Early Church History: Who Were the Two Major Groups Professed Christ in the Second and Third Centuries?

What Does Early Catholic Church History Reveal? Which Group Had the True Christian Faith? Have You Heard the Truth About the History of Christianity?

COGwriter

It seems clear that many in the 21st century do not realize that according to many claimed as early supporters of the Roman/Alexandrian churches, there were two groups, two types, of allegedly faithful Christians.

Essentially, there were the Christians that had ties to the apostles John and Philip in Asia Minor, and others associated with the Greco-Roman confederation that was mainly made up of the allegoristic churches that emerged in the second century in Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Rome.

This was the position of several in the second and third centuries, including many considered to be saints by the Catholics of Rome as well as the Eastern Orthodox such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Polycarp, Clement, Origen, and Serapion.

Various later historians also seemed to understand some of the truth on this matter. Do you?

Here is a summary for those mainly interested in just a few basic facts, starting with two biblical leaders:

Jesus taught that there would be a large group that would go the wrong way and a few that went the right way (Matthew 7:13-14), which He called "the little flock' (Luke 12:32).

The Apostle John said there were those who would accept his doctrines and other groups that would not (1 John 2:18-19; cf. 3 John 9-12). Those in the genuine Church of God have continued with the doctrines that he taught.

Cerinthus was a first century heretic who taught allegorizing of scripture, that non-biblical tradition was more important than scripture, blended Gnostic teachings with the Bible, claimed to be an apostle, and claimed that angels gave him messages. History records that he was condemned by the Apostle John.

Marcus (c. 135), the first non-Jewish Bishop of Jerusalem, told people that because of the edicts of the Roman Emperor Hadrian that they would not be allowed into Jerusalem unless they abandoned original Christian practices like the Sabbath. Those unwilling to change separated from those who did. Hence, there were two groups in Judea by the second century.

Justin (c. 135) taught that there were Christians in Asia Minor who had Jewish practices like the Holy Days and the Ten Commandments, but that he did not care to associate with them. Justin also seemed to accept the false "Gospel of Peter", which the true Christians never did. Hence there were two groups in Asia Minor in the second century--one under the direction of faithful leaders such as Bishop Polycarp and others who more were independent like Justin. Apparently, the true Christians in Asia Minor (who were apparently the majority at that time) did not care to associate with those like Justin either, so Justin went to Rome.

Bishop Polycarp (c. 156) taught that Passover was to be observed on the 14th of Nisan, while Bishop Anicetus of Rome accepted Sunday (which came to be known in English as Easter). Hence, there were two different, but significant, groups in the second century: one mainly affiliated with Rome and one mainly affiliated with Asia Minor.

Irenaeus wrote that there were two groups with differing dates for Passover, and that Polycarp's group was faithful.

Bishop Polycrates (c. 192) told Roman Bishop Victor that he and those in Asia Minor were not concerned about frightful words from Rome that differed from the Bible related to Passover and he kept the same practice as the apostles like John. Hence, those in Asia Minor made it clear in the latter portion of the second century that they were separate from Rome. Hence, there was the faithful mainly in Asia Minor and a confederation that was emerging between Rome, Alexandria, and the changed church in Jerusalem.

According to Tertullian ("the father of Latin theology", c. 200), there were two groups of who claimed Christ that claimed ties to the original apostles: those associated with Rome and those associated with Asia Minor (see also Location of the Early Church: Another Look at Ephesus, Smyrna, and Rome).

According to Clement of Alexandria (late second century) and Origen of Alexandria (early third century), there were two groups who claimed Christianity: the mystic/allegorical group (that they were part of) and the non-mystic/non-allegorical group. Rome supported the Alexandrians (and still somewhat supports them), while those in Asia Minor and Antioch did not accept them.

According to Justin, one group adopted a mystical Eucharist, that according to Tertullian was similar to practices associated with Mithraism. Something like this was condemned by Irenaeus in the later portion of the second century and was not the practice of the Asia Minor group.

According to Catholic accepted sources, Asia Minor leaders such as Bishop Thraseas of Eumenia (probably around A.D. 157), Bishop Apollonius of Ephesus (third century), and Bishop Apollinaris of Hierapolis (third century) denounced the Montanists, yet leaders in Rome and Egypt accepted the Montanists until some time in the third century.

According to Bishop Serapion of Antioch, there true Christians did not accept the falsely named "Gospel of Peter," but there were groups in Egypt who did. He also warned of a growing "lying confederacy."

According to the African Bishop Nepos, there were people in Alexandria/Egypt who accepted allegory over scripture (see also What is the Appropriate Form of Biblical Interpretation?), regarding the coming millennium, but he opposed their position.

Emperor Constantine decreed that those in Jerusalem who still would not eat biblically unclean animals should be killed. Hence, he acknowledged that there were still two groups in Judea in the 4th century--the faithful and his group.

Emperor Theodosius decreed that those who held to the original position of the apostles on Passover would be killed. Hence, there still were two professing groups with differing approaches and practices near the end of the fourth century.

Although all scholars recognize that early Christians would not kill others or participate in carnal warfare, later Roman bishops endorsed killing and other forms of persecution against those not part of their group.

Those who claimed ties to the original Nazarene Christians of the Bible and Jerusalem were long persecuted by Greco-Romans (see Persecutions by Church and State), but their "heresies", according to even some affiliated with Rome, were mainly to stick to original Christian practices while not accepting the decisions of Imperial and other Greco-Roman councils to change doctrine.

(Note: I used included the term "bishop" above to show that there were those in leadership positions in both groups--even though there were no bishops of Rome nor Alexandria until over 100 years after Jesus died: for proof see the articles What Do Roman Catholic Scholars Actually Teach About Early Church History? and Apostolic Succession.)

Is it not clear that there were two groups?

One group that kept to the original apostolic practices such as observance of the ten commandments, the Passover on the 14th, not condoning military participation, teaching the gospel of the kingdom, and relying on the correct canon of the Bible.

And another group, which emerged, that minimized the literal observance of the ten commandments, preferred allegory and mysticism, required a Sunday Passover, later killed those that would not accept its human council changes, but who it took centuries to accept the proper New Testament canon.

For documented details, please continue through the rest of this article.

Jerusalem Accepted Changes in the Second Century to Avoid Persecution

It was because of the threats of Imperial Roman persecution that in 135 A.D. there was a major split between the faithful and the unfaithful in Jerusalem.

The historian E. Gibbon states (bolding mine):

The first fifteen bishops of Jerusalem were all circumcised Jews; and the congregation over which they presided united the law of Moses with the doctrine of Christ. It was natural that the primitive tradition of a church which was founded only forty days after the death of Christ, and was governed almost as many years under the immediate inspection of his apostle, should be received as the standard of orthodoxy. The distant churches very frequently appealed to the authority of their venerable Parent, and relieved her distresses by a liberal contribution of alms...

The Nazarenes retired from the ruins of Jerusalem to the little town of Pella beyond the Jordan, where that ancient church languished above sixty years in solitude and obscurity. They still enjoyed the comfort of making frequent and devout visits to the Holy City, and the hope of being one day restored to those seats which both nature and religion taught them to love as well as to revere. But at length, under the reign of Hadrian, the desperate fanaticism of the Jews filled up the measure of their calamities; and the Romans, exasperated by their repeated rebellions, exercised the rights of victory with unusual rigour. The emperor founded, under the name of Alia Capitolina, a new city on Mount Sion, to which he gave the privileges of a colony; and denouncing the severest penalties against any of the Jewish people who should dare to approach its precincts, he fixed a vigilant garrison of a Roman cohort to enforce the execution of his orders. The Nazarenes had only one way left to escape the common proscription, and the force of truth was on this occasion assisted by the influence of temporal advantages.

They elected Marcus for their bishop, a prelate of the race of the Gentiles, and most probably a native either of Italy or of some of the Latin provinces. At his persuasion the most considerable part of the congregation renounced the Mosaic law, in the practice of which they had persevered above a century. By this sacrifice of their habits and prejudices they purchased a free admission into the colony of Hadrian...

When the name and honours of the church of Jerusalem had been restored to Mount Sion, the crimes of heresy and schism were imputed to the obscure remnant of the Nazarenes which refused to accompany their Latin bishop. They still preserved their former habitation of Pella, spread themselves into the villages adjacent to Damascus, and formed an inconsiderable church in the city of Bercea, or, as it is now called, of Aleppo, in Syria. The name of Nazarenes was deemed too honourable for those Christian Jews, and they soon received, from the supposed poverty of their understanding, as well as of their condition, the contemptuous epithet of Ebionites...The unfortunate Ebionites, rejected from one religion as apostates, and from the other as heretics, found themselves compelled to assume a more decided character; and although some traces of that obsolete sect may be discovered as late as the fourth century, they insensibly melted away either into the church or the synagogue...

It has been remarked with more ingenuity than truth that the virgin purity of the church was never violated by schism or heresy before the reign of Trajan or Hadrian, about one hundred years after the death of Christ (Gibbon E. Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume I, Chapter XV, Section I. ca. 1776-1788).

It should be noted that, because of this revolt, Emperor Hadrian outlawed many practices considered to be Jewish. The Christians in Judea had a decision to make. They either could continue to keep the Sabbath and the rest of God's law and flee or they could compromise and support a religious leader who would not keep the Sabbath, etc.

Sadly as E. Gibbon's reported, most, but not all, made the wrong choice in 135 A.D.

Jesus, of course, taught that the true church would be a "little flock" (Luke 12:32). The tendency for many to compromise clearly led to a separation between the Christian faithful and those who preferred a form of Christianity more acceptable to the Roman world. But the truly faithful Nazarenes did not compromise (for more on the Nazarenes, please see the article Nazarene Christianity: Were the Original Christians Nazarenes?).

Sadly, about this same time, it appears that some compromises were also getting started in Rome, which still was NOT lead by a single presiding bishop according to many respected Catholic scholars (for details see What Do Roman Catholic Scholars Actually Teach About Early Church History?). Also notice concerning that time that:

J.B. Lightfoot explains that Rome and Alexandria

adopted Easter-Sunday to avoid “even the semblance of Judaism...”

(Bacchiocchi S. God's Festivals in Scripture and History. Biblical Perspectives, Part 1, The Spring Festivals. Befriend Springs (MI), 1995, pp. 101,103)

Despite Hadrian's decrees, true Christians did later return to Jerusalem from time to time (and the few faithful in Rome kept Passover on the correct date for decades), but were eventually again driven out by Roman supporters--but they never ended up in the "list of bishops" (after 135 A.D.) that the Orthodox claimed were faithful leaders in Jerusalem.

Was the church supposed to compromise its beliefs and practices throughout history or be faithful to what the apostles originally received?

Justin Martyr Admitted That There Were Two Groups

The Apostle Paul told those in Ephesus:

This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk… (Ephesians 4:17). 

Yet certain ones did not heed this. 

While living in Ephesus, around 135 A.D., a philosopher trained in the ways of the Greeks, who professed Christ, named Justin recorded this accusation against himself:

But this is what we are most at a loss about: that you, professing to be pious, and supposing yourselves better than others, are not in any particular separated from them, and do not alter your mode of living from the nations in that you observe no festivals or sabbaths…(Justin.  Dialogue with Trypho. Chapter X. Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Excerpted from Volume 1 of The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, editors); © 1885. Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody (MA), 1999 printing, p. 199)  

While the Ephesians were told to live differently than the other Gentiles in whose nation they co-existed with, those with Justin could not be distinguished.   Thus, Ephesus, who Christ later commends (Revelation 2:1-3) and not Rome, who embraced Justin as a saint (Lebreton J.  Transcribed by Stephen William Shackelford.  St. Justin Martyr.  The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VIII. Copyright © 1910 by Robert Appleton Company, NY.  Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor.  Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York, pp. 580-585) would seem to have been the place where the early teachings of the true Church were being preserved. 

Although Justin ended up in Rome and became influential there, this discourse between the Jewish Trypho and Justin took place in Ephesus (Ibid)--a major city in ancient Asia Minor.

This discourse shows that there were two very different professing Christian groups in Ephesus as Justin specifically claimed his group did not observe the Sabbath or keep the Feasts:

For we too would observe the fleshly circumcision, and the Sabbaths, and in short all the feasts, if we did not know for what reason they were enjoined you,—namely, on account of your transgressions and the hardness of your hearts (Justin Martyr.  Dialogue with Trypho. Chapter XVIII, p. 203).

The Bible nowhere says that the Sabbaths and Feasts were given because of the hardness of the hearts of the descendants of Israel.

History shows that Passover was continually kept on the 14th and unleavened bread was still eaten annually by the Christians who were the followers of Polycarp and John in Ephesus for at least a century (Eusebius.  The History of the Church, Book V, Chapter XXIV, ,Verses 1-7, p. 114). Polycarp, who probably was the highest ranked and most esteemed faithful Christian leader in the world at that time, did keep the seventh-day Sabbath and the Holy Days (for more information, please see Polycarp of Smyrna: The Heretic Fighter).

Justin had many other problems. For example, even The Catholic Encyclopedia admits that Justin seemed to quote the false “Gospel of Peter”:

Justin…He seems to use the apocryphal Gospel of Peter…(Lebreton, p. 580-585)

This was also not the case for the faithful in Ephesus and Smyrna (there are no quotes, for example, of the Gospel of Peter in Polycarp's Letter to the Philippians).

Furthermore, here is a clear admission from Justin that there were two groups:

“…But if, Trypho”, I continued, “some of your race, who say they believe in this Christ, compel those Gentiles who believe in this Christ to live in all respects according to the law given by Moses, or choose not to associate so intimately with them, I in like manner do not approve of them…” (Justin.  Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter XLVII, p. 218)

Justin clearly admits that there were two groups in Ephesus, one that kept all the law and the other that did not. And since Justin is considered to be a saint by the Catholics and Orthodox (but not the genuine Church of God) and he admitted he was in the less law abiding group, which group would be proper?

Perhaps, it should be noted that Justin endorsed various practices that were associated with Mithraism. Here are three quotes from Justin’s writings:

For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water...And this washing is called illumination, because they who learn these things are illuminated in their understandings…

And this food is called among us Εύχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished...Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn…

Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly... (Justin.  First Apology, Chapters 61,66,67).

Lest anyone think that there are not Mithras connections, notice what the historian and scholar K. Latourette observed:

One of the earliest descriptions of the Eucharist, that by Justin Martyr, not far from the middle of the second century, recognizes the similarity to what was seen in one the mystery cults, Mithraism...it has been repeatedly asserted that in baptism and the Eucharist Christians borrowed from the mysteries and that Christianity was simply another one of these cults...The similarity is striking… baptized, which Justin calls "illumination" (Latourette KS. A History of Christianity, Volume 1: to A.D. 1500. HarperCollins, San Francisco, 1975, pp. 198,200).

So, one group kept to practices that many now associate with Judaism, while the other group adopted practices that the old followers of the Sun-god Mithra had. Which would be the faithful one to Christ?

Those who suspect that Justin might have been correct are strongly advised to study his writings, especially as shown in the article Justin Martyr: Saint, Heretic, or Apostate? It may be of interest to note that even though Greco-Romans still call him a saint, Justincondemned a belief that they later adopted.

The Foundation for Various Heresies Began in the First Century

In the first century, the Apostle Paul wrote:

7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work (2 Thessalonians 2:7)

The Bible shows that the Apostle Peter condemned Simon Magus:

19...Simon...20...Peter said to him, "Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! 21 You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. 22 Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity." (Acts 8:19,20-23)

Even those now considered to be early supporters of the Roman Catholic Church condemned Simon Magus and his followers for doctrines such as statues, revering a woman, the doctrine of the immortal soul, incantations, mysteries, mystic priests, claiming divine titles for leaders, accepting money for religious favors, preferring allegory and tradition over many aspects of scripture, having a leader who wanted to be thought of as God/Christ on earth, and divorcing themselves from Christian biblical practices considered to be Jewish. And it appears that Simon Magus directly influenced Rome. The religion of Mithraism also had some of these same practices and Rome was highly influenced by the follower of Mithras, Emperor Constantine. For documented details, please see Simon Magus, What Did He Teach?

In the first century, a heretic named Cerinthus arose and taught allegorizing of scripture, that non-biblical tradition was more important than scripture, blended Gnostic teachings with the Bible, claimed to be an apostle, and claimed that angels gave him messages. Irenaeus taught that John was very seriously opposed to the heretic Cerinthus:

There are also those who heard from him that John, the disciple of the Lord, going to bathe at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus within, rushed out of the bath-house without bathing, exclaiming, "Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within." (Irenaeus. Adversus Haeres. Book III, Chapter 3, Verse 4)

John, thus, really opposed Cerinthus and those who had teachings like him.

While the Church of Rome considers Cerinthus and Simon Magus heretics, they ended up with certain doctrines which were similar to what those leaders taught.

Irenaeus Admitted That There Were Two Groups, and Polycarp Was Faithful

In Asia Minor (where it is believed that the Apostles John and Philip died), the church grew and had characteristics that many consider to be "Jewish". Of course, since Jesus was a Jew (cf. John 4:9-10) as were most of the earliest followers of Christianity (Acts 2:5-41), it makes sense that His later followers would have some practices like the Jews.

Notice what the German historian W. Bauer in his wrote about the second century church in Asia Minor:

Asian Jewish Christianity received in turn the knowledge that henceforth the "church" would be open without hesitation to the Jewish influence mediated by Christians, coming not only from the apocalyptic traditions, but also from the synagogue with its practices concerning worship, which led to the appropriation of the Jewish passover observance. Even the observance of the sabbath by Christians appears to have found some favor in Asia...we find that in postapolstolic times, in the period of the formation of ecclesiastical structure, the Jewish Christians in these regions come into prominence. (Bauer W. Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, 2nd edition. Sigler Press Edition, Mifflintown (PA), 1996, pp.87-89).

Hence, the predominant church in Asia Minor had "Jewish" characteristics. And it knew the New Testament canon. Notice the following from the late Protestant scholar, James Moffatt:

Was not the Apostolic Canon of scripture first formed...in Asia Minor? Was not Asia Minor ahead of Rome in the formation of the Apostolic, Episcopal, ministry?...The real thinking upon vital Christianity for centuries was done outside the Roman Church (Excerpt of James Moffatt's review. In: Bauer, p.292).

The most prominent leader in Asia Minor for much of the second century was Polycarp of Smyrna who is believed to have been placed in his position by the Apostle John.

Irenaeus wrote that Polycarp was faithful to the teachings he had learned from the apostles:

But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna…always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time (Irenaeus. Adversus Haeres. Book III, Chapter 4, Verse 3 and Chapter 3, Verse 4).

Yet, Irenaeus somewhat admits that there were two groups (one headed by Polycarp, and the other headed by Anicetus) when he wrote the following:

And when the blessed Polycarp was sojourning in Rome in the time of Anicetus, although a slight controversy had arisen among them as to certain other points…For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp to forego the observance [in his own way], inasmuch as these things had been always observed by John the disciple of our Lord, and by other apostles with whom he had been conversant; nor, on the other hand, could Polycarp succeed in persuading Anicetus to keep [the observance in his way], for he maintained that he was bound to adhere to the usage of the presbyters who preceded him. And in this state of affairs they held fellowship with each other; and Anicetus conceded to Polycarp in the Church the celebration of the Eucharist, by way of showing him respect (Irenaeus. FRAGMENTS FROM THE LOST WRITINGS OF IRENAEUS. Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Excerpted from Volume I of The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, editors); American Edition copyright © 1885. Electronic version copyright © 1997 by New Advent, Inc).

Hence, there was one group that was faithful to the apostolic teachings and the Bible, but another who preferred some non-biblical tradition. And while Irenaeus seemed to pretend that both groups respected each other, it should be obvious that the group led by Polycarp did not have respect for the Roman group.

But were the churches in Asia Minor and Rome truly in peace after that?

The Catholic monk Epiphanius wrote,

For long ago, even from the earliest days, the Passover was celebrated at different times in the church…In the time of Polycarp and Victor, the east was at odds with the west and they would not accept letters of commendation from each other (Epiphanius. The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Books II and III (Sects 47-80), De Fide). Section VI, Verse 9,7. Translated by Frank Williams. EJ Brill, New York, 1994, p.411).

It appears likely that Polycarp, when he returned to Asia Minor, would have told the Christians there that he was successful in turning some away from heretics such as Marcion and Valentinus (something that he did on the same trip). He probably was so disgusted by his Roman experience that he let those in Asia Minor know that they should not receive doctrine or other instruction from any in Rome--he also specifically would not change Passover observance to Sunday. My comments here seem to be confirmed by Polycrates' writings a few decades later (see next section).

Hence, the split was becoming obvious between those groups around the middle of the second century.

Arab Sources Claim that Compromise for the Sake of Growth and Imperial Acceptance was the Reason

There is an old Arabic Islamic manuscript that reports about those considered to be Judeao-Christians. It was published in English in 1966 by Shlomo Pines as The Jewish Christians of the Early Centuries of Christianity according to a New Source. It was originally written by an Arabic Muslim around the tenth century named Abd al-Jabbar and called Tathbit Dala'il Nubuwwat Sayyidina Mahammad. One chapter of it is believed to be an Islamic interpretation of a lot of "Judeo-Christian" writings (some probably from true Nazarenes, others from Essenes, etc.).

Shlomo Pines translated much of the one chapter of it into English, that discussed Arabic Judeao-Christians (see Arabic Nazarenes May Have Kept Original Christian Practices) who seemed to have practices like other Nazarene Christians (Nazarene Christianity: Were the Original Christians Nazarenes?).

A Harvard journal indicates that the source document came may have originated from the fifth, sixth, or seventh century (Howard G. The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 81, No. 1 (Jan., 1988), pp. 117-120), while others have claimed that part of it could have originally came from the first century or first half of the second (Pines, p. 21).

Here is the translation of one section:

(71a) 'After him', his disciples (axhab) were with the Jews and the Children of Israel in the latter's synagogues and observed the prayers and the feasts of (the Jews) in the same place as the latter. (However) there was a disagreement between them and the Jews with regard to Christ.

The Romans (al-Rum) reigned over them. The Christians (used to) complain to the Romans about the Jews, showed them their own weakness and appealed to their pity. And the Romans did pity them. This (used) to happen frequendy. And the Romans said to the Christians: "Between us and the Jews there is a pact which (obliges us) not to change their religious laws (adyan). But if you would abandon their laws and separate yourselves from them, praying as we do (while facing) the East, eating (the things) we eat, and regarding as permissible that which we consider as such, we should help you and make you powerful, and the Jews would find no way (to harm you). On the contrary, you would be more powerful than they."

The Christians answered:"We will do this."

(And the Romans) said: "Go, fetch your companions, and bring your Book (kitab)." (The Christians) went to their companions, informed them of (what had taken place) between them and the Romans and said to them: "Bring the Gospel (al-injil), and stand up so that we should go to them."

But these (companions) said to them: "You have done ill. We are not permitted (to let) the Romans pollute the Gospel. In giving a favourable answer to the Romans, you have accordingly departed from the religion. We are (therefore) no longer permitted to associate with you; on the contrary, we are obliged to declare that there is nothing in common between us and you;" and they prevented their (taking possession of) the Gospel or gaining access to it. In consequence a violent quarrel (broke out) between (the two groups). Those (mentioned in the first place) went back to the Romans and said to them: "Help us against these companions of ours before (helping us) against the Jews, and take away from them on our behalf our Book (kitab)." Thereupon (the companions of whom they had spoken) fled the country. And the Romans wrote concerning them to their governors in the districts of Mosul and in the Jazirat al-'Arab. Accordingly, a search was made for them; some (qawm) were caught and burned, others (qawm) were killed." (Pines S. The Jewish Christians of the Early Centuries of Christianity according to a New Source. Proceedings of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Volume II, No.13; 1966. Jerusalem, pp. 14-15).

The above, if accurate, would seem to have taken place in the second century (130s A.D.).

It is interesting for a number of reasons. It shows that there were two group that professed Christ then. One called "Christians" above, and the other (the faithful ones) called "companions". The fact that the companions would no longer associate with the compromisers showed that in whatever area the above occurred in, there were definitely two groups.  One group that got the Romans to persecute and the other group that fled the persecution.  It is also interesting to note that the “companions” were the ones with all, or at least part, of the New Testament.

Polycrates Claimed Only One Group Was Truly Faithful to the Bible and Early Traditions

Towards the latter part of the second century, the Roman Bishop Victor wanted all who professed Christ to change Passover from the 14th of Nisan to Sunday. The bulk of those in Alexandria and Jerusalem seemed to agree with his position, though most of those in Asia Minor and Antioch did not.

The Catholic writer Eusebius recorded that Polycrates of Ephesus, around 195 A.D. wrote the following to the Roman Bishop Victor:

We observe the exact day; neither adding, nor taking away. For in Asia also great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again on the day of the Lord's coming, when he shall come with glory from heaven, and shall seek out all the saints. Among these are Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who fell asleep in Hierapolis; and his two aged virgin daughters, and another daughter, who lived in the Holy Spirit and now rests at Ephesus; and, moreover, John, who was both a witness and a teacher, who reclined upon the bosom of the Lord, and, being a priest, wore the sacerdotal plate. He fell asleep at Ephesus. And Polycarp in Smyrna, who was a bishop and martyr; and Thraseas, bishop and martyr from Eumenia, who fell asleep in Smyrna. Why need I mention the bishop and martyr Sagaris who fell asleep in Laodicea, or the blessed Papirius, or Melito, the Eunuch who lived altogether in the Holy Spirit, and who lies in Sardis, awaiting the episcopate from heaven, when he shall rise from the dead? All these observed the fourteenth day of the passover according to the Gospel, deviating in no respect, but following the rule of faith. And I also, Polycrates, the least of you all, do according to the tradition of my relatives, some of whom I have closely followed. For seven of my relatives were bishops; and I am the eighth. And my relatives always observed the day when the people put away the leaven. I, therefore, brethren, who have lived sixty-five years in the Lord, and have met with the brethren throughout the world, and have gone through every Holy Scripture, am not affrighted by terrifying words. For those greater than I have said ' We ought to obey God rather than man' (Eusebius. Church History, Book V, Chapter 24. Translated by Arthur Cushman McGiffert. Excerpted from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series Two, Volume 1. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. American Edition, 1890. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

Hence it is clear that throughout the second century, that Polycarp and the churches in Asia Minor continued to observe the Passover on the 14th of Nisan, unlike the Romans.

The tone of Polycrates' letter should make it clear that the faithful in Asia Minor did not consider that somehow Rome had authority over them. Those in Asia Minor preferred to live by the scriptures and those traditions passed on through the apostles to them that were in accordance with the scriptures (an article of related interest may include Tradition and Scripture: From the Bible and Church Writings).

Hence, there were two groups according to Polycrates.

Tertullian Admitted That There Were Two Groups

Notice that the idea of two different groups was essentially confirmed by Tertullian around 200 A.D.:

Anyhow the heresies are at best novelties, and have no continuity with the teaching of Christ. Perhaps some heretics may claim Apostolic antiquity: we reply: Let them publish the origins of their churches and unroll the catalogue of their bishops till now from the Apostles or from some bishop appointed by the Apostles, as the Smyrnaeans count from Polycarp and John, and the Romans from Clement and Peter; let heretics invent something to match this (Tertullian. Liber de praescriptione haereticorum. Circa 200 A.D. as cited in Chapman J. Transcribed by Lucy Tobin. Tertullian. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIV. Copyright © 1912 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Notice that Tertullian (who must have known some of the differences between the two groups) felt that only two groups could claim ties to the apostles. But according to admissions from more modern Catholic scholars, only Asia Minor had demonstrable true apostolic succession (for more details, please see What Do Roman Catholic Scholars Actually Teach About Early Church History?).

The Alexandrians Clement and Origen Taught That There Were Two Groups

What about Alexandria, Egypt?

It is known that at least two of the allegorists from Alexandria, Clement and Origen, recognized two groups:

Clement of Alexandria and Origen made it clear that by around the year 200 there were really two groups of Christian churches, that of the mystics and that of the non-mystics, a situation acknowledged overtly or tacitly throughout Christian history...the Eastern Church's theological recognition was indeed the goal of every Christian...almost all of its theologians were mystics (Fanning S. Mystics of the Christian Tradition. Routeldge, New York. 2001, reprinted 2006, pp. 219-220).

It should be added that it was the Alexandrian group, later joined by Rome, who adopted practices such as a mystical eucharist and other such practices that do not have their origins in the Bible.

But which would be most faithful?

Well, according to various writings of Clement and Origen, as well as various scholars, it would not have been the Alexandrian group.

Notice the following from The Catholic Encyclopedia tying Clement in with the heretic Marcus (note this is a different Marcus than the one in Jerusalem):

Clement of Alexandria, himself infected with Gnosticism, actually uses Marcus number system though without acknowledgement (Strom, VI, xvi) (Arendzen JP. Transcribed by Joseph P. Thomas. Marcus. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IX. Published 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York).

So, even Catholic scholars admit that Clement was infected with Gnosticism (a heresy that Catholics now condemn, e.g. see Gnosticism in the same edition of The Catholic Encyclopedia). Both Clement and Origen were instrumental in the ancient Alexandrian school--one that was both allegorical and heretical:

In the last ten years of the second century and in the third century the heretical school of theology at Alexandria, Egypt advanced the erroneous principle that the Bible should be interpreted in a nonliteral or allegorical sense.  In applying this to the Scriptures, they subverted all the major doctrines of faith...the Alexandrian school of theology is labeled by all theologians as heretical...(Walvoord, John F.  The Prophecy Handbook.  Victor Books, Wheaton (IL), 1990, pp. 9,15).

The Catholic Encyclopedia reports that Origen was criticized for his allegorical approach, yet the leader of Alexandria encouraged that:

Demetrius is the first Alexandrian bishop of whom anything is known...Demetrius encouraged Origen when blamed for his too literal execution of an allegorical counsel of our Lord, and is said to have shown him great favour...In 230 Demetrius gave Origen a recommendation to take with him on his journey to Athens (Chapman J. Transcribed by Gary Mros. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IV. Copyright © 1908 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Hence, some earlier leaders in Egypt preferred allegory to the Bible.

Furthermore, people like Origen accepted non-canonical books like the Gospel of Peter (Origen.  Commentary on Matthew, Book X, Verse 17.  In Roberts and Donaldson.  Online P. Kirby 2001).

So according to Clement and Origen , there were two groups. One that was not into mysticism and allegory, and the other (which was predominant in Alexandria) that was. It should be noted that the group out of Alexandria changed the gospel of the kingdom and that Rome eventually adopted that.

The faithful group never accepted the falsely titled "Gospel of Peter" (see also The New Testament Canon - From the Bible Itself) nor taught did it stop teaching gospel of the kingdom or millenarianism.

One Group Eventually Practiced a Mystical Eucharist, But the Other Did Not

Where did the mystical eucharist come from?

Irenaeus even condemned the Gnostic Marcus who had been acquainted with the Alexandrian Valentinus for coming up with some type of a "eucharistic -like" mystery. Notice:

1. But there is another among these heretics, Marcus by name, who boasts himself as having improved upon his master...

2. Pretending to consecrate cups mixed with wine, and protracting to great length the word of invocation, he contrives to give them a purple and reddish colour, so that Charis, who is one of those that are superior to all things, should be thought to drop her own blood into that cup through means of his invocation, and that thus those who are present should be led to rejoice to taste of that cup, in order that, by so doing, the Charis, who is set forth by this magician, may also flow into them. Again, handing mixed cups to the women, he bids them consecrate these in his presence (Irenaeus. Adversus haereses, Book I, Chapter 13).

Marcus’ eucharistic practices seem very similar to practices associated with Mithraism.

Here is what Tertullian of Carthage (in eastern Egypt) noted near the beginning of the third century:

By the devil, of course, to whom pertain those wiles which pervert the truth, and who, by the mystic rites of his idols, vies even with the essential portions of the sacraments of God…Mithra there, (in the kingdom of Satan,) sets his marks on the foreheads of his soldiers; celebrates also the oblation of bread, and introduces an image of a resurrection, and before a sword wreathes a crown…is it not clear to us that the devil imitated the well-known moroseness of the Jewish law? Since, therefore he has shown such emulation in his great aim of expressing, in the concerns of his idolatry, those very things of which consists the administration of Christ's sacraments, it follows, of course, that the same being, possessing still the same genius, both set his heart upon, and succeeded in, adapting to his profane and rival creed the very documents of divine things and of the Christian saints—his interpretation from their interpretations, his words from their words, his parables from their parables (Tertullian. The Prescription against Heretics, Chapter 40. Translated by Peter Holmes, D.D., F.R.A.S.).

Thus, in North Africa it was acknowledged that sacramental practices that the Greco-Roman alliance were adopting were similar to those of Mithraism.  And while Tertullian (and as did Justin, see Latourette KS. A History of Christianity, Volume 1: to A.D. 1500. HarperCollins, San Francisco, 1975, pp. 198,200) hints that the devil caused followers of Mithras to have some similar practices that his church had, it is most likely that these practices had been adopted by some who professed Christ that were influenced by followers of Mithras.

Perhaps it should be noted that the Roman Catholics accept that Mithraism had a eucharist ceremony, had “fathers” conducting services, and even seemed to have a papal equivalent called Peter.  The Catholic Encyclopedia states:

There were seven degrees of initiation into the mithraic mysteries…The fathers conducted the worship. The chief of the fathers, a sort of pope, who always lived at Rome, was called "Pater Patrum" or Pater Patratus."… A sacred meal was celebrated of bread and haoma juice for which in the West wine was substituted. This meal was supposed to give the participants super-natural virtue...Mithraism had a Eucharist, but the idea of a sacred banquet is as old as the human race and existed at all ages and amongst all peoples (Arendzen. J.P. Transcribed by John Looby. Mithraism. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume X. Published 1911. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Even though the connections to Mithraism appear to be brushed off above, the similarities to practices of the Greco-Orthodox are as clear as they are chilling.

On Mithraism, C.E. Olmstead wrote:

Mithraism took on the form of a mystery religion, with elaborate rights and ceremonies.  It came into the ancient Roman world about 75 B.C., and ranked as a principal competitor of Christianity for 200 years (Olmstead CE.  Mithras.  The World Book Encyclopedia, 50th edition, Volume 13, Chicago, 1966, p. 566).

Many practices associated with Mithras seemed to have found their way into the Greco-Roman churches (see also Do You Practice Mithraism?, Sunday and Christianity, and What Does the Catholic Church Teach About Christmas and the Holy Days?). But, while Justin (who moved to Rome) seems to have carried that mystical eucharist Alexandrian practice with him, there is no evidence that the faithful in Asia Minor (those who followed the Apostle John and his successors such as Polycarp through Polycrates) ever did.

Hence, the difference of the fact that the allegorists adopted a mystical eucharist was a difference between both groups by the end of the second century.

To drive the point home even clearer, here is a larger list of some doctrines that mainstream "Christian religions" share with Mithraism:

Birthdays
Christmas
Confirmation (within Catholicism mainly)
Dress of the clergy (mainly the Roman and Orthodox clergy)
Father being a name for the clergy (mainly the Roman and Orthodox clergy)
Heaven as a reward of the saved
Idols and icons
Immortality of the soul
Military service
Mystical Eucharist
Monks
Seven sacraments
Sunday
Trinitarianism

For more details about Mithraism, please study the article Do You Practice Mithraism?

The Asia Minor Based Group Condemned the Montanists, While Those of Rome and Egypt Accepted Them

According to Catholic accepted sources, Asia Minor leaders such as Bishop Thraseas of Eumenia (probably around A.D. 157), Bishop Apollonius of Ephesus (third century), and Bishop Apollinaris of Hierapolis (third century) denounced the Montanists, yet leaders in Rome and Egypt accepted the Montanists until some time in the third century.

Notice what The Catholic Encyclopedia admits:

… some thought Montanus to be possessed by an evil spirit, and a troubler of the people; they rebuked him and tried to stop his prophesying; the faithful of Asia assembled in many places, and examining the prophecies declared them profane, and condemned the heresy, so that the disciples were thrust out of the Church and its communion.

It is difficult to say how soon this excommunication took place in Asia. Probably from the beginning some bishops excluded the followers of Montanus, and this severity was growing common before the death of Montanus…

A second-century pope (more probably Eleutherius than Victor) was inclined to approve the new prophecies, according to Tertullian (Chapman, John. "Montanists." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 26 Jan. 2009 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10521a.htm>)

Hence, the early condemnation of the Montanists by the faithful leaders in Asia Minor, while they were accepted by Rome and Tertullian of Carthage, Egypt, is another area that shows differences between the two primary groups in the second century.

When Augustine and other Roman Catholics got to the British Isles, they were surprised to find Christians who kept Passover on the 14th instead of Sunday, and who did not have many of the practices that the Church of Rome had (see ). According to historian, they claimed that they came from Asia Minor:

And while the Church of Rome did recognize that there was "apostolic succession" in Asia Minor, they apparently did not realize that descendants of these people went to many other places.

Serapion of Antioch Understood That There Were Two Groups

What about Antioch?

Eusebius noted that Serapion, Bishop of Antioch, also opposed the Montanists:

This same Apollonius states in the same work that, at the time of his writing, it was the fortieth year since Montanus had begun his pretended prophecy...

Serapion, who, as report says, succeeded Maximinus at that time as bishop of the church of Antioch, mentions the works of Apolinarius against the above-mentioned heresy. And he alludes to him in a private letter to Caricus and Pontius, in which he himself exposes the same heresy, and adds the following words:

"That you may see that the doings of this lying band of the new prophecy, so called, are an abomination to all the brotherhood throughout the world, I have sent you writings of the most blessed Claudius Apolinarius, bishop of Hierapolis in Asia." In the same letter of Serapion the signatures of several bishops are found, one of whom subscribes himself as follows: "I, Aurelius Cyrenius, a witness, pray for your health." And another in this manner: "Aelius Publius Julius, bishop of Debeltum, a colony of Thrace. As God liveth in the heavens, the blessed Sotas in Anchialus desired to cast the demon out of Priscilla, but the hypocrites did not permit him" (Eusebius Book V, Chapters 18-19).

That ye may see also that the proceedings of this lying confederacy, to which is given the name of New Prophecy, is abominated among the whole brotherhood throughout the world, I have sent you letters of the most blessed Claudius Apollinarius, who was made bishop of Hierapolis in Asia. (Serapion. From the epistle to Caricus and Ponticus. The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325. Roberts & Donaldson).

Moreover, brethren, we, having discovered to what kind of heresy Marcion adhered, and seen how he contradicted himself, not understanding of what he was speaking, as you will gather from what has been written to you -for, having borrowed this said Gospel from those who were familiar with it from constant perusal, namely from the successors of those who were his leaders in the heresy, whom we call Docetae (for most of the opinions held by him are derived from their teaching), we were able to read it through; and while we found most of its contents to agree with the orthodox account of the Saviour, we found some things inconsistent with that, and these we have set down below for your inspection (Serapion of Antioch. Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. From the book concerning the Gospel of Peter--Eusebius Church History VI,12. Excerpted from Volume I of The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, editors; American Edition copyright © 1885. Copyright © 2001 Peter Kirby).

Notice that Serapion praised Apollinaris of Hierapolis--Apollinaris kept Passover on the 14th (see Apollinaris of Hierapolis). Hence, the group that Serapion was part of held the same practices as those of the faithful in Asia Minor. His statement about "the new prophecy" is a reference to the workings of Montanus. Marcion was probably the first heretic to write against Sabbath observance.

At this time, the Church of Rome and those in Alexandria had not yet denounced Montanus, but tended to support him--(Romne also tolerated Marcion for a long time). Thus, Serapion was seemingly warning against the rise of the Greco-Roman confederation that was forming. Notice that Serapion called them a "lying confederacy." Serapion is one of many to recognize that in the second/third centuries there were two groups that claimed Christianity--and while Montanus and Marcion were eventually denounced by those of that confederacy, they ended up accepting "Gregory the Wonderworker" and accepting more and more false doctrines.

According to The Catholic Encyclopedia, this “Gospel of St. Peter” was not written until “about 150" (Reid, George. "Canon of the New Testament." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. Nihil Obstat. November 1, 1908. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 26 Jan. 2009 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03274a.htm>.).

Serapion, however, was displeased when he accidentally went to speak to those in Egypt who were part of the other group--the fact that they accepted that false book was one of the differences. Notice what he wrote:

For we, brethren, receive both Peter and the rest of the apostles as Christ Himself. But those writings which are falsely inscribed with their name, we as experienced persons reject, knowing that no such writings have been handed down to us. When, indeed, I came to see you, I supposed that all were in accord with the orthodox faith (Serapion of Antioch. Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. From the book concerning the Gospel of Peter--Eusebius Church History VI,12. Excerpted from Volume I of The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, editors; American Edition copyright © 1885. Copyright © 2001 Peter Kirby).

Hence, there were two groups, the true orthodox faith that Serapion and those like him professed and practiced, and another group that accepted books like the "Gospel of Peter" (though some of the true faith apparently were also misled by that book).

(To read a brief summary of when the Greco-Roman confederation took over Antioch and Asia Minor, please see The History of Early Christianity page).

Nepos of Egypt Resisted the Allegorists on the Millennium

A nineteenth century anti-millennial scholar named Giovanni Battista Pagani went as far as to write the following about the second/third century Nepos and those who supported the millennium:

…all those  who teach a millennium framed according to Jewish ideas, saying that during the millennium, Mosaic law will be restored…These are called Judaical Millenarians, not as being Jews, but as having invented and upheld a millennium according to Jewish taste.  The principal authors of this error were Nepos, an African Bishop, against whom St. Dionysius wrote his two books on Promises; and Apollinaris, whom St. Epiphanius confound in his work against heresies (Pagani, Giovanni Battista. Published by Charles Dolman, 1855. Original from Oxford University. Digitized Aug 15, 2006, pp. 252-253).

It should be of interest to note that neither Nepos nor Apollinaris were Jews, but were condemned for having a religion that had “Jewish” beliefs.  And since Apollinaris is a Catholic saint (see article Apollinaris of Hierapolis), it should be clear that the respected and non-Jewish Christian leaders in the early third century clearly did hold to ideas that were condemned by the allegorists.

The following from Dionysius clearly shows that Nepos was still respected after he died (Nepos died prior to Dionysius’ mid-third century writing of the following) and really did not refute him from a biblical perspective:

But as they produce a certain composition by Nepos, on which they insist very strongly, as if it demonstrated incontestably that there will be a (temporal) reign of Christ upon the earth, I have to say, that in many other respects I accept the opinion of Nepos, and love him at once for his faith, and his laboriousness, and his patient study in the Scriptures, as also for his great efforts in psalmody, by which even now many of the brethren are delighted. I hold the man, too, in deep respect still more, inasmuch as he has gone to his rest before us. Nevertheless the truth is to be prized and reverenced above all things else. And while it is indeed proper to praise and approve ungrudgingly anything that is said aright, it is no less proper to examine and correct anything which may appear to have been written unsoundly. If he had been present then himself, and had been stating his opinions orally, it would have been sufficient to discuss the question together without the use of writing, and to endeavour to convince the opponents, and carry them along by interrogation and reply. But the work is published, and is, as it seems to some, of a very persuasive character; and there are unquestionably some teachers, who hold that the law and the prophets are of no importance, and who decline to follow the Gospels, and who depreciate the epistles of the apostles, and who have also made large promises  regarding the doctrine of this composition, as though it were some great and hidden mystery, and who, at the same time, do not allow that our simpler brethren have any sublime and elevated conceptions either of our Lord's appearing in His glory and His true divinity, or of our own resurrection from the dead, and of our being gathered together to Him, and assimilated to Him, but, on the contrary, endeavour to lead them to hope  for things which are trivial and corruptible, and only such as what we find at present in the kingdom of God. And since this is the case, it becomes necessary for us to discuss this subject with our brother Nepos just as if he were present (Dionysius of Alexandria. From the Two Books on the Promises. Copyright © 2008 by Kevin Knight. Viewed 8/14/08).

In other words, Nepos knew his Bible, but did not hold to the same position that allegorists like Dionysius of Alexandria held. 

But those who held to Judeo-Christian beliefs, while slightly chastised, simply were almost never condemned by the early allegorists.

Why?

Mainly, because the early allegorists knew that the original Christians held to beliefs and practices that the allegorists considered to be Jewish--and at this stage, the allegorists simply did not have the ability to condemn the literalists because most who professed Christ at the time knew that the literalists had ties to the original apostolic church.

But what is bizarre now, is that the Greco-Roman churches and their Protestant offspring seem to claim that Polycarp of Smyrna, Thraseas of Eumenia, Apollonius of Ephesus, Apollinaris of Hierapolis, Serapion of Antioch, and Nepos were indeed faithful early Christian leaders, yet, they do not have many of the same doctrines that they had. Polycarp of Smyrna, Thraseas of Eumenia, Apollonius of Ephesus, Apollinaris of Hierapolis, Serapion of Antioch, and Nepos taught the true gospel, the kingdom of God, millenarianism, and other doctrines that are opposed by the current Greco-Roman (including Protestant) churches.

Sometime after the third century, many of the faithful from Asia Minor dispersed all over. Some apparently ended up in the British Isles. Interestingly, the Celtic/Keltic churches, around 600 A.D. claimed to have been descended from the church of the Ephesians:

The Keltic Churches of Ireland, of Galloway, and of Iona were at one with the British Church. These claimed, like Southern Gaul and Spain, to have drawn their faith from the Apostolic See of Ephesus. Their liturgies, or such fragments as have come down to us, bear marks of belonging to the Oriental family of liturgies. (Dawson W. The Keltic Church and English Christianity. Transactions of the Royal Historical Society (New Series), 1884, p. 377 doi:10.2307/3677978 )

Emperor Constantine Ordered Those in One Group to Be Killed

There continued to be a separation of the two groups into the fourth century. But one group obtained major Imperial favor after a sun-worshiping Emperor claimed to have a vision and a dream:

In 312, the Roman Emperor Constantine I the Great was in Trier, Germany where he had an unexpected vision of a cross that appeared in the sky..Constantine’s soldiers, the majority of whom were pagans, placed the sacred image of the cross on their shields (Mangan C.M. In This Sign You Conquer, 10/15/03 Copyright © 2004 Catholic Online).

He {Constantine} said that about noon, when the day was already beginning to decline, he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens , above the sun, and bearing the inscription , Conquer by this...in his sleep the Christ of God appeared to him with the same sign which he had seen in the heavens , and commanded him to make a likeness of that sign which he had seen in the heavens , and to use it as a safeguard in all engagements with his enemies....At dawn of day he arose, and communicated the marvel to his friends: and then, calling together the workers in gold and precious stones, he sat in the midst of them, and described to them the figure of the sign he had seen, bidding them represent it in gold and precious stones...Now it was made in the following manner. A long spear, overlaid with gold, formed the figure of the cross by means of a transverse bar laid over it. On the top of the whole was fixed a wreath of gold and precious stones; and within this, the symbol of the Saviour's name, two letters indicating the name of Christ by means of its initial characters, the letter P being intersected by X in its centre...(Eusebius. The Life of Constantine, Chapters 28,30,31).

This type of cross is known as a labarum:

The Labarum (☧) was a vexillum (military standard) that displayed the first two Greek letters of the word "Christ" (Greek: ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ, or Χριστός) — Chi (χ) and Rho (ρ).It was first used by the Roman emperor Constantine I. (Labarum. Wikipedia, viewed 03/04/09).

There is also a Catholic writer who indicates that the image or perhaps mark of the beast may be something that resembles a cross:

Priest P. Huchedé (19th century): What this sign shall be time alone will reveal. Yet there are some {Catholic} commentators of the Holt Writ, who, according to a special revelation pretend to say that it shall be formed out of the Greek letters X and P, interlaced...which resembles the number of Christ. (Cornelius a Lapide in Epis. 2 to Thes.). No one can either buy or sell without that…(Huchedé, P.  Translated by JBD. History of Antichrist.  Imprimatur: Edward Charles Fabre, Bishop of Montreal.  English edition 1884, Reprint 1976.  TAN Books, Rockford (IL), p. 24).

If some type of cross is a symbol of the future Antichrist/Beast power as Priest P. Huchedé claims it will be (and it is in a book with an official imprimatur), perhaps those who come from faiths descended from Emperor Constantine should be concerned about their religion now--before it becomes even further removed from the original faith. The Bible indicates that the true Christians will NOT have the symbol/mark needed to buy or sell when the two beasts of Revelation 13 are in power, but only those that will follow those beasts will (Revelation 13:16-17).

Although all real scholars admit that the original Christians would not kill or intentionally participate in military service, after Emperor Constantine claimed to see a spear in the sky with a traverse bar (see Constantine is Why “Christians” War), the group that accepted his authority then allowed him to convene what is known as the Council of Nicea in 325. A.D.

Yet, at that Council (according to historians, including Catholic ones), the true original Nazarene Christians did NOT attend--thus there was what amounted to be an Imperial separation between the two groups in the fourth century.

It may be helpful to realize that Emperor Constantine himself had been a follower of Mithraism as many Roman Emperors were. No wonder the Nazarene Christians were not part of his Council.

Seven-years after his Council of Nicea, Emperor Constantine decided to issue his famous "Edict Against Heretics" which resulted in the persecution of those who professed Christ who were not part of his group.

And sometimes the persecution included death. Notice that Constantine ordered faithful Christians in Jerusalem killed if they would not violate biblical dietary guidelines (see also The New Testament Church and Unclean Meats):

That there existed strife between the different branches of the faithful can easily be gathered from the expression of the anonymous pilgrim of Bordeaux in 333, who says that the three basilicas were erected by the gentile Christians “at the command of Constantine”, that is by force, and from the late account of Eutychius (PG 111,1012-1013) that, just at this time, the faithful while they were leaving the church on Easter day, were forced to eat pork under the pain of death.  We know how the Judaeo-Christians refused this in order not to transgress the Mosaic law to which they held there were bound. (Bagatti, Bellarmino.  Translated by Eugene Hoade.  The Church from the Circumcision. Nihil obstat: Marcus Adinolfi, 13 Maii 1970. Imprimi potest: Herminius Roncari, 14 Junii 1970. Imprimatur: +Albertus Gori, die 26 Junii 1970.  Franciscan Printing Press, Jerusalem, 1971, pp. 13-14 )

Note: There was NO Easter day observed by the true Christians.  Easter is an Anglicized mistranslation of the Greek term for Passover. True Christians observed just Passover, the Sabbath, and the days of unleavened bread that time of the year.  That being said, ordering Christians to be killed if they would not eat biblically-unclean meat is NOT Christian, but is terrible persecution!

There were two groups who professed Christ, the faithful group that was persecuted and the other group that supported the persecution (see also Persecutions by Church and State).

Emperor Theodosius Ordered Those in One Group to Be Killed

Constantine was not the only Roman emperor to endorse one group, while killing those in the other. Emperor Theodosius supported the same group, while also killing those with beliefs that the Apostles John and Philip and their faithful followers in Asia Minor and Antioch practiced:

Edicts of Theodosius against the heretics, A.D. 380-394...Theodosius...decreed that...by the death of the offender; and the same capital punishment was inflicted on the Audians, or Quartodecimans, who should dare to perpetrate the atrocious crime of celebrating on an improper day the festival (Gibbon E. Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume III, Chapter XXVII. ca. 1776-1788).

Is killing those that followed the example of Jesus and John to observe the Passover on the 14th instead of Sunday a sign of a true Christian leader or a sign of a supporter of antichrist?

A former Catholic priest reported:

Whereas up to the year 175 there was not a single Christian soldier, in 416, by an edict of Theodosius, only Christians were allowed to enlist (De Rosa, Peter. Vicars of Christ. Poolberg Press, Dublin, 2000, p. 156).

So, of the two original groups, one included Roman emperors who killed, and the other was subject to being killed for holding to the original beliefs.

But they were not all killed. Around 404 A.D. the Catholic Jerome noted,  

…there exists a sect among… the synagogues of the East, which is called the sect of the Minei, and is even now condemned by the Pharisees. The adherents to this sect are known commonly as Nazarenes; they believe in Christ the Son of God, born of, the Virgin Mary; and they say that He who suffered under Pontius Pilate and rose again, is the same as the one in whom we believe…a most pestilential heresy (Jerome.  Letter 112 to Augustine ).

Notice that instead of embracing them, Jerome calls the other group "a most pestilential heresy". This is apparently because Jerome was familiar with early church writings and must of realized that despite Imperial efforts, the group sometimes known as the Nazarenes continued throughout history.

In the later centuries, the violent trend by the anti-Nazarene group continued.

The Catholic Encyclopedia teaches for instance,

Leo V, though an Iconoclast, tried to refute the accusation that he was a Paulician by persecuting them furiously. A great number of them at this time rebelled and fled to the Saracens. Sergius was killed in 835. Theodora, regent for her son Michael III, continued the persecution...Meanwhile other Paulicians, heretics but not rebels, lived in groups throughout the empire (Fortesque A. Transcribed by Richard L. George. Paulicians. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XI. Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

It should be noted that the reason that some of the Paulicians did not fight back was because some of them were in the true Church of God (please see the article The Churches of Revelation 2 & 3).

Notice some of what The Catholic Encyclopedia stated about the Paulicians:

Since Gibbon the Paulicians have often been described as a survival of early and pure Christianity, godly folk who clung to the Gospel, rejecting later superstitions, who were grossly calumniated by their opponents...

The emperor Alexius Comnenus is credited with having put an end to the heresy. During a residence at Philippopolis, he argued with them and converted all, or nearly all, back to the Church (so his daughter: "Alexias", XV, 9). From this time the Paulicians practically disappear from history. But they left traces of their heresy. In Bulgaria the Bogomile sect, which lasted through the Middle Ages and spread to the West in the form of Cathari, Albigenses, and other Manichaean heresies, is a continuation of Paulicianism. In Armenia, too, similar sects, derived from them, continue till our own time (Fortescue, Adrian. "Paulicians." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 26 Jan. 2009 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11583b.htm>).

Hence, it has long been known that there have been those with ties to the original faithful group that did not participate in carnal warfare or adopt the changes that those with ties to the Greco-Roman churches have, and that there have been traces of this church throughout the ages.

And although the Protestant Reformers of the 16th century did not adopt ALL the false doctrines of the Greco-Roman group, they claim to have come from that group and even today condemn those of the other group, including their spiritual descendants like the Continuing Church of God. The reality is that Protestantism, as such, was not a significant early group, but instead is an offshoot of the Greco-Roman group. But it is the Church of God, not the Greco-Roman groupl, that was the faithful one.

Some Catholic Admissions About the Councils and The Two Groups

The first "Church Council" convened for the Greco-Romans was convened by Emperor Constantine in 325 A.D., who although not baptized, at one point declared himself a bishop (an interesting form of "apostolic succession" as it was Constantine and not the Bishop of Rome who convened the council and got the other attendees to go along with his preferences) .

The Catholic Encyclopedia notes:

When Constantine had taken upon himself the office of lay bishop, episcopus externus, and put the secular arm at the service of the Church, the laws against heretics became more and more rigorous. Under the purely ecclesiastical discipline no temporal punishment could be inflicted on the obstinate heretic, except the damage which might arise to his personal dignity through being deprived of all intercourse with his former brethren. But under the Christian emperors rigorous measures were enforced against the goods and persons of heretics. (Wilhelm J. Transcribed by Mary Ann Grelinger. Heresy. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VII. Published 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York)

But how can one be a Christian and a persecutor?

Apparently by being in the Greco-Roman group as the other group never accepted this heresy.

Would the real heretics be the ones who did not adopt militaristic behaviors or the group that did?

Here is some of what the Catholic historian Epiphanius wrote in the mid-4th Century:

...the emperor...convened a council of 318 bishops...in the city of Nicea...They passed certain ecclesiastical canons at the council besides, and at the same time decreed in regard to the Passover that there must be one unanimous concord on the celebration of God's holy and supremely excellent day. For it was variously observed by people (Epiphanius. The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Books II and III (Sects 47-80), De Fide). Section VI, Verse 9,7. Translated by Frank Williams. EJ Brill, New York, 1994, pp. 471-472).

But did that council include representatives of both groups?

No, at least not according to the Catholic priest and scholar Bellarmino Bagatti:

The importance of the matters to be discussed and the great division that existed had led Constantine to bring together a big number of bishops, including confessors of the faith, in order to give the impression that the whole of Christendom was represented.

In fact…the churches of Jewish stock had had no representation…From this we can conclude that no Judaeo-Christian bishop participated in the Council.  Either they were not invited or they declined to attend.  And so the capitulars had a free hand to establish norms for certain practices without meeting opposition or hearing other view points.  Once the road was open future Councils would continue on these lines, thus deepening the breach between the Christians of two-stocks.  The point of view of the Judaeo-Christians, devoid of Greek philosophical formation, was that of keeping steadfast to the Testimonia, and therefore not to admit any word foreign to the Bible, including Homoousion (Bagatti, Bellarmino.  Translated by Eugene Hoade.  The Church from the Circumcision. Nihil obstat: Marcus Adinolfi, 13 Maii 1970. Imprimi potest: Herminius Roncari, 14 Junii 1970. Imprimatur: +Albertus Gori, die 26 Junii 1970.  Franciscan Printing Press, Jerusalem, 1971, pp. 47-48).

So, while the original Christians still existed, they were not part of the Emperor's council.

Notice an interesting, but highly important, observation by the Catholic priest Bagatti:

In conclusion, regarding the Nazarenes, both St. Epiphanius and St. Jerome have nothing to condemn them for except the observance of customs forbidden by the Councils (Bagatti, The Church from the Circumcision, p. 35)

And that is a major difference between the true Church of God and the Greco-Romans and their Protestant offspring.  The Greco-Romans accept some of the Councils as authoritative, but are selective as some contradict others. We in the true Church of God never have accepted any of the Greco-Roman councils as divinely authoritative and basically have often been condemned as part of a cult because we have not accepted the human devised doctrines that came out of most of those councils. 

On the other hand, the Orthodox define themselves by seven of these councils so much that they sometimes call themselves “the Church of the Seven Councils”.  They teach that it is the seven councils which the Orthodox Church takes as its standard and guide (Ware T. The Orthodox Church. Penguin Books, London, 1997, pp. 19,35).

Hence, there have long been two groups. One that eventually had church councils initially established by a self-ordained, non-baptised emperor (and those in that group accepted the decisions of most of the councils from then on) and the other that never did.

The Continuing Church of God Teaches That There Were Two Groups

The Continuing Church of God traces its history from the Apostles Peter, Paul, James, John and others through leaders such as Polycarp and Polycrates and others sometimes called Nazarenes.

The genuine Church of God essentially teaches that there was a true faithful church that has existed through the ages that kept the same doctrines as the Bible teaches and the original apostles practiced.

It also teaches that God has a plan of salvation wherein God will ultimately offer salvation to all that ever lived. A concept fully supported by the Bible. For more details, please see Universal Offer of Salvation: There Are Hundreds of Verses in the Bible Supporting the Doctrine of True Apocatastasis.

The Continuing Church of God additionally teaches that at the time of the end, there will be a clashes between the faithful church and the one that has compromised with biblical principles throughout the ages. And that while the compromising group with claims to the second century will temporarily appear to win, that ultimately, Jesus will return and establish His kingdom, His way of life that the other, the true original church, has been advocating through all the centuries since He ascended into heaven c. 31 A.D.

Concluding Comments on the Two Churches

In conclusion, there were two major groups that professed Christ in the second/third centuries.

One group included claimed Greco-Roman (Orthodox and Roman Catholic) saints, such as Polycarp of Smyrna, Thraseas of Eumenia, Apollonius of Ephesus, and Apollinaris of Hierapolis, Serapion of Antioch, and Nepos. Those in this group claimed such doctrines/practices such as Passover on the 14th, the avoidance of unclean meats, the Sabbath, the millennium, the correct New Testament canon, avoidance of military participation, and the belief in the scriptures. They understood and promoted the full gospel.

The other group included many who killed and ordered persecutions. This group included those who blended Gnostic thought, allegory, Mithraism, and a disregard for certain biblical prophecies with their version of "Christianity." They tended to endorse a different gospel.

Both groups existed in the second and third centuries. In the second century, the first group was apparently the largest until after compromise and persecutions, the second group gained predominance (see The History of Early Christianity page).

Both groups (with their numerous parts) have existed throughout the ages.

Both groups exist today.

Jesus Himself taught that there would be two groups:

13 "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)

So, the majority, according to Jesus, would end up in the wrong group and only a relative few to the actual Christian group.

It is the genuine Church of God, as represented by the Continuing Church of God, that claims ties to the Apostle John and a long list of original doctrines, including as those listed here (and others, please see The History of Early Christianity page).

Most other groups claiming to be Christian, directly or indirectly claim to have ties to the allegorist group (and accepted many, though not all, of the decisions of their councils prior to 700 A.D.), or basically wish to act like they are somehow faithful even though they did not come from either of the two churches that this article discusses.

Since Jesus made it clear that His faithful church would be a "little flock" (Luke 12:32) that could never die out (Matthew 16:18), only a small group that came from the original group could be the true church today. That church today is best represented by the Continuing Church of God.

A pdf booklet of additional interest may be: Continuing History of the Church of God.

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Thiel B. Ph.D. Early Church History: Who Were the Two Major Groups Professed Christ in the Second and Third Centuries? www.cogwriter.com/early-church-history.htm (c) 2009/2011/2012/2013/2014 0321