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Gnosticism: ancient and modern

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Gnosticism is a philosophical and religious movement which started in pre-Christian times. Some religious historians believe that it had is source in the Jewish community of Alexandria and was later picked up by some Christian groups in Judea and the Galilee. 1

The name is derived from the Greek word "gnosis" which literally means "knowledge."  However, the English words "Insight" and "enlightenment" capture more of the meaning of "gnosis."  It is pronounced with a silent "G" (NO-sis). Gnosticism is not factual, intellectual, rational knowledge, such as is involved in mathematics and physics; that would have been more accurately represented by the Greek world "episteme." Rather, Gnosticism involves the relational or experiential knowledge of God and of the divine or spiritual nature within us. A visitor to this web site wrote:

"...we believe that gnosis-knowledge requires ultimate transcendence of the merely intellectual to be actualized." 2

Gnostics believe that they have secret knowledge about God, humanity and the rest of the universe of which the general population was unaware. It became one of the three main belief systems within 1st century Christianity, and was noted for four factors by which differed from the two other branches of Christianity:
bulletNovel beliefs about Gods, the Bible and the world which differed from those of other Christian groups.

bullet Tolerance of different faith groups within and outside of Gnosticism.


Lack of discrimination against women. Although Jesus treated women as equals, and Paul mostly did the same, the other Christian belief systems started to oppress women in later generations. This is readily seen by reading the books in the Christian Scriptures that say they were written by Paul, but were -- according to many mainline and liberal Christian theologians -- in fact forgeries written by unknown authors long after Paul's death either:

  • During the 1st Century CE, like Ephesians and 2 Thessalonians, and

  • During the 2nd century CE like the Pastoral epistles: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus.

A belief that salvation is achieved through relational and experiential knowledge. In the words of The contemporary Gnostic Apostolic Church, humanity needs to be awakened and brought:

"... to a realization of his true nature. Mankind is moving towards the Omega Point, the Great day when all must graduate or fall. This day is also the Day of Judgment in that only those who have entered the Path of Transfiguration and are being reborn can return to the Treasury of Light." 3

The movement and its literature were almost wiped out before the end of the 5th century CE by Catholic heresy hunters and the Roman Army. Its beliefs are currently experiencing a rebirth throughout the world, triggered in part by the discovery of an ancient Gnostic library at Nag Hammadi, Egypt in the 1940s, and the finding of the Gnostic Gospel of Judas at El Minya, Egypt, in the 1970s.

One modern Gnostic faith group is Novus Spiritis. It has churches in San Jose, CA; Renton, WA; and Las Vegas, NV. Their glossary of religious terms defines Novus Spiritus as:

"A Gnostic Christian Church, that believes in reincarnation, the duality of God as both masculine and feminine, and in tenets that explain how we can best advance our souls for God -- while living with the negativity here on Earth. Founded by psychic Sylvia Browne on 1986-APR-14, Novus Spiritus is based on a long line of Gnostic churches that have existed for over 7,200 years. The first church service was conducted on 1986-JUL-12. Gnostics believe in finding their own truth, and don’t believe in “hell,” “sin,” or that Jesus came to die for our sins -– but was a human messiah who served as a living example of how we should think and behave. Church members believe in an all-loving, all-merciful and benevolent God, in the power of prayer, and that we write a 'chart' for each life, to learn the life lessons we have chosen to learn through experience – to reach our own desired level of perfection for God, who loves us unconditionally and equally."4

Novus Spiritis' lack of belief in "sin" may well be surprising to many. According to

"Gnostics assert that matter is inherently evil and spirit is good. As a result of this presupposition, Gnostics believe anything done [while] in the body, even the grossest sin, has no meaning because real life exists in the spirit realm only." 5

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Topics covered in this section:

bulletHistory of Gnostic Christianity. Sources of information
bulletGnostic beliefs and practices
bulletGnostic leaders. Interaction between Gnostic & Pauline Christianity
bulletBooks on Gnosticism
bulletLinks to Gnostic web sites

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Collection of Gnostic literature:

Logos Bible Software is considering publishing a Gnostic and Apocryphal Studies Collection  on ten CDs. For details, see:

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References used:

  1. Birger Pearson, "Gnosticism, Judaism and Egyptian Christianity." Augsburg Fortress Publishers (1990). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store. Also available at a reduced price in Kindle ebook format.
  2. Email received 2005-APR-09
  3. The Gnostic Handbook," from the Gnostic Apostolic Church
  4. Email received 2011-MAY-18 from Judy Thomas, Minister in training, at the San Jose church.
  5. "What is Christian Gnosticism?", undated, at:

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 Home > Christianity > History, beliefs... > History > here

or Home > Christianity > Meta groups, wings.... > Faith groups > here

or Home > List of religions, ethical systems, etc > here

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Copyright © 1996 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2014-FEB-15
Author: B.A. Robinson

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