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ASK CHALCEDON ~ Manichaeism

Mark R. Rushdoony
  • Mark R. Rushdoony,
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RJ uses the term manichaeanism quite often in IBL and I can't find a good definition. Could someone tell me what he means by the term?

Mark Rushdoony's response:

The Manichaeans took dualism to the extreme of maintaining the equal power and status of evil with good. The religious movement began in third-century Persia and was intended as a blending of Eastern religious ideas as a deterrent to the growing influence of Christianity. As with many purely pagan ideas, it entered the church and was very early denounced as a heresy.

Manichaeism rejected the Christian monotheistic idea of a single, holy, benevolent deity, reasoning that such a view did not account for the presence of evil. Instead it postulated the most extreme form of dualism. Going beyond the dualistic dichotomy of mind/idea/spirit versus the material realm, it held to two equal supreme beings or forces, one good and one evil. Consistent with its dualism, it saw the material world as belonging to the evil deity, but mankind was said to be a realm of conflict between these two equal forces. The first sin was said to be an attempt to snuff out the light that was in man. Likewise, all religious systems were said to merely dim the influence of man's goodness. Though they denied the literal incarnation of Christ in human flesh (as dualists they assumed flesh was evil), His purpose was said to be the deliverance of man's soul from the corruption of mortal flesh. The forces of darkness, however, supposedly frustrated this effort and defeated this purpose, but before His death, Jesus supposedly sent His Spirit in the person of Mani (Manes, or Manichaeus). Mani rejected the Old Testament as the work of the evil deity, and only accepted those New Testament passages which might, in isolation, seem to support this radical dualism. In this form, it entered the church and claimed Scripture could only be understood in terms of Mani's writings.

The Manichaeans were also Docetists, in that they believed Christ's sufferings were apparent, but not real (since, they said, He had no body). They therefore also denied the death and resurrection of both Jesus and the believer. The salvation of Manichaeism was man's progress toward the good, or the light, which they understood to be freedom from the material realm.

The distinctive element of Manichaeism was its belief that evil was equal to good, and that God was in a constant battle with His equal. They influenced many later heretical sects. Church historian Philip Schaff identified elements of Manichaeism in Mormonism. Remember, heresies never go away, they just change names.

The struggle with Manichaeism and a host of other clearly non-Scriptural ideas continued for many centuries in the early church. We owe a great debt of gratitude to those saints and councils that struggled to defend Christianity against those groups which sought to absorb and divert its dynamic. Our struggle is easier because of theirs, but we must, still, be vigorously engaged. Theology matters.


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Mark R. Rushdoony
  • Mark R. Rushdoony

Mark R. Rushdoony graduated from Los Angeles Baptist College (now The Master’s College) with a B.A. in history in 1975 and was ordained to the ministry in 1995.

He taught junior and senior high classes in history, Bible, civics and economics at a Christian school in Virginia for three years before joining the staff of Chalcedon in 1978. He was the Director of Chalcedon Christian School for 14 years while teaching full time. He also helped tutor all of his children through high school.

In 1998, he became the President of Chalcedon and Ross House Books, and, more recently another publishing arm, Storehouse Press. Chalcedon and its subsidiaries publish many titles plus CDs, mp3s, and an extensive online archive at His biography of his father will be published later this year (2024).

He has written scores of articles for Chalcedon’s publications, both the Chalcedon Report and Faith for all of Life. He was a contributing author to The Great Christian Revolution (1991). He has spoken at numerous conferences and churches in the U.S. and abroad.

Mark Rushdoony has lived in Vallecito, California, since 1978.  His wife, Darlene, and he have been married since 1976. His youngest son still resides with him. He has three married children and nine grandchildren.

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