Quick Challenge Answer: What is Gnosticism?

Here’s another big “ism” word that Christians use from time to time that leaves many scratching their heads. What is Gnosticism? You’ve probably heard it in relation to what are called the Gnostic Gospels, such as the Gospels of Phillip or Thomas. Gnosticism is an ancient heresy that became prominent in the 2nd century and was even discussed by early church leaders. What does it mean?

Secret Knowledge

A fundamental teaching in Gnosticism, and where the name comes from, is Jesus imparting secret knowledge. A recurring theme in the gnostic gospels involves Jesus taking one of the apostles aside, or coming in a vision, and showing them some special new teaching. This secret knowledge would become a new requirement for salvation. But Jesus never operated this way in the Gospels. Jesus said in John 18:20, “Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret.”

Material and Spiritual Worlds

Gnosticism also taught a separation between the material and spiritual worlds. The belief is that everything physical and relating to the body is evil, while the spirit is good. Thus, we ought to do what we can to shut out any physical distractions and focus solely on the spiritual. While there are verses in scripture about the weakness of the flesh, that does not mean we ought to separate from the physical world as much as possible. God created the physical world and our bodies to complement the spirit. We will have new transformed bodies in the end. If everything physical was evil, why would God incorporate it into the new kingdom?

What Are the Gnostic Gospels?

Many gospels or fragments have shown up over the years that originate from this 2nd century movement. They claim to be written by a person from the gospels like Thomas, Phillip, Mary Magdalene, etc. However, these texts were all written long after these people died and were simply using their name to gain credibility. These were not secret texts that Christians tried to cover up. Early church leaders like Irenaeus were publicly denouncing them thousands of years ago.

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