Comparison of religious groups of first century after Christ (Gnosticism)

Comparison of religious groups of first century after Christ (Gnosticism)

Among the first century Gnostic teachers was Simon Magnus - Comparison of religious groups of first century after Christ (Gnosticism) introduction. He was known in history as Simon the Magician and was considered as the earliest Gnostic prophet. Stephen A. Hoeller mentioned that Simon Magnus was born in Gitta, Samaria that characterized him as a sort of heretic by birth[1] According to Hoeller, Samaritans were known followers of heterodox form of Judaism that rejected the Jerusalem temple and practiced and their worship in sacred mountain of Samaria.[2] In Biblical account, Simon Magnus was mentioned in Acts chapter 8:9—12, which identified him as a sorcerer having respected and considered as a great one by the Samaritans. Hoeller noted that prior to his conversion to Christianity; he was among the students of John the Baptist.

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His Gnostic Teachings

            According to an internet article, historians traced the teachings of Gnosticism to Simon Magnus, which was believed to have written the Gnostic work “The Great Revelation” in which Simon is the anointed one[3] and not Jesus. This teaching according to the article was carried out by one of his disciples whose name is Menander and even goes on to preach that those who would follow Simon would not die,[4] and that it was Simon Magnus that was crucified, not Jesus. Menander further elaborated Simon Magnus writings by stating that the divine Spirit called Aeon had clung to the physical body of Jesus. Citing the sermon of John Gill (Sermons and Tracts Vol. 3. p. 513.), the same article noted that Simon Magnus Claimed that the Godhead has only one person and he is that person asserting to be the father in Samaria, to Judea the son, and the Holy Spirit to the rest of the nation.[5]

            Dr. E.L Martin in his paper published in the web featuring Simon’s encounter with the Apostle Peter, stated that Simon Magnus was “Satan counterfeit Messiah” and was the author of simony or the buying of religious office with money[6] when he attempted to buy the gift of the Holy Spirit with money. From this incident, Simon Magnus followers began a “Simonians” movement anchored on Simon Magnus teaching. His teaching is that the angels and powers were created by the idea of the first god. This idea then created this world.[7] John Glyndwr Harris stated that Simon “taught the highest God was mot the creator and that the world only had an indirect relation to God.”[8] This Gnostic tenet eventually become their doctrine holding that the supreme god came in the form of Simon Magnus to rescue the divine part characterize by Helen, the prostitute who was with Simon during his travels and was believed to be in part an authority to the first God or angels for some reason. Unfortunately, none of Simon’s work has survived and all these had to come from the many legends about him.

            Another Gnostic great teacher was Cerinthus, who according to Harris was a contemporary of Apostle John. Harris described Cerinthus as having “skilled in the learning of the Egyptians and a dangerous and formidable opponent of traditional apostolic faith….”[9] Like Simon Magnus Cerinthus teaching attributes the creation to angels rather than God. He teaching was very close to Simon Magnus, stating that the world was not made by the first God but “by the power that was far removed and separated from the source of being and did not even know of the God who is exalted above all things.”[10] Cerinthus claimed that the Supreme God is so remote and was immune from all acquaintances with evil world of matters. He insisted that the Supreme God is exalted above the creator and is indisputable and cannot be known.

            Aside from being introduced as contemporary of Apostle John, Cerinthus was a Christian Jew whose Egyptian education may have mixed up his Christian knowledge with pagan leanings. He was said to be a leader of Gnostic religious group in Ephesus whose teachings were a mixed of pagan Gnosticism and Christian doctrine. On his teaching on the person of Jesus, Harris cited Irenaeus writing about Cerinthus teaching on Jesus. He wrote:

“Jesus was not born of the virgin, but rather he was born of Joseph and Mary just like all other men, but more powerful in righteousness, intelligence, and wisdom.”[11] Harris noted Cerinthus teaching that on his baptism by John, Jesus was empowered to proclaim the unknown father and to perform miracles through the Christ who descended on him in the form of a dove. However, this empowerment will last only just until before his crucifixion which according to Cerinthus: “After the resurrection the kingdom of God will be on earth, and the flesh dwelling at Jerusalem serve lusts and pleasures.[12] Cerinthus teachings emphasized on the sacredness of the law, in which salvation could be obtain by obeying its principles. These teachings in effect nullify the Christian teaching about the Grace of God and the salvation by faith through Christ death on the cross. Cerintus teaching discredited not only the messianic work of Christ, but also the entire plan of salvation for all humankind. He is truly the nemesis of Christian believers as his blasphemous teachings was not only robbing the glory due to Jesus Christ, he is also reverting the statement of John de Baptist pertaining to Christ which he said, “He must Increase and I must Deacrease.”  In all his teachings, Cerinthus was truly the religious nemesis of the first century Christianity, because his teachings runs counter to Christian doctrine and had totally discredited the very foundation of the Christian faith.

Valentinus was the most regarded, and was widely recognized as the “greatest Gnostic of all time.”[13]  Born in AD 100 in Prebonis Egypt, he was, Valentinus was thoroughly educated in Alexandria under a Christian teacher named Theudas, a disciple of Saint Paul. According to a paper published by the Gnostic Society Library, Valentinus was said to have seen a vision of Jesus Christ. This then led him to start his work as a Christian teacher in Alexandria about 120 AD, in which he had attracted large followers in both Egypt and Syria. According to Stephen Hoeller in his other article entitled Valentinus a Gnostic for all Seasons, as Gnostic teacher, Valentinus despite of his claim that he studied and learned the secret teachings about God through Apostle Paul’s disciple Theudas, he never viewed the creator with same faith as the Judeo-Christian believer. Valentinus rather sees the creator as one of the divinities as reflected in his teaching. He teaches that God as the creator he created man, but man also created God.[14] However, Hoeller noted that Valentinus according to tradition was never condemned as heretic during his lifetime.

Some of the works of valentinus that have survived according to Karen L King are the following: The Gospel of Truth, The Prayer of the Apostle Paul, The Treatise on the Resurrection, The Tripartite Tractate, The Gospel of Philip, The Interpretation of Knowledge and a Valentinian exposition.[15]” Valentinus according to king was poet and a great Christian teacher and his theologies had influenced even the prominent teachers such as Florinus, Heracleon, Marcus, Ptolemy, and Theodotus. King stated that the Gospel of Truth tells about how God’s transcendence resulted in human ignorance of Him, however, this situation, King explained, was corrected by the sending of Jesus Christ which in turn showed the way to knowledge of the father.

King cited that Valentinus teaches that, Jesus is the fruit of the true tree of the knowledge that brings life when one eats of it. Indeed, Valentinus teaching about Christ was so subtle that he was never condemned as heretic during his entire life. On the other hand, King also cited Irenaeus account of the teaching of Valentinus, which identified the divine father’s generations of fourteen pairs of male and female aeons that constitute the world.[16] King noted that the youngest of these aeon, Sophia, in which, in her desire to be like the father, “she creates a being out of herself without permission of her male counterpart and without his participation.[17]” According to this teaching, the creator of this world is the being created by Sophia. However, since that being is deformed, it was casted out of the divine world, and found himself in darkness and chaos. This deformed and weak being became the creator of God of Genesis, and proceeds to create the lower world “and mistakenly boasts that he is the only God and none above.[18]”

Based on this account, Valentinus teaching was obviously unacceptable to Christian teachings about the origins of everything including human beings. The Biblical account of creation in Genesis was very clear and that God Himself created everything including the universe. The Christian teaching about the creation is a very detailed and his relation with his creation was well defined. First, God created everything in sequence out of nothing with in six days. He created man and woman, which marked the beginning of the human race. All the instruction, which this creator God has given to human beings, was carried out which has become his identity. This identity is the image of God in man.

In contrast with Valentinus teachings of the deformed and illegitimate creator, the Christian teaching of creation account is that the creator God is Holy, perfect, almighty, and Glorious. He is the only God and nothing else like him nor there is any thing powerful than him in heaven or in earth. Therefore, Valentinus teaching is heretical and spurious, as he has no solid basis of such teachings except his piece of Christian theology mixed with paganism.

            In General, the characteristics of the Gnostics teaching was that they were all discrediting the messianic work of Christ, ascribing them either to themselves or to others object that are merely products of their own imaginations. Their teachings were dubious and there were no solid basis. They gained acceptance because their teachings were usually mixed up with paganism. But compared to the Christian’s Creation account based on the Bible, the Christian teaching is consistent, well documented, and truthful not only based on the Biblical facts, but based on the changes and the transformation of the persons character when he truly comes to know Jesus as his or her Lord and Savior.

Work Cited

Harris, John Glyndwr “Gnosticism: Beliefs and Practice, Great Britain: Sussex Academic”

Press, 1999

Hoellee, Stephen A. “Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner

Knowing”

USA: Quest Books

Hoeller, Stephen “Valentinus: A Gnostic for all Season”

http://www.gnosis.org/valentinus.htm

Kesich, Veselin Formation and Struggles: The Church As 33-450: The Birth of the

            Church USA: St Vlademer’s Seminary Press. 2007

King, Karen L. “What is Gnosticism”

USA: Harvard University Press, 2005

 (John, Gill Sermons and Tracts Vol. 3) as Cited  in Question 370: Is What this Book Teaching (Apostolic Doctrine) “Similar to Gnosticism?”

http://www.geocities.com/voicefaq/faq/faq370.html

Martin, Ernest L. “Simon Peter versus Simon the Sorcerer Or Peter Meets the Competition”

http://arcticbeacon.com/books/Simon_Peter_versus_Simon_the_Sorcerer-Dr_E_L_Martin.pdf

Question 370: “Is What this Book Teaching (Apostolic Doctrine) Similar to

Gnosticism?”

http://www.geocities.com/voicefaq/faq/faq370.html

[1] Hoeller, Stephen A. Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing

USA: Quest Books 2002 p. 94
[2] Ibid
[3] Question 370: Is What this Book Teaching (Apostolic Doctrine) Similar to Gnosticism?

http://www.geocities.com/voicefaq/faq/faq370.html
[4] Ibid
[5](John, Gill Sermons and Tracts Vol. 3 p. 513) as Cited  in Question 370: Is What this Book Teaching (Apostolic Doctrine) Similar to Gnosticism?

http://www.geocities.com/voicefaq/faq/faq370.html
[6]Martin, Ernest L.

Simon Peter versus Simon the Sorcerer Or Peter Meets the Competition

http://arcticbeacon.com/books/Simon_Peter_versus_Simon_the_Sorcerer-Dr_E_L_Martin.pdf  p. 1
[7]Ibid. p.3
[8] Harris, John Glyndwr Gnosticism: Beliefs and Practice, Great Britain: Sussex Academic Press, 1999 p. 131
[9] Ibid p. 132
[10] Ibid
[11] Ibid p. 133
[12] Ibid
[13] Kesich, Veselin Formation and Struggles: The Church As 33-450: The Birth of the Church USA: St Vlademer’s Seminary Press. 2007 p. 173
[14] Hoeller, Stephen Valentinus: A Gnostic for all Srason

http://www.gnosis.org/valentinus.htm
[15] King, Karen L. What is Gnosticism, USA: Harvard University Press, 2005 p. 154
[16] Ibid p. 155
[17] Ibid
[18] Ibid p. 155

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