An Overview of Gnosticism and the Bible
In AD 1209, the entire population of the Albigens was slaughtered at the order of Pope Innocent III. The Albigens, in the south of France, was then the most populous, the most technically, socially, and economically advanced part of Europe. Its population was largely Gnostics and Arian Christians, and were a sanctuary for Jews who were persecuted almost everywhere else in Europe. All of these groups had a high percentage of literacy and read the Bible, which was prohibited by the Vatican.
Innocent III was seeking to put a stop to the latest "Gnostic heresy", but found it to be entrenched throughout Europe, so he followed the "Cathar Crusade" with the creation of the Inquisition, resulting in countless people being slowly and brutally tortured to death over the next 500 years for even the mere suspicion of heresy. Innocent also reinstated a prohibition against the owning or reading of Bibles by anyone other than clergy, under penalty of death.
The above was an introduction to an essay I read years ago, but it is sad historical fact. What is it about the Gnostics, Arians, and Jews that produces such rage and fear within official Christendom? Gnosticism is often defined as a "cult" of "secret knowledge" or to quote, "These gospels emphasize knowledge that initiates have and others do not."
This is a Christian definition and an attempt to separate itself from its origins. Many Gnostic groups shared with Christians a rejection of Laws of Moses and salvation by works; a belief that other beings created the material world; the shared belief of a divine mediator between God and man; and finally the belief that nothing "worldly" is of any importance. Only faith in or knowledge of this divine mediator (1 Tim 2:5), would lead one to salvation and eternal life.
Gnosticism envisaged the world as a series of emanations from the highest "One", that produced a series of emanations. The lowest emanation was an evil god (the Demiurge) who created the material world as a prison for the divine sparks that dwell in human bodies. The Gnostics identified this evil creator with the God of the Old Testament, and saw the Adam/Eve and the ministry of Jesus as attempts to liberate humanity from his dominion, by imparting divine secret wisdom. Gnostics like Christians take an allegorical view of the Old Testament. Gnosticism is loaded with Buddhism and other Eastern religious themes, and draws heavily on Platonism.
What I present here will be very controversial. Gnosticism is not a defined religion as such, but often a theological dumping ground for "heresies" as defined by the official Christian Church. It was a process of denial and murder dating back to the time of Constantine and Nicaea in 325 AD. In my view Christianity is more Gnosticism than Judaism and an attempt to combine two related, but opposing systems of theology and thought. Christianity isn't monotheism, but Panentheism. Christianity and what was called Gnosticism (a modern term) both evolved from common roots in the vast Hellenistic (Greek) syncretism following Alexander the Great's Empire.
This empire stretched from Greece to India, and led to a "syncretism" of many philosophies and religions. It provided a conduit for Eastern religion to move west and Greek philosophy to move east. The birth of Gnosticism occurred from the often ignored period between the decline of Greece and the rise of Rome to about 300 AD. (Over 600 years) This is part of the 300 year gap in the Protestant Bible between Malachi and Matthew. The Apocrypha gives only a mere hint of what really happened in that time. Here I will look at Gnosticism as it relates to Christianity and Judaism.
- Gnosticism as Explained by Bishop N. T. Wright
- Deist Critique of the Gospel of Mark
- Religious Syncretism and Christianity
- Classical Deist' View of Religion and Its Application Today
- Alexander, the Jews, and Hellenism
- More on Alexander the Great, the Jews, and Hellenism
- Hellenistic Period After Alexander
- Alexandrian Philosophy and the Hellenization of the Jews
- Religious Syncretism
- Platonism and Christianity
- Demiurge Creator of the World
- Allegorical Interpretation
Blake's Ancient of Days is described in Chapter 7 of the Book of Daniel.
Gnosticism differs from "official" Christianity in two important respects: 1) Gnostics believed the material world was created as evil and corrupted, and 2) Jesus was a spirit, not actual flesh. Jesus was born of the Holy Spirit in both Gnosticism and Christianity, but in Gnosticism the Holy Spirit was the "feminine" or female aspect of God. Thus the Holy Spirit was the true "mother" of Jesus.
Where Christianity and Gnosticism differ from Judaism is who or what created the Universe. Both reject the idea that God (the Jewish one) created the universe and claim other beings did it. In fact Gnostics (including John and Paul) believe the Law was given by lesser beings seeing the Hebrew God as a fallen angel or worse, the devil himself. Christianity claimed Jesus created the Universe before He became flesh. Gnostics differed claiming Jesus was a spirit.
Genesis 1:1, In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And Malachi 2:10, "Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us?" There's no mention of other beings, etc. Now we go to John 1:1,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
John 1:10, He (Jesus) was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
Ephesians 2:10, For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 3:9, And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:
Colossians 1:16, For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:
Wrong, that is a Gnostic/Platonist belief that others, etc. were part of God that created the universe.
This is a syncretism between (Christian) Christology and (secular) Platonism...Platonism was a basic understanding of the operation of the cosmos, which saw the material world in a dualistic fashion; separated from a transcendent God, but communicated with by the logos (thought, wisdom, creativity). In simple terms: Platonism thought of the spirit world as good and the physical world as evil.
It is now widely believed among Jewish scholars that Phariseeism,
Sadduceeism and the Pre-Gnostic cults which appeared in the second century
BCE were a result of a syncretism of Hellenistic philosophy (in particular
Platonism) and various Jewish beliefs .
Likewise, it is now widely accepted that even though fully developed Gnosticism did not appear until the beginning of the second century AD, Pre-Gnosticism was present in the second century BCE.
This syncretism is clearly seen in the parallelism of the Rabbinic writings, the Old Testament apocrypha, Philo, and the writings of the Greco-Roman philosophers.
It is further attested to by the Greco-Roman gifts that decorated Herod's temple which were donated by Caesar, and the Greco-Roman mosaics that decorated the synagogues.
The Church fathers nearly to a man were Platonist' philosophers.
Who gave the Law?
Exodus 24:12, And the LORD said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou may teach them.
God gave Mosses the Law at Sinai. But according to John and Paul:
John 1:17, For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
Galatians 3:19, Wherefore then serve the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.
This a typical Gnostic belief the Law was not from God, but was given by others.
Quoting Will Durant's "The Age of Faith,
"neo-Platonism was still a power in religion and philosophy. Those doctrines which Plotinus had given a shadowy form- of a triune spirit binding all reality, of a Logos or intermediary deity who had done the work of creation, of soul as divine and matter as flesh and evil, of spheres of existence along whose invisible stairs the soul had fallen from God to man and might extend from man to God-these mystic ideas left their mark on the apostles John and Paul..." (P 9)
Origins of Gnosticism
The origins of Gnosticism is a subject of dispute amongst scholars: some think Gnosticism is fundamentally pagan in origin, but has adopted a Christian veneer; others trace its origin to Judaism; yet others think it derives from Jesus, and is a development of his teaching at least as valid as the orthodox one. It seems clear that Gnosticism, at least in some of its theologically more developed formulations, was heavily influenced by Platonism.
- Gnostic Terms
- Who are the Cathers?
- Hyam Maccoby (The Mythmaker)was mostly right
- Marcion's Church Not Really Gnostic?
- Jewish Origins of Gnosticism
- The Genesis Factor
- Gnostic Internet Listing
- How Christianity drew on Philo's synthesis of Judaism and Hellenism
- The Testimony of Truth
- On the Origin of the World
Gnostic View of God
The Gnostic view of God is pantheistic, that is God dwells in all things and via emanation, all things are of God. To quote, "in philosophy emanation [Latin, flowing from], cosmological concept that explains the creation of the world by a series of radiations, or emanations, originating in the godhead. It is characteristic of Neoplatonism and of Gnosticism (and Hinduism). An element of pantheism exists within Christianity as the Holy Spirit. Emanation is opposed to the Jewish concept of a transcendent God. Gnostics of all kinds deny the idea that God directly created the material world, which they see as corrupt or fallen.
This is the one area where official Christianity clearly differs from Gnosticism, or tries to. To quote,
Plato refers to the Demiurge frequently in the Timaeus as the entity who "fashioned and shaped" the material world. Plato describes the Demiurge as unreservedly good and hence desirous of a world as good as possible. The world remains allegedly imperfect because the Demiurge had to work on pre-existing chaotic matter. Christianity and Judaism claim "God" the Creator is good, but Christians claim the soul is corrupt due to the sin of Adam. Gnosticism is another matter.
In Gnosticism the Demiurge (Creator) is by no means all-good, but a bungling and incompetent fool that creates the world as a spiritual prison. Gnosticism also presents a distinction between the highest, unknowable "alien God" and the "creator" of the material - the Demiurge. However, in contrast to Plato, many systems of Gnostic thought present the Demiurge as antagonistic to the will of the Supreme Creator: this sort of Demiurge focuses solely on material reality...Pagan philosophers in the lineage of Plato also rebuke the Gnostics...the Neoplatonists would have rejected the gnostic vilification of Plato's Demiurge.
Neoplatonism was a big influence on the official Church. But are the official Gnostics the only ones that deny God made the material world? The Old Testament clearly said God made the material world and well as gave Moses the Law. The official announcement doesn't match what the Bible has to say. According to Paul,
Gal 3:19-20, Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one...
Here is a direct denial of God for some intermediate and lower being. But Paul is not alone in his beliefs that the Jewish God was the not real God. The Book of John is very Gnostic in theme, regardless of later Church efforts at editing and censorship. The Gnostics too believed Jesus was the Son of God, born of the Holy Spirit. The Gnostic Holy Spirit was female, or the feminine side of God. From them emanated the Son. In The Apocryphon of John we find the Trinity actually stated. At the end of the official John, Jesus promises to return in his lifetime to John:
John 21:22-23, Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me. Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?...
Where official John has an uncertain ending and what seems a broken promise, was fulfilled in the Gnostic Gospels. Here we find John grieving at the apparent death of Jesus. Jesus appears to him, "John, John, why do you doubt, or why are you afraid? You are not unfamiliar with this image, are you? - that is, do not be timid! - I am the one who is with you always. I am the Father, I am the Mother, I am the Son. I am the undefiled and incorruptible one..." Gnostics wanted to escape the material world and rejoin with God (under emanation all things are of God), thus they would be like Jesus, a Son of God:
Official John 1:2, "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name..." and Romans 8:14, "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God."
Parts from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Gnosticism is a blanket term for various religions and sects most prominent in the first few centuries A.D. Its name comes from the Greek word for knowledge, gnosis, referring to the idea that there is special, hidden knowledge that only a few may possess. The occult nature of Gnostic teaching and the fact that much of the evidence for that teaching comes from attacks by orthodox Christians makes it difficult to be precise about the differences between different Gnostic systems.
Gnosticism taught generally that matter was evil, and was the creation of a lesser god (called the Demiurge, after Plato). But human bodies, although their matter is evil, contained within them a divine spark that fell from the good, true God. Knowledge (gnosis) enables the divine spark to return to the true God from whence it came.
Many Gnostics (especially the followers of Valentinius) taught that there was the One, the original, unknowable God; and then from the One emanated Aeons, pairs of lesser beings in sequence. The Aeons together made up the Pleroma, or fullness, of God. The lowest of these pairs were Sophia ("Wisdom," in Greek) and Christ. Sophia sinned by seeking to know the unknowable One, and as a consequence of her sin the Demiurge came into being, who created the physical world. Christ was then sent to earth to give men the gnosis needed to rescue themselves from the physical world and return to spiritual world.
Gnostics identified the Demiurge with the God of the Old Testament; thus they rejected the Old Testament and Judaism, and often celebrated those who were rejected by the Old Testament God, such as the serpent, Cain, Esau, etc. Some Gnostics were believed to identify the Demiurge with Satan, a belief which contributed to the suspicion with which many Christians regarded them.
Some Gnostic sects were Christians who embraced mystical theories of the true nature of Jesus and/or the Christ which were out of step with the teachings of orthodox Christian faith. For example, Gnostics generally taught Docetism, the belief that Jesus did not have a physical body, but rather his apparent physical body was an illusion, and hence his crucifixion was not bodily.
Most Gnostics practiced celibacy and asceticism, on the grounds that the pleasures of the flesh were evil; a few however practiced libertinism, arguing that since the body was evil they should defile it. This led to further distrust, and was an accusation leveled against other groups who did not follow this practice. This is where Catholicism drew its celibacy nonsense from and the obsession against sex (or any pleasure at all) by Protestants. This came via St. Augustine.
St. Augustine is the father of Western Christianity, both Catholic and directly connected to Martin Luther and John Calvin. He would give Western Christianity its theological excuse for murder and genocide against heretics such as the Gnostics, Arians, Donatists, etc. Oddly, his theology originates with the Gnostics. (Manichaeans)
Ancient Gnostic leaders:
Simon Magus: He was one of the earliest Gnostics He was skilled in
the arts of magic. He interpreted the Garden of Eden, exodus from
Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea as allegories. He may have been the Simon mentioned in
Acts 8:9-24. Simon believed in Jesus and was baptized with a group
of other believers.
But none had received the Holy Spirit until Peter and John placed their hands on the new converts. Simon asked for the laying on of the apostles' hands and even offered money. Peter refused, because Simon's heart was not right with God.
Marcion: (85-160 CE) He organized a series of Gnostic congregations
in the eastern Mediterranean which survived into the 3rd century CE.
He wrote a book called Antitheses which earned him excommunication
by the Christian leaders of Rome.
He rejected the institution of marriage. He believed that the Demiurge arranged Jesus' persecution and crucifixion. But the death of Christ on the cross was only a hallucination, since Jesus did not have a physical body. Marcion invented the New Testament based on Paul.
Valentinus: He was born in Egypt, traveled to Rome about 140 CE and
then moved to Cyprus. He was the founder of perhaps the largest and
most influential school of Gnosticism which lasted until it was
suppressed in the 4th century CE.
He taught that groups of Aeons made up the "pleroma (fullness) of the High God. One group, the Ogoad are called: Depth, Silence, Mind, Truth, Word, Life, Man and Church. Another group was the Decad (10) and Dodecad (12). The last of the Docecad was Wisdom, also called Sophia.
Carpocrates: (circa 140 CE); He taught reincarnation. An individual
had to live many lives and adsorb a full range of experiences before
being able to return to God. They practiced free sexuality. They
believed that Jesus was the son of Joseph.
Some theologians believe that the Carpocratian Gnostics were the target of Jude's attack about "...certain men" who " have secretly slipped in among you,". The book of Jude, Verses 4 to 19, deals mainly with these infiltrators.
Matthew 4:8-9 describes how Satan took Jesus to a very high mountain and offered him all of the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would only bow down and worship him. This passage implies that the world belonged to the Devil and that he was able to give it away to Christ. But the passage matches Gnostic belief very closely.
Gnostic sects included the Valentinians, the Ophites (so-named because they worshiped the serpent of Genesis as the bestower of knowledge). Perhaps Marcion of Sinope and Simon Magus both had Gnostic tendencies, but they were not completely Gnostics. Others were the Bogomils, the Cathars. (Cathari, Albigenses or Albigensians)
There is a direct line from Apostle Paul to Marcion to St Augustine (former Manichaein and avid neo-Platonist) to Calvin/Luther to Protestant Christian fundamentalists today. The "faith alone" doctrine is part of ridding Christianity of "works" meaning Judaism. (Thus all of Jesus moral/ethical teachings can be ignored.)
We have two main historical sources for information on Gnosticism: attacks on Gnosticism by orthodox Christians, and extant Gnostic works.
Neither of these two sources is entirely satisfactory. Attacks on Gnosticism by orthodox Christians, hostile as they are, most likely suffer from some degree of bias; and orthodox Christians had a tendency to merge together the many differing groups opposed to them.
Many Gnostics scriptures and other works were written, but until the late 19th and the 20th centuries, none of them were available, except in isolated quotations in the writings of their opponents. Many 19th century scholars devoted considerable effort to collecting the scattered references in the works of opponents and reassembling the Gnostic materials.
Several finds of manuscripts have been made since, most importantly the Nag Hammadi codices. But though we now possess a reasonable collection of Gnostic texts, they are still often difficult to interpret, due to the esoteric nature of Gnostic teaching. We are also faced with difficulties in identifying which teachers or sects authored which texts.
Nag Hammadi Library
To quote, "The Nag Hammadi Library, a collection of thirteen ancient codices containing over fifty texts, was discovered in upper Egypt in 1945. This immensely important discovery includes a large number of primary Gnostic scriptures -- texts once thought to have been entirely destroyed during the early Christian struggle to define "orthodoxy" -- scriptures such as the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, and the Gospel of Truth."
For more on this subject I suggest visiting www.gnosis.org.
Some Gnostic Texts
- The Gospel of Mary Magdalene
- Jewish Origins of Gnosticism
- The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels
- The Genesis Factor
- Christian Fundamentalist' view of Gnosticism
- Impact of Gnosticism on Christianity
- Gnostic Apocalypse of Adam
- Gnostic Apocryphon of John
- Gnostic Hypostasis of the Archons
- Gnostic Gospel of Thomas
- Gnostic Thought of Norea
- Gnosticism - Ancient and Modern
- The Gospel of Philip
- The Gospel of Truth
I'd also suggest two books I have in my library on this subject:
Some possible Gnostic themes from the Bible
In reality knowledge, faith, and revelation are often interchangeable. The Encyclopedia Britannica states: "Among the majority of the followers of the movement, 'Gnosis' was understood not as meaning 'knowledge' or 'understanding', in our sense of the word, but 'revelation'. These little Gnostic sects and groups all lived in the conviction that they possessed a secret and mysterious knowledge, in no way accessible to those outside, which was not to be proved or propagated, but believed in by the initiated, and anxiously guarded as a secret. This knowledge of theirs was not based on reflection, on scientific inquiry and proof, but on revelation...
And this from www.britannica.com, While Gnosticism drew from and influenced in turn many traditional religions, its effect was most clearly felt on nascent Christianity...The designation Gnosticism...is a term of modern scholarship. Evidence for the Gnostic phenomenon...reveals a diversity in theology, ethics, and ritual that defies strict classification. Yet Gnostic sects appear to have shared an emphasis on the redemptive power of esoteric knowledge, acquired not by learning or empirical observation but by divine revelation...
Romans 8:3-4, For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
Luke 3:6 says, And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
Paul never met Jesus in the flash, but claimed revelation, knowledge, etc. from spiritual beings, etc.
Romans 16:25, Now to him that is of power to establish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith...
Romans 10:1-2, Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge...
I Corinthians 2:6-7, Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification.
I Corinthians 15:50, I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
II Cor. 4:6, "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
II Cor. 3:9, "Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalted itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;"
Eph 1:17-18, "That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened...
Eph 3:3-4, "How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,"Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)"
Eph 3:19, "And to know the love of Christ, which (passed on) knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God."
Phil 3:8-9, "Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith..."
Col 1:9, "For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;"
Col 3:10, "And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him"
II Peter 2:20, "For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ..." and 3:18, "But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen."
Mark 4:11 and Matthew 13:11, "To you has been given the secret (knowledge?) of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables."
A word on Dualism
Theological usage ("Western")
In theology, dualism can refer to the belief that there are two gods in the universe that work in opposition to each other. One god is good, the other evil; some religions hold that one god works for order, the other for chaos. The Zoroastrian religion, three millennia old and still extant, and the Manichaean religion, which has died out (some "Neo-Manichaeans" have revived it, but they lack most of the writings of the prophet Mani) are dualistic. The Christian heretic Marcion of Sinope held that the Old and New Testaments were the work of two opposing gods.
This is where both Christianity and Islam get their views of the Devil, Satan, etc. along with their apocalypse themes. The Satan of the Old Testament/Torah and the Serpent in the Garden are not the Devil or Satan, these themes were added later.
Theological usage ("Eastern"/"mystic")
Alternatively, dualism can mean the tendency of humans to perceive and understand the world as being chunked into different categories. In this sense, it is dualistic when one perceives a tree as a thing separate from everything surrounding it, or when one perceives a "self" that is distinct from the rest of the world. In traditions such as Zen, a key to enlightenment is overcoming this sort of dualism. This is notoriously difficult, and may require a lifetime of practice.
Usage in philosophy of mind
In philosophy of mind, dualism refers to a narrow variety of views about the relationship between mind and matter, which are seen as totally different kinds of things.
- Saint Augustine and the Western Christian World-View
- Augustine [Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy]
- Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Christianity
- Judaism Meets Zoroastrianism
- Zoroastrianism from a Unitarian Christian Perspective
- Apostle Paul Founder of Christianity
- The Theology of Paul
- The Problem of Paul
- Paul's Bungling Attempt At Sounding Pharisaic
- Review of Paul and Hellenism by Hyam Maccoby
- Paul the Apostle and Salvation Thru Faith
- Notes on Neoplatonism
- Early Christian and Medieval Neoplatonism
- Sufism as seen by Muslim Fundamentalists
- Pelagius: To Demetrias, why he was cleared of heresy
- Pelagius: Chapters
- Pelagius and why he was right.
- How Christianity drew on Philo's synthesis of Judaism and Hellenism