Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | July 5, 2008

Gnosticism – Part 1

Gnosticism – Part 1

 

What we know about ancient Gnosticism is that it was a very complicated movement.  There were lots of different teachings, different directions, and lots of different teachers who did not agree with one another.  Gnosticism is a big label to put on something to describe a phenomenon that has some similarities, but also has many distinctions amongst the various different sects.  Although this is a diverse phenomenon, it shares in common a vision of Christianity that is really concerned about a spiritual reality.  This spiritual reality is the true world, which is a distinction that binds all Gnostics together.  All forms of Gnosticism are driven by a conviction that the great religious task is to come to understand the spiritual world, so that you can relate rightly to it.  This is the source of the label Gnostic, those who “know”, from the Greek word gnosis.  Those who “know” the spiritual world and how things are put together will arrive at salvation.  This knowledge that is directed primarily towards the spiritual world is the concern of Gnosticism.

 

The Valentinian Gnostic, Theodotus, once stated that they were concerned with questions such as:

 

·         Who were we?

·         What have we become?

·         Where were we?

·         Wither have we been cast?

·         Wither do we hasten?

·         From what will we become free?

·         What is birth?

·         What is rebirth?

 

These are questions of origin, of meaning, of purpose, of future and the great concern is where we come from.  This was a great concern that led Gnostics to believe that we existed before we existed in our bodies, because we are ultimately spirit beings.  Since all really real things are fundamentally and ultimately spiritual.  The physical world is seen as either illusory or is temporary, thus to find real meaning one must find the deeper spiritual reality. 

 

Gnosticism reveals itself in the ancient world as a movement influenced much more by Greek than Jewish beliefs.  On the best historical evidence does the Gnostic version of Christianity or the apostolic version seem to be more genuine?  The answer would have to be the apostolic version of Christianity, since it has more in common with the Jewish roots of the faith than Gnostic Christianity.  Although, we are not deciding who is right on this basis, however on apologetic grounds this is a useful question to ask.  This radical spiritualizing notion that is characteristically integral to the Gnostic belief system is just worlds away from the Jewish roots of Christianity.  For most Gnostics, the physical world and creation is a bad thing.  The material things are evil, or at least problematic, which stands at fundamental odds with the Old Testament view of creation.  The world that God made was a physical world, which He identified as good. It is not incidental that many of the earliest creeds of the Church begin with some confession that God is Creator or maker of heaven and earth.  This is done very clearly as an anti-Gnostic apologetic, since God is good and spiritual and made the physical realm.

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