This post is a companion to the Heretics podcast found on the Podcast tab at the top of this page; and a continuation in our series of looks at the ancient heresies of the church and a refutation of them using good theology and hermeneutics.
This is going to be a difficult one; not because of the lack of info, but because of the overwhelming amount of info and the difficulty of understanding it. Remember, the goal is not to give you an exhaustive look at the heresies and heretics we cover here; rather it is to give you a framework for understanding and researching these things, while giving you a tool box with which you can go about the task of refuting them Biblically. Therefore our goal today is to not get lost in the weeds of the details of this theology, but understand enough of it so we can see the faulty foundations upon which it is built and destroy them.
So with that said, Valentinus. He was born in Paralia, Egypt sometime around 100 A.D., and he died in Rome in either 160 or 161 A.D.; but boy-howdy, did he stir up a hornets nest in between. Valentinus began teaching in Alexandria but ultimately traveled to and arrived in Rome sometime around 136, which means he would have been a contemporary heretic to Marcion. There is no evidence of collaboration between the two, but it does go to show the importance of population centers even in the 2nd century and their potential influence upon a culture and the church.
Valentinus was apparently in the running for the Bishopric of Rome, but never ascended to that office and settled for being one of the most successful heretics of the 2nd century. He claimed he had received his authority and teaching from a man named Theudas, who it was claimed was a disciple of Paul. The only Theudas mentioned in Scripture, in Acts 5:36, was dead by the year 46, so there is no Biblical confirmation of the Apostolic claim. The reason for its importance stems from the claim to possess a secret knowledge (Gnosis) passed through the Apostolic line; secrets hinted at in Scripture in places such as: Romans 16:25 (where Paul mentions Christ being the revelation of the mystery), 1 Corinthians 2:7 (where God’s wisdom is spoken in mystery), and 2 Corinthians 12:2 – 4 (which is simply Paul’s revelation of heaven). You should already be seeing a thread here in how the Bible is used by this man/group.
The reason we designate Valentinus and his followers as heretics is due to the teaching they sought to spread within Christianity. And make no mistake; their goal was to use Christianity as a means of spreading and popularizing their philosophical bent in order to build a follower base. At its core, Valentinianism is a Gnostic teaching that attempts to syncretize, which is harmonize, the Platonic understanding of existence (cosmology) with the Biblical revelation. What could possibly go wrong?
To that end, the cosmology (study of the origins of the universe) of Valentinus was not just sub-Biblical; it was anti-Biblical in its very nature. There exists within this system the: Pleroma, Demiurge, Aeons, Sophia, Christ, Savior, “God”, and other metaphysical entities and ideas; all rebaptized with Biblical names, ideas, and backing. This borrowing and redefining made Valentinianism very hard to “nail down” and almost impossible to refute without at least a working knowledge of Greek philosophy and cosmology.
You see why I call him successful; this is the New Age game played 1800 years ago. Steal the Christian terminology, but redefine it in such a way that it loses all Biblical meaning and function. Once you’ve done this, you are free to reinterpret every avenue and aspect of Christianity through Scripture. That is the key: Valentinus, and modern day New Agers, seek to operate, not in opposition, but in concert with the Bible; on their own terms.
That modified cosmology then bleeds forth into every Christian doctrine and concept. Soteriology becomes corrupted because it now requires the secret knowledge, or gnosis), of the group in order to make sense of the Biblical terminology. Salvation is now about releasing “light”, and unity to the One, and the marriage of the Savior with Sofia in order to right what was wrong and imperfect about the creation.
Likewise, the Christology of the system becomes corrupted, as you can imagine from the above soteriology. Owing to the truly polytheistic nature of the Gnostic idea, Jesus is identified as “the Christ” who almost saved the creation from Fall, but now through the act of his sacrifice and marriage to Wisdom; will redeem the world from Chaos and the evil Demiurge who created wrongly. You can begin to see the reimagining of Biblical terminology, applied to an anti-Biblical theology/philosophy.
Which is why none of this makes any sense Biblically; which, when you get right down to it, is kind of the point of the system. As we discussed in our cursory look at Gnosticism, in order to understand this you need to have yourself a guru. You need someone to explain this to you; just as Theudas explained it to Valentinus, because you cannot get these ideas if you start and end with the revelation of God as given in Scripture.
For these reasons, and many others; Valentinus and his followers were rightfully called heterodox and heretics. Irenaeus did a fantastic job (Against Heresies, Book I, chapter 1) of describing both the Platonic system at work; as well as the Valentinian stealing of Biblical language. I call his job fantastic, because his descriptions were vindicated by the discovery of the “Gospel of Truth” in the Nag Hammadi library. Irenaeus is so thorough, that he even catalogues the internal inconsistencies of Valentinus in chapter 11 of Against Heresies.
Likewise, our boy Hippolytus (Refutation of All Heresies, Book 6); systematically reviews and refutes this heretical movement. He points out the syncretistic nature of the philosophy in the Introduction. He joins Valentinus to the teaching of Simon Magus in chapter 15, and confirms the heresy as coming from Plato and Pythagoras in chapters 16 and 24. And finally, he refutes the teachings of Valentinus from chapter 25 to 32.
This one is obviously easy to condemn. In Valentinian Gnosticism, we have a dualistic system that revels in syncretism; that is above all NOT Christian. The question we have to now answer is; how do we refute it?
You may be thinking: this one is easy to deal with; and if we were operating from the same dictionary you would be right. This is why Valentinus was so good, and so successful, he bypassed the first line of defense and therefore undermined the majority of the defenses laid afterwards. Realistically, you can’t deny the Trinity, when you’ve redefined the idea of God, Christ, and Spirit in such a way as to render the idea of Trinity absurd on its face. Similarly, you cannot be easily accused of denying: by grace, through faith, in Christ salvation; when your starting point redefines: sin, suffering, creation, the Fall, and salvation. We need to fight back to the core of the problem with this group.
We want to take our cue from both Irenaeus and Hippolytus, and attack; not the teaching of the Valentinians, but their source material itself. We looked last week in our glimpse of Marcion at the standard that Scripture is. We saw that the Canon (rule) of the Bible was what was used to refute Marcion and his “abbreviated” New Testament. The source of this fight however is not centered upon the text, but rather what we do with it.
Many years ago the Southern Baptist Convention engaged in what has been termed, depending on what side you were on: The Battle for the Bible. Faithful men went to “war” over the inerrancy of Scripture; and for the most part, they won. If you wish to find a Bible believing church; you for the most part know which ones are and are not. The problem that came from that war was not the holding up of the Bible as inerrant, but the lack of holding the Bible up as sufficient.
Perhaps the most ignored and hidden doctrine of the modern Evangelical church is the understanding of the sufficiency of Scripture. That is why Lou and I did an entire podcast episode on the doctrine, not that I’m plugging it or anythingJ; and why it is one of our cardinal doctrines for the Practical Theology 101 segment of our Journal (discussed in the May issue). We must practically view the Bible as sufficient if we are to have any success against a syncretizing system.
The Bible comes from God; this is obvious in Scripture and summarized well by Peter in, 2 Peter 1:16 – 18. In his day, Peter had no doubt of the origination of the Old Testament was with God; neither did the majority of early believers. In his second epistle he is making an argument for the Apostolic teaching as coming from God through Christ; hence his summary of the security of prophecy in 2 Peter 1:19 – 21, and his pointing to revelation (read Apostolically sourced writing) as the standard; on par with the revelation of God contained in the Old Testament.
Jesus pointed to the witness of Scripture in John 5, Paul taught the sufficiency of the Bible in 2 Timothy 3, John harkened back to the Incarnation as the cardinal impetus for the New Testament in 1 John 4. The entirety of the New Testament testimony is a testimony to the sufficiency of the Apostolic teaching for: faith, righteousness, and life in general. There was no other starting point than Scripture. There was no other lens for viewing the world than Scripture. There was no other written teaching which would objectively testify to Christ than Scripture.
So our question then is, why does God speak? We know that God does not speak, simply to hear His own voice as Isaiah 55:11 makes clear. He speaks, because He expects us to listen to what He has said ala Psalm 1:1 – 3 and Joshua 1:8. So then, what is the purpose of the revelation of God and the mission that His “word” is to accomplish? Hebrews 4:12 – 13 reminds those knowledgeable of the Old Testament of the words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 12:13 – 14; in pointing us to our future dealing with God. Judgment abides upon sin, and that means judgment abides upon sinners. The primary function of Scripture is to redeem God’s people from judgment and deliver them into His eternal Kingdom. Therefore the primary function of Scripture is to point us to faith in Christ, the only One who could accomplish this, as Galatians 3:23 – 24 makes so clear.
This is our refutation of Valentinus, not a slog through the particular vapid insights of the Platonic system; but a rejection of them cold cloth; because we have the better thing right in front of us. We have the Word, living and active; dividing our hearts and separating the sin, in order to show us the path forward. You cannot win the argument with the world’s systems if the argument is had within their false system. Instead we must engage at the core; the responsibility of every person before God, and the need of every person before God to deal with Christ. And we have this engagement on God’s terms according to how He has made His world; with an out of hand rejection of any system that starts somewhere other than God and His word.