Gnosticism refers to a philosophical/religious way of knowing. The word “gnosis” is a Greek term that refers to knowledge. In the Greek language there are 2 words for knowledge and gnosis is the form of knowledge that is somewhat related to what the English language would call subjective or personal knowledge. For example, a person could say “I know about Paris France”, but someone who has lived there might say “I know what Paris is really like” and they would be referring to 2 types of knowledge. In essence, the Gnostic way of knowing is obtained by direct experience of truth, personally obtained, that allows a person to know a secret truth about life and God.
Since the Gnostic way of knowing is a direct and personal knowledge, it cannot be obtained by objective means, such as normal human observation and reason. Consequently, Gnosticism shares with Christianity the idea that only some people can know God and see truth.
However, unlike Gnosticism, Christianity is based in historic events. The entire Jewish background to the appearance of Jesus, as well as the teachings and acts of Jesus are not private and known only to a few. Thus, even though Christianity teaches a personal and direct revelation of the truth of God, it also has an objective and public side.
When the early Christians in the immediate post apostolic times confronted Gnosticism they appealed to this public element. That is, when Gnostics attempted to teach “another Gospel” the Christians replied that the church leaders were following the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. The Gnostics said that they had the true interpretation of the teaching of Jesus, obtained secretly, and that the Christians were failing to understand what Jesus really meant. The Christians replied that the teachings of Jesus were passed on from apostle to disciple, and that they were commissioned by God to preserve these truths through an unbroken succession of teacher and student. This is the beginning of the Catholic teaching on apostolic succession.
This same conflict between the public and private revelation of God is still going on today. Many teachers of new age spirituality are still claiming that they know what Jesus really meant. Christians everywhere still appeal to the public historic record, in the form of the Bible, to show that they are faithfully representing the true Gospel.
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