A transliteration of the Greek hairesis, which denoted either a set of principles or those who adhered to such principles as a sect or school. Especially among Christians and Jews, the term came to refer to those holding false doctrines or teachings, obviously so designated by those who professed to have the true doctrines and to belong to the correct party or sect (Lampe, 1961, p. 51). Early is not characterized by an easily identified organization or a set body of beliefs, and some scholars have argued that all Christianity in Egypt prior to the episcopacy of DEMETRIUS, bishop of Alexandria in 189-231, was heretical. For them, Demetrius is the “second founder of Christianity,” who brought the version of the faith to Egypt.

Many Christians in the Nile Valley, both with Demetrius and subsequent to that time, argued that the newly arrived Catholic faith was itself heretical, and charges and countercharges of continued for centuries. Even before the time of Demetrius, there were some who have become known as and founders of heretical movements. Such designations are meaningful primarily for those who were perceived as having established or practices not acceptable to others claiming leadership in the Christian churches.

While most so-called of early are also included under the generic term “Gnostic,” there is little justification for considering them to be anything other than distinct and disparate subgroups within the larger Christian community. Some of the more famous early associated with Christian Egypt were Basilides, CARPOCRATES, CERINTHUS, and VALENTINUS. Heretical groups with no specifically identified founder included the Ophites and the Sethians, among others.


  • Griggs, C. W. Early Egyptian Christianity. Brill, 1989. Lampe, G. W. H. A Patristic Lexicon. Oxford, 1961.
  • Schlier, H. “Aƒršomai.” In Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. G. Kittel, Vol. 1, pp. 180-85. Grand Rapids, Mich. 1964.