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JONATHAN K. DODSON
& BRAD WATSON
to Know the Heretics, the second book in the
KNOW series by Justin S. Holcomb. This guide is designed to be used in
addition to the author questions at the end of each chapter to facilitate
discussion and learning around the content of the book. Because the
chapters are arranged in a repetitive manner—historical background,
heretical teaching, orthodox response, and contemporary relevance—
this guide will follow along according to the established pattern.
1. What was the primary focus of the questions that faced early church leaders? Why do
you think it is important to have biblical answers to those questions?
2. How would you define “orthodoxy” and “heresy”?
3. If one is not a heretic for asking hard and legitimate questions about God and Jesus,
what makes one a heretic?
4. What Scriptures suggest or point toward heretical teachings in the New Testament
5. The early church leaders appealed to “the rule of faith” as they encountered false
teachings. What was “the rule of faith”?
6. What were some of the early creedal formulations?
7. What were some of the expressions of “the corruption of right doctrine” that the early
church leaders defined (pp 15-16)?
8. In the Roman Catholic and Reformed traditions, what are the three “zones” between
orthodoxy and heretical teachings?
9. Why is it not right to call anyone who might disagree with your views on biblical
subjects a heretic? Do you know of any “heresy hunters” in the contemporary church?
10. What are the “two major reasons” we should pay attention to and learn from history
about orthodoxy and heresy?
11. Why did C. S. Lewis call ignorance of our (religious) past “chronological snobbery”?
12. What was Justin Holcomb’s main reason for writing Know the Heretics?
CHAPTER 1 JUDAIZERS
THE OLD RULES STILL APPLY
Read and discuss the author questions on pages 31-32.
1. What sparked the controversy with the “Judaizers”?
2. What was the heretical teaching of the Judaizers? Why was it considered heretical or
3. What were the three main biblical episodes mentioned by the author?
a. What was the complaint of the “circumcision party” with Peter in Acts 11?
b. What was at stake at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15)?
c. According to Paul, in Galatians 2, why did he so aggressively rebuke Peter?
1. What experience in Cornelius’ house caused Peter to believe that there was no longer
any distinction, in God’s eyes, between Jews and Gentiles regarding salvation?
2. Numerous verses from Paul and the writer of Hebrews are cited to show
the sufficiency of Christ alone in salvation (and not Jewish law-keeping). What were
the two main emphases of Paul’s teaching (pp 28-29)?
1. Why can religious goodness (good works) be a detriment to true salvation? What
major sin can good works produce?
2. How would you answer this question: How are our good works related to our
CHAPTER 2 GNOSTICS
GOD HIDES MESSAGES FOR THE ENLIGHTENED
Read and discuss the author questions on page 43.
1. How does Justin Holcomb define/describe Gnosticism?
2. What are some hints of early Gnosticism in the New Testament?
3. What recent archeological discovery has helped scholars understand Gnosticism better?
1. How did Birger Pearson’s list of categories of Gnostic teaching (p 35) help you to
begin to understand this early heresy?
2. How would you summarize Gnostic teaching about God and Jesus Christ?
3. Based on the Greek word that gives it its name, what was Gnosticism’s pathway to salvation?
4. Inherent in Gnosticism is a belief in dualism—matter is evil and spirit is good. How
would dualism influence Gnostic beliefs about Jesus Christ?
5. How did Gnostic beliefs shape two different visions of human ethics? Are there
contemporary expressions of those ethical views?
1. How did Paul battle Gnosticism in Corinth and Colossae?
2. Why did the early church emphasize the importance of the Old Testament?
1. What are some contemporary expressions of Gnosticism in popular literature?
CHAPTER 3 MARCION
VENGEFUL YAHWEH VERSUS GENTLE JESUS
Read and discuss the author questions on page 53.
1. Credo influenced Marcion toward dualism. To what did Marcion apply a dualistic
understanding? Why was Marcion considered a major threat to orthodoxy?
1. How did Marcion view the God of the Old Testament and the Jesus of the New
Testament? How did he deal with this seemingly very real discrepancy?
2. What is the “canon” and how did Marcion influence the canon?
3. How did Marcion’s dualism influence his view of the humanity of Christ?
1. Who was Tertullian and how did he lead the charge against Marcion’s heresy?
• regarding Jesus’ sufferings?
• regarding Marcion’s authority?
• regarding dualistic view of creation?
• regarding Marcion’s separation of Jesus from the Old Testament God?
2. What was one good outcome from Marcion’s view of the canon of Scripture?
1. What contemporary author/thinker holds very negative views of the God of the Old
2. By retaining the Old Testament, what two points did the orthodox leaders score that
are important today (52-53)?
CHAPTER 4 DOCETISTS
THE SPIRITUAL IS GOOD, THE PHYSICAL IS EVIL
Read and discuss the author questions on page 61.
1. What did the Jewish sect called the Ebionites believe about Jesus?
2. What was the primary reason that early philosophers and theologians struggled more
with Jesus’ humanity?
3. What made Jesus and his cross such a despicable issue in the culture of the early church?
1. The Greek verb that gives us the noun docetists means what? How was that definition
applied to Jesus’ humanity?
2. What prompted the development of docetism?
3. How does the apocryphal (non-canonical) book, the Gospel of Peter, teach docetism?
1. With a formulation of an informal Christian creed, how did Ignatius of Antioch (ca.
50- 117), a disciple of the Apostle John, refute the docetic view of Jesus’ humanity?
2. How was Ignatius’ own martyrdom a rejection of docetism?
3. How did Polycarp refute the docetic heresy?
4. Both Irenaeus and the Apostle Paul tie the necessity of the real/true incarnation of
Christ to what other biblical reality? We can’t have one without the other.
1. What “classic” religious forces still try to make Christ “more palatable to the world”
and how do they do it?
2. How did Rudolf Bultmann deal with the supernatural aspects of the New Testament?
3. Why is this statement true? “Put bluntly, the whole of the atonement rests on
Docetism’s being false.”
CHAPTER 5 MANI
GOD MUST BE FREED
Read and discuss the author questions on page 75.
1. Mani mixed religions. What were the primary religions he combined to make his own
2. Describe Mani’s vision of angel. What was Mani told? Who was “the Twin”?
3. What and how did religions influence Mani as he journeyed east into India?
4. What did Mani write that demonstrated that he wanted to create a new global religion?
5. How did the very cultures and religions that Mani wanted to unite react to Manichaeanism?
1. Manichaeanism was dualistic—material is evil; spirit is good. Who was Primal Man,
how was he created and what was his dilemma? Who was Jesus Christ in Mani’s
2. What was the mission of “the Elect” or elite class in Manichaeanism? Who were the
3. In that world without modern medicine, what popular appeal did Manichaeanism have
that helped it to spread?
1. What were the four grounds on which Orthodox Christians attacked Manichaeanism?
a. What was Ephrem’s primary refutation?
b. Why was Augustine a good theologian to refute Manichaeanism?
c. How did Augustine come to view the Old Testament and how did it help in the
attack on Manichaeanism?
2. How did Manichaeanism distort the work of Christ and the way of salvation?
1. Why would Mani’s new religion appeal to a consumerist culture? What is the danger
of creating a religion based on what a culture wants?
CHAPTER 6 SABELLIUS
ONE ACTOR AND THREE HATS
Read and discuss the author questions on page 86.
1. The Church in the 2nd and 3rd centuries tackled a difficult challenge: how can the Bible
present only one God and yet teach that the one God is revealed in three Persons?
What was Sabellius’ “pastoral concern” about the orthodox teaching of the Trinity (p 80)?
2. What is “modalism” and how did Sabellius understand Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
1. How did Sabellius answer these two questions: 1) “how God (the Father) could suffer”
(patripassianism), and 2) “whom did Jesus address when he prayed to the Father”?
2. What were four legitimate concerns about other heresies did Sabellianism seem to
1. What did modalism/Sabellianism force the orthodox church to do?
2. What was Tertullian’s counter to Sabellius’ teachings? What were some terms
Tertullian used to explain Trinitarian relationships?
3. How did Tertullian and Origen understand the verb “begot” as in “only begotten Son”?
4. Who was Athanasius (see page 92-93) and what did the Athanasian Creed clarify?
1. Think: what is the theological error in the illustration that the Trinity is like water
(one), but can exist in three forms (liquid, solid -ice, vapor-steam)?
2. What does Sabellianism do to the biblical reality of God’s eternal love? Why?
3. What are some contemporary religious expressions of the error of modalism?
CHAPTER 7 ARIUS
JESUS IS A LESSER GOD
Read and discuss the author questions on page 97.
1. What was the riotous crisis in the city of Alexandria and what was the chant? Who
prompted the chaos?
2. What was the relationship of Arius to Alexander, the Bishop of Alexandria? How did
Arius interpret Alexander’s views on the Trinity?
1. What were Arius’ concerns about the orthodox view of the “Trinity”?
2. What did Arius believe about the subordination of the Son to the Father?
3. What divine attributes of God did Arius believe were jeopardized by the deity (the
same essence of the Father) of Christ?
4. How did Arius support his objection to the co-eternality of Christ with the Father?
5. What was Arius’ heretical view of Christ?
1. What is the difference in the understanding of Christ by the terms homoousious and
homoiousious? (Isn’t it amazing how much theology hangs on the tiny letter “i”?)
2. What were Athanasius’ arguments against Arianism (92-93)?
3. How did Arius’ view threaten the prevailing belief in theosis?
1. Why is the entire concept of the Trinity at stake in Arianism?
2. Why is it vital to maintain both the full, true deity of Jesus as well as his true, full humanity?
CHAPTER 8 APOLLINARIUS
CHRIST MAY BE HUMAN, BUT HIS MIND IS DIVINE
Read and discuss the author questions on page 106.
1. Having established that Jesus was both fully God and fully human, the question
became: “How did Jesus’ two natures relate to each other in one person?” Describe
the two primary schools of thought on this issue?
2. What, in a general way, was Nestorius’ error and Apollinarius’ error regarding Jesus’
1. Who was Apollinarius and what was he adamant about protecting with regarding to Jesus?
2. What are the “two assumptions” we must understand before we grasp Apollinarius’
3. How did Apollinarius’ view create a Jesus Christ who was “only two-thirds human”?
4. Why is it vital that Jesus Christ was truly and fully human?
1. How did Gregory of Nazianzus “put the nails in the coffin of Apollinarianism” at the
Council of Constantinople (381)?
2. What does “What has not been assumed cannot be healed” mean in the debate with
3. How does the truth that Jesus is the “Second Adam” counter Apollinarianism?
1. How did famed liberal scholar, John A. T. Robinson, view Christ and Christianity?
2. Why must Christians not emphasize one of Christ’s natures over the other?
CHAPTER 9 PELAGIUS
GOD HAS ALREADY GIVEN US THE TOOLS
Read and discuss the author questions on page 119.
1. What issues were involved in the Western church’s controversy regarding human
nature? Who were the two primary proponents of the two views?
2. What cultural factors helped form Pelagius’ view of human nature?
1. What belief about God primarily shaped Pelagius’ view of human nature/will?
2. Why did Pelagius believe that the doctrine of “original sin” (as Augustine held) was
dangerous to Christian development?
3. Why did Pelagius believe in “moral perfection” (p 111)?
4. While Pelagius had noble motives, what were his views that caused his theology to
fall into error (p 112)?
1. How did Augustine, a Bishop in North Africa, counter each of Pelagius’ views as
listed in the above question—human will, origin of sin, nature of grace, effects of the Fall?
2. How do you feel about the truth “not able not to sin”?
3. Why do you think the orthodox position is correct that all humanity sinned when the
First Adam sinned?
1. What are some contemporary expressions of Pelagianism?
2. What does it mean to you that you “are saved by grace through faith”?
CHAPTER 10 EUTYCHES
CHRIST AS A NEW KIND OF BEING
Read and discuss the author questions on page 129.
1. The church is still wrestling with how Jesus Christ’s two natures relate to each other in
the incarnation. What two cities were at the hub of this debate and what did the school
in each city emphasize about Christ?
2. After Cyril died, who and what broke the peace among the major theological centers
of Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople and Rome? Who was Eutyches?
1. Of what error was Eutyches guilty?
2. Why did Eutyches deny that Christ shared the same human “substance” as all
humankind? What was Eutyches’ novel theological contribution, the tertium quid?
3. How did Dioscorus create a huge scandal at the Council of Ephesus (449)?
1. What historical factors led to the demise of Eutychianism in the East? Who was
Pulcharia and how did she help in the fight?
2. What was the main point of “Leo’s Tome”?
3. What is the genius of this phrase: Jesus Christ has both divine and human natures
united forever in One Person?
4. What were the “four fences” constructed around the mystery of Christ?
1. Why is important that Christ be “our true representative”?
2. Summarize Leo’s view as presented on page 128.
CHAPTER 11 NESTORIUS
CHRIST’S DIVINITY MUST BE SHIELDED
Read and discuss the author questions on page 140.
1. In the early fifth century, questions still remained about the relationship between the
two natures in one person—Jesus Christ. How much God was Jesus? How much
human being? Did Jesus have two minds—a God mind and a human mind?
2. What kind of person was Nestorius? How do we know Nestorius was anti-Arianism?
1. What was Nestorius’ concern with Mary being titled theotokos (Mother of God)?
What terms did he propose for Mary?
2. Against the Nicene Creed’s view of Jesus’ two natures in one person, what did
Nestorius teach instead? What do you think about two persons in one body?
3. Why was the concept of Jesus’ suffering important to Nestorius?
1. What did Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria, find most troubling about Nestorius’ views?
2. What biblical concepts about Christ did Cyril believe were threatened by Nestorius?
3. What is important about the “communication of properties”?
4. Why were politics and theology intertwined in the Nestorius versus Cyril debate?
5. What was Nestorius’ unfortunate blunder about worshiping baby Jesus? What
problems did the blunder cause him?
1. Why is it important for us to understand these abstract arguments about the
person of Jesus Christ?
2. How has your view of Jesus Christ been expanded by understanding these ancient
CHAPTER 12 SOCINUS
THE TRINITY IS IRRELEVANT AND JESUS’ DEATH IS ONLY AND EXAMPLE
Read and discuss the author questions on page 153.
1. We move forward some thousand years and encounter the teachings of Faustus
Socinus. Describe Socinus’ background and travels.
2. How and where was Socinus introduced to anti-Trinitarian teachings?
1. How did Socinus understand the term Logos (John 1) as applied to Jesus?
2. Socinus agreed Jesus should be worshipped; yet how was this heretical?
3. What was Socinus’ estimate of human reason when directed toward theology?
4. What were the four main purposes of teachers in Socinian theology?
5. How did Socinus associate the concepts of essence and person?
6. What is the Adoptionist view inherent in Socinianism?
7. What was Socinius’ view of the atonement of Jesus Christ? What is the core
weakness of the “example” view of the atonement?
1. What was the Catholic concern about Socinius’ views as they are related to the Bible?
2. What were the Protestant concerns—both Lutheran and Calvinist—to Socinianism?
1. How are Socinian views still viable in contemporary religion?
2. How would you describe the role of human reason in biblical/theological studies?
3. What is dangerous about believing “me and my Bible” are enough for the Christian life?
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