Gnosticism and its impact on Christianity

Today we learnt about second century Gnosticism and how it has impacted Christianity.

Gnosticism formulates an ultimate god with inferior deities who act as intermediaries: angelic beings, some of whom have become rebellious and in rebellion created the material world. The material world is worse than Plato's imprisoning bubble of the soul, in Gnosticism, it is inherently evil and the result of the god of the Old Testament. In gnosticism we are to free ourselves of the material because it hampers the spiritual.

In Gnosticism, intermediaries are 'separating us from that One by an unbridgeable chasm' (Ehrman 120 2003).

Christianity has been infected by Gnosticism to some extent. The idea that the OT God, the creator God, is different to the NT God, is prevalent in our chuches.

Gnosticism and the incarnation
Gnostics doubted the very humanity of Christ, thinking that God could not integrate himself with man in his fleshiness. Gnosticism has serious problems with incarnation.

This what is so wonderful about Christianity, its redemption of the physical! God's care over every aspect of our life, his engagement with us on every level is something that needs proclaiming.

The Gnostic's goal was secret knowledge. Gnostics also divided the material from spiritual, thinking the true God truly Spirit and therefore completely unknown and unknowable.

Of course, the Bible presents a God who wants to make himself known very clearly. He gave us his Word, his Son and his Spirit so that we could know him and be in relationship with him.

Gnostics thought our ways of knowing are bound up with the material; rooted in material existence because we perceive with our senses. And so if we have a God who is completely Spirit, we can not understand him because we are bound by our senses. In Gnosticism there is a divine realm. The one Spiritual God propagates other deviant beings known as eons. Taken together they constitute the divine realm - the pleroma - the fullness. The fall and creation are myths and explain how one of the eons became an imperfect divine being, outside the pleroma who brought into being this material world. Hence, our material world is the product of this Eon - the disaster that took place led to the creation of this world.

Gnostics believe the divine spark is alive (imprisoned even) inside the beings (us). This divine spark is called Sophia (feminine principle in Gnosticism). She became trapped in human beings.

There is no room for a physical and bodily resurrection in Gnosticism.

But in our faith: Christianity there is no dualistic split between the spiritual and the physical. Instead we are caught in a different tension, an eschatological tension between the now and the not-yet.
The Church is a living parable of the Kingdom. The resurrection is hope realised and yet not realised. We have the first-fruits, the down-payment.

The Hebrew paradigm of salvation 
The Exodus became the paradigmatic example of salvation. It was determinative of all Jewish election on salvation. It was sung in worship and reenacted in story. God's mighty acts of deliverance in history. It is very physical. This is salvation from oppression. Cosmic salvation. Bruggeman wants us to understand the lack of platonic dualism in the Old Testament scriptures. We should focus on this liberation of Israel from the oppression of a tyrant. God is implacably imposed to injustice. There is a power that defeats injustice and this is Yahweh's socio-political deliverance of a people. It should not be spiritualised. God is at work to bring wholeness and hope to those broken of body and not just spirit. This is liberation theology. Theologians use this example of the exodus narrative. Liberation is recreation and reodering of life as God aims it - the ontological liberation of a people. Deliverance is cosmic as well as socio-political.

The horizons widen in the New Testament and as there are huge empires oppressing people, God's solutions adapt. We have the recapitulation of the entire cosmos in the New Testament to Christ. Tom Wright talks about how salvation encapsulates the 'entire future hope' (Wright 300, 1992).

There are over 150 references to the kingdom of God on the lips of our Lord. He is announcing the eschatological realisation of the Kingdom of God, now and not-yet.

It is not a snatching out of history of people from the present evil age. The inauguration of the eschaton has happened in the death and resurrection of Christ. Paul was an eschatological prophet. He believed that the new creation is already in evidence. Rom 8:21 creation will be set free from the bondage of decay and 2 Cor 5:17 There is new creation...these two overlap. We are between. We are adopted. We wait for adoption. We have the downpayment. We are 'in Adam' and we are 'in Christ'.

Galatians 5 is a tricky passage for the Christian homegroup. There is a lot of talk of division. There shouldn't be. It is not a passage about escape. Pneuma and Sarx. We misinterpret this passage. We are doing strange things with Sarx. Paul's point is that the life-giving work of the Spirit will be completed not by escape from the body but by the redemption of the body. Life according to the flesh is life according to the present age. Life according to the Spirit is life according to the norms inaugurated by Christ. Not body and flesh split but present age and eschatological age split. In Adam/In Christ split. How shall we convey this? What can we do to explain sarx in a way that people will understand it? To describe it 'human nature' (GNB) is to make evil that which God made and declared good.

So there's a question for you!

We have a gospel to proclaim and we better make sure we do not separate a God of the Old Testament from a God of the New testament: he is one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We had better guard against creating dualisms elsewhere too. Our God is a God of the everything and he came to redeem us totally, not set us free from an inherently evil world and inherently evil bodies. We are not trapped spirits, our redemption will be an entire and cosmic redemption!


Anders said...

Hello Rachel Marszalek!
I found your blog on Google and read some.
Since you are a Christian I think that the website www.netzarim.co.il will be of interest to you.

It contains research, previously unknown to most Christians, about Ribi Yehoshua (ha-Mashiakh, the Messiah) and what he and his followers taught. It is an essential read to learn about his teachings, which are in accordance with Torah – the instruction manual from the Creator.

Study of that website will help you to deduce if the NT-teachings are valid.

Have a very nice weekend!!
Anders Branderud

Rachel Marszalek said...


I am not sure you understand me fully. The entire scriptures are the word of God and I do not need to test the validity of the NT teachings. The Holy Spirit does that. I thank you for your contribution and challenge but there is only one interpreter of the Torah to whom I will listen and that is Jesus.

However, I wish you well and I hope you understand my reply, which is not supposed to offend only to make very clear that I profess belief in Jesus Christ and not Ribi Yehoshua, no matter how careful an exegete he might be of the OT scriptures.


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