- Jesus warned: “Look out for false prophets, who come to you under the guise of sheep, but inside they are devouring wolves.” (Matthew 7:15, Williams New Testament.)
Paul warned: “Even from your own number men will appear who will try, by speaking perversions of truth, to draw away the disciples after them.” (Acts 20:30, Williams New Testament.)
In his Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius records numerous fulfillments of these warnings from his own observations and from the writings of others. On this page, only those heresiarchs about whom there is information on their teachings are included. The time period involved is about 60
C. E. to about 300 C. E.. The number in parentheses at the end of each of the twenty-one accounts is the page reference in Ecclesiastical History. The viewpoint in regard to each heretic is that of Eusebius.
The Heretical Teachings
- He persuaded the multitude to take their possessions with them and follow him to the river Jordan. He said he was a prophet and that the Jordan should be divided at his command and afford them an easy passage through it. (61)
- Simon Magus:
- A Samaritan, he performed magic rites by the operation of demons. He was considered a god in Rome and was honored as such with a statue on an island in the river Tiber. On the statue was a superscription in Latin, Simoni Deo Sancto, which is “To Simon the Holy God.” Most Samaritans and a few others worshiped him, confessing him as the Supreme God. A prostitute from Tyre, named Helen, attached herself to Simon and was called the first idea that proceeded from him. This man is understood to have taken the lead in all heresy. (62)
- The successor to Simon Magus and also a Samaritan, he revelled in still more arrogant pretensions to miracles. He said that he was the Saviour, once sent from the invisible worlds for the salvation of men. He taught that no one could overcome, even the angels of heaven, in any other way than by first being initiated into the magic discipline imparted by himself and by the baptism conferred by him for this purpose. Those who were deemed worthy would obtain perpetual immortality in this very life, being no more subject to death. (111)
- The Ebionites:
- They cherished low and mean opinions of Christ. They considered Him a plain and common man, justified only by His advances in virtue, and born of the Virgin Mary by natural generation. The observance of the law was altogether necessary, as if they could not be saved only by faith in Christ and a corresponding life. Others by the same name did not deny that the Lord was born of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Ghost. However, they did not acknowledge His pre-existence. They also evinced great zeal to observe the ritual service of the law. They thought that all the epistles of the apostles ought to be rejected, yet used the gospel according to the Hebrews. They observed the Sabbath and other disciplines of the Jews, but also celebrated the Lord’s Day in commemoration of His resurrection. (112)
- By means of revelations which he pretended were written by a great apostle, he falsely pretended to wonderful things, as if they were shown him by angels, asserting that after the resurrection there would be an earthly kingdom of Christ, and that men again inhabiting Jerusalem would be subject to desires and pleasures. Being an enemy to the divine Scriptures, he said there would be a space of a thousand years for celebrating nuptial festivals. (113)
- He led the Jews in an unsuccessful revolt against the Romans. He pretended to many miracles, as if he were a light descending from heaven, whose object was to cheer them in their opposition. (131)
- A native of Antioch, he established schools of impious heresy in Syria. In most respects he held the same false doctrines as Menander. (133)
- A native of Alexandria, he established schools of impious heresy in Egypt. Under the pretext of matters too deep to be divulged, he stretched his inventions to a boundless extent, in astounding fictions of impious heresy. He composed twenty-four books upon the gospels, mentioning Barcabbas and Barcoph as prophets and inventing others that never existed for himself. He taught also that it was indifferent for those that tasted of things sacrificed to idols and that the faith be renounced in times of persecution. He enjoined upon his followers a silence of five years. (133)
- The Gnostics:
- Founded by Carpocrates, they did not wish to keep the magic arts of Simon in secret, but thought that they should be made public. They boasted of preparations of love potions and of tutelary and dream-exciting demons, and other similar magic rites. They taught that the basest deeds should be perpetrated by those that would arrive at perfection in the mysteries. One could in no other way escape the rulers of the world except by performing his part of obscenity to all. (133)
- He derived his first impulse from the followers of Simon. He taught that the God who had been proclaimed by the law and prophets was not the Father of Jesus Christ, for the latter was revealed and the other was unknown. The former was just, but the other was good. (138)
- He was from Pontus. He taught that there was another God greater than the God creator. In conjunction with demons, he persuaded many people to utter blasphemy and to deny that the Creator of all things was the father of Christ. (139)
- He taught the Encratites this doctrine. He proclaimed abstinence from marriage, censuring God who made male and female for the propagation of the human race. Marriage, as with Marcion and Saturninus, was only corruption and fornication. He introduced the abstinence from things called animate with them, displaying ingratitude to God who made all things. He also denied the salvation of Adam and Eve. He had been a hearer of Justin, but apostasized from the church and became elated with the conceit of a teacher. The Encratites accepted and proclaimed his doctrine. (166)
- He strengthened the heresy of Tatian and created another sect known as the Severians. They made use of the law and prophets and gospels, giving a peculiar interpretation of the sacred writings, but abused Paul the apostle and set aside his epistles, as well as the Acts of the Apostles. (166)
- He gave the adversary occasion against himself. He was carried away in spirit, and wrought up into a certain kind of frenzy and irregular ecstasy, raving, and speaking, and uttering strange things, and proclaiming what was contrary to the institutions that had prevailed in the church. He was rebuked by many of the people in his village, except for two women whom he excited and filled with the spirit of delusion. They spoke like him in a kind of ecstatic frenzy, out of season, while the spirit of evil congratulated them. Those who were deceived were taught by the inflated spirit to revile the whole church because it gave neither access nor honour to this false spirit of prophecy. (196)
- He asserted that Christ was a mere man. His followers stated that all the primitive men and the apostles themselves both received and taught the things that they were teaching. The truth had been preserved until the times of Victor, the thirteenth bishop of Rome. From the time of his successor, Zephyrinus, the truth was mutilated. They eventually abandoned the holy Scriptures for the study of geometry. (213)
- He was bishop of Bostra in Arabia. He asserted that our Saviour did not exist in the proper sense of existence before dwelling among men; neither had He a proper divinity, but only that divinity which dwelt in Him from the Father. However, Origen was able to convince him of his error, thus recovering him to the truth in doctrine. (251)
- Other Arabian Men:
- They asserted that the human soul, as long as the present state of the world existed, perished at death and died with the body, but that it would be raised again with the body at the time of the resurrection. Origen was able to convince these men of their error so that they completely changed their opinions. (253)
- A presbyter of the church of Rome, he was elevated against those who had fallen as if there were no room for them to hope for salvation. He became the leader of a heresy that called themselves Cathari. This group set aside the holy baptism and overturned the faith and confession that precedes it. The Holy Spirit was totally driven away from themselves. (263, 276)
- His heresy was impious and replete with blasphemy towards Almighty God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It abounded in much infidelity in regard to His only begotten Son, and the firstborn of all creation, the incarnate word. It abounded also in irreverence to the Holy Spirit. (274)
- A bishop in Egypt, he taught that the promises given to holy men in the Scriptures should be understood more as the Jews understood them, and supposed that there would be a certain millennium of sensual luxury on this earth. (295)
- He attempted to form himself into a Christ and then also proclaimed himself to be the very paraclete and the Holy Spirit. With this, he was very puffed up with his madness. He selected twelve apostles, and patched together false and ungodly doctrines, collected from a thousand heresies long extinct. Then he left Persia for Palestine. His followers were known as Manichees. (309)
- It did not take long for false teachers and false doctrines to enter the Christian church. Some of them were stopped, but not before the spiritual lives of people had been affected. How could people fall for such heresies? Some people look for leaders to follow. Some people do not have a knowledge or an understanding of the teachings of the Gospel. Some leaders are charismatic and draw people to themselves. These may have been some of the reasons.
This process is still in effect today. The leaders may have good intentions at first, but are carried away, some to extremes. Some are possessed with demonic influences right from the beginning. A true spiritual leader is familiar with the Scriptures, is constantly learning, and has a close relationship with God. When he does make errors, he seeks forgiveness and corrects himself. It is so easy to follow wrong teachings.
False teaching and partial teaching of the truth have resulted in many factions of Christianity. Many, but not all, people can recognize the teachings of radicals as not being true. Many, but not all, people can recognize the false and questionable teachings of other Christian denominations. However, many people who remain in the same denomination all their lives either cannot or do not want to see the false teachings that they accept. Because a denomination uses the Bible does not make it immune from teaching false doctrine. If it places tradition, rituals, or other writings above the Bible, it should be suspect. Everyone must prepare himself so that he can avoid the heresies as Eusebius described in the early Christian church, as well as those of today.
- Eusebius. The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1994. (Reprint)
- Williams, Charles B., trans. The New Testament in the Language of the People. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 1986.