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What Is Gnosticism?



The Ancient of Days by William Blake (1794).

Public Domain

Definition: Gnosticism was a second century heresy claiming that salvation could be gained through secret knowledge. Gnosticism is derived from the Greek word gnosis, meaning "to know."

Gnostics also believed that the material world (matter) is evil and that only the spirit is good. They constructed an evil God and beings of the Old Testament to explain the creation of the world (matter), and considered Jesus Christ a wholly spiritual God.

These two beliefs clash strongly with accepted Christian doctrine. Christianity teaches that salvation is available to everyone, not just a special few, and that it comes from grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9), and not from study or works. The only source of truth is the Bible, Christianity asserts.

Gnostics were divided on Jesus. One view held that he only appeared to have human form but that he was actually spirit only. The other view contended that his divine spirit came upon his human body at baptism and departed before the crucifixion. Christianity, on the other hand, holds that Jesus was fully man and fully God and that his human and divine natures were both present and necessary to provide a suitable sacrifice for humanity's sin.

Gnostic writings are extensive. Many so-called Gnostic Gospels are presented as "lost" books of the Bible, but in fact did not meet the criteria when the canon was formed. In many instances they contradict the Bible.

Pronunciation: NOS tuh siz um

Example: Gnosticism claims hidden knowledge leads to salvation.

(Sources: gotquestions.org, earlychristianwritings.com, and the Moody Handbook of Theology, by Paul Enns.)

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