Gnosticism (after gnôsis, the Greek word for "knowledge" or "insight") is the name given to a loosely organized religious and philosophical movement that flourished in the first and second centuries A.D. Though the exact origins of this school of thought cannot be traced with any certainty, it is possible to infer that certain non-canonical sources dating from the first and second centuries A.D. were used to develop it. It is considered a heresy by most modern Christians.
Literary critic Harold Bloom distinguishes Gnosticism from Christianity and Judaism in his book Agon:
"Gnosticism polemically is decidedly not a faith, whether in the Christian sense, pisits, a believing that something was, is, and will be so; or in the Hebraic sense, emunah, a trusting in the Covenant. If religion is a binding, then Gnosticism is an unbinding, but not for the sake of things or persons merely as they are. Gnostic freedom is a freedom for knowledge, knowledge of what in the self, not in the psyche or soul, is Godlike, and knowledge of God beyond the cosmos. But also it is a freedom to be known, to be known by God, by what is alien to everything created, by what is alien to and beyond the stars and the cosmic system and our earth."
Generally, Gnostics believed that the Abrahamic God was in fact two separate and independent entities. They believed that the Demiurge was the God of the Israelites and the Old Testament. He created the world and man imperfectly, and was malevolent. This belief largely stemmed from accounts of the highly interventionist God in the Old Testament directly and indirectly killing large numbers of people. The Gnostics believed that the second god was a good, benevolent god who is embodied in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ came to save humanity from sin and suffering, the evils of the material world.
Today, Gnostic traits and Gnostic culture are declared to be a present-day phenomena, inherent in, for example, the Anthropological Revolution. M.A. Smith claims that similarities between Gnostic heresies and some modern cults might be noted at the very minimum in cases of Mormonism (having secret writing in addition to the Bible) and Jehovah's Witnesses (special and very strange interpretations of the actual Scriptures based on a non-biblical system).
Until the 1945 discovery of the Nag Hammadi texts near Luxor in Egypt, the only evidence about the existence of Gnostic groups and sects came from anti-Gnostic church fathers who occasionally quoted large fragments of Gnostic writings or sometimes whole works in their rebuttals attacking and refuting the Gnostic heresy in defence of their Christian faith. Those Gnostic heretical texts where Christ is conceived as a teacher and revealer of mysterious gnosis, i.e. a secret knowledge aiming to save people from ignorance and material world rather than sin, exhibit following characteristics in contrast to canonical Gospels:
- The texts contain only alleged sayings of Jesus often twisted so as to express the Gnostic theology
- Jesus transmits these isolated sayings without being placed in any role within Israel's history such as Roman occupation or without any relation to it
- The sayings of Jesus have no narrative or situational framework, there is no mention of any circumstances, topographical facts or historical events
- The language of the New Testament survives, but the words used are merely connotation-words, having ascribed a totally different meaning
- If there are the New Testament allusions, there is never an actual quotation
- Tampering with the New Testament, for example, the Jesus' cry from the cross was rewritten as "My power, my power, why have you left me?"
- The whole system often appears to be a game of numerology, using the New Testament as the quarry for the numbers
- The overwhelming impression of most Gnostic works is vagueness, word-spinning and tedium
- The common factor is imposing a foreign system on the biblical data[note 1]
- Preaching the pseudo-Christianity in the form of esoteric or secret knowledge, obsession with mysterious and interest in secret doctrines and rites
One of the characteristics of gnostic heresy was that it had to do with making people feel significant. The Gnostics did not present their message as something destined for a layman, but rather as something that only an exclusive and highly elevated group of people should hear and could grasp. They considered themselves to belong to the elect part of humanity with extraordinary access to spiritual secret knowledge. From this perspective, Gnosticism was never meant to be, and probably never became, a mass movement. It may primarily have appealed to intelligentsia in the Roman cities. Gnosticism threatened to invade the leaders of the Church. The typical Gnostic community was a circle of initiates adhering to a charismatic teacher, rapidly dissolving with the disappearance of the leader. Irenaeus ironically remarked about them that everybody had ambition of being a teacher of others and establishing his own group. Due to their elite character, the Gnostics, with one significant exception of Manichaeism from the third century onward, never established a church of any duration.
Marcion's teaching was marked by a fundamental dualism that "looks like a combination of Christianity and Syrian gnosis". Marcion distinguished between the highest God (the merciful father revealed in Jesus Christ) and but just cruel God (the Creator and Lawgiver revealed in the Old Testament). He regarded matter as evil, denied the resurrection of body, advocated a strict asceticism, and held to a docetic Christology. Marcion's dualism led him to make a complete disjunction between law and gospel and entitled rejecting the Old Testament in its entirety and as well those New Testament writings he judged to be infected by "the Judaizing" error. The Marcionite 'canon' consisted of the ten letters of the "Apostle" - the Pauline corpus minus the Pastoral Epistles - and the "Gospel" - an edited version of Luke.
- Rejection of Old Testament and manipulating (editing) the Scripture by Nazists resulting in dejudaized version of the New Testament (NT), titled Die Botschaft Gottes (The Message of God). Wilhelm Busch, pastor contemporary to era of Nazism in Germany, witnessed:
When Hitler was fighting for power, he published a program of his Nazi Party. There, in the article 24, it was declared: "We are all for positive Christianity." Many genuine Christians got hooked for it. But when Hitler finally had acquired the full power in the country, it was suddenly disclosed what many had overlooked: The 'Positive Christianity' has been just disguised Nazism. At the same time, the fight against the Bible triggered its ramp. Especially the Old Testament was taken under the heavy fire. Everywhere you could hear and read: Well, the New Testament can be allowed to circulate for some time, because the teaching there in is about the God of love. Just one thing, the letters of Jew Paul must be eliminated from there, they smack too much of the Spirit of the Old Testament. As for the Old Testament itself - oh, that’s a terrible book, a dirty book, a horrifying book! There in, a voice of the Judeo-Syrian God of desert and revenge can be heard.
Nazist forbade the study of "Jewish book" which was their reference to the Old Testament and its scholarship disappeared from German seminaries and journals. In 1940 Dietrich Bonhoeffer was fined for defiantly publishing a book on Psalms.
- Examples from Nazi's Die Botschaft Gottes edited New Testament:
- Part of John 4 from Die Botschaft Gottes; v. 22 “salvation is from the Jews” was omitted.
- In v. 25 “Messiah (called Christ)” was changed to “Promised one”.
- Reference to Jesus being “a Jew” in v. 9 was changed to “who comes from Judea”.
- Examples from Nazi's Die Botschaft Gottes edited New Testament:
- Objections to Old Testament by New Atheism on the grounds that it makes references to cruel God the Creator; Richard Dawkins in his The God Delusion (2006) wrote (p.31):
"The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully."[note 3]
- The contemporary yellow journalism and liberal media often misuse the Gnostic texts or even add uncritically accepted related discoveries or speculations, doubted and criticized by mainstream scholars, in their obsession with sensational. In 1996 the Time magazine, known for liberal bias, reported on the group of self-described 'experts and scholars' known as Jesus Seminar who declared to have special ‘knowledge‘ on origin of Gospels thus presented their own edited version of Bible with addition of Gnostic Gospel of Thomas as what they called ‘The Scholars Version‘. A. Boyd wrote a devastating critique of such liberal perspectives in his Cynic Sage or Son of God? - Recovering the Real Jesus in an Age of Revisionist Replies.
- cf. Syncretism
- cf."[Gnosticism] is by no means an outdated phenomenon of only historical interest"
- cf."To the faithful you show yourself faithful, to the blameless you show yourself blameless, to the pure you show yourself pure, but to the devious you show yourself shrewd." Bible, 2 Samuel 22: 26-27 (NIV)
- Vladimír Palko (2012). Levy prichdzajú (Lions are coming) (in Slovak). Prešov, Slovakia: Vydavateľstvo Michala Vaška, 248. ISBN 978-80-7165-870-2.
- M.A.Smith (1971). From Christ to Constantine. London: Inter-Varsity Press, 48, 69,191. ISBN 0-85110-570-X.
- David G. Dunbar et al. (1986 (Zondervan), 2005). "Nine: The Biblical Canon", in D.A. Carson and J.D. Woodbridge: Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 331. ISBN 1-59752-118-3.
- Oskar Skarsaune (2002). "12:Orthodoxy and Heresy", In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influence on Early Christianity. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 246, 251-253. ISBN 978-0-8308-2844-9.
- Russell Grigg. Did Hitler rewrite the Bible?. Creation Ministries International. Retrieved on 2012-10-27.
- Kritik ohne Kenntnis? (Busch) (German). Christlichen Medienverbreitungsmission (1. October 2009). “Wilhelm Busch erzählt: Als Hitler um die Macht kämpfte, veröffentlichte er ein Parteiprogramm. In dem stand als Punkt 24: “Wir sind für positives Christentum.” Viele treue Christen sind darauf hereingefallen. Als aber Hitler an der Macht war, erfuhr man, was viele vorausgesehen hatten: Positives Christentum ist dasselbe wie Nationalsozialismus. Zu gleicher Zeit begann der Kampf gegen die Bibel. Namentlich das Alte Testament wurde unter Trommelfeuer genommen. Überall konnte man hören und lesen: Nun ja, das Neue Testament könne man noch einige Zeit gelten lassen; denn da werde der Gott der Liebe gelehrt. Nur die Briefe des Juden Paulus müsse man ausmerzen. In denen sei der Geist des Alten Testaments zu spüren. Das Alte Testament aber – oh, das sei ein fürchterliches Buch, ein schmutziges Buch, ein grauenvolles Buch! Da rede der jüdisch-syrische Wüsten-Rache-Gott.”
- Philip Yancey (2002). Bible Jesus Read. Michigan: Zondervan, 24. ISBN 978-0-310-245-667.
- David Van Biema (Apr. 08, 1996). The Gospel of Truth?. Time Magazine.
- Lee Strobel (1998, 2008). "6. section: Jesus and the "Mystery religions"", The Case for Christ: A Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. Zondervan, 120-125. ISBN 0-310-29604-8.
- Gregory A. Boyd (1996, 2010). Cynic Sage or Son of God? - Recovering the Real Jesus in an Age of Revisionist Replies. Wipf & Stock Pub.. ISBN 978-1-6089-9953-8.