Our house church is slogging through these summer months with more interruptions and lower attendance than I expected. Nonetheless, we continue to make our way through the excellent book El Forastero en el Camino a Emaús (The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus). It seems like we’ve been in this book for a very long time and that’s probably because we’ve been in this book for a very long time. However, we’ve come to the last few chapters and by this time next year, I’m sure we’ll not only be done but will have been done for quite some time…I hope!
In the meantime, there are so many teachings to cover and so little time. I’ve been praying for what the Lord would have us move on to and when I felt He had answered that prayer, I sensed that not only should we move on to it next, we need to somehow begin it now while still finishing our main study. So, last Sunday we began a dual study, dividing our time up between the two. I normally did a separate devotional before the main study, so I’ve cut that portion out and replaced it with this second study.
I think not long ago if you have told me that we should study 1 John I would have thought, now that’s a good book…short…has some solid teachings for all believers. I don’t think I would have recognized the depth and breadth of this short letter until I began studying it myself. That is the way the study of all Scriptures go, isn’t it?
I’m still working through a basic introduction to the book, and this week we’ll probably finish the introduction. What has struck me significantly in this is the key role of gnosticism in the writing of this letter. I imagine theologians do not all agree on this role or whether it is even there at all, but after studying gnosticism a bit, I can’t read 1 John without seeing John’s treatment of that grave error on every page, and not only in his letters but in his Gospel as well.
If you don’t know what gnosticism is, and you’ve read 1 John before, I strongly recommend you do a little reading on the subject. If you aren’t sure about the research, I don’t have any corner on the market of what the best sources are, I just did a Google search and skimmed through about a dozen in English and in Spanish and came up with a few in both languages that looked useful to read. I suspect it is in Revelation as well and I have a few ideas where I would look for it.
Here are a couple links in English describing gnosticism:
A simple summary from CARM: http://carm.org/gnosticism
A slightly more analytic description from “Got Questions?”: http://www.gotquestions.org/Christian-gnosticism.html
And if you’re really up for some dangerous reading, here are two descriptions written by Gnostics, and thus from the perspective that gnosticism is truth. Be careful and guard your minds and submit these false teachings to the truth of Scripture:
If you read or skimmed through these latter two links, you’ll notice that especially in the bottom link that actual Scriptures are referred to as forgeries and not Scripture at all. Denying not just what is true, but denying the truth altogether and promoting what is false as that which is truth. It’s a backwards and confusing look into reality and reminiscent to me of reading C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. Except in that case, I knew the author was a believer who was revealing the truth by exposing the sham of the lie from the source of its dark origin and perspective. You don’t get that with these two sources, obviously. These are heresies to the core.
If you really want to blow your mind, there are sects that take gnostic teachings and apply them to Roman Catholicism and equate the Virgin Mary with Sophia (again see the “gnosis.org” link above for a reference to Sophia (“wisdom”) as well as here.)
There is a group called Sophia Foundation that states the following:
Who Is Sophia?
Sophia is the wisdom that is the very fabric of our existence. She is so close, so pervasive, that we may not know how to speak of Her, or even know of Her existence. Sophia is the name we give to Her who has guided creation from the beginning. We know Her as beauty, as love and as wisdom.
Sophia means “wisdom” in Greek. Wisdom can be defined as the ability to discern what is true, right and lasting. But Sophia is not merely an intellectual concept. In a higher sense, She is a living being with whom everyone can come into relationship.
She has inspired men and women throughout the ages and in all cultures. It is Sophia who is at the heart of every true religion, guiding those who will to know and act in the light of what is true, right and lasting. She has been known as Radha, as Tara, as Prajna Paramita, as Isis, as Demeter, as Quan Yin, as Schekinah, and as the Virgin Mary.
Note in the above a reference to Isis which was originally (so we think) an Egyptian goddess, who was adopted by the Greeks, and then the Romans. The Roman description sounds familiar in this context of Sophia:
The Roman writer Apuleius recorded aspects of the cult of Isis in the 2nd century CE, including the Navigium Isidis, in his novel The Golden Ass. The protagonist Lucius prays to Isis as Regina Caeli, “Queen of Heaven”:
You see me here, Lucius, in answer to your prayer. I am nature, the universal Mother, mistress of all the elements, primordial child of time, sovereign of all things spiritual, queen of the dead, queen of the ocean, queen also of the immortals, the single manifestation of all gods and goddesses that are, my nod governs the shining heights of Heavens, the wholesome sea breezes. Though I am worshipped in many aspects, known by countless names … the Egyptians who excel in ancient learning and worship call me by my true name…Queen Isis.
It’s pretty obvious that there is a thread of these basic errors that run through the history of mankind in his fallen, sinful state for many centuries before Christ. By the way, there are many references in Roman Catholicism to Mary as the “Queen of Heaven.” It is prominent in Mexico and the well-known image of the Virgin of Guadalupe (as she is called here) contains many symbols and written passages that reflect many of these ancient descriptions of Sophia and Isis.
So, what is so important about learning what gnosticism is and what it teaches?
I probably shouldn’t give you many answers although some may be obvious. I’m still contemplating them myself.
For starters, you should note that the error of early gnosticism (in the form it took around the time of the early church) was just getting started at the last of the first century A.D. I think I’ve given you a taste that it was not a new idea then. It’s not a new idea now, but it comes in various forms today that are either the same idea or wrapped in at least some of the basic ideas of gnosticism. That would include older religions such as Buddhism, and no doubt an armload of other Eastern religions which stress higher knowledge and inner truth. Reincarnation is certainly an element of gnosticism; so throw in Hinduism. I’ve already referenced some potential connections within Roman Catholicism.
There seems to have always existed this idea that truth emanates from a higher being and that we must seek a higher, secret knowledge that can only be revealed when we search diligently for this knowledge, and that at least a piece of it, a piece that we might be able to grasp is to be found within us. We must get to know our inner selves and listen to our hearts because that is where true knowledge is found and it is true goodness and essence that is deep within us.
In a distant sense, there is a similarity to Christianity. We believe there is truth and that it exists on a higher level, but by contrast truth is God Himself and He has revealed truth to us through His inspired Word. He is knowable and thus truth is knowable. We don’t look within and we don’t even look out into the expanse of creation, we look to special, divine revelation that is limited in canon and certain from beginning to end, the Bible.
So…every man is good, right? Basically good? Right? Not what Scripture says at all. Man is evil and his thoughts are continually evil. Man is depraved and fallen short of the glory of God. Man cannot save himself, He must depend on an external Savior.
Very simple Christian teachings, but we should not lose sight of the fact that those teachings are diametrically opposed to the gnostic teachings in the world today or perhaps I should say, those gnostic teachings in the world today are diametrically opposed to the truth of the Scriptures. Gnosticism teaches that man is a good being who does not need a Savior to pay for his sins. Scripture teaches that man is a sinful being who needs a Savior to pay for his sins.
The dualism that exists in gnosticism is one of the prominent features (the supposed origin of this is a fascinating read in the first of those two heretical sources above, i.e. “gnosis.org”) that should cause us to stop and think. Where have I heard that material is bad and spiritual is good? That are people all material human beings with spiritual inner essence of goodness?
It’s all over the place. Look at just about any false religion of our day and you can probably pick it out at some level. My first thought was George Lucas and his Star Wars movies (can’t say I read the books b/c I didn’t…and actually never made it past the 4th movie that came out due to boredom). The “Force” be with you. It’s within you…that good essence, and you have a bad essence which you must resist. You must meditate on the good and allow the good to come forth and exhibit its reality from within you. “Use the force, Luke.”
The dualism of a bad vs good, material vs spiritual comes out regularly in movies from the depth of Hollywood’s cults and religious movements. The Apostle John writes extensively to refute this type of false teaching.
To cut to the chase: In every case throughout the history of the church, the result of these gnostic teachings is to deny the deity of Christ, the incarnation and humanity of Christ (but especially and specifically as his humanity is uniquely connected to His deity), and thus of the nature and sufficiency of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, by the sacrificial atoning work of Christ alone. A denial of any of these elements above results in a negation of the truth of salvation and the ability of anyone believing such lies to be saved. It is as grave an error as there can be.
At its core, gnosticism is nothing new. It has been around since basically the beginning. The idea that God isn’t God and His Word isn’t true. And so with reference to one ancient question, we have the root of the origins of gnosticism which explains why it never went away and why we see it today and that many elements of it are as strong in our culture as it ever was in ancient cultures.
The question: “Did God really say?”
In other words, what is truth? Is God true? Does He speak truth? The question implies a negative answer. The answer is a lie.
And who asked that question? Jesus would call him the “father of lies.”
There’s your source for gnosticism. And 2 Timothy 2:24-25 (NKJV) says:
24 And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, 25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, 26 and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.
Satan has been lying to people since Adam and Eve and trapping people ever since.
The key to freedom from the devil’s trap? Simple.
“Know the truth”
John 8:32: “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” ~ Jesus Christ*
I John 2:26-27: 26 These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you. 27 But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him.
Want to be free from sin? From the lies of the devil and of his trap? Know the truth. Know Christ. And when you do know Christ, the “anointing,” that special presence of the Holy Spirit who is the seal of our inheritance and evidence of our eternal salvation is the “goodness” and “essence of God” that will teach us and will convince us of the truth and identify the lies and errors around us. And we’ll abide, remain, live, and walk in Him from now through eternity.
If we look inside ourselves for truth and the “goodness of man,” we will only find the darkness of lies. If as believers we look to the Holy Spirit within us, He will teach us the truth through the Holy Scriptures which is truth. And Jesus can and should have the last word…
John 16: 13 “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” ~ Jesus Christ
John 17:17 “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” ~ Jesus Christ
(*John wrote his Gospel and the three letters around the same time probably between 90-95 AD. He was focused in all of these writings on this same error whether intentionally, which I think it was, or simply through the providence of God via inspiration only and as no result of John’s thinking. There are reasons for this conclusion, but that’s a different trail for today. Revelation was probably written around 96 A.D before his death probably around 98 A.D.)