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The Carpocratians

By R. J. Rushdoony
July 01, 1997

Many times in recent years my mind has turned to Carpocrates and the Carpocratians as one movement or person after another has reminded me of them — Carpocrates lived under the Emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD). He was a Gnostic philosopher who was determined to present Jesus as a respectable and intelligent Gnostic thinker. Jesus for Carpocrates was not of virgin birth but was a man of a pure soul who ascended to a high spiritual plane, as might we all. Jesus was for him a religious genius. Hating the Jews, Carpocrates had his Jesus hating them also and rising above their "superstitions." The Carpocratians had statues of Jesus, Pythagorus, Plato, Aristotle, and others in their shrines. Every human soul could rise to the level of Jesus and surpass Him. The Old Testament and its law was rejected by Carpocrates and his followers, and also by a great many other heretical and pagan cults. They were much given to the use of pictures or icons. What Carpocrates and the Carpocratians represented was an attempt to accommodate Jesus Christ to contemporary culture. This meant re-shaping Jesus to Gnosticism and Greco-Roman culture. An acceptable and "historical" Jesus was thus created, "historical" in that Jesus was remade to fit into the then-modern world and life view. The result was a Gnostic Greco-Roman Jesus whose relevance ended as that culture collapsed. It was a silly and a futile effort, but it is the kind of re-shaping of Jesus which still marks our culture. Jesus is re-made to suit the cultural standards and icons of the day, and for this reason all these versions, from that of Carpocrates to the present, create only a fictitious Jesus for a foolish people. I regularly read of or hear about someone's "revision" of the Biblical Faith to make it suitable for contemporary men. The Carpocratians are all around us, and no less confident that their version gives us the truth about the Jesus of history! No doubt, wisdom was born with them and will die with them. The world and history are continually reconstructed to match men's hopes and beliefs. It's amazing to me how many people who profess to believe only that which is scientifically proven are ready to assert as fact that life exists somewhere on other planets, and that it must exist! Why? Their "reasons" are at base religious assertions that are implicitly hostile to the Biblical Faith. Implicit too is the belief that contemporary learning has reached the paradigm of truth, that we have now transcended religion and myth to attain the final paradigm. The son of Carpocrates, Epiphanes, who died at the age of 17, wrote a book on Justice, which he defined as equality. This for him meant a community of goods, and even of women. (One wonders how much he contributed to the very evil fifth-century Mazdakite communist movement.) After his death, Epiphanes was worshipped by some. His idea of equality as justice is still with us, and as deadly as ever. Equality is not justice and has never been so. It is rather a leveling that denies justice in favor of equalizing everything, including good and evil. Clearly, from the early years of the second century to the present, we have not learned much. We have Carpocratians all around us as arrogant and as destructive as ever. The answer to the Carpocratians is the unequivocal allegiance to and faith in the whole word of God and the Christ set forth therein. A people whose "faith" is limited to a ticket to heaven rather than serving the triune God with all our heart, mind and being can do little to counteract our present-day Carpocratians. Only as we serve him, rather than expecting him to serve us, can we be effective servants of Christ and his Kingdom. There are too many Carpocratians all around us, and they are, whether they like it or not, implicitly enemies of Christ and his Kingdom (Mt. 6:33).


Topics: Philosophy, World History

R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965.  His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.”  He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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