Gnosticism was probably the most erroneous teaching that arose in the early church (during the first three centuries). Gnosticism comes from the Greek word gnosis which means “to know”. It is a serious error which appears time and again in church history and is the basis of many cults.

Gnostics claim to possess a secret knowledge, a “higher truth” known only to a certain few. Gnostics claim this higher knowledge comes not from the Bible, but is acquired mystical. Gnostics see themselves as a privileged class better than everybody else because of their higher, deeper knowledge of God. It was also dualistic. Like Plato, Gnostics claimed that matter is inherently evil and illusory, whilst spirit is good and real.

Gnosticism taught that salvation is gained through the acquisition of this divine knowledge. Jesus said nothing about salvation through knowledge, but by faith in Him as Saviour.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Furthermore, the salvation Christ offers is free and available to everyone (John 3:16), not just a select few who have acquired a special revelation.

Orthodox Christianity also states that there is one source of truth, the Bible. The Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of the God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice (John 17:17; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; Hebrews 4:12). It is God’s written revelation to mankind and cannot set alongside other thoughts, ideas, writings, or visions.

The Gnostics, on the other hand, used a variety of early heretical writings known as the Gnostic gospels, a collection of forgeries claiming to be the “lost books of the Bible.” This too is a familiar theme of contemporary literature. Much New Age teaching is based on a mystical, intuitive, subjective, inward, emotional approach to truth.

The early church fathers, like Irenaeus, recognised the Gnostic writing as fraudulent forgeries that taught false doctrines about Jesus Christ, salvation, God, and pretty well devery other Christian truth. Even when the Gnostics quote from the Bible, they rewrote verses to harmonise with their philosophy.

The Gnostics believed that Jesus’ physical body was not real, but only appeared to be physical. They suggested that the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus at His baptism and only at that point did he became the Son of God.

In reality, Jesus was truly God and also truly human. Only such a man could suffer and die upon the cross and so could become the acceptable substitutionary sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 2:14–17).

The solution is to “Test everything. Hold on to the good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) and this we do by comparing everything we hear or read to the Word of God, the only Truth.

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