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gnosticism

Question: The Epistle of 1 John was written (among other things) to combat the heresy of Gnosticism. Please give the basic tenets of Gnosticism and how I John answered this system of thought.

Answer:

Firstly, the term Gnosticism is derived from the Greek word “gnosis” translated “knowledge”. It is this term that helps us begin our understanding of the positioning of the value found in its beliefs – that is in salvation gained through “special knowledge” (gnosis). So what is this “special knowledge” that supposedly helps us gain salvation?

We must begin with exploring the worldview of the Gnostics which removes the element of a personal God and makes Him unknowable. This is concluded from a simple and flawed logic based on the fact that God is by nature too perfect and pure for us. The origins of our being are also very different than the Christian worldview as Gnostics believe that God created lesser gods called emanations and in turn one of these tried to know the unknowable God via Wisdom. This mistake that seems to mark a loose parallel to Satan wanting to have God’s nature and humanity’s original sin of wanting to seek knowledge from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (God’s domain) seems eerily familiar. Out of this faulty goal came an evil god (demiurge) who created the universe and beings known as the archons who subdued us “mortals” to prevent our souls from returning to our intended state with God. Indeed, this is all extremely fascinating mythology but mere myth it is.

A shared view of the transitory nature of our existence is similar to Christianity but similarities quickly depart in all linkages and descend into a new age/old age/mystic/Buddhist concept of attaining self-enlightenment (special knowledge) to then return back to God. All these teachings to help learn the knowledge needed was to be dispensed by the Gnostic teachers in much the same fashion Buddhist grand masters do so today.

Along with all of these fundamental differences on the origins of the universe and humanity comes the fundamental disagreement on the identity of Jesus. They view Him as a great Gnostic teacher and deny His deity and sonship and therefore His entire work (death on the cross and resurrection unto the Father). 1 John begins by dealing with our identity in chapter 3 as children of God and goes on in chapter 4 to attack the false teachings that did not “[acknowledge] that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh from God”. Interestingly, as we continue to read from verse 7 to the end of the chapter we see Scripture clearly explaining what it means to truly know God and how that must start with love, action, and the Spirit. John is making a direct attack on the “special knowledge” that seems to have found an elite intellectual or righteous level and brings it down to a practical expression – almost resonating as a call that religion isn’t meant to be lofty it is meant to be real and it begins with understanding who we are, who Christ is, why the Father sent Him, what He has done for us, and what the Spirit continues to do in us.

For more information of this topic please see my post on “Testing the Spirits”.

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