“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet."--Matthew 5:13

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Law Abiding Christians? A Look at the Ebionite Heresy

There is very little known about the Ebionites as they did not leave us many writings. What is known about them are the things that others have written or said about them throughout history. It is known that they had a small community in Qumran in the late first century A.D. The Ebionites may have migrated from Jerusalem to Qumran after the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. The Ebionites suffered persecution by other Jewish groups as well as “Christians” who hi-jacked the name of Christ for their own selfish gains. As a result, the Ebionites lost influence and followers toward the middle of the second-century. However, Epiphanius noted the settlement of Ebionites in Cyprus in 375 A.D.

The highly ascetic Ebionite group received their name, meaning “poor ones” in Greek, from Irenaeus around the year 180. This was derived from the fact that they valued voluntary poverty.

The Ebionites believed that Jesus was the Messiah. They accepted His humanity, but rejected His deity, which is also a rejection of His pre-existence, virgin birth, atonement, and resurrection. They claimed that Jesus was the biological son of Joseph and Mary, and had been chosen by God to be the Messiah. Some Ebionites, however, believed that Jesus became God when the Holy Spirit descended upon Him at baptism, but that divinity left Him at His crucifixion. These are reasons why the early church fathers regarded them as heretics. 

The Ebionites reject every word of the New Testament except for a Hebrew version of Matthew, which of course had omitted the first two chapters. They believed that the Apostle Paul was an apostate to the Jewish faith because he did not mandate circumcision or obedience to the Law (among other things). Epiphanius claimed that the Ebionites alleged that Paul was a Greek who converted to Judaism only to marry a high priest’s daughter, but apostatized when she rejected him.

The Ebionites believed that Jewish laws must be strictly observed and that all people must observe the Law to become righteous. However, as their numbers dwindled, they departed from traditional Jewish practices, and began to engage in excessive ritual bathing, opposing animal sacrifices, and even denying the Law. Methodius, who died in 311 A.D., noted that at that time the Ebionites did not even believe that the Old Testament prophets were inspired.

A rejection of either the deity or humanity of Christ is clearly an errant view of our Savior. The Ebionites refused to believe the testimony of the Apostle John, who writes in chapter one of his gospel that “the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1-14). Paul tells the Colossians that in Christ “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). He also exhorts Titus to wait “for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). Clearly, Scripture teaches that the man Jesus Christ was also fully God. 

Like the ancient Ebionites, there are currently certain spheres of evangelicalism that force restrictive, unnecessary, and unbiblical laws on its adherents. Paul tells the Galatians that laws cannot bring salvation. Only faith in Christ alone can save us (Galatians 2:16). The law of God is perfect (Psalm 19:7) and man is imperfect. Therefore, it is impossible for us to keep the law. As a matter of fact, if we keep every aspect of the law, but fail in one point, James writes that “we have become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10). 

The real issue with the Ebionites was that they refused to believe the eyewitness testimony of those who had not only seen Jesus’ ministry, but who worked closely alongside of Him. The Ebionites denied inspired Scripture and the testimony of the Apostles, choosing instead to strive to live a perfect life as imperfect sinners. They traded the clearly revealed God of Scripture for a created god of their own imperfect imaginations. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Marcionism: The First Major Attack to Biblical Christianity

Marcion was a wealthy second-century Roman who studied Jewish scripture and compared it to the teachings of Christ. He maintained that the teachings of Christ were incompatible with that of the Old Testament. He believed that Jesus is the Messiah and that Paul is Jesus’ chief apostle. However, Marcion denied the humanity of Christ and held that He is not the God of the Old Testament. Marcion claimed that the God of the Old Testament is a demiurge, an evil being, who is separate and lower than the God of the New Testament. Marcion saw God in the New Testament portrayed as loving and forgiving, very unlike the God of the Old Testament, who Marcion viewed as jealous, wrathful, and genocidal. He taught that the demiurge created a world filled with suffering and imperfection. This, Marcion maintained, is not the true God. Furthermore, since the Old Testament God is the God of the Hebrews, Marcion maintained that any association with the Hebrew religion is evil.

            Regarding Christ’s work in salvation, Marcion claimed that Christ was not sent to save the Jews, but to bring salvation from the demiurge and to make known the truth of the good God, who may not have even been known by the demiurge. He claimed that those who were loyal to the demiurge crucified Christ.
            Marcion developed a canon, which included an edited version of Luke, called “Gospel of Christ”. His canon did not include any of the Old Testament, nor did it include certain parts of the New Testament such as the prophecies of Christ, His birth, His baptism, and His death. Marcion wanted to show that Christ was revealed as a man, but was not really a man. Thus, he eliminated parts of Scripture that attest to Christ’s humanity.
            Marcion’s teachings brought division in the early church. For the first time in the post-apostolic period, the church was led to formulate creeds in order to defend itself from these and other heresies. This also led to the adoption of the current canon of the New Testament.
            Marcion was also a legalist who imposed strict laws upon his followers. He believed in a strict moral structure and prohibited sex of any sort, even between married couples.
            Marcion was a heretic who did not believe in the inerrant, authoritative Word of God. He, just like many other heretics before and after him, chose which parts of Scripture to believe and which ones to deny. He claimed that Christ’s teachings contradict the Old Testament, but any knowledgeable reader of Scripture would know what Christ really said about the Old Testament. Jesus quoted Old Testament Scripture numerous times and accused the Jewish religious leaders of abusing the law. He even said that He did not come to destroy, contradict, or even revise the law, but that He came to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17-18). Jesus spoke of the Old Testament often. He lived His life according to the law.
            The humanity of Christ is also clearly presented in Scripture. Two of the most notable references are John 1, in which Christ is presented as the eternal Word which took on flesh, and Hebrews 4:14-16, which presents Christ as the Great High Priest Who is able to sympathize with His people.
            The claim that the Old Testament God is a demiurge is nothing new. Marcion takes this belief from the Gnostics. Marcion cannot truly comprehend the justice and righteousness of God (Who can?) so he asserts that God is evil because he judges humans for their sins.
The majority of Marcionist teaching is based on human reasoning. Marcion struggled with the answers to difficult and confusing questions, such as how a just God can sentence people to death, or how a good God would allow evil to occur. His questions were unlike questions that are currently being asked in post-modern evangelicalism. They are legitimate questions. But Marcion was not satisfied by the answers he found in Scripture, so he sought to form his own conclusions apart from Scripture and based on conjecture and reasoning. This is the problem that occurs when we stray from Biblical teaching. Scripture teaches that man is totally depraved and unable to find the answers to life’s difficult questions on his own (Jeremiah 17:9). Therefore we cannot find truth outside of Christ and His inspired, infallible, and authoritative Word.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Justification by Faith

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
--Romans 3:21-26

Prior to the time of Christ, the righteousness of God was made manifest by the law. Since God is righteous, He required absolute perfection to the law. Since man is sinful, absolute perfection was impossible, so the law pointed to the inadequacy of man to uphold God’s righteous and perfect requirements. The law was never intended to save but was intended to show man’s incompetence and need for a savior. But now that Christ has instituted a new covenant, the righteousness of God is available for anyone who puts their faith in Christ, the perfect substitutionary atonement for the sin of mankind.
Next comes a hard truth. It makes no difference what ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic status one may be, the fact is that all are guilty because all have sinned and fallen short of God’s perfect requirements. Everyone has sinned, from the moment of birth to the last second of life. There is no one who is righteous.
However, God has presented humanity with a gift. The gift of grace has been provided by Christ Jesus’ redemption of His people on the cross. This gift is received by His people through their faith, which had always been the means of salvation (Hebrews 11). Even during the Old Covenant, it was the faith of the Lord’s covenant people that saved them.
The death of Christ brings glory to the Father. In order to save His people, Christ had to give up the riches of heaven, take on human form, and live a righteous life amidst great temptation. But not only that, He had to suffer and die a humiliating and painful death on the cross to save people whose minds had been corrupted and set against Him. Because of Christ, the status of those who come to Him in faith has been changed. They are no longer guilty before God. The justice of God was placed on the shoulders of Christ on the cross. He carried our guilt as he hung there on the cross. His people have been declared “not guilty”.
God had every right to destroy Adam and Eve when they sinned. That would have been just. However, he gave mercy to them and also to their ancestors. He chose to withhold His judgment. But now that Christ has been made known, there is no excuse. The law of God has been written on the hearts of men. Those who do not believe seek only to suppress of the truth of Christ (Romans 1:18).