Christian gnosticism

19.05.2018 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

In this article, we will talk about the representatives of Christian Gnosticism: Marcionites, Simonians and Ebionites.

 This is a Gnostic denomination of early Christianity associated with Marcion of Sinope. The Marcionites held dualistic views. They believed that the God of the Old Testament, despite his justice, was cruel and unforgiving. There is no resemblance between him and the good, incomprehensible God—the Heavenly Father, the Father of Jesus Christ.

Christian gnosticism

History of marcionism

The time when Marcionism originated is unknown. The German scientist Adolf von Garnack believed that it appeared around the apostolic time and that it was the oldest Gnostic sect. Lipsius saw this trend as one of the most recent versions of Gnosticism.

Marcionite traditions

The Marcionites led an ascetic lifestyle and did not marry.

The sacrament of baptism in the name of Jesus Christ could be performed three times. At holy communion, they drank water, not wine.

On Saturday, which was considered the seventh day of the week among the Marcionites, fasting was observed.

The founder of the movement, Marcion of Sinope, believed that during religious persecution, faith should grow stronger, and not vice versa. The Marcionites were not afraid of persecution and sometimes provoked it themselves. Its large number of martyrs were a source of pride for the community.

Marcionism after marcion’s death

After the death of Marcion, there was a split in his church. It was divided into Egyptian and Middle Eastern wings.

The Egyptian Marcionites recognized matter as not an eternal and not a successful fruit of God’s labors. They considered the body of the Son of God not only spiritual but also physical, consisting of subtle elements of air that dissolved during ascension, leaving only the soul that rose to heaven. The leader of the Egyptian Marcionites was Apelles.

Tatian was the head of the Middle Eastern wing of the Marcionites. He understood Marcion’s doctrine of the opposites of the Old and New Testaments and the contempt of matter. In the East, his supporters were called Encratites (abstainers) and Hydroparastates (water-drinkers).

Around the year 400, Marcionism spread widely in Asia Minor, Syria, Armenia, Rome, and Carthage.


This religious denomination, which existed in the 1st century, was named after its founder Simon Magus. Many theologians of antiquity in literary works considered the teaching of the Simonians as heresy.

Founder of the doctrine of simonians

Simon Magus was a native of the village of Gitfon (Gitton) in Samaria. He founded his doctrine because of an unsuccessful attempt to buy the gift of the Holy Spirit (the purchase of the priesthood) from the apostles after communion with them. The creed was an offshoot of the Gnossites.

Simon proclaimed that the harlot Helena, bought by him from the brothel, was the creative thought of the supreme Deity. From her connection with the supreme Deity came the archangels and angels who created the world. Elena became Simon’s companion. He called himself the great power of God and its Holy Spirit.

Simon promised his followers freedom and permissiveness. Consequently, the Simonians plunged into debauchery and superstition. Simon Magus denied the resurrection of the dead and he believed that the world was not created by God.

Simon proclaimed himself the supreme God, as well as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.


These are Judeo-Christians who observe the Mosaic law (Torah). They observed the Sabbath, the Kashrut and performed circumcision. In the 4th-7th century, the Ebionites ceased to exist.

Teachings of the ebionites

The leading theologian of the second century, Irenaeus of Lyon, as well as the philosopher and scientist Origen spoke of the Ebionites.

The church historian of the middle of the second century Justin identified four categories of Jews who believed in Christ:

  1. The Jews who joined the Church of Christ. These almost immediately disappeared, dissolving among the non-Jews.
  2. The Jews who secretly believed in Christ, but remained part of the synagogue. They also quickly disappeared because life outside the union with co-religionists was impossible.
  3. The Jews who became Ebionites.
  4. The Jews who became Nazorians.

Faith was based on the Old Testament and oral traditions about the life of Jesus and also Christ on Earth’s partially preserved epistles of the apostles and other writings – some of them heretical.

The theologian and Greek ecclesiastical historian Eusebius of Caesarea wrote that Ebionites:

  • considered it necessary to observe almost all Jewish laws;
  • rejected the belief that Jesus was immaculately conceived, considering him the human son of Mary and Joseph;
  • revered Jesus as a teacher, a righteous man, a prophet, a Messiah, but not as a son of God;
  • considered the Apostle Paul an apostate but did not accept his apostolate and epistles.

The Ebionites believed that Jesus, like Moses, came only to fulfil the law and prophecies. He cleansed the Law of falsehood.

Believers adhered to a poor and ascetic way of life. They were vegetarians.

The theologian F. F. Brus has the opinion that the Ebionites, combining the views of Christians and Jews, called themselves a bridge between the Church and the Synagogue. As a result, the Church called them heretics, and the Synagogue—apostates.

Throughout almost all of its history, the teachings of the Marcionites, Simonians, and Ebonites have been challenged by many clergymen. Followers were called heretics and apostates. Yet these religions found their adherents.