The kingdom of God - Part 3A - The mustard seed

SERMON TOPIC: The kingdom of God - Part 3A - The mustard seed, Constantine and the State Church

Speaker: Gavin Paynter

Language: ENGLISH

Date: 25 November 2007


Sermon synopsis: Jesus taught 7 consecutive parables in Matthew 13 which refer to 7 church ages.
The third parable of 'The Mustard Seed' covers the period from approximately 300 - 600 AD or the 'State Church' where we see that despite its humble beginnings, the church experiences exponential growth once the Roman Emperor Constantine is converted.

Why has Constantine been so vilified? Did he corrupt the church by changing the Sabbath to Sunday worship and by introducing pagan festivals like Christmas and Easter?
Like many politicians today, did he walk a middle ground by trying to appeal to both Christian and pagan subjects?
Was the church of this period “soft” on paganism?

We’ll also see that there is a sinister aspect to the birds in the mustard tree.
What were the origins of doctrines like purgatory, prayers for the dead, baptismal regeneration and infant baptism?

Finally are Cessasionists correct when they say that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit had ceased by this period?

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The 7 parables of the kingdom - Part 3A


The Sower

The kingdom is sown and experiences rapid growth – the enemy seeks to steal the seed or destroy the crop through persecution.


The Wheat and Weeds

The enemy sows a counterfeit seed. Persecution intensifies.


The Mustard Seed

Exponential growth of the kingdom, but the enemy infiltrates from within.






The Sower

AD 30 – 100

Apostolic Church


The Wheat and Weeds

AD 100 – 300

Persecuted Church


The Mustard Seed

AD 300 – 600

State Church (Constantine)

The 3rd kingdom age – The mustard seed

Mat 13:31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”

3) The Mustard Seed



This parable is not explained, but in the previous parables the sower and the field have already been identified.



Mustard seed

Insignificant beginnings but exponential growth

The smallness of the mustard seed represents the minute and insignificant beginnings of Christianity.



In the parable of the sower, the birds represent Satan. Thus Satan infiltrates this kingdom which has now spread exponentially.


Babylon (world power & false religion)

This same ‘tree’ analogy is used before in Scripture (Daniel 4:10-12) and it represents Nebuchadnezzar’s world kingdom of Babylon.

3) The Mustard Seed


In this study we’ll cover:

The 7 kingdom parables (7 Church Ages) PARABLE 3: The Mustard Seed

Small beginnings

Church becomes a world power.

The kingdom experiences unprecedented growth.

Corruption: Satan and his cohorts infiltrate and ‘nest’ in the kingdom.

Small beginnings

The smallness of the mustard seed represents the insignificant beginnings of the kingdom.

Consider this description of the church’s beginning…

The Son of Man grew up in a despised province; he did not appear in public until his thirtieth year; then taught for two or three years in neighboring villages, and occasionally at Jerusalem; made a few converts, chiefly among the poor and unlearned; and then falling into the hands of his enemies, died the shameful death of the cross; such, and so slight, was the commencement of the universal kingdom of God. A

A R.C. Trench, Notes On The Parables Of Our Lord

Small beginnings

One Solitary Life (Dr James Allan © 1926)

He was born in an obscure village The child of a peasant woman He grew up in another obscure village Where he worked in a carpenter shop Until he was thirty

He never wrote a book He never held an office He never went to college He never visited a big city He never traveled more than two hundred miles From the place where he was born He did none of the things Usually associated with greatness He had no credentials but himself He was only thirty three His friends ran away One of them denied him

Small beginnings

He was turned over to his enemies And went through the mockery of a trial He was nailed to a cross between two thieves While dying, His executioners gambled for his clothing The only property he had on earth

When he was dead He was laid in a borrowed grave Through the pity of a friend

Nineteen centuries have come and gone And today Jesus is the central figure of the human race And the leader of mankind’s progress All the armies that have ever marched All the navies that have ever sailed All the parliaments that have ever sat All the kings that ever reigned put together Have not affected the life of mankind on earth As powerfully as that one solitary life

Small beginnings

Napoleon Bonaparte, emperor of France, was one of the greatest military commanders of all time. Napoleon expressed the following thoughts while he was exiled on St. Helena. There, the conqueror of civilized Europe had time to reflect on the measure of his accomplishments.

I marvel that whereas the ambitious dreams of myself, Caesar, and Alexander should have vanished into thin air, a Judean peasant - Jesus should be able to stretch his hands across the centuries and control the destinies of men and nations.” - Napoleon

“Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and the founders of empires, and the gods of other religions. That resemblance does not exist. There is between Christianity and whatever other religions the distance of infinity…” Napoleon

Small beginnings

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 -1821)

Alexander the Great, conqueror of the Persian Empire

“I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creation of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him.” - Napoleon

Small beginnings

Julius Caesar – conqueror of Gaul and ‘dictator for life’ of the Roman Empire

Charlemagne - king of the Franks and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire

I have inspired multitudes with such an enthusiastic devotion that they would have died for me… but to do this is was necessary that I should be visibly present with the electric influence of my looks, my words, of my voice. When I saw men and spoke to them, I lightened up the flame of self-devotion in their hearts… Christ alone has succeeded in so raising the mind of man toward the unseen, that it becomes insensible to the barriers of time and space. Across a chasm of eighteen hundred years, Jesus Christ makes a demand which is beyond all others difficult to satisfy; He asks for that which a philosopher may often seek in vain at the hands of his friends, or a father of his children, or a bride of her spouse, or a man of his brother. He asks for the human heart; He will have it entirely to Himself. He demands it unconditionally; and forthwith His demand is granted. Wonderful! In defiance of time and space, the soul of man, with all its powers and faculties, becomes an annexation to the empire of Christ. All who sincerely believe in Him, experience that remarkable, supernatural love toward Him. This phenomenon is unaccountable; it is altogether beyond the scope of man’s creative powers. Time, the great destroyer, is powerless to extinguish this sacred flame; time can neither exhaust its strength nor put a limit to its range. This is it, which strikes me most; I have often thought of it. This it is which proves to me quite convincingly the Divinity of Jesus Christ. - Napoleon

Small beginnings

Church becomes a world power

Mat 13:32 Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”

Jesus never explained this parable. However we must remember to interpret Scripture with Scripture. This same ‘tree’ analogy is used before in Daniel where it represented the world power of Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar.

Daniel 4:10 I looked, and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land. Its height was enormous. 11 The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. 12 Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the beasts of the field found shelter, and the birds of the air lived in its branches…

Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar, “You, O king, are that tree! You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth.” (Dan 4:22)

In Ezekiel (31:3-6) a similar analogy is also used of Assyria, another world power. “Consider Assyria, once a cedar in Lebanon… So it towered higher than all the trees of the field… All the birds of the air nested in its boughs…”

The 3rd kingdom Age: State Church

World power

In Daniel, the tree represented the world power of Babylon which dominated the earth. Thus in the 3rd kingdom age Jesus prophesies that the Church will become a world power and dominate the earth.

The Church becoming a world power was mainly due to Constantine, who became the first Christian Roman Emperor. As the most powerful person in the world, his conversion to Christianity had far reaching effects not only on the common practice of religion in his day, but also on us today.

There were multiple contenders for leadership of the Roman Empire. On 28 October 312 AD there was a battle at the Milvian Bridge (over the Tiber River just outside Rome) between Constantine and his brother -in-law and co-emperor, Maxentius. This resulted in a victory for Constantine, in spite of overwhelming numbers (an estimated 100,000 in Maxentius’ army against 20,000 in Constantine’s army).

Bronze statue of Constantine I in York, England, near the spot where he was proclaimed a co-Emperor in 306

Constantine the Great (ruled 306-337 AD) at the Milvian Bridge

World power

According to Eusebius (bishop of Caesarea in Palestine and church historian), before this crucial Milvian Bridge battle, Constantine was convinced that he needed divine assistance. While praying, God sent him a vision of a cross of light, bearing the inscription “in hoc signo vinces” (“in this sign you will be victorious”).

That night he had a dream where he was told to use the sign he’d been given as a safeguard in all of his battles. Thus Constantine converted to Christianity and ordered the symbol of Jesus’ name (Chi-Rho) to represent his army. After the victory, Constantine continued to wear the symbol for Christ against every hostile power he faced.

World power

Eusebius, in his “Life of Constantine”, says that the Emperor personally related the story to him.

Accordingly he called on him with earnest prayer and supplications that he would reveal to him who he was, and stretch forth his right hand to help him in his present difficulties. And while he was thus praying with fervent entreaty, a most marvelous sign appeared to him from heaven, the account of which it might have been hard to believe had it been related by any other person. But since the victorious emperor himself long afterwards declared it to the writer of this history, when he was honored with his acquaintance and society, and confirmed his statement by an oath, who could hesitate to accredit the relation, especially since the testimony of after-time has established its truth? He said that about noon, when the day was already beginning to decline, he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun, and bearing the inscription, CONQUER BY THIS. At this sight he himself was struck with amazement, and his whole army also, which followed him on this expedition, and witnessed the miracle.

Constantine attributed his victory over the tyrant Maxentius to the power of “the God of the Christians” and committed himself to the Christian faith from that day on.

World power

Eusebius continues “… he determined thenceforth to devote himself to the reading of the Inspired writings. Moreover, he made the priests of God his counselors, and deemed it incumbent on him to honor the God who had appeared to him with all devotion.”

Christianity had previously been decriminalized in 311 AD by an edict of toleration issued in the name of Galerius,1 Licinius and Constantine. This expressed tolerance for all religious creeds, including Christianity.

Soon after the victory over Maxentius, Constantine and Licinius 2 issued the Edict of Milan in 313 permitting citizens to accept Christianity without fear of persecution and releasing all religious prisoners. This second edict went beyond the first edict of 311: "it was a decisive step from hostile neutrality to friendly neutrality and protection”. 3

The Edict stipulated that the meeting places and other properties which had been confiscated from the Christians were to be returned:

“…the same shall be restored to the Christians without payment or any claim of recompense and without any kind of fraud or deception…”

1 Galerius was anti-Christian and blamed for instigating the Diocletian persecutions. This edict was issued during his last bout of illness. 2 Licinius was now emperor in the East and Constantine in the West 3 Church historian Philip Schaff

Constantine went on to become the sole Emperor (323 - 337) of the Roman Empire and effected many improvements in Roman law. His civil reforms included:

Gladiatorial games were ordered to be eliminated in 325. At these games, men had previously fought to the death and Christians were fed to the lions for the “amusement” of the people.

He permitted the freeing of slaves without the previously difficult process in the civil courts.

Crucifixion was abolished because of Constantine’s respect for Christ and replaced with the more humane hanging.

A prisoner was no longer to be kept in total darkness, but had to be given the outdoors and daylight.

Stopped killing of unwelcome children.

Rendered divorce more difficult, especially when the demand for separation came from one side only.

A punishment of death was mandated to anyone collecting taxes over the authorized amount. 1

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World power

In 360 Constantius II, the son of Constantine, declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.

After a brief lapse of Paganism under Julian the Apostate, Theodosius I (378-395) made Christianity the state religion.

In Theodosius’ Edict of 380.

It is our will that all the peoples who are ruled by the administration of Our Clemency shall practice that religion which the divine Peter the Apostle transmitted to the Romans, as the religion which he introduced makes clear even unto this day. It is evident that this is the religion that is followed by the Pontiff Damascus and by Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic sanctity; that is, according to the apostolic discipline and the evangelic doctrine, we shall believe in the single Deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, under the concept of equal majesty and of the Holy Trinity.

Theodosius I

World power

In 529 the emperor Justinian closed the university of Athens, replacing it with a Christian university. The closing of the university signals the end of pagan Neo-Platonic philosophy. Justinian’s decree forbade city council funds to be used to hire pagans in education.

In 535, at the insistence of the empress Theodora (wife of Justinian), an edict was issued that banished pimps and keepers of brothels from all major cities of the empire.

In the final decade of the 6th century AD, the Parthenon was converted into a Christian church

World power

Justinian & Theodora

Constantine had been born of a Greek father in what is modern day Serbia. In his later years he rebuilt the ancient Greek city, Byzantium, and relocated the Empire’s capital there from Rome in 330 AD. He renamed the city Nova Roma (New Rome) although after his death in 337 AD it was changed to Constantinople.1 The figures of old gods were replaced and often assimilated into Christian symbolism. On the site of a temple to Aphrodite was built the new Church of the Holy Apostles.

With Rome no longer the centre of power for the empire the church began to fill in the gap at Rome.

As the later emperor’s power declined, the Bishop of Rome’s increased. Leo I (440-461) supposedly negotiated and saved Rome from Attila the Hun (452).

1 i.e. ‘City of Constantine’, modern Istanbul in Turkey. The city became the centre of what was called the Byzantine Empire i.e. the Greek-speaking Roman Empire of late Antiquity and the Middle Ages.

World power

Attila the Hun


Empire Persecutes Church - At the beginning of the century the church went through the “Great Persecution” - the last and the worst. Instituted by emperor Diocletian in 305, it was intended to wipe out the church. It failed.

Empire Tolerates Church - Emperor Constantine professed Christianity and the church was given legal status. Often you will hear that Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the empire. He didn't. But he did restore its losses and gave it favored treatment as one among many tolerated religions.

Empire Challenges Church - Paganism didn’t give up without a battle. Emperor Julian (361-363) attempted unsuccessfully to reestablish paganism.

Empire Adopts Church – In 363-364 Jovian re-established the Christian religion. In 381 Christianity was officially made the state religion by emperor Theodosius I.

Church Challenges Empire - In a dramatic confrontation that foreshadowed centuries of church-state jockeying for position, Bishop Ambrose of Milan defied the emperor.

World power

Let’s see from the following incident the power that the Church had come to exercise over the Roman emperor, Theodosius 1 by the late 4th century.

Thessalonica is a large and populous city, in the province of Macedonia. In consequence of sedition there, the anger of the Emperor [Theodosius] rose to the highest pitch, and he gratified his vindictive desire for vengeance by unsheathing the sword most unjustly and tyrannically against all, slaying the innocent and guilty alike. It is said seven thousand perished without any forms of law, and without even having judicial sentence passed upon them; but that, like ears of wheat in the time of harvest, they were alike cut down. 1

When Ambrose heard of this deplorable catastrophe, he went out to meet the Emperor, who - on his return to Milan - desired as usual to enter the holy church, but Ambrose prohibited his entrance, saying “You do not reflect, it seems, O Emperor, on the guilt you have incurred by that great massacre; but now that your fury is appeased, do you not perceive the enormity of your crime? You must not be dazzled by the splendor of the purple you wear, and be led to forget the weakness of the body which it clothes.” 2

1 Theodosius was a Spaniard 2 Theodoret (c.393-466), Ecclesiastical History

World power

“Your subjects, O Emperor, are of the same nature as yourself, and not only so, but are likewise your fellow servants; for there is one Lord and Ruler of all, and He is the maker of all creatures, whether princes or people. How would you look upon the temple of the one Lord of all? How could you lift up in prayer hands steeped in the blood of so unjust a massacre? Depart then, and do not by a second crime add to the guilt of the first.” 1

The Emperor, who had been brought up in the knowledge of Holy Writ, and who knew well the distinction between the ecclesiastical and the temporal power, submitted to the rebuke, and with many tears and groans returned to his palace. The Emperor shut himself up in his palace and shed floods of tears. After vain attempts to appease Ambrose, Theodosius himself at last went to Ambrose privately and besought mercy, saying “I beseech you, in consideration of the mercy of our common Lord, to unloose me from these bonds, and not to shut the door which is opened by the Lord to all that truly repent.” 1

1 Theodoret (c.393-466 CE), Ecclesiastical History, V.17-18

World power

Ambrose stipulated that the Emperor should prove his repentance by recalling his unjust decrees, and especially by ordering “that when sentence of death or of proscription has been signed against anyone, thirty days are to elapse before execution, and on the expiration of that time the case is to be brought again before you, for your resentment will then be calmed and you can justly decide the issue.” The Emperor listened to this advice, and deeming it excellent, he at once ordered the law to be drawn up, and himself signed the document. St. Ambrose then unloosed his bonds. 1

The Emperor, who was full of faith, now took courage to enter holy church where he prayed neither in a standing, nor in a kneeling posture, but throwing himself upon the ground. He tore his hair, struck his forehead, and shed torrents of tears, as he implored forgiveness of God. Ambrose restored him to favor, but forbade him to come inside the altar rail, ordering his deacon to say “The priests alone, O Emperor, are permitted to enter within the barriers by the altar. Retire then, and remain with the rest of the laity. A purple robe makes Emperors, but not priests…” Theodosius meekly obeyed, praising Ambrose for his spirit, and saying “Ambrose alone deserves the title of bishop.” 1

1 Theodoret (c.393-466 CE), Ecclesiastical History, V.17-18

World power

Unprecedented growth

Among seeds sown in a garden the mustard plant was one of the smallest. However as a plant, it reaches ten to fifteen feet in height.

The mustard seed is always used by Jesus to speak of exponential growth from small and insignificant beginnings. He used it on another occasion to describe one's faith. “… if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move.” (Matt 17:20)

The tremendous growth of the Church would belie its humble beginnings...

Just as the ‘small stone’ of Daniel 2:35 “became a great mountain and filled the whole earth” the growth of the church certainly confirmed the truth of Jesus’ parable.

Unprecedented growth


% Christian



Evangelization of world







































Unprecedented growth

The last great act of Diocletian was an unrelenting and desperate persecution of Christianity, which had been steadily gaining ground for two centuries, in spite of martyrdoms; and this was so severe and universal that it seemed to be successful. But he had no sooner retired from the government of the world (AD 305) than the faith he supposed he had suppressed forever sprung up with new force, and defied any future attempt to crush it.

Nearly 11 million Christians had already been martyred for their faith by 313 AD, when Constantine issued the Edict of Milan.

314 - Gregory the Illuminator converted King Tiridates III (298-330) of Armenia to the Christian faith. Armenia thus became a Christian nation.

Major missionary advance as Ufilias takes the gospel to the barbarian Goths in mid-4th Century.

Patrick (c. 390-460) goes to Ireland where he undertakes monumental mission.

397 - Ninian established a monastery on Whithorn Island in Scotland. From that base, he labored for the conversion of the Picts and Celts.

496 - Frankish King Clovis converted to Christianity and baptized. Conquers half of France and paves the way for Charlemagne’s “Holy Roman Empire.”

Columba (c. 521-597) goes as missionary to Scotland.

Unprecedented growth


In defense of Constantine

It has often been suggested that Constantine’s profession of Christianity was purely a matter of political expediency more than of religious conviction. Upon closer examination, this view is untenable.

In many ways Constantine has been unfairly vilified. He is blamed by many for deliberately corrupting Christianity with pagan influence, motivated by political reasons. However, in investigating the historical evidence for such claims, there is very little direct evidence.

On the contrary he seems to have been a most industrious letter-writer with over 40 surviving letters and documents authored by him, all of which are pro-Christian, anti-pagan and anti-heretic.

The following letters hardly seem to indicate a compromising politician trying to endear himself to his pagan subjects:

In 324 Constantine’s edict to the people of the eastern provinces addresses the error of polytheism. This letter begins with “some general remarks on virtue and vice,” touches on the persecutions and the fate of the persecutors, expresses the wish that all would become Christians, praises God, and exhorts concord.

In the Second Letter of Constantine to Macarius (332) and the rest of the Bishops in Palestine (to Eusebius) he directs the suppression of idolatrous worship at Mamre.

Did Constantine corrupt the church?

Neither would the following letter have endeared him to his Gnostic heretic subjects:

In his “Edict against the heretics” he addresses Novatians, Valentinians, Marcionites, Paulians, Cataphrygians whom he forbids to assemble and whose houses of worship are to be given to orthodox Christians.

Surely the alleged “politically correct” Constantine portrayed by most today should have encouraged a merger of Gnosticism and Christianity, rather than aggravating Gnostics by confiscating their property and giving it to Christians?

The following actions would not have won him favour from Jewish subjects:

Constantine instituted several legislative measures impacting on Jews. They were forbidden to own Christian slaves or to circumcise their slaves. Conversion of Christians to Judaism was discouraged. Congregations for religious services were restricted, but Jews were allowed to enter Jerusalem on Tisha B’Av, the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple.

Did Constantine corrupt the church?

Constantine also wrote to Eusebius requesting 50 copies of the Scriptures to be used in new churches in Constantinople.

Constantine’s letters also show numerous efforts to resolve factions in Christianity. He spends much time trying to resolve both the Arian heresy and the Donatist controversy. Although he seems determined that the Church be united with a single doctrinal view, he doesn’t appear to try and dictate what the doctrine should be. Instead he writes to the involved parties and later resorts to calling councils of bishops where they could thrash out the issues and reach consensus.

Just one example of this is his letter to Alexander the bishop and Arius the heretical presbyter in 323 or 324. He expresses his desire for peace, his hope that they might have helped him in the Donatist troubles, his distress at finding that they, too, were in a broil, his opinion that the matters under discussion are of little moment, and what he thinks they are. He exhorts to unanimity and mentions his “copious and constant tears”. 1

1 Euseb. V. C. 2. 64–72; Gelas. 2. 4; Socr. 1. 7 (Op. Const. 493–502).

Did Constantine corrupt the church?

Constantine sponsored the Council of Nicaea to get Christian bishops to negotiate a statement of orthodox Christian belief that could be recognized across the Empire. The Nicaean Creed continues to be used today.

Childish allegations by the likes of Dan Brown (in his ‘Da Vinci Code’) that Constantine was behind a ‘plot’ to make Jesus divine, when previously this was not commonly believed, are also bogus.

Firstly Arius did not deny Jesus’ deity, although he believed that Jesus was inferior to the Father.

Secondly Constantine seems to have very superficial knowledge of the actual debate between Arius and Athanasius. He simply wanted unity among his Christian subjects. One gets the impression that he was not bothered which way the decision of the Christian bishops went as long as they were agreed. Subsequently Constantine exiled both Arius and Athanasius at different times, in an attempt to pressurize them to come to some agreement.

Did Constantine corrupt the church?

Some also contend that by getting a council of bishops to settle a theological issue and reach a consensus view, Constantine brought about a shift in the way that the Church operated. They say that this was a worldly way of resolving spiritual issues.

This is not true. In Acts 15 a council of the apostles convened in Jerusalem in order to settle the earliest controversial issue in the church. The issue was the question of circumcision and the conditions under which Gentiles should be allowed into the Church. After consensus was reached, the result was a letter from the attendees instructing everyone of the ruling.

This was very similar to the way the Council of Nicaea was conducted, with the exception that Constantine was there both as Emperor and as a Christian. There’s no indication however that he tried to sway the decision either way though; he simply wanted consensus and a unified belief.

Did Constantine corrupt the church?

His religious reforms included:

Previous victims of persecution were granted compensation directly from the Roman treasury. 1

Forbade sacrifices to idols.

Started to replace pagan government officials with Christians. Leading Roman families refusing Christianity were denied positions of power.

Orders that Christian clergy be free from public service, that they might not be disturbed in their worship of God. 2

Granted the Church the right to receive property by bequest and Church lands exempted from general taxes.

1 The “Law of Constantine respecting piety toward God and the Christian Religion” (323 AD) is an edict, addressed to the inhabitants of Palestine, containing an exposition of the prosperity of the righteous and the adversity of the wicked, followed by edict for the restitution of confiscated property, the recall of exiles, and various other rectifications of injustices.

2 Second Letter of Constantine to Anulinus (313).

Did Constantine corrupt the church?

Constantine sponsored the building of Christian churches,1 the most famous of which was the ‘Church of the Holy Sepulchre’ in Jerusalem. 2

Often the great basilicas were built on sites of former pagan temples.

In AD 313 Constantine donated a royal palace, known as the Lateran, as a residence for the Bishop of Rome. A succession of Roman bishops inhabited this palace for about a thousand years.

First Letter of Constantine to Eusebius (323).

Letter of Constantine to Macarius (325).

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the supposed site of Jesus' tomb.

Did Constantine corrupt the church?

Constantine had his statue removed from Pagan temples. The repair of Pagan temples that had decayed was forbidden. These funds were given to the favoured Christian clergy.1 Within his reign the cost of the church became larger than the cost of the entire imperial civil service.

He would even write discourses, something like sermons, reading them aloud in the palace to all his courtiers. 2 Eusebius relates that “he took the sacred scriptures into his hands, and devoted himself to the study of those divinely inspired oracles; after which he would offer up regular prayers with all the members of his imperial court.” 3

Whenever in the field with his legions, Constantine set up a portable chapel. He prayed regularly, and before major engagements.4

1 New Catholic Encyclopedia 1908 2 Sketches of Church History, from AD 33 to the Reformation - J. C. Robertson (1904) 3 Life of Constantine (Book IV), ch 17 4 MacMullen, Ramsey; Constantine, 1969

Constantine the Great (ruled 306-337 AD)

Did Constantine corrupt the church?

He requested his Roman armies to recite this prayer he composed in 320:

We know You are God alone; We recognize in You our king. We call on You for aid. From You we receive victory, Through You we are made greater than our enemies. We recognize Your grace in present blessings And hope on You for the future. We all beseech You, we implore You To preserve our king Constantine And his pious sons safe and victorious to the end of our days.

Constantine’s military brilliance and devotion to God inspired his legions to victory after victory over pagan forces. 1

1 Although he earned his title of ‘The Great’ from Christian historians long after he had died, Constantine could have claimed the title on his military achievements alone. He had with enormous prestige as a general, second only to that of Julius Caesar, and reunited the empire under one emperor. In addition he won major victories over the Franks and Alamanni (306–308), the Franks again (313–314), the Visigoths in 332 and the Sarmatians in 334. In fact, by 336, Constantine had actually reoccupied most of the long-lost province of Dacia, which Aurelian had been forced to abandon in 271.

Did Constantine corrupt the church?

Although it is claimed that Constantine made December 25th, the birthday of the pagan ‘Unconquered Sun god’, the official holiday it is now - the birthday of Jesus, there is no historical evidence for this.

Way back in the 2nd Century Hippolytus, a Bishop from Sicily, had already argued that December 25th was Christ’s birthday. The Eastern Church claimed that January 6th was the date.

In one of his letters, John Chrysostom mentioned that Julius I (337-52), bishop of Rome claimed to have had the Imperial records of the Roman census examined and confirmed the observance of Christ’s birthday on Dec 25th.

Some contend that Constantine chose the Dec 25th so that his pagan subjects could still have a holiday at Saturnalia (which ends Dec 24th). In actual fact it was in 354 AD during the reign of his son, Constantius II, that the Church decided to change the celebration of the birth of Jesus from Jan 6th to Dec 25th.

The emperor Justin II (565-78), at some point during his reign, decreed that the birth of the Saviour should be celebrated on Dec 25th throughout the empire. It is thought that, at this time, the church in Jerusalem finally adopted Dec 25th as Christmas Day.

Did Constantine corrupt the church?

Constantine is also blamed for linking Easter with Pagan festivals. However historic evidence shows that the Council of Nicea (where he was present) only debated the day when Easter would be celebrated and actually referred to the day as “the Saviour’s Passover”.

Eusebius of Caesarea, who was present at the Council of Nicea and recorded the events, does not use any name similar to Easter when describing the events. He used the Greek word “pascha” derived from the Hebrew word “pesach” (i.e. passover).

Eusebius writes: “A question of no small importance arose at that time. For the parishes of all Asia, as from an older tradition, held that the fourteenth day of the [new] moon … should be observed as the feast of the Savior’s Passover….”

The origin of the English word ‘Easter’ is actually unknown. The 8th century English scholar Bede believed that it probably came from ‘Eastre’, the Anglo-Saxon name of a Teutonic goddess of spring and fertility, to whom was dedicated a month corresponding to April. Her festival was celebrated on the day of the vernal equinox; traditions associated with the festival survive in the Easter rabbit (a symbol of fertility) and in Easter eggs, originally painted with bright colors to represent the sunlight of spring.

Did Constantine corrupt the church?

Again Constantine is accused of changing the day of worship from the Sabbath (i.e. the 7th day or Saturday) to Sunday. It is also claimed that he had sinister motives here because of a secret admiration for the sun god, Sol Invictus .

However the Church always honoured the first day of the week (i.e. Sunday) as the day that Jesus was resurrected.

Luke records in Apostolic times, “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread.” Acts 20:7

Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income…” (1 Cor 16:1-2)

In Rev 1:10 John writes, “On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit”. John’s disciple, Ignatius identifies the Lord’s day with Sunday when speaking of Jesus’ resurrection, “At the dawning of the Lord’s day He arose from the dead…” 1

1 The epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians

Did Constantine corrupt the church?

Justin Martyr wrote in the 2nd century, “But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead..” 1

So what did Constantine really do regarding Sunday?

Considering that a large number of Christians were slaves of heathen masters, and were not allowed to cease their labour on Sunday, Constantine came to the help of the church and legalized the observance of the Lord’s Day. He even allowed Christian soldiers leave to attend church on Sunday.

He forbade work on Sunday (a big deal to the slaves). Sunday was declared a day of rest, on which markets were banned and public offices were closed (except for the purpose of freeing slaves).

Hence, all Constantine did in 321 was to legalize Sunday for worship and a time of rest for all people, even though Sunday had already been set apart for centuries from the time of the original apostles.

Linking the choice of Sunday for the Christian day of worship because of sun god worship thus has no historic basis.

1 The first apology of Justin

Did Constantine corrupt the church?

One criticism leveled against Constantine is that he kept pagan gods on coins. From this it is ‘deduced’ that his motivation was to maintain popularity with his pagan subjects. However:

It is extremely debatable as to whether history can be extrapolated and motives inferred from the study of old coins.1

The representations of pagan gods disappear from Constantine’s coinage after 318 AD.

In 315 AD Constantine’s coins began to carry the Chi Rho symbol (a Greek monogram for Christ). Some later coins show the emperor gazing upwards in an attitude of prayer.

It cannot be denied that Constantine adapted an extremely pro-Christian course in policy-making that is totally inconsistent with someone simply seeking popularity with his many pagan, Gnostic and Jewish subjects.

1 Even verifiable facts - the external evidence - do not always explain the meaning of historical events or the motivations behind their occurrence. The interpretation of history can be subjective, as historians often tend to provide their own understanding and interpretations based on their particular biases and prejudices.

Constantine in an attitude of prayer.

Did Constantine corrupt the church?

One of the more influential forgeries of the world, referred to as the “Donation of Constantine”, came to light around the 8th century. This document was an alleged proclamation made by Constantine in 324 AD where he demonstrated his gratitude for being baptized by the Bishop of Rome, Sylvester, by granting him and his successors the status of “universal pope,” as well as “the city of Rome and all the provinces, districts and cities of Italy or of the western regions.” The “discovery” of this document helped firmly establish the control of the Pope over Rome and all of the Churches of Western Europe.

But in 1440, a scholar named Lorenzo Valla questioned the authenticity of the document e.g. Constantine was not baptized by Sylvester of Rome, but by Eusebius of Nicomedia. Another glaring error in the document was the fact that it quoted from Jerome’s translation of the Bible, despite the fact that Jerome was born 26 years after the alleged date of the “Donation of Constantine”. Although the Catholic Church has now admitted to the falseness of this document, its forgery gave the Church great power for centuries. Clearly, the forgery, quite opposite to the commands of God, deceived many to believe in the authority of the Church of Rome for a great part of the Middle Ages. This forgery had an enormously negative impact on world history as it provided the Church of Rome the corrupting power over both church and state.

Did Constantine corrupt the church?

Constantine has been criticized for the execution of his eldest and beloved son Crispus in 326 AD, and shortly thereafter his second wife Fausta. While the motivation is unclear, Zosimus in the 5th century wrote that Fausta, step-mother of Crispus, was extremely jealous of him. She was reportedly afraid that Constantine would put aside the sons she bore him, so in order to get rid of Crispus, she set him up. Fausta allegedly told the young Caesar that she was in love with him and suggested a love affair. Crispus denied her advances leaving the palace in a state of a shock. Fausta then convinced Constantine that Crispus had no respect for his father, since he was in love with her. She claimed that she had dismissed him after his attempt to rape her. Constantine believed her and executed his son. A few months later, Constantine reportedly discovered the truth and had Fausta executed.

Constantine did not receive baptism until shortly before his death in 337 AD, which some have again interpreted as a lack of sincerity or commitment. However in the 4th and 5th centuries Christians often delayed their baptisms until late in life.1 Ancient accounts indicate that he had hoped to be baptized in the Jordan River shortly before death, but was too sick to make it.

1 This was because of the prevalent idea that mortal sins committed after baptism were sins against the Holy Spirit and hence unforgivable.

Did Constantine corrupt the church?


Much of what is attributed to, or blamed on Constantine, was actually the work of his successors. However, by establishing the framework for a State Church, he paved the way for the conditions that would cause an ultimate drop in Christian standards, compromise and power mongering.

Some believe that by establishing Christianity as the preferred religion of the Roman Empire (which ultimately led to it becoming the official state religion), Constantine radically altered the church and accelerated its acceptance of pagan rituals and heretical doctrines.

Church historian Walter Nigg says, “As soon as Emperor Constantine opened the floodgates and the masses of the people poured into the Church out of sheer opportunism, the loftiness of the Christian ethos was done for.”

Pagan rituals and idols gradually took on Christian meanings and names and were incorporated into Christian worship.

“Saints” replaced pagan gods in both worship and as patrons of cities.

Mother / son statues were renamed Mary and Jesus.

Pagan holidays were reclassified as Christian holy days.

Did Constantine corrupt the church?

Is there evidence that this was actively encouraged by the church?

In 440 Leo I became the patriarch of Rome. He discouraged his congregation from mixing Christianity with sun worship and rebuked those who paid reverence to the sun god on the steps of St. Peter’s before entering the basilica.

How did the pagan influence enter the Church?

It’s possible that the pressure on pagans to forcefully convert caused false conversions and many of these people held on to pagan symbolism which they simply Christianized.1

Look at this example where Anatolios tried to conceal his paganism by ‘Christianising’ it. He, however, was condemned to death for this.

In 579 a revolt by the city of Baalbek was suppressed. Some who were tortured revealed that several high-ranking officials were involved in pagan cults. The governor of Edessa, Anatolios, was implicated. He was accused of having commissioned a portrait ostensibly of Christ, but actually of Apollo, so that he could surreptitiously worship the pagan god.

1 This is similar to the issue that the Jews had with the Samaritans.

Was the church ‘soft’ on paganism?

Does the following sound like a church that was initially “soft” on paganism?

In 391 Theophilus, bishop of Alexandria, had the temple of Serapis dismantled. In doing so, he was enforcing recent imperial legislation suppressing pagan temples. Called the Serapeum, it was the world’s largest temple to Serapis, a god of the sun, healing and fertility.

Having obtained the emperor Theodosius’ approval, Theophilus confiscated the Temple of Dionysius and started to convert it into a church. The statues were removed and the innermost shrines were opened. Then, to cast shame on the pagan mysteries, he ordered his followers to carry sacred objects out of the temple in a public procession. Thus he made a spectacle of the phalli (large models of male sex organs) and other ridiculous objects.1

The enraged pagans attacked the Christians, killed many and wounded others, and then seized the Serapeum using it as a fortress. They continued to drag Christians into the Serapeum, torture them, and compel them to sacrifice to the pagan gods. Those who refused had both legs broken. If they still refused they were crucified or killed in some other manner.1

1 Sozomen VII, xv

Was the church ‘soft’ on paganism?

When the local officials found they were unable to suppress this rebellion, they appealed to the emperor Theodosius. The pagans sustained the rebellion until the arrival of an edict ordering the destruction of all the temples. The emperor declared that the Christians who had been killed were blessed, because they were martyrs who suffered for the faith. He offered free pardon to those who had killed them, hoping by this act of clemency to induce pagans to convert to Christianity. The pagans then abandoned the Serapeum.

Was the church ‘soft’ on paganism?

The Christians then entered the Serapeum. Theophilus gazed on the statue of the god Serapis, no doubt the symbol to many Alexandrians of the principle of life and of the powers that ruled the underworld. Mutterings of superstitious fear were heard; to draw near the image was to cause an earthquake. The archbishop turned to a soldier who held an axe, and told him to “strike hard”. The man obeyed. A shriek of terror burst from many; another and another blow followed, the head was lopped off, and there ran out a troop of mice, which had “dwelt within the god of the Egyptians”. Misgiving and alarm gave way to noisy triumph; the body of Serapis was broken up and burned; the head was made a public show. At Canopus, 14 miles from Alexandria, temples were immediately laid low. The images were melted down into cauldrons and other vessels required in the Alexandrian church.

Was the church ‘soft’ on paganism?

A statue of Serapis in the Antalya Archaeological Museum.

The one exception was an image of an ape, which Theophilus set up in a public place “in perpetuam rei memoriam” (in everlasting remembrance of the event) to the anger of the pagans. During the demolition of various temples, hollow statues of bronze and wood were found, set against the walls, but capable of being entered by the priests, who thus carried on their trickery. 1 But when the Nile-gauge was moved from the Serapeum to the church, the pagans were concerned that the god would avenge himself by withholding the annual flooding of the Nile attributed to him. It was, in fact, delayed. The state of the city became dangerous and the prefect had to consult the emperor. Theodosius’ answer was: “If the Nile would not rise except by means of enchantments or sacrifices, let Egypt remain unwatered.” Thereafter the river began to rise with a vengeance. We don’t know the nature of the concessions Theophilus then made to the pagans for the sake of peace, but they didn’t prevent them from abusing him. 2

1 The secret entrance being used by the priests to ‘miraculously’ remove the foods and offerings that had been left for the idols to consume.

2 Sozomen, Socrates & a letter from Atticus to Theophilus's nephew Cyril.

Was the church ‘soft’ on paganism?

Examples like this certainly don’t indicate overt attempts by Theodosius to keep pagans happy by means of compromise.

We’ll see in the next study how in the 6th century the emperor Justinian and others started to persecute pagans, not embrace them.


Thus the relationship between early Christianity and the Greco-Roman world is extremely complex. Christianity was born into that world and it is true, that at times, there was some form of integration with the culture around it. Sometimes this integration may have been conscious and intentional. At other times it may have been unconscious. When it was deliberate, it was sometimes a compromise with the cultures, language and rituals in order to give them new (Christian) meaning.

Was the church ‘soft’ on paganism?

Possibly Constantine inadvertently “corrupted” the Church by legitimizing it. At first seen as a great benefit to the Christian community, entanglements with the political realm and with persons of great secular power soon burdened the church with problems. Today there is still debate over the relationship of Church and State and concern over the use of power to enforce religious belief and practice.

Bear in mind though, that there was no place in the world then, where religion and state were separated. There were no “secular states” like today.

In later years some would even purchase the position of bishop with money, as it came to be seen as a position of political influence.

Separation of church & state?

The birds of the air come and perch in its branches.



In the fall of the year, the mustard plant’s branches become rigid, and it often serves as a shelter for birds of many kinds.

The birds nesting in the tree must not be interpreted in a positive light. We must be consistent in translation and also translate Scripture with Scripture.

In the parable of the sower, the birds represented Satan and his minions.

Thus here the birds must also represent the cohorts of Satan. The Church starts to became worldly and corrupt, and the birds —symbolizing Satan and his emissaries — infiltrate the kingdom and find lodging in its organization.

Millions of new members pour in. Becoming a Christian is no longer a risk, but can even be politically and socially opportune, so the church has to deal with a new laxity in standards of belief and behavior.

We will look at a few of the corrupt doctrines that Satan introduced into the Church during this period, and the balance of them in the next study.


In this study we’ll cover:

Corruption: Satan and his cohorts infiltrate and ‘nest’ in the kingdom.


Prayer & alms for the dead

Baptismal regeneration

Infant baptism


The idea of purgatory was introduced.

“Purgatory is the process of purification by which… those who die in God’s grace and friendship achieve the holiness necessary for heaven.” 1

Also called the “final purification of the elect”, Purgatory is experienced only by those souls judged by God at the moment of death to be destined for heaven, and only by those that are as yet not perfectly holy. Purgatory involves temporal punishment 2 that is entirely different from the eternal punishment of the damned in hell. 1 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1030-1031 (section entitled, “The Final Purification, or Purgatory”). 2 Catholic Encyclopedia

Corruption - Purgatory

Lactantius was the first to refer to a judgment of the just by fire.

But also, when God will judge the just, it is likewise in fire that he will try them. At that time, they whose sins are uppermost, either because of their gravity or their number, will be drawn together by the fire and will be burned. Those, however, who have been imbued with full justice and maturity of virtue, will not feel that fire; for they have something of God in them which will repel and turn back the strength of the flame. 1

This seems to be a misinterpretation of 1 Cor 3:10-15. This passage refers to the testing of our works by fire, not ourselves. Reading it in context, it is speaking of rewards, not salvation.

1 Cor 3:12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

1 The Divine Institutions (304-310 AD)

Corruption - Purgatory

Augustine either introduced or ratified most of the error that came into the Church at this stage, most of which was to become the prevalent doctrine for a millennium.

Augustine wrote, “But the man who perhaps has not cultivated the land and has allowed it to be overrun with brambles has in this life the curse of his land on all his works, and after this life he will have either purgatorial fire or eternal punishment.” 1

1 Genesis Defended Against the Manichaeans (389 AD)


Dante's Purgatorio

Along with the unbiblical doctrine of purgatory came the idea of prayer and giving alms to assist the dead.

According to Augustine you could render assistance to those in purgatory by praying for them and by giving alms.

“But by the prayers of the Holy Church… and by the alms which are given for their spirits, there is no doubt that the dead are aided, that the Lord might deal more mercifully with them than their sins would deserve.” 1

Augustine also says, “Nor can it be denied that the souls of the dead find relief through the piety of their friends and relatives who are still alive, when the Sacrifice of the Mediator [Mass] is offered for them, or when alms are given in the Church. But these things are of profit to those who, when they were alive, merited that they might afterward be able to be helped by these things. There is a certain manner of living, neither so good that there is no need of these helps after death, nor yet so wicked that these helps are of no avail after death.” 2

1 Sermons 159:1 (391-430) 2 Enchiridion of Faith, Hope, and Love 18:69 (421)

Corruption – Prayer & alms for the dead

Do we need to undergo temporary punishment before we can be admitted to heaven? The Bible says:

We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. (2 Cor 5:8 KJV)

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment. (Heb 9:27 KJV)

Do some need a “top-up” on the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross, to give them a final last push into heaven?

1 Thess 5:9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

When Jesus died, he cried “It is finished” (John 19:30) showing that the work of salvation was completed.

To imply that Jesus’ sacrifice will not cover all our sins, is to diminish his sacrifice on Calvary. We confess; that is all – we don’t need alms and the prayer of others to assist in our redemption.

1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Purgatory & prayer for the dead

Baptismal regeneration is the idea that water baptism is essential for salvation. Augustine writes:

neither salvation nor eternal life can be hoped for by any man without baptism and the Lord’s Supper.” 1

Baptism washes away all, absolutely all, our sins, whether of deed, word, or thought, whether sins original or added, whether knowingly or unknowingly contracted. 2

This idea arose because of a misunderstanding of Jesus’ words “no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit”. ‘Born of water’ was seen as a reference to baptism. Looking in context, Jesus is simply contrasting natural birth with spiritual birth.

John 3:5-6 … no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water 3 and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.

1 Forgiveness and the Just Deserts of Sin and the Baptism of Infants (AD 412). 2 Against Two Letters of the Pelagians (AD 420). 3 I.e. a reference to the water of the womb. Jesus was answering Nicodemus’ question “can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?”

Corruption - Baptismal regeneration

Augustine was wrong on both counts. Neither water baptism nor communion are prerequisites for salvation. Water baptism is an outward sign of the regenerative work of salvation that has already happened inside. Communion is a memorial of Jesus’ death and not an additional prop for salvation. We are saved by grace through faith and “not by works”.

Eph 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

From the idea that baptism was necessary for salvation, came the practice of baptizing children, just in case they died in infancy.

It is this one Spirit who makes it possible for an infant to be regenerated … when that infant is brought to baptism; and it is through this one Spirit that the infant so presented is reborn.1

1 Augustine - Letters 98:2 (AD 412)

Corruption - Baptismal regeneration


Because of original sin, Augustine stated that infants who are not baptized cannot be saved. He held that damnation for the lost is eternal, but that the torture of unbaptized children will be the most mild of all.

Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven belonged to little children and that their angels always saw his Father’s face:

Matt 18:2 He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3 And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven… 10 See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.

Matt 19:13 Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. 14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Corruption – infant baptism

Interestingly enough, although infant baptism was being practiced it was still by immersion, not sprinkling, even in the late 6th / early 7th century. In Rome it was also by triple immersion, although in 591 AD the bishop of Rome, Gregory admits that single immersion was also practiced and legitimate in his opinion:

“Now we, in immersing thrice, signify the sacraments of the three days’ sepulture; so that, when the infant is a third time lifted out of the water, the resurrection after a space of three days may be expressed. Or, if any one should perhaps think that this is done out of veneration for the supreme Trinity, neither so is there any objection to immersing the person to be baptized in the water once, since, there being one substance in three subsistences, it cannot be in any way reprehensible to immerse the infant in baptism either thrice or once, seeing that by three immersions the Trinity of persons, and in one the singleness of the Divinity may be denoted.” (Book I, Epistle XLIII)

We already saw in our last study how the Bible teaches believers baptism.

Corruption – infant baptism

Gifts of the Holy Spirit

In Christian theology, Cessationism is the view that the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as tongues, prophecy and healing, ceased being practiced early on in Church history. Cessationists usually believe the miraculous gifts were given only for the foundation of the Church, during the time between the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost … and the fulfillment of God’s purposes in history, usually identified as either the completion of the last book of the New Testament or the death of the last Apostle. 1

Cessationists argue that since the completion of the NT, the gifts of Prophecy and Knowledge have been rendered useless since no new knowledge from God needs to be given.

In effect Cessationism demands a two-level canon: one for the 1st century and one for the rest of the Church.

They appeal to Church history to substantiate that this cessation of the gifts indeed occurred. However we cannot base doctrine on one’s experience, or lack of it, but upon the Scripture. In any event when we previously looked at the historical evidence, we saw that supernatural gifts and tongues were present in the 2nd and 3rd century church. Let’s look now at this period from the 4th to 6th century.

1 Wikipedia

The gifts of the Holy Spirit

In the 4th century Athanasius (295-373) comments, “We know bishops who work wonders [miracles]…” 1

The hermit, Hilarion (305-385) was born in the City of Gaza. Jerome, who knew him personally, relates, “Time would fail me if I wished to relate all the miracles which were wrought by him.” 2

Hilarion cured a woman from Eleutheropolis (a Roman city in Palestine) who had been barren for 15 years. Later, he cured blindness, raised children from the dead, healed a paralyzed charioteer, and expelled demons.

Hilarion once encountered a paralyzed man: “…weeping much and stretching out his hand to the prostrate man he said, ‘I bid you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, arise and walk.’ The words were still on the lips of the speaker when, with miraculous speed, the limbs were strengthened and the man arose and stood firm.”

1 Athanasius, ‘Life of Antony’ 2 Jerome, The Life of Saint Hilarion

The gifts of the Holy Spirit

Ninian’s mission to Galloway (Scotland) in the late 4th century was apparently made possible by his healing of a local king's blindness.

Ambrose (338-397) was the bishop of Milan in AD 374. He states, “… as the Father gives the gift of healings, so too does the Son give; as the Father gives the gift of tongues, so too has the Son also granted it.” 1

In the 5th century Jerome (347-420) had a visitation of Christ himself, who instructed Him to turn away from learning worldly philosophy. He recorded the miracles of other Christians.

Augustine the bishop of Hippo (354-443) wrote, “We still do what the apostles did when they laid hands on the Samaritans and called down the Holy Spirit on them by laying on of hands. It is expected that new converts should speak with new tongues.” 2

1 Ambrose, ‘Of the Spirit’

2 Augustine, ‘The City of God’

The gifts of the Holy Spirit

Who originated the idea of ‘Cessationism’?

Like many of the strange ideas coming from this period, Cessationism and the argument from 1 Cor 13 comes from the champion of allegorical interpretation, namely Augustine.

On analogy with 1 Cor 13:10, the completion of the canon of Scripture was reckoned by Augustine to have ‘perfected’ the revelation of God, such that personal speaking in tongues and other forms of ecstatic and prophetic utterance had ‘passed away’.

‘Perfection’ here was seen to be a reference to the completed NT and would became a standard Cessationist argument in years to come.

1 Cor 13:8-10 … But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.

This is a controversial way of interpreting this passage, but typical of Augustine’s allegorical interpretation method. Paul wrote:

Romans 11:29 …for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit

But what about the previous quote from Augustine in support of speaking in tongues?

Augustine originally wrote that miracles were only for the foundation of the Church, but later repudiated this position, and in his ‘City of God’ provides samples of over 70 miracles he recorded in and around his churches.

He wrote: “But what I said is not to be so interpreted that no miracles are believed to be performed in the name of Christ in the present time. For when I wrote that book, I myself had recently learned that a blind man had been restored to sight… and I knew about some others, so numerous even in these times, that we cannot know about all of them nor enumerate those we know.”

His statement supporting individual speaking in tongues was also from his later years. He previously had proposed an allegorical view, with speaking in tongues being collectively fulfilled by the church taking the gospel to the nations of varying languages.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit

Yet Augustine’s original opinion was to gain favour in the years to come. Most accounts from here on until the modern era, regarding speaking in tongues came from groups outside the mainstream ‘catholic’ church.

There are still many accounts of miracles although they start to be linked to relics and other such superstitious influences, rather than the power of God in the Spirit-filled believer.

John Chrysostom (347-407) and the Roman bishop ‘Gregory the Great’ (c. 540–604) wrote of the relative absence of the gifts, and surmised either that such “signs and wonders” were no longer necessary to confirm a Gospel now well established within Christendom, or that they had been sidelined because of their abuse.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit

The fact is, there is no plain, unambiguous statement in the New Testament that the charismatic gifts will cease. 1

We saw in a previous study that one of the hermeneutical rules of interpreting scripture is to cross-reference the usage of the word we wish to interpret with it’s usage in other passages.

The Cessationist theory relies, instead, on a particular interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13:10 that equates the phrase – “when that which is perfect has come” - to mean “when the New Testament Canon has come”, however, that construction of the word “perfect” is inconsistent with every other analogous N.T. reference to the concept of “perfection”. In contrast, almost every other N.T. reference to the concept of “perfection” refers instead to the believer’s ultimate state of maturity and perfection in Christ, e.g. Ephesians 4:13, Colossians 1:28. Neither of these two example verses would make any sense if read as references to the perfect New Testament Canon itself. No other N.T. reference, which contains the words “perfect” or “perfection”, can be read in such a manner as to refer to the New Testament Canon itself. Therefore, this suggests that the Cessationists interpretation of 1 Cor 13:10 is an isolated and distorted interpretation that is out of kilter with the other analogous verses of similar subject matter.1

1 Wikipedia

The gifts of the Holy Spirit


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