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Saturday, January 21, 2012

An Overview Of Gnosticism

         One ancient and important heresy that still thrives today is Gnosticism.  The word Gnosticism is derived from the Greek word gnosis, meaning “knowledge.”  Gnosticism emphasized secret knowledge and secret rituals.  Salvation consisted of experiencing the secret knowledge and rituals.
          Ancient Gnosticism incorporated many beliefs from different religions.  As Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire, Gnostics quickly adopted some Christian practices and terminology.  However, Gnosticism completely contradicts Christianity and opposes the biblical understanding of creation and God Himself.
          In the first two centuries AD, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Eusebius, and many others challenged specific forms of Gnosticism and wrote powerful critiques to demonstrate how Gnosticism contradicted biblical Christianity.  Partly due to the Gnostic heresy, these three areas became critical for the early church to define:
·       The books of the New Testament
·       Salvation
·       The nature and work of Jesus

Cosmogony (Origin of the universe):
Gnostic Belief:
          A form of pantheism – a belief that identifies God with the universe.  God and creation are one.  The material world flows out of the divine essence.  However, this god is not the God of the Bible, but a fallen god.
Biblical Belief:
          God created all things.  The Creator and creation are separate.
Cosmology (Nature, order, and function of the universe):
Gnostic Belief:
          God is real, but the material world is an illusion.  The material world is evil.  The human soul, a remnant of the divine, is imprisoned in the body, which is part of the evil world.  Humans have forgotten about their divine inner being.
Biblical Belief:
          The material world is as real as God.  The world is not evil – God called it good and blessed it.
Origin of Evil:
Gnostic Belief:
          One dominant form of Gnosticism was based on the myth of Sophia, who lusted after the “First Father.”  Matter is the fruit of her sin.  The physical world is evil.
Biblical Belief:
          Human sin originates with pride and disobedience.  Creation is not evil, although it has been corrupted as a result of human sin.
Gnostic Belief:
          Salvation comes through experiential knowledge – a secret knowledge that teaches one how to escape the evil of a physical world.  Its ultimate goal is a return to the original condition of being one with the First Father.  In Christian-influenced Gnosticism, Jesus is the one teaching this secret knowledge.  The knowledge of people’s divine inner being is the main secret knowledge.
Biblical Belief:
          God is rescuing humanity through the work of Jesus, not through any special, hidden knowledge.
Gnostic Belief:
          Jesus is not really a human at all; he just appeared to be one.  He was an aeon, an intermediary between the real world (the world of the spirit) and this evil reality, the material world.
Biblical Belief:
          He is the second person of the Trinity.  He was incarnated as a real, full human, who atoned for the sins of humanity on the cross.
          Gnosticism became such an influential belief system that it has continued to appear over the centuries in people’s ideas about God and the world.  Much of today’s popular spirituality is Gnostic in its orientation.
From the Pamphlet: Creeds and Heresies Then and Now –  By Rose Publishing 2009 www.rose-publishing.com

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