What Did the Gnostics Believe?
What did the gnostics believe?
The gnostics were some of the first heretics to infiltrate the early church with their poisonous doctrines. They argued that Jesus had taught secret teachings that were passed down to the disciples. These beliefs clashed with Christianity, causing a number of Gnostic sects to break away or be expelled from the church.
Their basic belief was that there was a hidden knowledge of truth, leading to salvation for those who possessed it. They also believed that salvation could not be achieved through the cross, church hierarchy, or rules. Instead, it came from the spiritual realm where humans could gain enlightenment.
They also believed that the world was corrupt and had been created by a lesser god, one who was more benevolent than the traditional patriarchal God of the Old Testament. This god created the world by producing angels that created a multitude of other angels, twelve acons and 72 luminaries, who produced five firmaments for each of these celestial beings (Ehrman 161).
Gnosticism is rooted in the Greek philosophy of gnosis, which means knowledge. Its followers believed that there was a divine spark within each person that could be awakened by secret revelation, freeing the human soul from its prison of physical matter. This spark would then allow the individual to return to the heavenly realm of light in which they were originally born into this world.
Salvation is of preeminence for the gnostics.
They argued that human beings were naturally good but were trapped in the material world by their evil impulses. They believed that the human soul had a natural desire to go back to the divine realm of light and that this divine spark was able to be released by gaining the gnosis necessary to achieve salvation.
Christians believe that Jesus rescued his followers from the power of evil and led them into a new life. They also believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead.
Some of the gnostics disagreed with this position, and they referred to the resurrection as a spiritual event. They regarded it as a symbolic event that allowed anyone to be saved, if they prepared through study and gnosis. This belief, called Tantrism, is similar to Buddhism.
The teachings of the gnostics were often based on allegory, a literary device that allows for interpretation by the reader, rather than by rote memorization. This meant that these texts were esoteric, and may have required some study to understand them completely.
They also believed that the teachings of Jesus were not merely stories of historical events, but were actually metaphorical keys to a higher understanding. This was especially true of the virgin birth, resurrection, and other elements of the Jesus story.
Consequently, the Gnostic teachings were often reinterpreted by Christian authors to suit their needs. They were often adapted into the weekly liturgies of Christian churches.
The gnostics also believed that Jesus was not incarnated into a human body, but only appeared as a human being so that he could speak to humanity. This was a challenge to the central pillars of Christianity, which included the crucifixion and resurrection.