Was Jesus Just another Martyr?: The Heresy of Socinianism

Was Jesus Just another Martyr?
The Heresy of Socinianism
By: Rev. Joe Kramer

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,
-Colossians 2:9 (NIV)


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

This heresy started in Poland in the 16th century by Laelius Socinus and Faustus Socinus. This teaching states that only man needs to be reconciled by God (which is true). The problem comes in how they said you should obtain reconciliation. They believed that one must come to God through their own will, not through grace. They taught that one must improve our moral character in order to become right with God, which can only happen through sheer will and repentance. The death of Christ was only to show us how to be a martyr and was of no power than any other martyr. They taught that the language the writers of the New Testament used, when talking about Christ, was merely a way to illustrate His life. In other words the writers didn’t really mean what they wrote; when it says that Jesus died for our sins, they would teach, it is not really what is meant.

Now where Socinians have gone wrong, Biblically speaking:

  • They have totally denied the trinity in their teaching.
  • They teach the Holy Spirit is a force from God, not a person and apart of the Godhead.
  • They teach that Jesus is not divine but a perfect example of how we should live, just as any other martyr.
  • They placed emphasis on human rationality instead of Biblical authority.

This teaching denies Biblical Christianity and must be condemned. So the question is asked, “Where do we find this kind of teaching today?” Well this teaching has survived primarily through the Unitarian tradition (as well as smaller fringe groups). We will leave today’s Unitarians as a subject for another time.

While Jesus is the perfect example of how we should live, He did a lot more than be an example. He died for our sins so that we might be made right with God. Not through anything we have done, but through what He did. This is where the two verses above refute this kind of teaching.

May God bless you today my friends.

Sources Consulted in the Writing of this Article

  • The Pulpit Commentary: Index. 2004 (H. D. M. Spence-Jones, Ed.) (399). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
  • Strong, A. H. (1907). Systematic theology (732–733). Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society.
  • Cross, F. L., & Livingstone, E. A. (2005). The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed. rev.) (1671). Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Slick, M. Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry. Socinianism. http://carm.org/socinianism

4 thoughts on “Was Jesus Just another Martyr?: The Heresy of Socinianism

  1. “They believed that one must come to God through their own will, not through grace.”

    Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD. So says Scripture. What did he find? It was mercy. Grace was not a magic power enabling him to believe; he already believed. Grace was not a magic power enabling him to be righteous; he is described as already being ‘blameless’ in his generation.

    What then did this ‘grace’ that Noah found in the eyes of the LORD do for him? It was mercy; grace was mercy. When God decided to destroy the whole world with a flood, he came to Noah and gave him and only him (and by extension his family) a way out. The ‘grace’ Noah found was ‘mercy’ not magic enabling power.

    Since Augustine the definition of grace has been changed. The whole controversy really was about nothing but the definition of grace. Pelagius stuck to Genesis 6 and grace = mercy. Augustine arguing that grace = power of enabling. Both maintained that grace is necessary to salvation but they meant different things. Augustine meant you need grace (magic enabling power) to enable you to believe; Pelagius meant you need grace (God’s mercy) to forgive you of your sins. Because of political corruption in the church, because of the meddling of Constantine and other emperors, and the conversion of pagans into priests without true Christian conviction, Augustine’s moronic definition was chosen, and from that point forward we are arguing the most absurd concept ever, that one cannot believe without a magic power of enabling!

    There is no point in me dealing with any other point of Socinianism. But this one point, that grace comes to play when we need mercy and forgiveness (for the Socinians just like the Pelagians do believe in the necessity of grace in the sense of mercy and forgiveness) rather than at the point prior to beleif (as magic enabling power)…here they are obviously right. If being wrong on this point constitutes heresy, then everyone who does not follow the Pelagian definition of grace, the definition from Genesis 6 and a the rest of the Old Testament and the Gospel generally, are the heretics.

  2. Its hard to find a good description of Socinus’ beliefs, and since his writings haven’t been translated into English (which I find so annoying) you can’t read it for yourself to see what he taught. But I’ve seen here and there the idea that Socinus taught not just that Jesus was just another martyr but that Jesus was crucified to satisfy our need for a sacrifice (rather than God’s), because we are the ones who needed to be reconciled to God (not God to us). Have you seen anything like that?

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