Misunderstanding Gnosticism

The video below is a presentation published at YouTube by Dr. Ryan M. Reeves, Assistant Professor of Historical Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, on the subject of “gnosticism.” It is titled Gnosticism and the Early Church.

[Acknowledgment to Ryan Reeves for publishing the video above on YouTube.]

The video appears to be an honest attempt to present gnosticism academically particularly as it was viewed during the early Christian era. However, as in the case of most similar other efforts, the presentation fails to correctly understand and comprehend gnosticism as a system of mysticism. Instead, the subject is approached using the same perspective of a heresy by which it was regarded and condemned by Christian church orthodoxy.

Dr. Reeves lists three “gnostic fundamentals” in his presentation, as follows:

Gnostic Fundamentals by Ryan Reeves

“Gnostic Fundamentals” according to Ryan Reeves, Ph.D. (Cambridge)

His statements are wrong and misleading. Were the gnostic teachings to be rightly understood and presented, the three gnostic fundamentals should be rephrased in the following manner:

  1. It is the material sense of the world that is not real or true.
  2. You do not hate the material world.  Rather, you “see through” its appearance to become aware of its true spiritual essence.
  3. The divine knowledge or wisdom resulting from the gnosis — the “knowingness” of the truth — is a grace that is freely given to anyone who would be receptive to it. There is nothing “elitist” about gnosticism. There is an aspect of secrecy involved, but it is integral to the inward process of spiritual attainment that is characteristic of authentic gnostic practice, more than it is any deliberate attempt toward establishing social class distinction and exclusivity.

Poster of John Lennon commentary on gnosticism.

A Gnostic John Lennon

In its proper meaning and context, gnosticism is the true spirituality of a mysticism that is rooted in the mystery of nondualistic oneness. It sees man as a spiritual being functioning through a mind or soul that has a body. Indeed, man is a spirit being having a human experience in this world, not the other way around.

Gnosticism is not heresy at all except to those whose forced monolithic cultural belief system of dogmas and doctrines is threatened or to those whose minds are heavily clouded and weighed down by doctorate degrees.

Here are some online reading and study materials for you to explore on the topic of Gnosticism.

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