SIMUL: The Journal of St. Paul Lutheran Seminary, Vol. 1, Issue 2 (Winter 2022)

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TheJournalofSt.PaulLutheranSeminary SIMUL Vol.1,Issue2
Winter2022 Gnosticism

SIMUListhejournalofSt.Paul LutheranSeminary.


This issue’s cover photo is Master of Boucicaut’s “Expulsion of the Inhabitants from Carcassone [Cathars] in 1209” (c. 1415)


The viewsexpressedinthe articlesreflectthe author(s) opinionsand arenotnecessarilythe viewsofthe publisherand editor.SIMULcannotguaranteeand acceptsnoliabilityforany lossor damageofanykind causedby the errorsandfor theaccuracy ofclaims made by the authors.Allrightsreservedand nothingcan be partiallyor inwholebe reprintedor reproduced withoutwrittenconsentfrom the editor.


Volume 1, Issue 2, Winter 2022



Rev. Dr. Dennis R. Di Mauro


Rev. Jon Jensen

Administrative Address:

St. Paul Lutheran Seminary P.O. Box 251 Midland, GA 31820


Rev. Julie Smith

Academics/Student Affairs Address: St. Paul Lutheran Seminary P.O. Box 112 Springfield, MN 56087


Chair: Rev. Dr. Erwin Spruth

Rev. Greg Brandvold

Rev. Jon Jensen

Rev. Dr. Mark Menacher

Steve Paula

Rev. Julie Smith

Charles Hunsaker

Rev. Dr. James Cavanah

Rev. Jeff Teeples


Dr. James A. Nestingen

Rev. Dr. Marney Fritts

Rev. Dr. Dennis DiMauro

Rev. Julie Smith

Rev. Virgil Thompson

Rev. Dr. Keith Less

Rev. Brad Hales

Rev. Dr. Erwin Spruth

Rev. Steven King

Rev. Dr. Orrey McFarland

Rev. Horacio Castillo (Intl)

Rev. Amanda Olson de Castillo (Intl)

SIMUL Volume 1, Issue 2, Winter 2022 Gnosticism Editor’sNote 4 Rev.Dr. Dennis R. Di Mauro Gnosticismand American Christianity 6 Dr. Mark Granquist Gnosticism: KnownorKnowing 20 Rev.Virgil Thompson Gnosticism: APracticalResponse 37 Rev.Brad Hales Gnostics: TheSpirituallyArrogant 50 Rev.Dr. Dennis R. Di Mauro Table
Contents 3

Editor’s Note

Welcome to our second issue of SIMUL, the journal of St. Paul Lutheran Seminary. This edition will discuss Gnosticism, the Christian heresy which held that one could be redeemed only through an understanding of secret knowledge. This knowledge was allegedly known to only a few enlightened teachers, who then handed down their doctrines to their students.

In this issue, Mark Granquist traces the heresy from the second-century church up until the present day. Virgil Thompson examines gnostic doctrine to see how it stacks up with the biblical witness. Brad Hales takes a more pastoral approach: identifying gnostic beliefs that are prevalent in the Church today. And I finish up the discussion, explaining how Gnosticism is centered on the self, how it ignores essential doctrines of faith, and how it undermines church authority.

What’s Ahead?

We are so excited about this coming year. The Spring 2022 issue will explore Luther’s two kingdoms and ponder the implications for today’s church and state conflicts. Summer

This edition will discuss Gnosticism, the Christian heresy which held that one could only be redeemed through an understanding of secret knowledge.

2022’s topic will be the “Uses of the Law - 2 or 3?” (we will attempt to remain civil and avoid any further schisms). Our Fall 2022 issue will cover the subject of the sacraments, a topic which has come under much discussion during the COVID-19 shutdowns. And our Winter 2023 issue will be entitled “Renewing the Local Church.”

I also would like to remind everyone about our 2022 annual theological conference at the historic Jekyll Island Club in Georgia on April 19th and 20th, 2022 - always a fun event in a beautiful place, with so many talented speakers. Please join us, you won’t regret it. You can register at

I hope you enjoy this issue of SIMUL! If you have any questions about the journal or about St. Paul Lutheran Seminary, please shoot me an email at

Rev. Dr. Dennis Di Mauro is the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Warrenton, VA. He teaches at St. Paul Lutheran Seminary and is the editor of SIMUL.

[Addendum: since original publication Virgil Thompson’s title has been corrected from Rev. Dr. to Rev.]

Jekyll Island Club



Gnosticism is a Christian heresy, and perhaps the Christian heresy. Seen most clearly in its classic, second-century AD iterations, Gnosticism of one sort or another has been a perennial Christian heresy since the New Testament (if not earlier), and has erupted into the Christian world on a regular basis since then. Although the classic versions of Gnosticism tend to be rare in the modern times, there are many more “echoes” of Gnostic thought patterns in larger areas of the Christian community. These “Gnostic ways of thinking,” especially the search for “secret, saving wisdom,” the spiritualizing of the gospel, the devaluation of the goodness of creation, and the denigration of Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection, are errors to which modern Christianity is constantly tempted. This study will look at Gnosticism and gnostic tendencies in American Christianity.



Classic Gnosticism is built off of a dualism between the created and the spiritual world.1 The spiritual world is noncorporeal – the elements of this spiritual world live eternally outside of the created world in different levels or emanations. The god of this spiritual world is good, as are the spiritual elements. But there is another world, the world of created, fleshly matter, and this world, created by a different divine being (or god), is the essence of evil. The spiritual and created worlds are in constant and irrevocable opposition to each other. Small elements of the spiritual world (the human soul) sometimes become trapped in the created bodies of human beings, and due to the ponderous nature of the flesh, such pieces (the soul) fall asleep and lose their identities. Some human bodies have no souls (mainly women), and in others the soul is so buried in the flesh as to be impossible to arouse. But under the right conditions, in some humans the soul is available to be awakened from its “dogmatic slumber” so that when released from the “prison” of the body, it can find its way again to its proper spiritual realm. This awakening and freeing are how Gnostics understand salvation. The element of this awakening is

The spiritual and created worlds are in constant and irrevocable opposition to each other.

“gnosis” or wisdom - but a certain kind of secret, saving wisdom, able to rouse the soul.

The Source of Gnosis

Christ then is the bearer of this “gnosis” to the world. It is not a knowledge for everyone, rather it is only for those select few initiates capable of comprehending such knowledge. In the (so-called) Gospel of Thomas, Christ takes Thomas aside and imparts this wisdom to him in secret, because the rest of the disciples would not understand it. Christ then is a spiritual being only; the incarnation is ludicrous to the Gnostics because no spiritual being would voluntarily take on the prison of the flesh. There are different theories about Christ on earth; either he is a ghost-like figure, or perhaps simply inhabits the body of Jesus for a time. There is no crucifixion of Christ (how could there be?) and no resurrection of the dead.

Gnosticism’s Heyday

The high point of early Gnosticism came in the second century AD with such teachers as Valentinus, Basilides, Cerinthus, and in some senses Marcion, among many others.2

Marcion and the Apostle John

Although the details of the gnostic teachers vary between them, the broad outlines of their thought tend to be similar overall. These teachers gathered groups of initiates around them in quasi-monastic organizations, each with distinctive rules about life in the Gnostic communities, including vegetarianism and celibacy as prominent requirements (though not all groups practiced these things). One attraction of Gnosticism was in its solutions to theological problems posed by Christianity, including the incarnation and the nature of Christ, and Christ’s relation to the Creator. But most likely the chief attraction of Gnosticism was the sense of spiritual superiority experienced by these initiates. This was secret, saving wisdom, for only the select few – these initiates had the satisfaction that only they, among all those around them, knew what Christianity was (supposedly) truly all about. All the rest, the great unwashed, were hopelessly confused!

Orthodox Apologetics

The fight against Gnosticism by orthodox Christian theologians in the second and third century was perhaps the key to the development of standard Christianity theology as expressed in the great ecumenical creeds, especially the Apostles and Nicene creeds. Theologians such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Hippolytus, especially, pushed back against


Gnosticism by reaffirming the essential humanity of Christ, the goodness of the created world, and the salvation of the human person through the resurrection of the dead. But above all they sought to shatter the complexity of the Gnostic systems, suggesting that the gospel of Jesus Christ was self-explanatory and available to all through the oral and written proclamation of his death and resurrection. They also undercut the Gnostic sense of spiritual superiority and secret knowledge, reaffirming that salvation through Christ was accessible to all humans. They did not have to join special secretive groups to access the truth.

Gnosticism in the Middle Ages and Up to the Present Day

There have been occasional iterations of classic Gnosticism since the second century – in the Middle Ages the Bogomils and Cathars, and certain sectarian groups of the Renaissance and Reformation periods.3 Perhaps there are elements of Gnosticism in Medieval mysticism, but the ties here are tenuous.4 The question of possible connections between the second-century groups and these later iterations is intriguing, but unlikely – such connections rely on positing a continuing underground Gnostic organization that would have been active for centuries, a supposition better suited for pot-boiler novels (The Da Vinci Code and that ilk) than for serious history. There was a resurgence of Gnostic-like ideas in the eighteenth century with


the rise of the Rosicrucians, a rationalistic, lodge-like organization that claimed to have secret knowledge of the divine truth, much along the line of the classic Gnostics.5 This group, and others like it, such as the Swedenborgians, have a number of affinities with the earlier Gnostics, but were perhaps not so dismissive of the goodness of the created order. These sects, which are often labeled as the Esoteric tradition, have had a certain popularity since the eighteenth century.

In the United States, classic Gnosticism along the lines of the second century groups, is rare but not unknown. Perhaps the clearest iterations in modern times have been groups such as the Order of the Solar Temple and the Heaven’s Gate community, both of which ended in group suicides which shocked the modern world. The Order of the Solar Temple is a group that was founded in Geneva in 1984 and has spread to France and Quebec. Led by Luc Jouret, a homeopathic physician and New Age lecturer, and Joseph De Mambro, the group is infamous for mass murder-suicides in 1994 and 1997. Heaven’s Gate was a similar group, founded in California in 1974 by Bonnie Nettles and Marshall Applewhite. Similarly, 39 members of the group committed suicide in 1997. These deaths in the 1990s shocked many people, who could not understand these events. But given their Gnostic thought patterns, and apocalyptic assumptions, these actions were anything but irrational. Since they understood that their essence was a spiritual element trapped in a fleshly body, the death of that

Marshall Applewhite

body could be nothing but a relief. The members of Heaven’s Gate undertook ascetic practices (vegetarianism, celibacy, and even castration) to loosen the hold that the flesh had on them. Death was nothing but a doorway to a much better world beyond.

A second, broader level of Gnostic thought in the United States is the modern Esoteric tradition.6 The groups in this tradition tend to downplay the dualistic elements of classical Gnosticism, and the elements of the flesh as bad or evil. Rather, the flesh (or created world) is only a base from which the enlightened soul begins its ascent to the spiritual realm. They maintain the idea that secret wisdom can become known only by those who are ready for it, but that, theoretically, many humans could eventually arrive at this level of comprehension.7 The esoteric tradition comes out of the Middle Ages, but modern formulations come out of the eighteenth-century Rosicrucians and related groups; some even suggest including strains of the Masonic movement in this group. Other movements in the esoteric tradition include Theosophy, Christian Science, New Thought, and Anthroposophy. Many similar elements and modes of thought can be found in the New Age traditions, the Eckancar movement, and among the followers of Elizabeth Clare Prophet (The Church Universal and Triumphant) often mixing Christian gnostic elements with those of Eastern religions. In this tradition, the initiate learns secret, hidden wisdom which leads him to an expanded consciousness and a “higher self,”


where the earthly body is connected by a “spiritual cord” to a higher reality. Christ is the source of enlightenment whose way to the spiritual realm is passed down from one enlightened leader to another. Again, the great appeal of these groups seems to be, in large part, the idea that an initiate into one of these groups has somehow achieved access to spiritual realities that are unknown to most, or beyond the understanding of the common person.8 There is a tremendous amount of spiritual pride and haughtiness involved here, as if one knew a special kind of teaching that was hidden from “lesser” minds. In contrast, the teachings of ordinary, orthodox Christianity could seem crass and prosaic, and at best - way too common.

The Continuation of Gnostic Thought Patterns

The broadest element of Gnosticism in the United States is also the most diffuse. This element might be described as the continuation of Gnostic thought patterns and ideas as seen in otherwise orthodox elements of modern Christianity, or in folk religions.9 These gnostic tendencies are many and varied, but all consist of tendencies to “spiritualize” the proclamation of the gospel; Christianity and the faith are seen as some sort of denial of the goodness of the created order, human physicality,

There is a tremendous amount of spiritual pride and haughtiness involved here, as if one knew a special kind of teaching that was hidden from “lesser” minds.

the bodily resurrection, and perhaps even the incarnation. These thought patterns are often transmitted by means of popular religiosity, where sanctification is seen as an overcoming of the fleshly urges, and through the spiritualization of the soul after death. Many Christians have an essentially “spiritual” understanding of the gospel; that life in this world is at “war” against the sins of the flesh and those urges, and that death is a release of the soul from the body, when the soul springs to heaven toward a disembodied existence with God. Some of these thought patterns are relatively harmless, but taken together they can represent a dangerous divergence from the Gospel.


These gnostic-like thought patterns can be readily seen in popular Christianity as death approaches and at funerals. Probably the most common understanding here, even among otherwise orthodox Christians, involves the idea of a continuation of the soul after death. Roger Olson observes:

“. . . one does not have to stray far from the local church or Christian bookstore to find echoes of Gnosticism. Many gospel hymns and songs contain lyrics that sound decidedly Gnostic, such as ‘like a bird from prison bars have flown, I’ll fly away,’ –referring to the death of a Christian.” 10

He suggests that the prison is the body, and the bird flying


away the disembodied soul, leaving the created world behind for union with the Creator. Certainly, for many this is only a song, but this hymn, and others like it, have a powerful way of shaping the attitudes and ideas of everyday Christians, especially in times of grief and loss.

The “Rediscovered” Gnostic Texts

Another source of Gnosticism in contemporary America stems from certain scholars who have “rediscovered” the second-century Gnostic texts, and who suggest that these writings actually represent the “true” center of early Christianity. This movement was spurred by the discovery in 1945 of the Nag Hammadi manuscripts, a group of Gnostic texts, which were eventually introduced to English readers in the 1970s.11 These publications reintroduced many of the classic Gnostic texts and added newly discovered ones to the mix. They also led to a series of popular and often sensationalized books that boldly claimed that they had, for the first time, “uncovered the truth” about the first Christians (even though these texts had been known for centuries!) Some feminist scholars seized on these Gnostic texts as a way of suggesting a “truer” alternate Christianity that was more in harmony with women and creation, based on the conclusion that the figure of “Wisdom” found in these texts was actually feminine.12 The publication of many of these works came at a time in the 1980s when the New Age religious movements were gaining speed and traction in popular American culture, and Gnostic and esoteric ideas


were moving into popular American culture.13 The publication of the afore-mentioned and extremely popular (and entirely fictional) novel, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown in 2003 lent credence to these new movements. More in the esoteric tradition, the novel nevertheless suggests that orthodox Christianity as we know it today is not the original Christianity of the first centuries. This and other conspiracy theories abound. Surveys of Americans and their religious beliefs show an immense influence of Gnostic and esoteric ideas in many, even among Christians.

Countering Modern Gnostic Thought

Given the danger that Gnosticism and gnostic thought patterns have for Gospel-based Christianity, it is important to meet them head-on. A good understanding of Christian history and the development of Christian theology is crucial here, especially when refuting the conspiracy theories and alternative narratives that float throughout American culture. A key is to counter the ideas, popularized by Dan Brown and others, that Christian orthodoxy as we now have it is somehow the construction of the Emperor Constantine and church leaders in the fourth-century. A careful study of the canonical Bible will demonstrate that the essentials of Christian orthodoxy are replete throughout the New Testament, that these biblical texts pre-date the secondcentury Gnostic texts, and that they are anti-gnostic in their


construction. The dangers posed by contemporary versions of classic Gnosticism, as seen in Heaven’s Gate and the Order of the Solar Temple are minimal, except to those unfortunates who are lured into them. The main defense here is a reaffirmation of the essential goodness of the created world, and the existence of only one God of both heaven and earth. In opposition to the esoteric tradition, the main defense is that the saving truth of the Gospel is not a secret, one reserved for only the initiated. Rather, the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ is a free proclamation of justification, available to all.14 There are no spiritual elites with special ties to the spiritual realm, just forgiven sinners who hear the call of God given to all. The broadest form of the gnostic tendencies is perhaps the hardest to counter because it is so common. Here careful preaching and teaching are important. Too many Christians do not understand that the Fall did not contaminate the created world, and that it remains good. It is human sinfulness that takes the goodness of creation and abuses it. Special care must be taken with the Pauline literature; when Paul talks about the flesh, it must be made clear that this is not a denigration of creation. The tendencies of “spiritualizing” the gospel must be avoided and preaching about the resurrection must emphasize the resurrection of the body and not some eternity of the soul. Preaching at funerals is, of course, delicate, but again,

Too many Christians do not understand that the Fall did not contaminate the created world, and that it remains good.

preachers must avoid reinforcing the idea of a free and noncorporeal soul. Perhaps a careful reading of Martin Luther’s Freedom of a Christian might help in this case; there Luther understands the nature of the human person as an already, but not yet redeemed person. In this work, Luther provides a helpful re-understanding of Paul’s language of the flesh and spirit dichotomy.

Gnosticism does play toward the idea that somehow it is possible for a human person to achieve a greater spiritual understanding than the average person - to become one “in the know” on a spiritual secret. This plays into the human desire to be superior to others – as Paul puts it, one of the “strong,” or a super-Christian. Yet this is not how Christ understood it – think of the Christ hymn in Philippians – the model here is of Christ emptying himself for the life of the world. If there is any real defense against the various forms of Gnosticism, it is in this very action of Christ, in the manger, on the cross, and out of the tomb.

Mark Granquist is Professor of the History of Christianity at Luther Seminary Martin Luther’s On the Freedom of the Christian


1The classic study of Gnosticism is Kurt Rudolph, Gnosis: the Nature and History of Gnosticism, trans. by Robert McLachlan Wilson (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983).

2See Robert M. Grant, Gnosticism and Early Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 1959), for a complete survey of these second century teachers. See also Pheme Perkins, Gnosticism and the New Testament (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993).

3For a survey, see Jacob Needleman, Karen Voss, and Antoine Faivre, Modern Esoteric Spirituality (New York: Crossroad, 1992).

4Guy G. Stroumsa, Hidden Wisdom: Esoteric Traditions and the Roots of Christian Mysticism (Leiden: Brill, 2005).

5On this period, see Frances Amelia Yates, The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972).

6James R. Lewis and Jesper Aagaard Petersen, Controversial New Religions (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), and Timothy Miller, ed., America’s Alternative Religions (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1995).

7Arthur Versluis, Wisdom's Children: a Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1999).

8For a selection of writings from these traditions, see Dereck Daschke and W. Michael Ashcraft, eds., New Religious Movements: A Documentary Reader (New York: New York University Press, 2005).

9On this, see Roger E. Olson, Counterfeit Christianity: the Persistence of Errors in the Church (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015).

10Ibid, p. 54.

11Elaine H. Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels. (New York: Random House, 1979), and Bentley Layton, The Gnostic Scriptures: a New Translation with Annotations and Introductions. (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1987).

12The irony here is immense, given that classic Gnosticism is immensely patriarchal, and that many groups taught that women had no souls, and thus were incapable of salvation!

13A good place to start is Ben Witherington III, The Gospel Code: Novel Claims about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Da Vinci (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004).

14See Olson, pp. 47-49 and 55-56. See also Philip J. Lee, Against the Protestant Gnostics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987).




Fifty years ago, I was a young pastor to a Lutheran congregation in rural Montana. Gnosticism, the subject of this essay, had recently splashed onto the scholarly pages of the theological press. In 1977 Harper and Row, under the editorship of James Robinson a prominent historian of early Christianity, published in English translation a collection of purportedly Gnostic writings from antiquity.1 The opening line from one of the more familiar writings, the Gospel of Thomas, purports to contain the very words of Christ, which explains the splash the materials created in the theological world. The Gospel of Thomas begins, “These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down.” 2 Although historians of early Christianity had snippets of manuscript evidence for the existence of the Gospel of Thomas and some of the other writings in the collection, they did not previously have any complete copies. In addition to the spotty manuscript evidence, historians also had secondary evidence from early Christian writers which substantiate the


existence of these early non-canonical writings. For example, Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, writing in the second century, mentions the Gospel of Thomas in a five-part work titled, Libros Quinque Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies). As the title of Irenaeus’ work suggests, he took a dim view of the Gospel of Thomas, condemning it as a false version of Christian truth. As Irenaeus put it, the Gospel of Thomas sets “forth the views of those who are now teaching heresy . . . absurd and inconsistent with the truth. . . . [I urge] all those with whom you are connected to avoid such an abyss of madness and of blasphemy against Christ.”3

As historians reasoned, the dim view taken by Irenaeus and other authoritative teachers of the early church led to the suppression and eventual destruction of the Nag Hammadi texts. This circumstance in turn, explains why no existing copies of the materials had appeared to have survived from antiquity. But now, hidden copies, unearthed after sixteen hundred years, provided first-hand manuscript evidence for Thomas and these other authors. They could now be read in full and on their own terms. Scholars held that the publication of these materials promised to revolutionize our understanding of Jesus and the early Christian community. And in the view of some, the materials also offered an alternative Christian way for seekers who sought a life-affirming spirituality disconnected from the trappings of the allegedly flawed religious institutions of the mid-twentieth century.

At the time, despite the revolutionary billing of its publication, I was struck by the fact that in some ways the religious orientation expressed by the Nag Hammadi authors resonated with attitudes that I was encountering both within


and outside the church. Irenaeus and other teachers of the ancient church may have condemned the “Gnostic” approach to Christian truth as heretical, but they hadn’t necessarily made the ideas go away. Many people I knew in rural Montana during the 1970s had never heard of, let alone read, the Gospel of Thomas. Nonetheless they shared his skepticism of churchly institutions. In fact, whether corrupt or uncorrupt, religious institutions, in their view, were not essential to an enlightened life. They were, as was the Jesus of the Gospel of Thomas, confident that the light that enlightens and enlivens is to be found within the self.4 As Thomas’s Jesus put it, “the Kingdom is inside of you . . . There is light within a man of light and he lights up the whole world.”5

If these newly discovered gospels were to find their way into popular culture, I thought at the time, they would have a ready readership.

My purpose in this essay, nearly fifty years after their publication into English, is to reflect a bit on the promises associated with the Nag Hammadi materials. Specifically, the plan is simply to read side by side the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mark as a case study in what Luther regarded as the fundamental theme of theology. As he put it, “sinners guilty of not wanting God to be God and the God who is determined to be the God of sinners.” The question that comes into focus as we set Thomas and Mark side by side is twofold: Where is the light of truth and life to be found? In us? Or does it come, bidden or unbidden, from the promise of

The question that comes into focus as we set Thomas and Mark side by side is twofold: Where is the light of truth and life to be found? In us? Or does it come, bidden or unbidden, from the promise of the risen Jesus, alone?


the risen Jesus, alone? Does self-fulfillment come from insight that overcomes ignorance of the true self? Or does the freedom to live a fully human life arise from the forgiveness of sin? And if the latter, what exactly is the sin that Christ forgives?

The “Gnostic” Story

The story of Gnosticism—what it is, where it came from, and its significance for Christian theology—has two beginnings. Current interest in Gnosticism dates to the 1945 discovery, quite by chance, of a cache of ancient manuscripts buried near Nag Hammadi, Egypt. The discovery of these materials constitutes the second beginning of the Gnostic story. In a roundabout way, the telling of it will lead us to the story of Gnosticism’s first beginning.

The circumstances surrounding the discovery of these ancient manuscripts and how they came to be valued, reconstructed, translated, and employed by historians to shed light on early Christian beliefs has been often and well told.6 The collection consists of thirteen codices or books, containing forty-six individual writings, six of which appear to be duplicated in different versions, so a total of fifty-two in all. The language of the materials is Coptic, an ancient version of Egyptian. The manuscripts are generally regarded by scholars to have been written in the fourth century. With near universal consensus, however, scholars agree that the writings are translated copies of earlier literary works originally written in Greek. When exactly the original Greek texts were written remains a matter of debate. With respect to the Gospel of Thomas, some scholars—E. P. Sanders and John Meier, for


example—argue for a date in the early to mid-second century. Others—Helmut Koester and Elaine Pagels, for example— contend that it may have been written during the mid-first century, which would place it chronologically among the earliest Christian writings. In any event, we know for certain that Gospel of Thomas was completed and circulating throughout the Christian community in the last third of the second century. The reason we know this takes us to the first beginning story of Gnosticism.

Prior to the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library of writings, historians had very little physical evidence for the existence of such literature. For example, before the discovery of the library, we had only a fragmentary manuscript hardcopy for the Gospel of Thomas, one of the principal texts in the collection. In three fragments from Oxyrthynchus, an ancient city in Egypt, we had a little less than one fifth of the whole work.7 While historians had little to no manuscript evidence for the writings, they did, however, have in the writings of second and third century “right-minded” leaders and teachers of the church who reference the materials and their contents. These “right-minded” teachers of the second and third centuries— among them Irenaeus of Lyons (135-202), Tertullian of Carthage (155-230), and Hippolytus of Rome (170-236)— universally ridiculed, vilified, and condemned the thought expressed in the Nag Hammadi library and similar texts, dismissing them as nonsensical heresy. Heresy, from the Greek haeresis, means choice or division.


By this designation, the orthodox leaders of the church declared that these writings were outside the bounds of a salutary understanding of the Christian faith. To illustrate the objections raised by so-called orthodox (from the Greek ortho = straight, and doxos = thinking; thus, the straight thinkers or the right-minded) teachers, we have space to cite only two examples.

Irenaeus of Lyons, the bishop of the church in Gaul (modern-day France), in the last third of the second century, wrote a five-volume work, Exposure and Refutation of Knowledge (Gnosis) So-Called, which purported to do exactly what the title declared. In this massive work, Irenaeus sets out to expose and condemn the “false knowledge” in the writings that he cites. His criticism, as Karen King explains in her excellent introduction to Gnosticism,8 focuses on three aspects of the “heretical” gnosis or false knowledge of the Christian truth—1) the Creator and creation, 2) the nature of salvation, and 3) the ethical laxity inherent in the theological outlook of the writings.

In as much as they regarded the material creation as something so evil as only to be escaped, they denied the biblical assertion of the Creator’s and the creation’s divine goodness. Genesis, the Psalms, Paul’s Letters, as well as elsewhere in the Christian scriptures, testify to the truth, “God saw what he created, and it was good.” Moreover, as King goes on to explain, the Gnostic writings “undermined salvation by denying both that Jesus had a physical body and that believers would physically rise from the dead even as Jesus had . . . Instead, Irenaeus claims, the heretics presumptuously claimed that only a spiritual elite would be ‘saved by nature’ owing to


their heavenly origin; salvation came not by faith in Christ but through knowledge revealed only to them.”9 Finally, Irenaeus argued that Gnosticism’s negative view of material creation, as something to be escaped for the higher and more fulling spiritual life, led inevitably to a material existence characterized by immorality and irresponsibility, either of a libertine or an ascetic variety. To top off his opposition and condemnation, Irenaeus charged that by their unwillingness to risk martyrdom for the faith the false teachers betrayed that they were unworthy of the name Christian.

Not surprisingly, Hippolytus of Rome, a student of Irenaeus, was pretty much of the same mind as his mentor with respect to the teachers of salvation by gnosis. As Elaine Pagels reports, in his massive Refutation of All Heresies Hippolytus aims “to expose and refute the wicked blasphemy of the heretics.”10 He goes on to delineate the blasphemies of the heretics by and large along the same lines as Irenaeus. The teachers of gnosis, the secret saving knowledge, have split themselves off from the community of the true faith. As Tertullian another prominent leader of “right-thinking” Christianity, writing at about the same time as Irenaeus and Hippolytus— declares, “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens, the Church with the Academy, the Christian with the [Gnostic] heretic?”11

By the fourth century, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian, and the rest of the “right-minded” teachers of the church had succeeded in their aim. Gnosis, or the secret saving knowledge that the “living Jesus” had supposedly imparted to Thomas, had come to be synonymous with heresy. The teachers of this


secret saving knowledge had succeeded in cutting themselves off from the orthodox community and the true faith. When in the fourth century Constantine converted to the faith and brought with him the military power of the empire, writes Elaine Pagels, “the penalty for heresy escalated.”12 Not only was the heresy condemned, but by the edict of the emperor all traces of the heresy were to be destroyed. It may have been under such pressure that the writings discovered at Nag Hammadi had been buried, not seeing the light of day again for sixteen hundred years.

When the cache of materials was discovered, scholars thought they had, from their study of Irenaeus and the other heresiologists, a pretty good understanding of the fundamental orientation and chief principles of the gnosis heresy. The heretical version of the Christian story, as reconstructed by historians, goes something like this: The divinely human spirit lives in carnal captivity of the physical body. Mired in the messy pedestrian material world, as though asleep in drunken ignorance of the true self, the human spirit lives in mortal danger. Jesus came into the world not to redeem from sin. He came to impart the secret saving gnosis, awakening the human spirit to its true nature and potential. Salvation does not come from above. It lies within. Those worthy of this secret of the kingdom will know what to do with it. They will rediscover


story, as reconstructed by historians, goes something like this: The divinely human spirit lives in carnal captivity of the physical body.

The heretical version
the Christian

and kindle their inner divine light. Just so, the human spirit may self-liberate from the carnal captivity of the body and mundane menial material existence to pursue the higher heavenly existence for which it was created and destined. But, as they say, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. In the course of seeking to refine their understanding of Gnosticism on the basis of the Nag Hammadi texts, scholars discovered such diversity and variety as to call into question the very idea of Gnosticism as a cohesive approach to Christian truth. As the individual documents were studied, it began to appear that none of them evidenced all the marks of gnostic thought as historians had defined it. The outlook in many of the writings appeared to be incompatible with one another. Some of the writings did not share any of the marks of gnostic thought as it had been previously characterized. Gradually scholarship has gotten to the point where some scholars, Karen King and Michael Williams, for example, question whether there is any historical justification at all to speak about a Gnostic approach to Christian truth. They argue that the term has become so problematic, not to say meaningless, perhaps it ought to be abandoned altogether.13

But, as they say, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. In the course of seeking to refine their understanding of Gnosticism on the basis of the Nag Hammadi texts, scholars discovered such diversity and variety as to call into question the very idea of Gnosticism as a cohesive approach to Christian truth

While scholarship has much to sort out with respect to Gnosticism, nonetheless it seems profitable for faith and the church’s ministry to proceed with the narrower proposal of our


essay. Again, our aim is to examine side-by-side the theological outlooks of the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mark in the interest of illuminating the human predicament in relation to God and the promise of life. Are human fortunes the captives of ignorance or sin? Does the promise of salvation come in the form of a saving gnosis lifting the human out of its ignorance of self? Or does the promise of salvation arise from God’s forgiveness of sin?

Secret of Kingdom Come: Saving Gnosis or Forgiveness of Sin


Both the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mark revolve around “the secret of the kingdom.” As already noted, the Gospel of Thomas purportedly contains the “secret sayings” of Jesus, recorded in the promise that whoever finds their interpretation “will not experience death” (1). The Markan Jesus gives to his disciples “the secret to the kingdom of God” (4:11). However, the secret of the kingdom turns out to be very different in the two versions. Helmut Koester sums up the vision of salvation revealed in Thomas’ report of Jesus’ “secret sayings.” According to Koester, Thomas believes that, “the basic religious experience is not only the recognition of one’s divine identity, but more specifically the recognition of one’s origin (the light) and destiny (the repose). In order to return to one’s origin, the disciple is to become separate from the world by ‘stripping off’ the fleshly garment and ‘passing by’ the present corruptible existence; then the disciple can experience the new world, the kingdom of light, peace, and life.”15 By way of


contrast, the Jesus of Mark’s Gospel does not come to show the way to escape the “present corruptible existence,” but liberates us from sin, death, and the power of the devil for the sake of life here and now and evermore as forgiven sinners in the everlasting blessedness, righteousness, and innocence of God’s kingdom come. As Jesus declares, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners” (2:17).

According to Thomas, Jesus only justifies those who prove themselves worthy of God (45, 70). To them he has appeared in flesh, to reveal the secret path to the true existence for which they were created and destined (87, 112). The rest of humanity, “blind in their hearts” and without “sight” came into the world empty and empty they will leave (28). Jesus is like “a shepherd who has a hundred sheep. One of them, the largest, went astray. He left the ninety-nine and looked for that one until he found it. When he had gone to such trouble, he said to the sheep, ‘I care for you more than the ninety-nine’” (107). “It is to those [who are worthy of My] mysteries that I tell My mysteries, Jesus assures the elect of God (62). To them, the worthy “elect,” he entrusts the secret of the kingdom (17, 45). The kingdom, in Thomas’ version of Christian truth, is not a place in time yet to come, as those lacking divine insight have been led to imagine. It is here and now, “inside of you” (3). “Seek to know yourself,” Jesus encourages, “and you will become known (3) . . . Recognize

…the Jesus of Mark’s Gospel does not come to show the way to escape the “present corruptible existence,” but liberates us from sin, death, and the power of the devil…

what is in your sight and that which is hidden from you will become plain to you. For there is nothing hidden which will not become manifest (5) . . . I am not your master,” Jesus continues. “There is light within a man of light, and he lights up the whole world (24) . . . Blessed are the solitary and the elect, for you will find the kingdom. For you are far from it, and to it you will return” (49). Just so, the elect set themselves on the path to enlightenment and salvation, escaping the everyday burdens and the numbing, unfulfilling routines of an ordinary life. “Woe to the soul that depends on the flesh” (112). “Whoever finds himself is superior to the world!” (111).

But according to Mark, the story of salvation is very different. Driven by boundless divine compassion, the Spirit of God tears out of heaven and takes possession of Jesus. “Just as he was ascending from the baptismal waters of the Jordan, Jesus saw “the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’” (1:10-11). From that moment forward Jesus is driven to be the saving God of sinners. His aim is to “exorcise” from humanity the evil spirit of inner enlightenment that imagines it can make its own way without the mercy of God (1:21-28). In reality, that spirit only binds and “cripples” people, tormenting and cutting sinners off from God, life, and the neighbors with whom they share life (2:1-12; 5:113, 25-43; 7:32-37). His singular aim is, by forgiveness, to free sinners, free-to-be fully human, down-to-earth, in service and enjoyment of creation by faith in God’s promise of life apart from demand and merit. We haven’t space here to rehearse the whole of Mark’s story of Jesus. We must content ourselves with only a few episodes that illustrate the way that Mark’s view of


salvation and Jesus contrasts with Thomas’s view. Mark’s story is complex. It moves in many directions and at many levels simultaneously. But for the purpose of this essay, we will stick with one thread. Pull it and you see the unraveling of Simon’s and the other apostles’ false confidence in the inner spirit of self-knowledge (1:35-39; 3:13-19a; 4:10-13; 6:30-56; 7:17; 8:1-10, 14-21, 27-38; 9:33-48; 10:32-45; 14:26-50, 66-72). We are particularly interested, that is, to observe the experience of the fishermen followers of Jesus as they know themselves and as they are known by Jesus. Mark’s story begins with an episode, reported toward the end of chapter 1. The whole town has gathered at Simon’s front door, abuzz about Jesus. Instead of taking advantage of this attention for God’s sake, Jesus retreats to the hills for prayer. When Simon and the other disciples wake up to Jesus’ alleged mistake, they fly off, intent on hunting him down to set him straight. “Everyone is searching for you,” they chastise him. In other words, in their judgment he should not be out in the hills praying, but in town taking advantage of the enthusiastic interest that he has stirred up around himself. Gently, but firmly, Jesus affirms to his followers that he is, and will remain, one step ahead of them, leading the way to life. “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message [of forgiveness] there also; for that is what I came out to do” (1:38).

For Simon, the twelve, and the reader, the episode signals the beginning of the end for salvation by gnosis, by theological

Simon Peter

self-knowledge. Salvation depends not on what we know but upon how God has chosen to know sinners in his forgiveness. Space does not allow for the whole story to be told. We must cut to the quick of our theme where it is taken up in chapter 14. Jesus has been preparing his followers for the crisis they are about to face in Jerusalem. As he has come to know them in the course of their time together, Peter and the twelve have proven themselves to be quite dense to the secret of the kingdom. The secret seems to have gone in one ear and out the other. Again and again in the course of the story Jesus asks Peter and the twelve, ”Do you not understand?” In each instance the evidence of their ineptitude is overwhelming; they repeatedly fail to understand. But now Jesus preaches to them the good news in a way that can only be described as doing the good news to them. As the good news of God generally comes, so in this case it comes under the sign of its opposite.

“You will all become deserters,” Jesus declares ahead of time about their failed discipleship. “As it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up I will go before you to Galilee . . .” (14:27-28).

At this point Simon the Rock rudely interrupts the sermon of Jesus’ unfinished promise. He is beside himself to report that he knows himself a damn sight better than Jesus will ever know him. “Even though all become deserters, I will not!” the Rock boasts to Jesus. Against what Simon knows about himself, Jesus declares how Peter is known in the truth of God, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” Still, Peter imagines that he knows better. He knows himself! He denies Jesus’ prophecy. He was bound to do it. By his imagined


self-knowledge he is compelled to swear vehemently, “‘Even though I must die with you I will not deny you.’ And all of them said the same” (14:37). There is the evil inner spirit that must be exorcised from Peter before he can live, following Jesus, as a free child of God.

Fortunately for Peter and all sinners, Jesus’ word, throughout Mark’s entire story, proves to tell the truth of salvation if there is to be salvation. Simon and his colleagues go on, despite their assurances, to betray, forsake, and deny any association with Jesus whatsoever. If their future in life and in relation to God depended upon their self-knowledge and performance, their fortunes would be dashed, their bridges burned.

After all is said and done, their only hope resides with the promise of Jesus, back from the dead, in the promise of forgiveness: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners” (2:17). That’s the promise that faith can sink its teeth into the body of Christ given for you, the blood of Christ shed for you, for the forgiveness of sin. Contrary to Thomas, Mark declares that knowledge of the heroic self does not save. Rather, it is the sin for which Christ comes in forgiveness, to set us free to be, by faith in God for us and not against us, free to trust God to be the merciful God for us, free to enjoy and serve creation, including the neighbors with whom we share it.

Rev. Virgil Thompson retired from Gonzaga University as a Senior Lecturer in biblical studies. In retirement he has continued to serve the church as Managing Editor of Lutheran Quarterly, Adjunct Professor at St. Paul Lutheran Seminary, and as author and lecturer. He and his wife Linda currently make their home on Lummi Island, across the bay from Bellingham, WA.



1James Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library (New York: Harper and Row, 1977). Since the publication of the Robinson edition of the Nag Hammadi materials there have been two other notable editions. The first is Marvin Meyer’s The Nag Hammadi Scriptures (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2007). As Nicola Denzey Lewis explains in her Introduction to Gnosticism, in some instances the translation of materials in the Meyer edition, benefitting from updated insight, sometimes differs quite significantly from those in the Robinson edition. In addition, there is also an edition of the materials edited by Bentley Layton, The Gnostic Scriptures (New York: Doubleday, 1987). The distinguishing thing about the Bentley edition of the materials is that he was the sole translator. And while his translations may betray certain idiosyncrasies unique to him, they serve for that very reason to enrich the English reader’s engagement with the original writings. According to one of the examples provided by Nicola Denzey Lewis, Bentley translates differently the title of a text which everyone else references as Hypostasis of the Archons. In Bentley’s edition the tractate is titled the Reality of Rulers. It may be problematic for referencing the materials in scholarly discussion, but it does provide contemporary students, particularly the non-scholarly, a better sense of the subject matter. All in all, these three volumes, produced by top scholars in the field, make the materials available to English readers in accessible form.

2Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library, 118.

3Irenaeus, Libros Quinque Adversus Haereses, Praefatio. Quoted in Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels (New York: Random House, 1979), xv.

4Robinson, ed., The Gospel of Thomas, The Nag Hammadi Library, 118: “Jesus said . . . the Kingdom of God is inside of you . . . When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living Father.” All ensuing citations from the Gospel of Thomas, unless otherwise noted, are from the Robinson edition of the Nag Hammadi materials, in the notes by page and intertextually numerated according to the conventional scholarly enumeration of the individual sayings.

5Robinson, ed., The Gospel of Thomas, 118, 121.

6See, for example, G. McRae, “Nag Hammadi,” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Suppl. Vol. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962): 613-19; Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, Karen. L. King, What is Gnosticism? (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), 1-4. Nicola Denzey Lewis, Introduction to Gnosticism, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 1-10.


7Lewis, 101.

8King, 26-27.

9Ibid., 26-27.

10Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, xvii.

11Quoted in King, 35; S. L. Greenslade, “Prescription Against Heretics 7”

Early Latin Theology (Louisville, KY: Westminster Press, 1956), 36

12Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, xxiv.

13Elaine Pagels, Beyond Belief, 33; King, 218-36. Lewis, 12-27.

14Textual references from the Gospel of Thomas in this section are drawn from the Robinson edition of Nag Hammadi materials, observing the standard scholarly numbering of the sayings. References from the Gospel of Mark are drawn from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible.

15Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library, 117.




His name was Bernie, and he was the guy who was going to work on my old Ford Escort. During my pastoral internship, I had foolishly traveled down a road known for collisions with deer. But since it was a valued short cut, I ignored the warning, and then the anticipated outcome became a reality – out jumped the frightened animal, and soon the entire front end of my automobile was smashed by the buck. Since the town was small and didn’t have body shops, I took it to the local automobile mechanic.

By all practical purposes, Bernie was a beloved member of our community nestled within the Catskill Mountains of Upstate New York. He was jovial, good hearted - a man who would provide you with the proverbial “shirt off his back.” While every local church salivated at the prospect of having Bernie as a member, that would never be, since he did not believe. He professed no known faith in Jesus Christ. Instead, he espoused the “I’m a good person, and everything is going to be ok” theology focused on self, rather than on the living God. And so, in a place you might least suspect it, the modern face of Gnosticism had reared its ugly head, hidden behind the kindhearted smile of my small-town mechanic. This story poses a question, and that is, “what is Gnosticism


today, in a practical sense?” Because this early church heresy, which continues to thrive in contemporary society, is based on the three premises: “all matter is evil,” “the divine spark is within,”1 and “you have the knowledge.” But since the early days of the Church these premises have been consistently refuted in scripture.

Is All Matter Evil?

Let’s start with “all matter is evil.” If matter is evil, then what does one do with the God made flesh in Jesus? As it is written in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”2 Furthermore, what does one do with the physically resurrected Christ? Jesus said, “See my hands and my feet, that it is myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit then does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39). And what about the second premise, this “divine spark” within us? Well, Exodus 20:23 states, “You shall have no other gods before me.” That is ― there is no divine spark in us. God is the divine creator, and we are his creatures. And what about the third premise, “you have the knowledge?” Well, scripture refutes that one too. Hosea 4:6 explains that “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.”

Gnosticism is based on the Greek word γνῶσις, which means knowledge.3 The adherents of Gnosticism believe that they have a special esoteric knowledge about God. 4 I remember

What is Gnosticism today in a practical sense?

one occasion when a visitor wanted to have a meeting with me to discuss my preaching. He shared that I was not teaching enough on sin, especially the so-called “national sins.” But when I explained to him that there was no hierarchy to sin, he reminded me that he knew that God was leading him to speak to me about this matter. That is – he alleged that God had given him a special knowledge and understanding that no one else had. A special knowledge, known just to him - really? Or was it perhaps a figment of his own understanding? As it is written in Proverbs 3:5-7, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.”

Gnosticism in Today’s Church

And while Gnosticism has been around for centuries, it appears to be more than prevalent today, especially in the local church. Indeed, contemporary gnostic proclivities can be found in the areas of sin, self, and salvation.

“I’m not really sure how it has affected things.” Those were the words of a congregant who came into my office to confess an affair with a co-worker. This person failed to recognize how the sin of adultery would impact his marriage, children and work. In addition, he tried to affirm his actions by blaming his spouse for not fulfilling her marriage vows due to health concerns. What this person was doing was “compartmentalizing” his behavior, thinking that the affair

In dealing with sin, we are very good at what I call the three (3) R’s, “Rejecting, Rationalizing and Refusing.”

could stand by itself, and not have any influence on other aspects of his life.

In dealing with sin, we are very good at what I call the three (3) R’s, “Rejecting, Rationalizing and Refusing.” This can be clearly found in David’s interaction with Bathsheba. At first, he refused to confess that he had an illicit affair with the naked woman sunning herself on the rooftop. David then tried to hide his sinful behavior by having Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, sent to the front line of battle where he would surely be killed. Then after the deed was done, David refused to admit that anything had happened, until confronted by the prophet Nathan. Gnostic thought closely follows David’s 3 R’s: it does not look at sin as disobedience against God or something worthy of repentance. The Gnostic might believe that his behavior can cause heartache, but it is not something that the individual needs to be either “forgiven” for or “saved” from. But this view isn’t a special knowledge about how things are, rather it’s just pure ignorance about the nature of evil in the world.

The gnostic mindset is also characterized by a self-focus rather than a God-focus. But the role of “self” in Holy Scripture is quite clear. Our lives aren’t all about us, rather they are all about Christ. As it is written in Matthew 16:24, “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” But in Gnosticism, it’s all about self. In knowing oneself, one knows

“Bathsheba at her Bath,” Giuseppe Bartholomeo Chiari

God. It’s based on personal enlightenment, rather than on service to others.

When I was on my pastoral internship, one of the parishioners shared with me that their son had been invited to a weekend retreat at a leadership institute. It was based on personal growth. Not surprisingly, the organizers told him that if he kept coming to these gatherings, and paying the fee, he would grow even more. This scheme was decidedly New Agey, and gnostic at its core. But the temptation of becoming empowered, growing deeper in self-knowledge, and in control of one’s destiny, is a hard one to combat. But it’s not the Lord’s plan for humanity. In Genesis 1:26 it says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness.” In this verse, we learn that we are created in the image of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And in John 1:12-13, we are reminded, “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” Human beings weren’t created to concentrate on themselves, rather, they were created to serve God and other people.

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to do a home visit with a senior saint of the church. She was not your typical ninety-something, as she still drove the tractor to cut her own field and she could still hunt down and kill the black snakes that slithered into her home. While talking one day, the topic of everlasting life was mentioned, and she said those words which send chills down my spine. “I hope I’m going to heaven. I’ve tried to live a good life.” Now mind you, this person was baptized, confirmed, fed at the Lord’s Table, and was an active


participant in Christ’s Church for decades. And yet she still thought that being a good person would lead her to paradise. Sadly, gnostic thoughts like these can be found in the very heart of the church.

But does this attitude really surprise us? Because we live in the shadow of a prevailing Protestant work ethic where we’re constantly peppered with the belief that there is no “free lunch.” And so, in this environment, the thought that we have to do something to gain paradise is quite plausible. But Scripture teaches us differently. How about Romans 3:28? “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” And then there is Ephesians 2:8-9 which clearly proclaims, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift from God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

It is clear that gnostic thought and action has crept its way into the life of the local congregation through a false understanding of sin, self and salvation. It has entered into the church insidiously, vexing the hearts and minds of wellintentioned believers. But if we would just leave the discussion right there, centering on the negative, devastating attributes of this heresy, nothing worthwhile would be accomplished. The church must always be looking for practical ways to teach the fullness of the Christian faith, while pointing out the falsities which try to derail the truth. Some of the teachings that the local parish can reinforce which oppose gnostic practice include servanthood, vocation, life, confession/forgiveness and discipleship.



While Gnostics teach that it’s all about self, Christians teach that it’s all about servanthood. As Jesus himself said in Mark 10:45, “For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many.” Being a servant was the core of Christ’s ministry. We see this as he called his disciples to follow his example when he washed their feet. We also see this when he urged others to feed, clothe and visit those in need. And we see this when he was willing to sacrifice himself on the cross. In Philippians 2:3-8 Paul writes, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

While Gnostics teach that it’s all about self, Christians teach that it’s all about servanthood.

I was once asked to lead a weekend congregational retreat on servanthood. After some preliminary presentations and discussions, it then became real. We traveled to some mission sites and engaged in inside/outside cleaning, food distribution, and other tasks. When we arrived back at the church for debriefing, I will never


forget a particular comment. One participant told me and the church’s pastor, “I heard you guys’ words on servanthood. But I didn’t take them seriously until I saw you cleaning toilets.”

Teaching and living servanthood is a powerful antidote for the gnostic understanding of self.


Vocation is another concept which derails the gnostic theology of having a divine spirit within, versus being a minister for Jesus. Vocation, one of the pillars of the Reformation, was Luther’s vociferous defense of the ministry of the common man, rather than spiritualizing those in the ordained priesthood or monastic orders. Luther held to the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers: the belief that a layperson’s ministry to his neighbor was just as valuable as the ministries of the professionals of the church. As it is written in 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

The word vocation literally means “call.” This call may be a career, a relationship or even an encounter where we can make Christ known to others. And it’s the church’s role to equip those called for ministry. In Ephesians 4:12 it says, “to

Vocation, one of the pillars of the Reformation, was Luther’s vociferous defense of the ministry of the common man, rather than spiritualizing those in the ordained priesthood or monastic orders.


equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” So how exactly does the church equip? It equips by using God’s Word and identifying gifts. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” And In 1 Peter 4:10 it is written, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”

It’s through the priesthood of all believers that individuals can serve and share their faith. Some of the ways that the local church can promote vocational ministry may include ascertaining spiritual gifts and helping individuals to understand them (focusing on equipping, and empowering people to do ministry, leading Bible studies and retreats on vocation, and by valuing individuals’ work, helping them to learn that in careers and relationships God can be glorified.

I’ll never forget Roberta, a member of my internship church. Roberta had a great passion for Jesus, and always wanted to share the Lord with others. She had a home beauty salon and took the opportunity to make Christ known when others were in her chair. She frequently placed Bible verses on her mirror and gave scriptural guidance to those who shared their life challenges. In a sermon on “The Talents,” I had once given each congregational member a quarter to use to witness for Jesus. Roberta taped her quarter to her mirror, and when her patrons asked her

And so, by focusing on vocation, the ministry of daily life, we thwart the gnostic understanding that we might have some sort of divine spirit.


about it, she explained that this was the church’s seed money to serve God. Well, when they heard that story, they gave even more money. Hundreds of dollars were ultimately received for hurricane relief. And she did all this from within her vocation as a hair stylist. And so, by focusing on vocation, the ministry of daily life, we thwart the gnostic understanding that we might have some sort of divine spirit.

All Life is Sacred

While Gnosticism believes that all matter is evil, including the body, God’s Word teaches that all life is sacred. Whether it be the life of the unborn or the elderly, scripture is clear. In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Paul writes, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were brought with a price. So, glorify God in your body.” It’s the Spirit that lives within our bodies, and God uses our very lives to share his word, love our neighbors, and forgive. Not long ago, I had the privilege of being with one of my church members when they died. If you’ve ever experienced this, you know that the breath of God, the Spirit, leaves a person’s physical body. Through this encounter, the importance of God’s creation is seen, as the Lord uses human bodies for his purposes in executing his plan on earth. While the Gnostics want to proclaim how matter, including the human body are evil, we instead cling to the psalmist’s words in 139:14, “I praise

Martin Luther

you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”

Confession and Absolution

Confession and absolution are vital to our relationship with God. Knowing that we are sinful, and that Christ shed blood, died, and rose to pay the ultimate price for those sins, has brought forgiveness and life to our being. While gnostic belief sees no connection at all to sinfulness and the need for reconciliation, we hear differing words in 1 John 1:8-9, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Some time ago, a member of my community wanted to make a private confession. While this was painful since the person had blatantly lied to her children and caused great anger within the family, the freedom that was felt after the confession was life changing. While even believers have a hard time admitting their wrongs, we realize that it is the only way our relationship with the Father can be repaired through Christ. Gnostics can dance around the sin issue, focusing on the ignorance of neglecting to live an ethical and moral life. But Christians understand that confession centers on our relationship with God. Let us be reminded of the words in Romans 5:6-8, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person―though perhaps for a good person one would even dare to die ― but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”


The Trinity

The center of Christian belief is in the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. While Gnostics are dualistic and nontrinitarian, believers in Jesus are called to walk in the faith, and continually grow as disciples. The Greek word for disciple is μαθητής,5 “mathetes,” which can be defined as a “pupil,” or “learner.” While there is no chronological age connected with being a disciple, the center of life is rooted in Jesus of Nazareth, and all other aspects of living revolve around Christ. In Matthew 28:19, we are specifically called to be and to make disciples. Some characteristics of this kind of “student of the Lord” include being in the Word, worship, prayer, witness and stewardship. In John 8:31, Jesus says that if we abide in his word, we are truly his disciples. Hebrews 10:24-25 reminds us that we should not forsake the assembling, that is ― worshiping together. In Philippians 4:6-7, Paul exhorts us to pray for all things. Witnessing about Jesus locally, regionally, nationally and globally can be found in Acts 1:8 and being stewards of God’s blessings is spoken of in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

Growing disciples is the mission of Christ’s Church. Whether it’s Whether it’s done in worship, small groups, retreats, or even visitation, the goal is to grow people’s faith, trust, devotion, and service for new life in the Lord.

Andrei Rublev

The Church Cannot Remain Silent

While the heretical tentacles of Gnosticism have slinked their way into the life of the local congregation, the church cannot remain silent. We must confront this false theology and teach the orthodox understanding of the Christian faith. While adamantly rejecting the gnostic concepts of a divine spark within, the possession of special knowledge, that matter (the body) is evil, and the dualism of good and evil,6 we must practically teach the biblical imperative of the Triune God that Jesus Christ alone is Savior, and that it is only in him that we have forgiveness and everlasting life. True knowledge does not come from self or some special revelation. Knowing the Way, the Truth, and the Life is what provides us with wisdom and hope.

Rev. Brad Hales is Pastor of Reformation Lutheran Church in Culpeper, VA, the Director of Renewal Ministries for the North American Lutheran Church, and he also teaches at St. Paul Lutheran Seminary.


1Kurt Rudolph, Gnosis: The Nature & History of Gnosticism (New York: Harper One, 1984), 57.

2All biblical quotations referenced through this essay employ the English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008).

3Bentley Layton, The Gnostic Scriptures (New York: Doubleday, 1987), 9; Rudolph, 55; “G1108 γνῶσις.” Blue Letter Bible, March 5, 2022, kjv&ot=TR&word=%CE%B3%CE%BD%E1%BF%B6%CF%83%CE%B9%CF%82;

4Simone Pétrement, A Separate God: The Christian Origins of Gnosticism (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1990), 129-139.


5“3101. Mathétés,” Bible Hub, March 4, 2022,

6Pétrement, 171-180.




Years ago, someone told me a joke about those people who say they have “spirit-filled” worship at their church. And the joke goes like this…

Question: What does it mean when someone says they attend a “spirit-filled” church.

Answer: It means that you do not.

Now that joke is funny because there is a kernel of truth in it. Because the very expression of being in a church that is “spiritfilled” always seems to have the implication that the people in that church are a little bit better Christians than all the rest of us. “Oh, I see that you haven’t received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, that’s too bad.”

And this kind of spiritual arrogance was a hallmark of the early gnostic believers as well. They were simply better Christians than us average pew jockeys. Why? Well, they had received a secret knowledge that no one else had, of course. And without that kind of spiritual enlightenment, one is simply doomed to mystical mediocrity at best, and perhaps, much worse. Valentinus said it himself, ”He who [remains] an


The word γνῶσις

The word gnosis (γνῶσις) means knowledge, but Bentley Layton explains that it does not connotate a propositional knowing, that something is the case; but rather a personal knowing, that someone is acquainted with a person, place, or thing.2 So, the Gnostics thought that they had a personal knowledge of Jesus, God the Father, or other divine realities, that others didn’t. They had “met” God in a special way, and therefore, had an intimate relationship with the divine that others lacked.


This unique knowledge included believing unique creation myths; knowing special gnostic jargon; and having a separate gnostic baptism, unique scriptures, and a strong group dynamic which included a hostility toward non-gnostics.4 This kind of conceit among the Gnostics, both inside and outside of their community, was well known and, in fact, Irenaeus himself complained about the arrogance of the Valentinian Gnostics.

Ismo Dunderberg also notes that these attitudes among the Valentinians created two different classes of Christians. In the

a-Gnostic [that is, not a Gnostic] to the end…will perish…”

Valentinian work Interpretation of Knowledge, the author reveals the conflict and jealousy in the community between those “’who have made progress in the Word’ and those who were envious of the advanced ones.”5 The author presents a character called the “troublemaker,” who is an unenlightened beginner, and yet he has the impertinence to question those more advanced. The author’s goal is to chastise this agitator, “urg[ing [him] not to complain about his inferior position in the body,”6 and instead to “be grateful [he is] not outside the body.”7


Another feature of Gnosticism was the alleged transfer of secret knowledge from the apostles through a lineage of enlightened teachers. This legacy of “secret knowledge” was rejected by the orthodox Church. But does this necessarily mean that the existence of secret knowledge was incompatible with the gospel message itself? For instance, Valentinus taught that Jesus hid certain mysteries from the public at large, and a quick glance at the gospels shows numerous instances where Jesus did indeed tell his disciples not to tell anyone about his teachings (Matthew 16:20; Mark 8:29-30; Luke 9:20-21), etc.8

Using this gospel evidence, and his instruction by Theudas, one of Paul’s disciples, Valentinus claimed possession of a secret knowledge going back to the Church’s earliest days.9 It is interesting to think that perhaps a portion of the Christian community, now lost to history, may have taken Jesus’ instruction at face value and continued the practice of


clandestine teachings inside their own faith communities.


But where did these gnostic beliefs originally come from? Scholars are unsure. Adolf von Harnack believed that the gnostics used Greek philosophy to interpret the faith, but in doing so they altered the core themes of the gospel.10 Other scholars, like Kurt Rudolph agree that gnosticism, at its core, was a “product of Hellenistic syncretism,”11 but Arthur Darby Nock goes even further, calling gnosticism a kind of “Platonism run wild.”12

Other sources of gnostic thought have also been posited.

Edward Conze believes that Buddhists were in contact with Indian “Thomas Christians,” who used the Gospel of Thomas, and may have influenced the gnostic theology found therein.13 Richard Reitzenstein has even proposed Zoroastrian influences in the gnostic texts, which resulted in their dualistic beliefs about the spiritual and material worlds.14

But How Can We Best Think of the Early Gnostics?

Perhaps a good analogy is that the gnostics were the “woke” crowd of their day, a movement of progressives leading the way against the ignorance of the Christian unwashed.15 But it’s more complicated than that, because they also considered themselves to be Christian. So maybe the aforementioned

Adolph Von Harnack

“spirit filled” Christian is a better option, or perhaps it’s a little bit of both.

But to get a true handle on why gnostics thought their beliefs were so much better than those of orthodox Christians, let’s take a look at the characteristics of gnostic thought plumbed from the original texts. This is not always an easy task, since reading these texts is often a tough slog - the reader feels as if he is watching one of the less imaginative episodes of the old, but deeply philosophical, TV show “Kung Fu.” But we can pick out a number of common themes.

Characteristics of Gnosticism


Elaine Pagels notes that “gnosis involves an intuitive process of knowing oneself.”16 But it’s even deeper than that, because this kind of self-knowledge removes the ontological disparity between God the Father and the believer. Thus, in gnostic thinking, “self-knowledge is knowledge of God; the self and the divine are identical. 17

One example of this can be found in Book of Thomas (the Contender). Here Jesus tells Judas Thomas to “examine yourself and know who you are and how you were and or how you shall be…you have already come to knowledge, and you will be called ‘the one who knows himself,’ for he who has not known himself has known nothing. But he who has known himself has already come to knowledge concerning the depth


of the All.”18 So the saving faith in Jesus of orthodox Christianity is replaced by a knowledge of self which then reunites the individual to the divine. To the gnostic, it is this kind of Wisdom that saves.

And even though this kind of “know thyself” mantra may have been popularized by the Oracle at Delphi, it is also alive and well today in the twenty-first century.19 And it is manifest in the proliferation of self-help books available at the local bookstore and online. If one can only deal with one’s bogeymen, such as emotional baggage, a few extra pounds, or those crippling hang-ups, well then, a world of self-fulfillment and actualization awaits. Psychoanalysis also fits well into this kind of gnostic model. The psychologist C. X. Jung explains that Valentinus’ belief that everything emanates from the depth of the abyss, means, in psychological categories, that all things arise from the unconscious.20

Personal Rather Than Biblical Revelation

One of the biggest criticisms of Gnosticism by early Christians was that their beliefs were often dependent upon the personal visions and experiences encountered directly with God, rather than upon revelation through scripture.21 But how does this kind of personal revelation save? Well, it all starts with the belief that “man is a copy of the divine pattern.”22 Now this

The saving faith in Jesus of orthodox Christianity is replaced by a knowledge of self which then reunites the individual to the divine

copy has been degraded through anti-Gnostic forces (such as the Gospel of Truth’s “The Lack”),23 but a divine spark is allegedly still present in every human, which must be fanned into a flame through gnostic teaching. This newfound understanding, often personified in the figure of Sophia (whom some gnostics even offered prayers to), is the means by which the divine pattern, becomes, once again, fully recovered.24 Much of this secret teaching begins with the esoteric, and often bizarre, creation myths found in the gnostic texts.25

But how can one prove that this has happened: confirm that he is now “woke?” That is ― how can a person demonstrate to his gnostic teachers that he is now, in fact, spiritually mature? Well, it helps to be able to talk about one’s encounters with God that then have revealed new and deeper theologies. Irenaeus wrote that, “every one of them [the Gnostics] generates something new every day, according to his ability; for no one is considered initiated [or: “mature”] among them unless he develops some enormous fictions!”26 In other words, these alleged personal experiences with God allowed for an infinite number of doctrines, and at times, resulted in outlandish ones. But to the Gnostics, these revelations instead led to a kind of Nirvana, as the fallen self finds its home once again within the divine.


The early church struggled with the apparent dichotomy of an Old Testament God with his laws and punishments, as


opposed to the New Testament God, who forgives our sins through Jesus Christ. Marcion “solved” this problem by adopting a malevolent creator God called the demiurge, who is supported by his demons, the archons. 27 This new character allowed for the separation of the New Testament God of love from the Old Testament lawgiver and punisher. But in doing so, Marcion, and the Gnostics who would follow, devalued the role of God the Father into a kind of malevolent creator being who fashioned a cosmos which was evil from its very beginnings.

Resurrection, Virgin Birth, and Baptism Denial

Gnosticism was also known for ditching those pesky doctrines that were so hard to believe in the first place. Most Gnostics didn’t believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus, instead they encountered the crucified Christ spiritually “in dreams, in ecstatic trance, in visions, or in moments of spiritual illumination.”28

The miraculous nature of the virgin birth was also rejected by the Gnostics. The author of the Gospel of Philip offers that, “They [that is, orthodox Christians] do not know what they are saying. When did a woman ever conceive by a woman?”29 He also doubted the work of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of baptism. He opined that the believer “go[es] down into the water and come[s] up without having received anything.”30

Gnostics also belittled the martyrdom that was suffered by so many orthodox believers. They considered these personal sacrifices as misguided and downright dangerous since their


example convinced others to give up their lives needlessly in defense of false beliefs.31 One can, however, see the convenience in all these rejections of the miraculous, which then allowed the Gnostic to justify his cowardice. Indeed, when one surrenders a belief in the miraculous, one can also safely lose the troubling intimate God who holds individuals accountable for their own actions. Today, we see the same rejection of the supernatural outside the church, in the materialism and scientism of contemporary society, but within the church walls as well, in liberal Christianity theology which attempts to appeal to the modern empirical mind. Another example of this materialism within the church is the growing popularity of denominations holding to believers’ baptism, which is a public statement of faith with no belief necessary in the action of the Holy Spirit within the sacrament.


As Dr. Granquist has noted above, many feminist theologians hold that much of early Christianity’s opposition to the heretical nature of the gnostic theology can be chocked up to church politics. They believed that the bodily resurrection of Jesus was used in this effort, since only those who witnessed the resurrection, usually male apostles, could then control the lineage of bishops, assuring a male-dominated power

Indeed, when one surrenders a belief in the miraculous, one can also safely lose the troubling intimate God who holds individuals accountable for their own actions.

structure.32 Gnosticism, on the other hand, provided leadership opportunities for women and the male laity, which was deemed a threat to orthodox authority.33

And while it might be easy to dismiss the idea that politics motivated the early church’s anti-gnostic campaign, one is reminded of the career of Catholic theologian Hans Kung, who was simply ignored by the curia when he suggested lifting the prohibitions on contraception and abortion. And yet, when he publicly refuted the doctrine of infallibility (a direct threat to church authority) that was when the inquisitor finally came to call. So here is a modern-day example on how authority is, and always has been, one of the Church’s top priorities.


But how do we become the Irenaeuses of today? How do we combat gnostic thought both in society and within the Church itself? Well, perhaps we need to concentrate on four goals: Humility, openness, an outward focus, and an adherence to biblical orthodoxy.


This is a tough one since we are all naturally concerned about ourselves. But perhaps we can begin by asking ourselves a single question: Is what I am doing in ministry about serving God or other people, or is it really about puffing myself up or


inflating my foolish pride?


Gnosticism thrived on secrets, but orthodoxy has nothing to hide. Is everything we do in church open and accessible for everyone to see? Are our services always open to the public, and are we willing to post them on the internet? And are our pastors willing to allow the laity to lead in most areas of ministry, or are they bent on controlling everything?

Outward Focus

Jesus gave us the example of engaging strangers in conversations on faith. But often churches today are all about the members or potential members. These parishes focus on programs that will serve seekers to “bring them in.” But can that kind of self-centeredness be turned outward into evangelization in the community and in service to the less fortunate?

Biblical Orthodoxy

Many pastors try to water down the healing, demonic, or miracle stories that are questionable to the modern mind. This often includes core doctrines such as the virgin birth and the resurrection. The challenge for pastors is to keep an open mind about the honest questions that seekers have, while at the same time assuring that we don’t abandon the scriptures, which can only leave us with a rudderless faith.

Gnosticism thrived on secrets, but orthodoxy has nothing to hide.

Rev. Dr. Dennis R. Di Mauro is Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church Warrenton, VA. He teaches at St. Paul Lutheran Seminary and is the editor of SIMUL.

(This essay, since revised for publication, was first delivered at the Younger Theologians Colloquium, Corpus Christi Texas, August 3rd, 2021)


1Kendrick Grobel, The Gospel of Truth: A Valentinian Meditation on the Gospel Translation from the Coptic and Commentary (New York: Abington Press, 1960), 74.

2Bentley Layton, The Gnostic Scriptures (New York: Doubleday, 1987), 9.

3For a comprehensive discussion on the gnostic view on salvation, see Simone Pétrement, A Separate God: The Christian Origins of Gnosticism (New York: Harper and Row, 1990), 129-139.

4Layton, 9-21.

5Ismo Dunderberg, Beyond Gnosticism: Myth, Lifestyle, and Society in the School of Valentinus (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), 147.

6Dunderberg, 150.

7Interpretation of Knowledge, quoted in Dunderberg, 150.

8Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels (New York: Vintage Books, 1979), 14.


10Ibid., xxix.

11Kurt Rudolph, Gnosis: The Nature and History of Gnosticism (New York: Harper One, 1984), 54.

12Pagels, xxx.

13Ibid., xxi.

14Ibid., xxx.

15Aaron Kheriaty, “The Great Awokening: Neo-Marxism, Critical Race Theory, and Other Contemporary Gnostic Religions.” Lecture at Napa Institute Conference, Napa California, July 24 , 2021.

16Pagels, xix.


17Ibid., xx.

18Book of Thomas (The Contender), quoted in Rudolph, 113; The first half of this work “concerns acquaintance or self-knowledge (gnosis) and the valuelessness of the flesh,” See Layton, p. 400

19Rudolph, 113.

20Pagels, 133.

21Ibid., 18.

22Rudolph, 92.

23Grobel, 97.

24Rudolph, 54.

25Geoffrey Smith notes that the Gospel of Truth, “opens with a cosmic myth of Error that sets the stage for the coming of the Savior, who will bring humanity back to the Father. Finding the Entirety adrift and searching in vain for the Father, Error creates a molded form and traps the Entirety within it. In this way, Error, partitions the Entirety off from the Father and ensures that it will live in ignorance and darkness. Salvation arrives when the Savior comes into the world to put an end to the reign of Error.” See Geoffrey Smith, Valentinian Christianity: Texts and Translation (Oakland, California: University of California Press 2020), 128.

26Irenaeus quoted in Pagels, 19.

27Pagels, 101.

28Pagels, 5.

29Gospel of Philip, quoted in Pagels, 53; The compiler of the Gospel of Philip “was especially concerned with the theology of the sacraments (possibly baptism most of all).” He mentions five Valentinian gnostic sacraments (baptism, chrism, Eucharist, ransom [a salvific release], and bridal chamber [perhaps a restoration of the soul]) with elements that distinguish them from those of orthodox Christianity, see Layton, 326; Smith, 128. On baptism, see Don Merkur, Gnosis: An Esoteric Tradition of Mystical Visions and Unions (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1993), 142.

30Pagels, 104.

31Ibid., 92-97.

32Ibid., 6.

33Ibid., 41-42.


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They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures; and, to use a common proverb, they strive to weave ropes of sand….in order that their scheme may not seem altogether without support. In doing so, however, they disregard the order and the connection of the Scriptures, and so far as in them lie, dismember, and destroy the truth ― Irenaeus

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