[* A condensed excerpt from “The Story of Christianity” by Justo L. Gonazlez (Harper & Row, 1984). Used with permission.]

Long before the controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries, the church had already been dealing with heresy for some time. Early on teachers arose who said they had special access to Jesus’ “real teachings.” So early on, the church had to come up with methods for discerning truth and rejecting error.

In his The Story of Christianity (Harper & Row, 1984), Justo González, a member of the faculty of the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, discusses the two most powerful heresies of the earliest church and how it responded.

Secret Knowledge

Of all the differing interpretations of Christianity, none was as dangerous, nor as close to victory, as was Gnosticism. This was a vast and amorphous movement that existed both within and outside the church.

The name Gnosticism derives from the Greek word gnosis, which means “knowledge.” According to the Gnostics, they possessed a special, mystical knowledge reserved for those with true understanding. That knowledge was the secret key to salvation.

Salvation was the main concern of the Gnostics. They concluded that all matter is evil, or at best unreal. A human being is in reality an eternal spirit that somehow has been imprisoned in a body. Since the body is a prison to the spirit, and since it misguides us as to our true nature, it is evil. Therefore the Gnostics’ final goal was to escape from the body and this material world in which we are exiled. The world is not our true home but rather an obstacle to the salvation of the spirit.

How, then, is the origin of the world and of the body to be explained? Gnosticism affirmed that originally all reality was ...

Subscriber Access OnlyYou have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Already a CT subscriber? for full digital access.