Have you ever wondered why Christianity has more emphasis on the New Testament than the Old? Ever wonder why there is so much emphasis on the writings of Paul? His writings only take up about 5% of the Scriptures, but he is given more weight than anyone else. Peter said in 2 Pet 3.16 that Paul’s writings were hard to understand and ignorant people distort them, like they do the rest of Scripture, so it is hard to see why he has taken such a prominent place within Christianity.
But, there is a reason for this and his name was Marcion. He taught that the Old Testament should be rejected because they belonged to an inferior God, not the one revealed through “Jesus”. Marcion was very anti-Jewish and he rejected any New Testament scripture that spoke favorably of the Jews. He put together a “bible” that only had Luke’s “edited” gospel and all ten of Paul’s epistles. He believed that Paul was the only apostle that people should read.
His “theology” spread throughout the Roman Empire and his anti-Jewish, pro-Paul theology was the basis for many “churches” and his ideas were causing some problems. Tertullian was against this and wrote against his ideas and no true believer should ever accept his premise that there were two gods.
But, many people do make a distinction between the Torah and Grace and think they are opposed to each other. Many think the God of the Old Testament was a God of law, unbending and bloody, allowed wars and the destruction of cities and many people. They believe that the “New Testament God” is one of love, grace and peace and very kind. The problem is that people do not see that Law and Grace are perfectly compatible and that their “fear” of the Torah is unjustified.
Marcion was against keeping the Sabbath or festivals. He criticized the dietary laws and believed that men should have clean-shaven faces. Many Bible colleges today do not allow beards (many could be named) even though the Scriptures allow them. Church leaders are distorting the words of Yeshua and Paul in order to bolster their “antinomian” positions, just like Marcion did. They totally ignore the Torah observance of Paul and his Jewishness and they ignore Paul’s positive statements about the Law. It has already been stated on other posts on this site that Paul not only was Torah observant and offered animal sacrifices 30 years after Yeshua, but that he also taught the Torah to others, including the Gentiles to whom he was sent.
The truth is, Christianity was already heading in the direction away from the Torah and tried to spiritualize it. The leaders believed the Jews were wrong for believing in a literal seventh day Sabbath or believing that they
should abstain from unclean food, which they spiritualized to mean “sinful habits.” This is the heritage that Marcion left and the sentiments are still alive and well today.
While this was going on, Gnosticism was gaining influence, especially between the years of 135 and 160 AD. It continued after that and some of its tenets were absorbed into Christianity. Gnosticism denied that Yeshua was human and so it denied his death. He came “in spirit” but not in the flesh, which is called Docetism. His earthly life of suffering and persecution was so opposite of his previous glory that his earthly life was denied.
Gnosticism, based on “knowledge” (gnosis), is not to be understood as we understand knowledge today. Gnostic knowledge was always based on a mystical, supernatural wisdom by which devotees were brought into a proper understanding of the cosmos. This was very similar to the mystery cults. There was no single form of Gnosticism because it had many faces and took many ideas from other sources and forms. It was part Greek philosophy, part mystery religion and part “magic” and it believed that the world was entirely evil.
So, the creator of this world was an imperfect being and in order to be “saved” a person had to be free from “this evil world.” How was he freed? By “knowledge” through a spiritual awakening. In Christianity, it found an ally because of some of its dogmas. They saw the conflict of the “evil, material” god of the Old Testament and to have this “saving knowledge” they taught that “Christ” passed down to the apostles a wisdom that was to be given to those who were to be saved.
Misunderstanding Paul’s writings, they distorted some of the things he said to make it appear he was actually “one of them.” They believed he was the “chief” of the apostles and this concept would later be used to establish what is called “apostolic succession” which is still taught in the Catholic Church.
Because Christianity rejected the truth of the Tanak (Torah, Prophets and the Ketuvim=writings) or Old Testament, it opened itself up to all these influences and it caused major problems. Their “god” was not the one revealed in the Old Testament, Christ was not born, died or resurrected and salvation was for the few. Gnosticism was a combination of Hellenism, eastern pagan religions and distorted Christian beliefs.
It flourished because the scriptural foundation brought forth in the Old Testament was ignored. Many Christians fought this belief, but by the end of the second century it became a part of Orthodox Christianity. Dualism is the concept of a “bad god” seen in the materialistic, physical Old Testament and the “good god” of the “spiritual” New Testament. So, the” physical” god of the Old Testament was associated with the Jews and the “spiritual” god of the New Testament was associated with the Christians. Because they were ascetic they believed in self-denial and this would lead to a spin-off group called the Montanists.
Montanism is of Christian origin and began in Asia Minor they believed that the end of days was near and so they began to be interested in “the Spirit” and believed the Spirit guided the New Testament writers like the Old Testament writers. They were a reaction to the secular movement in Christianity at the time. A man named Montanus was once a pagan priest of the goddess Cybele. He believed he was a “mouthpiece” of the Holy Spirit and believed the end of days was approaching. Others would also come forward as “prophets.” Because the end was coming, they practiced celibacy, fasted and abstained from meat.
This was in opposition to the church at-large who were “worldly.” The movement grew but it was condemned by some early church synods, but it continued to be popular and even reached Rome by 170 AD. After the death of one of the original “prophets” it was accepted by one of the Church Fathers already discussed by the name of Tertullian. He was attracted by its asceticism and became the most well known Montanist. It was gradually driven out of the church, but it continued to flourish and its asceticism was the basis for what would be known as monasticism (monks and monastaries).
Now, let’s talk about what is called “apostolic succession.” This belief came from the idea that the apostles were the only ones that understood Yeshua. This belief also said that the apostles “taught certain people” the “gnosis” and these people passed it on to others. In other words, you will never understand the Scriptures unless you went to a person who had this “gnosis” passed on to them.
All of these things were developing up to the time of Constantine and 325 AD. Christianity today is a product of these beliefs. Why do we have records of what these people believed? There was a war going on between Rome, Carthage and Asia Minor. Christians were seen as atheists by Rome and enemies. The apologists present a court-like case to Rome to foster the belief that the Christians should not be persecuted because they were a continuation of Judaism, which predated Rome and but now done away with. They appealed to the Roman mind using Greek philosophy, dualism, and the mystery religions and some of their concepts. In other words, they use terms found in these things to explain Christian doctrine.
These are some of the factors that caused the ante-Nicene Church Fathers to write down what they were saying and why. It is also important to see who they wrote to. They wrote to Roman emperors who were believers in Greek philosophy and were immersed in pagan concepts and beliefs. What they wrote about Christianity was written in terms they would understand. They were trying to show the emperors that they weren’t “bad guys” and that they had a lot in common. These writings were the foundations on which Christianity was built.
These emperors hated the Jews, so who are you going to favor in your writings, the Jews or Rome. The last thing they wanted was an association with Judaism. When they went against the Gnostics, how do you reason with someone who doesn’t accept the Old Testament. You certainly wouldn’t use Hebraic thought, but you would appeal to them with philosophy.
Then you have the Montanists, and the pagans and so on. All along you have the Jews saying that they were still the people of God and the Church was saying that they were the “new Israel.” The Church had to convince the Romans that they were legal. They had to link themselves to Israel and had to show they were the “new Israel” because God had rejected the Jews. As time goes by, it gets more hostile, and as Christianity is getting defined it has less and less to do with the Bible, Judaic roots and accurate interpretations.
In Part 6, we will pick up here and begin discussing which city or area (Rome, Carthage, Asia Minor) was going to be supreme and the center of the “faith” and we will talk about biblical congregational leadership as opposed to what was developing in what was called the “monarchal bishop” in Christian churches.