EARLY HERETICAL MOVEMENTS OF JESUS CHRIST

The idea that Jesus Christ is both God and man (a one-person union) has certainly puzzled many scholars through the centuries, and as a result, caused much confusion over its implications in the Bible. Below is the foremost heretical movements that have altered this doctrinal truth and have ignited major controversy down through church history.

Docetism

In the late first century, Marcion and a movement known as Gnosticism taught that Christ appeared to be a man, but was not considered to be fully human. Docetism was one of the first heretical movements that attacked the early church and was addressed by the Apostle John in his first epistle. The Gnostics believed that the world was evil and could only be liberated by the knowledge learned by humans. Millard Erickson adds, “According to one group of Docetists, the Valentinians, Jesus had a spiritual flesh.  His humanity, then, was only a vehicle of revelation, utilized briefly for the introduction of the eternal into the world.”[1]  Therefore, Docetists concluded since all matter is inherently evil, Jesus could not have become a human, or else He would have become evil.

Ebionism

In the second century, Ebionism launched a movement that taught Jesus was not God, but only a man who decided to become the Son of God at His baptism. In his rebuttals, Eusebius offers two classifications of Ebionism. The first group of Ebionites viewed Jesus as nothing more than a great moral teacher who possessed great natural abilities that some thought were supernatural.  The second group believed Jesus’ birth was of supernatural origin, but did not lend credence to the pre-existence of Christ.

Arianism

Arian reasoned that since Jesus was “begotten,” then He could not be eternal. Furthermore, Arianism taught that Jesus was a created spirit “begotten” by God and possessed a likeness similar to God’s deity (homoousian). However, it was the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) that this heresy came to a head.  The council determined that Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man using a distinctive elemental phrase, “…one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made.”

Apollinarianism

In the fourth century, Apollinarius attempted to reconcile the two natures of Jesus Christ by teaching that Jesus had a body, soul, but no spirit because a divine Logos replaced it instead. Apollinarians emphasize the diminishing of the divine nature of Christ for taking on the form of partial humanity.

Nestorianism

This movement splits Christ’s natures into two persons describing Jesus as merely the appearance of possessing deity and humanity, and thus, reflected in the mind of Jesus in the one body. The Constantinople movement moved so heavily on the humanity of Jesus, that it separated Jesus’ natures into two persons, the Son of God and the Son of Man.[2]

Eutychianism

Eutyches attacked the heretical teaching of Nestorianism by teaching that Christ had only but one nature.  This resulted in the teaching that both natures were in partial fulfillment of one another.  In essence, this movement taught that Jesus’ body was fused together by both divine and human natures.

[1]. Millard Erickson, The Word Became Flesh: A Contemporary Incarnational Christology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991), 47.

[2]. Macleod, The Person of Christ: Contours of Christian Theology, 181.