THE RISE AND DECLINE OF CHRISTIANITY
The Great Conspiracy
With the death of the Apostle Paul and with the Roman persecution of both Christians and Jews, the whole tenure of Church history took a change. From a rapidly growing organization reaching into the scores and scores of thousands throughout the empire, the Church, all of a sudden becomes nearly unheard of. The next one hundred years becomes THE LOST CENTURY.
The life of Christ, and the acts of the Apostles are all spelled out in clear, easy-to-define terms. But, from the destruction of Jerusalem until the middle of the second century, there is a great historical vacuum.
But God did not leave the world without witness. It can now be made plain what happened and WHY true knowledge has been hidden.
The Bible actually does reveal what happened, and follows a step-by-step exposé of A GREAT CONSPIRACY to stamp out true Christianity in favor of a pagan substitute — a substitute claiming the name and authority of Christ, but rejecting the message. In this chapter you will see how that great falling away started, grew, and OVERTOOK the true way of God.
This is why this period in history is void of evidence. True history would have recorded a WITNESS against the conspiracy. But when the conspiracy gained the upper hand, it stamped out as much recorded evidence against it as possible, and went on to become what millions have accepted as “Christianity.”
You will find the PLAIN TRUTH ABOUT THE “AGE OF SHADOWS” most revealing.
Simon Magus, the Father of Heresy
There is at least one record which could not be stamped out. And that record is the WORD OF GOD. The Almighty Creator inspired His servants to write the whole story of the plan to destroy true Christianity.
The New Testament, corroborated by a great deal of material from later religious and secular history, reveals an individual commonly known as Simon Magus, as the father and FOUNDER of the falling away.
His first contact with God’s true ministers is recorded in the book of Acts, chapter eight. Let’s read about him. As the context shows, Philip had been sent to Samaria as the gospel began to spread from Judea:
But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, THIS MAN IS THE GREAT POWER OF GOD.
Here we come into contact with one of the most influential men in the entire eastern portion of the Roman mpire. This man, Luke reveals, was even worshipped as the very power of God.
When he saw true miracles performed by Philip, he knew this was a true minister of God. Luke plainly says Simon himself believed and was baptized. The problem is that Simon didn’t REALLY REPENT — he did not receive the Spirit of God. And when he saw that through the laying on of hands of God’s ministers the Holy Spirit was given, he tried to bribe Peter and buy the office of an apostle. Notice it:
And when Simon saw that through laying on of the Apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost [Spirit] was given, he offered them money, Saying, GIVE ME ALSO THIS POWER, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost [Spirit].
Here was a man who by trickery and sorcery had deceived a whole nation. He was not about to relinquish that power and authority. He was a great pagan HIGH PRIEST of the oldest religious system on earth.
And when he saw that God’s true Church had been set up, he tried to join it and BUY the office of the ministry.
Simon Not Converted
However, God inspired Peter to see through this man’s FALSE CONVERSION. When Simon offered money to Peter to make him an Apostle also, Peter rebuked Simon severely:
Thy money perish with thee, because thou has thought that the gift of God [the ministry, as well as God’s Spirit] may be purchased with money. Thou hast NEITHER PART NOR LOT in this matter: for THY HEART IS NOT RIGHT in the sight of God.
Simon never repented at the correction of Peter. Instead, he grew bitter.
Yet, Simon could see the truth. He could see Jesus was the Christ. And he could see the power of Christ’s ministers. He could see huge crowds being converted to this new religion, Christianity.
He, then, since he couldn’t join, and he wouldn’t repent, decided to start HIS OWN RELIGION. Before we get to that, though, let’s go back in history and see what Simon Magus believed — what the teachings of the Samaritan-Babylonian type religious system really were.
Just as God had completely and thoroughly prepared the world for Christianity, so SATAN also had been PREPARING for the great COUNTERFEIT RELIGION.
Babylonian Mystery System
The Samaritans were an interesting people. They were largely Babylonian by race. The Bible tells us in II Kings 17:26-31, that most of the Samaritans had been taken to Samaria from Babylon and adjacent areas. After the Babylonian captivity of Judah, Ezra writes there were others of Babylonian stock who came to Samaria.
Then wrote Rehum the chancellor, and Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their companions; the Dinaites, the Apharsathchites, the Tarpelites, the Apharsites, the Archevites, the Babylonians, the Susanchites, the Dehavites, and the Elamites, And the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Asnappar brought over, and set in the cities of Samaria, and the rest that are on this side the river, and at such a time.
This mixture of peoples — largely influenced by the Babylonians — never left their pagan Babylonian and Chaldean philosophies. However, they did accept a great many of the teachings of Judaism. The Samaritans were a great admixture of racial and religious backgrounds bound together by a partial belief in the law of Moses and the pagan rituals of Babylon. The well-known Church historian, Adolf Harnack writes of them:
Long before the appearance of Christianity, combinations of religion had taken place in Syria and Palestine, ESPECIALLY IN SAMARIA, in so far as the ASSYRIAN and BABYLONIAN religious philosophy . . . with its manifold interpretation, had penetrated as far as the eastern shore of the Mediterranean.
It is with this background that Simon Magus developed his religious system and had for many years been deceiving the Samaritan populace. Harnack further states that Simon Magus:
¼Proclaimed a doctrine in which the Jewish faith was strangely and grotesquely mixed with BABYLONIAN MYTHS, together with some Greek additions. The mysterious worship¼in consequence of the widened horizon and the deepening of religious feeling, finally, the wild syncretism (that is, blending together of religious beliefs), whose aim, however, was a UNIVERSAL RELIGION, all contributed to gain adherents for Simon.
Peter readily knew and understood the background and doctrines of this pagan high priest who had only recently “accepted” Christianity. Also, Peter recognized that he was “in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.” And although Simon began to CALL himself a “Christian,” Peter never recognized him as a true and converted member of the Church and gave him a stinging rebuke. But even this did not prevent Simon from carrying out his own plans.
The Origin of the Babylonian Religion
To understand the complex system of pagan myths and superstitions, one must go back to some years after the Flood. There can be no question that all forms of vile superstitions existed before the Flood. Things were so evil on the earth that God was forced, by the degeneracy of the human world He had created, to destroy them.
And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.
However, it only took a few hundred years after the Flood for Satan the Devil to once again bring about a complete and total SYSTEM OF RELIGION to lead men astray.
The founder of the great Babylonian mystery system is well recognized by all students of history. It first began with a woman named Semiramis. Semiramis was the wife of Cush, the grandson of Noah. Cush was not born until after the Flood, but within a few score years after the Flood, the earth was beginning to be populated with many people. Cush and Semiramis completely turned their backs on the laws of God and allowed themselves to be used as instruments of Satan the Devil. There can be no doubt they had heard of the plan of God and knew of the coming Messiah — Noah was a preacher of righteousness.
But Semiramis was not about to accept God and God’s way of life. She began to teach her own son, Nimrod, how to establish power over other men. Here is the beginning key to understand the complete religious system of nearly every nation on the face of the earth today. It all began with Nimrod.
And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the LORD.
The Hebrew word which was translated “mighty” means “tyrant.” And that is not all. The Hebrew word “paniyn,” which was translated “before” should more properly be translated “against.” The correct translation of the verse should read that Nimrod was a tyrant against the Eternal God. That is what his mother, Semiramis, taught him to be.
The Jewish historian, Josephus, says of this Nimrod:
Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God. He was the grandson of Ham, the son of Noah, a bold man, and of great strength of hand. He persuaded them not to ascribe it to God, as if it was through his means they were happy, but to believe that it was their own courage, which procured that happiness. He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence on his power. He also said he would be revenged on God, if he should have a mind to drown the world again; for that he would build a tower too high for the waters to be able to reach! and that he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers!
Nimrod persuaded the people to follow him and build a tower to reach up into the heavens as a symbol of unity and protection. He led the people to believe it was their own courage and strength which brought about happiness. He persuaded the people that he — NIMROD — was the great provider. People, except for a few faithful individuals of the line of Shem, began to WORSHIP Nimrod and the “Great Mother Goddess,” Semiramis.
Semiramis’ Babylonian name was Ishtar, pronounced as we now pronounce Easter. Nimrod was called Tammuz or Baal.
The People Followed Nimrod
And as if this tyrannical government and worship of Nimrod and Semiramis were not enough, Semiramis finally persuaded her own son to marry her. Shocking — but true. Semiramis wanted to be the POWER behind the scenes. Nimrod was the instrumentality she used and the one who was able to persuade the people.
The Jerusalem Targum says:
¼He [Nimrod] was a hunter of the children of men in their languages; and he said to them, ‘depart from the religion of Shem [God’s truth], and cleave to the institutes of Nimrod.’
Those who were obedient to God’s law, Nimrod tried to hunt down and kill. Since only a few were faithful to the laws of God, Nimrod used the fear of death to persuade men to worship him.
The historian, Salverte, says of Nimrod:
¼There can be little doubt that Nimrod, in erecting his power, availed himself of¼scientific secrets, which he and his associates alone possessed.
With Nimrod and Semiramis, began a MYSTERY SYSTEM of religion. The workings of Satan and his demons along with the complete deception promulgated by these two wicked individuals, began a complete and thorough SYSTEM, which has lasted through thousands of years of time.
After the death of Nimrod (he was killed by Shem), Semiramis carried on the newfound religion. She pictured herself as the virgin mother of the Savior, and told the world she had borne a son who was to be the Savior. A complete and total counterfeit of the virgin birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ was contrived two thousand years before Jesus Christ was ever born.
To help her teach these lies to the world, Semiramis established a religious priesthood. The priesthood grew in power and scope until it became the very heart and core of this religious system. Over hundreds of years, it developed more and greater powers.
The Mystery System Spreads
This religious-political system spread from Babylon to all nations of the world. Finally, after the Persians conquered the great Babylonian Empire in 539 B.C., the headquarters of this great pagan religious system moved TO SAMARIA. But the system continued.
Simon Magus was the great high priest of this very same religious Babylonian system.
When recognized by Peter as counterfeit, Simon Magus conceived the idea of founding a NEW RELIGION. Using the name and many of the doctrines of the true Christian Church, Simon Magus INTERMINGLED his pagan Babylonian superstitions and doctrines, replacing them with new names and titles and using Jesus Christ as the champion of his new-found religion.
Shocking as it may seem, by the end of the first century A.D., Simon Magus and his counterfeit “Christian” religion had gained the preeminence and far outnumbered the true followers of Jesus Christ. James Hastings writes of Simon’s change in religion:
But it need not be supposed that when Simon broke with the Christians he renounced all he had learned. It is more probable that he carried some of the Christian ideas with him and that he wove these into a system of his own. This system did contain some of the germs of later Gnosticism. Thus he became a leader of a retrograde sect, perhaps nominally Christian and certainly using some of the Christian terminology, but in reality anti-Christian and exalting Simon himself to the central position which Christianity was giving to Jesus Christ.
Simon Moves to Rome
Although Simon Magus is a subject of great controversy in theological circles, there can be no doubt about what Justin Martyr wrote concerning Simon in about 150 A.D. From the Dictionary of Christian Biography we read:
When Justin Martyr wrote his Apology, the sect of the Simonians appears to have been formidable, for he speaks four times of its founder, Simon; and we need not doubt that he identified him with the Simon of the Acts. He states that he was a Samaritan, adding that his birthplace was a village called Gitta; he describes him as a formidable magician, and tells THAT HE CAME TO ROME in the days of Claudius Caesar (45 A.D.), and made such an impression by his magical powers, THAT HE WAS HONORED AS A GOD, a statue being erected to him on the Tiber, between the two bridges, bearing the inscription ‘Simoni Deo Sancto’ — ‘The Holy God Simon.’
Concerning the accuracy of this statement, James Hastings says:
There is considerable force¼in the plea of the editors of the ‘Ante-Nicene Library’ that this is ‘very slight evidence on which to reject so precise a statement as Justin here makes; a statement he would scarcely have hazarded in an apology addressed to Rome, where every person had the means of ascertaining its accuracy. If¼he made a mistake, it must have been at once exposed, and other writers would not have so frequently repeated the story as they have done.’
Thus, we can plainly see the headquarters of the pagan Babylonian religious system now moves to Rome — the center of culture in the Roman Empire and the world at this time. But it moves under a NEW NAME. No longer was it recognized as a Babylonian mystery system — it had taken a new name — “Christianity.”
Simon Magus, Not Simon Peter, at Rome
It has been common tradition in almost all Christianity that the Apostle Peter eventually moved to Rome where he became the chief Apostle of the early New Testament Church. There is absolutely no evidence in all Biblical history that the Apostle Peter was ever at Rome.
In fact, all evidence in the Bible denies even the presence of Peter in Rome.
Certainly, Peter never went to Rome prior to the writing of the book of Romans by the apostle Paul in 55 A.D. If Peter had been at Rome, it would have been a great offense and effrontery to his ministry for Paul to write such a strong rebuke to the Church as he did. No, Simon Peter was never at Rome. The Encyclopaedia Biblica plainly states:
The attempt has been made to meet this by pointing out that church fathers mention the presence of SIMON in Rome while at the same time NOT speaking of controversies between him and PETER. This is indeed true of Justin (one of the earliest witnesses), WHO KNOWS NOTHING OF ANY PRESENCE OF PETER IN ROME AT ALL.
Plainly, it was Simon Magus — not Simon Peter — who moved to Rome. He moved the whole false system of “Christianity” — the false names, the added pagan doctrines, everything — with him.
And not only did he move himself and his headquarters to Rome, but through a whole priesthood and ministry, he preached his doctrines and conspiracy around the entire empire — just as God’s true ministers preached throughout this entire period.
Certainly, Simon Magus is appropriately named in Church history as THE FATHER OF HERESY.
A Falling Away
There is no doubt the influence of Simon Magus was well-known by the true ministers of God. Undoubtedly, the very reason Luke records so much about Simon in the eighth chapter of Acts is that Luke recognized his great influence while in Rome about 60 A.D. Simon Magus had already been in Rome some fifteen years at the time of the Apostle Paul’s imprisonment.
Even many years before, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonian church:
For THE MYSTERY OF INIQUITY DOTH ALREADY WORK: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming: Even him, whose coming is AFTER THE WORKING OF SATAN with all power and signs and lying wonders, And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
Simon Magus had begun to deceive even converted individuals who should have known better than to believe his lies. Yet he had great and tremendous powers of mystic and magical arts which caused thousands to follow him. So important was this man and his influence in the early New Testament Church that the Apostle Paul WARNED the Church to BEWARE of him and not to follow his mystery religious system called by a “Christian” title.
This man was used here in II Thessalonians as a very type of the last and final end-time GREAT FALSE PROPHET who will deceive millions prior to the SECOND COMING of Jesus Christ to this earth. There is, living on earth today, a great high priest of a religious system who believes and teaches exactly the same as his prototype — Simon Magus. The Apostle Paul clearly records that this system — by the fifties A.D. — was already working.
The Changing Times
As the years passed, times changed. We have already read about some of the persecutions of Nero and a great martyrdom in the mid sixties A.D., which even brought about the death of the Apostle Paul. After his death, only a few years passed before the Romans marched against Jerusalem, causing the Church to flee. Christians had to make a decision. Many lost their lives in martyrdom remaining faithful to the God they had proved existed, and to His Son in whom they knew they would obtain salvation.
Undoubtedly, many others gave in. The true Church of God began to vanish. By the eighties A.D., the apostle John recorded how Diotrephes, a false minister masquerading under the title of a true minister of God, had gained such control of the Church that he was actually forbidding true and converted Church members to attend services.
I wrote unto the Church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and FORBIDDETH THEM that would, and casteth them out of the Church.
Almost every one of the later epistles written in the New Testament, contains an admonition or warning against this GREAT CONSPIRACY which had arisen. God has not left us without a witness and warning. Even Jude had to write:
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye SHOULD EARNESTLY CONTEND FOR THE FAITH WHICH WAS ONCE DELIVERED UNTO THE SAINTS. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into LASCIVIOUSNESS [permission to do as you please], and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.
With their doctrines perverting the true knowledge of God’s ways, and with their false names and titles of Christianity, Simon Magus and his priesthood succeeded in gaining more followers than true Christianity.
There can be no doubt that Simon Magus and the whole religious system he taught wielded a great deal of influence in the latter part of the first century A.D. But working at the same time were other systems which would contribute philosophies and doctrines to the counterfeit system which would masquerade under the name of “Christianity” for the next 2,000 years.
Cerinthus in the East
While Simon Magus headquartered in Rome in the west and proclaimed his doctrine and religion to the empire, there was also a man in the east who was conspiring against God’s true Church.
This man was Cerinthus.
But in all likelihood, Cerinthus was a Samaritan just as Simon Magus was. Samaritans constantly called themselves Jews when it was to their advantage, as Josephus points out. And there were Samaritans who studied in Egypt. But his origin is not important enough at this point to discuss further here.
What is important is to know what influence he and his teachings had on early Christianity.
Just as the first writers of Church history in the second century recorded a witness against Simon Magus, so they also wrote against Cerinthus.
Hippolytus wrote, “Cerinthus¼determined that the world was not made by the first God, but by certain angelic power. And this power¼knows not the God [that is] above all things.”
And Tertullian said concerning the beliefs of Cerinthus: “Affirming that the Law was given by angels; representing the God of the Jews as not the Lord, but an angel.”
Again, Hippolytus wrote that Cerinthus taught: “After Jesus’ baptism, Christ came down in the form of a dove upon Him from the ¼Father¼and¼at the conclusion of the passion, Christ flew away from Jesus.”
And if that was not enough of a strange doctrine about God and Christ, Cerinthus taught:
¼That the kingdom of Christ would be on earth, and being fond of his body and very carnal he dreamt of a future according to his own desires, given up to the indulgence of the flesh, that is, eating and drinking and marrying, and to those things which seem a euphemism for these things, feasts and sacrifices and the slaughter of victims.
Yet, in spite of these weird doctrines, Cerinthus had a certain influence in early Church history. He apparently observed the Sabbath and taught that the examples of Jesus should be followed.
Most Church historians readily believe that some of what Paul and even John wrote in their epistles was to combat the heresy of this unusual man.
His import to a student of Church history is that he provides a bridge for Eastern Gnosticism to unite with the Gnosticism of later times.
Mithraism, Another Counterfeit
Another religious system which spread throughout the Roman empire at the same time as Christianity was the Eastern Persian religion called Mithraism. Jackson and Lake record:
Mithraism had originated in Persia at a remote period, but was widespread in Asia Minor during the last three centuries before the Christian era.
This Eastern religion was also a part of Satan’s great preparation for Christianity. In theory, ritual, and practice, it had already counterfeited the central ideas of Christianity. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, some of the tenets and concepts of Mithraism are:
Mithras was born of a rock, the marvel being seen only by certain shepherds, who brought gifts and adored him. . . . Mithras was . . . the creator of life . . . Ahriman sent a deluge, from which one man escaped in a boat with his cattle. Finally a fire desolated the earth, and only the creatures of Ormazd escaped. Mithras, his work accomplished, banqueted with the Sun for the last time, and was taken by him in his chariot to the habitation of the immortals, whence he continued to protect the faithful.
With a pagan twist, the true teachings of God were perverted by Mithras and the religion founded by him. There was a priesthood. The Encyclopaedia Britannica states:
The Mithraic priest, sacerdos of antistes, was sometimes also of the degree of PATER. Tertullian (De praescr. haeret. 40) calls the chief priest summus pontifex, probably the pater patrum who had general supervision of all the initiates in one city. . . . Each day of the week was marked by the adoration of a special planet, the SUN being the most sacred of all.
This has quite an amazing similarity to what later developed into what was called the “Christian” church. Yet, these customs and practices were NEVER adopted by the one and only true Church of God. The spread of sects and schisms who fell away or were influenced by these great pagan systems incorporated both Gnostic and Mithraic customs and doctrines. Some of the most recent studies of Mithraism confirm a close association of terminologies with early Christianity and Mithraism:
But even though Mithraism did present itself as a serious rival to Christianity and has left throughout Europe material evidence of its presence in every corner of the empire where the army set up camp — and the other Graeco-Oriental religions seem to have attracted even more attention — the frugal Roman religion continued throughout to maintain a firm hold on the minds of men. Probably the best evidences for this are the many compromises with its practices and concepts which found expression WITHIN CHRISTIANITY.
Writers from all sources recognize these ancient pagan documents and traditions of the ancient Babylonian mystery system found their way into Christianity. There can be little doubt that a great conspiracy did wield a tremendous influence late in the first century A.D. But, perhaps the GREATEST INFLUENCE of all was the entire system of GNOSTICISM of which Simon Magus was a part.
A study of Gnosticism becomes a study of many different branches and philosophies. Nearly every writer who researches the subject draws different conclusions. Here is what some writers say about Gnosticism:
In logical order we ought to begin by defining Gnosticism¼a point on which writers on the subject are not agreed.
No question, however, has more perplexed historians than that which refers to the direct origin of Gnosticism.
Defining Gnosticism is an extraordinarily difficult task, since modern writers use the term to cover a wide variety of speculative religious phenomena.
But in reality, Gnosticism is not that hard to define. Although there are many Gnostic sects, there are numerous features they all have in common. Here are the main principles of Gnosticism even though divided among many groups:
1) All sects attempted to explain the origin of the universe and the origin of evil. All viewed the universe in some way as DUAL — full of good and evil. Dualism also has to do with the pagan doctrine of the immortality of the soul and the mortal body.
2) All were blends of Oriental theosophy with Hellenic philosophy, with blends of many other religions added in.
3) All reasoned that since God is good, and the world is evil, God did not create the world, but rather some inferior power.
4) They all believed they had all knowledge (gnosis) which others did not have. They believed that Christians only had faith; Gnostics had faith AND “revealed” knowledge.
5) They all separated themselves from Church authority, although Gnostics first met with Christians whenever possible.
6) All had the same form of the Oriental “Great Mother” worship — a parallel with Mariolatry today. “In almost all systems an important part is played by the Great Mother.”
7) Most Gnostic philosophies had a system of sacraments. The Encyclopaedia Britannica states, “The Gnostic religion . . . is above all things A RELIGION OF SACRAMENTS and mysteries . . . Gnosticism introduced for the first time into Christianity a whole mass of sacramental, mystical ideas.”
To classify these different Gnostic philosophies and sects is not important. Gnosticism, obviously, is a religion of demons and is in chaos. What we need to understand is the true origin of Gnosticism, and what, if any, bearing it might have had on Christianity.
The Origin is Clear
There can be no doubt there was a PRE-CHRISTIAN GNOSTICISM. And secondly, there can be no doubt that Gnosticism was not Jewish, BUT SAMARITAN! These two keys answer the “when” and “where” of the origin of Gnosticism. This is perhaps best explained by M’Clintock and Strong:
Ever since the conquests of Alexander the Great, an intense interest had been felt throughout Asia Minor and Egypt in Hellenistic philosophy and Oriental theosophy. . . . The result was that, near the time of the first promulgation of Christianity, a number of new systems of religious philosophy sprang up independently in different countries, and exhibited similar characteristics. They were usually formed by incorporating with the national religion what seemed attractive elements in foreign systems, and softening down what was harsh and incredible in the popular faith and worship. In this way we discover a nearly simultaneous origin of the Judaistic Philosophy at Alexandria, of Essenism, and Therapeutism in Egypt and southern Palestine, of the Cabbalistic literature in Syria and the East, and of New Platonism among the Hellenistic nations. THESE WERE ALL OFFSHOOTS FROM THE SAME GENERAL ROOT, and not necessarily deriving anything original, but unquestionably drawing much assistance from one another.
As was already mentioned, Satan was equally prepared for Christ and the gospel. Certainly, God would not let Satan destroy the truth. But Satan did all he could to confuse and deceive those who would believe. His preparation was this whole pagan system headquartered out of Samaria. As early as 33 A.D. (the probable date of Simon Magus’ baptism), Satan tried to infiltrate true Christianity.
When this first infiltration did not work, the solution was to form a new group — which Simon Magus immediately began.
Concerning this preparation in pre-Christian times, the Encyclopaedia Britannica states:
Thus the essential part of most of the conceptions of what we call Gnosticism was already in existence and fully developed BEFORE the rise of Christianity.
¼The accounts given of Simon Magus, Menander and Dositheus [Simon’s teacher], who have become almost mythical, at least prove that in Syria, Gnostic tendencies made their appearance at an early period.
Thus, we see Gnosticism developed through Simon Magus and Samaria — not Judea. Notice it:
Simon’s doctrines were substantially those of the Gnostics, and he is not without reason regarded as the first who attempted to engraft theurgy [the science of compelling a supernatural power to refrain from doing something] and egotism of the Magian philosophy upon Christianity.
Even Justin Martyr wrote of Gnosticism, Simon, and his doctrines:
¼after Christ’s ascension into heaven, the devils put forward certain men who said that they themselves were gods. . . . There was a Samaritan, Simon. . . . And almost all the Samaritans, and a few even of other nations, worship him, and acknowledge him as the first god.
Justin Martyr recognized Simon to be the first Gnostic — he mentions him to be the first god. Certainly, nearly every study on Gnosticism leads back to Simon Magus — at least in part.
That ought to make plain the origin of Gnosticism was certainly pre-Christian — but that its development paralleled Christianity. Now we need to see what influence it had on the early true Christian Church.
The Gnostics Gain Influence
Now that we have seen the proper origin of Gnosticism in Samaria under Simon Magus, we can better understand exactly what happened in the late first century A.D. But how did Gnosticism influence Christianity? That is the question that now needs to be answered.
A very important fact about Gnosticism was written by the German scholar, Lipsius, which shows the development of Gnosticism is similar to a curve which began only slightly “off” from the truth, diverged far out, and finally returned close to Christianity. But by this time “Christianity” was not the original Christian Church founded by Jesus Christ — it was the beginning of a great universal or CATHOLIC system.
But Gnosticism finally approached the teachings of the Catholic Church. Notice it from M’Clintock and Strong: “¼finally, under the Marcionites, the Gnostic speculation approximates very nearly that of the more liberal CATHOLIC TEACHERS.”
So, although Gnosticism was a combination of religions and philosophy in background, it soon formed a religion of its own. What Gnosticism became was a DEVIATION from the truth. When the Gnostics came in contact with true Christians — beginning with Simon Magus — they found similarities to their own system. Remember, we have already seen how Satan the Devil organized this counterfeit system long prior to Christianity. Gnostic teachers recognized this similarity. Notice it:
When these Gnostics, WITH THEIR SYSTEM READY MADE, looked into the New Testament, they could easily find it all there, since they only sought for points to which they might attach it.
They wormed their false system into the Church. The Apostle Paul warned the Church to be aware of this when he mentioned the system of iniquity of which we have already read in II Thessalonians, chapter two. Paul warned the Ephesian elders to watch out for this same system in the twentieth chapter of Acts. And by the time of the epistles of John and Jude in the late first century, they both warned true Christians to beware of the conspiracy which had already risen to great power in some areas. Masquerading under the name of “Christian,” Simon Magus and his Gnostic religion had gained an immoveable foothold.
These Gnostics for the most part had no intention of separating from the rest of the church, and establishing distinct communities of their own¼they were for UNITING WITH THE ORDINARY CONGREGATIONS, and establishing in connection with them a kind of theosophic school of CHRISTIAN MYSTERIES.
Do you see the connection?
The Gnostics wanted control of the Church — and when they gained their foothold, they brought in their mystery religious system with its NEW TITLES — now known as “Christian.” Now, let’s see how this affected the early New Testament Church.
The Establishment of Heresy
With its new titles, Gnosticism must have spread rapidly throughout the Roman empire. There can be no doubt the true ministers of God readily recognized the dangers of this system and left us a WITNESS and TESTIMONY of its rising influences. The apostle Paul began his first letter to the evangelist Timothy by warning him, “Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith.”
Almost all Bible scholars recognize Paul was warning Timothy to beware of the Gnostic system of explaining the origin of the universe through genealogies and endless ages and eons. All of this profited nothing — it only brought about questions. Notice especially how he ended this first epistle to Timothy, “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge.”
Notice it. Paul warns Timothy to avoid the godless chatter, or as the King James version translates it, “profane and vain babblings,” of those who had a FALSE knowledge. The Greek word “gnosis” is translated “knowledge” in English. This is the same exact root word from which the word “Gnostic” comes. As Mansel points out in his Gnostic Heresies, “In the First Epistle the heretical teaching is distinctly mentioned under its own name — pseudo-numognosis, ‘knowledge falsely so called’.”
Since Paul was the one who warned of both a falling away and FALSE TEACHERS which were to enter with a system of iniquity and mystery, it is only logical Paul would in his last letters (I and II Timothy) warn of that system. But Paul’s last letters were written in the mid sixties A.D.
The later writings of Peter, John, and Jude are even more concrete in their warning of the system which was beginning to work its way into Christianity yet in Paul’s day.
The Apostle Peter wrote in the late seventies A.D.:
But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be FALSE TEACHERS among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.
What system was there at this time in history which was trying to bring into God’s Church its heresies? The only possible answer is that some branch of Gnosticism, Mithraism, or the followers of Simon Magus had gained such influence.
We have already seen in the writings of John and Jude how late in the first century the warning was still being made to God’s true Church to beware of these conspirators. We also saw in the book of III John how Diotrephes had gained such control of some Church congregations that he was actually forbidding the true brethren to even enter into the Church. And we saw how Jude admonished those to whom he wrote to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered.”
The point to emphasize here is that in spite of the fact that the conspiracy gained the upper hand toward the end of the first century, there WAS STILL A TRUE CHURCH WHICH DID NOT EMBRACE THE MINISTERS OR THE TEACHINGS OF GNOSTICISM AND THE GREAT CONSPIRACY!
The Conclusion of the First Century
We now come to the end of the first century A.D. We have seen the beginning, the development, and the spread of true Christianity throughout the empire. We have seen a complete and thorough preparation of the whole world for the Church founded by Jesus Christ.
But we also saw how the prophets and Apostles were only the FOUNDATION of the Church. The Church was founded and built upon Jesus Christ, as the Chief Cornerstone, and was to continue BUILDING.
Christ promised, “¼I will build My Church; and the gates of hell [hades, the grave] shall not prevail against it.” The Church of Jesus Christ was not to die. The Church founded by Jesus Christ was not to drift astray, embracing paganism and the ancient Babylonian mystery system. Upon commissioning His Church to preach the gospel to the world, He promised, “I am with you ALWAY, EVEN UNTO THE END OF THE WORLD.”
And the Apostle Paul records, “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for He [Christ] hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”
The Church founded upon Christ and built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, was to continue under the direct guidance and inspiration of Jesus Christ. That Church has continued through the centuries, and it can be found on earth today.
But Satan the Devil also founded his system.
We saw how that mystery system began with Semiramis and her illegitimate son-husband, Nimrod, not many years after the Flood which destroyed almost all mankind. Soon after the establishment of Jesus Christ’s Church, Satan the Devil infiltrated, took the names and titles of Christianity, and applied them to the same old ancient mystery system he had always used. You have seen through the pages of this work just exactly how that system rose and finally succeeded in gaining a greater number of followers than true Christianity.
It is this mystery system with its new titles which is what the world then came to think of as Christianity.
A Great Change in the Church
Every writer of Church history has not failed to notice the tremendous change in the entire structure of the Church in the second and third centuries A.D.
There was never a change in the one true Church of Jesus Christ. The history of that Church is accurately preserved and recorded in the four gospel accounts of Christ’s life and the book of Acts, supplemented by all of the epistles of Paul and the others whose works are preserved in the God-inspired New Testament of the Bible.
But the church of history which is later called “Christian” is NOT the same Church teaching the same gospel as the gospel Christ brought, which was preached around the world by His apostles.
Notice this amazing quote from A. C. McGiffert:
The change from the original condition of things was STUPENDOUS, but the process by which the change was wrought was gradual and entirely natural, as has been seen.
Yes, there was a change — a traumatic change. There is a vast difference between the original Christianity of the Bible and the “Christianity” of the history books. The change from original conditions was stupendous!
You Can Know
But you no longer need to be indecisive or in doubt. You have seen the establishment of the gospel and the one and only TRUE CHURCH of Jesus Christ as revealed in God’s Word. You have checkpoints. If anyone really wants to search for the truth, God has left a recorded witness, both in His Word and in secular history.
If you have read carefully, you have undoubtedly noticed the real followers of Jesus Christ — the true Christians — all but completely drop out of the writings of Church historians as the end of the first century approached and certainly by the beginning of the second century. But you now have the KEYS which will guide you to RECOGNIZE where God’s Church has been in history — and will lead you to a means of finding where that Church is today!
Harnack, The History of Dogma, vol. I, pp. 243, 244.
Harnack, The History of Dogma, vol. I. p. 244.
II Peter 2:5.
Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, i. 4. 2.
Clarke, A Commentary and Critical Notes, vol. I, p. 86.
Salverte, Des Sciences Occultes, p. 415.
Hastings, Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, vol. II, p. 497.
Smith and Wace, Dictionary of Christian Biography, vol. IV, p. 682.
Hastings, Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, vol. II, p. 497.
“Simon Magus,” Cheyne and Black, Encyclopaedia Biblica, 11. (e).
II Thessalonians 2:7-10.
III John 9-10.
M’Clintock and Strong, Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, vol. II, p. 191.
Cruttwell, A Literary History of Early Christianity, vol. I, p. 195.
Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, ix. 14. 3.
Hippolytus, The Refutation of All Heresies, VII, 21.
Tertullian, Against All Heresies, Pt. Second IX, 3.
Hippolytus, The Refutation of All Heresies, VII, 21.
Eusebius, The Ecclesiastical History, III. 28.
Jackson-Lake, The Beginnings of Christianity, vol. I, p. 258.
“Mithras,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, (1959), vol. XV, p. 623.
“Mithras,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, (1959), vol. XV, p. 623.
“The Pagani Among the Contemporaries of the First Christians,” Weiss, Herold, Journal of Biblical Literature, March 1967, vol. LXXXVI, p. 52.
“Gnosticism,” Smith and Wace, Dictionary of Christian Biography, vol. II, p. 678.
“Gnosticism,” M’Clintock and Strong, Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, vol. III, p. 891.
Grant, Gnosticism in Early Christianity, p. 6.
“Gnosticism,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, vol. VII, p. 155.
“Gnosticism,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, vol. XII, p. 157.
“Gnosticism,” M’Clintock and Strong, Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, vol. III, p. 892.
“Gnosticism,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, (1911), vol. XII, p. 157.
Hagenbach, Text-Book of the History of Doctrines, vol. I, p. 54. (See also Volckmar, Simon Magus, in Jahrbucher, 1856, 2d Heft.)
Fallows, The Popular and Critical Bible Encyclopaedia, vol. II, p. 1591.
Martyr, The First Apology, Chapter 26. (See also The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. I, p. 171.)
“Gnosticism,” M’Clintock and Strong, Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, vol. III, p. 892. (See also Lipsius, Gnosticism, Its Essence, Origin, and Development, 1860.)
“Gnosticism,” M’Clintock and Strong, Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, vol. III, p. 893.
Neander, General History of the Christian Religion and Church, vol. II, p. 30.
Neander, General History of the Christian Religion and Church, vol. II, p. 33.
I Timothy 1:4.
I Timothy 6:20 (R.S.V.).
Mansel, The Gnostic Heresies of the First and Second Centuries, p. 56.
II Peter 2:1-3.
III John 10.
McGiffert, A History of Christianity in the Apostolic Age, p. 671.
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