What Is Gnosticism?

Article ID: DG040-1 | By: Douglas Groothuis

The following is an excerpt from article DG040-1 of the Christian Research Journal. The full article can be viewed by following the link below.


What Is Gnosticism?

Gnosticism has come to mean just about anything. Calling someone a Gnostic can make the person either blush, beam, or fume. Whether used as an epithet for heresy or spiritual snobbery, or as a compliment for spiritual knowledge and esotericism, Gnosticism remains a cornucopia of controversy. This is doubly so when Gnosticism is brought into a discussion of Jesus of Nazareth. Begin to speak of “Christian Gnostics” and some will exclaim, “No way! That is a contradiction in terms. Heresy is not orthodoxy.” Others will affirm, “No contradiction. Orthodoxy is the heresy. The Gnostics were edged out of mainstream Christianity for political purposes by the end of the third century.” Speak of the Gnostic Christ or the Gnostic gospels, and an ancient debate is moved to the theological front burner. Gnosticism as a philosophy refers to a related body of teachings that stress the acquisition of “gnosis,” or inner knowledge. The knowledge sought is not strictly intellectual, but mystical; not merely a detached knowledge of or about something, but a knowing by acquaintance or participation. This gnosis is the inner and esoteric mystical knowledge of ultimate reality. It discloses the spark of divinity within, thought to be obscured by ignorance, convention, and mere exoteric religiosity. This knowledge is not considered to be the possession of the masses but of the Gnostics, the Knowers, who are privy to its benefits. While the orthodox “many” exult in the exoteric religious trappings which stress dogmatic belief and prescribed behavior, the Gnostic “few” pierce through the surface to the esoteric spiritual knowledge of God. The Gnostics claim the Orthodox mistake the shell for the core; the Orthodox claim the Gnostics dive past the true core into a nonexistent one of their own esoteric invention.


This article is an excerpt from article DG040-1 from the Christian Research Journal. To view the full article, please click here.