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(From Forerunner Commentary)
In this first message to mankind, Satan sows seeds of doubt as to whether God can be trusted. Satan's very first words were, "Has God indeed said. . . ?" Spoken or not, this sentiment that God is untrustworthy, and that His Word is suspect, has been a regular feature in mankind's relationship with God ever since.
The Gnostics were no exception—in fact, they are a prime example. In its most basic sense, Gnosticism is knowing, but its knowledge, while sometimes including the Word of God, does not have it as its foundation. Instead, more than what was contained in Scripture, Gnostics valued what they experienced, what elders told them, or what they learned from "angels," astrology, or chemistry (alchemy). Thus, we see elements of Gnosticism in Galatians: a mixture of "lucky days," to which they ascribed spiritual significance (part of their worship prior to conversion) and a belief, brought in by Judaizers or perhaps even an "angel" (Galatians 1:8), that justification could come by works of the law.
Judaism, though it has its roots in the Old Testament, sees God's Word through the lens of Hellenism (Greek thought) and the traditions of Jewish scholars and teachers through the centuries. The Galatian Christians gave God's Word lip service, but did not depend on it as the source of their beliefs and practices. If they had, they would not have returned to pagan "days, months, seasons, and years," nor believed that justification could ever result from good works—a concept that is read into the Old Testament, but not actually found there.
Similarly, the Colossian Christians were affected by an ascetic form of Gnosticism that included "ordinances" (KJV) or "regulations" (NKJV) that are not found in God's Word but were the commandments and doctrines of men (Colossians 2:20-23), as well as demons, the "basic principles of the world" (Colossians 2:8).
This same distrust of God's Word is readily seen in today's Catholicism and Protestantism. The Catholic Church holds that Scripture is only one of three sources from which its dogma is derived—the other two being divine revelation and the writings and traditions of previous Catholic saints. The Bible, while generally utilized as the source of doctrine, can be easily overridden by the words of a Pope or other theologian, living or dead. Once again, human words and traditions are considered more trustworthy than God's.
In some respects, Protestantism has a higher regard for Scripture. However, it, too, accepts the traditions of men in such beliefs as the Trinity, the immortality of the soul, going to heaven, observing Christmas and Easter, and venerating the first day of the week (which the Catholic Church rightly points out makes sense only if one accepts Rome's authority, for there is no scriptural authority for keeping any day holy but the Sabbaths).
Modern Gnostics who believe in "progressive revelation" have also succumbed to this first of Satan's ploys. While God does reveal things to us, the critical point is that what is revealed—if it truly comes from Him—will never contradict what He has already revealed in His Word. "God is not a man, that He should lie" (Numbers 23:19). Yet progressive revelation advocates believe that their revelations are more authoritative than the Bible, rather than complementing and harmonizing with it, making them ripe for satanic influence under the guise of God revealing something new to them. They may sincerely believe that God speaks to them, yet they simultaneously mistrust what He has already said in inspired Scripture. They tend to shy away from Bible study, concluding that they do not need it since God speaks directly to them, and if there is anything important, God will let them know.
Romans 10:17 tells us that "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." But Satan knows this too and believes that, if he can undermine the trustworthiness of God and the validity of His Word, he can destroy the faith necessary for salvation. Currently, the Bible's legitimacy is undergoing an intense assault. Due to popular Gnostic writings like the Gospel of Judas and the Gospel of Thomas, as well as The Da Vinci Code book and movie, many people are questioning why we have the Bible that we do and wondering if something in the ancient apocryphal writings, if it were known, would change Christianity as we know it. Rather than quibbling about this or that point of doctrine, Satan seems to be gunning for the whole package by asserting that the Word of God is subject to the whims of men and thus cannot be trusted. At every turn, faith founded in God's Word is being undermined.
David C. Grabbe
Whatever Happened to Gnosticism? Part Three: Satan's Three Heresies
The Devil asserted that by taking of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, human eyes would be opened—implying wisdom and enlightenment—to allow a person to know good and evil as God does. Immediately, Satan places the emphasis on knowing, but it is contrasted with living eternally. Satan proposes that mankind should be like God in taking to himself the knowledge—the definition—of what is right and wrong, asserting that this is a good thing! In contrast, the Tree of Life represents a way of living in which the meaning of good and evil already exists, and eternal life involves submitting through the Holy Spirit to that definition and the Sovereign who is its source.
Likewise, the Gnostics are those who know—who pursue mystical knowledge that they believe holds the key to eternal life through advancing beyond the physical and into the spiritual realm. Recall that the Gospel of Thomas states at the very beginning that "whoever discovers the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death." Gnostics believed the key to eternal life was contained in right interpretation—knowledge—of those esoteric sayings.
The book of Revelation expounds on the Tree of Life in two places:
· To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God. (Revelation 2:7)
· Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into [New Jerusalem]. (Revelation 22:14)
The Tree of Life, then, is associated with a way of life—one that requires overcoming (growth against a standard of righteousness) and keeping (doing) God's commandments. The only ones who are allowed to partake of the Tree of Life are those who have changed themselves (with God's help, by His Spirit) to begin living in the same manner as He does. To those who submit to His standard of righteousness, then, He grants life that is both endless and of the same quality that He enjoys.
Satan, though, in addition to casting doubt on what God plainly says, and implying that God is unfair by withholding good things, offers a shortcut. He says, "You do not need to follow God's way, for it is obviously unfair and far too stringent. You can follow your own way. You can take knowledge to yourself of what is good and what is evil. You can be just like God in determining what is right and wrong." Adam and Eve took the bait, and ever since, man has rejected God's standard of righteousness in favor of his own.
This third heresy is easily seen in the antinomianism (literally, "against law") of the Gnostics, who may not have been against every law, but were certainly against any law—any standard of conduct or requirement of righteousness—that impinged upon their standard of conduct. Thus the ascetic Gnostics who grieved the Christians in Colossae held to manmade regulations of "do not touch, do not taste, do not handle" (Colossians 2:20-21), while rejecting the command to "rejoice" with food and drink during the God-ordained festivals. Similarly, mainstream Christianity will (rightly) use portions of Leviticus and Deuteronomy to point out God's abhorrence of abortion and homosexuality, but will claim that the same law is "done away" when it comes to the Sabbath and holy days. They have taken to themselves the knowledge of what is good and what is evil, establishing their own standard of righteousness.
A core issue of the Bible is whether we submit to God's governance or try to form a government based on our own perception of what is good or what works. God's way results in eternal life, but it comes with the obligation to submit ourselves to God. It requires keeping all of His commandments and overcoming our human weaknesses that do not rise to that standard. Satan, conversely, seeks to persuade us to do our own thing and to usurp God's prerogative in defining right living. He encourages us to be enlightened, to have our eyes opened, by doubting God and rejecting His way.
David C. Grabbe
Whatever Happened to Gnosticism? Part Three: Satan's Three Heresies
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 and yet 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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