Gnosticism, named for the Greek word gnosis, which means knowledge, represents a broad range of ancient heresies that resulted from attempts to synchronize pagan philosophy with Christianity. While there were numerous flavors of this teaching, there were a few overarching principles that characterized what has become known as Gnosticism.
The most notable and influential early teacher of what could be called Gnosticism was a Greek thinker named Valentinus (about AD 100 – 160)
It is widely accepted among Christian scholars that an incipient form of Gnosticism was already a threat toward the end of the first century and that the Apostle John is directly combating this false teaching in his epistles.
If there is one defining doctrine of Gnosticism it must be the concept of philosophical dualism. As with most everything gnostic, there are varying flavors in the particulars, but generally, this is the idea that reality consists of the two opposed realms of spirit and matter.
The spiritual immaterial realm is pure holy and true, while the carnal material realm is explained by such ideas as it being the result of insufficient knowledge of the spiritual realm or even being an outright illusion altogether. Generally speaking, spirit is good and matter is bad. One gains spirituality as one sheds their affinity with the material and thus gaining affinity with the spiritual. The ways by which this is accomplished vary widely from sect to sect. matter
The “logos” or Christ was a representative of the pure gnosis (knowledge) who was come to lead men into freedom from the material and into the light of that knowledge. Most denied that the Christ could actually become flesh because that would represent an impossible admixture of the spiritual and material at the level of being itself. Hence we see John denouncing those who would deny that Jesus had come in the flesh. (1 John 4:2 and 2 John 1:7 for instance )
Gnosticism is unusually difficult to distill into a brief synopsis like these short articles are by design. However, its influence has been more persistently and broadly felt than probably any other of the ancient antichristian heresies.
Throughout the entire history of the church age, we find at least some principles of Gnosticism clinging to gospel thought. Even to this day, and even among those who’ve never heard of it and even among some who will declare that they outright reject it as did the early church fathers. ,
Key tenets of Gnosticism include:
- A dualistic ontology of spirit and matter.
- The general denial that Yahweh, the god of the bible is the one true and almighty God. He is usually seen as the creator of the material world and therefore evil himself at worst, or an intermediary between the material and spiritual realms at best.
- Jesus Christ is viewed as some form and manifestation of the spirit/gnosis but is also not himself the one true and almighty God.
- The holy spirit doesn’t generally get a lot of emphasis in Gnosticism and definitions vary widely from sect to sect.
- Gnosticism was a broad school of philosophical thought that attempted to redefine Christianity altogether according to its human wisdom.
Modern-Day Proponents of Gnosticism:
- Some Christian cults such as the First Church of Christ, Scientist (Christian Science), and the Unity School of Christianity draw heavily from gnostic thought.
- Although they have no idea it’s the case, many Word of Faith teachers also evince strong elements of gnostic thought as well.
- Some elements of critical theory display some general elements of Gnosticism as well.