A companion powerpoint to this sermon is located at:
I know something you don’t know. Say it with a sing song in your voice and you sound like a child on the playground. Say it with a whisper and you sound like a gloating Gnostic. What’s a Gnostic? Glad you asked. The ideology of Gnosticism is an ancient heresy, one of the earliest to afflict the church starting at least during the lives of the Apostles John and Paul. In these last few years a resurgence of Gnostic thought is returning in the form of books, movies and mainstream thought. The impact it’s having on the faith is startling.
Case in point: the book and soon the movie “The Da Vinci Code” which is having an enormous impact on world culture is largely – if not indirectly- related to the Gnostic gospel of Philip’s inference that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married. In fact a number of ancient texts claiming to reveal secret knowledge about the life of Jesus Christ have come back from the grave so to speak and people eager to believe anything that is not the Bible are gravitating to them. More than that, Gnosticism also threatens the faith of immature believers.
This morning I’m going to switch from preacher to teacher because you need to know and understand more than just what’s going on today, you need to understand the roots of it. If you and I are going to counteract the lies with truth we need to know the truth. Before we get all the way there however we’re going to have to do a little groundwork.
What is Gnosticism?
The word comes from a transliteration of the Greek word ãíùóéò (gnosis) meaning “Knowledge”. And it points right to the central doctrine: a search for hidden knowledge. Gnosticism was a belief system whose followers have come to be known as “Gnostics”. They were seekers of secret knowledge believing that by gaining that knowledge they could learn how to release the divine within them. If it sounds a lot like modern Eastern Mysticism that’s because there are in fact hints of a historical connection.
Much of what we know about Gnosticism originally came from the writings of the church fathers as they defended the faith. But in recent years tattered copies of many of the Gnostic writings have been discovered. It is the content of those writings, many of them claiming to be “Gospels” that has fueled the recent resurgence of Gnostic thought.
What did the Gnostics Teach?
Gnosticism as a whole is difficult to pin down under just a few statements, so I’ll make a broad generalization about it. As a continuation of their writings the Gnostics were dualistic. That is they believed that god was both good and spirit; and that all matter was evil. That being the case the unknowable god they worshipped would never create the universe. They imagined a series of lesser spiritual beings like emanations or like ripples in a pond perhaps. Each emanation decreasing in glory and wisdom until finally one of them was dumb enough to not realize that creating matter would be to create evil. This one they considered to be a demon. And this one, they said was the God of the Hebrew old testament. But they revered the snake in the garden because he offered what to Adam and Eve? Wisdom! The very thing they sought.
Since they believed that the creator God was evil, and that the true god could never sink so low as to take on flesh (which was evil) – they also went one of two ways concerning Jesus. Some claimed that Jesus was just a man who was first among the enlightened (much like Mormonism) others that he was a god and only appeared to be material.
According to the Gnostics Jesus was the divine redeemer who came into the mortal realms to reveal the secret knowledge necessary to become free of our bondage to the Material in order that we might ascend through the seven levels of heaven guarded by the archons and thus finally arrive at true redemption in Heaven as pure spirits.
What was in the Gnostic Writings?
The Gnostic writings read more like a selection of Bullfinch’s mythology than the Bible. While it’s hard to summarize all the Gnostic writings, those that claimed to be Gospels about Jesus centered around two basic concepts:
1. What did Jesus do during the silent years between his birth and his appearance in the temple at 12 years old and then again until he entered ministry.
2. What secret knowledge did he give to his disciples or to others in his ministry?
Almost all of it contradicts scripture, or adds questionable material. In the Gnostic gospels, Jesus reflects all the lusts and hatreds of the human heart. Far from being the Holy Son of God he is depicted as capricious and sometimes malicious; killing people that bumped into him or creating birds out of mud and clapping his hands so they’ll come to life and fly away .
The Gospel of Judas which has been the subject of no less than half a dozen books lately is brief and fragmentary. It claims that Judas was the only disciple who knew the truth of who Jesus really was – a divine spirit longing to be free of the flesh. In the words of the Church Father Irenaeus, “[The Cainites (who claimed to be related to Cain and to all the wicked men in the Bible- though they called them good)] declare that Judas the traitor was thoroughly acquainted with these things, and that he alone, knowing the truth as no others did, accomplished the mystery of the betrayal; by him all things, both earthly and heavenly, were thus thrown into confusion. They produce a fictitious history of this kind, which they style the Gospel of Judas.”
What happened to the Gnostics?
The Gnostics were not a new threat by any measure when Irenaeus took them on in 180 AD with his famous work “Against Heresies”. Paul and John the Apostles had already been dealing with them.
In Colossians Paul forces them to accept that Christ was both flesh and God when he says “NAU Colossians 1:19 For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him,” And again when he says “NAU Colossians 2:9 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form,” In 1 John 1:1-3 John Goes to great lengths to demonstrate that The physical nature of Jesus as God in the flesh when he begins the letter with this: “
NAU 1 John 1:1-3 What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life-- 2 and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us-- 3 what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”
Through men like John, Paul, Bishop Irenaeus in 180 and Hippolytus and Tertullian all around the close of the second century; the Earnest labors of the early church safeguarded the gospel to such an extent that Gnosticm became all but extinct.
Today However Gnostic thought is beginning to worm its way back into the culture.
Why Gnosticism is Growing today?
1947 Near Nag Hammadi Egypt: A number of ancient papyrus manuscripts are discovered containing fragments from something like 52 Gnostic writings. This is affectionately known as the Nag Hammadi Library.
1970’s (approximately) at some point in this era the text now known as “The Gospel of Judas” was found near. It was probably written sometime between 130 and 170 AD , obviously after all the original disciples had fallen asleep.
1999 The movie the Matrix is released. It is dominated with the idea of freedom through special knowledge a distinctly Gnostic/Easter Religious Trait.
2003 Dan Brown’s Novel “The Da Vinci Code” is based almost entirely on the concepts in the Gnostic gospels with an enormous amount of spurious research poor historical methodology. Now it’s about to be released May 19 as a motion picture movie. And in a unique move it’s being simultaneously released all over the globe. Not even the passion of the Christ which was enormously easy to translate because it was all subtitled was released simultaneously around the globe.
2006 The National Geographic Channel has produced a 2 hour documentary on the “Gospel of Judas” raising this particular Gnostic gospel which claims Judas to new prominence.
The Gnostic internet websites are abuzz concerning the growing tide of Gnosticism due in part to these discoveries.
So what should our response be? We can cry about it or face it. We can mourn the error of sinners as we cower in our tower, or we can embrace the opportunity to shine a light on the shadows and reveal the truth.
The very short answer to how do we overcome Gnosticism comes from recognizing what it is, and how it was defeated in the past. Gnosticism as a doctrine is nothing more than a lie, Paul warns of “Doctrines of Demons” in 1 Timothy 4:1. Learning the truth of how we got the Bible and being prepared to answer the lies with truth is the best way to overcome. We have the truth on our side.
One of the chief arguments that will be made concerning these Gnostic gospels is either that they have just as much authority as the New Testament gospels, or in connection with this idea will be the claim that someone in church leadership squashed these in order to present to the world their version of Christianity.
It’s really the question “Can you trust the Bible?”
Let me show you a brief video clip from Pastor Erwin Lutzer who answers this question quite succinctly.
In brief we have the assurance of 2000 years of History that God’s word is complete as it stands. Any ancient texts not included in the Cannon are not there simply because they don’t belong there.