Gnosticism and Traditional Orthodoxy
"Beware of knowledge [gnosis] falsely so-called" (1 Tim 6:20).
A. Gnosticism is: A System of redemption/salvation
l. Created world is evil.
2. God could not have created it.
3. Second God created it.
B. How can you be saved?
1. If you have the divine spark (spirit-pneuma) you can escape your body at death.
2. You need spiritual enlightenment to prepare for this.
3. A redeemer figure who comes down from heaven provides the enlightenment.
4. He descends from heaven and appears as a human person.
5. At death the soul escapes this world and lives on.
C. Jesus is the name given to this Savior.
1. The events of Jesus’ life, the teaching of Jesus, and his death and resurrection are depreciated. History is unimportant.
2. You can live a "free" life without discipline.
3. The resurrection is past: it was invisible and "spiritual."
D. Gnosticism is a Greek philosophical system with some parallels with biblical Christianity and can easily be confused with it.
E .The Greek "Church fathers" (Greeks with a philosophical background) rejected the blatant form of gnosticism, but did they embrace a subtle form of gnosticism and then read it back into the Bible, thus replacing parts of the biblical scheme with a crypto-gnostic one?
The Effects of Gnosticism on Traditional Christianity
Was the biblical Jesus overlaid by a Gnostic redeemer figure from heaven who borrowed Jesus’ name? Do we have to peel off the "sticker" to expose the real Jesus who has been hidden under the gnostic Jesus? Ponder all this.
The following quotations, some of which are repeated, show that leading experts on the Bible and church history have constantly complained that what is taught as Christianity is in important ways not the faith of the Bible or the Apostles, but a post-biblical mixture of the Bible, contaminated by Greek paganism. The influx of paganism directly affected our understanding of the nature of man, what happens when we die, and our future as immortal beings — immortalized, according to the Bible, by resurrection only. The intrusion of Greek philosophy caused "orthodoxy" to accept the non-biblical tenet of the immortality of the soul. This in turn led to a distortion of the Gospel of the Kingdom.
Evangelicals and liberals have substituted "heaven" at death for the Kingdom of God coming at the return of Jesus. Jesus' Gospel preaching has been adversely affected and evangelicals wonder why their "Gospel of the cross" lacks power. The fact is that the Gospel's most fundamental element — the Kingdom — has been eliminated from the popular gospel.
The admixture of paganism has also drastically affected the identity of the biblical Jesus. The Jewish monotheism in which Jesus was raised (Deut. 6:4), and which he affirmed as the most important command of all (Mark 12:29ff.), was warped under the influence of Gnosticism.
We all fear contaminated food, as a danger to our health. But we should also be aware of the spiritual contamination which has affected original biblical teachings, because of our rather careless and unexamined reception of "tradition." There is plenty of evidence from experts that all is not well. The following quotations from recognized names and sources, from experts at the top of the fields, may prove eye-opening (Acts 17:11):
The celebrated Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible: "No biblical text authorizes the statement that the soul is separated from the body at the moment of death" (Vol. 1, p. 803).
"...the hellenization process by which Christianity adopted many Greek [PAGAN] thought patterns led in a different direction as the eschatological hope came to be expressed in Hellenistic categories. Irenaeus said: ‘It is manifest that the souls of His disciples also, upon whose account the Lord underwent these things shall go away in the invisible place allotted to them by God, and there remain until the resurrection, awaiting that event. Then receiving their bodies and rising in their entirety, that is bodily, just as the Lord arose, they shall come into the presence of God.’ Irenaeus’ statement contains the concept of an abode or purgatory in which the soul of the dead remains until the universal resurrection. We should not denounce this as a deviation from biblical teaching, since the point of the assertion is antignostic. Irenaeus wanted to reject the Gnostic idea that at the end of this earthly life the soul immediately ascends to its heavenly abode. As the early fathers fought the pagan idea that a part of the human person is simply immortal, it was important for them to assert that there is no rectilinear ascent to God. Once we die, life is over" (Christian Dogmatics, Braaten/Jenson, Vol. 2, p. 503, section written by Hans Schwartz, Professor of Protestant Theology, University of Regensburg, Federal Republic of Germany).
Note that the gnostic, pagan idea of the soul going to heaven at death is found in nearly all contemporary denominations. Yet it cannot be traced to the Bible. Does it matter that the church teaches paganism in the name of Jesus?
The fundamental confusion about life after death which has so permeated traditional Christianity is brilliantly described by Dr. Paul Althaus in his book, The Theology of Martin Luther (Fortress Press, 1966, pp. 413, 414):
"The hope of the early church centered on the resurrection of the Last Day. It is this which first calls the dead into eternal life (I Cor. 15; Phil 3:21). This resurrection happens to the man and not only to the body. Paul speaks of the resurrection not ‘of the body’ but ‘of the dead.’ This understanding of the resurrection implicitly understands death as also affecting the whole man.... Thus the original Biblical concepts have been replaced by ideas from Hellenistic, Gnostic dualism. The New Testament idea of the resurrection which affects the whole man has had to give way to the immortality of the soul. The Last Day also loses its significance, for souls have received all that is decisively important long before this. Eschatological tension is no longer strongly directed to the day of Jesus’ Coming. The difference between this and the Hope of the New Testament is very great."
Does it matter that the biblical ideas have been replaced by pagan, gnostic ideas?
The entire Christian system, both Catholic and Protestant, is flawed by the mixing of the Bible with alien Greek ideas:
"Our position is that the re-interpretation of Biblical theology in terms of the Greek philosophers has been both widespread throughout the centuries and everywhere destructive to the essence of the Christian faith.... There have always been Jews who sought to make terms with the Gentile world, and it has in time meant the death of Judaism for all such. There have been Christians from the beginning who have sought to do this. ... Neither Catholic nor Protestant theology is based on Biblical theology. In each case we have a domination of Christian theology by Greek thought" (N. H. Snaith, The Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament, London; Epworth Press, 1955, p. 187, 188).
The Church as it developed after Bible times was poisoned by elements of gnosticism (paganism). This affected not only the truth about what happens when we die, but also the central identity of Jesus and resulted in an "orthodox," gnostic Jesus:
"Who can maintain that the Church ever overcame the Gnostic doctrine of the two natures or the Valentinian Docetism? Even the later councils of the Church which discussed the Christological problems in complicated, nowadays hardly intelligible definitions, did not manage to do this; the unity of the Church foundered precisely on this" (Kurt Rudolph, Gnosis: The Nature and History of Gnosticism, Harper and Row, p. 1983, p. 372).
Here is the quotation in full:
"The early Christian Fathers, foremost Irenaeus and Tertullian, strove hard to find forms which make intelligible in a non-gnostic sense the prevailing division of the one Jesus Christ. Strictly speaking they did not succeed. Already Harnack [church historian] was forced to say: "Who can maintain that the Church ever overcame the gnostic doctrine of the two natures or the Valentinian docetism?" Even the later councils of the Church which discussed the Christological problems in complicated, and nowadays hardly intelligible, definitions did not manage to do this; the unity of the Church foundered precisely on this.... It has often been forgotten that gnostic theologians saw Christ as 'consubstantial' with the Father, before ecclesiastical theology established this as a principle, in order to preserve his full divinity."
The church Father Origen helped the infiltration of gnosticism into "orthodoxy":
"Origen, in a systematic way, built up a body of greatly reduced doctrines that mostly passed for Christian. It was able to do so by maintaining the appearance of preserving the Scriptures, the common traditions, the rule of faith.... First in his attempt to identify the Logos with the Son of God without compromising the unity and supremacy of God or denying the reality of the sonship, he postulated the real generation, in eternity, of the Son from the essence or nature of the Father. While this set the Son within the Godhead, it subordinated Him to the Father. From the standpoint of later orthodoxy the latter was heresy [i.e., in later orthodoxy, which has survived until now, the Son was not subordinate but coequal]. Second, in accordance with his scheme of the origin of all things from the highest being and its return thither, he seemed to affirm the ultimate restoration of all, even demons, to God. This too became heresy. Inasmuch, however, as Origen’s speculations became the source of the later doctrines of the Trinity and the two natures of Christ, we can say that the Gnostic heresy reproduced in Origen prepared the way for orthodoxy" ("Heresy," Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 6, 1964).
Have you ever wondered what is meant by "eternal generation"? (You are supposed to believe that Jesus is the "eternally generated Son" in order to be orthodox and fit for salvation.) To generate means to bring into existence, to cause to exist, to begin. "Eternal" describes that which has no beginning. "Eternal generation" therefore has no intelligible meaning. You cannot bring into existence what has always existed. Yet this is the "orthodox" belief about the Son of God. Not only it is a contradiction in itself, it also collides with the statement of Gabriel in Luke 1:35 that the conception in Mary’s womb (through the holy spirit) "generated" the Son of God, i.e. brought him into existence. Note also Matt. 1:20 "that which is generated [begotten] in you is from the Holy Spirit." There is no "eternal Son" in the Bible (a Son is anyway by definition a person derived in time from another). The whole Trinitarian idea of an "eternal son" is a mystification and a mirage. It is time for believers to question it in the light of Scripture.
Here are some of the statements of top men at Oxford and Cambridge, whose studies led them to see that the idea of the Incarnation of the "eternal Son," which leads to the doctrine of the Trinity, is not biblical:
The doctrine that Jesus is God who became Man is not found in the Bible:
"Incarnation, in its full and proper sense, is not something directly presented in Scripture" (The Myth of God Incarnate, ed. John Hick, SCM Press, 1977, p. 3).
The Church Fathers of the second century onwards twisted the words of John to produce "orthodoxy":
"...patristic theology of whatever school abused these [Johannine] texts by taking them out of context and giving them a meaning which John never intended. Functional language about the Son and the Spirit being sent into the world by the Father was transposed into that of eternal and internal relationships between Persons in the Godhead and words like "generation" and "procession" made into technical terms which New Testament usage simply will not substantiate" ("The Fourth Gospel and the Church’s Doctrine of the Trinity," Twelve More New Testament Studies, SCM Press, 1984, p. 172).
Preexistence in the Bible does not mean that the Son became Man, but that God’s eternal purpose was embodied in the human being, Jesus Christ. The meaning of the title Son of God does not have the same meaning in "orthodoxy" as it has in the Bible:
"Within the Christian tradition the New Testament has long been read through the prism of the later conciliar creeds.... Speaking of Jesus as the Son of God had a very different connotation in the first century from that which it has had ever since Nicaea. Talk of Jesus’ preexistence [in Scripture] ought probably in most, perhaps in all cases, to be understood, on the analogy of the preexistence of the Torah, to indicate the eternal divine purpose [cp. I Pet. 1:20] being achieved through him rather than preexistence of a fully personal kind" (Maurice Wiles, The Remaking of Christian Doctrine, SCM Press, 1974, pp. 53, 53.
The Church has given the impression that its doctrine of Christ was derived from the Bible. But that is in fact not so:
"Christological doctrine has never in practice been derived simply by way of logical inference from the statements of Scripture.... The Church has not usually in practice (whatever it may have claimed to be doing in theory) based its Christology exclusively on the witness of the New Testament" (Maurice Wiles, The Remaking of Christian Doctrine, SCM Press, 1974, pp. 54, 55).
The Trinity cannot be found in the pages of Scripture, or at least "not easily":
"Because the Trinity is such an important part of later Christian doctrine, it is striking that the term does not appear in the New Testament. Likewise the developed concept of three coequal partners in the Godhead found in later creedal formulations cannot be clearly detected within the confines of the canon" ("Trinity," Oxford Companion to the Bible, Metzger and Coogan, eds., 1993).
"Paul had no doctrine of the Trinity. The Spirit of God, or Holy Spirit, was for him the energy of the Divine nature..." (Dr. C.A. Scott, Professor of the language and literature of the NT, Westminster College, Cambridge, Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, Vol. 1, p. 189).
The constant warnings about the paganism in our version of Christianity have not been heeded. Throughout Christian history writers of the first eminence have complained about the problematic state of the Church’s theology. A warning note was sounded by Jacques Ellul when he isolated the root problem of the Church’s troubles:
"A familiar example of the mutation to which revelation was subjected is its contamination by the Greek idea of the immortality of the soul. I will briefly recall it. In Jewish thought death is total. There is no immortal soul [note that evangelical, "Bible-believing" Christians nevertheless subscribe to belief in the immortal soul], no division of body and soul. Paul’s thinking is Jewish in this regard. The soul belongs to the "psychical" realm and is part of the flesh. The body is the whole being. In death, there is no separation of body and soul [churches constantly maintain the opposite point of view!]. The soul is as mortal as the body. But there is a resurrection. Out of the nothingness that human life becomes, God creates anew the being that was dead. This is a creation by grace; there is no immortal soul intrinsic to us. Greek philosophy, however, introduces among theologians the idea of the immortal soul. The belief was widespread in popular religion and it was integrated into Christianity, but it is a total perversion . . . All Christian thinking is led astray by this initial mutation that comes through Greek philosophy and Near Eastern cults. . . Belief in the soul’s celestial immortality arose in the second half of the fifth century B.C. on the basis of astronomy. Pythagorean astronomy radically transformed the idea of the destiny of the soul held by Mediterranean peoples . . . . It substitutes the notion of a soul of celestial substance exiled in this world. This idea completely contaminates biblical thinking, gradually replaces the affirmation of the resurrection, and transforms the kingdom of the dead into the kingdom of God" ( Jacques Ellul, The Subversion of Christianity, Eerdmans, 1986, p. 25).
Such insight illuminates the damage which apostolic faith has sustained. There is obviously an urgent need for repair. A catena of complementary statements from various biblical experts point in the same direction: Our system of biblical interpretation has been diverted into channels alien to the biblical founding fathers, though compatible with the post-biblical Greek "church Fathers":
For most of Christian history Paul has been misunderstood:
"The first task of exegesis [explaining the Bible] is to penetrate as far as possible inside the historical context(s) of the author and of those for whom he wrote. So much of this involves the taken-for-granteds of both author and addressees. Where a modern reader is unaware of (or unsympathetic to) these shared assumptions and concerns it will be impossible to hear the text as the author intended it to be heard (and assumed it would be heard). In this case, a major part of that context is the self-understanding of Jews and Judaism in the first century and of Gentiles sympathetic to Judaism. Since most of Christian history and scholarship, regrettably, has been unsympathetic to that self-understanding, if not downright hostile to it, a proper appreciation of Paul in his interaction with that self-understanding has been virtually impossible" (James Dunn, Commentary on Romans 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary, Dallas: Word Books, 1988, pp. xiv, xv).
Modern English Christians misunderstand the Bible:
"The modern English Christian gives a meaning to the words of the New Testament different from that which was in the minds of the Jewish writers. Greek was the language they used to convey the universal Christian message, but their mode of thinking was to a large extent Hebraic. For a full understanding it is necessary for the modern Christian not only to study the Greek text, but to sense the Hebraic idea which the Jewish writers sought to convey in Greek words. I cannot claim to have become very skilled in this, but made enough progress to discover how greatly I had misinterpreted the Bible in the past. Like all ordained Christian ministers I had spoken dogmatically, authoritatively from a pulpit which no one may occupy without licence from a Bishop; and much of what I had said had been misleading" (David Watson, Christian Myth and Spiritual Reality, Victor Gallancz, 1967, pp. 28, 29).
In regard to scriptural teaching about the destiny of man, original biblical concepts have been substituted with ideas from Hellenism and Gnosticism:
"The hope of the early church centered on the resurrection of the Last Day. It is this which first calls the dead into eternal life (I Cor. 15; Phil. 3:21). This resurrection happens to the man and not only to the body. Paul speaks of the resurrection not "of the body" but "of the dead." This understanding of the resurrection implicitly understands death as also affecting the whole man . . . Thus [in traditional Christian teaching] the original Biblical concepts have been replaced by ideas from Hellenistic Gnostic dualism. The New Testament idea of the resurrection which affects the whole man has had to give way to the immortality of the soul. The Last Day also loses its significance, for souls have received all that is decisively important long before this. Eschatological [forward-looking] tension is no longer strongly directed to the day of Jesus’ Coming. The difference between this and the Hope of the New Testament is very great" (Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther, pp. 413, 414).
Christian teaching was transformed. Messianic hopes were forgotten. The notion of the Kingdom of God on earth disappeared. Immortality at death took the place of the resurrection into the Kingdom on earth:
"Like all concepts the meaning of religious terms is changed with a changing experience and a changing world view. Transplanted into the Greek world view, inevitably the Christian teaching was modified — indeed transformed. Questions which had never been asked came into the foreground and the Jewish pre-suppositions tended to disappear. Especially were the Messianic hopes forgotten or transferred to a transcendent sphere beyond death. When the empire became Christian in the fourth century, the notion of a Kingdom of Christ on earth to be introduced by a great struggle all but disappeared, remaining only as the faith of obscure groups. Immortality — the philosophical conception — took the place of the resurrection of the body. Nevertheless, the latter continues because of its presence in the primary sources, but it is no longer a determining factor, since its presupposition — the Messianic Kingdom on earth — has been obscured. As thus the background is changed from Jewish to Greek, so are the fundamental religious conceptions . . . We have thus a peculiar combination — the religious doctrines of the Bible run through the forms of an alien philosophy" (G.W. Knox, D.D., LL.D, professor of philosophy and the history of religion, Union Theological Seminary, New York, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed., Vol. 6, p. 284).
Our creeds teach us to think in Gentile terms contrary to the New Testament:
"The primary kinship of the New Testament is not with the Gentile environment, but rather with the Jewish heritage and environment . . . We are often led by our traditional creeds and theology to think in terms of Gentile and especially Greek concepts. We know that not later than the second century there began the systematic effort of the Apologists to show that the Christian faith perfected the best in Greek philosophy . . . A careful study of the New Testament must block any trend to regard the New Testament as a group of documents expressive of the Gentile mind. This book’s kinship is primarily and overwhelmingly with Judaism and the Old Testament . . . The New Testament speaks always of disapproval and usually with blunt denunciation of Gentile cults and philosophies. It agrees essentially with the Jewish indictment of the pagan world . . . The modern Church often misunderstands its relation to the Old Testament and Israel, and often inclines to prefer the Greek attitude to the New Testament view" (F.V. Filson, The New Testament Against Its Environment, pp. 26, 27, 43).
"The New Testament remains basically Jewish, not Greek — though Greek in language . . . and it can be understood only from the historical vantage point of the modified Judaism which provided the early church with its terminology and its whole frame of thought" (F.C. Grant, Ancient Judaism and the New Testament, p. 133).
Original Christianity was submerged under Graeco-Roman culture resulting in a perversion of the original faith:
"Although the acute form of the secularization of Christianity in gnosticism was rejected, yet the Church . . . continued to lose more and more its primitive character and to be conformed to its environment in the Graeco-Roman culture. The process was advanced by the Apologists [spokesmen for the faith in the second century], seemed to suffer a check in the influence of Irenaeus, but was stimulated in the Alexandrian school of theology . . . . This development brought about the definite transformation of the rule of faith into the compendium of a Greek philosophical system . . . We cannot assume that the faith as delivered to the saints was adequately and finally expressed in these Graeco-Roman intellectual forms . . . That the faith was expressed in ecclesiastical dogma always without obscuration or distortion cannot be maintained . . . That the Christian organism could not escape being affected by, in adapting itself to, its Graeco-Roman environment must be conceded; that this action and reaction were not only necessary but a condition of progress may be conjectured . . . This does not however exclude the frank recognition of the fact that there were characteristics of the Greek speculative genius and the practical Roman ethos not altogether harmonious with the distinctive character of the Gospel, so that there was perversion amidst the progress in the subsequent development — the salt in seasoning did lose some of its savour. Greek metaphysic and Law misrepresented as well as expressed the Gospel" (A.E. Garvie, "Christianity," Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, 1910, Vol. 588).
"The influence of Greek philosophy upon the early Christian theology is too obvious to be questioned" (G.P. Fisher, History of Christian Doctrine, T&T Clark, 1908, p. 32).
Christians do not understand the meaning of "Messiah" nor the vision of His Kingdom:
"Christians have largely lost the sense of Jesus’ Messiahship. And they have largely lost the Messianic vision. The Greek name 'Christos' means 'the anointed one' and is the literal translation of the Hebrew "Mashiach" — Messiah . . . Christians who think or speak of Christ almost forget the Semitic word and the ideas which the name translates; in fact they forget that Jesus is primarily the Messiah. The very idea of Jesus’ Messiahship has passed from their minds. Having lost the original sense of the word "Christ," many Christians have also lost the Messianic vision, i.e., the expectation of the divine future, the orientation towards what is coming on earth as the denouement of the present era of history" (Lev Gillet, cited by Hugh Schonfield in The Politics of God, pp. 50, 51).
"Heaven" is not what Jesus promised His followers, though Christians today constantly say it is. William Strawson, a tutor in systematic theology and the philosophy of religion, made a detailed study of Jesus and the Future Life and dedicated 23 pages to an examination of the word "heaven" in Matthew, Mark and Luke. He concluded:
"In few, if any, instances of the use of the word 'heaven' is there any parallel with modern usage. The gospel records of our Lord’s life and teaching do not speak of going to heaven, as a modern believer so naturally does. Rather the emphasis is on that which is 'heavenly' coming down to man . . . Our modern way of speaking of life with God as being life 'in heaven' is not the way the gospels speak of the matter. Especially is there no suggestion that Jesus is offering to his disciples the certainty of 'heaven' after this life" (p. 38).
"Heaven as the future abode of the believers is [a conception] conspicuous by its absence from St. Paul’s thought. The second coming is always from heaven alike in the earliest (I Thess. 1:10) and the latest (Phil. 3:20) of Paul’s letters . . . Possibly he so takes it for granted that believers will have their place in a Messianic earthly Kingdom that he does not think it necessary to mention it" ("Heaven," Dictionary of Christ and the Apostles, Vol. I, p. 531).
"Jesus was not thinking of a colorless and purely heavenly beyond, but pictured it to Himself as a state of things existing upon this earth — though of course a transfigured earth — and in His own land" (W. Bousset, Jesus, London: Williams and Norgate, 1906, p. 82).
A disaster occurred when, after the death of the Apostles, the Jewish element in original Christianity was ousted in favor of a new Gentile religion:
"The creation of the Christian religion necessarily involved a retreat from the teaching of Moses, the Prophets and Jesus, which more and more became a rout . . . As one Protestant Christian wrote: "The great people of God’s choice [the Jews] were soon the least adequately represented in the Catholic Church. That was a disaster to the Church itself. It meant that the Church as a whole failed to understand the Old Testament and that the Greek mind and the Roman mind in turn, instead of the Hebrew mind, came to dominate its outlook: from that disaster the Church has never recovered either in doctrine or in practice . . . If today another great age of evangelization is to dawn we need the Jews again . . . Christianity is a synthesis of Judaism and paganism. As such, it is a corruption of as much significance as the ancient Israelite defection in blending their religion with the cults of the Canaanites. Therefore, it is not for the Jews to embrace orthodox Christianity, but for the Christians, if they are to be Israelites indeed as the People of God, to review and purify their beliefs, and to recapture what basically they have in common with the Jews, the Messianic vision" (H.J. Schonfield, The Politics of God, pp. 98, 99, citing Canon Goudge, Essays on Judaism and Christianity).
On what basis should we deny that Jesus shared Jewish beliefs?
"Many of us like to think that Jesus denied Jewish beliefs about supernatural revelation and exclusive privilege, because our minds are so profoundly influenced by the philosophical way of looking at things. But have we any right to assume that He knew the falsity of the Jewish belief? Was it false? Have we a right to assume that, because a non-Jewish universalism based on philosophical modes of thought appeals to us of the twentieth century, it must therefore be the absolute truth and the divine will? Surely we must seek for some evidence. But there is no evidence in the Gospels . . . , and His disciples believed as firmly in the exclusive value of the Jewish religion after His resurrection as before" (H.F. Hamilton, The People of God, Vol. I, p. 260).
The entire Christian system, both Catholic and Protestant, is flawed by the mixing of the Bible with alien Greek ideas:
"Our position is that the reinterpretation of Biblical theology in terms of the Greek philosophers has been both widespread throughout the centuries and everywhere destructive to the essence of the Christian faith . . . There have always been Jews who sought to make terms with the Gentile world, and it has in time meant the death of Judaism for all such. There have been Christians from the beginning who have sought to do this . . . Neither Catholic nor Protestant theology is based on Biblical theology. In each case we have a domination of Christian theology by Greek thought (N. H. Snaith, The Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament, London: Epworth Press, 1955, pp. 187, 188).
The Church as it developed after Bible times was poisoned by elements of Gnosticism:
"Who can maintain that the Church ever overcame the Gnostic doctrine of the two natures or the Valentinian Docetism? Even the later councils of the Church which discussed the Christological problems in complicated, nowadays hardly intelligible definitions, did not manage to do this; the unity of the Church foundered precisely on this" (Kurt Rudolph, Gnosis: The Nature and History of Gnosticism, Harper and Row, 1983, p. 372).
While Protestants claim that the Bible is their authority, they have in fact accepted a Greek-influenced version of Christianity which abandons the Bible:
"The difference is obvious between the mental patterns of the New Testament and most of our accustomed Christian thinking . . . The explanation of this contrast lies in the fact that historic Christian thought in this regard, as in others, has been Greek rather than Hebrew. Claiming to be founded on the Scripture, it has, as a matter of fact, completely surrendered many scriptural frameworks of thinking and has accepted the Greek counterparts instead" (H.E. Fosdick, A Guide to Understanding the Bible, Harper Bros., 1938, p. 93).
The Church says one thing and does another:
"The Church has not usually in practice (whatever it may have claimed to be doing in theory) based its Christology [understanding of who Jesus is] exclusively on the witness of the New Testament" (Maurice Wiles, The Remaking of Christian Doctrine, London: SCM Press, 1974, pp. 54, 55).
From the second century a new form of Christianity was beginning to replace the faith of the Bible:
"Developed Gentile Christianity of the sort which was beginning to take shape towards the end of the first century has very little to do with Jesus or the faith of the first generation. It is a new religion developed to replace the original faith" (Don Cupitt, The Debate About Christ, p. 69).
The essentially political term Kingdom of God, Jesus’ central theme, has been distorted in both the Church and academic circles:
"For the Kingdom of God to have resulted in the crucifixion of Jesus, it must have carried political connotations that the governing authorities in Jerusalem considered dangerous. Astounding as it may seem, however, neither in the church nor in academic circles has the Kingdom of God been assigned the political significance its derivation and consequences demand. Scholarly debate has largely ignored any overt political dimensions of the kingdom" (R.D. Kaylor, Jesus the Prophet, His Vision of the Kingdom on Earth, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994, p. 70).
Symptoms of the malaise of Christian theology are seen clearly when some contemporary evangelists declare with confidence that the teachings of Jesus are not really the essential heart of the faith:
"Many people today think that the essence of Christianity is Jesus’ teachings, but that is not so. If you read the Apostle Paul’s letters, which make up most of the New Testament, you will see that there is almost nothing said about the teachings of Jesus. Throughout the rest of the New Testament, there’s little reference to the teachings of Jesus, and in the Apostles’ Creed, the most universally-held Christian creed, there’s no reference to Jesus’ teachings. There is also no reference to the example of Jesus. Only two days in the life of Jesus are mentioned — the day of His birth and the day of His death. Christianity centers not in the teachings of Jesus, but in the Person of Jesus as Incarnate God who came into the world to take upon Himself our guilt and die in our place" (D.J. Kennedy, "How I Know Jesus Is God," Truths that Transform, Nov. 1989).
Such statements appear to us to be a calamitous misreading of the New Testament. Luke provides as much of the New Testament as Paul (more if Hebrews is taken to be non-Pauline). Though the creeds unfortunately pay no attention to the teachings of Jesus, Paul preaches the same Gospel as Jesus: "The word of God for Paul is not primarily a story about Jesus Christ, but a saving summons from Jesus Christ through the mouths of His heralds" (J.F. Kay, "Theological Table-Talk: Myth or Narrative?" Theology Today 48, 1991, p. 330). Paul points us to an imitation of Jesus as he imitates Jesus and warns against any departure from the words of Jesus ( I Cor. 11:1; I Tim. 6:3). The teaching of Jesus emphasizes repeatedly the need to believe and obey His teachings, which are made the basis of salvation (Matt. 7:24-27; Mark 8:38; John 12:44-50). John the Apostle cautioned the Church against anyone who "goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ," identifying such a tendency as the spirit of Antichrist (II John 7-9). Commentators describe the erroneous teaching which John condemned so emphatically. What those first-century champions of false teaching attempted to do was "disunite the saving word of life from the historic Jesus, and to seek another path to fellowship with God" (H.R. Mackintosh, The Person of Jesus Christ, T & T Clark, 1912, p. 121). The word and words of Jesus must be maintained against any and every theory which moves them away from the center of faith. Apparently in some forms of contemporary evangelism, Paul is twisted and Jesus rejected. Hence the need for a return to the Gospel as Jesus preached it.
A widely-circulated tract entitled "What is the Gospel?" (published by The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 1980) which contains no reference to the Kingdom of God, declares that Jesus "came to do three days work" and that "He came not primarily to preach the Gospel . . . , but He came rather that there might be a Gospel to preach." It is difficult to reconcile these statements with Jesus’ declaration that He was commissioned for the very purpose of proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom (Luke 4:43; Mark 1:38).
It cannot be too strongly emphasized that Christianity which is not rooted and anchored in the historical Jesus may turn out to be just another faith. If people are asked to "accept Christ" without being told about the Message of the historical Christ, how can we be sure that "Christ" is not just an abstract symbol? The real question then is, in the words of Jon Sobrino,
"whether this Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus or some vague, abstract Spirit that is nothing more than the sublimated embodiment of the natural 'religious' person’s desires and yearnings. If it is the latter, then it is not only different from, but actually contrary to the Spirit of Jesus" (Christology at the Crossroads, Orbis Books, 1982, p. 384).
The history of Christianity ought to give churchgoers cause for alarm. Because of an anti-intellectual approach to faith, many choose to remain in ignorance of the great issues affecting their relationship with God. When theologians ponder the condition of the Church over the centuries, they often expose an extraordinary departure from the historical Jesus. David Kaylor writes:
"Christian faith has not centered on the historical Jesus. The Apostles’ Creed demonstrates the truth of this statement, for it moves from 'born of the Virgin Mary' to 'crucified under Pontius Pilate.' The Creed’s omission suggests that the intervening years and activities of Jesus were of no real consequence to faith . . . Theologically and ethically, it is not enough to say that a death and resurrection have occurred. Who Jesus was whom the Romans executed and God raised from the dead matters not only for the historian but for the theologian and believer. The historical character of Jesus, and not merely a spiritual Christ, provides Christian faith with its reason for being and its power to bring about change in personal social life" (R.D. Kaylor, Jesus the Prophet, His Vision of the Kingdom on Earth).
If the Jesus claimed as Savior is not anchored in the historical figure recorded in the New Testament, who knows what kind of Jesus may be embraced? It seems to me clear that Satan could well play on the weakness of the religious spirit of man by presenting a Jesus who is only superficially the Jesus of the Bible. The counterfeit could, however, be most subtle. Satanic strategy would work hard to separate Jesus from His own teachings (laid out in their clearest form in Matthew, Mark and Luke). "Jesus" might then be only a religious symbol offered as a spiritual panacea for the world’s and individuals’ ills. The Jewish, apocalyptic Jesus, preacher of a coming just society on earth, might then fall into disrepute and obscurity. His reappearance in preaching would probably appear strange and unwanted even to churchgoers who have been fed a diet missing the New Testament Hebrew ingredients.
The safest policy against deception would be to reinstate the Gospel about the Kingdom at the heart of all preaching. This would ensure against the tendency to make Jesus up out of our own minds.1 It would also safeguard believers against the extravagant assertion of a leading theologian who remarked: "What can be said about the historical Jesus belongs to the realm of the ‘Christ according to the flesh.’ That Christ, however, does not concern us. What went on within Jesus’ heart I do not know, and I do not want to know" (R.D. Kaylor, Jesus the Prophet, His Vision of the Kingdom on Earth). This tendency, less blatantly expressed, plagues a number of theological schools of thought, not least the school which relegates the teaching of Jesus to a ministry to Jews only and applies His ethical instructions to the future millennium.
True Revival will come when Christians recognize and renounce the paganized Christianity which passes for the real faith of the Bible. An expert on the Jewish roots of true Christianity observes:
"A study of the last nineteen hundred years reveals how the Church left its original Jewish nest and considerably distanced itself from the Semitic culture which gave it birth. The Church paid little heed to the exhortation of Paul to continue in what it had learned and believed in the context of its Hebrew beginnings. Rather, as it became more and more Hellenized by moving westward through the Mediterranean world it began to be led away into strange teachings" (Marvin Wilson, Our Father Abraham, Eerdmans and Center for Judaic-Christian Studies, 1987, p. 166).
Contemporary Christianity is a distortion of the original faith because it has grown from the soil of Greek philosophy an abandoned its Hebrew matrix:
"When Christianity severed itself from Judaism the Christian faith itself became distorted" (J. S. Spong, "The Continuing Christian Need for Judaism," Christian Century, Sept. 26, 1979, p. 918).
Plato, the homosexual Greek philosopher, has caused a disaster of unprecedented scale. The so-called "Church Fathers" adopted Plato’s doctrine of the nature of man which is utterly unbiblical:
"The most important fact in the history of Christian doctrine was that the father of Christian theology, Origen, was a Platonic philosopher at the school of Alexandria. He built into Christian doctrine the whole cosmic drama of the soul, which he took from Plato, and although later Christian fathers decided that he took over too much, that which they kept was still the essence of Plato’s philosophy of the soul" ("The Greek Ideas of Immortality," Harvard Theological Review 52, July, 1959, p. 146, cited by Marvin Wilson, Our Father Abraham, p. 168).
What can Christians do? They can commit themselves to an earnest investigation of the Bible to recover the Hebrew faith of Jesus and Paul. This process will reveal that the Platonic idea of the soul has led to:
1) A false idea of the Messiah as a preexisting "Person" in the Godhead. In the Bible the Messiah was to be a human descendant of David and endowed with extraordinary powers of the spirit. The Messiah is certainly not to be confused with the One God of the creed of Israel. Jesus’ creed was the creed of his own Jewish heritage (Mark 12:29ff.). Christians should adopt that creed and not a "Trinitarian" creed which owes its origin to the Greek speculative mind and was not formally introduced until 300 years after the time of Jesus. The preexistence of the Messiah in person is utterly foreign to Judaism and is traced to the Origenistic pagan notion of the preexistence of the soul.
2) A false idea that Christians "go to heaven" at death by surviving as a disembodied soul apart from the body. This idea is Platonic to the core and it appears as the stock-in-trade of most denominations and is constantly reinforced at funeral sermons. Survival as a disembodied soul destroys the biblical view that resurrection from death at the second coming of Jesus is the only pathway to immortality. Tertullian points out that it was the teaching of Plato that the immediate departure of a disembodied soul was the destiny of the most noble, i.e., homosexuals!
3) The false idea that Jesus is God, rather than the Son of God, undermines the whole notion of the Messiah’s death for our sins. God only has immortality in the Bible and God cannot die. A "Jesus" who is God cannot have died. Under that non-biblical scheme there is no real possibility of atonement for sin.
4) The Gospel as Jesus and Paul taught it was the Good News of a future Kingdom of God destined to introduce a brand new society on earth in which the Christians would rule the world with the returned Messiah. The philosophical replacement of this Gospel speaks of "accepting Jesus in the heart" with a view to survival as a disembodied spirit at death. Lip service only is paid to the resurrection which in the NT is the heart and core of the Christian hope along with entrance into the Kingdom when Jesus comes back.
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