As Taught By the Gnostic Sects of the First Four Centuries
Of The Church and the Answer of the Holy Scriptures
Among the Gnostic heretics and sects of the first four centuries, after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, was a wide range of false teachings about ‘Marriage and Virginity’. These teachings were completely non-Christian, and contrary to the revealed truth of God about these topics as recorded in Holy Scripture. The one extreme, ‘excessive asceticism’, was championed by Tatian, Marcion, and Saturnius. These heretics actually called marriage ‘fornication’. No Marcionite was permitted to marry because to marry and procreate was to participate in the evil work of the demiurge (the heavenly beings responsible for the created world). The other extreme was to be ‘openly licentious’. Two sects that taught this view of ‘Marriage and Virginity’ were the Carpocratians and Borborites. Their views were rooted in popular Gnostic cosmology which taught that the created world was born out of the spiritual copulation between heavenly beings. Between the two extremes of ‘excessive Asceticism’ and ‘open licentiousness’ were the Gnostic heretics, Basilides, Valentius, and Isidore (Basilide’s son). These men taught that marriage was not sinful, but should be avoided by the fully mature believer. Monogamous marriage was acceptable, but the asceticism of the virginal life was belittled. Then, overlapping all these heretical sects were the Manichaean’s , a wildly successful sect that became a world religion. The founder, Mani, of Babylonia, was portrayed by the Manichaean missionaries as the ‘Apostle of Jesus Christ’ to the Roman Empire; to India and Central Asia he was touted as the Buddha; and to China he was presented as the reincarnation of Lao Tzu. Concerning Marriage and Virginity, Mani taught that there were two types of Manichaean disciples: the elect, and the hearers. ‘The elect’ were forbidden to marry and to participate in sexual intercourse, because both the body and procreation were evil. ‘The hearers’ were permitted to marry, or have mistresses, and could have intercourse as long as they avoided procreation.
As you can see, the religious world swirling around the Church was speaking to mankind’s basic instincts, and redefining marriage from the age-old norm of marriage that Jesus validated when he said, “Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder" (Matthew 19:4-6). Then Jesus spoke to the disciples about the one alternative to married life when they asked him if "it is not good to marry". Jesus said, "All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs ,which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake.He that is able to receive it, let him receive it" (Matthew 19:10-12). Here Jesus gives us three classes of men who abstain from marriage: First, those men who were born without the inclination, or ability to be married; second, those men who were made eunuchs against their will, and therefore are incapable of having a marriage relationship; and thirdly, those men who choose to live celibate by the grace of God. St. Paul carries forward Jesus’s teaching on this “twofold grace” of ‘marriage and virginity’. The entire 7th chapter of First Corinthians is dedicated to the two callings of ‘marriage and virginity’. The answer to all the false teachings of heretical sects, then and now, as well as detailed instruction concerning how Christians are to live either a married life in Christ, or the life of a virgin fully devoted to Christ are found here in the Scriptures. So read carefully Paul’s instruction that he was inspired to write in response to the Corinthian’s questions. In verse one Paul advocates for living a virginal life, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman”. But for those who cannot resist sexual impulses he says in verse two, “Let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband”. The remaining thirty eight verses expound on these two particular callings that a Christian must discern between or choose between. Once committed to marriage or virginity, “Let every man abide in the calling wherein he was called (verse 20).
Finally, let us realize that the heresies that early Christians battled concerning 'marriage and virginity' are the same heresies that Christians must battle in the 21st century. "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry..." (1 Timothy 4:1-3). We live in a time when marriage is defined according to doctrines of devils, and where living a virginal life is mocked as unnatural. Let us choose God's truth on the matter. Amen.