Christian Gnosticism

Christian Gnosticism
Nag Hammadi map

Gnosticism in General Came Out of Persian Zoroastrian Dualism

Dualism was invented by Zoroaster (c 850 BCE) who claimed reality was divided into good and evil halves until the apocalyptic end times. Both halves were ruled by a single god of Wisdom called Lord (Ahura) Mazda. Because the material world was inherently evil the only good part of a human was a small spark of divine light hidden within themselves. This spark would remain hidden unless they were provided with the special knowledge (gnosis) to access it.

Duality originated out of his reasonable but mistakenly idea that our divinely connected conscious impressions were either inherently good like good smells or inherently bad like bad smells. If the divine realm was so divided then so was everything. Only with the development of modern neuroscience has this observation been proven false. Conscious feelings about the goodness of a feeling can be separated from that feeling.

Gnosticism developed as philosophers sought to answer the questions of how a good God could create an evil world? When Christianity became apocalyptic it became dualist and so it had to confront this question within its own ideology.

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The earliest Christian Gnostic beliefs are found in the later saying additions to the Egyptian created gospel of Thomas (70–110 CE). Other information on Gnostic Christianity, besides the Gospel of Thomas, were found at the Nag Hammadi site in Egypt in 1945. These papyri were hidden at the height of orthodox Christianity’s persecution of all heretics and Pagans after Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire. For Egypt this seems to have occurred around 367 C.E. when Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria, commanded monasteries to eliminate all non-apocalyptic writings.

Gnosticism next appears in Rome as Marcionism which was developed around 144 CE by Marcion. He was the wealthy ship owning son of the bishop of Sinope in Asia Minor. He claimed that the creator god of the evil material world could not be the good god behind the divinity of Jesus. Therefore the creator god of the Hebrew Scriptures was not the good god of the Christians. Because of this he rejected the Old Testament as authoritative along with its supposed prophecies about Jesus. He only accepted as authoritative the Gospel of Luke along with ten letters attributed to Paul. In his group, only celibates could become full members and receive baptism (like the Essenes). Unlike later classic Christian Gnosticism, the Marcionites did not believe that the good God could only be known by secret inner knowledge able to bypass the corrupt material world. Instead the good God was known by the teachings of Jesus.

Christian Gnostics claimed that Jesus Christ, as the divine savior, could not be human because that would make him partly composed out of evil matter and subject to sinful pleasures. This lead to the following response by Polycarp (69-155 C.E.), the orthodox Bishop of Smyrna in modern day Turkey, in a letter to the Philippian church written between 110 and 140:

(Polycarp Letter to the Philippians, c140 CE) For whosoever does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, is antichrist; and whosoever does not confess the testimony of the cross, is of the devil; and whosoever perverts the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts, and says that there is neither a resurrection nor a judgment, he is the first-born of Satan. (Schaff 1885)

Other variants of gnostic ideology have been called Docetism after the mention of a gnostic sect by Serapion, bishop of Antioch (190-203 CE), in a letter in which he calls them “Docetae." This is a Greek word derived from dokesis , meaning "appearance" or "semblance" because for them the body of Jesus was considered to exist only in a spiritual form.  Christian Gnosticism lasted as a competitor to orthodox Christianity until the time of Roman Emperor Theodosius the Tyrant (ruled 379 to 392 CE) who suppressed and severely persecuted all non-orthodox religions including Paganism.

Apocalyptic Christianity never went as far as Gnostic Christianity in its disconnective asceticism because it needed to keep Jesus human in order for him to be an effective scapegoat for humanity's sins. Jesus had to be partly human so he could suffer like a human on the cross. Otherwise, his time on the cross would be meaningless as a sacrifice.


Schaff, P. (1885) Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol 1. - The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Online at: The Christian Classics Ethereal Library:
Person's Inner light (divine spark)
Knowledge of one's inner light (divine spark) is not the same as secret knowledge. Many of the non-apocalyptic teachings of Jesus came to be considered as secret knowledge because they did not make sense within an apocalyptic world view. This led to the idea that Jesus had secret knowledge for a chosen few as follows:
(Thomas 1) These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas recorded. 1 And he said, "Whoever discovers the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death."
(Thomas 62) Jesus said, "I disclose my mysteries to those [who are worthy] of [my] mysteries. Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing."
(Thomas 108) Jesus said, "Whoever drinks from my mouth will become like me; I myself shall become that person, and the hidden things will be revealed to him."

Gnostic Secret Light in the Gospel of Thomas

In Gnosticism a person's good and divinely connected inner light was thought to be covered up by negative emotions from the material world such as fear, insecurity, and envy. This led to false perceptions of reality. Therefore a person's inner light typically existed in secret being unknown to that person.

Thomas says this about inner light:

(Thomas 3 last) When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty 
(Thomas 70) Jesus said, "If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you. If you do not have that within you, what you do not have within you [will] kill you."
(Thomas 77) Jesus said, "I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me all came forth, and to me all attained. Split a piece of wood; I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.
(Thomas 50) Jesus said, "If they say to you, 'Where have you come from?' say to them, 'We have come from the light, from the place where the light came into being by itself, established [itself], and appeared in their image.' If they say to you, 'Is it you?' say, 'We are its children, and we are the chosen of the living Father.' If they ask you, 'What is the evidence of your Father in you?' say to them, 'It is motion and rest.'"


Miller, R.J. (1994) “Scholars Version translation of the Gospel of Thomas” in The Complete Gospels: Annotated Scholars Version . (Copyright 1992, Santa Rosa, CA: Polebridge Press)
Dualism divides reality into absolutely defined good and evil halves
Dualism divides reality into absolutely defined good and evil halves and is the worst cultural concept ever invented by humans. 
First thinking things, people, and actions are inherently good or evil is flawed in the first place. For example, rain on my parade is bad but rain on my garden is good. Goodness is always relative to some desired goal.
Second, this promotes social extremism, of a good "us" versus an evil "them." Dictators and want-to-be dictators love this because they can portray themselves as good and gain popularity by finding some group to demonize as evil. Contrast this dualist extremism with the nature virtue of balance.

Gnostic Dualism in Gospel of Thomas

Originally all reality was unified but during creation it was split apart with the divine realm becoming good and the material realm becoming evil. The apocalyptic end times would reunite the evil material world with the good divine world.

Today's nature spirituality does not assume any conscious emotions are inherently good or evil. All conscious feelings and emotions are divinely sourced and all have their proper applications. Still, mental training is required to identify the unwanted negative emotional blockages to release our desired emotions more often.

(Thomas 29) Jesus said, "If the flesh came into being because of spirit, that is a marvel, but if spirit came into being because of the body, that is a marvel of marvels. Yet I marvel at how this great wealth has come to dwell in this poverty."(Thomas 87) Jesus said, "How miserable is the body that depends on a body, and how miserable is the soul that depends on these two."(Thomas 112) Jesus said, "Damn the flesh that depends on the soul. Damn the soul that depends on the flesh." (Thomas 106) Jesus said, "When you make the two into one, you will become children of Adam, and when you say, 'Mountain, move from here!' it will move.

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Gnostic Christians and Jews eventually came up with a scheme to explain how a good Divine could create an evil world. This scheme was the Kabala or Qabalah.

The earliest attempt at this was proposed by a Christian named Valentinus then living in Rome around 140 CE. We know this because his scheme was commented on in 180 CE by the Christian Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon in modern day France. He wrote a book entitled “Against Heresies” attacking the Gnosticism of Valentinus and other heresies (Irenaeus 180). He was motivated to write this book because the Gnostic point of view was becoming popular in Lyon. Irenaeus was the first orthodox Christian to use the term “heretics” for those who defined Jesus differently from the apocalyptic Christians.

Underlying Valentinus’ whole explanation is the ancient nature spirituality tradition of the Neolithic farmers which was that “divine powers” or “spirits” could be optionally personified as people and vice-versa. This became the core of Greek philosophy.

According to Valentinus, the eternal creative power of change was formed in the normally feminine Depth (Greek Bythos which is the dark, silent amniotic fluid of creation and analogous to “deep” in the Genesis creation story).  Valentinus identified Depth with the Christian Trinity component of Father. Out of the Father came Reasoning (Greek Nous) which was identified with the Christian Trinity component of the Son. Combining Reasoning and Depth created various feminine and masculine Aeons or “divine spirits.” These were collectively called the Pleroma or Fullness.

The last spirit created in Valentinus’s scheme was the feminine spirit of Wisdom (Greek Sophia). In an attempt to understand the totality of the Father, Sophia fails and splits in two. Her perfect spiritual part returns to the Divine but her passionate animal part ends up creating all the earthly  animal spirits which are responsible for all material motion. Because Sophia’s animal spirit desired to be reunited with its divine part so too the animal spirits of humans seek reunification. 

The origin of the Demiurge is not explained but it created the invisible image forms for all material objects. Because he was only aware of material images and the animal spirits which moved them he could not imagine or perceive of the Divine spirits. Consequently, he went about creating the earthly and heavenly realm in ignorance of Sophia and the Divine whole. Unknown to the Demiurge, Sophia inserted into each human a Divine spirit which remained there hidden until the savior arrived to provide the knowledge to awaken them.

Perceiving the evil of her divided self, Sophia asks the Divine whole for help. The Father, by means of the power of a dancing ritual (Greek Horos), reunites Sophia. After or during the reunification, Christ and the Holy Spirit were created. With the strengthened Divine whole, Jesus the Savior was created.


 Miller, R.J. (1994) “Scholars Version translation of the Gospel of Thomas” in The Complete Gospels: Annotated Scholars Version. (Copyright 1992, Santa Rosa, CA: Polebridge Press)