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Introduction To ADAM II - A Major First Century Heresy: Gnosticism
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When Gnosticism is spoken of today, it is typically implied to be Christian Gnosticism. In the main, this may be the case, but this heresy can be traced in its primitive forms to pre-Christian thought. Our limited space, however, permits us to look only at a brief sketch of this Hellenistic heresy that found its way into the first century Church. To continue with our previous pattern of development, let us consider first its name and origins before exploring its essence, practices, and impact upon Christianity.

Gnostic comes from the Greek word, ginosko. Ginosko has its origin in gnosis, which means "to know," and is found repeatedly in the letters of John. In the Greek, there are separate words to express the various elements of one idea or thought. For instance, in Jn.3:2 & 11, "know," in this case, is, oida, which means, "to see, have seen, have known." It does not carry with it the implication of full knowledge, as seen in the word, epignosis, found in the following examples: Rom.1:28; 3:20; 10:2; Eph.1:17; 4:13; Phil.1:9; Col.1:9-10; 3:10; I Ti.2:4; II Ti.3:7; Heb.10:26; II Pe.1:2-3,8; 2:20. The absence of this knowledge is seen in, agnosia ( I Co.15:34), or in another form referring to a person with whom we are most familiar, agnostic. Knowledge is not to be confused with "wisdom" or "intelligence," which are two entirely different things. In the Greek, these are, sophia (cf. Lk.2:40,52; Acts 6:3; I Co.2:7,13; 3:19; II Co.1:12; Col.3:16; Js.1:5) and, sunesis ( Eph.3:4), respectively.

Around these three, gnosis (knowledge), sophia (wisdom), and sunesis (intelligence), the Greeks ascended in philosophy, which began with Thales of Miletus, ca. 640 B.C., and reached its zenith under Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle three hundred years later (about the time Alexander the Great came to power). Athens of Greece and Alexandria of Egypt (where a large Jewish populous thrived) became the capitals of culture and philosophic thought. Unlike other periods previous and following, the golden years of Greek philosophy during Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle's time were unparalleled (and to which the Jewish philosopher looks with great admiration). Within this time, ethics and morality were inculcated and held in the highest esteem. The Epicureans would later arise, bringing with them their pleasuristic philosophies, and, finally, the Gnostics with their licentious practices.

As with much of society's debt to the Jewish contributions to a civilized world, particularly in the area of law, ethics, and morality, Jewish thought is also accepted as a considerable influence in Greek philosophy and modern thought. (And it can be said in reciprocity, as observed in the late examples of the Alexandrian Jewish philosopher, Philo (a contemporary of Christ), and Maimonides, or Moses ben Maimon, 1135- 1204). The dualistic idea seen in early Jewish teachings -- good and evil, material and spiritual -- was expanded in Greek philosophy.

At the core of Greek philosophy is reason. With reason, or the ability to think or ponder, considered as the unique element that marks man apart from animal, the natural question that followed was: to what level can man ascend in his thoughts? Namely, what is the highest truth? In Emil Fackenheim's treatment on the Greek's idea of Via Contemplativa, to the Greek philosopher, "the highest truth is Divine, and the highest thought at which man can aim is the contemplation of it" (p. 155). Accordingly, knowledge nor the quest for it was regarded higher than one contemplating upon the Divine, no matter how frequent or fragmented it may occur. One who was able to achieve this level of thought was said to attain that life in "imitation of God," or to us, Salvation. Thus, to the Greek, wisdom, and hence "life," -- the ascension of the spark of life from the material into the spiritual -- came through contemplation.

At this point, Jewish thought and Greek thought divorces in at least two areas, (1) the source of wisdom, and (2) the study and practice of knowledge. Although both minds were in agreement as to the pinnacle of man's thoughts ( Jer.9:23-24; Mk.12:28-29), for the Jew, wisdom has its basis in the fear of the Lord ( Job 28:28; Ps.111:10). This wisdom did not come from the exercise of reason in contemplation, as the Greek saw it, rather, it came purely from God's revelation to one whose heart was prepared in fear (yare, in Hebrew, meaning, "reverencing" - Job 1:1,8; 2:3). This revelation, transcribed and handed down from generation to generation, became the focal point of the Jewish search. Therefore, for the Jew, a life devoted to the study of this record is regarded as supreme; for it was through the holy lives of their predecessors God's words came, thus, it is from them wisdom for salvation is obtained ( Jn.5:39; II Ti.3:15) and one's understanding of his own place within creation finally seen. Note one contemporary Rabbi's observations on the place of Torah in a person's life:
Torah, "Instruction," is the visible bond between God and Israel. It is God's Torah, but also ours to evolve out of our historical experience. It is given us every day anew. It is not in heaven, but here with us. "The word is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart that you may observe it." [ Deut.30:14] . . .In Torah God speaks to us, but in human terms, through language. As human beings, we interpret God's utterance. Torah thus becomes the word of God and of man, reflecting human understanding. This understanding varies with times and circumstances. . . . Every Jew must look at himself or herself and ask, Where do I stand? With the help of the information and guidance provided by Torah, the Jew may find an answer to that question, to the demands of conscience and the issues of life. Ben Bag Bag said: "Turn it [Torah] and turn it again, for all is in it. Look in it, grow gray and old in it, never turn away from it for there is no better guide for you than it (Abot 5:25)." (Trepp, pp. xi, xii, 1, xiii)

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