by Travers and Jewel van der Merwe

Chapter 2: Gnosticism

The word itself conjures up an image of obscure men in long robes, poring for hours over ancient texts and scrolls, seeking in musty tomes the essence of truth. In reality this teaching was in existence long before the formalisation of Christianity. Today it is also among the most prevalent new concepts. Its influences are not confined to the long dusty bookshelves in some forgotten college library, but are seen and heard worldwide.

An abundance of information on Gnosticism is readily available. Many books and articles on the subject have been written and can be obtained in any quality bookstore or library. Old manuscripts with reference to Gnosticism dating back to the early Church are also available, and provide great insight into the teachings and influence of Gnosticism on the world and in particular, the Church. W.H.C. Frend writes that "in the second century Gnosticism was a world-wide movement." [The Early Church, W.H.C.Frend, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1965, p.62]. Gnostic sects sprang up all over the world. Jacques Laccariane says, "No sooner was gnostic thought born than it began to be disseminated along the great routes of the Orient". [The Early Church, W.H.C.Frend, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1965]. Since that time Gnosticism has entrenched itself in the major religions of the world and not least of all Christianity. Gnosticism, while appearing to be a complex system of thoughts, is really quite simplistic and can be rather easily defined and understood.

The following attempt to set forth and explain some of the basic Gnostic thoughts will help some Christians to be on guard against the "winds of doctrine" blowing through the Church. The greatest challenge in the Church today is to discern between Gnostic thought and Christian thought.

What is Gnosticism? According to Webster, it is "an occult salvational system . . . stressing [knowledge of spiritual things] as essential . . . combining ideas derived especially from mythology, ancient Greek philosophy, ancient religions, and eventually, from Christianity". [Webster's New World Dictionary, Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1988, p.577].

The doctrinal core of Gnosticism is basically a form of mystical religious or philosophical doctrines which other adherents and some early Christian sects spread and which the early Church leaders vehemently rejected as heresy. Believers in Gnosticism are called Gnostics. The word "Gnostic" is derived from the greek word gnostiko or gnosis (inner mystic knowledge). The Gnostics believe that "gnosis" is subjective (internally perceived by the mind or feelings) knowledge of the devine element or spark in every man that needs to be discovered to be known. They believe the divine spark originally came from the "realm of light" (totally alientated from the world and the flesh), and is resident in the soul of man and is held there in captivity by the flesh (a product of demons). The only way to release the divine spark is through divine "revelation knowledge", experienced within in the spirit. Also they believe that only when the unconscious spirit in man is awakened by revelation from the "realm of light" can he come to know his real self - the god within.

Explained in a nutshell:

Characteristics of Gnosticism

1. Man is Co-Substantial with God
As soon as man by "gnosis" (self knowledge) discovers and releases the imprisoned divine spark (spirit), he then starts on a mystic ascent to divine substance and on into the "realm of light". Through divine revelation knowledge experienced in self, man becomes conscious of his origin with God, his essence as God and his transcendent destiny - all God. The unconscious self of man (the unawakened inner spirit) is co-substantial with the Godhead, i.e. having the same substance or essential nature. This is the kernel Gnostic thought that has led to the creature being deified, worshipped and served more than the Creator.

2. Elitism
The mystic "gnosis" (or knowledge) is only taught to the elite - those who have a special capacity beyond the force of reason and the flesh. According to Gnostic writings, this special capacity was imparted by a messenger bearing a "spark" of light from the "realm of light" even before the creation of the world. The goal of the Gnostic is the release of the inner man by virtue of gnosis (inner knowing) and his return to his native "realm of light". There seems to be a special "place" for a special "people" who are called out or chosen. That is how the spiritual elitism comes forth. It is this Gnostic thought that is behind many of the aberrant teachings of the Latter Rain Movement. (This will be discussed at length in Chapter 3).

3. Intuitive
The Gnostic concept of God is determined by the depth of illumination and revelation subjectively (by mind or feeling) experienced "about God". The concept rejects external faith in God the Person. The reference point for goodhood is in self. Gnostic revelation must be distinguished from Christian revelation because it is not rooted in history and transmitted by Scripture. It is rather the intuition of the mystery of self. The dark cloud of mysticism that overshadows the Church can readily be traced to the Gnostic's "intuition of the mystery of self".

4. Self-Knowledge
The Gnostic believes that gnosis (selfe knowledge) is redemptive and as such needs to be discovered and known. As a result of gnosis, man subjectively discovers as a creature, the reality of his lasting unity with the transcendent God. He discovers that his life is immortal and that he is an ongoing manifestation of the light and the god that dwells in his inner self. This knowledge, it is believed, has a redemptive quality that takes the spirit in man to the ultimate realm of light such as the fulness of God.

5. Redefinition of the New Birth
Love and salvation are reckoned obvious consequences of "gnosis". Pure knowledge without subjective reality provides intellectual enlightenment that comes from force of reason and must be avoided because it suppresses the gnosis of Divine Reality. The only substantial evidence of Divine Salvation comes from within the self-consciousness of man. It is in the experience of the inner gnosis that the Gnostic is "born-again". The redemptive quality in man must not be sought in the incarnation of God in Christ through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Holy Scriptures or in faith through grace, but rather in the self-conscious seat of his own divinity. In other words, the fullness of divine self-consciousness is the source and evidence of the Gnostic's "New Birth".

6. Divinity
To the Gnostic the mystery of God was already unveiled (at least in secret) long before the birth of Jesus Christ and even before the Scriptures were written. In fact, they say it was revealed and buried in man before the creation of the world. Therefore, the only way for man to know about God is through gnosis (self knowledge). As a result, he will experience and know the Divine Spark within himself and know he is a member of the Elite - a "Manifest Son of God".

The Gnostic strives to find God in the creation, i.e., in "self" rather than in the Person, Christ, who is the Creator! This pursuit winds up in pantheism.

Perturbing Trends

Unfortunately, Gnostic trends are developing at an alarming rate within the Church. As early as the Second Century, Gnosticism infiltrated Christian theology. Since that time, it has gradually saturated the Church and is now, in these last days exploding not only within the Church, but also within secular institutions. The world is being prepared for a predominant Gnostic religious form, a New Order that will govern a great part of the world before Christ returns.

Because certain "popular" theological concepts are not being measured and subjected to strict Scriptural scrutiny, Gnosticism is gaining a stronghold. As a result of new theological thought, even fundamental orthodox doctrines are being grossly changed into seed-beds for Gnosticism.

The statements below (originally in chart form) is adapted from Which Jesus Do You Follow? by M. Dauer.


  • Based on: God's Word.
  • Acknowledges: Deith of Jesus Christ.
  • Believes: Man is basically sinful, and only GOD can correct the evil in him.
  • Gives glory to: GOD
  • God: Believe in a PERSONAL GOD who is all good.
  • Salvation: Spiritual rebirth that takes place when an individual chooses to believe by faith the DEITY of JESUS CHRIST, recognises the SIN in his life and chooses to follow Christ and turn from his sin according to the Scriptures.
  • Faith based on: The Word of God.
  • The Answer: Jesus Christ - according to the Scriptures.
  • Christ: Jesus Christ, the one and only fully God and fully man.
  • The Bible: NOTHING should be added and NOTHING should be taken away from the Bible. It is the COMPLETE WORD OF GOD. Interpreted literally and the literal meaning received.
  • Commitment: To the Lord Jesus Christ according to the Scriptures.


  • Based on: Man's word.
  • Acknowledges: Deith of man.
  • Believes: Man is good and getting better.
  • Gives glory to: Self
  • God: Belief in God or a great force or energy or One Mind. An impersonal God with both good and bad.
  • Salvation: Spiritual awakening that comes when an individual experiences "his own divinity".
  • Faith based on: Experience.
  • The Answer: Finding the "self" or "god" within and striving with "works".
  • Christ: A position of status held by all deserving members. Arrived at by "self", "experience" and "works".
  • The Bible: They pick and choose Scriptures to suit their purposes. They say the Scriptures can be "interpreted" in many different ways. Spiritualised to say whatever they want.
  • Commitment: To self - or God through a passive or emotional experiential form of religion.