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A History of Christian Church: Gnosticism


Theology is a complex of sciences that study the history of creeds and institutional forms of religious life, a religious cultural heritage (religious art, monuments of religious writing, religious formations, and research activity), the traditional for the religious right, archaeological monuments of the history of religions, history and a modern condition of mutual relations between various religious doctrines and the organizations.

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Subjects of theology are saved up during the long historical period religious experience, monuments of religious culture, intellectual and spiritual affluence. This paper takes a direction in the history of the church in analyzing such a movement as Gnosticism, in terms of background and influence stating that Gnosticism is more of philosophy while as a religion can present a threat to the teachings of Christianity.


There are some difficulties in giving Gnosticism an accurate definition. Gnosticism definition assets of diverse religious-mystical and philosophy oriented religious movements, characteristic for the Near East and Mediterranean I-III centuries AD and the influences which have arisen on the crossing of a Judaism, and arising Christianity, still in any way does not speak about its essence. If relating to the formal definition, it is a “dualistic religious and philosophical movement of the late Hellenistic and early Christian eras. The term designates a wide assortment of sects, numerous by the 2nd century. AD; they all promised salvation through an occult knowledge that they claimed was revealed to them alone.

Scholars trace these salvation religions back to such diverse sources as Jewish mysticism, Hellenistic mystery cults, Iranian religious dualism, and Babylonian and Egyptian mythology.1 Because Gnostic writings were mostly destroyed by Christians, the source of studying Gnosticism was separate statements of Gnostics, cited in the writings of Christian seminary students hostile to Gnosticism. However, “in 1945, near a village called Nag Hammadi, an Egyptian peasant found an old jar full of papyrus books. In recent years, following adventures full of blood feuds, smuggling, conspiracies, and last-minute rescues, these Gnostic texts have finally been published.”2


The Gnosticism hardly can be reduced to any of the widespread comprehensions in the science of this phenomenon, i.e. to be treated as one of the demonstrations of late ancient syncretism, or as to sectarian periphery of Christianity, or as the fact of “mass culture” based on secondary mythology. To be limited to the listed points of view does not allow not only complexity of the considered subject, but also the presence of internal similarity at the most different Gnostic currents.

The basic line of Gnostic ideas is the radical dualism in relations between God and the world, the person and the world. The god is absolutely above the world, his nature is alien to this Universe which is not created and is not operated by him and to which he is opposed. The world represents the creation of the lowest forces which do not know the true God and interfere with their knowledge of him in their space. “The Gnostic sense of otherness gives rise to the fundamental cosmological belief that this world and its creator are evil, or at least alien, cut off from a higher world that is the true home of all spiritual beings.”3 In addition in the basis of the Gnostic myth also laid a representation that the world dwells in evil and this evil could not be created the God.

From here followed, that the world has been created or limited in power, or malicious force which Gnostics call the Demiurge. “Though this demiurge is only an angel, he functions as the parent, god, and king of all things outside Perfection, taking matter and soul and fashioning them into the various elements of the cosmos and its seven heavens. This created realm is an inferior image of the realm of Perfection, with the demiurge preserving the image of Mind, and the demiurge’s archangels and angels preserving the images of the other eons.”4

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Gnosticism and Christianity

This doctrine from the very beginning threw down a challenge the existence and consequently has got under a peering look of those who were threatened with overthrow. The studying of Gnosticism spent to a heat of the conflict has turned back into a charge. As public prosecutors in litigation the fathers of early Church stating the business against heresies in verbose works they investigated a spiritual family tree of Gnosticism for exposure of its errors.

In addition, there were also warnings against Gnosticism present in The New Testament. “Paul referred to a Gnostic group that worshiped “invisible orders of thrones, sovereignties, authorities, and powers” and advised, “Do not let your minds be captured by hollow and delusive speculations, based on traditions of man-made teaching and centered on the elemental spirits of the universe and not on Christ” ( Col. 1:16; 2:8).5 Also

In general, the dualism of Gnosticism in its essence opposed the basis of Christianity in many aspects such as:

  • The level of judgments mostly is inaccessible to the majority of believers. Gnostics, as a rule, rather in a difficult manner interpreted the Bible, thus that has opened a way to heresy. “One of the features that have come to be viewed as characteristic of “Gnosticism” is a tendency to interpret Scripture in ways that to readers familiar with more traditional or orthodox interpretations often seem surprising or even shocking.”6
  • Stating that the world is evil or illusory, “our bodies and all the material world are evil or illusory. “Do not think the resurrection is an illusion,” one of the Nag Hammadi texts warns, “Indeed, it is more fitting to say that the world is an illusion”7

Although Gnosticism has changed through time there are some distinctions and features of Gnosticism in the modern world, that a Gnostic could be called anyone who addresses a mind to the world of invisible, and spiritual and searches for rescue through the received knowledge of true essence of the people and necessity of its disposal of fetters of the vicious world of a matter. Thus, in that sense, Gnosticism could be considered more as philosophical teaching that is limited to the elites. “The saving knowledge that gives present-day Gnostics their sense of superiority derives not from experiences of divine revelation but initiation into the historical consciousness” where historical consciousness is “a set of perceptions about human life that are common among modern intellectuals.”8

Works Cited

“Gnosticism.” The Columbia Encyclopedia. 6th ed. 2007.

Johnson, Luke Timothy. “A New Gnosticism: An Old Threat to the Church.” Commonweal. 2004: 28+.

Placher, William C. A History of Christian Theology: An Introduction. 1st ed. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1983.

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Popkin, Richard H., ed. The Columbia History of Western Philosophy. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

Williams, Michael Allen. Rethinking “Gnosticism”: An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Category. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996.

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