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Question: What is a Gnostic?


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#1 Joel

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Posted 02 January 2012 - 09:31 AM

I am asking this question because it seems to be a root issue underlying the differences between Amillennialists and Premillennialists in understanding Scripture (among other things). In addition, it came up repeatedly during the debate and at one Point Brother Warner directly challenged Brother Doughty to define Gnosticism. The response was rather vague and in fact seemed to be avoiding elements which I in my own studies have seen identifed as core parts of Gnosticism.

Can each of you (assuming you are reading this) define what Gnosticism is and explain the significance in terms of the Amillennial-Premillennial issue?

Many thanks.

#2 Tim

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Posted 02 January 2012 - 11:01 AM

Joel,

As I explained in the debate, I see this as at the core of the historic premill vs. amill debate. Gnosticism has as its primary presupposition that physical matter (substance) is inherently corrupt. Gnostics saw man as an inner being wearing a flesh suit. The flesh is something that is not a part of who man is. Rather, it is a prison for his inner person. And the flesh (because it is made of matter) is corrupting to the soul. Likewise, the whole physical creation is a prison and is also corrupting to the inner person, because it too consists of matter. The Gnostic hope was release from the prison of flesh, and from the material creation, to ascend to the heavens as pure spirit, to be joined with the unknowable "God" who is pure spirit. Therefore, Gnostics scoffed at the idea of this dead flesh being resurrected, since that would be counterproductive to their "hope" of escaping the material creation. (This concept is at the root of the Athenians scoffing at Paul when he spoke of the resurrection, and also the Corinthians' denial of the resurrection of the flesh in 1 Cor. 15). The hope of ascending into the heavens, as well as leaving behind the body of flesh made from matter of this creation, was essential to Gnosticism.

The Bible teaches that God created Adam from the dust of the ground (physical matter of this creation), and afterwards breathed into him the "breath of life, and "man BECAME a living soul." Therefore, the "soul" is NOT the real person who merely wears a "flesh suit," but the body of flesh is inherently a part of who man is, made alive by the breath of God. God also decreed the whole material creation was "very good." Thus, material substance of this creation is NOT inherently corrupt or evil. It is the "curse" that is at the root of all of the corruption we see around us. And this is the result of man's rebellion against God (using his free will), and is the natural consequence of God's withdrawing from him and from His creation (the created order begins to break down when separated from the Creator). Thus, "restoration" (of both man and the creation) is God's ultimate goal, not its destruction. "Salvation" is ultimately of the whole person, including his body. Hence the need for the "resurrection of the flesh" as well as a renewed creation (which the Bible calls "new heavens and new earth").

While I would not call Chuck Doughty a "Gnostic" (because to my knowledge he has not clearly stated that Christ no longer possesses His flesh), I will say that his system is certainly based on some of the same presuppositions as Gnosticism. That was evident in his statements about being released from the flesh, from this creation (including gravity, etc.), and ascending to the heavens. He seems reluctant to say outright that Christ no longer possesses "flesh." But, certainly he needs to clarify his position on this. The "flesh" that Christ still possesses at the right hand of the Father MUST be the "flesh" that has genetically descended from David (albeit made incorruptible in the resurrection), or else God's promise to David is not valid. Peter made this point in Acts 2.

Acts 2:30-32
30 Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, 31 he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses.
NKJV


As I stated in the thread about "New Testament Church" vs. "New Covenant Church," the mistake of discounting the entire Old Testament Scriptures as the foundation of New Testament teaching, allows the interpreter to substitute unbiblical presuppositions -- like the Gnostic presuppositions we are discussing -- and interpret the NT from these presuppositions. Then, in order to deal with the OT prophecies, which clearly cannot find harmony with the amillennial interpretation, these prophecies are either simply dismissed (as Doughty did), or they are interpreted allegorically, in any way the interpreter chooses so long as it is not "literal."

Finally, as I also pointed out in the debate, the claim to "spiritual" interpretation as being non-literal is also of Gnostic origin. Early Christian apologists, such as Irenaeus, also had to defend literal interpretation against the Gnostics use of so called "spiritual" interpretation (which consisted of allegorizing everything and numerology). The whole idea that "spiritual" means either non-literal or non-material is pure Gnosticism. That process is precisely how the early Gnostics defended their system. They also claimed a kind of intuitive knowledge (inner revelation) to interpret Scripture as opposed to a grammatical - historical approach (deriving the meaning from the words and grammar of Scripture). This is also what Chuck Doughty claimed -- that his interpretation was "spiritual" (even though it could not be derived from the text using the normal rules of grammar), and that my interpretation (because it was "literal") was somehow "carnal." Again, Doughty fully demonstrated exactly the same approach to Scripture that the Gnostics used, and the early Christian apologists refuted.

John equated Gnosticism with the "spirit of Antichrist." And Paul called it "what is falsely called 'gnosis'" (that is, false knowledge). These NT warnings against Gnosticism ought to scare the Christian preacher, teacher, or student, since we will receive the harsher judgment.

Tim

#3 Joel

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Posted 02 January 2012 - 03:25 PM

Many thanks Tim. I hope Brother Doughty or another Pastor/Student holding to the Amillennial approach will respond in detail explaining their approach.

As a follow up item, I also noticed an emphasis on the idea of Heaven as the eternal destiny of believers. I am aware that you do not hold to this concept, and in fact the Early Church Fathers identifed it as a symptom of Gnosticism (quote):

"Moreover, I pointed out to you that some who are called Christians, but are godless, impious heretics, teach doctrines that are in every way blasphemous, atheistical, and foolish. But that you may know that I do not say this before you alone, I shall draw up a statement, so far as I can, of all the arguments which have passed between us; in which I shall record myself as admitting the very same things which I admit to you. For I choose to follow not men or men’s doctrines, but God and the doctrines [delivered] by Him. For if you have fallen in with some who are called Christians, but who do not admit this [truth], and venture to blaspheme the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven; ... But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged, [as] the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and others declare." (Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, LXXX)


How would you say that this concept (Heaven as the destiny of believers) ties into the whole question of hermaneutics between Premillennials and Amillennials?

#4 Tim

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Posted 02 January 2012 - 03:58 PM

Joel,

I think it ties more directly to the issue presuppositions (which of course affects one's choice and application of hermeneutics). Historic premills approach the NT Scriptures with a set of presuppositions which (hopefully) we have derived from previous revelation (OT Scriptures). Presuppositions are kind of like a "lens" through which we view Scripture. Because amills approach the Scriptures with a completely different set of presuppositions, (which I have argued are derived more from Greek philosophy than from the Scriptures), they see the very same Scriptures in a completely different way.

The perfect example of this is how Origen viewed John 14:1-3. Because he held Platonic presuppositions about the destiny of the redeemed being to ascend through Plato's "heavenly spheres," he saw Jesus as affirming Plato. But, a Jewish Apostle, who was grounded in OT prophecy, would immediately recognize the "many mansions" in "My Father's house" as being the 3 story apartments for the Temple priests that surrounded the Temple in Jerusalem. He might also immediately recall prophecies which speak of righteous Israelites becoming "priests" of God in the Kingdom.

Isa 66:20-24
20 Then they shall bring all your brethren for an offering to the LORD out of all nations, on horses and in chariots and in litters, on mules and on camels, to My holy mountain Jerusalem," says the LORD, "as the children of Israel bring an offering in a clean vessel into the house of the LORD. 21 And I will also take some of them for priests and Levites," says the LORD.
22 "For as the new heavens and the new earth Which I will make shall remain before Me," says the LORD, "So shall your descendants and your name remain.
23 And it shall come to pass That from one New Moon to another, And from one Sabbath to another, All flesh shall come to worship before Me," says the LORD.
24 "And they shall go forth and look Upon the corpses of the men Who have transgressed against Me. For their worm does not die, And their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh."
NKJV


Presuppositions provide a certain kind of bias. They also provide a certain set of definitions of theological terms, which can skew the Scriptures one way or another. The ONLY safe approach is to have the same presuppositions as the Apostles (think like a Jew, with his knowledge of Jewish history, and Messianic expectations from the prophets), and to have the same theological dictionary as the Apostles. Both of these are derived from the OT Scriptures (definitions are derived largely from Septuagint usage).

The reason amills hate the "literal" (grammatical - historical) approach to hermeneutics is because their system completely breaks down when you begin to apply it. Amillennialism is not driven by objective interpretation, but by subjective interpretation, where methods and vocabulary are adjusted so that the outcome will be consistent with the presuppositions being imposed.

Tim

#5 LoganMM

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Posted 04 January 2012 - 02:32 PM

Doesn't Gnosticism also interpret thing allegorically(almost exclusively), or that they had the true spiritual(subjective) interpretations to the scriptures?

an example would be their teaching on aeons.

would either of you guys be able to flesh this out?

#6 Joel

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Posted 04 January 2012 - 05:59 PM

Hi Logan,

I cannot speak for Tim Warner or Chuck Doughty, but in my own studies I have indeed seen that Gnostics are the pioneers of interpreting Scripture allegorically and in bringing that methodology into the Church. And a lot of it does seem to arise from their imposing a Platonic paradigm on the Scriptures (interpreting them through a mindset centered on Greek mysticism with a heavy tinge specifically of Plato).

Sadly, that habit of acting like much of Scripture is really a story with a meaning other than what the literal text says has infected Christianity and led to a lot of theological error, and not just eschatological error. Calvinism also arises from this method of approaching God's Word and indeed so do many movements of theological liberalism.

Hopefully one or both debaters will be able to flesh this out and put forth their positions on your question in more detail.

#7 Tim

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Posted 05 January 2012 - 03:32 PM

Yes, allegorical interpretation was the hermeneutic of Gnostics through which they claimed to reveal hidden knowledge. They also loved to use numerology, claiming to reveal secret knowledge through the numerical value of various words, and multiples of of such numbers.

We all recognize that the Bible occasionally uses allegory. Parables are allegories. Yet, the truths of Scripture are given in literal language. Allegories are typically used illustrative purposes. Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables. Yet, when He was alone He explained everything to His disciples in literal language. Thus, literal language is the foundation of truth in Scripture. Those who appeal to allegory to explain away difficult passages are not handling the Word of God with the respect that it deserves, IMO.

Tim

#8 Joel

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Posted 19 January 2012 - 11:57 PM

After reading the two new AiR articles on the Gnostic connections to both Amillennialism and Dispensationalism I thought it might be good to revisit this topic.

The question would specifically be, in the case of Amillennialism how would you say that Gnostic "creep-in" has affected the Gospel?

#9 Micha6:8

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Posted 20 January 2012 - 05:02 AM

Let me speak to my experience now that my eyes have been opened. This is what it had done to me. It caused me to have to follow men instead of God and when men failed me I turned away from God because I didn't feel "spiritual" enough to understand anything biblical. I felt as if God had let me down. I lived my life in defeat that way since I was 8 yrs old when I responded to the Gospel up to a year ago when life put me on my face. So in short I must say that Gnosticism "crept-in" and took the power of the Gospel away from me.
Michael

#10 Tim

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Posted 20 January 2012 - 03:12 PM

Joel,

I answered the same question in the AiR forum.

Tim

#11 Joel

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Posted 20 January 2012 - 03:27 PM

No problem. I only posted it twice to allow you (if you wished) to answer separately for the two systems.

#12 LoganMM

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Posted 24 January 2012 - 11:01 PM

At it's worst extremes(of amillennialism) i think it would be fair to say that it isn't so much a case of gnostic "creep in" as it is the very foundational lens through which everything is viewed.




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