The Church of Ephesus serves as a dire warning to today’s believers, living in a pagan world. The body of Christ should not stray away from scripture, or the guidance of the Holy Spirit; to follow any contradictory doctrine of a pastor, bishop, theologian, seminary or church. We are to love God and one another; and trust that the Holy Spirit will guide us to all truth, and finally listen with our ears to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. (Revelation 2:7)
“However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.”
The believer in Christ is promised by Jesus in scripture, that the Holy Spirit will not only guide us to all truth, He will also instruct us in truth, bring truth to our remembrance and give us the words to speak in the hour of our need.
“But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him.” (I John 2:27)
In the book of Revelation, Jesus is introduced in the first chapter; as the one who stands in the midst of the seven golden lamp stands (the churches). He stands alone; holding the messengers in His right hand with authority as King and with judgement. Christ alone administers the Word of God; which is living and active; Like a sword piercing the soul and spirit, the Word also discerns the thoughts and hearts of every individual who hears, through the Holy Spirit. (Hebrews 4:12-13) No one else, but Jesus, is standing in the midst of the churches or in the midst of those who gather in His name. (Matthew 18:20)
Based on this contextual reference, Jesus warns the church of Ephesus that if they do not repent, He would remove their lampstand from its place. (Revelation 2:5) The reason for this was that they had become so distracted by hating the “deeds” of evil, that they missed being in love with God. The church of Ephesus became so hyper focused on hating false teaching, that they were unable to balance out the love of God with grace. The truth of hating evil, transitioned into the favoring of man made oracles, negating love and grace in their behavior.
The eyes of the Church of Ephesus began to wander to pagan influences that revered icons, individuals, and images. They embraced the religious traditions of man verses tending to the sheep and feeding the sheep. (John 21:15-19) The Ephesians never foresaw that their love for Jesus would be supplanted with a love for sacred objects and saints elevated to intermediators. In this, they lost their love for one another and allowed divisions to evolve into divisive behavior, which led to violence. The fruit of the spirit was replaced by traditions and rituals and the word of God was superseded by “Church doctrines of men”. Christ was no longer sufficient and the Holy Spirit became regulated to a mystical tool. Their religion became God plus traditions, icons, images, Mary and Saints; all embodied in gnostic paganism. The theology of the time became integrated with just a little truth, deluded with doctrinal changes, from the papacy, along with unsubstantiated traditions; not found in scripture. This is reminiscent of the first century Pharisees and Sadducees, who argued with Jesus.
Since the focus of this article is on the church of Ephesus, we will examine how the pagan influences of Ephesus corrupted sound Biblical doctrine, and led to its removal. The foundation of Ephesus was deeply rooted in paganism which was originally founded by Amazons around 1100 BC, who worshiped the Anatolian mother goddess.1 This goddess became known as Cybele, the Great Mother (in Greek culture). She originated from the goddess Ishtar.2 It was Ishtar that was the basis for the other goddesses; Isis in Egypt, Diana in Rome and Artemis in Ephesus. The mother of gods started circulating all over Asia Minor, Greece, Babylon and eventually Rome.3 Different names based on languages and culture, but the same goddess.
The worship of Ishtar involved many reverent tiles by the Babylonians. These familiar titles include, “The Virgin,” “The Holy Virgin,” “The Virgin Mother,” “Goddess of Goddesses,” and “Queen of Heaven and Earth.”4 Throughout the Greek and Roman Empire the goddess cult evolved, she was portrayed with her “divine child Horus” in her arms and was universally declared “Queen of Heaven” and “Mother of God.”5
Let us remember; how God feels about the queen of heaven, while examining the following passage of Scripture: 16“Therefore do not pray for this people, nor lift up a cry or prayer for them, nor make intercession to Me; for I will not hear you. 17Do you not see what they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? 18The children gather wood, the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, that they may provoke Me to anger. 19Do they provoke Me to anger?” says the Lord. “Do they not provoke themselves, to the shame of their own faces?” (Jeremiah 7:16-19) See also: (Jeremiah 44:18-25)
The worship of Ishtar spread throughout the ancient world, and soon evolved into the worship of the goddess Cybele. She maintains the ‘queen of heaven‘ title, and soon incorporated into the ‘Great Mother‘ of the Roman Empire.6
It is not a hard sell to see the thread in commonality between the goddess Cybele and Mary. It was Mary, who was nefariously appointed the ‘Great Mother‘ of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. She is also revered as the ‘Queen of Heaven‘.
According to Philippe Borgeaud, a professor of the history of religion at the University of Geneva, Cybele became incorporated into the worship of Artemis; who is also known as Diana in Rome. Virtually the same goddesses, with different names, based on cultural backgrounds.7 The worship of Artemis became so popular at Ephesus, that it led to the building of the temple of Artemis, Magna Mater (Great Mother). This temple took 120 years to complete and became the centerpoint of religious, political and economic commerce. One month of every year was used to celebrate Artemis, where no work was conducted during this month-long celebration.8 It was in this intense, pagan environment that the Christians of Ephesus lived.
It was in the late part of the 1st century that gnostic writing began to emerge and infiltrate the emerging church. Gnostic doctrine was immediately condemned by the church as heresy. One such gnostic document was; ‘The Ascension of Isaiah,’ which promoted the false teachings of Arianism and the eternal virgin state of Mary the mother of Jesus.9 This writing was immediately condemned by the early church as heresy, but it slowly began to seep its way into church culture, replacing biblical teachings with gnostic and pagan doctrines.
As the Mother cult grew it soon incorporated virgins to be the mediators of virtue. In the first centuries of the Roman Empire the virgin presence was found in all religious and mythological traditions concerning the Great Mother. Vestal Nuns even became incorporated into the Diana worship of Rome. Professor Borgeaud describes the role of the virgins; that as to “mediate between the heavenly world and the earthly world”.10 He then writes, “It is remarkable that the Christian and non-Christian discourses introducing such a figure are contemporaneous. It is particularly striking because among these various speculations each envisions the mediating virgin in its own way. Certainly, there are connections, especially with regard to Gnosticism.”10
By the time the first church was built in Rome, the gnostic and pagan roots of the ‘Mother of Goddesses cult’ had entangled itself into an unrecognizable Mary doctrine. A mosaic was dedicated to the “Holy Mother”, depicting her as the Empress of Heaven, who sits on a throne, also known as the Queen of Heaven. As mentioned earlier this depiction came from Babylonian pagan worship.11
Professor Kenneth Scott Latourette describes the pagan Gnostic threat as such, “When combined with certain elements from Christianity, Gnosticism proved so attractive that, while no accurate figures are obtainable, the suggestion has been made that for a time the majority of those who regarded themselves as Christians adhered to one or another of its many forms. The Gnosticism which essayed to knit Christ into its speculations included many different systems.”12
The Ascension of Isaiah heresy, had so infiltrated the church with its Gnosticism, that it began to blend into common, every Sunday sermons, about Mary. These sermons began to distort the truth about her and the life she lived. They even denied scripture. The lie of the perpetual virginity of the goddesses was now indoctrinated into Mary. In 429 A.D. Proclus, a Patriarch of Constantinople, preached a sermon in which he said, “The Virgins festival incites our tongue to herald her praise.”13
Should a believer offer praise to anyone but God?
He continues on and describes Mary in this way,”Handmaid and Mother, Virgin and heaven, the only bridge of God to men, the awful loom of the Incarnation, in which by some unspeakable way the garment of that union was woven, whereof the weaver is the Holy Ghost; and the spinner the overshadowing from on high; the wool the ancient fleece of Adam; the woof the undefiled flesh from the virgin, the weaver’s shuttle the immense grace of Him who brought it about; the artificer the Word gliding through the hearing”13
Notice how Mary is declared, “the only bridge” between God and men. Compare this statement to scripture. This heresy is why so many are desperate to distort scripture and declare her sinless, when in fact, scripture declares that she was bestowed grace. Just as we all are by Him, Who is Grace, Jesus Christ our Lord. (John 1:14)
6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (John 14:6)
It was Cyril, the Bishop of Alexandria, who coined the phrase Theotokos, which means God-bearing or Mother of God. He was obviously influenced by the Gnostics in Alexandria and motivated by ambition for leadership. He wanted Mary declared Mother of God, which created a major conflict in the church. Nestorius, the Bishop of Constantinople, held to the view that scripture needed to be interpreted literally and not allegorically. He zealously opposed Arianism, Gnosticism and Theotokos. The conflict became so great, that fractions began to split the church among those who followed Cyril and those who followed Nestorius. Nestorius vigorously argued that Mary was the mother of Jesus in the flesh, but not the pre- incarnate Christ, for Jesus Christ “was, is, and is to come” the Alpha and Omega. His arguments were misaligned and distorted by Cyril and others long after his death.
How can Mary be the mother of the God Head? Is Jesus not part of the Triune Godhead? We as Christians believe in one God, but three persons within the Godhead. Is Mary then ‘Mother of God the Father’ or God the Holy Spirit? Absolutely not. Therefore Mary cannot be the Mother of God, but of the man Jesus. Remember our flesh is weak, but our spirit is willing. We also have two natures, although ours war with one another. (Mark 14:38) (Romans 7:21-23)
The debate raged on until the council of Ephesus. In 431 the council started early, dominated by Cyril and his supporters. They then adopted the gnostic view that Mary was the ‘Mother of God’. They condemned Nestorius and eventually excommunicated him. Memnon the Bishop of Ephesus and a supporter of Cyril, stirred up the “Christian” population of Ephesus to commit violent acts against Nestorius and the brethren, who supported him.14
That night Ephesus lost its first love in three ways. First, they took the pagan, Mother of Gods demonology, (Artemis, Cybele, Ishtar, Isis, and Diana) and transformed it into an idolitros Maryology doctrine. This Mother of God theology ultimately denies the sufficiency of the Godhead in the life of the believer. It adds a second mediator to Jesus, and it denies the sole supremacy of Christ to forgive sins. Secondly The Church of Ephesus was no longer listening to the Holy Spirit. They allowed their ears to be tickled with false teaching. As a result, divisions were created which replaced the ‘fruits of the Holy Spirit’ with bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, evil speaking. Thus they grieved the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 4:30-32) They forgot to love the word of God, to hide it in their heart. Thirdly they forgot that loving God, requires loving others. They did not stir up love and good works, instead they committed violence against fellow believers, failing to be hospitable. The Ephesians sought their own righteousness and validated it through man made doctrine instead of Gods word. (1Peter 4:7-10)
Ironically at the end of the seventh century Ephesus and its churches were utterly destroyed by Muslim raiders, thus forever removing the lampstand of the Ephesians Church. To this day there is not a regular meeting church at Ephesus. Jesus kept His promise, as He will with us. Sadly the “queen of heaven” title still stands in reference to Mary. Scented candles burn, baring the image of their goddess. Many churches use the title as a name, for their place of worship, supplanting Jesus for the queen of heaven. With this in contemplation, one is reminded by the words of Jude:
“Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ. Likewise also these dreamers defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries. But these speak evil of whatever they do not know; and whatever they know naturally, like brute beasts, in these things they corrupt themselves. Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.” (Jude 1:3-4) (Jude 1:8) (Jude1:10-11)
This is why we as Christians today must not be distracted in our love for Jesus or for one another. We must have a singular focus on Jesus, ignoring the pagan storms surrounding us. The temptation, is to add to scripture, or neuter it, and then doubt the power of God in our lives. Today the pagan world is engulfing us. We must grow in our love for God and for others, growing in the fruits of the Spirit. The tendency is that we become so enraged at evil, that we take our anger out at those perpetuating the evil. These individuals are also lost and need reconciliation. Anger and rage will never succeed in sharing the blessed hope of Christ, while love never fails. We must listen to the Spirit and we must overcome by the blood of the Lamb. True love of discipleship requires us to feed the lambs, tend to all the sheep, and then feed the sheep. We must embody the fruit of the Spirit.
- Ephesians, An Exegetical Commentary by Harold W. Hoehner Pg. 81
- Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage–New York: Simon and Schuster, 1954 Pg 235,266,288,294-295
- A History of the Christian Church edition 1959 by Williston Walker Pg. 10
- Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage —New York: Simon and Schuster, 1954, Pg. 235,236
- Will Durant, Caesar and Christ —New York: Simon and Schuster, 1944, Pg. 523
- Book of the goddesses, past and present. By Carl Olson 1983
- Mother of Gods, From Cybele to the Virgin Mary, 1996 edition, by Philippe Borgeaud
- The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 1, 1989, Pg. 307
- The Ascension of Isaiah 11:1-17
- Mother of Gods, From Cybele to the Virgin Mary, 1996 edition, by Philippe Borgeaud, Pg. 127
- This describes the Santa Maria Maggiore for more reading on the subject: Theotokos by G.A.Wellen edition 1961 Pgs. 93-138
- A History of Christianity, by Kenneth Scott Latourette, 1953, Pg. 123
- Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary; Herbert Thurston, Vol. 5, Catholic Encyclopedia 1913
- A History of Christianity, by Kenneth Scott Latourette, 1953, Pg. 148-173