Week 8–Early Church History, Irenaeus, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, and the Autobiographical Essay

“Error, indeed is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced more true than truth itself.”
Irenaeus of Lyons

I just had two Jehovah’s Witnesses come to my door this morning. They told me that they had some materials on prayer, and how times are rough and they want to encourage me. I asked if they were from the Watchtower and they said yes. They asked if I was familiar with the organization, and told me that their materials were entirely biblical. I said that no they are not biblical at all. She did’t come to my door advertising her false doctrine. False teachers always focus on the things we already believe to be true, and sneak the poison in secretly.

The Early Church

This week I want you to look closely at two of the main problems facing Christians in the Early Church era. You need to, because these are things that you will have to face to some extent too, as a Christian living in the last days.

The first problem you will face is false teaching coming into the church. We want to teach you apologetics, and how to give a defense to others for why you believe what you believe. Of course I want you to be able to recognize secular humanism, cults, and the flaws in evolution. But what do you do when a “Christian” comes up to you and tells you things that sound pretty true (but are totally unbiblical)? This WILL happen and already IS happening.

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

“For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.” 2 John 1:7-11

“I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” Acts 20:29

“O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Grace be with you.” 1 Timothy 6:20-21

 “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:1-2

The second problem the early church faced was persecution. This continued all through history. True Christians were persecuted by non-believers, the governments above them, as well as religious organizations that wielded political power. Jesus told them that they would be persecuted. They endured. If they had failed, and given in and compromised, this pure faith would not have been passed on to us. It is God’s will for us to follow in His steps, even if it is death.

“They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” Revelation 12:11

“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” 2 Timothy 3:12

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” 1 Peter 4:12-14

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” 2 Corinthians 4:8-12

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. ” John 15:18-25

 So this week we are going to look at both persecution and false teaching in the early church. I want you to read from a very famous book called Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. It is a heavy book. And it is incomplete. I believe that the complete story is written in heaven and when we get there we will fully understand what these saints went though. As you read, do a check up on your own faith. See what you need to work on to grow strong enough in faith to be able to make the same hard choice, for Christ.
You will learn about one of the main false teachings that the early church fought against–Gnosticism. We are also going to read some of Irenaeus’ writings against false teaching that were flourishing during this time period. Praise the Lord for watchmen who would debate and write about the deceptions. We need to stand against false teaching today as well. The BEST way to do this is to study the Scriptures, as if our very souls depend on it. We could be deceived if we allow anything to pull us away from the truth of the Word of God. Be a Berean. Don’t just believe things because I tell you, or Dustin teaches you, or Pastor David teaches you. We are just people, with opinions, and we are fallible. We are trying our best, but it isn’t about US. It is about Jesus alone. It is HIS WORDS that matter. We need to all learn to rightly divide the Scriptures and prove what is being taught. The church is not our Savior, Jesus is, and His Word is what matters. As you will see as we progress in the next few weeks, the Catholic Church took over and separated believers from the Bible. They came in between sheep and truth. Do not ever let a church get in between you and Christ. Don’t follow people, don’t follow movements, follow Christ through His Word.
Jesus said, “the sheep hear his [the Shepherd’s] voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.  Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” John 15:3-5
Follow Christ alone.

This Week’s Assignments–



  • Watch this video about what is happening today in the church. You have all heard of Jesus Culture, you probably love some of their songs. Did you know that they are from a false teaching church? They promote false teaching. This week we are going to look into the extreme charismatic movement and the history of it, but today I want to start with what you know already. This video shows clips of how Bethel and Jesus Culture mixes truth with error. It also shows some history of a split in Calvary Chapel. Chuck Smith took a stand against these movements, when CC Yorba Linda, pastored by John Wimber, began to practice levitation, reading of aura’s and “slain in the spirit” false manifestations, by calling it a move of God. You will learn about that and how this false teaching movement continued in the Vineyard churches after John Wimber split from Calvary Chapel. And how the Vineyard movement was one of the influences for Jesus Culture.  (Just watch the first 26 minutes, after that it is just more of the same nonsense)

Thinking and Writing Questions—Okay that video was kinda long, but I want to ask you a few questions every day. I want you to type them up and email them to me on Thursday night along with your grammar (same email).

  1. How much to they elevate people as “special”?
  2. Who are the “special” people? What can they do?
  3. How much to they talk about experiences vs. the gospel plan of salvation, sin, and Bible verses?
  4. Do you think that it is possible, that what is happening with Jesus Culture in your generation, is just a cooler dressed, more relevant way for the enemy to bring the same unbiblical TBN junk to your generation?


  • Read CARM’s discussion of gnosticism (very bottom of this page)
  • Read Chapter XXVII of Book I Against Heresies by Irenaeus (very bottom of the page)
  • Wikipedia on Irenaeus--“He was an early Church Father and apologist, and his writings were formative in the early development of Christian theology. He was a hearer of Polycarp, who in turn was traditionally a disciple of John the Evangelist. Irenaeus’ best-known book, Adversus Haereses or Against Heresies (c. 180), is a detailed attack on Gnosticism, which was then a serious threat to the Church, and especially on the system of the Gnostic Valentinus. As one of the first great Christian theologians, he emphasized the traditional elements in the Church, especially the episcopate, Scripture, and tradition. Against the Gnostics, who said that they possessed a secret oral tradition from Jesus himself, Irenaeus maintained that the bishops in different cities are known as far back as the Apostles and that the bishops provided the only safe guide to the interpretation of Scripture. His writings, with those of Clement and Ignatius, are taken as among the earliest signs of the developing doctrine. Irenaeus is the earliest witness to recognition of the canonical character of all four gospels.
  • Red Chapter 2 (pg. 39-50) Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (Notice that Irenaeus is mentioned)
  • Watch this shocking clip. Yesterday in the Jesus Culture video you might have seen this guy. At the height of his “anointing” he was cheating on his disabled wife (and children) with his secretary. He is a fake and a liar. But guess what? Within a year of leaving his wife, he was back on stage, preaching about how “anointed” he is, and raking in the money–this time, with a new wife.

More Thinking and Writing

5. Why do people laugh and follow this teacher?

6. Do you think that God would validate Todd Bentley’s ministry, with true signs and wonders?

7. What are the true gifts of the Holy Spirit?

8. What are the fruits of the Spirit? (Galatians 5) Which fruit of the Spirit do you see lacking in Bentley’s ministry?


  • Read Chapter 2 (pg. 51-67) of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs
  • Read the Apostles Creed and the notes of background notes next to the creed.
  • Read the Nicene Creed and the notes of background notes next to the creed.
  • Watch this video–Bethel Redding (Jesus Culture’s Church) practices “grave sucking.” They lay on the graves of dead Christians and try to suck the “anointing” out of the bones. This is INSANE. Why don’t they just read their Bible? They don’t want CHRIST, because Jesus is the true anointed one. They want to lay on graves in a cemetery like pagans.

  • Watch this video– Jesus Culture is More Dangerous Than Bad Politics

More Thinking and Writing

9. Why do you think that this guy said false teaching and a false gospel is just as bad or worse than abortion?

10. Write down Jude verse 3 and 4


  • Read Chapter 2 (pg. 68-75) of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs
  • Read the Book of Jude (it is only 25 verses) then read 2 Peter chapter 2.
  • Read the information about the Autobiographical Essay. Just read through the assignment and start to think about ideas for what you want to write.
  • Watch this video

  • Watch this video from Voice of the Martyrs

More Thinking and Writing

11. How is Jude and 2 Peter 2 similar?

12. At the top of the page I wrote down some verses about persecution and false teaching. Please write out (do not copy and paste) but type out (letter by letter, so it gets in your brain) your two favorite verses above about persecution and your two favorite verses about false teaching.

13. Why are false signs and wonders a distraction?

14. What things should the true church be focusing on?

15. What does Jesus say of His people in Revelation 12:11?

16. Write down some brief notes on what you think you might want to write your Autobiographical Essay about. 2-3 sentences.


Autobiographical Essay (directions at the bottom of the page)– You have just spent a lot of time reading Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. These stories are short. You don’t know these people, you don’t know if they were funny, brave, liked pita bread, or kitties. You just know that they died for Jesus. That is their testimony. It is a good one.

They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. Revelation 12:11

This week I want you to begin thinking about telling YOUR story. This will be an autobiographical essay, of something that happened to you. It can be your testimony of how you became a Christian, but it can also just be another story and how you see Christ better through it. Our testimony will keep growing, we will keep learning new things as we go through circumstances and find Christ in all of them. We need to be willing to share these things, they will encourage others.

Here are your options:

  1. What is YOUR testimony of Christ? We are going to write an autobiographical essay–the topic of which is how did you come to make a decision to live for Christ? What incident provoked it? Even if you grew up in the church, when did God go from being your parents God to being your personal Savior? When has the Lord revealed His truth to you? etc. Focus on a specific event with the Lord that changed your life–even if you believed in Him before.
  2. Write about a hard trial you went through. How did it draw you closer to the Lord? What Scriptures ministered to you? What comfort or advice would you give to teens with similar difficulties?
  3. Write about an answered prayer. What were you praying for? How did God answer? How did you believe He would answer? How did your faith grow? What Scriptures remind you of this time?
  4. Write about a time that you were able to use your God given talents or skills to minister to others. Were you sharing your faith? Were you serving in VBS? Were you sharing biblical encouragement or wisdom with a friend in need? Explain the situation, and how you felt–were you nervous? confident? excited? Did you feel ill equipped? What Bible verses talk about God working through us despite our weaknesses?
  5. Write about the scariest thing that ever happened to you? Did you call the police? Did you cry for your mamma? What happened? What did you do to get through it? How did you learn to handle fear better? How did this situation affect your perception of God? Did you feel like He was with you? Did you feel at the time that He didn’t care? (Jesus’ own disciples once accused him of not caring if they die!). What did the Lord show you through this situation?
  6. Write about something embarrassing that happened to you. I want to see you blush with shame!!! hahaha. Just kidding. But share about what lesson you learned, or how you are making sure this doesn’t happen again. What does the Bible say about humility or laughter?
  7. Have you ever suffered for being a Christian? What happened? What did it cost you? How did it feel? Were people mean to you? Was it worth it? Why or why not?

Begin writing a rough draft, due next Friday

Building Your Portfolio

Writer’s Workshop 

Narrative Writing: Autobiographical Incident

from Elements of Literature (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston)

If you wrote down everything that ever happened to you, how many books would your autobiography fill? Of course, some events are more memorable than others. “My mother woke me at 6 A.M. and I got ready to go to school” isn’t nearly so interesting as “The earthquake hit at 4:36 A.M. and I heard screams as I found myself falling through the air.”

Writing that tells about an incident in your life is a special kind of narrative writing called an autobiographical incident.


Write about an incident from your life that is vivid to you—perhaps something that taught you an important lesson or that made you feel something deeply.


To express yourself; to inform.


Your friends or younger readers or readers of a magazine for teenagers. (You choose.)


1. Find a Topic 

Narrow your focus to a single incident that happened in a short time—maybe just a few minutes or several hours or a day. Look through any past assignments that were autobiographical in nature for ideas. Or, brainstorm some lists—“Six Memories of Food,” “Three Horrible Vacations,” “Four School Experiences,” “Three Things I Wish I Could Do Again.” Write a sentence or two about several incidents. Ask yourself which incident gives you most to write about.

2. Jog Your Memory 

Once you find a topic, replay the incident in your memory and take notes.

Context: Who was there? How old was I? Where did the incident happen?

Sensory details: What sights, smells, sounds, tastes can I recall?

Dialogue/monologue: Who said what?

Events: Exactly what happened? (List the events in the order they occurred.) What was the most exciting or tense moment?

Significance: What did I think or feel about the incident at the time? What do I think or feel about it now?

Here is how a professional writer in this collection uses specific images to help us see the people and places in her writing:

One summer morning, after I had swept the dirt yard of leaves, spearmint-gum wrappers, and Vienna-sausage labels, I raked the yellow-red dirt and made half-moons carefully, so that the design stood out clearly and masklike. I put the rake behind the Store and came through the back of the house to find Grandmother on the front porch in her big, wide white apron. The apron was so stiff by virtue of the starch that it could have stood alone.

—Maya Angelou, “When I Lay My Burden Down”

Strategies for Elaboration 

Show, Don’t Tell When you elaborate on an autobiographical incident, you want to help the reader imagine your experience. To do this, use words and images—descriptions of people, places, and events—that appeal to the senses. Don’t just write, “We ate by the bay, and Mom sang.” Tell how the food tasted. How did the air smell? How did Mom’s voice sound?

3. Map Your Story 

Like other narratives, an autobiographical incident has characters, a series of related events usually told in chronological order, and a setting.

To plan your story, try using a story map to outline the details of an incident.


There comes a time when you just have to sit down and start writing. The novelist Louise Erdrich remembers that she wrote only poems at first because she couldn’t sit still long enough to write prose. Here is her description of how she wrote her first draft:

“One raw and rainy Baltimore evening, in an apartment that smelled of wet wool, I hit upon the solution to my problem and tied myself to my chair. A long scarf, knotted at the waist, allowed me to finish the first piece of prose I’d ever done.”—Louise Erdrich, “What My Mother Taught Me: Nests”

Use your story map and the details you’ve collected to finish your first draft at one sitting. Here are the steps in that difficult drafting process:

1. Set the stage. Choose a few details—just enough to give the incident a context. Let readers know where and when the incident took place and who was there.

2. Entice the reader. Try for an opening that catches your reader’s interest: perhaps a line of dialogue or a quotation or an interesting detail, or even one dramatic word.

3. Tell what happened. Narrate the events in chronological order, the order in which they happened. If necessary, add a flashback to an earlier time to explain something.

4. Reflect on meaning and feelings. In your conclusion, tell what the incident means to you, how you feel about it now, and how you felt about it then. Say this as directly and simply as you can.

Student Model 


Beginning generates interest.

The accident was reminiscent of a clip straight out of one of Mr. Brooks’s supposedly enlightening driver’s ed movies—maybe the one I had watched only an hour before.

Here is where the incident begins. The stage is set.

It was a beautiful day, dry and sunny, not a cloud in the sky. My half-hour driving lesson with my mother thus far matched the weather: It was near perfect. I drove at the speed limit, stopped at all the stop signs, and even landed in the proper lane after a turn. As I pulled onto my driveway, I was really proud of myself. But what started out as the perfect driving lesson ended in a terrible tragedy when I inadvertently pressed down on the accelerator instead of the brake.

There is lost of humor here. He exaggerates for a humorous effect. 

The long driveway lay ahead of me. Unfortunately for my sake, it was not as long as it originally seemed to be. That didn’t matter because with the help of my mother’s 1982 Oldsmobile station wagon, I elongated it, thus decreasing the length of the garage. But that didn’t matter; the car had shortened also. In those seemingly endless seconds, the garage door and the corner of my house disappeared.

Tells how other people react to the incident. Focuses on each person, then goes on to the next. Writer tells his own reaction last.

It was a thunderous crash that brought everyone out as quick as lightning. My little brother, who had witnessed the entire catastrophe from two feet away, just stood in awe. My other brother came running out faster than he does on the soccer field to see what had happened. My sister, as always, took pride in pointing out another one of my major mistakes by screaming about how stupid I was. And unfortunately, my good friend and next-door neighbor had the foresight to be playing ball on his driveway at four that afternoon, such an unlikely occurrence for this nonathletic person. He watched without commenting. My mother just sat in the car, speechless. As for me, I was out of the car in a dash, cradling my head in my hands, uttering the same phrase over and over—“Why me? Why me?”

Suspense—how will the father react? 

After what seemed like an eternity, during which time the initial shock had worn off, I swore I would never drive again and then began to get nervous all over, thinking about my father’s anticipated arrival within the next half-hour. The only saving grace was that my family was to immediately leave for a holiday dinner at my grandmother’s. My father wouldn’t have the nerve to start a scene in front of all those people: He would just give me the eye all night. I made sure to sit at an angle, not conducive to good eye contact. Actually, my father surprised me by saying the accident wasn’t completely my fault. It was those cloddy sneakers that he’s always despised.

“Cloddy sneakers” is good. What the incident means to the writer—serious tone here.

I realized later that this tragedy was a blessing in disguise. The thought of my little brother standing between the car and the garage door rather than a few feet off to the side as he was, kept playing over and over in my mind like a scratched record. Until this day, the thought still terrifies me. Driving is not as easy and carefree as the average sixteen-year-old thinks. I am extra cautious now, realizing that there is no margin for error. A car can truly be a lethal weapon.

A humorous note again. 

My road-training class recently scheduled a field trip past my now infamous garage doors with me as their tour guide: “To the right is the Balsam estate, which is undergoing extensive renovation to the front of the house. . ..”

The conclusion is serious: The writer draws a generalization from the incident. 

I have since learned that mine was the most common accident of sixteen-year-olds learning to drive. Because of inexperience, they tend to panic in emergency situations, thus pressing the accelerator. I have learned, however, that I must be responsible for my actions. I cannot rationalize my driving mistakes. Fortunately, my accident was a valuable lesson. Cars are not toys and driving is not a game. Furthermore, accidents don’t just happen to the other guy. They can hit home.

—Howie B.
Dix Hills, New York

“Driver’s Ed?” by Howard A. Balsam from Pegasus, Literary-Arts Publication, vol. XVII, 1990. Copyright © 1990 by Howard A. Balsam. Published by Half Hollow Hills High School East, Dix Hills, NY. Reproduced by permission of the author.

Evaluating and Revising

Look at your draft carefully. Have you used enough details? Have you used images to describe the setting and people so readers can visualize them? Do your sentences flow smoothly? Read your draft to someone and ask for specific suggestions. Or ask two peer editors to read your paper and to write their comments in the margin.

Evaluation Criteria 
A good autobiographical incident 

1. deals with a single incident in a limited time

2. has an interesting beginning and a clear conclusion

3. puts the incident in a context (time, place, other people present)

4. has a clear sequence of events, sensory details, and dialogue

5. directly states or clearly implies the incident’s significance to the writer

Proofreading Tip 
Here is a tip used by professional proofreaders: Do at least two reads. Read first for sentence structure (check for variety; correct fragments and run-ons). Then, read for errors in spelling, punctuation, and capitalization.

(Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Elements of Literatue, Nexuslearning.net)

from–Agaisnst Heresies

Chapter XXVII.-Proper Mode of Interpreting Parables and Obscure Passages of Scripture

by Irenaeus

1. A sound mind, and one which does not expose its possessor to danger, and is devoted to piety and the love of truth, will eagerly meditate upon those things which God has placed within the power of mankind, and has subjected to our knowledge, and will make advancement in [acquaintance with] them, rendering the knowledge of them easy to him by means of daily study. These things are such as fall [plainly] under our observation, and are clearly and unambiguously in express terms set forth in the Sacred Scriptures. And therefore the parables ought not to be adapted to ambiguous expressions. For, if this be not done, both he who explains them will do so without danger, and the parables will receive a like interpretation from all, and the body of truth remains entire, with a harmonious adaptation of its members, and without any collision [of its several parts]. But to apply expressions which are not clear or evident to interpretations of the parables, such as every one discovers for himself as inclination leads him, [is absurd. ] For in this way no one will possess the rule of truth; but in accordance with the number of persons who explain the parables will be found the various systems of truth, in mutual opposition to each other, and setting forth antagonistic doctrines, like the questions current among the Gentile philosophers.

2. According to this course of procedure, therefore, man would always be inquiring but never finding, because he has rejected the very method of discovery. And when the Bridegroom comes, he who has his lamp untrimmed, and not burning with the brightness of a steady light, is classed among those who obscure the interpretations of the parables, forsaking Him who by His plain announcements freely imparts gifts to all who come to Him, and is excluded from His marriage-chamber. Since, therefore, the entire Scriptures, the prophets, and the Gospels, can be clearly, unambiguously, and harmoniously understood by all, although all do not believe them; and since they proclaim that one only God, to the exclusion of all others, formed all things by His word, whether visible or invisible, heavenly or earthly, in the water or under the earth, as I have shown from the very words of Scripture; and since the very system of creation to which we belong testifies, by what falls under our notice, that one Being made and governs it,-those persons will seem truly foolish who blind their eyes to such a clear demonstration, and will not behold the light of the announcement [made to them]; but they put fetters upon themselves, and every one of them imagines, by means of their obscure interpretations of the parables, that he has found out a God of his own. For that there is nothing whatever openly, expressly, and without controversy said in any part of Scripture respecting the Father conceived of by those who hold a contrary opinion, they themselves testify, when they maintain that the Saviour privately taught these same things not to all, but to certain only of His disciples who could comprehend them, and who understood what was intended by Him through means of arguments, enigmas, and parables. They come, [in fine, ] to this, that they maintain there is one Being who is proclaimed as God, and another as Father, He who is set forth as such through means of parables and enigmas.

3. But since parables admit of many interpretations, what lover of truth will not acknowledge, that for them to assert God is to be searched out from these, while they desert what is certain, indubitable, and true, is the part of men who eagerly throw themselves into danger, and act as if destitute of reason? And is not such a course of conduct not to build one’s house upon a rock which is firm, strong, and placed in an open position, but upon the shifting sand? Hence the overthrow of such a building is a matter of ease.


by Matt Slick

Gnosticism traces its roots back just after the beginning of the Christian Church. Some researchers state that evidence of its existence even predates Christianity. Whichever the case, the error of Gnosticism had affected the culture and church of the time and possibly even earned a mention in 1 John 4.

The word, “gnosticism,” comes from the Greek word, “gnosis,” which means “knowledge.” There were many groups that were Gnostic, and it isn’t possible to easily describe the nuances of each variant of Gnostic doctrines. However, generally speaking, Gnosticism taught that salvation is achieved through special knowledge (gnosis). This knowledge usually dealt with the individual’s relationship to the transcendent Being.

A more detailed Gnostic theology is as follows. The unknowable God was far too pure and perfect to have anything to do with the material universe which was considered evil. Therefore, God generated lesser divinities or emenations. One of these emanations, Wisdom, desired to know the unknowable God. Out of this erring desire the demiurge, an evil god, was formed, and it was this evil god that created the universe. He along with archons kept the mortals in bondage in material matter and tried to prevent the pure spirit souls from ascending back to god after the death of the physical bodies. Since, according to the Gnostics, matter is evil, deliverance from material form was attainable only through special knowledge revealed by special Gnostic teachers. Christ was the divine redeemer who descended from the spiritual realm to reveal the knowledge necessary for this redemption. In conclusion, Gnosticism is dualistic. That is, it teaches there is a good and evil, spirit and matter, light and dark, etc., dualism in the universe.

What we know about Gnosticism is gained from the writings of Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian, Origen, and some later manuscripts discovered in the eighteenth century such as the “Codex Askew, Codex Bruce, the Berlin Gnostic Codes and, most recently, the Nag Hammadi collection.”1 Nag Hammadi is a town in Upper Egypt near ancient Chenoboskion and 13 codices discovered were discovered about 1945.

The danger of Gnosticism is easily apparent. It denies the incarnation of God as the Son. In so doing, it denies the true efficacy of the atonement since, if Jesus is not God, He could not atone for all of mankind, and we would still be lost in our sins.

There is debate whether or not this is a Christian heresy or simply an independent development. The evidence seems to point to the later. Nevertheless, the Gnostics laid claim to Jesus as a great teacher of theirs and as such requires some attention. It is possible that 1 John was written against some of the errors that Gnosticism promoted.



14 thoughts on “Week 8–Early Church History, Irenaeus, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, and the Autobiographical Essay

  1. By the way, there’s no Whoever vs. Whomever quiz as far as I can tell, but there is a Who vs. Whom vs. Whoever vs. Whomever quiz.

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