"Christian" Gnosticism Examined
Pastor David L. Brown, Ph.D.
Early Corruption of The Word of God
Efforts to corrupt the New Testament began almost immediately after it was written. Turn to 2 Corinthians 2:17 "For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ." The word corrupt here is a translation of the Greek word kaphleuontev – kapeleuontes (kap-ale-yoo-entay) which means a huckster. One scholar said this about the word – The word speaks shady "wine-dealers playing tricks with their wines; mixing the new, harsh wines, so as to make them pass for old. These not only sold their wares in the market, but had wine-shops all over the town…" where they peddled their corrupt wine as genuine. They made a bundle.
So how is this word used in reference to the Word of God? Hucksters took the pure word of God and, like the shady wine dealers, mixed in their own philosophies, opinions and perversions and they peddled it all over as the real thing.
We also know that false gospels and false letters were written and circulated. Turn to 2 Thessalonians 2:2 "That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand." It is obvious that someone had written a letter and was circulating it, claiming that is was from the Apostle Paul and other disciples. Paul says the letter is a bogus, fake, a fraud."
Turn in your Bibles to 2 Peter 2:1-3 "But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. 2 And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. 3 And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not." These false prophets and teachers are said to "privily…bring in damnable heresies." That is, they secretly introduced spurious (unauthentic, counterfeit or bogus) teachings that were "damnable heresies" or perversion of the truth. They sought to peddle these heresies among believers. And how would they do that? Certainly by their slick teachings but likely also in their writings and corruptions of that what God had given in the New Testament.
AN OVERVIEW : TWO EARLY GNOSTIC HERESIES
Let’s look at some of the Early Heresies that developed in In the days of the Apostles, and shortly afterwards. The beginnings of these heresies are alluded to in the Epistles John, Paul and Jude. Let’s look at several of these places.
Galatians 1:6-8 "I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: 7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed."
Someone was promoting a false gospel and many in the church of Galatia were buying into the lie.
1 John 4:3 "And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world."
Jude 1:3-4 "Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. 4 For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ."
We are going to look at three early heresies - Docetism, Marcionism, and Gnosticism. There are others, but time will not allow us to consider them. But, know this; these and other false doctrines had an influence on the transmission of scripture and account for some of the differences in the line of manuscripts.
We will be looking specifically at Gnosticism further along in this study. Suffice it to say for now that Docetism is a one of many types of Gnosticism. It dates back to Apostolic times. The name comes from the Greek word dokesis, "appearance" or "semblance", because they taught that Christ only "appeared" or "seemed" to be a man, to have been born, to have lived and suffered. This particular type of Gnosticism taught that Christ's body was a phantom and that he did not have a real physical body. Some denied the reality of Christ’s human nature altogether, some only the reality of His human body or of His birth or death. The word Docetae which is best rendered by "Illusionists", first occurs in a letter of Serapion, Bishop of Antioch (190-203 A.D.) to the Church at Rhossos, where troubles had arisen about the public reading of the apocryphal Gospel of Peter. Serapion at first unsuspectingly allowed it to be read, but soon after forbade it, saying that he had borrowed a copy from the sect who used it, "whom we call Docetae."
Another variety of Docetism taught that the nature of Christ was two-fold, spiritual and physical. Jesus was the physical, Christ was the spiritual. The Christ departed Jesus at the crucifixion, and left him on the cross to suffer and die. There was no literal bodily resurrection, just a spiritual resurrection. This certainly differs from that the New Testament Teaches. Consider the following passages of Scripture –
Colossians 2:6-9"As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: 7 Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. 8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. 9 For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily."
Hebrews 10:5-12 "Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: 6 In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. 7 Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. 8 Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; 9 Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. 10 By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: 12 But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;"
Luke 24:39 "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have."
The Docetic Gnostics wrote their own Gospels including The Acts of John and, as mentioned above, The Gospel of Peter. The Gospel of Peter was cited by Justin Martyr, Origen, and Eusebius, but was not discovered by scholars until 1886. While excavating the grave of a monk, a French archaeological team discovered this manuscript in Egypt. Only a small portion of it remains, but what does remain, gives a differing account of the crucifixion than the four Gospels. This separation of the Christ from Jesus is seen in the following quotation – "And many went about with lamps, supposing that is was night, and fell down. And the Lord cried out, saying, My power, my power, thou hast forsaken me. And when he had said it he was taken up. And in that hour the veil of the temple of Jerusalem was rent in twain. (Gospel of Peter, verse 5). Thus, according to the Docetics, the power of Jesus, the Christ, left him while he was on the cross.
The account of the resurrection in The Gospel of Peter is also Docetic. "And in the night in which the Lord's day was drawing on, as the soldiers kept guard two by two in a watch, there was a great voice in the heaven; and they saw the heavens opened, and two men descend from thence with great light and approach the tomb. And that stone which was put at the door rolled of itself and made way in part; and the tomb was opened, and both the young men entered in. When therefore those soldiers saw it, they awakened the centurion and the elders; for they too were hard by keeping guard. And as they declared what things they had seen, again they see three men come forth from the tomb, and two of them supporting one, and a cross following them: and of the two the head reached unto the heaven, but the head of him who was lead by them overpassed the heavens. And they heard a voice from the heavens saying, Thou has preached to them that sleep. And a response was heard from the cross, Yea. (Gospel of Peter, verses 9-10).
The Docetics used an altered version the Gospel of Mark as demonstrated by Irenaeus, "Those who separate Jesus from Christ and say that Christ remained impassible while Jesus suffered, and try to bring forward the Gospel According to Mark, can be corrected out of that, if they will read it with a love of the truth." (Ireaneus' Against Heresies, cited from Early Christian Fathers Vol 1; translated by Cyril C. Richardson and published by The Westminster Press, page 382).
The Latin manuscript k may reflect such tampering with the Gospel of Mark as Dr. Edward F. Hills notes. The altered version of Mark 16:4 reads as follows in k, "Suddenly, moreover, at the third hour of the day, darkness fell upon the whole world, and angels descended from heaven, and as the Son of God was rising in brightness, they ascended at the same time with him, and straightway it was light."
This verse from k matches the citation from the Gospel of Peter about the resurrection. It also contains the short ending to Mark and omits verses 9-20, as many modern translations and their Greek texts do. I suggest to you that the Mark used in many of the modern translations rely upon manuscripts that were tampered with by the Gnostics, especially the Docetic Gnostics.
We can conclude from this that the Docetics altered used a copy of Mark which would read like many contemporary translations.
Marcion was born in between 85 to 110 A.D. No one knows for sure. He founded his own Gnostic oriented heretical sect in about 144 A.D. He taught that the God of the Old Testament could not have been the Father of Jesus Christ, because Christ speaks of His Father as a God of love, but the God of the Jews was a God of wrath. Marcion taught that Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament, created the world, but that all created flesh was evil. The soul/spirit of man was created by a greater god, one who was above Jehovah. This greater god created the spiritual realm and was the true Father of Jesus Christ. To release man's soul from his flesh, this greater god sent Christ. Christ appeared, in the form of a thirty-year-old man, in a spiritual body that appeared to be physical but was not a physical body. Salvation was gained by renouncing Jehovah and all things physical. Marcion rejected the Hebrew Scriptures, and the quotations of those Hebrew Scriptures in the New Testament. The followers of Marcion issued their own New Testament composed of Luke and Paul's letters revised to their liking. The followers of Maricon made their revisions to support and reflect their doctrines. Ultimately, these Marcionian revisions reflect their private interpretations, and these perversions have survived in some of the ancient Greek New Testament manuscripts and account for the differences between the eclectic Greek text and the Textus Receptus.
Let me explain. Irenaeus points out that "Marcion cut up that Gospel According to Luke" (Ireaneus' Against Heresies, p. 382). This would account for the large number of changes found in varying manuscripts of Luke and the large number of verses that are left out. It is, for example, understandable why the phrase "And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet." (Luke 24:40) would be omitted by Marcion, since he did not believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus but only in a spiritual resurrection. In fact, the apparatus of the United Bible Society's Greek text points out that this verse is omitted by both Marcion and Codex D (UBS, 2nd ed., p. 317). This verse is omitted from the text of the NEB and RSV. Thus we see that Codex D, which is a Western line of manuscripts in the Gospels, and the RSV reflect some of the tampering done by Marcion and his followers.
There were many other "Christian" Gnostic sects that existed between about 150-300 A.D. besides the two I have named above -- The Valentinians, Simonians, Ophites, Bsilidianians, Cainites, Nicolaites, Mandaeisites and many more.
It is likely that Carpocrates was the founder of the "Christian" Gnostics in the first half of the second century A.D. The earliest and most vivid account of the Carpocratians can be found in Irenaeus (130-202 A.D.) work titled Against Heresy. They did not believe Jesus was divine. His followers did not believe they had to follow the Law of Moses or any morality. They were very licentious (immoral) in their behavior.
Gnosticism, in all of its varieties, was the most influential heresy faced by the early Church. Not only did the Gnostic corrupt many readings found in the New Testament, but offered their own writings as inspired scriptures, such as the The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Peter, The Gospel of Philip, The Gospel of Judas, The Gospel of the Ebionites, The Gospel of The Twelve, The Gospel According To The Hebrews (also called The Gospel According To Matthew, not to be confused with the real Gospel of Matthew), The Gospel According to the Egyptians, The Gospel of Mary (Magdalene), The Acts of Andrew, The Acts of Peter, The Acts of John, etc. Gnosticism had a variety of forms and sects which broadened its base and growth. Historian Will Durant calls Gnosticism "the quest of godlike knowledge (gnosis) through mystic means" (The Story Of Civilization Vol. III, p. 604). Durant is correct. Gnosticism is thinly veiled Pantheism. Pantheism is the doctrine that identifies God with the whole universe, every particle, tree, table, animal, and person being are part of Him. Or, to explain it in a very basic way, the Greek pan = all. The Greek word Theos = God). Therefore it literally means "God is All" and "All is God".
As in Docetism and Marcionism, the Gnostics taught that the physical (material) is evil and the spiritual (non-material) is good. Thus, a good god (spiritual) could not have created a physical world, because good can not create evil (that is the spiritual would not create the physical). So the Gnostic god created a being (or a line of beings called aeons) removing himself from direct creation. One of these aeons, or gods, created the world. The so-called Christian Gnostics believed that Jesus was one of these aeons who created the world. Some Gnostic taught that Jesus did not have a physical body. When he walked on the earth, he left not footprints because he never really touched the earth (he being spiritual and the world physical). Others taught that only our spiritual bodies were important, so the physical body could engage in whatever acts they desired because only the spiritual body would be saved. Still other Gnostics taught that the physical body was so evil that it must be denied in order for the spiritual body to gain salvation, thus shunning marriage and certain foods (1 Timothy 4:1-3).
The influence of Gnosticism can be seen in some of the heresies of today. For example, many of the teachings stated above are found, in revised form, in the teachings of the Jehovah's Witnesses. To the Jehovah's Witness, Jesus is a created god, not God manifest in the flesh. It is no wonder that the Watchtower's New World Translation omits "God was manifest in the flesh" in 1 Timothy 3:16and replaces it with "He was made manifest in flesh." In the TR Greek which underlies our King James Bible reads it reads yeov (God) <2316> efanerwyh (was manifested/revealed) <5319> (5681) en (in) <1722> sarki (the flesh) <4561>. However, the Greek text which underlines the NWT has made the change, so it is natural for the Jehovah Witnesses to choose the reading which reflects their false doctrine.
The same is true of John 1:18 where the NWT reads, "the only-begotten god" (Gk. monogenes theos). Again, this is because the Greek text of the NWT reads differently from the Textus Receptus Greek text that the King James Bible was translated from – "only begotten Son" (Gk. monogenes heios). What is amazing is that in both of these examples, the NASV agrees with the NWT because they are both based on the same Greek text. Thus, false doctrine has influenced the various manuscripts, just as it influences translations today. The phrase "only begotten god" is supported by Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Jerome, papyrus 66 and the Alexandrian line of manuscripts. The phrase "only begotten Son" is quoted by Chrysostom, Tertullian, Basil, the Old Latin and Old Syrian translations and the majority of all Greek manuscripts.
Let’s look at some the specific beliefs of the Gnostic heretics. However, I must warn you as we begin that there is great multiplicity and divergence of Gnostic theories, and philosophies since Gnosticism never possessed a nucleus of stable doctrine, rather, their leaders borrowed ideas and terminologies from existing religions, defined them as they wanted to and made up their teaching as they went along.
What They Believe About God
God is an undefined infinite something. In Gnostic teachings God is called the Fulness of Being; the Not-Being God; the First Father, the Monad, the Man; the First Source, the unknown God; the Unknown God. God is NOT a personal being. Is Unknown God, however, was in the beginning pure spirituality; matter as yet was not. This source of all being causes to emanate from itself a number of pure spirit forces. In the different systems these emanations are differently named, classified, and described, but the emanation theory itself is common too all forms of Gnosticism.
This is completely different from the God of the Bible who has made Himself known to mankind. The reveals Himself to Jeremiah declaring himself to be "the God of all flesh…" Jeremiah 32:27. He reveals himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He reveals Himself to Moses and the prophets. And, he as revealed Himself us in His Son Jesus Christ. Further, man not only can know God, we all have a personal responsibility to fear him and keep his commandments (Colossians 2:6-9; Ecclesiastes 12:13).
Another example of some Gnostics teachings concerns the dual sexual nature of God. In her book, The Gnostic Gospels, Elaine Pagels points out that the some Gnostic taught that God was both Father and Mother. Pagels writes,
One group of gnostic (sic) sources claims to have received a secret tradition from Jesus through James and through Mary Magdalene. Members of this group prayed to both the divine Father and Mother. . .Since the Genesis account goes on to say that humanity was created male and female (1:27), some concluded that the God in whose image we are made must also be both masculine and feminine--both Father and Mother. (pp. 58-59).
Pagels also points out that Clement of Alexandria was influenced by this false doctrine of a masculo-feminine God. "Clement," writes Pagels, "characterized God in feminine as well as masculine terms" (p.81). She then cites Clement as writing, "The Word is everything to the child, both father and mother, teacher and nurse. . . .The nutriment is the milk of the Father. . .and the Word alone supplies us children with the milk of love, and only those who suck at this breast are truly happy. For this reason, seeking is called sucking; to those infants who seek the Word, the Father's loving breasts supply milk." (p. 81).
It would seem that both Clement and the Gnostics would be pleased with the modern politically correct Inclusive Version (published by Oxford Press). The Lord's prayer reads, "Our Father-Mother in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your dominion come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." All references to God in this translation reflect the masculo-feminine doctrine of the Gnostics and Clement of Alexandria.
What They Believe About Salvation
Gnostics teach that the path of salvation or liberation is through the attainment of Gnosis (secret knowledge), the knowledge of the sacred truths of the spiritual universe. They believe that each human being has within himself a divine spark. Further, the Gnostic Savior does not save. Gnosticism lacks the idea of atonement. There is no sin to be atoned for. Ignorance of the Gnosis would be the only sin. The Gnostic Savior has no human nature, he is an AEon, not a man; he only seemed to be a man.
The Gnostic Discovery at Nag Hammadi Egypt
Nag Hammadi is a village in Egypt near the Nile River. In 1945 Six Bedouin camel drivers were digging for fertilizer when one of them uncovered a human skeleton. Next to the skeleton was an earthenware jar. Inside the jar, they found thirteen leather-bound volumes containing fifty-two treatises, hence they were called the Nag Hammadi codices. This library of ancient documents, dated around 350 AD contained texts relating to an early Christian Heresy called Gnostacism. Dan Brown’s book titled The Da Vinci Code falsely characterizes these writings
as "the earliest Christian records" and the "unaltered gospels."
These thirteen leather-bound volumes contained fifty-two treatises including - The Gospel of Thomas and Philip. They also found the Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles, A letter of Peter to Philip and the Apocalypse of Peter and Paul. In his book The Gnostic Discoveries, Marvin Meyer makes it clear all of the writings were Gnostic in nature, and they were all written in Coptic. Now, there is another important fact you need to know. The Nag Hammadi texts were all written in the second and third centuries AD. In The Da Vinci Code, Teabing claims that the Nag Hammadi texts are "the earliest Christian records DVC p.245. The truth is that every book in the New Testament was written in the first century AD! In fact, Gnostic beliefs did not begin to be mixed with Christianity until about 150 AD and so-called Christian Gnostic sects virtually disappeared by the 6th century. The only known exception was the Mandaean sect of Iran/Iraq.
There is also something further I should draw to your attention. Scholars disregard the Gnostic gospels as not genuine, spurious, counterfeit.
Here are some facts that you should know about Christian Gnosticism –
The name Gnostic comes from the Greek Word gnosis, meaning knowledge. Gnosticism was made up of elements taken from many syncretistic belief systems. They combined elements taken from Babylonian, Egyptian, Asian, Greek and Syrian pagan religions. Other elements came from astrology and Judaism and later Christianity. There is a broad range of beliefs among Gnostic systems.
Peter Jones, professor of New Testament at Westminster Seminary California and director of Christian Witness to a Pagan Planet says this about Gnosticism –
Basically, Gnostics see the human soul as divine. You look within for God.
There was no consensus on a Gnostic canon of scriptures. Gnostic groups had no scruples about rewriting and adapting other religions sacred writings to fit their fancy. Many of their own works were circulated in different versions. Various sects had their own preferred rendition. Further, Gnostic groups had no unified doctrinal statement within Gnostic groups. In fact, the Nag Hummadi find revealed that a variety of different beliefs existed among different groups and individuals. For instance, some taught celibacy and others did not.
Let’s take a look at some of the generally held beliefs of Gnostic groups:
Salvation is by learning and understanding secret knowledge. Gnostics were exclusivists, teaching that they alone understood the teachings of Christ. They also taught that the Supreme God of Truth is unknowable.
Gnostics also taught that the Supreme God created a number of supernatural, but finite beings called Aeons. A virgin Aeon named Sophia, gave birth to the inferior Creator-God Demiurge who is know as Jehovah. Gnostics viewed Jehovah as evil, arrogant and incompetent. They believe that "the Serpent of Genesis spoke truth and the God of Genesis was a blind and evil liar. Thus Eve was a heroine and Adam a wimp who quickly converted to the ‘truth’" (Onward Gnostic Soldiers; May 20 World, Peter Jones)
These Gnostics believed that the physical world, matter and the human body were evil. However, trapped within people was a spark of divinity that needed to be released.
Jesus Christ was looked upon as a revealer of knowledge and a liberator telling them how they could be free of Demiurge’s control and return to their spiritual home with the Supreme God at death.
My point in telling you all of this is to make you aware that Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code is a Gnostic novel. Gene Edward Veith correctly pointed this out in his article The Da Vinci Phenomenon in the May 20th edition of World Magazine. He says, "The Da Vinci Code is at the forefront of a Gnostic revival….Mr. Brown and his modern-day bestseller-turned-blockbuster resurrect that ancient heresy. Religion here has to do with secret knowledge. Spirituality is unrelated to what one does with one’s body. Religion is a construction that exists primarily in one’s head."
It is clear; The Da Vinci Code preaches another Jesus and a false Gospel. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians had poignant words for those who advocate such lies – "I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: 7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. 9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." Galatians 1:6-9
At this point, I want to insert two articles from World Magazine--
ONWARD GNOSTIC SOLDIERS
By Marvin Olasky
The following article is found in the May 20, 2006 copy of World magazine.
Gnosticism is probably hotter now than it has been since – well, over 1,500 years ago. As The Da Vinci Code hits movie theaters and probably extends its three-year run on the New York Times best-selling fiction list, Gnostic books like The Gospel of Judas and The Lost Gospel are also prominent on nonfiction bestseller charts.
Peter Jones, professor of New Testament at Westminster Seminary California and director of Christian Witness to a Pagan Planet (cwipp.org) is the author of The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back and other books that critique anti-Christian doctrines, including Cracking Da Vinci’s Code (Cook Communications) and the newly published Stolen Identity: The Conspiracy to Reinvent Jesus (Cook), a detailed comparison of the Gnostic and the biblical Jesus.
World: How do you define Gnosticism?
Jones: Gnosticism is formed from the Greek term gnosis meaning knowledge, but it means here a particular form of knowledge, namely "spiritual experience". Like all pagan spirituality, so-called "Christian" Gnosticism engages in "sacred technologies" to access the higher, spiritual self, the self that is part of God.
In this essentially out-of-body experience, all physical and this-worldly restraints, like rational thinking and a sense of specific gender, fall away. In a word, the experience of "enlightenment" is both the rejection of the goodness of the physical creation and an acquisition of the knowledge of the divinity of the human soul.
World: So Gnostics see the human soul as divine, but how do Gnostic texts typically depict God?
Jones: There are two kinds of God. There is the Father of the Totalities, the Great Spirit or the Force behind everything, the Source from which true Gnostics have emanated and from whom they have fallen into matter. To this God their divine spark or soul/spirit will eventually return at death.
Then there is the God of orthodox Christianity, the God of the Old Testament, the Creator of heaven and earth. For the Gnostics this God is a blind and evil fool for having created evil matter. This is the God who foolishly says, "I am God and there is no other beside me," not knowing that above and beyond him is the Great Spirit. The Gnostic knows that Yahweh is a fool for demonstrating such ignorance and for leading human beings into ignorance. Thus the Gnostic Goddess casts Yahweh into hell.
World: It doesn’t sound like Gnostics have much respect for the Bible. What is their view of biblical history?
Jones: The very early Gnostic, Marcion (ca. A.D. 150), rejected God the lawgiver and thus the entire Old Testament. Later Gnostics did the same with even more vigor. For example, the media have given great attention recently to The Gospel of Judas. Bart Ehrman [Bestselling Books, May 6] calls Judas one of "the greatest finds from Christian antiquity". Its official translators argue that Judas demonstrates "the rich diversity of perspectives within early Christianity … during [its] formative period". Actually, Judas contains some of the typical (and radical) notions of second-century "Sethian" Gnosticism. In this kind of Gnosticism, God the Creator is an evil demon; the reprobates of Old Testament history – Cain, Esau, Korah, and the Sodomites – are the true heroes; Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets are "a laughingstock". Clearly Judas fits the prototype for heroes.
World: Let me ask about something else that’s weird: Why did some early Gnostic texts depict Jesus passing through Mary as through a funnel?
Jones: Some readers will have read of Gnosticism under the term "Docetism" from the Greek verb, dokeo – "to seem". Christ only seemed to be physically human, but, as a matter of fact, Christ, from the realm of the spirit, could not be so closely associated with the work of the evil creator. In particular, the Sethian Gnostics (like Judas) laughed at the ignorance of those who thought they were crucifying Christ (since it was Simon of Cyrene on the cross).
In the same way, Jesus could not have been physically associated with Mary. Indeed, there are a number of exhortations in the Gnostic texts to "flee maternity" and the "works of femininity" because to be a woman and give birth is to enmesh oneself in the evil works of created flesh, and thus become a prisoner of the evil God, Yahweh.
World: Parts of Gnosticism remind me of Hindu teachings. Was Gnosticism an attempt to meld Eastern religions and Christianity?
Jones: There is some evidence that ancient Gnosticism took some of its inspiration from Hinduism, which is quite believable since Alexander went as far as India in the fourth century B.C. and created an international cosmopolitan, syncretistic culture. At least we can say that some of those steeped in the imperial mystery religions, and also majoring in trance and mysticism, were attracted to Christianity; they may well at some point have been tempted to blend pagan spirituality with Christian doctrine. In I Corinthians 14:23 Paul criticizes worship behavior that would make observers associate the church with the Dionysian cults’ practice of trance-like "madness".
World: Even though The Da Vinci Code invents a marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, it seems that Gnostics have something against heterosexual activity…
Jones: The goal of Gnostic sexuality is androgyny, the blending of male and female in one human being. The distinction of male and female is the result of the Fall, and so to undo the effects of the Fall one must join the opposites and make the two one. The "Jesus" of the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas declares, "when you make the male and the female one and the same, so that the male not be male nor the female female…then you will enter the kingdom of heaven" (Saying 22). How interesting that this is happening in our own day, and that this is a definite developed theme in The Da Vinci Code.
World: Why does Gnosticism emphasize meditation, mantras, and extreme mysticism?
Jones: These are what modern pagans call "spiritual technologies" that allow one to escape the clutches of physical reality in order to pass into the world of pure spirit, outside of the body. In this world of pure spirit all is one, all distinctions are eliminated. The essential presupposition for the attainment of this state is stopping the mind from engaging in rational thought. This is necessary since thought is a great factory of distinctions, where each word has its own meaning, without which one cannot think or speak. Meditation "silences the mind" and ushers one into a world of "oneness".
World: Concerning one other weird element – what’s the relationship of serpent worship and Gnosticism?
Jones: I was lecturing in Bogotá, Colombia, last year, and at the break a doctor came to me and told me that, before his conversion, he was a member of the Gnostic Church of Colombia. He told me that in front of the church was a massive stone stature of a serpent. The reason is the Gnostics believed that the Serpent of Genesis spoke truth and the God of Genesis was a blind and evil liar. Thus Eve was a heroine and Adam a wimp who quickly converted to the "truth." One group of Gnostics actually called themselves the Naassenes, from the Hebrew, nass, "serpent". They worshipped the serpent and, according to the anti-Gnostic Church Father Hippolytus, worshipped at the temple of the goddess Isis, goddess of magic and the underworld.
RETURN OF THE CAINITES
By Gene Edward Veith, Cultural Editor
World, April 29, 2006
"The Gospel of Judas" is only one of many attempts to turn Christianity upside down.
"The Gospel of Judas" is a long-lost bit of Gnostic apocrypha. Now that archeologists have found a copy, the media is abuzz with speculation that this ancient document will shed new light on or even change Christianity.
According to "The Gospel of Judas", Jesus tells Judas to betray Him. This will enable Jesus’ spirit to escape from its fleshly container. Jesus also is said to call Judas the only disciple who truly understands His message. Much of the rest of the "gospel" is just disembodied dialogue about "spirit" as opposed to matter, in sharp contrast to the historically detailed Gospels of the New Testament.
No serious scholar, even the most liberal variety, believes this text – which is dated nearly 200 years after the death of Christ – has any connection to the historical Jesus or the historical Judas. It would be as if an American in the 1950;s wrote a book purporting to come from George Washington claiming that Benedict Arnold was really a double agent. And yet, "The Gospel of Judas" is being taken seriously, riding the wave of theological revisionism whose goal is to turn Christianity into a different religion.
The Gnostics were eastern mystics who taught that the physical realm is intrinsically evil and that the spirit can be freed from its bondage to physicality through the attainment of secret knowledge (or "gnosis"). They rejected the Christian doctrine of creation (saying that the material world is evil). They denied the incarnation (saying that Christ was a spiritual being who brought the secret knowledge and denying that He became "flesh"). And they denied the redemption (saying that sin is not a moral failure – since what we do in the flesh does not affect our spirits – but simply a lack of spiritual knowledge).
Many Gnostics went so far as to teach that the Creator portrayed in the Old Testament is really a demon. After all, only an evil being would create something so evil as the material world. The being who rebelled against this false deity and his physical creation is Satan, who is thus the "good guy". After all, in his manifestation as the serpent in the Garden, Satan offered Adam and Eve "knowledge".
One group of Gnostics went even further in their inversion of the Bible. The church father Irenaeus, in his book Against Heresies written in A.D. 180, tells about the Cainites. Members of this sect claim to trace themselves back to Cain, called in the Old Testament the first murderer, but whom they claim "derived his being from the Power above". The Cainites, said Irenaeus, also turn the other bad guys of the Bible – such as Korah, who rebelled against Moses, and the residents of Sodom – into the good guys. And they have even produced a "fictitious history", reports Irenaeus, "which they style the Gospel of Judas".
The Gnostics wrote a number of other "gospels" (e.g., "The Gospel of Thomas", "The Gospel of Philip", "The Gospel of Mary"), as well as epistles and apocalypses to garb their teachings in apostolic clothing and to compete with the Christian scriptures.
Today the Gnostics are back in vogue. Feminist theologian Elaine Pagels of Princeton argues that Gnosticism is more open to women, since the body makes no difference to the spirit. She maintains that the early church labeled Gnosticism a heresy as part of a patriarchal plot to oppress women.
And the Cainites have come back in pop literature. Philip Pullman, in the His Dark Materials fantasy novels for young people – currently being made into a motion picture – presents God as the villain and Satan as the hero. Dan Brown in the mega-seller The Da Vinci Code draws on Gnostic writings and continues their tradition by making up history to create the impression that Christ’s real message was feminism and sexual liberation.
Gnosticism lets you be "spiritual" – as an inner mysticism – without worrying about objective truth or what you do with your body. But, like Judas, it betrays Christ.
In summary, with the advent of the fictional book that claims to include truth, The Da Vinci Code, the National Geographic Special on that and The Gospel of Judas, there is a revival of interest in Gnosticism. Christian BE WARNED, Gnosticism is an old lie that should be rejected. Paul wrote to the Ephesians – "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them." Ephesians 5:11
My thanks to Dr. Thomas Holland; The Encyclopedia Britannica 1911
edition; the works of the Early Church fathers, World Magazine,
and numerous other sources that I used in putting this
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