Gnosticism’s Question

What have people claimed that private revelations told them?

In addition to the New Testament Gospels, there are other stories about the life of Christ that originated in Israel during the second and third centuries: the Gnostic Gospels, made familiar by The Da Vinci Code. But once again Gnostics asked for blind faith and offered no evidence whatsoever for their teachings about the life of Jesus. For Gnostic Christians the question to ask about his story was, “What have people claimed that angels and visions and secret encounters told them?” For the very basis of Gnosticism was not historical events or objective facts but instead esoteric and mystical revelations given to the elite.

“These are the hidden words that the living Jesus spoke, and that Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down,” begins The Gospel of Thomas. “And He said: ‘Whoever finds the meaning of these words will not taste death.’”

Similarly, the Gospel of Judas begins, “The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week three days before he celebrated Passover.”

We do not have the beginning of the Gospel According to Mary, but the following passage shows what it claims to be based upon:

And she began to speak to them these words: I, she said, I saw the Lord in a vision and I said to Him, Lord I saw you today in a vision. He answered and said to me, Blessed are you that you did not waver at the sight of Me. For where the mind is there is the treasure. I said to Him, Lord, how does he who sees the vision see it, through the soul or through the spirit? The Savior answered and said, He does not see through the soul nor through the spirit, but the mind that is between the two that is what sees the vision…”

Note that once again she did not claim to see this with her eyes but mystically. For Gnostics believed that secret knowledge trumped all, according to Professor Elaine Pagels of Princeton University, one of the world’s leading scholars on Gnosticism.

We know that Gnostic teachers challenged the orthodox in precisely this way. While, according to them, the orthodox relied solely on the public, exoteric teaching which Christ and the apostles offered to ‘the many,’ Gnostic Christians claimed to offer, in addition, their secret teaching, known only to the few. (The Gnostic Gospels. Elaine Pagels. Vintage Books. 1979. pp. 14.)

And when those private revelations contradict the public accounts, Gnosticism gives the former authority. “It asserts the superiority of Gnostic forms of secret tradition—and hence, of Gnostic teachers—over that of the priests and bishops, who can offer only ‘common’ tradition,” says Pagels. “Further, because earlier traditions, from this point of view, are at best incomplete, and at worst simply false, Gnostic Christians continually drew upon their own spiritual experience—their own gnosis [knowledge]—to revise and transform them.” (pp. 23)

As the New Testament was being written Christian leaders were already battling against such teachers, and as the church grew it continued to take them head on. “Heresy hunters like Irenaeus [130-202 A.D.] found Gnostics particularly insidious and difficult to attack,” writes Professor Bart. D. Ehrman of the University of North Carolina, another leading Gnostic scholar (and also a vehement critic of Christianity): “The problem was that you couldn’t reason with a Gnostic to show him the error of his ways: He had secret knowledge that you didn’t! If you said that he was wrong, he could shrug it off and point out that you simply didn’t know.” (The Gospel of Judas. National Geographic Society. Commentary by Bart D. Ehrman. Edited by Rodolphe Kasser, Marvin Meyer, and Gregor Wurst. National Geographic. Washington D.C. 2006. pp. 88.)

Once again, you “couldn’t reason with a Gnostic” because their faith had no basis in reason. Like many others, it was blind.

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