Posted in gnosticism, gnostics, neo-gnosticism

Gnosticism part 1: secret knowledge

Yesterday I introduced a new series on Gnosticism. I’m reading Colossians, which was a prison letter from Paul to the church at Colossae. Paul was responding to Epaphras’ news that the new Colossian believers were being quickly turned away from the faith by people who believed a different Gospel. What was that different Gospel? It was from the Gnostics, a group of cultish believers plaguing the church throughout the First Century, (and the second and third) and popping up here and there throughout the centuries since. Today, there is a resurgence of Gnostic belief encroaching and polluting even our fundamentalist churches among the Southern Baptist Convention. In other words, Gnosticism is a continual problem that never really went away.

The Tribulation is a time when all sins will be released for their fullest iniquity. The Holy Spirit’s ministry of restraint will be taken out of the way, and all sins, spiritual and carnal, will explode onto the earth. We see the setting for this coming explosion now. All false doctrines that have ever plagued the church are rising to the fore, all at once. We are battling Gnosticism, Mysticism, Liberalism, Post-Modernism, Legalism, Ecumenism, Prosperity Gospel, and much more. Jesus’s Seven Letters to the Seven Churches contained in Revelation 2-3 are a listing of some of the false doctrines and behavioral failings the early believers were falling prey to. Those false doctrines and behaviors hinder us now.

Zondervan’s NIV bible lists 6 elements that comprise Gnosticism. They are not exclusive, as Gnosticism has several branches and many different elements can be said to comprise the philosophy. In addition, several other false doctrines overlap Gnosticism, such as Mysticism and Legalism, for example. But for the sake of brevity (sort of) we will stick with the Zondervan 6. They are:

1. secret knowledge,
2. asceticism,
3. depreciation of Christ (lowering Him in name and in glory),
4. strict rule-keeping, ceremonies, or rituals
5. worship of angels,
6. and reliance on human wisdom and traditions

Today we will take a look at the element of “secret knowledge”.

David Grabbe wrote in “Whatever Happened to Gnosticism?” that “Gnosticism was the predominant source of heresy when the New Testament was written. The books of John, I Corinthians, Galatians, Colossians, I and II Timothy, Jude, and I John all combat various elements of Gnosticism. Even the book of Revelation cites a couple of Gnostic beliefs and practices, referring to “know[ing] the depths of Satan” and “the Nicolaitans” (Revelation 2:6, 15, 24).”

Gene Edward Veith wrote in World Magazine in this 2006 article “The Return of the Cainites,” “The Gnostics were eastern mystics who taught that the physical realm is intrinsically evil and that the spirit can be freed from its bondage to physicality through the attainment of secret knowledge (or “gnosis”). They rejected the Christian doctrine of creation (saying that the material world is evil). They denied the incarnation (saying that Christ was a spiritual being who brought the secret knowledge and denying that He became “flesh”). And they denied the redemption (saying that sin is not a moral failure – since what we do in the flesh does not affect our spirits – but simply a lack of spiritual knowledge).”

Jennifer Trafton and Rebecca Colossanov wrote in “Gnostics: Did you Know?” that “The Gnostics sometimes claimed that secret truth had been handed down by one apostle to a select group of insiders. But Christian opponents like Irenaeus argued that the true church represented the teaching of all of the apostles passed on in many locations.”

The word “Gnosticism” comes from the Greek word gnosis, which means “knowledge.” Gnosticism rejects the doctrines of original sin, human depravity and salvation through the substitutionary death of Christ. It emphasizes transcendence through inward, intuitive knowledge, i.e., “gnosis,” of the “divine spark in each individual.” (source)

Just to show how quickly satan sought to hinder Christ’s work, Simon Magus, the sorcerer from Acts 8:9-24 is said through tradition via Irenaeus to be the originator of Gnosticism.

As a kid, I used to be fascinated with the secret decoder rings you got in Cracker Jacks (back when they had good prizes!). And who could forget Ralphie’s excitement at getting closer to decoding the secret message from the Little Orphan Annie Radio radio show in the movie A Christmas Story. Ovaltine and other companies marketed early decoders to children which often included “secret messages” on their radio shows. These could be decoded for a preview of the next episode of the show.

This was creatively immortalized in the movie where the show’s announcer transmitted a secret message each week. Ralphie’s message deciphered to: “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine,” a message from the show’s sponsor. He muttered angrily, “a crummy Ovaltine commercial”.

Secret codes have a popular attraction for us, because we all want to know. We all want to be on the inside, no one wants to be left out.

The world is confusing and tumultuous, and in our fleshly pride we all want to make sense of it, and sometimes, even use that knowledge to get a leg up on the competition. Otherwise, why would Insider Trading of stock secrets be a Federal Crime, Corporate Spying be such a problem, and stealing plays and codes from football organizations be such a problem? We all want insider information the other guy has and we all want to protect our own information we already possess from the other guy.

Jesus said we have no power apart from Him, Gnostics say we have a Divine Spark that if we access and activate through secret knowledge, we will have as much power as Jesus. Jesus said to deny the flesh, and follow Him, Gnostics say the flesh (material world) is evil but we must be true to ourselves and follow our desires. Jesus said that all knowledge is from Jesus and has been delivered once for all to the saints, Gnostics say that accessing secret knowledge is the mechanism of salvation. The Gnostics claim that the early church “suppressed” the real knowledge, particularly the role of and contributions of women.

Additionally, people do not want to believe the reality and simplicity of the Gospel message, because people want to believe they have power and ability to save themselves. Nor do they hold the final truths to be in the bible, but instead should be explored from within, via mantras, rituals, and paths. In this way, Gnostics comfortably create their own truths rather than submit to One Truth. That is why, when yet another paper/book/doctrine comes along, people flock to it, triumphantly crowing, the real information is now out.

The bible says these people will be “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” Further, they are “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:5, 7). They know about God. But they do not know God.

In 1945, Egyptian farmers near Luxor found earthenware jars buried in the sand containing papyrus codices of ancient writings. When these papers at Nag Hammadi were discovered, many people thought that at last, the real information is now here. The codices included Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles, The Apocalypse of Adam, The (First) Apocalypse of James, The (Second) Apocalypse of James, The Apocalypse of Paul, The Apocalypse of Peter, The Apocryphon of James, The Apocryphon of John, The Book of Thomas the Contender, The Gospel of Philip, The Gospel of Thomas. Other Gnostic writings were discovered at other times, such as the Gospel of Judas, and The Gospel of Mary Magdalene.

Nag Hammadi codices, Source Wikipedia

The “Gospel” of Judas opens with one of Gnosticism’s famous buzzwords, secret. Specifically, it states “the secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot.”

God does not speak secrets. If He speaks, it is for all to hear. “Draw near to me, hear this: from the beginning I have not spoken in secret, from the time it came to be I have been there.” And now the Lord GOD has sent me, and his Spirit.” (Isaiah 48:16).

“For there is nothing hidden, except that it should be made known; neither was anything made secret, but that it should come to light.” (Mark 4:22)

“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 1:3)

“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.” (John 18:20).

Despite clear teachings of the bible that Jesus said His teaching is not a secret, Gnosticism is alive and well in Christianity. It is also alive and well in popular culture. The 2007 book The Secret by Rhonda Byrne exploded across the Western world as ‘the answer’ to life’s problems. It was featured in Oprah’s book club. If you think Gnosticism is dead, that people are satisfied with the sufficient and inerrant bible and its answers, just look at the numbers clamoring for the ‘secret’ knowledge Ms Byrne would impart. Challies wrote in his review of the book, “The week after Oprah’s endorsement sales of The Secret jumped from 18,000 to 101,000. The week after a second endorsement sales rose to 190,000.”

Ms Byrne isn’t done. This is the promo for her new book, The Magic: “For more than twenty centuries, words within a sacred text have mystified, confused, and been misunderstood by almost all who read them. Only a very few people through history have realized that the words are a riddle, and that once you solve the riddle – once you uncover the mystery – a new world will appear before your eyes.  In The Magic, Rhonda Byrne reveals this life-changing knowledge to the world. “

The Da Vinci Code is another book and movie with Gnostic origins. Pretty much any “Christian” insight or doctrine that emphasizes codes is Gnostic in origin. Carl Jung was much taken with Gnosticism and therefore Jungian psychology contains many elements of it. Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling is Gnostic, (Tim Challies reviewed it here).

Much these days from Beth Moore is Gnostic. She repeatedly claims insider knowledge delivered directly to her and that she is to teach it. Moore recently said Jesus lifted her into another dimension to see the global church as He sees it and told her to return with this information and teach it, essentially saying she has been given special, secret knowledge which she now shares with others. Moore also promotes Lectio Divina, a mystical spiritual discipline which emphasizes gaining special knowledge of God through personal experience by emptying the mind and repeating babbling mantras. 1 Timothy 6:20 has something to say about irreverent babbling.

Gnosticism emphasizes meditation, mantras, and extreme mysticism because salvation to the Gnostics came via intuitive, personal knowledge and direct experience. Salvation is derived internally by knowledge and works, not externally from God. Those who did not attain knowledge were associated with ignorance, a particular evil to Gnostics. To a Gnostic, direct revelation from the Spirit is always more important than the word.

Buzzwords to listen for: The divine spark, lost books/lost knowledge, secret teachings, new insight, duality, seed, ascend, the Divine Feminine or the Feminine Divine, oneness.

Seen in: Scientology, New Age, Freemasonry, Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God curriculum, Emergent Church, Benny Hinn…

This blogger wrote, “Gnosticism is Satan’s classic tool for combating the (difficult) truths of Christianity.”

Brethren, do not seek after books that purport to reveal new insights, deliver new knowledge, or have uncovered lost secrets. Jesus came to us visibly, preached, prophesied and taught, so that we would repent of our sins, have His Light of salvation through His grace. He delivered His word to us in the bible and nothing in there is a secret. It is open and available to all believers, and contains all one needs to know that is good and profitable. (2 Timothy 3:16).

My son, do not forget my teaching,
but let your heart keep my commandments,
for length of days and years of life
and peace they will add to you.
(Proverbs 3:1-2)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshmentc to your bones
(Proverbs 3:5-8) [emphasis mine].
Gnosticism series:

Part 1: Secret Knowledge
Part 2: Asceticism
Part 3: Depreciation of Jesus
Part 4: Ceremonies & Rituals
Part 5: Worship of Angels
Part 6: Human Traditions 


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.