Views of Jesus Part 3 - Gnostic

Description: This article provides a basic overview of the gnostic views of Jesus and salvation. The Gnostic Scriptures and other texts by gnostic scholars are used as tools to understand where they are coming from.

Society teaches that there is no such thing as truth and that all people should be free to think and believe as they choose without fear of coercion.

At the same time, Western Christians have become more accepting of various religious approaches and have even adapted them into their own beliefs about God. The increase of interest in gnostic books like The Da Vinci Code and the war in Iraq have created a whirlwind of questions about the person of Jesus. In the end, Western Christianity has the potential to turn into syncretistic Christianity. Evangelical Christians must rise to this challenge and discover how gnostic and Muslim beliefs differ in their claims to truth. The issue of gnosticism will be addressed.

The basic view of gnostics is that Jesus Christ was divine but not a true human.Christ was in Jesus; but Jesus was not necessarily the Christ.[i]

They clarify their view by explaining that Jesus was born as a human. Christ and wisdom (Sophia) descended into Jesus as an adult and made Him Jesus Christ, which is when He started performing miracles and proclaiming himself to be the Son of Man.[ii] They believe Jesus was the greatest gnostic teacher who ever lived. He sought to teach people how to liberate their humanity from the flesh by moving towards the divine light within each person where all truth and freedom exists.[iii] Jesus educated His followers by explaining that all humanity is divine just as He is divine, although most humans are blind to it.[iv] Many gnostics also believe that at times His "physical body" felt material to the touch while at other times it felt immaterial.[v] Jesus was simply a divine being who adapted himself to human perception.[vi]

The gnostic scriptures give several accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus within its pages.

The basic approach to Jesus' death is called "docetism," the belief that the Savior departed "from the human body before it was hung on the cross."[vii] This means that while Jesus was being led to His death, Christ and Sophia left Him while His physical body remained to be crucified.[viii] This is why Jesus cried out, "My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?"[ix] before His physical death on the cross. The author of the Apocalypse of Peter writes that the "living Jesus" was above the cross laughing while the substitute fleshly part was crucified.[x] Jesus thought it was hilarious that the people who were crucifying a man did not realize that it was not Him.[xi] He rejoiced at His deception to the people, and He laughed at their ignorance. 

The Acts of John relays the story that the beloved disciple, John, could not handle watching Jesus die, so he went to the Mount of Olives to mourn and weep. After Jesus had been on the cross for six hours, darkness covered the earth, and John received a vision of Jesus in a cave at Gethsemane.[xii] In the vision, Jesus told John that He did not suffer any of the things people would say He did. Jesus shows John a cross of light and explains that the light represents the divine light and knowledge found deep within each person that only a few are privy to.[xiii] The Second Treatise of the Great Seth explains that although Jesus suffered, Simon the Cyrene was the one crucified at the cross.[xiv] 

Since the divine Jesus did not die on the cross, gnostic salvation has nothing to do with sin but everything to do with mystical knowledge based on self-actualization.[xv]

They believe human beings are divine sparks of light reflecting from the cross who do not belong on this earth. The spirit within each person is an offshoot of God, and Christ came to rescue the sparks who had gone away.[xvi] Once people receive this illumination and realize who they really are, they receive the same knowledge of God that Jesus had.[xvii] 

Overall, salvation involves "achieving a special kind of knowledge not known or available to ordinary Christians."[xviii] Therefore, human life is merely a prison where the spirit lives until it is liberated at death.[xix] God is totally imminent with a hint of transcendence for gnostic believers. He lives inside each person, but the only way to truly know God is through mysterious secret knowledge that only a few people have. There is no salvation from sin, only salvation through mysterious knowledge, which comes from within each individual person.

Description: This article provides a basic overview of the gnostic views of Jesus and salvation. The Gnostic Scriptures and other texts by gnostic scholars are used as tools to understand where they are coming from.

Key Words: Gnostic, Jesus, Christ, Salvation

[i]Pheme Perkins, Gnosticism and the New Testament (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 235.


[ii]Bentley Layton, The Gnostic Scriptures: Ancient Wisdom for the New Age (New York: Doubleday, 1987), 180; Other Gnostic Teachings According to St. Ireneaus 1.30.12-13.


[iii]Joseph A. Grassi, "The Gnostic View of Jesus and the Teacher Today," in Religious Education 72 (May-June 1982): 337.


[v]Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels (New York: Vintage Books, 1979), 88; Acts of John 93.


[vi]Ibid., 87.


[vii]Perkins, 235.


[viii]Layton, 180; Other Gnostic Teachings According to St. Ireneaus 1.30.13.


[ix]Ibid., 342; The Gospel According to Philip, 64.


[x]Pagels, 87; Apocalypse of Peter,, 81.4-24.


[xi]John Dart, The Jesus of Heresy and History (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988), 93.


[xii]Pagels, 89-90.


[xiii]Acts of John 97, 101.


[xiv]Pagels, 87; Second Treatise of the Great Seth, 56.6-19.


[xv]Ben Witherington III, "Why the ‘Lost Gospels' Lost Out," in Christianity Today 48, no.6 (June 2004): 28, 32; Pieter J. Lalleman, "The Acts of John as a Gnostic Text," in Evangel 20, no.1 (Spring 2002): 13.


[xvi]Roger E. Olson, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 29.


[xvii]Lalleman, 13.


[xviii]Olson, 29.


[xix]James M. Robinson, "Jesus from Easter to Valentinus (or to the Apostles' Creed)," in Journal of Biblical Literature 101, no. 11 (March 1982): 11; Roelof Van Den Broek, "Gospel Tradition and Salvation in Justin the Gnostic," in Vigiliae Christianae 47, no. 4 (2003): 379.