Christian Heresies

Even before the original autographs of the New Testament writings were completed, we see a rise of Christian heresies that would repeatedly attempt to undermine the classical Christian doctrines as taught by Jesus and his apostles. Various church fathers and organized councels defended the orthodox positions on the most important doctrines critical for the true Christian faith.

Emergence of Christian Heresies - an Interactive Infographic

  1. Drag the handle below to move through history and see the way in which the various heresies emerge.
  2. Press to have the infographic automatically move through history on its own. Pressing will pause the timeline, while will stop and reset it.
  3. Click on the heresy to see a brief snapshot about its positions. Or just read about them below in an alphabetized list.

Some heresies incorporate wider beliefs and borrow from others, and therefore, strictly speaking, they may also belong in other groups. Effort was taken to create logical groupings of heresies in accordance with their core doctrinal differences and typical divergence from classical Christianity.

Early Church
  • Antinomianism
  • Audianism
  • Circumcellions
  • Donatism
  • Ebionites
  • Euchites/Messalians
  • Iconoclasm
  • Marcionism
  • Montanism
  • Pelagianism
  • Semipelagianism
  • Albigenses/Catharism
  • Athinganoi
  • Docetism
  • Gnosticism
  • Luciferianism
  • Manichaeism
  • Naassenes
  • Ophites
  • Paulicianism
  • Priscillianism
  • Sethianism
  • Valentianism
  • Adoptionism
  • Apollinarism/Apollinarianism
  • Arianism
  • Eutychianism
  • Macedonianism/Pneumatomachians
  • Melchisedechianism
  • Modalism
  • Monarchianism
  • Monophysitism
  • Monothelitism
  • Nestorianism
  • Patripassianism
  • Psilanthropism
  • Sabellianism
  • Socinianism
  • Tritheism
  • Subordinationism
  • Unitarianism
  • Kenosis
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses
  • Mormonism

Snapshots of Christian Heresies

Adoptionism c A.D. 190

The heresy that Jesus was only a non-divine man; that he was extremely virtuous; that he was, at some point, "adopted" as the Son of God by the Spirit descending on him. Adoptionism is also known as Psilanthropism and Dynamic Monarchianism.

Albigenses/Catharism c A.D. 1050

A theologically dualistic heresy which taught that matter (the physical world), having been created by an evil god, is evil, while the spirit, having been created by a good god is good. In this view, the spirit must be freed from the chains of the material body.

Antinomianism c A.D. 55

An early heresy which held that Christians are freed from all obligations of the moral law through grace. An early correction was made by the apostle Paul (Romans 3:8) in his letter to the Romans.

Apollinarism/Apollinarianism c A.D. 350

The heresy that believed that Jesus had a human body, a divine mind, but only a "lower" soul; that humans propagate souls along with bodies. It was declared a heresy by the First Council of Constantinople in A.D. 381.

Arianism c A.D. 318

The heresy that rejected the divinity of Jesus and taught that Jesus was created by the Father and that the title "Son of God" was merely given to Jesus as a courtesy. It was condemned at the First Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325.

Athinganoi c A.D. 800

A 9th-century heretical sect of Monarchianism in Phrygia originated by Theodotus the banker.

Audianism c A.D. 350

An anthropomorphic heresy the held, among other things, that God has human form and that the death of Jesus ought to be celebrated during the Jewish Passover(quartodecimanism).

Circumcellions c A.D. 325

A militant heresy (subset of Donatism) relying heavily on violence whose main concerns were righting what they deemed as social wrongs. Those in this sect condemned property and fiscal servanthood, and advocated canceling all debts. Like the Donatists, they prized martyrdom.

Docetism c A.D. 150

An heresy that claimed that Jesus' material body was an illusion; that his crucifixion was an illusion since Jesus did not have a physical body. The claim was that Jesus was a pure incorporeal spirit.

Donatism c A.D. 325

A rigorist heresy that held martyrdom as the supreme Christian virtue regarding those who intentionally sought out martyrdom as saints. They held to very stringent views claiming that church clergy must be completely faultless for their services to be valid. A commission appointed by Pope Miltiades condemned Donatism in A.D. 313.

Ebionites c A.D. 100

An early Jewish sect heretical for their claims that Jesus was the Messiah but was not divine. They interpreted the Jewish law and rites with Jesus' exposition of the law and insisted in the necessity of following those laws and rites.

Euchites/Messalians c A.D. 370

An heretical Syrian ascetic sect that held to an overemphasis on prayer and spiritual experience at the expense of disregarding the church and its sacrements, especially baptism; and renouncing social and work relations. They also believed that the escence of the trinity could be percieved by the carnal senses; that God transformed himself into a single substance for merging with souls of the perfect, and the state of perfection could only be attained by unceasing prayer and prayer alone.

Eutychianism c A.D. 400

An heretical movement started by a monk named Eutychus (A.D. 378-452) that held to the notion that Christ's humanity was absorbed by his divinity. Eutychus believed that Christ was of two natures but not in two natures so that Jesus was one with the divinity, but was not one with humanity.

Gnosticism c A.D. 140

A large and very diverse dualistic heretical movement that included many variations of heretical systems on their own right. The central heresy common to all variations is the teachings that people are divine souls who are trapped in a material world created by an evil god, who is ironcially often identified as the God of Abraham. The Gnostics rejected and vilafied the human body and believed that the material body should be destroyed by the true God to free humanity from the evil god who has imprisoned souls inside human bodies.

Iconoclasm c A.D. 726

A movement that held to the importance of destroying religious icons, images and monuments largely because of the overly literal interpretation of The second commandment - "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 9 You shall not bow down to them or serve them" (Deut 5:8-9).

Jehovah’s Witnesses c A.D. 1870

An heresy in the form of Arianism, which had been denounced for centuries prior to its inception. Jehovah's Witnesses reject the Trinity, believe Jesus to be a created being, the archangel, Michael. As such, Jehovah's Witnesses deny the full deity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Kenosis c A.D. 1870

A heresy first introduced by Gottfried Thomasius (1802-1875) which held that Jesus voluntarily gave up some of his divine attributes (omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence) while in his incarnate state such that he was not fully divine in order to fully accomplish the work of redemption.

Luciferianism c A.D. 1200

An heresy influenced by Gnosticism that held to the veneration of the characteristics associated with Lucifer, revering Lucifer not as the devil with ill intent, but as a liberator, guardian, guiding spirit and even as the true God.

Macedonianism/Pneumatomachians c A.D. 360

An heresy that, while accepting the divinity of Jesus, denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit, relegating the Holy Spirit as a substance created by The Son.

Manichaeism c A.D. 210

A Gnostic dualistic heresy birthed by Mani (c. 216 – c. 276) which held to the idea that the material world is evil and the spirit world is good; that these polar opposites are involved in a struggle this good, spiritual world of light and the bad, the material world of darkness.

Marcionism c A.D. 144

An heresy which, while affirming Jesus as the savior, rejected the Hebrew Bible and the God of the Old Testament. It held that the God of the Old Testament was a distinct lower god than the all-forgiving God of the New Testament.

Melchisedechianism c A.D. 400

An heresy which held to the notion that Melchisedech was the incarnation of the divine Word, or Logos and identified him with the Holy Spirit.

Modalism c A.D. 190

An heresy which claimed that although God is a single person, He has revealed Himself in three modes throughout biblical history. In the Old Testament God is said to exist in "the mode" of The Father, at the incarnation, in "the mode" of The Son, and after Jesus' ascention, in "the mode" of the Holy Spirit. The modes were said to have never been simultaneous so The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit are said to have never existed at the same time.

Monarchianism c A.D. 190

A unitarian heresy that held to God being a single person as opposed to a Trinity of personages, which arose from attempts to preserve monotheism and reject the notion of tritheism.

Monophysitism c A.D. 370

An heresy which held that after the incarnation of Christ, the divine Logos revealed as Christ, had one unified nature - either only divine or a synthesis of divine and human, but single nonetheless.

Monothelitism c A.D. 629

An heresy which formally emerged in Armenia and Syria holding to the belief that Jesus Christ had two natures but only one will, contrary to the orthodox Christoloical view that Jesus Christ has both a divine and human will each corresponding to his two natures.

Montanism c A.D. 170

An heresy which claimed that its prophesies superceded and fulfilled the doctrines proclaimed by the apostles, emphasizing ecstatic prophesying, avoidance of sin and church discipline, chastity and remarriage. The view also held to the notion that Christians who "fell" from grace could not possibly be redeemed.

Mormonism c A.D. 1820

An polytheistic heresy holding to various unorthodox doctrines, such as the notions that human beings preexisted in a spirit realm and were produced through the procreation of a god and goddess wife; allegedly human beings simply entered human bodies in the form of babies and as a result, lose the memories of our preexistence. Other heretical beliefs include the possiblity for man to become god, baptism for the dead, the idea that God used to be a man on another planet, the notion that the Trinity is three separate gods and that grace alone is not enough for salvation.

Naassenes c A.D. 100

Likely the earlies known Gnostic heresy which held to the typical Gnostic beliefs as well as the notion that there are three types of people - those who are bound under the material body (the Bound); ordinary Christians (the Psychic or the Called); and the top tier of their own sect (the Spiritual or the Elect).

Nestorianism c A.D. 428

A heresy that held to the notion that Jesus Christ was not more than a natural union (Flesh + Word), and therefore, not identical to the divine Son of God.

Ophites c A.D. 220

A Gnostic heresical sect which held that the God who forbade Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge is the enemy, while the serpent (Satan) who tempted them was a hero. This sort of reversal of good and evil is typical and common across Gnostic heresies.

Patripassianism c A.D. 200

A heresy which held that the divine personages of Father and Son are one in the same person, and that the Father was the one who suffered on the cross as Jesus.

Paulicianism c A.D. 650

A Gnostic heresy arising in Armenia, which combined dualistic and orthodox doctrines, staunchly opposing the formalism of the church. Constantine, the one known to have established the teachings, saw himself as one who was called to restore the pure Christianity of the Apostle Paul, unfortunately supplanting orthodox views with Gnostic ones.

Pelagianism c A.D. 500

An heresy which taught that original sin did not tain human nature, and that man, apart from divine aid, is fully capable of choosing good over evil.

Priscillianism c A.D. 350

An heresy combining the heretical teachings of the Gnostics and Manicheans, which believed in the existence of two kingdoms, one of Light (good) and one of Darkness (evil); that angels and human souls were severed from the substance of God; that souls were meant to conquer the kingdom of Darkness, but were imprisoned in material bodies instead. As usual with Gnostics, salvation can be acheived through the liberation from matter.

Psilanthropism c A.D. 190

An heresy which claimed that Jesus Christ was merely human since he either never became divine or because he did not exist prior to his incarnation.

Sabellianism c A.D. 190

A unitarian heresy which claimed that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are merely three distinct characterizatons of a unitarian God as opposed to the orthodox trinitarian view of God being three distinct personages.

Semipelagianism c A.D. 500

A heresy, originally developed to reconcile Palagianism and the orthodox teachings of the church fathers (people cannot come to God without the grace of God), which made a distinction between coming to faith and the increase of faith; and that coming to faith is fully an act of the will while the increase of faith is the work of God through His grace.

Sethianism c A.D. 220

A Gnostic heresy which believed that the serpent (Satan) in the Garden of Eden was an agent of God, who helped bring knowledge of truth to humanity through the fall.

Socinianism c A.D. 1500

A unitarian heresy that denies the trinity, claiming that God's unity in His simplicity prevails; that the Holy Spirit is merely a force of God; and that Christ was not the incarnate God and did not pre-exist.

Subordinationism c A.D. 318

An heresy which held that the Son and the Holy Spirit are subordinate to the Father both in nature and being. As part of the Arian controversy, the heresy was condemned along with Arianism by the First Council of Constantinople (A.D. 381).

Tritheism c A.D. 320

An heresy which believed in God as three entities, three separate gods having seprate domains and spheres of influence that somehow come together into one whole.

Unitarianism c A.D. 1550

An heresy positing that God is a single personage, as opposed to the orthodox position that God is a Trinity of personages in one being - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The heresy also held that Jesus was inspired by God and is a savior but merely a human being nonetheless.

Valentianism c A.D. 150

A Gnostic dualistic heresy which believed that the God of the Old Testament was a demiurge who created the imprefect material world and man. Human beings have a material nature and a spiritual nature. The work of redemption is said to be accomplished by freeing the spiritual nature from the material nature. And the only way to achieve true gnosis (knowledge) is by recognizing the Father as the source of divine power. The heresy also held to an elaborate cosmology - that in the beginning there was a fullness called Pleroma at the center of which was the Father who, after long periods of silence and thought, created fifteen sexually complementary pairs of heavenly archetypes, among whom was Sophia, whose weakness, curiosity and passion caused her fall from Pleroma.