1 & 2 Peter
Lesson 8: Examining Gnosticism
Before we begin our study of 2 Peter, there is a concept that we should examine. During the time Peter penned this letter, the Gnostic movement was taking root and their ideas were infiltrating the church. Much of 2 Peter is written addressing this belief system. In order to fully understand this writing, we need to know some things about Gnosticism.
The term Gnosticism is derived from the Greek word GNOSIS or knowledge. They believed that knowledge was the basis of their salvation. There were many different sects of Gnostic belief, but there were some ideas central to all. The foundation was the notion that the created world was evil, and was totally separate from and in opposition to the world of the spirit. The supreme god dwelt in unapproachable splendor and had no dealings with the world of matter (D.R.W.Wood 415).
This ultimate god created a chain of lesser gods, each less divine than the one before. The lowest god in this chain was the Jehovah of the Old Testament and was considered to be the creator of the earth. Unbeknown to Jehovah, the supreme god placed a spark of the divine in man (Myers 421). True salvation was a realization of this divine spark and gaining ultimate knowledge. According to most Gnostic systems, this enlightenment is the work of a divine redeemer, who descends from the spiritual world in disguise and is often equated with Jesus. Because flesh was considered evil, they thought that Christ never actually became human therefore did not die (D.R.W.Wood 416).
As I stated before, there were many different types of Gnosticism. None of these felt in opposition to the other. They thought that enlightenment was each man’s personal journey. Every person had to discover his own truth (Myers 508).
- John 14:6
- Acts 4:10-12
- 1 Corinthians 3:11
- 1 Timothy 2:5-6
- 1 John 5:11-12
In Gnosticism, faith was considered useless; gaining knowledge was the true path to salvation. Gnostics essentially turned philosophy into their gospel. They believed ultimate knowledge would free them from the physical, evil flesh. It was their idea that whoever achieved true Gnosis was no longer a Christian, but a Christ (Myers 422).
Several of the New Testament authors combated Gnosticism in their writing, Paul was one of them. He is specifically addressing the issue of meat sacrificed to idols, but takes a minute to address the root of the problem: some felt they had a superior knowledge to others in the Church.
We have all known someone who felt as though they had a higher level of understanding than most could achieve and looked down on those around them. We need to be careful that we are not that person.
There were two extremes of Gnostic religions in reference to their morals. The first was that of extreme rebelliousness and immorality. They felt that because the body itself was evil, it didn’t matter what they did to it or with it. The second led its followers to hate the body and practice self-torture. They often became hermits or joined monasteries.
This week read through 2 Peter in one sitting. Pay attention to any references Peter makes to true knowledge or any other allusion to Gnostic ideas. Don’t think of this as just some ancient sect of people with odd beliefs. Identify how their beliefs are similar to those we see today in the world around us and apply the text to your life.
By Kristy Huntsman
Kristy is CFYC’s Finer Grounds Editor and all-around right-hand-gal. She and her husband, Lance serve with the Southwest church of Christ in Ada, OK where Lance is the family minister. Kristy is a stay-at-home-mom to their two daughters Taylor and Makayla.