GNOSTICISM

Gnosticism (from the Greek word gnōsis, meaning 'knowledge') was a mystical belief system that is still greatly misunderstood. Many errors regarding its origins and teachings are perpetuated to this day.

Gnosticism emerged from within the Christian community during the 2nd Century AD and is therefore a Christian heresy, not a pagan intruder.

There is no evidence of any pre-Christian Gnostic literature or oral tradition (Gnostic writings all date from the Christian era) and no belief system resembling Gnosticism in the 1st century AD.

Gnostics claimed to be heirs of secret traditions passed down from Jesus through a clandestine tradition.

One of their earliest leaders was a heretic called Valentinus. His followers said he had been taught by a fellow Gnostic called Theudas, whom they believed had been instructed by the apostle Paul.

Gnostic doctrine can be summarised as follows:

* There are two gods: an evil god and a good god
* The evil god is an imperfect deity called the Demiurge; it was he who created the material world
* The good god is called the Pleroma or Bythos; he is superior to the Demiurge in power and character, and too pure to interact with creation
* There are lesser divine beings (called Aeons) who emanate from the Pleroma; their role is unclear
* The material world is 'fallen', 'broken', 'evil', and irredeemable
* A tiny portion of the divine still resides in each of us and must be reawoken before it can return to its source; it is through this process that individuals achieve salvation

Some Gnostics taught that Jesus was an incarnation of the supreme God, come to offer salvation.

Others taught that Jesus was a false messiah.

Still others believed Jesus was merely human but achieved deity through gnōsis.

NICOLAITANS

The Nicolaitans were a minor, short-lived heretical faction within the 1st century Christian community. Scripture mentions them only twice (Revelation 2:6, 15) and tells us nothing about their beliefs.

Their origins are unknown. There is absolutely no substance to the claim that the Nicolaitans were so called because they were 'conquerers of the people' (the meaning of 'Nicolaus'), or that their founder was Nicolaus of Antioch (Acts 6:5), or even that his name was Nicolaus at all.

Nicolaism was limited to the Turkish churches of Ephesus and Pergumum. The distance between them was considerable (~206km) and there is no mention of the heresy emerging in other local congregations (e.g. Smyrna). We can only speculate about the reasons why it failed to spread further.

What did the Nicolaitans teach? The paucity of biblical evidence makes it impossible to be sure, but their mention within the context of Balaam's error (Revelation 2:14) has led many to conclude that Nicolaism involved the indulgence of paganism and immortality.

Unlike Gnosticism (a 2nd century heresy of leater decades) there is no evidence that the Nicolaitans believed themselves to possess secret knowledge or superior wisdom. Indeed, there is no ideological or historical connection between these two groups whatsoever.

WHICH TRANSLATIONS ARE EASIEST TO READ?

The readability of a Bible will determine its usefulness for any given purpose.

The readability of a Bible will determine its usefulness for any given purpose. Not all modern translations are easier to read simply by virtue of being modern; some employ contemporary colloquial language, which non-native speakers will find too complex.

These Bibles are unsuited to cross-cultural evangelism.

THE DIDACHE

The Didache (Greek, ‘The Teaching’) is an ancient Christian writing generally dated towards the end of the 1st Century AD. For centuries its existence was only known through sporadic references in the works of the early church fathers, and scholars believed it was lost forever.

In 1873 Greek Orthodox bishop Philotheos Bryennios discovered the 11th Century Codex Hierosolymitanus during his tenure at the Patriarchal School of Constantinople. Within its pages he found a copy of the Didache, and scholars were able to study it for the first time.

The Didache has been called an early church manual. It affirms essential doctrines, and provides detailed instructions on morality, baptism, fasting, the memorial meal, and ministry.

Most of these are clearly taken from the NT, but the moral code—a section called ‘the Two Ways’—has ancient Jewish roots and a pre-Christian Jewish literary pattern, reflecting theological continuity between Judaism and the Didache community.

The Didache’s extensive use of gMatthew and the Pauline epistles indicates good familiarity with authoritative NT documents, while its warning against false apostles claiming to possess Holy Spirit gifts is widely interpreted as a sign that such gifts were increasingly rare. This pushes the date of composition towards the turn of the century.

Scholars have been struck by the simplicity of the Didache’s doctrinal statements. It is explicitly Unitarian, with no reference to the immortality of the soul, the deity of Christ, or a supernatural Devil.

Baptism is described in NT terms, with immersion normative; though understandably, some allowance is permitted when water is scarce (‘If you have very little, pour water three times on the head in the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit’).

The Didache community recognised baptism as a precursor to communion (‘Allow no one to eat or drink of your Eucharist, unless they have been baptised in the name of the Lord’) and encouraged spiritual preparation prior to immersion (‘Before the baptism, both the baptiser and the candidate for baptism, plus any others who can, should fast. The candidate should fast for one or two days beforehand.’)

The Didache’s advice on fasting reflects ongoing friction with the non-Christian Jewish community (‘Your fasts should not be with the hypocrites, for they fast on Mondays and Thursdays. You should fast on Wednesdays and Fridays.’)

Likewise the advice on prayer, drawn from gMatthew (‘And do not pray like the hypocrites, but rather as the Lord commanded in the gospel: Our Father in heaven, holy be your name…’ etc.)

This valuable document provides unique insights into beliefs and practices of the early church at a time when apostolic leadership was dying out. Its consistency with NT Christianity makes it essential reading.

A good English translation of the Didache is available here.

An academic paper on the Didache’s use of the OT & NT is available here.

BIBLICAL HISTORICAL CONTEXT

Biblical Historical Context is a Facebook page offering detailed information on the history, geography and cultures of the biblical world.

The author of this page was born in Israel and has extensive first hand knowledge of the Holy Land.

He shows how this knowledge can inform and enrich our understanding of Scripture, decoding passages which might otherwise be indecipherable to modern eyes.

www.facebook.com/biblicalhistoricalcontext
 

LIVING ON THE EDGE

Living On The Edge is a book of Christian apologetics. It addresses issues which cause Christians to doubt their faith, their community, and their church.

The content is divided into four sections:
 

  • What this book is for, and how to read it
  • Living on the edge of uncertainty: how can we be sure about anything?
  • Living on the edge of credibility: the challenge of atheism
  • Living on the edge of society: religious, social, & ethical issues

 

LOTE is available in print and ebook formats. To order a copy, please contact the author: https://www.facebook.com/LOTE.book

MAPPING THE ANCIENT WORLD

Stanford University's ORBIS project allows you to map routes all over the Roman empire using every contemporary option: walking, ox cart, horseback, ship, and many more.

ORBIS will show you the fastest, cheapest, and shortest routes, complete with duration and cost. This is a great tool for learning about the world of the New Testament.

http://orbis.stanford.edu/#mapping