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What the Bible says about Divine Spark
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Colossians 2:8

Colossians 2:8-10 gives another general definition of Gnosticism, as well as how to combat it. Paul is writing about a philosophy like Stoicism, not a specific religion, such as Judaism. This is important to recognize, since in verse 16, Paul mentions the Sabbath and holy days, and it is commonly assumed that Paul condemns their observance. Yet, he does not - he warns against a philosophy that disparaged the feasting and joyous observance of the Sabbath and holy days. This is why Paul tells the Colossians to "let no one judge you" with regard to eating, drinking, or observing the weekly and annual Sabbaths - rather than what is commonly read into Colossians 2:16: "There is no reason to keep the Sabbath or holy days." Christians in Colossae were being pressured by the ascetic society around them, which would have looked down on their feasting.

This is confirmed in the rest of Colossians 2, which deals primarily with asceticism (see especially Colossians 2:21-23). Some branches of Gnosticism adhered to asceticism as a way to free the eternal spirit by living regimented, plain, and insular lives. (Conversely, some Gnostics went to the other extreme - practicing hedonism - believing that what they did with their bodies did not make any difference since only spirit mattered.)

Paul says that this philosophy and its associated doctrines were plausible, but they were not based on solid arguments. He calls them "vain deceit" (KJV) or "empty deceit" (NKJV). They may sound good, depending upon one's inclination, but they endanger church members. The apostle writes that they would be "spoiled" (KJV), which does not necessarily mean being "corrupted," but rather of being "plundered," hence the NKJV's use of "cheated." This empty philosophy would rob or cheat them of their faith, their hope, their understanding of God, their relationship with God, their vision, and the purpose that God is working out. Once introduced, it would begin to steal away all of their true, spiritual riches.

Paul also provides two possible sources of this unsteady philosophy: "the traditions of men" and the "rudiments of the world." Examining the "rudiments of the world" first will help to explain the traditions of men. Other translations call them the "elements of the world," the "basic principles of the world," or "the powers of the world." In using this term, Paul is referring to the demonic powers that make this world, this cosmos,what it is. The source of this philosophy of salvation through special knowledge is Satan and the demons.

This explains why, when we read the histories of various religions and their branches, the same patterns arise time and again. Man does not have it within himself to pass along accurately and dependably ideas that go back to the very beginning. With an incessant drumming, the powers of the world keep prompting men and women in the same vain deceits that directly contradict the truth about God and His purpose for mankind.

Humans certainly play a role in handing down these traditions. Sunday school teachers and theologians perpetuate the Gnostic myths of the immortality of the soul, of eternal consciousness, of progressive revelation, of each person having a spark of goodness within that just needs to be fanned into a flame, and of each soul or spirit existing before in heaven and returning there upon death. Men pass these traditions on to other men, but the powers of the spirit world keep these messengers on their track and blinded to the truth.

The last phrase in Colossians 2:8 - "not according to Christ" - is a simple one, but it encapsulates what this is all about. Not a single branch of Gnosticism had the truth about Jesus Christ. That knowledge can be found only in God's Word.

David C. Grabbe
Whatever Happened to Gnosticism? Part Two: Defining Gnosticism

1 Timothy 6:20-21

The Amplified Bible makes these verses clearer:

O Timothy, guard and keep the deposit entrusted [to you]! Turn away from the irreverent babble and godless chatter, with the vain and empty and worldly phrases, and the subtleties and the contradictions in what is falsely called knowledge and spiritual illumination. [For] by making such profession some have erred (missed the mark) as regards the faith. . . .

Paul warns Timothy about "the subtleties and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge and spiritual illumination." The word translated "knowledge" in most translations ("science"in the King James Version) is the Greek gnosis. Literally meaning "to know," it forms the root of the word Gnosticism. It is possible, even probable, that Paul refers to Gnosticism here, since both of his letters to Timothy contain warnings against false teachers bringing in foreign concepts that were undermining the faith of church members.

Remember, however, that his warning is against a particular type of knowledge that induced some members to stray from the faith, knowledge that was subtle and yet contradictory. That it was contradictory is interesting because Gnosticism not only contradicts the truth, but within Gnostic beliefs there are also many contradictions.

Recently, the newly-discovered Gospel of Judas, an example of what is called a "Gnostic gospel," has made headlines worldwide. It was not written at the same time as the four canonical gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John - but appeared a couple of centuries later. The Gospel of Judas contradicts the true gospel accounts by asserting that Judas Iscariot was actually the hero, who had been given secret knowledge that the other disciples did not possess.

The opening line of the Gospel of Judas demonstrates this secret knowledge: "The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week, three days before he celebrated Passover." This so-called gospel gives a quite different view of the relationship between Jesus Christ and Judas, and its defenders say that it offers "new insights" into Jesus' betrayal, and the nature and character of Judas. "New insights" is another common theme of Gnosticism.

Several years ago, another Gnostic gospel, the Gospel of Thomas, was all the rage in the scholarly community. Its opening lines also emphasize this secret knowledge: "These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas recorded. And [Jesus] said, 'Whoever discovers the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death.'" Notice that the emphasis is immediately on discovering an interpretation and on increasing knowledge as a way to eternal life. It contains nothing about salvation coming through one's relationship with God or even about living a godly life. In this Gnostic gospel, eternal life comes from the secret knowledge that will explain the obscure sayings.

Not only were the Gnostic gospels written long after the fact, but they are also full of statements that oppose the text of the Bible. For example, in the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus allegedly says, "If you fast, you will bring sin upon yourselves, and if you pray, you will be condemned, and if you give to charity, you will harm your spirits." Scholars say that Jesus is advocating "fitting in" and "being true to oneself," phrases often repeated these days.

In another place in the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus is quoted as saying, "[Blessed is] the one who came into being before coming into being." This makes absolutely no sense to us, but it does make a kind of sense to Gnostics, who believe in a dualism of flesh and spirit. Thus, they understand that "Jesus" implies that the spirit could come into being before the flesh. Many Gnostics were followers of docetism, the belief that Jesus and Christ were two separate beings in one body. Docetists believed that the man Jesus was born, and that the pre-existing god Christ entered into Him when He was baptized and left again before He was crucified. This, then, is an example of coming into being before coming into being.

Also in the Gospel of Thomas,

The disciples said to Jesus, "Tell us, how will our end come?" Jesus said, "Have you found the beginning, then, that you are looking for the end? You see, the end will be where the beginning is. [Blessed is] the one who stands at the beginning: that one will know the end and will not taste death.

Again, knowing something is shown as the antidote of death. In this case, another element of dualism is that every person has a little spark of God in him or her, and that we have an eternal spirit (or soul) that is trapped or imprisoned within a body of flesh.

Gnostics generally believed that all spirit was inherently stable and good (overlooking the fact that Satan and his demons are spirit andyet also unstable and evil), while all matter and flesh was inherently evil (contradicting God's statement in Genesis 1:31 that everything God had made was "very good"). Plato reinforced this belief, writing, "The soul is the very likeness of the divine - immortal, and intelligible, and uniform, and indissoluble, and unchangeable." He also declared, viewing the body as a temporary house in which the soul is imprisoned, "The soul goes away to the pure, the eternal, the immortal and unchangeable to which she is kin."

The Gnostic goal was to learn the secret knowledge that would allow the inner spirit to be released from the confines of the flesh, enabling it to rejoin God in the spirit realm. Thus, the Gnostics linked the beginning and end (often depicted in the figure of a snake swallowing its tail), because if a person could figure out how the divine spark was infused into the flesh in the first place, he could then reverse it and release the spirit. We find the same basic tenet in the modern doctrine of the immortality of the soul, and the widespread belief that our "home" is in heaven, and that we go to this home when we die.

David C. Grabbe
Whatever Happened to Gnosticism? Part One: False Knowledge


 




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