More on Christian sects in the second to 5th centuries

The Christian sects;

Continuing my mini series on what was happening to the “christian” faith and the various political struggles between the sects, cults and claimants of the “truth” in the 1st to 5th centuries. Contrary to the current evangelist views there was not an exponential growth of just any one sect. Even in Rome there were schisms, sects and cults in the early 1st century, all claiming to have the “truth” much to to the chagrin and annoyance of the orthodox Roman Churchites who were just one (albeit very influential) of the many cults in town.

I have already explored the Ebionites and the Marcionites on these forums so lets go to another big one now: The Valentinians or followers of Valentinus.

Valentinus was born in about 100CE, in Egypt, he died in 180CE, a good age! and started his ministry quite young. Like the majority of ‘Christians’ at the time he was an ardent follower of Paul and a Gnostic. He went to Rome, an educated and erudite young man. He was in line for a Bishopric but was passed over.

He appeared to be trying a combination of the philosophy of both Plato and Philo ;The Valentinian philosophy* posited that in the beginning there was a Pleroma, ( literally a fullness*),* that the Jesus figure was not “God” but as the “logos” (Word) which was emitted by “the Father” to create the Universe.

Even by his critics (Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus, and Tertullian, and friends such as Marcellus of Acyra and) he was acknowledged to be a prolific writer and an engaging and personable character.

Irenaeus in particular loathed his work and attacked him refuting his arguments…which is where we had the most idea of Valentinus’s writing until the late 20th century.

About the 5th Century CE, Valentinus’s teachings had split into an Eastern and Western School, but his temples and philosophy was spread throughout the Empire and beyond, much like the Marcionites. Together they dwarfed the nascent ‘Orthodox’ Roman and Eastern Churches.

Valentinus was also, reputedly, a fan of Paul’s 'secret teachings ’ (see Corinthians 4.1). Valentinus did not consider himself heretic although many others in the Roman Church did indeed consider him such. He was not formally declared heretic until the late 4th century…

He and his teachings were finally declared heretic in 380CE under Theodosius , and in 428 CE Valentinians were forbidden to congregate on pain of death, and all the books and practices of the Valentinans declared anathema, and once again this sentence was repeated by the Bishop of Rome in 492CE. All the complete texts were thought to have been destroyed until the discovery of the Nag Hammadi trove.

428CE saw the decline of Valentiniasm, like the Marcionites and all the others. Death was not an attractive alternative I would think. Valentinianism probably continued much later, like Marcionism well in to the 10th Century.

A Coptic copy of “The Gospel in Truth”** from the Nag Hammadi Library is arguably by Valentinus and some other writings by him and his followers have been collated in a book :

Valentinian Christianity - University of California Press (

*. The Rise of the Early Christian Theology of Arithmetic: The Valentinians (

** free copy of Gospel of Truth

If you have a look at @sherlocks maunderings I think he may have been trying to express Valentinian thoughts, but without the actual knowledge that he was utterly unoriginal.

Edited spelling and grammar


Next: the Ophites, be about a week.


At the start of the Second Century there were a myriad of religions, cults, hundreds of gods available to worship. There was no “Christian Church”, in fact there were no “Christians” that we would recognise as such, there were gnostics who acknowledged a very human Jesus, there were Messianic Jewish sects that self described as “Followers of the Way” and considered Jesus as an adopted (very human) son of their god. Other and much older religions left their mark on this unrestricted storytelling, as was the tradition of nearly every religion of the time, except the Jews, who of course claimed to have the words of their god preserved from antiquity in their Holy Books. At the start of the 2nd century CE there were no codex, no orthodox texts until Marcion half way through the century.
Each “church/Temple/Synagogue had and venerated their own texts. The gentile ‘Christians’ each had their own rituals and venerated different texts. The Jewish ‘Christians’ reviled Paul as he was apostate. The Roman ‘Christians’’ added the “born of virgin” and of course the actual physical resurrection…and son of god. But then the Romanised Christians were certainly not in the majority, they were not powerful…yet. They were dwarfed by popular traditions in the East and schisms on their home turf.

There was indeed an explosion of the new religion but not as the evangelists like to think. It was not a steady spreading of the same texts and stories it was a chaotic spread of stories without license, some of them so far removed from todays “Christian” mainstream as to be a separate order of belief entirely. It was a time of chaos that persisted until the military takeover of the Roman church in the mid 4th Century.

One can see where some of these traditions have persisted right down to the resent day, distorted through time but still recognisable for their origins. Which brings us to this group, Number 3 in my series:

The Ophites, also known as Ophians (from the Greek word “ophis” meaning “snake”), were a Gnostic sect, in fact there were several sects and cults lumped together that existed from about 100CE and persisting to the present day under the umbrella title of ‘Ophites’.

Most numerous in Syria and Egypt they shared along with the Marcionites and Valentinians and other Gnostic cults a dualistic view of the gods, with the Jesus figure being of entirely spiritual significance.

They were rumoured depicted by Hippolytus of Rome in a lost work called the Syntagma.

The Ophites held a dualistic theology that proposed a purely spiritual Supreme Being (The unknown God), who was both the origin of the cosmic process and the highest good, to a chaotic and evil material world.

They regarded the Jehovah of the Old Testament as a demiurge, or lesser deity who had created the material world.

They did attach great importance to the serpent in the Book of Genesis because it had enabled men to obtain the important knowledge of good and evil, that Jehovah had withheld from them. Some used live serpents in their rituals according to their critics and considered the serpent to be a physical representation of the Jesus figure.

They believed that man’s dilemma results from his being a mixture of these conflicting spiritual and material elements.

They saw the serpent as the true liberator of mankind since it first taught men to rebel against Jehovah and seek knowledge of the true, unknown God.

The Ophites beleived the Christ figure to be a spiritual being who, through his union with the man Jesus, taught the saving gnosis.

This collection of gnostic, snake orientated sects was condemned by Hippolytus, Origen, Irenaeus, and Sad Old Clement of Alexandria.

Condemned by the Roman Church the Ophites were mostly a memory, or, practising deep underground by the turn of the 6th Century. Shades of their practices can be seen in the Appalachians and some extreme sects (churches) in the US and Philippines, as well as Africa where snake dancing continues.


Thank you, @Old_man_shouts_at_cl, these are wonderful posts!

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I think that the earliest mention of the church is from Paul in 50’s, where it is mentioned in symbolic way as Christ’s bride. However scholars have suggested that church assembly used to be an in house gathering usually organised by women but lead by men.


The Roman church and the Pauline tradition was mostly small, home gatherings, occasionally, when allowed in Jewish Synagogues.


Yes proto-orthodoxy or apostolic christianity as they call it here in orthodox environment, was very small part of it all. They started a new wave in second half of 3rd century.


Which is exactly the point I am making. There was no, one “christian tradition”, in fact most of the sects and cults in the 1st to third centuries would not be recognised as “Christian” today yet the evangelists and uneducated beleivers claim the spread of christianity as proof of the truth of their particular godofchoice.



Oh bugger. Many apologies for the delay. Ill health of both She and myself have dogged us since the last post. However it gave me the chance to realise there is no point writing about the Simonians without referencing their leader and “founder” Simon Magus aka Simon the Magician a documented self confessed “messiah” concurrent with the jesus figure and the apostles.
I also remembered I had written extensively about Simon Magus some twenty years ago. Very dry and not at all entertaining.
Anyhoo my friends here we are.

Simon Magus, divine? Charlatan? A great illusionist? Magician?

A 1st century Messiah…but one we can be sure that existed. He also has a claim to fame of not only having historical mentions but is also, not just mentioned, but has a whole section of verses in Acts. (Acts 8:9-24 NIV - Simon the Sorcerer - Now for some time - Bible Gateway) Not only that but the term “Simony” i.e selling off religious relics and church furnishing, is directly attributable to this story.

The bible verses are not complimentary but do lend credence to his existence and profession when read along with secular mentions of the character… Viz:

Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great,
10 and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.”
11 They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery.
12 But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
13 Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.

14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria.
15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit,
16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!
21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.
22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.
23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”

24 Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”

To put this in 21st Century context it seems to me that Simon Magus was the Samarian equivalent of our David Copperfield, the master “magician” . To confirm that bold assertion, according to the much later Apocryphal “Acts of Peter” Peter and Simon Magus had a “miracle” contest where they BOTH heal beggars, water into wine, casting out demons etc, Simon did his levitation and it ended up with Simon being badly injured when Peter prayed for him to fail…nice one Pete…Other writers have Simon performing his famous levitation in front of Nero, the Pharoah, and similarly coming a cropper.

So not to put this into a scholarly light, it is obvious (at least to me) that Simon was a pretty good prestidigitator and illusionist. He could do most all of the Jesus “miracles” except one…the “gift of the Holy spirit” so he followed the apostles around, even getting baptised, trying to figure out how they managed the little lights on their heads (I am not bothering with the multiple languages as it is obviously hyperbole in this instance) when offering the holy spirit to prospective converts. Simon already had a good following as a magician/miracle worker but just could not figure out the key to this final trick. So he approached Peter, who not so politely told him to “Go forth and multiply it’s our secret” and “if that’s your game then do that a long way away, your not welcome where we are” Simon persisted and a competition was held, which predictably Simon lost according to someone writing fan fiction some 150 years after the event…however Simon probably did not die there in forsaken Samaria as he is recorded at the Emperors Court and the Pharoahs palace performing his “miracles” and getting a very nice, and, probably very lucrative following.

He is recorded to have been claiming to be “son of God” (Jahweh obviously got around back in the day) and the Gnostic Simonians were the result. More of that and their fate in the next update.

And one thought: Why were the apostles, especially Peter, in Samaria at all when the recently undead Jesus was reported as telling them: Matt 10:5 “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans.”

This to my mind denies plausibility to the whole tale, more than likely a confontation did take place, but not in Samaria, where Simon Magus (A Samarian) tried to get the workings of the trick used to bamboozle the gullible into accepting and giving money to the apostles and their entourage. Simon Magus was a well known person at that time with a large following, with levitation and other miracles being witnessed by large crowds. The Acts text reads like a much later story designed to smudge the facts and claim credit for Simons death some years later while he was performing his levitation trick. He was after all, a threat to the “uniqueness” of the jesus figure.

  • Justin Martyr, Iraenaeus,Hippolytus,Eusebius,Epiphanius,

The Simonians

Now we have established who and what Simon Magus was and did, was the sect he founded popular? At least as popular as other christian sects and cults and rivalled the Eastern Churches and the Roman Church put together. Simon founded a gnostic sect; its members regarded Simon as the living incarnation of the Supreme God (shades of Marcion here) and that Simons wife/girlfriend/partner ( hey every magician has a beautiful woman around to distract don’t they?) was Ennoia, aka “The first thought of the Creator God”

The followers believed in and practiced magic (tricks) and worshipped Simon as a deity. The Simonians were widely popular in Syria, Asia Minor and of course, in Rome where they nearly outnumbered (With the Marcionites and others) the nascent Roman Church who opposed them and, naturally, accused them of all sorts of horrible practices.

Although wildly popular while the Magus was alive, their numbers and influence waned. They were attacked by the usual lot of Roman lap dog writers including Justin Martyr, Iraneus, Epihanius et al.

By the middle of the 4th century CE they were almost extinct as a sect or cult, however their faith lived on as other cults and sects such as the Menadrians, Basilidians and Carpocratians adopted, if not their central creed many of the Simonians rituals and ideas.

It can be seen that rather than the lie propagated by modern evangelists and others with vested interests the 1st to 4th centuries were a hotbed of chaotic, competing sects, cults and mainstream religion, all terming themselves as some type of “Christian” or Messianic faith. Some of which were at least as popular as the established Roman faith, and some like Marcion and Simonians, temporarily overtaking them in popularity.

Even the Roman Church was beset by all the schisms within its self and wasn’t forcefully united (By pogroms and massacres) until the 5th century.