Over the last couple decades the religion of Gnosticism has risen in popularity. Periodic discovery of fragments of gnostic writings help keep Gnosticism on the radar. Despite the renewed interest this belief system is very difficult to define.
Modern day gnosticism is the product of centuries of development since its early days in the first century after Jesus. Unfortunately, the earliest forms of gnosticism have been lost to history. No examples of gnostic teachings exist before the 150’s. Gnostics existed before 50 AD leaving a gap of one hundred years. The earliest hints of gnostic teachings come from the New Testament book of Colossians. In the second century some of the church fathers wrote books against gnosticism which summarize some gnostic teachings. The earliest existing gnostic writings are found in the Gospel of Thomas and the works of Valentinus.
The other challenge to accurately defining the beliefs of the gnostic is the wide variety of beliefs found in gnosticism. Like modern day Christianity gnosticism was not a single set of doctrines in which everyone believed the same things. Though it did not have a uniform set of beliefs, Gnosticism did have some basic tenets held by most gnostics.
The gnostics view the physical things of this world, its material elements, as inherently bad. The physical things are trapped in this lowest plane of existence, unable to reach the highest celestial plane. The spiritual and immaterial elements, such as the soul, are not evil. Through knowledge the soul can transcend the physical to reach the plane of the Highest.
In Gnosticism the God of the Bible is a great, immaterial being responsible for the creation of this world. The Creator is not the only god, nor the highest god. He is the product of the infinite being that existed in the very Highest plane. The Creator shares the celestial planes with other great immaterial beings.
God erred in His creation. In later versions of gnosticism God is seen as the enemy. The earlier expressions seem to describe Him as well-intentioned but mistaken. God’s errors in making the world are the reason the physical is base and cannto ascend to the higher planes.
Jesus is the product of the Creator. He is not the Son of God. He is not the Creator nor is He equal with the Creator. He is a great being, akin to the other great spiritual beings. Jesus existence in the world was not a physical existence. Jesus was a spiritual being that took up residence in the flesh without becoming man. The death of Jesus’ flesh was a tragedy but Jesus did not suffer. His soul escaped the flesh before the cross and ascended up to the Highest.
The goal of man is to escape the material and ascend upwards through a hierarchy of spiritual planes to reach the very highest. Salvation, reaching the Highest, is achieved by enlightenment. Gnostic enlightenment is a mystical event suddenly revealing truth to the intuition of the individual. The increase of understanding through enlightenment lifts the soul of man higher and higher until he is able to reach the Highest.
Gnosticism is a belief system that views the physical as evil. Salvation is achieved by understanding mystical truths about creation, man and destiny. These truths are revealed to the soul of the gnostic and allow the soul to escape the material plane to reach the Highest.