Gnosticism and Us
More than we care to admit, we are influenced by platonic thought [the body is a prison to the soul] and Gnosticism [the physical and spiritual worlds are inviolably separate]. And a number of texts can be read to imply such meaning. For example, 2Pe 2:10 speaks of those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires. And Ro 8:3 references ‘sinful flesh.’
In Gnosticism, the physical and spiritual worlds are inviolably separate. Paul addressed Gnosticism in seminal form. A sophisticated belief system, Gnosticism displayed itself in differing forms wherever it was established.
In Corinth, Gnosticism took on a very base form. Since the spiritual world [the soul] and the physical world [the body] are separate, it doesn’t matter what you do with the body. ‘Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food’ [1Co 6:13]! Since my soul is hidden with God in Christ, it doesn’t matter what I do with my body.
In Colosse, Gnosticism took on a very ascetic form. Since the spirit is what mattered, the body should be starved of its affections. They delighted in self-abasement [Co 2:18, 21, 23], practiced man-made rules that treated the body harshly — but had no spiritual power.
Someone in the Corinthian church believed incest was acceptable. At Colosse, this would be considered abhorrent. But whether it led to fleshy ‘indulgence’ or ‘denial,’ the common link was the separation of the material and spiritual worlds which is the Gnostic heresy.
Gnosticism and Christianity
‘Christian Gnostics’ try to merge these differing belief systems. There are Gnostic interpretations of the gospels and other texts. And there are ‘Gnostic gospels.’ Gnosticism is recognized as an heresy, but the church never quite eliminated it entirely. We’ve never been as good at recognizing Gnostic heresies as say the Arian-Sabellian family of heresies.
Nothing is helped by our ignorance of this belief system, especially since Gnosticism seems to be undergoing a resurgence. Yet a strain of Christianity still regards the body as a prison of the soul. There, the ‘gospel’ serves to free souls [‘save’ them] from the corruptions of the flesh. And Fundamentalism seems particularly vulnerable to this.
If you’ve ever heard, ‘forget feeding the hungry and save the soul,’ if you’ve ever heard ‘the body is for a few years, but the soul is for eternity,’ those are Gnostic ideas. If you’ve ever heard Col 2:21 mishandled to affirm ‘do not handle/taste/touch’ rules, the same applies.
Shaming and/or treating the body unsparingly and demanding a practice of strict asceticism — all this would get cheering Gnostics on their feet.
Paul is utterly clear that such man-made rules/religious precepts have NO value to restrain fleshly indulgence [Co 2:23]. Myriads of fundamentalist sermons contradict this and make Paul a liar. Were an intelligent Gnostic well studied in the Gnostic interpretation of the Bible to align with an IFB sect, few preachers would sense anything wrong with their belief system.
The obvious answer to Gnosticism is Jesus Christ in whom ‘all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form’ [Co 2:9]. In the incarnation, God who is spirit assumes flesh. But if so, Gnosticism is finished. While Christian Fundamentalists confess Jesus’ incarnation, few have any clue what this means theologically. They’ve no idea how to use the incarnation to ply apart the spirit/material dualism selling Gnosticism as Fundamentalism.
While I’ve not read the whole thing and won’t vouch for every argument made, an intelligent and insightful paper looks more extensively at the similarities between Gnosticism and Christian Fundamentalism. Fundies who review it may the discussion of Gnosticism strangely familiar.