37: Alexandrian Deceptions

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

1st John 4:1

The Egyptian Mediterranean port of Alexandria, named after the great Greek Emperor, was one was one of the foremost centres of learning and philosophy in the Greek and Roman world. In terms of culture Alexandria was renowned for its lighthouse, regarded as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and the library which numbered more than two hundred thousand volumes.

The Jews had a sizeable community in Alexandria long before the birth of the Messiah. Their legacy was the Greek translation of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint because seventy scholars were involved in the work. While this publication was of invaluable assistance to the Jews in a Greek speaking world, it also laid down a foundation for Christendom as this was the translation of Scripture employed by Christ and the Apostles.

Alexandria by virtue of its attachment to Greek culture and learning became a centre of the early Christian cult known as Gnosticism with its emphasis upon human knowledge, while at the same time undermining the person of Christ as our Redeemer.

As a consequence the Church at Alexandria became exposed to pagan philosophy with what we might call a Christian twist. This tendency is best understood in the Third Century through the ministry of Clement, a Bishop, and Origen, his disciple who was a layman and a scholar.

Both these men introduced pagan ideas into their system of interpreting and understanding Scripture. Origen, especially has been associated with a forced and extreme spiritualisation of the Bible, in a way which undermines the simplicity of Scripture. By the Sixth Century the ideas of their school of thought were condemned by the Church as being heretical.

That gave time, however, for their thoughts to take root and poison the Church at large. And their influence continues…modern versions of the Bible which employ Greek texts originating in Alexandria are effectively passing off as Scripture the pollutants of this school of thought.

One must not think that Clement and Origen were apostate and insincere men. Clement was martyred at the hands of the Romans while Origen was one of the most disciplined and prolific Christian writers of this period. Nevertheless becoming infatuated by the philosophy of their age, they departed from orthodox Christianity and as in the development of every error, the full effect is seen in the harvest reaped by future generations. A sombre warning for our reflection today.

O make thy Church, dear Saviour,
A lamp of purest gold,
To bear before the nations
Thy true light as of old.

William Walsham

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