This article serves as a reminder to mainstream Christians about the origins of the word "heresy." While today heresy has an immediate and profoundly negative connotation, this was not always true. Originally, the root of the word heresy implied a "choice," or a "different school of thought." This implied a difference, but not necessarily incorrectness. For instance, the word "hairesis" was used by Josephus, a first century Jewish historian, to describe the three branches of Judaism"Sadducees, Essenes, and Pharisees. While these three sects had different understandings of their faith, there was not a sense of condemnation. In fact, without the three branches existing and interacting with the increasingly Hellenized culture, there is no guarantee that Judaism would have survived or that Christianity would have developed. Therefore, heresy took part in sustaining and creating faiths. There was not a negative connotation to the word until the early Church began to establish itself, and to strive for unity to ensure its survival. Even then, it was not the fact that there were different opinions that was problematic, but rather that those differences could break down unity. Heresies, or differences, were against the agenda of the Church; soon the Church began to correlate heresy with blasphemy, and began persecuting heretics. The author hopes that this reminder of the origins of the word heresy will help contemporary Christians to think critically about their use of the word today.
"A Case for Heresy,"
Denison Journal of Religion: Vol. 11, Article 2.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.denison.edu/religion/vol11/iss1/2