The canon of Scripture is complete and is the inspired word of God:
But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. 2 Peter 2:20, 21
God’s word is sufficient for what Christians need spiritually:
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness. 2 Tim. 3:16
But God’s word is never satisfactory or enough for some, and many do not like what it teaches. All this, along with some cultural influences, has incited a keen interest in the Gnostic Gospels.
Gnosticism arose from various sects in the first century, reaching full development in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Its core teachings were that matter was created by an evil divine being (the Demiurge) and therefore is evil, all men had been spirits prior to birth and are trapped in bodies, and that esoteric teachings are needed to liberate man through knowledge of his true state. There were many forms of Gnostic thinking and it continued in later centuries, but that is beyond the scope of this brief overview.
The Gnostic Jesus
There were Christian Gnostic sects. The Christian Gnostics taught that Jesus did not have a true human nature or body, and denied that he came in the flesh, (since flesh was evil), which is contradicted in John 1:14 “And the Word became flesh”
The Gnostic Jesus is exposed in 2 John 1:7 as false teaching:
“For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.”
The Gnostic Jesus as presented in the Gnostic Gospels is a purveyor of secrets of Gnostic wisdom. Yet Jesus said in John 18:20:
“I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret.”
The Gnostic Gospels
In Egypt in 1945, many writings purporting to be Gospels about Jesus’ teachings but containing Gnostic beliefs were discovered. These comprise the Nag Hammadi Library and have been the subject of scholarly research and writings (scholar Elaine Pagels has been one of the most prolific). Some of the Gnostic Gospels that have gained notoriety have been the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Philip.
A number of scholars have conveyed the false idea that the Gnostic Gospels were on an equal footing with and in competition with the canon of the New Testament, implying that these Gnostic writings were rejected solely due to some type of subjective territorial disagreement.
The bestselling Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown enhanced the reputation of these Gospels, reigniting the false claims for these teachings, and gave them validity in popular culture. According to Doubleday, this book at the time was the “fastest-selling adult hardcover of all time” with 81 million copies sold.
More recently, a Methodist minister, the Rev. Hal Taussig, has included these Gnostic writings in a compilation he calls The New New Testament. The Gnostic teachings were recognized in early form by the early Christians and rejected, including in the New Testament. Therefore, any Gnostic writings were also rejected. They were never a part of the canon and so were never removed from the Bible (as claimed by many in the New Age). Thus, The New New Testament is a misnomer and deception, since anything added to the present word of God is not from God.
Gnosticism has never disappeared. It merely re-forms with new garb. Like its progenitor, Gnosticism can appear profound (Revelation 2:24 – “the deep things of Satan”) and religious (2 Corinthians 11:13, 14). Its DNA has taken root in the philosophies of men and it buds and flourishes in false teachings across the spectrum.
We see the Gnostic gene in the Mormon belief that all men were once spirits in heaven begotten sexually by the Mormon god and his wife.
Gnostic influence can be found in the teaching that Jesus spiritually rose from the dead, not physically, such as with the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The Gnostic matter-spirit duality is seen in Eastern religions. Eastern religions are world-denying; that is, they deny the reality of the world as we perceive it. One must become enlightened through an esoteric awakening to a truth/reality that is not apparent through reason or normal perception.
The Gnostic gene crops up in the beliefs of Kabbalah, Spiritualism (a systematized religion based on contact with the dead that views the dead as having superior wisdom), many cults, and numerous areas of the occult.
Gnostic thinking is one of the foundations of the New Age. Esoteric teachings and the elitism of being “awakened” to inner truths are hallmarks of the New Age outlook, which is going mainstream. An example of this is the bestseller, The Third Jesus, by Deepak Chopra, which anoints the “inner Jesus” as the true Jesus versus the historical, biblical Jesus.
In New Age beliefs, the spiritual is superior to the physical. The physical is comprised of “lower vibrations,” or is even a temporary manifestation or projection of thoughts. Health of the body reflects spiritual health and progress. Understanding the true self and true nature of reality awakens one to his or her spiritual status, thus setting the person onto the best spiritual path, according to New Age views.
Mysticism has strong Gnostic genes. Mysticism does not rely on orthodox doctrine but rather is inward, subjective, and, as practiced in Christian circles via specific techniques, gives a private meaning to God’s word unrelated to the context.
The Humanity of Christ
The full humanity of Christ is a crucial doctrine, and is given equal emphasis in the New Testament to the deity of Christ. Because he incarnated as a man, Jesus was able to be the sacrifice for sins and to aid us in our human weakness:
“For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted. Hebrews 2:16-18
The physical crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus is what allows those who trust Him for salvation to enter the presence of God in a justified state based on the blood of Jesus:
Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh. Hebrews 10:19, 20
Consequently, it is important to understand this crucial aspect of the faith over and against the Gnostic ideas that still confront us today in various forms. Each Easter, the Christian can celebrate with joy the fact that our Lord incarnated, died in the body, and was bodily resurrected so that all who believe can have eternal life in Him.
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken. John 2:19-22
Excellent book on the roots and present influence of Gnosticism:
The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back, by Peter Jones
Expose of the Gnostic Jesus by Douglas Groothuis