What is Gnosticism?

by Matt Slick

Gnosticism is a philosophical worldview that stresses special knowledge.  The word comes from the Greek gnosis meaning knowledge.  Gnosticism was prevalent in the first century during and after the time of Christ.  It maintains that matter is evil and spirit is good.  Because matter is bad human souls, in a sense, are trapped in a material world.

Gnostics maintained that they had special knowledge about God which enabled them to understand the human condition as it relates to the world.  This helped them to deny the world, by asserting that the good human spirit need not be restricted by the evil material world.

Early Gnostics taught that God was so perfect that he could not have anything to do with the physical world -- including its creation.  Therefore, God made a demiurge, a lesser God through which the world was created.  Gnostics considered themselves superior to early Christians and believed that this lesser God was the God of the Old Testament.

  • Gnostics believed that spiritual knowledge is the key to attain salvation.
  • Gnostic leader Carpocrates believed that the soul needed to experience many lifetimes before attaining salvation, thus suggesting a belief in reincarnation.
  • Both male and female images for the supreme God was common.
  • Women, like Mary Magdalene, played an important part in writing the Gnostic texts.
  • Duality in the concept of God - Gnostics believed that there is a true God who is the essence of every living and non-living creation and a false God or creator God, who created the flawed world.
  • According to the Gnostics, humans mirrored the duality found in the world - they are in part flawed from the creation of the false creator and yet also contain the light of the true God.1
  • 1. http://gnosticism.suite101.com/article.cfm/what_is_gnosticism

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.