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Against Gnosticism: Why the Gnostic Christians weren't Christians
By Kathy Simcox

In early Christianity there were many alternative views that claimed to have authority over one another. Hundreds of rival teachers all claimed to teach the "true doctrine of Christ" and denounced all others as frauds. All claimed to represent "the authentic tradition". Jesus himself was the only authority they all recognized.1 One of these alternative views was Gnostic Christianity, which gained popularity in the second century.

The term Gnosticism comes from the Greek word gnosis, meaning `knowledge'. This knowledge is knowledge of participation, knowledge of union and salvation. It is existential knowledge in contrast to scientific knowledge.2 Gnosticism was influenced by Oriental dualism and Greek philosophies. In this dualism the Gnostics believed that the creation of the world was bad and that its creator, Yahweh, the Old Testament God of the Jews, was an evil being. The God of Gnostic Christianity was a benevolent and loving being, superior over Yahweh.3 This God was God the Father, Jesus' Father, the "real" God. Paul Tillich said that Gnosis is used in three ways: as knowledge in general terms; as mystical communion; as sexual intercourse.4 This article will be concerned with the second as it applies to the Resurrection.

The theory that Jesus rose from the dead is the fundamental element of the Christian faith. The idea that this event occurred in one unique historical moment is a central theme to the orthodox position. What makes this so ordinary is not the claim that Jesus' friends had seen him after his death, but that they saw a human being. The orthodox position states that as Christ rose bodily from the grave, so every believer should anticipate the resurrection of the flesh. 4

Some New Testament accounts insist on this literal view of the resurrection and the orthodoxy of the second century insisted on it as well, rejecting all others as heretical. Luke 24:34 states that "the Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon Peter!" Whatever the truth of this claim, in all honesty we can't verify or disprove it on simply historical grounds we were not there to see it happen. All we can say is that Peter claimed that the resurrection happened and generations after him continued to believe him, and still do.

For the Gnostic Christian, however, the person who experiences the resurrection does not meet Jesus raised back to life in physical form. He encounters Christ on a spiritual level, such as dreams, ecstatic trances, visions, and spiritual illumination. 5 The Gnostic Christian rejected Luke's theory. According to them, the literal view of the resurrection was argued to have occurred in the past and because of this it was called the "faith of fools". 6 The Gnostics insisted that the resurrection symbolized how Christ's presence could be experienced in the present. To them, it was not literal seeing that mattered; rather, it was spiritual vision. This spiritual vision of the resurrection, in whatever form it took, was the moment of enlightenment a person could be "resurrected from the dead" right now. Christians could "receive the resurrection while they live". 7 Gnostics believed that taking the literal view was ignorant.

What interested these Gnostics far more than past events attributed to the "historical Jesus" was the possibility of encountering the risen Christ in the present. They alleged that the risen Christ continued to reveal himself to certain disciples, representing how Christ's presence could be experienced individually in the present moment. For Christians who wanted to know and experience Christ now, in there own individual present moment, this belief probably seemed like a quick fix. But I beg to differ.

It may be true that Christ's resurrection is central to Christianity, but I want to take it further and say, putting our faith in the occurrence of the resurrection is actually more central than simply stating it happened. Anyone is capable of saying it happened; not everyone is capable of believing it happened. There is significant difference between the two. One requires faith, the other doesn't.

Here is where I believe the Gnostics should not be considered Christian. In truth, we were not there two thousand years ago to see the resurrected Christ; the reality of the issue says that we honestly do not know if the event occurred or not. But isn't this what our faith is all about, believing in something not seen? This is why the Christian faith is so beautiful. The mystery of it gives us hope of salvation and eternal paradise. The Gnostic Christians were adamant about experiencing Christ's resurrection in the present moment, as opposed to relying on the belief that it happened in the past, a belief that requires the central theme of Christianity: Faith.

If a person experiences something in the present moment, they don't need to have faith that it happened because they were there to experience it. If the Gnostics did not need faith, then I argue against their Christianity, for they did not find use for the essential driving force behind a Christian's whole existence. I believe that the proof of their heresy lies in the fact that Christian Orthodoxy, despite its evolution into many different denominations and doctrines, is still practiced by millions of people, whereas Gnosticism died out long ago. Although people in the modern world did not witness Christ's bodily resurrection they still, two thousand years later, put their faith in the hope that it did. And sometimes, a simple hope is all a person needs.

1. The Gnostic Gospels, Pg 7
2. A History of Christian Thought, Pg. 33
3. Exploring Christianity, Pg. 40
4. The Gnostic Gospel, Pg. 4
5. Ibid, Pg. 5
6. Ibid, Pg. 11
7. Ibid, Pg. 12

1. Tillich, Paul. A History of Christian Thought. Simon and Schuster, Inc. New York, NY. 1968.

2. Monk, Robert, and Joseph Stamey. Exploring Christianity: An Introduction. Prentice-Hall, Inc. Englewood Cliffs, NJ. 1984.

3. Pagels, Elaine. The Gnostic Gospels. Random House:New York. 1979.

See Also:

Why Is The Resurrection Significant?
It is through Christ's death and resurrection that we are able to receive eternal life through belief in Jesus Christ.

Three Ways to Develop Our Faith in Christ
We can develop our faith in Christ by hearing the word, studying the word, and praying for understanding of the word of God.

The Face of God
Have you ever wondered what the face of God looks like? Have you ever thought what you would say to Him? What you would do in His presence?

Kathy Simcox works as an Administrative Assistant in the College of the Arts at The Ohio State University. She holds a BA in Psychology and is currently working on a second BA in Religious Studies. In addition to writing, her passions include hiking, biking, kayaking, photography, and singing in her church choir. She is also known to read an occasional book. Other articles can be viewed at www.outofthecube.com and www.grieflossrecovery.com

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