I like to start a study of this nature by defining my terms. It’s the English teacher in me 🙂
The Greek word gnostos means known. A Gnostic, then, is a believer in a mystical religious doctrine of spiritual knowledge who is knowing, able to discern, good at knowing. That in itself doesn’t seem so bad, right? But there were various early Christian sects that claimed direct personal knowledge beyond the Gospel or the Church hierarchy; they appeared in the first century A.D., flourished in the second, and have morphed into various other mystic beliefs over the centuries.
Gnosticism is ancient, and goes way back to the Babylonian studies of astrology. I did a quick overview of writings, and there are volumes written on this topic. It is by no means dead. Here’s what John Lennon had to say about it:
Mr. Lennon was clearly something of a mystic, who opted for the Transcendental notion that we can not only be better than God, but that we can BE gods, simply by revealing our inner light. He has taken Jesus’ statement in John 14:6, “”I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Light” and stretched it to mean something far different than Jesus meant.
So, what are the basic beliefs of the “Knowers”? Here is a simple but clear chart from J. Vernon McGee:
|(1)||They had an exclusive spirit (were aristocratic in wisdom).||Col. 1:28|
|(2)||They held speculative tenets on creation — that God did not create the universe directly, but created a creature who in turn created another creature, until one finally created the physical universe. Christ was considered a creature in this long series of creations.||Col. 1:15-19; 2:18|
|(3)||Their ethical practice was asceticism (influenced by Greek Stoicism) and unrestrained licentiousness (from Greek Epicureanism).||Col. 2:16, 23|
We’ll look at this chart more completely in a minute. First, though, I want to offer you an example of the convoluted thinking of the gnostics about something they stole from Greek philosophy called the demiurge:
“In the Platonic, Neopythagorean, Middle Platonic, and Neoplatonic schools of philosophy, the demiurge(/ˈdɛmi.ɜːrdʒ/) is an artisan-like figure responsible for fashioning and maintaining the physical universe. The Gnostics adopted the term demiurge. Although a fashioner, the demiurge is not necessarily the same as the creator figure in the monotheistic sense, because the demiurge itself and the material from which the demiurge fashions the universe are both considered consequences of something else. Depending on the system, they may be considered either uncreated and eternal or the product of some other entity.” (Wikipedia)
Are you confused yet? To me, it seems much more believable the “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1).
Back to Mr. McGee’s chart. The Gnostics considered themselves to have knowledge and discernment far above the common man, who simply was not equipped in any way to fully understand the twists and turns of their mysticism. Beware of any group or individual who tells you he has discovered knowledge that no one else has. In Colossians 1:28, Paul warns against such teaching, and makes it clear that the knowledge of Jesus Christ is available to each and every person.
Second, the Gnostics believed that God was not the Creator. This is where the demiurge comes in. God was just a Being in a long line of others, which finally produced the creator of all things. This belief, of course, can take us to a wide variety of humanistic beliefs, including the idea that humanizes God and deifies man. It also allows for pantheism, with its plethora of gods, and the idea that these gods are in all things, including mankind. Paul’s response is in Col. 1:15-19 and Col. 2:18. These are passages that identify Jesus Christ AS GOD, not as a demiurge! All things were created by Him and for Him. We looked at Col. 2:18 yesterday, which says that those who teach other than the gospel are puffed up (conceited) in their own minds.
Third, they practiced both asceticism and epicurianism, a clear contradiction of terms and habits. The ascetic beliefs were those of extreme self-denial in an effort to purify the mind and purge out all wrong thinking. Epicurians went to the farthest extreme possible from the ascetics, indulging themselves in all manner of self-gratification, from food and wine to sexual orgies. Paul’s response in Col. 3:5-9 is a directive to live in moderation, and to take care of inner attitudes and deceit rather than to focus on outward behaviors. As a therapist, this makes a lot of sense to me. For years I’ve taught people that our behavior is motivated by our thinking. Think biblically, and you will not fall into the Devil’s traps, no matter how attractive they may seem.
There is a great deal more to be said about gnostic thinking and behavior. My advice to you? Stay away from it. What we have looked at here is really all we need to know about this heresy. The primary error is in thinking we can become gods, and that gnosticism goes beyond the boundaries of God’s Word. Those two things alone should keep us focused on what God says is truth, and not on what man has created as truth.
The same is true of any heresy. The word heresy, by the way, simply means to divide. Satan continues to come up with many ways to divide believers, and most of those way minimize Jesus Christ and deify man.