02.02.10 Gnosticism. This term refers to a philosophy from the Greek thinker, Plato (428-348 B.C.), who suggested the contrast between the invisible world of ideas and the visible world of matter. By the first century his ideas were formulated into two opposing modes of lifestyles:
- Asceticism, which attempted to suppress all emotions because they were thought to be related to matter and classified as evil, and
- Sensualism, which was the indulgence of passions without regard to control or consequences which was an affront to Judaism. While these philosophies were a part of the pagan Greek lifestyle at the time of Christ, it had only limited popularity in the Middle East later in the first century when the epistles were written.
The two basic errors of Gnosticism are:
- All matter, including man’s body is evil when in fact Scripture states the human body is the temple of God and, therefore, good.
- Gnosticism teaches that salvation is an escape from the body with the use of “special knowledge.”
The Bible teaches that salvation is only by faith in the resurrected Christ. In the Gnostic heresy known as Cerinthianism, it was believed that the divinity of Jesus came upon Him at His baptism but left shortly before His death. Other Gnostics said that since the body is evil, Jesus did not exist, but only appeared to exist. Finally, since the body was evil and the spiritual was good, there were no applicable laws of human behavior; therefore, Gnosticism led many into sinful lifestyles.
Gnosticism never became an institutionalized movement or religion, nor was it popular in Palestine, but it did exist. Likewise, there were Stoic and Cynic philosophers peddling their ideas from community to community. This explains why Jesus referred to it indirectly, with general statements on “secrets” and “whispers” (Mt. 10:26-27). They all claimed to have so-called higher knowledge and wisdom secrets – ideas and concepts written in various books – things that Jesus warned against. Gnosticism was more popular in Greece, which is why the Apostle Paul addressed Gnostic philosophers in Athens, and why there is limited mention of it in the Gospels. Among Christians, there were those who attempted to blend this philosophy with Christianity, but they were always labeled heretics.
. Gundry, Survey of the New Testament. 60-62; Drane, “Gnosticism.” 1:566-67.
. New International Version Study Bible, 1906.
. Martin, L. Hellenistic Religions. 37.
. Renwick, Gnosticism. 484-85.
. Of the many Gnostic books that have been written, in 1896 three manuscripts were discovered in Egypt. Known as the Gospel of Mary, the Apocryphon of John, and the Sophia of Jesus Christ, these books were published in 1955.
. Rudolf, Gnosis. 210, 293.