A one-sentence description of Gnosticism: a religion that differentiates the evil god of this world (who is identified
with the god of the Old Testament) from a higher more abstract God revealed by Jesus Christ, a religion that regards this
world as the creation of a series of evil archons/powers who wish to keep the human soul trapped in an evil physical body,
a religion that preaches a hidden wisdom or knowledge only to a select group as necessary for salvation or escape from this
The term "gnostic" derives from "gnosis," which means "knowledge" in Greek. The Gnostics believed that they were privy
to a secret knowledge about the divine, hence the name. (Huxley coined "agnosticism" on the basis that all knowledge must
be based on reason. We cannot rationally claim to have access to knowledge that is beyond the powers of the intellect.)
There are numerous references to the Gnostics in second century proto-orthodox literature. Most of what we know about them
is from the polemic thrown at them by the early Church Fathers. They are alluded to in the Bible in the pastorals (spurious
Paulines of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus), for example 1 Tm 1:4 and 1 Tm 6:20, and possibly the entirety of Jude. Ignatius
of Antioch writes against them as well as Docetism, a doctrine closely related to Gnosticism that stated that Christ was pure
spirit and had only a phantom body. Second Clement is a document aimed at refuting early second century Gnosticism. Marcion
was the most famous of the Gnostics, and he established a "canon" of the Pauline epistles (minus the pastorals) and a "mutilated"
Luke (presumably considered so because it lacked proof-texts such as Lk 22:43-44). Justin Martyr mentioned him c. 150 CE,
and Irenaeus and Tertullian wrote against him extensively in the late second century (in Against Heresy and Against
Besides Marcion, other important Gnostics were Basilides and Valentinus. Some Gnostic documents are the Gospel of Truth,
the Letter to Rheginus, Treatise on the Three Natures, Apocalypse of Adam, the Gospel of Matthias, Gospel of Philip, Acts
of Peter, and Acts of Thomas. Although the Gnostics were prolific writers, most of their works have been burnt or lost in
favor of proto-orthodox writings (and known only through patristic references).
Some scholars have theorized that Gnosticism has its roots in pre-Christian religions, instead of being merely an offshoot
The following are writings by Gnostics of the second century according to some scholars, although some others dispute this
classification for writings such as the Gospel of Thomas.
All of the above documents and more are presented on the Early Christian Writings web site.
Here are some books about Gnostics and Gnosticism.
Here are some web pages about Gnostics and Gnosticism.
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