Manichaeism is the name of the Gnostic religion founded by the Iranian prophet Mani, who lived in the 3rd Century AD. Mani was influenced by the teachings of Buddha, Zoroaster, and Jesus, as well as the Assyrian gnostic Bardaisan. Although he believed that each of these religious views held truth, he believed these teachings did not go far enough in revealing truth to the world. He built his "revelations", which he called the "Religion of Light", on Buddhism, Zoroastrianism and Christianity. In essence, he believed that Manichaeism was a bookend to these other religious teachings. Manichaeism claimed that the teachings of Zoroaster, Buddha, and Jesus had been corrupted by the followers of those men. Thus, Manicheaism claimed to be a complete version of those teachings. Hegemonius, the ancient church historian who wrote a Latin work on Manichaeism, reported that Mani said, "It is the Prince of Darkness who spoke with Moses, the Jews and their priests. Thus the Christians, the Jews, and the Pagans are involved in the same error when they worship this God. For he leads them astray in the lusts he taught them."
Mani claimed to be an "apostle of Jesus Christ", but later claimed to be the reincarnation of Buddha, Krishna, Zoroaster, and even Jesus Himself. Augustine of Hippo, the great 5th Century theologian, was a Manichee until his conversion to the Christian faith in 387. Eusebius said that Mani "armed himself by the perversion of his reason, and at the instruction of Satan, to the destruction of many."
Manichaeism teaches that Jesus had three different identities. The first identity of Jesus is called Jesus the Luminous. This is Jesus as a supreme ruler and spiritual guide. This Jesus, although completely divine, never experienced human birth because Manichees claim that Jesus would never have allowed himself to go through the process of human birth. The second identity of Jesus, according to Manichaeism is Jesus the Messiah. This Jesus was born at his baptism as the Father declared him to be His son. The work of Jesus--namely his suffering, death, and resurrection--had no bearing to salvation but was merely an example of the suffering and deliverance of the human soul. The third identity of Jesus was the Suffering Jesus. This Jesus was not really a human nor did he even exist. It was merely a collection of light particles that formed to create the appearance of Jesus on the cross. Mani taught that the crucifixion was more of a mystical symbol and not an actual event.
Manichaeism is centered around a dualism of light, which represents goodness and spirituality, and darkness, representing evil and materialism. Mani denied the omnipotence of God, believing that the origin of evil stems from the gnostic belief of two opposite powers: one good and one bad.
Historically, Manichaeism spread as far east as China and as far west as Rome and lasted until the 14th Century when it disappeared in China. Although most of Mani's original writings have been lost, numerous translations as well as fragmented texts still survive today.
Mani did not believe in the revealed Word of God to the Old Testament prophets and the apostles and authors of the New Testament. Instead, he attempted to add to scripture, which he claimed had been given from Satan, by declaring that he had a "new" revelation, which really wasn't new at all but was based on existing pagan beliefs, which he attempted to bring together into his own heretical theology. Scripture is not a book written by mere men, "but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (II Peter 1:21). Scripture has always proven to be right and will continue to be proven right. Manichaeism is characterized by its heretical views of Christ. Prior to Mani's claim of himself as Christ, he taught that Jesus was not a human, the work of Christ was an allegory and was not significant for salvation, and that the Christ on the cross was just an illusion of light particles. Again, Mani refused to believe in Christ as revealed in scripture and chose to create his own false belief system (Romans 1:21-22). Finally, Manichaeism was just one of many religous views to embrace the gnostic belief of dualism and the denial of the omnipotence of God. Although Manichaeism in name is dead, it is still practiced by billions of people around the world, even in many churches. Anyone who does not believe in the finished work of Christ alone for salvation is no better than Mani, whose soul has suffered eternal condemnation for almost 2,000 years.