Gnosticism, Part 1
Gnosticism was the greatest threat to Christian orthodoxy, and of all the early heresies, it was the most influential. It is important to note historian Justo Gonzalez' observation, Gnosticism "was not a well-defined organization in competition with the church; rather, it was a vast and amorphous movement that existed both within and outside the church" (The Story of Christianity, I). When Gnosticism adopted Christianity, it changed or denied elements which the church believed to be crucial to the faith.
The word "Gnosticism" comes from the Greek word gnosis, which means "knowledge." Gnostics believed that they possessed a mystical knowledge reserved only for those with true understanding. Those with true understanding were members of an elite group who had a true, spiritual origin. If Gnostics felt out of place in this world, it was because they were. They were trapped in their physical bodies.
Salvation was the chief concern of the Gnostics; knowledge was the key. The Gnostics believed that all matter was evil, or, at best, unreal. Human beings were spiritual beings imprisoned in physical bodies. The body imprisons the spirit and it misleads human beings in understanding their true spiritual nature. The body, therefore, is evil. Thus, salvation is freedom from the body and the physical world in which humans live. The world is not only not humanity's home; it is foreign territory. It is also the obstacle to salvation. Since the body leads men and women to forget their true identity, they need knowledge of who they actually are. Such knowledge gives them the ability to ascend to their spiritual home.
The Apologists #1: Introduction
The Apologists #2: Pagan Culture and Judaism
The Apologists #3: Justin Martyr, c. 100-165, part 1
The Apologists #4: Justin Martyr, c. 100-165, part 2
The Apologists #5: The Search for Orthodoxy