Gnosticism: There is Nothing New Under the Sun

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.

-h.

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5 thoughts on “Gnosticism: There is Nothing New Under the Sun

  1. Heather says:

    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 insistence on being one’s own god appears to be the core of man’s condemnation.

    It is sad to encounter, say JW’s, or those of other groups that use “Christian” terminology but obviously are missing that a regenerative relationship with Christ is what ultimately matters.
    On one hand, I want to jump on them and try to immediately correct every doctrinal error to which they hold. I especially don’t want them to think I approve of their misunderstandings.

    On the other hand, I don’t want to do more damage than good by just appearing to be concerned about proving I’m “right”.

    It is not a simple thing to be both firm in holding to the truth of Scripture while acting in a loving and patient manner to direct others toward Christ.

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  2. Hiram says:

    Hey, Heather. It is difficult, but I think that there are examples in Scripture where those who were preaching/defending the faith did so rather harshly. I’m not advocating the kind of nonsense that KJV-Onlyists and others like them do, but I do think that, taking our cue from Scripture, should deal with individuals on a case by case basis – if that makes any sense.

    While the content of what we are presenting never changes, the way in which we present that content should vary according to the person with which we are dealing. If a man is caught in a heresy but is willing to learn, I don’t think the appropriate response would be to bash him and make a fool of him. However, if there is a man who is belitting Christ, denying Him, attempting to destroy the faith of new believers, and parading around arrogantly – like the Judaizers in 1 Timothy were, or the Gnostics in 1,2nd, & 3rd John were – then should we not pull the rug out from under their feet?

    The Lord didn’t make a fool of the woman at the well, who seemed to be conscious of her sinfulness and her own ignorance of the Messiah etc – but He, through ad hominem argumentation, did make a fool of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes. Paul also did this to the Judaizers, just as Steven did in Acts 7.

    Sorry for the long reply. Evangelism, and apologetical evangelism in particular, have been on my mind somewhat lately…

    -h.

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  3. Coram Deo says:

    A well considered and thoughtful piece.

    The only thing I would venture to add to your solid observations here is that gnosticism [including its modern variants as well as its Edenic progenitor], also implies that God is holding something back.

    He’s being stingy.

    He doesn’t want us to have access to certain important information.

    He’s afraid of our acquisition of this “forbidden knowledge” because He knows it will “free us” from being beholden to Him.

    Gnosticism seeks to portray the thrice holy Triune One True and Living God as a cosmic variation of the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz who’s greatness lies hidden behind a curtain; and once that curtain is pulled back [by gnosticism of course!], we see that there is only a small frail, frightened, old man who’s so-called “greatness” is really only a charade based on a hoax wrapped up in a lie.

    He’s only “great” insofar as he knows how to work all the levers and buttons, having greater knowledge than others, but gnosticism holds out the promise that we can find the way, and all of us can learn to work the levers and buttons, becoming gods [enlightened masters] ourselves.

    The bottom line? Gnosticism feeds mankinds fallen sinful predeliction to pride and idolatry of the heart.

    In Christ,
    CD

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  4. Hiram says:

    Thanks for stopping by, CD. I appreciate your kind words and agree with your observations. The prevalence of this sort of thing almost makes it seem as if it is the primary heresy of heresies, of course in different forms. I ran across a book on Paul the Apostle by an otherwise brilliant French philosopher, Alain Badiou. I had read his magnum opus, Being and Event, some time ago, so I figured I’d check out the previews at Amazon.com…

    I read the first few verbose and unnecessarily convoluted pages and thought to myself: “Wait for it, h; it’s coming.” I kept reading – verbosity, verbosity, verbosity, verbosity until finally, after page after page of misinterpretations of Paul, references to philosophical ideas completely alien to the text of the epistles Badiou was seeking to exegete (in his own twisted way), what does he say?

    He claims that “Paul’s theology of the resurrection” (my paraphrasing of his own words) sought to destroy transcendence, teaching us that, well, in the end, we are, basically, gods.

    It’s the same game…
    But Praise God, He opens the eyes of sinners!

    -h.

    p.s.
    Dig the blog :)

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  5. Heather says:

    While the content of what we are presenting never changes, the way in which we present that content should vary according to the person with which we are dealing. If a man is caught in a heresy but is willing to learn, I don’t think the appropriate response would be to bash him and make a fool of him. However, if there is a man who is belitting Christ, denying Him, attempting to destroy the faith of new believers, and parading around arrogantly – like the Judaizers in 1 Timothy were, or the Gnostics in 1,2nd, & 3rd John were – then should we not pull the rug out from under their feet?

    I much appreciate this statement, Hiram.

    There are indeed those who are arrogant and deliberately skewing Scripture in an attempt to deceive while others have been trapped by the lies and simply repeat what they’ve been told.

    One of the things that makes cultism so difficult to deal with is that the framework holds people’s souls hostage by insisting that they need to do/be/say certain things in order to find justification before God. And many of the teachings do it by twisting and distorting Scripture.

    I expect taking things on an individual basis is a key to being able to talk to someone like that.

    Thanks!

    Like

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