Monday, March 26, 2007

γνῶσις or not γνῶσις

That is gnosis (knowledge) for you non-Greek writers (which, BTW, includes myself). I have had a few discussions with modern Gnostics - almost always not a productive affair. This post may continue that string.

There are things we cannot discuss well: Sacred texts and canonization are the main one. First, all ancient gnostic texts related to Christianity were pseudoepigraphic (signed in a name, Apostolic usually, not that of the writer) in order to give the work weight. Those I have talked to, as in this post, seem to believe that this was accepted practice in the canonical Biblical texts:

The small texts that mention the "antichrist" were written to attack the Gnostic understanding of who Christ was. A Gnostic relies on intuition and not on dogma and doctrine. Gnostic's were most certainly free spirits and most all of the writings we have about Gnostics, have been the attacks upon them. That all changed when the Nag Hamadi Library was translated and published, for what had been deemed heretical by those in power in the fourth century can now be read in most every language.

Biblical scholars today agree that many books of the Bible were written by others in the name of an apostle, for the quickest way to gain credibility is to trade on another's reputation. [my emphasis]
No, "liberal" (or "some" will work) Biblical scholars agree with this. Let me just say: a very specific test from the 1st century to the 4th century for canonization was actual apostolic authorship - known pseudoepigraphic works were rejected for that reason alone and should have been. As should, for that matter, the Gnostic works as well. Pseudoepigraphy was not an accepted practice in the early church - especially when it came to accepting scripture as inspired.

The second part of that statement I have problems with is the implication that the Gnostics were not declared heretical until the 4th century: one only has to read the second century Patristic fathers right after the appearance of the Gnostic works to know that is not true. There is no evidence that any large part of the Christian community ever accepted Gnostic writings as inspired or their philosophy as mainstream. You can find a few people, like Origen in Alexandria, where it was tolerated - and only when it was at distance from the center of the Church and those who had direct relationships with first Christ, and then the Apostles.

We will never agree on this because it is a critical part of the current Gnostics argument that Gnostic Christianity was an accepted view of Christianity crushed by the hierarchy two centuries later.
* * * * *
However, all that really isn't important. What is important is whether the theology of gnostic Christians has become more acceptable now than it was then. So we need to talk about what gnostics believe, and whether it does - or doesn't - conform to the Christian religion as practiced for the last 2000 years. Now, of course, the part of the quote above about "dogma and doctrine" comes into play: dogma and doctrine are only important if they conform to the reality of God and Christ - at least if you are going to be a Christian. Gnostics can believe what they will about Jesus Christ, as can Islam; but their attempts to co-opt Christ for their personal religious/philosophical structures are only Christian if they conform to what Christ taught and did. Do they?

The author of the above linked piece had one a couple of days earlier titled "Fundamentalism Is Holding Up Evolution" which presents a pretty good look at the Sermon on the Mount; and uses it to support the Gnostic notion of us being spiritual (good) beings wrapped in a material (bad) shell. It also presented two statements that I commented on:
Stage three souls have not just fearlessly awoken, they have evolved! This evolution has led them to the realization of what Christ was really talking about in the Sermon of the Mount AKA:The Beatitudes which sound like crazy promises, but is the litmus test of how we will be judged, if we claim to be a Christian.
Being true to one's self in more important than being loyal to one's family...those who think they know the most are the most ignorant...
Also, I take exception to the use of this part of Psalm 82 in the way it was used:
1 God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers. 2 How long will you judge unjustly And show partiality to the wicked? Selah. 3 Vindicate the weak and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and destitute. 4 Rescue weak and needy; Deliver {them} out of the hand of the wicked. 5 They do not know nor do they understand; They walk about in darkness; All the foundations of the earth are shaken. 6 I said, "You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High. 7 "Nevertheless you will die like men And fall like {any} one of the princes." 8 Arise, O God, judge the earth! For it is You who possesses all the nations. [she quoted the bold text]
My disagreements were (first expressed in a comment there):
I think Jesus presented the "litmus test" a little simpler (and harder):
  1. Love God with your all. That is nearly an impossible task for human beings.
  2. Love your neighbor as yourself. That is only a little less hard than the first
Also, I do not know where in all of Jesus's teaching you find the foundation for:
#9: "Being true to one's self in more important than being loyal to one's family...those who think they know the most are the most ignorant..."
Jesus placed God at the core of your loyalities, and folks around you - your neighbors, which includes your family - as equally important to your self (if not more important). Isn't that the implication of "poor in spirit"?
      For an answer, she went to the story in Matthew 12:31-32 (also Mark 3:28-29 and Luke 12:10)
      24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, "This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons." 25 And knowing their thoughts Jesus said to them, "Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand. 26 "If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? 27 "If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? For this reason they will be your judges. 28 "But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 "Or how can anyone enter the strong man's house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. 30 "He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters. 31 "Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. 32 "Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. 33 "Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 "You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. 35 "The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. 36 "But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. 37 "For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." [she quoted the bold text]
      Her explanation of "be true to yourself" was
      so what I am-and JC [big yuk! from me] is saying is necessary, is NOT what you think of God the Father or the Son-but that you WAKE UP and know God is already within everyone! . . . Now, being 'true to yourself' is simply meant to become who you were created to be, to serve Gods pupose in this world, . . . To wrestle, struggle with God to discern what you were created to do in this world-and that is being true to yourself and true to God.
      So, if I have her view right:
      we all - every human being - were created for God's purpose and has God within themselves in the form of the Holy Spirit - Wisdom in the Gnostic view. They should be true to that god that they are (at least in potential), and evolve to higher spiritual levels, based on listening to that voice within them (properly discerned) - and be true to themselves to the extent that their self aligns to who God made them to be:
      Discernment leads one to discover if one's desires are to help another or just to serve oneself. The Spirit speaks for others; the ego for itself.
      That voice, that spirit, is the one called Wisdom in much of Solomon's writing - and talked about by the Gnostics by the name Sophia: Wisdom/Sophia or Christ to some resides in all of us as the Divine Spark.
      She and I are actually pretty close together - and, I think, oh so far apart as well. I agree:
      • that every human being is created by God imago dei (in the image of God);
      • that we are all eternal spiritual beings in a temporary physical body destined to live on for eternity (we will worry about eventual bodily resurrection later on);
      • that we all were created for a purpose by God, and for God's purposes;
      • that we all have a core of morality that overflows from God's character. I would call that our deep conscience (synderesis) :
        According to theologians of the Middle Ages (5th century to 15th century), the conscience is divided into two parts. Synderesis (probably a misreading of suneidesis) is the faculty in human beings that knows God's moral law; this faculty remained unaffected by the Fall and the expulsion from the Garden of Eden.
        I think this is a direct connection to God's character and not routed through a secondary created spiritual source - like Sophia.
      That is a pretty serious set of agreements. Why do I think we are "so far apart"? I do not think that our deep conscience is the Spirit of God; or at least not in the sense mentioned by Christ above in the Matthew passage; Jesus elsewhere in scripture [see "How to be Filled with the Holy Spirit" for source of this quote]
      Jesus told His disciples they would receive the Holy Spirit:
      John 14:16 "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.

      John 16:7 "But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.

      Jesus said the Holy Spirit’s power in their lives was essential for them to be able to live the life He intends for them
      Luke 24:49 "And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."

      Acts 1:8 "but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth."

      or the one that descended on believers at the Pentacost. It is obvious to me that while our deep conscience forms a general revelation to the whole human race from its Creator in Whose image it was made; the Holy Spirit on the New Testament is a higher level of indwelling, and revelation, promised - as far as scripture says - only to believers in Christ so that His presence can remain with us forever. There is no way that any of the scripture in this post up to now can be made to support the indwelling of all people by that higher source of revelation - the Holy Spirit.

      Even if I was going to grant that every human being has that higher revelation within them, the author's explanation - while satisfying many of my objections - still doesn't get me to "being true to one self". My objection stands: the core test of Christianity is not the Kingdom character outlined by Christ in the beatitudes; but the Great Commandment:
      Mark 12:30 “ ‘and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength’ “ [Deuteronomy 6:5] 31 The second is this, `You shall love your neighbor as yourself ' [Leviticus 19:18]. There is no other commandment greater than these."
      All really means all, and while the author's sketch of spiritual development may be correct - it comes from focusing on God and bringing His power to transform us into our lives. We will never become so transformed that we can place our selfs, and being true to ourselves, at the center of our focus. It must be 100% God 100% of the time (an impossible feat. by the way, in my opinion); and, as a Trinitarian Christian, on the Person of Christ, in order to be filled with the Holy Spirit:
      “There is no such thing as a once-for-all fullness [we leak]. It is a continuous appropriation of a continuous supply from the Lord Christ Himself. It is a moment-by-moment faith in a moment-by-moment Savior, for a moment-by-moment cleansing and a moment-by-moment filling. As I trust Him, He fills me; the moment I begin to believe, that moment I begin to receive; and as long as I keep believing, praise the Lord, so long I keep receiving.” Charles Inwood


      1. JCH,

        I think you're right about gnosticism, but you're wrong about the scholarship. I'm willing to concede more room than many of my colleagues for 'apostolic' authorship of many contested NT texts, but it is almost inconceivable (based on internal evidence alone) that, for instance, the Fourth Gospel was written by the Beloved Disciple who was John son of Zebedee. Whether pseudepigraphy was accepted or not, it most certainly happened, including in canonical texts (Matthew, for instance, is a character only in the text that bears his name and is attested nowhere else in the canon).

        This is not a matter of "liberal" Biblical scholarship--a scare word for a lot of evangelicals. It is a matter of "modern" or "post-Enlightenment" method accepted by scholars across the contemporary political spectrum and in all kinds of historical disciplines. I have my problems with it, especially as it relates to establishing doctrine or authority, but it simply cannot be waved away, as you do here, with a misleading ideological label.

        Having said that, the pseudepigraphy of the gnostic texts is much more blatant and not tied, as the canonical texts are, to authentically ancient and apostolic oral traditions. They are bad texts, they were rightly rejected by the ancient church, and they are suitably the object only of curiosity.

      2. In Gnostic texts it means Barbello Bar ab El or in Latin Parakletos(creek). There it , that Jeus is barbello.

        Gostic peoples have no Old tesatament, but they belive on Jesus.


      How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
      1. The Golden Rule
      2. You cannot read minds
      3. People are not evil
      4. Debates are not for winning
      5. You make mistakes
      6. Not everyone cares as much as you
      7. Engaging is hard work
      8. Differences can be subtle
      9. Give up quietly