If we accept that there is no definitive authority as to which ideas are entirely right/true or wrong/false, in part because the divine mystery is not fully knowable and indeed shrouded in mystery and outright apparent paradox; and that most of the ideas were shared as good faith efforts to make sense of scripture that is at times unclear, multiple in its own meanings, and even self-contradictory; and that there is room for a wide range of possibilities within the limits of legitimate faith and understanding; then we have moved a good distance towards retiring any label of “heresy” in the early centuries of the Christian religion, and with it a good piece of the unbelievability and unjustifiable judgmentalism which it needs to shed to remain a viable font of belief and wisdom in the 21st century. We put instead on our table a question as to where our moral and intellectual senses place the outer boundaries of the faith, and which of these ideas lie closer to the periphery, which to the center. Read them with appreciation, because they offer solutions close to the origin of the faith; they are in no way threatening to us today; and they offer an ancient yet systematic richness that’s dramatically absent today.

How could we rate their value today? Reasonableness/viability vs inherent absurdity, solution to a knotty problem, roots in tradition OR usefulness of innovation …

We can ask, what were the problems they were trying to solve? Language of Father and Son; and of Holy Spirit; and of divinity and personhood of Jesus; of the idea of Logos; of the problem of accounting for evil in God’s Creation…


(italic=not considered heretical)

circa Diverse ideas about and interpretations of the gospel messages written by the early followers of Jesus/Christ: Where Proponents
The Gospel Writers 55-120 Gospels written proximate enough to the events of Jesus’ life in time (say, within two generations) and place to have some claim (if perhaps second-, third-, or fourth-hand) to witness and shared memory include Mark, Q, Matthew, Luke-Acts, John, Thomas, Mary, Philip, Judas, and others for which the text does not survive. They present accounts variously of life-events, parables, miracles, mysteries, language, and teachings of Jesus. Israel, Turkey, Syria
Paul 50 Jesus lives in heaven, Jesus is the Messiah and God’s Son, and he will soon return. Near East Paul
Adoptionist 50-190 Possibly the belief of the earliest followers of Jesus, Jesus was only a non-divine man; he was extremely virtuous; he was, at some point, “adopted” as the Son of God by the Spirit descending on him. (Also known as Psilanthropism and Dynamic Monarchianism.)
Antinomian 55 An early idea, associated with Gnostics, that Christians are freed from obligations of Jewish/Old Testament moral law, (though the term is more typically applied concerning perceived Protestant excesses – Anabaptists, eg) – addressed by Paul in his letter to the Romans (Romans 3:8).
Ebionite 70-135 An early Jewish group perhaps rooted in Jesus’s original followers in and around Jerusalem, that understood Jesus to be the Messiah but 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. Jerusalem James, the brother of Jesus
Naassene 100 Likely the earliest known Gnostic idea, which held 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). Palestine, Syria Mariamne, a disciple of James the Just
Gnostic 140 A large and very diverse dualistic movement that included many variations of systems claiming a hidden, true knowledge. A central idea is that people are divine souls (sparks) who are trapped in corrupted human bodies. How did this happen? Consider Marcionism.
Marcionist 144 While affirming Jesus as the savior, Marcion and followers 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. Sinope, northern Turkey Marcion
Valentinian 150 A dualistic understanding that the God of the Old Testament was a demiurge who created the imperfect material world and man. Human beings have a material nature and a spiritual nature. The work of redemption is accomplished by freeing the spiritual nature from the material nature. The only way to achieve true gnosis (knowledge) is by recognizing the Father as the source of divine power. An elaborate cosmology holds 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 (Wisdom), whose weakness, curiosity and passion caused her fall from Pleroma. (Emanation…) Rome Valentinus
Docetist 150  Jesus was a pure incorporeal spirit; his material body was an illusion. His crucifixion was an illusion since Jesus did not have a physical body. Asia Minor (Turkey)
Montanist 170 This view 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. (Compare Pentacostal and Charismatic movements) Asia Minor (Turkey) Montanus
Irenaeus 175 Gnosticism is not historical Christianity. If salvation is obtained through enlightenment and is only available to a chosen few, the historical Jesus is not important and the Bible isn’t a unified story of redemption. Lyon, France
Psilanthropist Jesus Christ was merely human: he either never became divine or he did not exist prior to his incarnation. Not a grouping per se, but a belief (held by all non-Christians) rejected by the Nicean council.
Monarchianist 190 A unitarian view that God is a single person as opposed to a Trinity of personages, which arose from attempts to preserve monotheism against the notion of tritheism.  Noetus, Praxeas, and Sabellius
Sabellianist 190 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. Rome (& Libya) Sabellius
Modalist 190 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’ ascension, in “the mode” of the Holy Spirit. The modes were never simultaneous, but successive.
Patripassian ist 200 The divine personages of Father and Son are one in the same person, and it was the Father who suffered on the cross as Jesus.
Clement of Alexandria 200 Opposed to gnostic ideas of secret esoteric knowledge, Clement saw Greek philosophy and Jewish scripture as legitimate precursor knowledge to the revealed truth of the Logos (word/Christ). Alexandria Clement
Demetrius 200 The Christian is saved by faith, not knowedge. Alexandria Demetrius
Manichaen 210 A dualistic idea that the material world is evil and the spirit world is good; that these polar opposites are involved in a struggle between the good, spiritual world of light and the bad, the material world of darkness. Mani
Sethian 220 The serpent (Satan) in the Garden of Eden was an agent of God, who helped bring knowledge of truth to humanity through the fall.
Ophite 220 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 common in Gnostic thought.
Origen 250 A neo-Platonist who believed that physical objects acted as symbols of spiritual reality and so contained a double meaning, Origen believed in the pre-existence of souls and that eventually everyone, including the Devil, would be saved. He described the Trinity as a hierarchy, not as an equality of Father, Son, and Spirit. Though he attacked Gnosticism, he rejected the goodness of the material creation. Alexandria Origen
Subordina tionist 318 The Son and the Holy Spirit are subordinate to the Father both in nature and being. (foreshadows Arius)
Tritheist 320 God is three entities, three separate gods having seprate domains and spheres of influence that somehow come together into one whole.
Arian 318 Rejects the divinity of Jesus and holds that Jesus was created by the Father and that the title “Son of God” was given to Jesus as an honor.
Circumcellion 325 A militant subset of Donatism willing to use violence to right 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.
Nicene 325 The deity and eternality of Jesus Christ is affirmed and the relationship between the Father and the Son is “of one substance.” The Trinity—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—are three co-equal and co-eternal Persons.
Apollinarist/ Apollinarianist 350 Jesus had a human body, a divine mind, but only a “lower” soul; humans propagate souls along with bodies.
Macedonian/ Pneumatomachian 360 While accepting the divinity of Jesus, the divinity of the Holy Spirit is denied, relegating the Holy Spirit as a substance created by the Son.
Eutychian 400 Christ’s humanity was absorbed by his divinity. Christ was of two natures but not in two natures so that Jesus was one with the divinity, but was not one with humanity. Eutychus
Nestorian 428 Jesus Christ was not more than a natural union (Flesh + Word), and therefore, not identical to the divine Son of God.
Pelagian 500 Original sin did not tain human nature, and man, apart from divine aid, is fully capable of choosing good over evil.
Coptic (70-) 451 Both God and man have roles in human salvation: God, through Christ’s atoning death and resurrection; man, through good works, which are the fruits of faith.
Orthodox 3 persons of Trinity share the same essence but remain distinct from each other. Goal is acquisition of the divine grace/divine energies of the Holy Spirit (theosis).
Post-Nicea Catholic/ Protestant Orthodoxy ? Jesus is God. Jesus’ death on the cross paid for the sins of mankind, giving us access to heaven and an eternal relationship with God. Jesus was resurrected. Salvation comes through Jesus Christ alone. There is but one God –  a “three-in-one God”.


Most descriptions adapted from www.godscholar.com/christian-heresies