1 Tim 6: 20-21, Paul warns against what is falsely called “knowledge”...
through which, some have wandered from the faith’. Paul is
warning against an error, which may have later developed in the
second century into what is termed as ‘Gnosticism’. The name
comes from the Greek word ‘gnosis’ (meaning ‘revealed
knowledge’), which identifies the character of the heresy. It
flourished during the second and third centuries and presented a
major challenge to early Orthodox Christianity.
is a Greek philosophical belief, which encompasses the
persuasion that all matter is evil, and in contrast, spirit is
good. For example, it taught that the human spirit and soul is
imprisoned within the evil material body. Therein
departing from the fundamental biblical concept of good and
evil. (Isaiah 5:20-21)
This Gnostic belief developed into a
doctrinal heresy known as ‘Dualism’.
In the second century Dualism was
made up of a blend of Jewish legalism, Christian doctrine and
Eastern mysticism, and was found in strong sects opposing the
early Church, like Marcionism, and then later in the fifth
century with the Nestorians.
Dualism doctrine is explained as follows:
explain the origin of the material universe, the Gnostics took
from Persia a mindset of mythology. The world, because it was
matter, was not made by the one good unknowable spirit God,
but by a lesser divinity generated by an emanation (or likeness)
of the great Spirit God. This emanation (or demi-urge)
was considered an evil god, and intent in keeping humanity
immersed in ignorance. He was identified as the God of the Old
Testament whom Gnostics rejected. It was within this exegesis,
they explained the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, the
flood, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah etc.
all matter was evil, Jesus could not have come in the flesh in
human form, but only seemed to appear as such - thus
denying the Lord’s humanity. Hence, their doctrine supported the
idea that the ‘divine Logos’ came upon Jesus at baptism and
departed prior to crucifixion. To substantiate their teachings
they wrote the Apocryphal Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of
Mary. The Nestorians of the 5th century aligned their
theology of the incarnation to this error.
The Coptic/Gnostic Gospel of Judas
describes Judas as the hero apostle because, according to them,
he was the only disciple who apparently possessed the courage to
obey Jesus’ command to betray Him, and thereby loosing Jesus’
soul from the body of his own imprisonment.
Salvation was attained by ‘knowing the truth’, or receiving
‘enlightened revelation’, whilst at the same time, and equally
as important, avoiding contamination with matter.
basis, a sinner was only be accepted by God through disciplined
behavior, and gaining sufficient knowledge to be ‘at one’ with
the spirit-god. Therefore becoming “one” with him in
spirit, also took on another meaning contesting John’s doctrine
in John 17:22.
Additionally, Jesus was reclassified as a non-human
spiritual teacher. This is ‘Docetic’ heresy.
Gnostic sects rejected all the sacraments; others observed only
baptism and the Eucharist, interpreting them as signs of the
awakening of gnosis.
Spiritism was used in the use of magic formulae and hymns to
help achieve a vision of God. Other formulas were recited to
ward off demons that might capture the ascending spirit of the
believer at death.
Gnostics generally rejected the teachings of the Old Testament,
regarding them as part of the evil demi-god. Based upon the
belief that their souls were alien to their material body and to
the material world, many Gnostics no longer constrained
themselves from sins because their sin related only to their
material body, and not their spirit.
thinking influenced great writers of the day like Origen,
however other great men like Irenaeus were quick to write
against, what Paul may have identified as, ‘the gangrenous
Christians of the second century found it difficult to combat,
and yet, in rising up to cast out this heresy they were forced
into clarifying their own theology and doctrines.
The Apostles Creed, written early second
Century, was evidence of this, and included terms such as:
identified God as not being a mere demi-urge;
"Jesus Christ.... born of Virgin
Mary”- against their claim of Jesus not being of human flesh
as a man;
resurrection of the flesh”-
signifying Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead.
councils like the Council of Ephesus militated against
Nestorius, preacher in Antioch and later, Patriarch of
Constantinople, 428AD (picture) who taught a similar claim that
Christ’s divinity could not have been resident in a human body
prior to baptism.
Gnostics saved? On the basis of their denial of Christ’s
incarnation, the denial of the humanity of Jesus as being
fully man when sacrificed on the cross in our place, and their
denial of the bodily resurrection; - Gnostic belief
remains anti-Christ and opposed to God’s gospel of salvation.
the end of the third century, Orthodox Christianity had
strengthened and Gnosticism as a distinct movement had largely
disappeared. Today only one small non-Christian sect, the
Mandaeans, exists in Iraq and Iran. Periodically, Dualistic
views reappeared throughout Church history in many forms e.g.
Manichaeism, that is: inflicting suffering upon the body as a
form of penance (Augustine) and later, with the Albigenses in
modern form of Gnosticism today is found in eastern philosophy,
in some forms of Christian Science, and in the writings of Carl
Jung. Traces of it have been resurrected in some churches, where
teachings supporting “total depravity” doctrines are taken to
excess wherein all ‘flesh’ is considered evil