Today I listened to books I and II of Against Heresies, written by Irenaeus, an early church father. The book seeks to dismantle the intricate heretical teachings of the Greek gnostics. [You can find the book for free audio download here.] While their teaching is very involved, something very simple struck me about the method which they employed in using the Bible to justify their metaphysical beliefs (which are not at all found in the Bible). This is, of course, the preferred method of the cults, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses who use only the portions of Scripture which they think support the heretical beliefs they hold to (e.g. their denial of hell, their denial of the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, etc – see apologist Matt Slick’s detailed list here), and, well, Satan (see, Matthew 4:5-6 and compare with 4:7), the Catholics, and a few Judaizing cults. This much may be evident to anyone with an observant eye. However, what may not be as readily apparent is that this is also the preferred method of many who are in the academy.
What I mean is this: Among the many things that the gnostics did in order to justify their non-biblical beliefs was claim that different portions of Scripture – which clearly only referred to the God of Israel – referred to other gods. The Christians, they claimed, were ignorant of this fact and, therefore, needed to be illuminated by them – the ones who truly possessed this knowledge. This knowledge formed an elaborate system so far removed from the text, attempting to explain the text, that one wonders how it ever caught on. But perhaps that’s the reason why it caught on in the first place. This “knowledge” was not only a way of identifying oneself as superior to the masses of “ignorant” individuals, especially the Christians whom they opposed, but also a means of liberating oneself from the demands of God’s moral law.
The gnostic division of the God of the Bible into many different gods allowed them to attribute to one god that which they found palatable, while that which was disliked by them (e.g. material creation, sickness, death, virtue, the law of God, etc) was attributed to another god whom they vilified.
Seeing any modern day parallels?
The Documentary Hypothesis was a fad in “higher criticism” that attributed different portions of Scripture to different writers who held different beliefs about, well, different gods. [You can read more about it here. Also, if you want to know more about it, pick up Josh McDowell’s Evidence for Christianity, which, among other things, deals with the DH in some detail.]
Similarly, the Jesus seminar follows the same procedure: A group of men vote on sayings of Christ which they believe He spoke (e.g. The Sermon on the Mount) and those which they believe He did not speak. Their decisions are not made on any solid basis; they choose in accordance with their [unregenerate] nature. In effect, the Jesus Seminar leaves men with more than one Christ: the “historical” Jesus (a very bland, and nearly non-existent Christ who performs no miracles), and the other offending, miracle performing, claiming to be God in the flesh, the judge of all men, Alpha and Omega Jesus. [Here are two short audio lecture refutations given by apologist Phil Fernandes for free download: Part 1 & Part 2]
In the case of the documentary hypothesis, as well as in the case of the Jesus Seminar, one is met with a neo-gnosticism that seeks to liberate men from the rule of God and His Christ. They attempt to multiply the voices speaking as God in Scripture in order to free men from the binding nature of the Law of God upon all men.
One more example comes to mind: Zeitgeist. The independent film Zeitgeist has served as one of the most frustrating pieces of dysinformation about the Lord Jesus Christ, history, and other religions ever made. And it too follows the pattern of the gnostics, the documentary hypothesis, and the Jesus Seminar. The claim the film makes is that Jesus Christ did not really exist; rather, His story is the result of a sort of religious patchwork that blends different myths together in order to promote sun worship and the veneration of the zodiac. Following satanist Helena Blavatsky – something most people don’t know, so please point this out to your overly zealous friends who watched the film and thought the ideas it presented were either new or trustworthy – the film is promoting a New Age agenda that is pretty much a reworking of the ancient gnostic heresy. [Keith Truth of youtube has a pretty good deconstruction of the film Zeitgeist and its neo-gnostic New Age agenda here.]
Like the gnostics before them, these all seek to be freed from the Lord’s rule, to shake their fists at Him in rebellion, to “break off their chains” (cf. Psalm 2:2) – just like their father the devil who tried to do the same.
The serpent of old promised Eve freedom from the rule of God and divinity which was rooted in the acquisition of the knowledge of good and evil. The Commandment of God, he argued, was nothing more than an unnecessary rule imposed upon Eve in order to restrain her from becoming a god herself. [See Genesis 3 for more about this.]
It’s an old trick; I pray you won’t fall for it.