The Gnostic Gospels and the New Age
If you pay attention to many religious programs on the radio and TV nowadays you
will often pick up the idea that there was some kind of conspiracy in the early church
to suppress teachings which are claimed to be of Jesus but are not found in the four
Gospels of the New Testament. They are found in the writings generally known as
the 'Gnostic' Gospels. The view is put forward that these writings were suppressed
by the early church for political purposes and that their inclusion in the thought life of
modern Christians would help to make the Gospel message more attractive to the
modern mind set.
Actually there was a good reason why the early church rejected these writings. The
fact that they may be attractive to the modern mindset simply means that the same
errors, which are contained in the Gnostic writings, are now becoming the
mainstream religious idea in our culture.
Gnosticism was a philosophy, which stressed the acquisition of 'Gnosis' or inner
knowledge. The knowledge sought is not strictly intellectual, but mystical, the inner
knowledge of the ultimate reality. Generally this was a pantheistic idea that God is in
everything and that within each one of us is the spark of divinity which has been
obscured by ignorance or conventional religion. This is in fact the same idea as is to
be found in eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism and in mystical teachings of
other religions like the Kabbalah in Judaism.
It is also basic to the New Age philosophy, which is now the dominant one in western
society. If you doubt this, pick up any popular newspaper of magazine and find the
section in it which deals with spiritual matters. Almost inevitably it will speak of the
benefits of yoga, eastern meditation techniques and therapies or magic or even
witchcraft. Forms of Christianity which teach that all religions are the same are OK,
but Biblical Christianity calling for repentance from sin and faith in the one way of
salvation through Jesus Christ, if it is mentioned at all, will be held up to ridicule.
In this environment of spiritual confusion it is not surprising that there is an interest in
the Gnostic Gospels. The pioneers of the New Age movement pushed for their
inclusion in the mainstream culture. The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, a constant
source of inspiration for the New Age, did much to introduce Gnosticism to the
modern world. He contended that Christianity and Western culture have suffered
grievously because of the suppression of the Gnostic approach to religion and it was
his hope that this approach would be reincorporated in our culture. Madame Helena
Blatavsky, who founded Theosophy in 1875, viewed the Gnostics as the precursors
of modern occult movements and hailed them for preserving an inner teaching lost
to Christian orthodoxy.
D.R. Groothuis in his book 'Revealing the New Age Jesus' lists 7 related views which
permeate the Gnostic view of Jesus and are common in the New Age view being
1) Jesus is revered as a highly spiritually evolved being who serves as an example
for further evolution. His miracles are accepted as manifestations of his mastery of
divine energy or his tapping into the 'Christ' power.
2) The individual, personal, historical Jesus is separated form the universal,
impersonal, eternal Christ or Christ consciousness. Jesus is a Christ, but not the
3) The orthodox understanding of Jesus as the final and supreme revelation of God
is dismissed as illegitimate. We all have the potential to become 'Christs'.
4) Jesus' death on the cross is not accepted as having any ethical significance for
5) Jesus' resurrection from the dead is not viewed as a physical fact demonstrating
his victory over sin, death and Satan but as a spiritual triumph not unique to Jesus.
There are many other 'Ascended Masters.'
6) Jesus' second coming is not a literal, physical and visible return in the clouds at
the end of the age but is rather a stage in the evolution of the race. One New Age
teacher tells his clients, 'You are god, you are each and every one, part of the
7) Exotic extra-biblical documents are regarded as sources for authentic material
about the life of Jesus not available from the Scriptures.
The quest for extra-biblical documents received a great boost in December 1945
with the discovery of 13 leather bound papyrus books dating from around 350AD
near Nag Hammadi in upper Egypt. These books were not made available in English
until 1977, but since then they have become a source for the New Age view of
Jesus. They present the Gnostic view of Jesus, which was condemned as heresy by
the early church. Those who champion these writings like Elaine Pagels in her book
'The Gnostic Gospels' claim that Gnosticism should be considered as legitimate as
orthodox Christianity, because the heresy was simply a strain of competing
Briefly the Gnostic view is as follows. The present universe is not good, nor was it
created by an all good God. A lesser god, or demiurge as he is sometimes called,
fashioned the world in ignorance. The result was a material cosmos soaked with
ignorance, pain, decay and death, a botched job if you like. Nevertheless this deity
despotically demands worship and even pretentiously proclaims his supremacy as
the one true God.
This creator god is not the ultimate reality but rather a degeneration of the unknown
and unknowable fullness of Being. However some human beings have the potential
to break out of the bondage of this imperfect creation because this creator
accidentally placed the spark of divinity within their being. The spiritual quest is to
discover the good spiritual part of ourselves and to escape from the evil of the
material world. Into this situation Jesus comes, not as the Saviour from sin, but as
one who has descended from higher levels of intermediary beings (called aeons),
coming from this exalted level to ignite the knowledge (Gnosis) within.
The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas has Jesus say: 'He who drinks from my mouth will
become as I am and I shall be as he.' 'The kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside
of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you
will realise that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know
yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.' 'It is I who am
the light which is above them all. It is I who am the all. From me did the all come
forth, and unto me did the all extend. Split a piece of wood and I am there. Lift up a
stone and you will find me there.'
The Gnostic texts that discuss Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection reveal some
common themes, which totally conflict with the New Testament account. In the
'Apocalypse of Peter' there is a vision of two Jesuses on the cross one being impaled
and one laughing. 'He whom you saw on the tree glad and laughing, this is the living
Jesus. But this one into whose hands and feet they drive the nails is the fleshly part
which is the substitute being put to shame, the one who came into being in his
likeness.' In the 'Second Treatise of the Great Seth', Jesus says, 'I did not die in
reality but in appearance ... Those in error and blindness saw me; they punished me.
It was another, their father, who drank the gall and vinegar; it was not I. They struck
me with the reed; it was another, Simon, who bore the cross on his shoulder. I was
rejoicing in the height over all. And I was laughing at their ignorance.'
This should be enough to show why these texts were not included in the New
Testament. It was not some kind of sinister conspiracy, but simply the fact that they
are depicting another Jesus who is not the Messiah of history at all, but a figment of
the corrupted imagination of the writers (who incidentally had nothing to do with the
Apostles Thomas and Peter).
The Biblical view is radically different from the one depicted above. God is a good
God who created a perfect world, which was corrupted by Adam and Eve's sin in
giving way to the temptation of Satan in the Garden of Eden. Since that time sin has
ruled over the human race, but God has had a witness, firstly through the Hebrew
scriptures, which give us his Law and promise the coming of the Messiah who will
deliver us from sin and enable us to come to know the Lord. The New Testament
scriptures reveal the identity of this Messiah and the manner by which He has
redeemed us and show us how we can be saved from sin. This is not by discovering
'divinity' within us - in fact when we look within we discover only our sinful human
nature - but by repentance and faith in the unique sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ
for the sins of humanity and by inviting Him to come into our lives from the outside.
As Jesus says in Revelation 3.20, 'Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone
hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and dine with him and he
The early church rejected the Gnostic writings and the reason is given in the New
Testament itself. 'They went out from us but they were not of us; for if they had
been of us they would have continued with us; but they went out that it might be
made manifest that none of them were of us.' I John 2.18. In other words they left
authentic Apostolic Christianity to form a new movement of their own. 'Who is a liar
but he who denies the Father and the Son? He is antichrist who denies the Father
and the Son.' I John 2.22. The Gnostics denied both the goodness of the Father God
and the uniqueness of Jesus as Son of God and Son of Man and the one mediator
between God and humanity, which is the clear teaching of the New Testament.
Therefore they are of the spirit of antichrist.