The church is no stranger to false and distorted representations of the Christian faith. It started from the time of the apostles and has not let up to the present. History has a funny way of repeating itself. The old saying what crawls in one generation walks in the next, is a accurate description of error birthed and growing mature. Its also been said, error dies a slow death and must be killed. As we take a peek at just a small section of the timeline in the growth of the church, we find there is nothing new under the sun. What we have today is no different than before. Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat its mistakes.
Gnosticism - promoters of this view were Simon Magus, Marcion, Saturninus, Cerinthus and Basilides. The dating of its origin is uncertain but it was the most ancient, predating Christ. This comes from the word gnosis meaning to know.
This was a philosophical system built on Greek philosophy that taught matter was evil and the Spirit was good. They taught docetismwhich promoted a clear separation between the material and spiritual world. Christian Gnostics said Since matter was evil God could not really incarnate in a human body, he only appeared in human form and only appeared to suffer, it was an illusion. It was stated when Jesus walked on the sand you could know by seeing his footprints that were left. In this Jesus could be a pure spiritual being in a evil world and not be contaminated by it.
Gnostic teaching is traced by historians to Simon Magus a magician in Samaria. He is said to have written the Gnostic work entitled The Great Revelation in which Simon is the Messiah, not Jesus. Menander was one of Simon's disciples . He preached that those who followed him would not die, and that instead of Jesus being crucified it was Simon Magus.
Cerinthus in the late 100s taught the Gnostic teaching of the existence of Aeons and emanations from the eternal God. In their philosophical system they had a structure of emanations in time which began from God the supreme self existing Spirit . Since matter was evil God could not have created the world directly. The gap between the spiritual world and the physical world was bridged by a series of emanations from the supreme God down through epochs of time. Emanating from him through them he limited his own infinite being manifesting in each one of them one of his divine attributes. Then this divine Spirit called AEon united himself to the material body of Jesus.
That Jesus was the natural son of Joseph and Mary. The Christ came upon him at his baptism upon the body of Jesus for a short time and left him at the crucifixion, (like the Ebonite's) so only a man was crucified. (similar to what Oneness Pentecostals believe today and what the New Age teaches).
Salvation- came by knowledge and experience. those who did not have this knowledge were associated with ignorance (esoteric truth) They received direct revelation from the Spirit which was more important than the word.
They used allegorical interpretations, spiritualizing literal meanings. Other promoters were Basilides and Saturninus in the early 2nd cent.,Marcion, Valentinus, and Tatian who was formerly orthodox fell into this view later on in his life.
Iraneaus who took the time to research and read their writings and spoke with them became their greatest opponent debating them. He wrote "These men falsify the oracles of God and prove themselves evil interpreters of the good word of revelation. They also overthrow the faith of many, by drawing them away, under a pretense of [superior] knowledge, from Him who rounded and adorned the universe; as if, forsooth, they had something more excellent and sublime to reveal, than that God who created the heaven and the earth, and all things that are therein."( Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 1 )
Dynamic Monarchianism- (Socianism) Theodotus of Byzantine of Rome 190 A.D. was the source of this theological heresy, Paul of Samosata became the promoter holding to a more advanced system. Theodotus (also known as Artemon) claimed this was the true apostolic teaching. Hippolytus challenged Artemons teaching, putting it in the category of Hellenistic logic. This teaching was condemned by the Synod of Antioch in 268.
He taught Jesus was a mere man begotten of the virgin Mary by the H.Spirit. He became the Christ at his baptism and was adopted by the father after his death (adoptionism). He believed "the Logos (wisdom) was an impersonal quality of God that came together and indwelt the man Christ Jesus, but remained in essence distinct." He also promoted the teaching that "the Holy Spirit was not a distant personal entity but simply a manifestation of the grace of the Father."(Elwells Evangelical Dictionary of Theology p.727).
There were two forms of Monarchianism which had some similarities but were distinct enough to be opposed to each other. A natural analogy would be "one person acting three different roles in the same drama. Water-ice-vapor". (Charts of Christian Theology and Doctrine 23.H.Wayne House) While we would define this as three at the same time in one substance, a modalist views it as becoming each, one at a time .
The Modalists denied the personal distinctions of the Son and H.Spirit in contrast to the Father. There was a genuine attempt to defend Monotheism against tritheism, but a overreaction none the less. "The term was first used by Tertullian in describing those who wanted to protect the Monarchy (of the one God) from improper thoughts about the economy (of the three :Father, Son and Holy Spirit". Tertullian showed they divided the three into modes.
The Modalists denied the personal distinctiveness of the Son and H.Spirit in contrast to the Father.
Paul of Samosata who was the bishop of Antioch stated, "Consubstantial with the Father, but was not a distinct person in the Godhead. He could be identified with God, because He existed in him just as human reason exists in man. He was merely an impersonal power, present in all men, but particularly operative in the man Jesus. By penetrating the humanity of Jesus progressively, as it did no other man, this divine power gradually deified it. And because the man Jesus was thus deified, He is worthy of divine honor, though he cannot be regarded as God in the strict sense of the word" (the Moody Handbook of theology p.419 Paul Enns)..
"Apparently he sought to stress the humanity of Jesus. He held that in God are the logos and wisdom, but the logos is not a distinct being and is what reason is in man. The wisdom dwelt in the prophets, but was uniquely in Christ as in a temple". (K.Latourette The history of Christianity p.144) He taught Jesus was a mere man begotten of the virgin Mary by the H.Spirit. He became the Christ at his baptism and was adopted by the Father after his death (adoptionism). He believed "the Logos" (wisdom) was an impersonal quality of God that came together and indwelt the man Christ Jesus, but remained in essence distinct." He also promoted the teaching that "the Holy Spirit was not a distant personal entity but simply a manifestation of the grace of the father."(Elwells Evangelical Dictionary of Theology p.727).
In this belief system God was the originator of the universe, the Son was a finite man in which the life of God the anointing was uniquely manifested. He was not deity but his humanity was deified. The unity of God was oneness in nature and person, that the Son and Spirit shared in the Fathers essence as impersonal attributes not as persons.
There were two basic forms of Monarchianism which had some similarities but were distinct enough to be opposed to each other. A natural analogy would be "one person acting three different roles in the same drama. Water-ice-vapor". (Charts of Christain Theology and Doctrine p.23 H.Wayne House)
This teaching is traced by historians to Simon Magus a magician in Samaria (Acts of the Apostles 8:9) who professed conversion. He was denounced by Peter for trying to buy the H.Spirit (called the sin of simony today).Simon is attributed to be the very first to propose this idea. He stated that there was only one person in the Godhead, and that he was that person. claiming to be the father in Samaria, the Son in Judea, the H.Spirit in the rest of the nations ( John Gill, sermons and tracts vol.3 pg.513).
Iranaeus wrote of Simon Magus who became known as the first advocate of Modalism in the apostolic period. (Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol.1 pg.347-348) So we trace this concept to a Gnostic.
Sabellianism (Modalism, patripassionism) Sabellius, Praxeus, Noetus, Epigonus said the one God reveals himself in three modes of being. Although Dynamic modalism said that the deity was limited to the father alone Modalistic Monarchianism deified the Son also. Saying the unity of god is ultra-simplex. That the one essence could be interchangeable as the Father, Son , Spirit. they were all different names for the one person who is God. So the Son was the Father himself in a different mode.
Noetus and Praxeus are attributed to saying the Father became his own Son, although historically it can be traced to Sabellius. And so the Modalism became connected to what was called Patripassionism- meaning the Father suffered. In this view they said it was the father who suffered on the cross. So it was the father who became incarnate through the virgin birth and suffered and died. Praxeus attempted to reconcile this unity of persons by making a distinction of Christ who is the Father and the Son who was only his humanity. By doing this it was the Father who co-suffered with the human Jesus. Whatever happened to the son also happened to the father since they were numerically one.
In the 3rd century Sabellius in Rome made this into a more sophisticated system ironing out the kinks.
He claimed "the existence of a divine monad (which he named the huiopater) which by a process of expansion projected itself successively in revelation as the Father, Son, H.Spirit.( Elwells Evangelical dictionary of theology p.727) So each appeared in different periods of time, instead of existing simultaneously. The Father was the creator and law giver, the Son was the redeemer and the H.Spirit was the giver of grace and the regenerator." To further validate this Epiphanius writes "Their doctrine is, that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one and the same being, in the sense that three names are attached to the one substance. A close analogy may be found in the body, soul and spirit of man. The body as it were the Father: the soul as the Son ; while the Spirit is to the Godhead as his spirit is to a man. Or take the sun: it is one substance, but it has three manifestations, light , heat and the orb itself. The heat ( is analogous to) the Spirit; the light to the Son; while the Father himself is represented as the actual substance. The Son was at one time emitted, like a ray of light; he accomplished in the world all that pertained to the dispensation of the Gospel and mans salvation, and was taken back into heaven , as a ray is emitted by the sun and then withdrawn again into the sun."(Epiphanius Bishop of Salamis 375 AD. Adv. hareses Ixii.1) So the trinity was not distinct persons but three offices and actions, he is revealed in three ways. (roles, today known as modes by the Oneness Pentecostals) This became more popular than the first view of dynamic Modalism.
These are excerpts from the book Who is Jesus ? Answering Oneness Pentecostals attacks on the Trinity. spiral book by Mike Oppenheimer of Let Us Reason ministries Wahiawa HI 96786