to believe this also. But, after all, you will not be ‘wise’ unless you become a ‘fool’ to the world, by believing ‘the foolish things of God.’ Have you, then, cut away all sufferings from Christ, on the ground that, as a mere phantom, He was incapable of experiencing them? We have said above that He might possibly have undergone the unreal mockeries of an imaginary birth and infancy. But answer me at once, you that murder truth: Was not God really crucified? And, having been really crucified, did He not really die? And, having indeed really died, did He not really rise again? Falsely did Paul ‘determine to know nothing amongst us but Jesus and Him crucified;’ falsely has he impressed upon us that He was buried; falsely inculcated that He rose again. False, therefore, is our faith also. And all that we hope for from Christ will be a phantom. Oh thou most infamous of men, who acquittest of all guilt the murderers of God! For nothing did Christ suffer from them, if He really suffered nothing at all. Spare the whole world's one only hope, thou who art destroying the indispensable dishonour of our faith. Whatsoever is unworthy of God, is of gain to me. I am safe, if I am not ashamed of my Lord. ‘Whosoever,’ says He, ‘shall be ashamed of me, of him will I also be ashamed.’ Other matters for shame find I none which can prove me to be shameless in a good sense, and foolish in a happy one, by my own contempt of shame. The Son of God was crucified; I am not ashamed because men must be ashamed of it. And the Son of God died; it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd. And He was buried, and rose again; the fact is certain, because it is impossible.

There is still debate over whether the original versions of Luke, Romans, and Galatians were edited by the Marcionites, the early church, or both. The most notable omissions in Marcion’s gospel are the birth and infancy narratives of Jesus and John the Baptist, the genealogy of Jesus, and the temptation narrative, all of which fills the first 3 and a half chapters of Luke. Marcion's version of Romans lacks arguments including Abraham’s justification through faith and that Christianity is an engrafted branch of Judaism (1:17b, 1:19-21, 3:31-4:25, 8:19-22, 9:1-33, 10:5-11:32, 15:1-16:26). Galatians is missing Paul's visit with Peter and James in Jerusalem, and more arguments on the faith of Abraham, with characteristic rhetorical questions (1:18-24, 2:6-9a; 3:1-12,14a,15-25; 4:27-30). In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus goes into a synagogue and reads from the Book of Isaiah and claims that the scripture has been fulfilled in him. When the crowd questions him, he says:

“Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard you did in Capernaum.’” “I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.” -Luke 4:23-24

But Luke hasn’t said anything about Jesus performing miracles in Capernaum up to that point. And the very next story in Luke has Jesus doing just that by healing Peter’s mother in Capernaum. Mark and Matthew also place Jesus’ first miracles in Capernaum. In the 7th chapter of his 4th book, Tertullian reveals that Marcion’s gospel opens by saying that in the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar, Jesus “went down” to Capernaum, a composite of Luke 3:1a and 4:31, overlapping the story the “Physician, heal thyself” in the Nazareth narrative, signifying that Marcion’s gospel did not have this chronological contradiction in his version. Jesus begins his ministry in Capernaum like the other Synoptics and when he says, “Do here…. what we have heard you did in Capernaum,” it actually refers to an earlier part of the narrative (4:33). Marcion’s version, however, did not have the part about Jesus reading from a proverb from the Book of Isaiah to prove himself the fulfillment of it’s prophecy. The end of the story, where Jesus “walked right through the crowd and went his way,” fits in well with Marcion’s Docetic perspective (4:30). Tertullian realized this as well and whipped up a rather elaborate defense:

“But Christ will be of the prophets, wheresoever He is found in accordance with the prophets. And yet even at Nazareth He is not remarked as having preached anything new, whilst in another verse He is said to have been rejected by reason of a simple proverb. Here at once, when I observe that they laid their hands on Him, I cannot help drawing a conclusion respecting His bodily substance, which cannot be believed to have been a phantom, since it was capable of being touched and even violently handled, when He was seized and taken and led to the very brink of a precipice. For although He escaped through the midst of them, He had already experienced their rough treatment, and afterwards went His way, no doubt because the crowd (as usually happens) gave way, or was even broken through; but not because it was eluded as by an impalpable disguise, which, if there had been such, would not at all have submitted to any touch.”

As seen here, the arguments Tertullian fosters on Marcion for editing Luke are poor ones. He even admits that there are parts in Marcion’s gospel that conflict with his theology that were not cut out, and actually tries to argue that it is part of the heretic’s deception: “Marcion -- on purpose I think -- has refrained from crossing out of his Gospel certain matters opposed to him, hoping that in light of these which he might have crossed out and has not, he may be thought not to have crossed out those which he has crossed out.” (4.43.7).

The Nag Hammadi Library

The Nag Hammadi library, found in central Egypt, is the principal source for our modern understanding of Gnostic Christianity. The library includes 52 mostly Gnostic treatises, all probably translated from Greek into Coptic. The library included some codices on the mystical philosophy of Hermeticism and a partial translation of Plato’s Republic, but altered to the point that it was not even recognized as such until decades after it’s discovery. The scrolls seem to have come from the nearby monastery of St. Pachomius and were probably hidden from the repression of heresy brought on by St. Athanasius or St. Ambrose.

The Hermetic works are self-proclaimed messages of hidden wisdom from Hermes “the Thrice-Greatest.” Hermes Trismegistus was a syncretism of the Greek messenger and shepherd god, Hermes, and the Egyptian god of wisdom, Thoth. He was also known s Serapis and Hermanubis, and was the god of writing and medicine. The 2nd century church father Clement of Alexandria wrote that the Egyptians had 42 sacred writings by Hermes, used for training the Egyptian priests. It embodied a pantheistic philosophy that would later influence Jewish Kabala. The teaching that followed three great teachers, all named Hermes, and identified with the Biblical Enoch. Some of the writings of the third teacher are believed to be a part of Hermetic codices, but are so entwined with Gnostic exegesis that it’s hard to separate the original message out. The situation seems to be similar to the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, which includes teachings from the Synoptic Gospels mixed with Gnostic wisdom literature.

The Gnostic gospels of Jesus are neither stories nor histories, but recorded conversations between Jesus and his disciples. Quoting the historical Jesus scholar John Dominic Crossan, “Jesus is essentially a talking head.” Both Hermes and Jesus act as “fountains of divine wisdom,” which are freely re-adapted and elaborated upon. The sayings have no real historic context but rather seem to serve as conduits to mystical wisdom given to the author of the gospel. This combined with their late dating explain why the majority of New Testament scholars do not put very much weight behind the words of the historic Jesus in Gnostic scripture, with the Coptic Gospel of Thomas being a partial exception. Some of the gospels from the Nag Hammadi library are entitled “Apocryphon,” which also means “hidden,” as opposed to “apocalypses“ which connotes a “revealing“ or “revelation.” Hence the last book in the Bible, the Apocalypse of John, is called Revelation. Gnostic gospels include written titles like “Apocryphon of James” or “Apocryphon of John,” meaning “Secret Book” of James or John.

Enoch, although the subject of only a couple of lines in the Book of Genesis, was the subject of a huge library of apocryphal literature that appeared during the Maccabeean Revolt of Judah during the Hasmonian Period (166-135 B.C.). Although it was heavily related to the Book of Daniel, which made it into both the Jewish and Christian canons, the Enochian literature also made neither canon. The Book of Hebrews makes mention of Enoch as well, and the canonical Epistle of Jude even quotes the book (1:14). The Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Coptic Church of Alexandria both accept portions of 1 Enoch to be inspired as well. Just about every early church father considered it to be scripture: Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Justin the Martyr, Irenaeus and even St. Augustine accepted the First Book of Enoch to be genuinely inspired. But it lost favor with the church and was discredited at the Council of Lacedonia, held in modern Turkey around 363, and was mysteriously lost for centuries. During the 1400s, rumors began to spread that some of the lost Enoch books were found and being sold, but these were only frauds. The Jewish Essenes from the first century B.C. also kept an Aramaic version of Enoch in the Dead Sea Scrolls, found near Qumran in 1947, yet that isn’t where the Book of Enoch was first rediscovered. In 1773, the African adventurer James Bruce returned from 6 years exploring Ethiopia with 3 copies of the Book of Enoch. There, the book had never been considered lost at all. Although most scholars believed it had originally been translated from Greek into Ethiopic, the African clerics held it as proof that Enoch was himself Ethiopian and that it was the original language of mankind. The ancient book came just in time to heavily influence the Romantic era genius William Blake, who combined art, poetry, philosophy, Pre-Freudian psychoanalysis, and a Humanistic spirituality into a sect of Christianity that could only be categorized as Gnostic.

The Book of Enoch is a combination of several texts including a Book of Noah, and is divided into 108 chapters, but their divisions are a mess, with some chapters being small or completely missing and in other places reoccurring chapter numbers. It’s generally seen to be divided into five different sections, which scholars call: the Book of Watchers, the Book of Parables (which includes fragments of the Book of Noah), the Book of Heavenly Luminaries, Dream Visions, and the Epistle of Enoch. Each of the sections have been interwoven into a single narrative but is believed to have been written by different people at different times. It expands on the story in Genesis in which the Sons of God marry the Daughters of Man, and plays out much like John Milton‘s 17th century epic Paradise Lost, in that it attempts to map out to universe with an amalgamation of monotheism and polytheism. From this union between the Watchers and humans comes a breed of giants called the Nephilim. Twenty-one Satans, led by Samyaza, come together and make an oath of mutual intention to seduce the daughters of man. Samyaza, or better translated, Shem-Azaz, means “Name-Rebel,” or “Famed Rebel.” Two hundred angels are led by the Satans to the earth below where they are seduced by mortal women, and for the sin of defiling themselves with mankind, they are cast out of heaven. One of the Satans, Azaz-El, whose name means “Rebel of God,” is said to have used heaven’s wisdom to teach men how to make weapons and the women how to apply makeup, and caused sin to flourish on the earth. Azazel is believed to be a goat-demon of ancient Semitic tribes, said to haunt the desert wilderness at night. In the Book of Leviticus, the Day of Atonement is marked by the releasing of two goats, one marked for Yahweh and the other for Azazel (16:8). The sins of the Israelites would then be ritually placed in Azazel’s scapegoat and released to gain forgiveness. The concept of a god of wisdom being punished for bestowing heaven’s wisdom to mortals is also echoed in the Greek myth of Prometheus, the God of Forethought who gave mankind fire and was punished by Zeus by having the wise god’s liver eaten by a vulture every day.

The Grigori, or fallen angels, try to make peace with God by going to the scribe Enoch and asking for him to intervene on their behalf. Enoch then meets some archangels who take him down to the netherworld to see where the fallen ones will be kept until judgment. They take him to the ends of the earth to see the Tree of Life, and then up to see the secrets of the heavens. He sees chambers for the sun and the moon and dwelling places for the righteous and unrighteous. And Enoch is told the day will come when those who have committed sin and deny the name of the Lord of Spirits and will not ascend when the Elect One sits upon the throne of glory.

In Chapter 46, Enoch says, “There I beheld the Ancient of Days, whose head was like white wool, and with him another, whose countenance resembled that of man. His countenance was full of grace, like one of the holy angels. Then I inquired of one of the angels, who went with me, and who showed me every secret thing, concerning this Son of Man; who he was; whence he was and why he accompanied the Ancient of Days.” (46:1). John of Patmos, the author of Revelation, also describes “one like the Son of Man, dressed in robes that ran down to his feet with a golden sash around his waist. His head and hair was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire.” (1:13). It’s unknown whether the Book of Parables section, which contains references to the Son of Man, is before or after the Christian era. The archangels Michael and Raphael are astonished at the severity of the punishment, with Micha-El asking Rapha-El, “Who is he whose heart is not softened by concerning it, and whose reins are not troubled by the word of judgment that has gone forth upon them because of those that have led them out?” (68:3). It then lists the names of functions of the 21 Satans, and identifies Gadre-El as the fallen angel who tempted Eve. Enoch is then translated into heaven and becomes an angel and the scribe of heaven.

The section referred to as the Book of Heavenly Bodies writes about the Sun, the lunar cycle, the 12 Winds and their portals, and the seven mountains, seven rivers, and seven great islands making up the four corners of the world. The Dream Visions acts as a history of the world from it’s creation to the Maccabean Revolt, foreseeing a final battle between Jews and Gentiles leading to the End of Days. The apostates would then be judged along with the fallen angels and a New Jerusalem would appear along with the resurrection of the righteous and led by the Messiah. At this Enoch wakes up and cries. The Epistle of Enoch contains more apocalyptic literature in the form of Enoch admonishing his children (including the aged Methuselah), assuring them that the righteous will be exhorted on the Day of Judgment while the Sinners will destroy each other. The final part of the book draws on the Book of Noah, telling how the King of the Ages will judge the fallen angels guilty and sentence them to lament their children’s destruction yet never find forgiveness.

Another book, called the Book of the Secrets of Enoch, or 2 Enoch, is a Jewish apocalyptic text not found in Ethiopia or the Dead Sea Scrolls, but has only been preserved in the 10th century Eastern European language of Old Church Slavonic. It was originally translated from Greek, and possibly Hebrew or Aramaic before that. The apocalypse follows Enoch as he describes his ascent to the seven heavens, how Satan fell from heaven when he wanted to construct his throne higher than the clouds, and how Enoch told his sons to be meek and give to the poor (like the Synoptic Gospels) in order to attain eternal life. The apocryphal book ends with Enoch using his heavenly knowledge to write 366 books in order to instruct his sons, apparently for every day of the year and then one.

A third Book of Enoch, called 3 Enoch, is said to have been written by Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha. However, many scholars believe that the work is made up of several people over a period of time, the final version written sometime around the 400s or 500s. Rabbi Ishmael who became a high priest in 132 A.D. after receiving a vision in which he ascended into heaven. That same year the Bar Kochba Revolt began after the Roman Emperor Hadrian tried to have Jerusalem rebuilt as a Hellenisitic city with a restored temple dedicated to Zeus. The Third Book of Enoch is written in Hebrew with a few Greek and Latin loan words. Heavily based on 1 Enoch, the book describes Rabbi Ishmael ascending to heaven and meeting Enoch. Like 1 Enoch, it describes Enoch’s ascension to heaven and the fall of some of the angels, including Azazel. It also describes Enoch’s transformation into an angel, this time called Metatron. Metatron is mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud 3 times as an angel so powerful that he is often mistaken for God. The name itself, although hard to translate, is believed by some to be derived from Meta-thronos, or “Throne beside the throne,” and is sometimes referred to as the ‘little Yahweh.’ The Third Book of Enoch writes, “Out of the love which he had for me, more than for all the denizens of the heights, the Holy One, blessed be he, fashioned for me a majestic robe… He fashioned for me a kingly crown… He set it upon my head, and He called me, ‘The lesser Yahweh’ in the presence of his whole household in the height, as it is written, ‘My name is in him’”(12:1-5). The name Metatron is thought to have first been spoken of by the Jewish heretic Elisha ben Abuyah, who some time before 70 A.D. said that he had entered Paradise and proclaimed that there were two powers in heaven. The Talmud explains this was a mistake in that Metatron was only allowed to sit beside Yahweh because he was the scribe of heaven, second only to God.

Early Presbyter Apocrypha

It could be said that 1 Enoch is the missing book of the Bible due to the similarity to the oral tradition of Satan’s rebellion against God and it’s prominence in antiquity, but there are other books that are known to have been kept in Bibles of the early Catholic/Orthodox church fathers but later dropped, such as the Epistle of Clement. St. Clement was bishop of Rome, reportedly after Linus and Cletus, both of whom almost nothing is known. Tertullian, writing in 199 A.D., said that Clement had been ordained by Peter himself, and St. Jerome, writing in the late 300s, said that many in the west believed that he had immediately succeeded Peter. The Epistle of Clement is addressed to Corinth and is dated to around 100 A.D. Like the Pauline Epistles, Clement focuses on humility and articulates that people are saved through faith, not works, nor godliness, nor wisdom. The 59-chapter Epistle of Clement is addressed to Corinth, and starts by saying it’s writing was delayed by “sudden and repeated misfortunes and hindrances which have befallen us,” thought perhaps to be a reference to the persecution of the Emperor Domitian. The author commends their virtue for keeping the “commandments and ordinances of the Lord” during a sedition said to have been brought on by jealousy. Several of the Elders are said to have been decommissioned due to the disturbance at Corinth and 1 Clement blames this same kind of envy for the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul, who he calls “spiritual heroes” and “greatest and most righteous pillars.” It is also the first known Christian writing to include a specific hierarchy with a bishop taking charge over several deacons, and continues to show the same kind of male-dominated organization present in other canonical epistles linked to the Presbyters. The letter itself is not signed with St. Clement’s name, but another letter from Galatia to Rome mentions “the letter we received from your bishop Clement, which we still read regularly.” It reads:

“Who did not admire the sobriety and moderation of your godliness in Christ? Who did not proclaim the magnificence of your habitual hospitality? And who did not rejoice over your perfect and well-grounded knowledge? For you did all things without respect of persons, and walked in the commandments of God, being obedient to those who had the rule over you, and giving all fitting honor to the Presbyters among you. You enjoined young men to be of a sober and serious mind; you instructed your wives to do all things with a blameless, becoming, and pure conscience, loving their husbands as in duty bound; and you taught them that, living in the rule of obedience, they should manage their household affairs becomingly, and be in every respect marked by discretion.”

Although Clement’s epistle shows a long standing familiarity with the Old Testament and cites it as scripture over 100 times, gospel traditions are only referred to as “wise council.” And while Clement speaks of Paul and quotes his epistles, the gospel traditions he writes of are only reflections of the gospel tradition and give no credit to Jesus as their source. This insinuates that Clement had the Pauline epistles but did not possess any gospels, which is unusual since Mark is generally believed to have been written in Rome by 80 A.D. Another Clementine tradition purports to be a dogmatic discourse from Clement to James the Just in Jerusalem. It is relegated to Pseudo-Clementine Literature and is categorized as a Christian Romance.

The epistles of St. Ignatius, believed to have been written around 110 A.D., are even more riddled with pseudographia. There are seven epistles to the churches of Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Rome, Philadelphia, Smyrna, and a letter to the bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp. More epistles were forged afterwards, and as the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia says, “even the genuine epistles were greatly interpolated to lend weight to the personal views of its author.” The epistles propose to have been written by the third Bishop of Antioch (after Peter and the little-known Evodius) as he was led by the authorities to be fed to the lions in Rome. Ignatius celebrates his fate and describes a nearly ecstatic desire to be martyred and attain a new life. The Epistle to the Romans reads, “May I enjoy the wild beasts that are prepared for me; and I pray they may be found eager to rush upon me, which also I will entice to devour me speedily, and not deal with me as with some, whom, out of fear, they have not touched. But if they be unwilling to assail me, I will compel them to do so.” The epistles are written very unsystematically and contain many run-on sentences. Unlike Clement, Ignatius doesn’t quote from any scripture verbatim but instead uses ideas from both the Pauline epistles and the four gospels without making any references. His is the first Christian document to refer to the Catholic Church. There are two versions of the epistle, a short version (in green), as which was quoted previously, and a long version (including lime green minus the text in brackets):

“See that you all follow the bishop, even as [Jesus] Christ Jesus does the Father, and the Presbyters as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, [as being the institution of God] as those that carry out the appointment of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude also be; even as, where [ever Jesus] Christ is, [there is the Catholic Church] there does all the heavenly host stand by, waiting upon Him as the Chief Captain of the Lord’s might, and the Governor of every intelligent nature. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize, or to offer, or to present sacrifice, or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.” -Epistle to the Smyrnaeans

There has been some debate over whether this was meant to be the proper name, Catholic, or only the generic sense, katholikos, meaning “universal.” The fact that it was edited over by Pseudo-Ignatius doesn’t lend much weight to it’s importance. Chapter 9 of the Epistle to the Magnesians speaks of replacing the Saturday with Sunday as the holy day, saying, “If then those who had walked in ancient practices attained unto newness of hope, no longer observing Sabbaths but fashioning their lives after the Lord's day…” In the following chapter, Igantius and Pseudo-Ignatius define Christianity against Judaism:

“Let us not, therefore, be insensible to His kindness. For were He to reward us according to our works, we should cease to be. For ‘if Thou, Lord, shall mark iniquities, Oh Lord, who shall stand?’ [Psalms 130:3] Let us therefore prove ourselves worthy of that name which we have received. [Therefore, having become His disciples, let us learn to live according to the principles of Christianity.] For whosoever is called by any other name besides this, he is not of God; for he has not received the prophecy which speaks thus concerning us: ‘The people shall be called by a new name, which the Lord shall name them, and shall be a holy people.’ [Isaiah 62:2,12] This was first fulfilled in Syria; for ‘the disciples were called Christians at Antioch,’ [Acts 11:26] when Paul and Peter were laying the foundations of the Church. Lay aside, therefore, the evil, the old, the sour [corrupt] leaven, and be changed into the new leaven [of grace], [which is Jesus Christ. Be salted in Him, unless any one among you should be corrupted, since by your savor you shall be convicted.] Abide in Christ, that the Stranger may not have dominion over you. [It is absurd to profess Christ Jesus, and to Judaize. For Christianity did not embrace Judaism, but Judaism Christianity, that so every tongue which believes might be gathered together to God.] It is absurd to speak of Jesus Christ with the tongue, and to cherish in the mind a Judaism which has now come to an end. For where there is Christianity there cannot be Judaism. For Christ is one, in whom every nation that believes, and every tongue that confesses, is gathered unto God. And those that were of a stony heart have become the children of Abraham, the friend of God; and in his seed all those have been blessed who were ordained to eternal life in Christ.” -Epistle to the Magnesians, Ch. 10 (Short version) (Long version)

The rhetoric against Judaism noticeably increases over time, as shown by the differences between the short and long versions. The short version only inhibits proselytizing Judaism and goes so far as to suggest that Judaism “embraced“ Christianity. The long version berates the very idea that Judaism still existed. The long version also crosses a threshold in declaring that a reference to the name of Christianity in Antioch was a fulfillment of Old Testament scripture, further solemnizing a disassociation with Judaism. The short version only goes so far as to mention “the birth, and passion, and resurrection which took place in the time of the government of Pontius Pilate.” The long version describes how Jesus was born of the virgin, lived a holy life, and “showed signs and wonders” for the benefit of men that they would know that he was the Christ, another notable focus of the Johannine tradition. It also says Jesus taught those “who had fallen into the error of polytheism” before he endured the passion of the crucifixion “at the hands of the Christ-killing Jews, under Pontius Pilate the governor and Herod the king.”

Another common but ultimately dropped piece of apocrypha is the Didakhe, pronounced “did-a-KAY,” which is Greek for “teaching.” The Didakhe was a Christian handbook believed to have been written in Egypt. The dating for it is completely across the board, with some suggesting as early a date as 47, making it’s teachings a source of the gospels, to as late as 160. Although considered to be canonical scripture by both Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and many other Egyptian Christians it was lost for centuries before it was found inside a dingy library in Constantinople by Archbishop Philotheos Bryennios in 1873. It was included in a book called the Codex Hierosolymitanus and was signed by self-described “scribe and sinner” Leon in 1056. It opens by saying, “There are two Ways, one of Life and one of Death, and there is a great difference between the two Ways.” This seems to hearken back to an earlier time when Christianity was known as “the Way,” as mentioned in Acts (19:9). The Old Testament is quoted, but nothing connected to Paul or the epistles. The only gospel it quotes is from Matthew, which is called the “Gospel of the Lord,” indicative of it‘s Syrio-Egyptian roots:

“The way of life is indeed this: First, you will love the God who made you; secondly, ‘you will love your neighbor as yourself.’ Now all the things that you do not want to have happen to you, you too do not do to one another. Now the teaching of these sayings is this: ‘Praise those who curse you‘, and pray for your enemies; now fast for those who are persecuting you. For what favor is it if you love those who love you? Don’t the Gentiles do the same? But you love those who hate you, and you will have no enemies. ‘Abstain from the bodily and cosmic [worldly] lusts. ‘If someone should give you a blow to your right cheek, turn to him also the left one,’ and you will be complete. ‘If anyone should force you to go one mile, go with him two.’ ‘If anyone takes your cloak, give him your tunic also.’ If anyone takes what is yours away from you, do not ask for it back. For neither are you able. ‘Give to everyone who asks from you,’ and do not ask for it back. For the Father wants to give of his own free gifts to everyone.”

The Didakhe speaks of baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and also includes the Lord‘s Prayer. Regarding holy days it says, “But do not let your fasts be with the hypocrites. For they fast on the second day of the week and on the fifth. But you fast on the fourth day and the day of preparation.” When going over the definition of murder, the Didakhe includes abortion whereas nothing in the canonical Bible makes such a distinction. It also warns not to “take your hand away from your son or your daughter, but from youth you will teach the fear of God.” It tells readers to choose overseers “who are meek, not lovers of money, true and proved.” At the end of the manual, it foretells that false prophets and corrupters will multiply, and “sheep will be turned into wolves, and love will be turned into hate,” which precedes the rise of a single antichrist and then the Second Coming, also called the Parousia.

The oldest surviving set of the Holy Bible, both Old and New Testament, is the Codex Sinaiticus, consisting of 347 folios, and transcribed some time between 330 and 350 A.D. It was found by the German Biblical scholar Constantin von Tischendorf in the Monastary of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai in 1859. Tischendorf found parts of it in a basket of manuscripts which had originally been deemed to be burned in the monastery ovens. Other parts were found in a chamber underneath the monastery that the monks discovered while doing renovations. It has been suggested that it is one of the 50 copies of scripture Emperor Constantine had commissioned. But with this canon included two books that were later dropped: the Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas.

Barnabas was a companion of Paul, but the name given to the epistle is generally accepted to be a spurious identification and doesn‘t appear in the text itself. The book is dated between 70 and 130 A.D. and was cited by Clement of Alexandria. It lost favor in the west when Eusebius of Caeserea, a Palestinian bishop instrumental in the formation of the Council of Nicea, vetoed it. It also criticizes Christians who were trying to “Judaize.” The author doesn’t show any direct knowledge of the canon but is in general agreement with the Presbyter perspective of salvation. The epistle cites many Old Testament passages by name and quotes apocrypha like 1 Enoch and 4 Ezra, but doesn‘t give any sources when it uses ideas from the epistles and gospels. The New Testament book that most shares it’s ideas and phraseology is the Epistle to the Hebrews.

Rather than saying that the Old Testament no longer applies due to the death of Christ as the Pauline epistles do, the Epistle of Barnabas instead attempts preposterous arguments that the laws of Moses were never meant to be taken literally and that the Jews have always misinterpreted them. For example, the Jews were never meant to rest on the seventh day of the week. The true interpretation is that the day is actually symbolic for 1000 years, meaning that after 6000 years, the Son of God will “destroy the time of the wicked one, and will judge the godless, and will change the sun and the moon and the stars, and then he will truly rest on the seventh day.” (15:5). The laws of Moses also prohibit eating various animals like pigs, birds, cuttle fish, hares, and hyenas, but the epistle says that these laws only meant that you should not associate with pig-like gluttons, those who are vulturous like birds, those who are condemned to death like cuttle fish, homosexual pedophiles like the hare (old wives’ tales said hares grew a new orifice every year), or adulterers like the hyena.

Despite these ludicrously poor attempts at reinterpretation, there is one good point of criticism it brings towards the traditional view of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah. The Epistle of Barnabas says that God made clear through the prophets that sacrifices were never necessary by referencing Jeremiah 7:22, saying, “Did I command your fathers when they came out of the land of Egypt to offer me burnt offerings and sacrifices?” (2:7). The insinuated answer is no, but that would contradict a great deal of Levitical laws in the Torah. The desire for justice to replace animal sacrifice is a theme of the short version of the Book of Jeremiah, found in the Greek Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls, but the traditional long version found in the Hebrew Masoretic Bible adds text that legitimizes animal sacrifice, saying, “Levitical priests shall never lack a man before Me to… prepare sacrifices forever.” (33:18). Regarding the Jewish Temple, the Epistle of Barnabas says, “Look, they who destroyed this temple shall themselves build it. That is happening now. For owing to the war it was destroyed by the enemy; at present even the servants of the enemy will build it up again.” (16:3-4). This statement makes most scholars place it before the Bar Kochba Revolt in 132, after which the Emperor Hadrian built a Roman temple in it’s place.

The Shepherd of Hermas was considered divinely inspired by St. Irenaeus, St. Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Tertullian. This very long allegorical romance was originally written in Greek but appeared in Latin soon afterwards. Origen of Alexandria believed it’s author was the Hermas from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (16:14), but the nature of the theology and use of Johannine sources make scholars believe it was written some time between 100 and 160. The book consists of five visions from a former Roman slave named Hermas, which are followed by 12 commandments and 10 parables to give as examples. The first vision consists of Hermas going to the Greek-founded colony of Cumae when he sees a vision of a dead woman he knows named Rhoda. She tells him that she will be his accuser in heaven because he had impure thoughts about her while he was married. He also sees a vision of the church in the form of an old woman but as he does penance for his sin and corrects it in his children, her form grows younger and more beautiful. The book makes references from the Old and New Testament, most notably Epistle of James and Apocalypse of John (Revelation), but the only book it cites is the apocryphal Jewish text, the Book of Eldad and Modat. Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian both gave the impression that the work was highly controversial in the early 200s and Pope Callixtus is said by Tertullian to have considered it apocryphal, dismissing it as being even less accepted than the Epistle of Barnabas. St. Jerome wrote it was all but it was unknown in the west by the 400s.

What conclusions can be made about early Christianity based on these early examples of Christian scripture? They are certainly distinct in having little to speak on the subject of the historic Jesus. Later Orthodox apocrypha greatly elaborated on the infancy of Jesus, the lives of his parents, and the legends about what happened to the disciples after Jesus‘ death. In contrast, later Gnostic apocrypha like in the Nag Hammadi centered more on mystical sayings of Jesus and on his relationship with the inner workings of the cosmos. The Pauline epistles, the earliest dated scripture in the canons of both Presbyter and Gnostic, themselves fail to quote Jesus or even give more than hints at his historical life, but instead focuses his attention on the changes brought on to earth by Christ’s death. Only the canonical gospel and late Orthodox authors seem to have been interested in providing times and places for the events they describe. It is often put upon Paul that the apostle shifted focus away from the historical Jesus to that of a resurrected Christ, but this is clearly a common trait in the early scriptures. The Shepherd of Hermas probably sticks out as the most unexpected of all apocryphal works, even more so considering the authority invested upon it by Irenaeus and Clement. Why was a story about an otherwise unknown slave who was completely unrelated to Jesus or any of his apostles considered as authoritative as the gospels? Within time, this absence of interest in Jesus would swing to the opposite extreme, with continuous sectarian splits based on various pretexts about differing beliefs of how Jesus was related to God. No quaint stories of anonymous slaves were going to be spread around when the souls of mankind depended on whether the hypostatic union of God and man brought about a unified nature or not.

By the time the earliest Christian scripture to survive was written, the early Christian community had already fractured into different religious sects, no more than an estimated 25 years after Jesus‘ death. These first contentions brought on in the Pauline epistles are directed at first towards Jewish Christians who believed that still followed the Torah. But by the Epistle of Colossians, it was also criticizing Gnostics, calling them “false teachers.” These earliest documents originated around Asia Minor (Turkey) where there seems to have been tug of war going on between Gnostics and Jewish Christians over the soul of Christianity. Asia Minor found itself conflicted between the rationalism of Neo-Platonic philosophy and the religious fervor of Judaism, somewhat like how modern Turkey has found a niche between the secularism of the west and the Islamic faith of the east. A good deal of evidence, including references in Acts, points towards Egypt as being the general focal point where Gnostic “false teachers” originated from. Turkey was also the origin of Marcion, who came from Sinope. The most influential city in Turkey was Ephesus, where Cerinthus and John the Elder competed against one another. Ephesus also acted as the head church for the “seven churches of Asia” spoken of in Revelation, which is part of the Johannine tradition. Parts of these churches were later linked to Irenaeus’ Apostolic community in France, who in turn met with Pope St. Victor in Rome in their mission to reconcile the many different traditions of Christianity in a bid to unify the Church.

The Presbyters seem to have taken one of the middle courses, denying both the Laws of Moses of Judaism and the “human tradition and basic principles” of the Gnostics, and primarily focused on faith in Christ alone. At first authority seems to have rested greatly on Paul, but later the history of Jesus and his disciples, especially Peter, would arouse far more interest. The Gospel of Mark would try to counter the factionalism within Christianity by having Jesus portray James and John as misguided and ego-driven, but this lesson would be lost with it’s combination to the far more polemical gospels of Matthew and John. The question of authority and the attempts to trace Christianity back through the disciples of Jesus seems to have begun with Justin Martyr, whose student Tatian, is the first theologian to enact an official canon for the church, although it was not exactly the same one that would come to be endorsed by Irenaeus.