My background is not religion, it's closer to philosophy, so I lack necessary context. Gnosticism translates to 'knowledge', so what is it a Gnostic 'knows'? What is an example of Gnosticism or Gnostic arguments?

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    Have you looked over Wikipedia's entry on Christian Gnosticism? It provides an overview, and there's more detail available on some of the pages it links to, like Sethianism. – Nathaniel is protesting Jul 29 '16 at 18:24
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is a question of word definition, not of theology or Christianity. – Flimzy Jul 31 '16 at 21:53
  • You've come to the right place if you have questions about: •the history of denominations (such as Roman Catholic, Anglican, Church of Christ or Later Day Saints) and movements (such as Pentecostalism, Creationism, Calvinism) •understanding the Bible from the perspective of a specific viewpoint (like those listed above) •explanations of the beliefs and practices of a denomination or movement •the Biblical basis for a belief or practice – NationWidePants Aug 1 '16 at 15:07
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    @NationWidePants: Making such assumptions would be your first mistake, then. :) Many people come here, asking all kinds of questions which are off-topic, and they don't realize it, because they aren't familiar with Christianity. I encourage you to update your question. – Flimzy Aug 1 '16 at 17:28
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    Your question isn't off-topic, but it is too broad. Entire books have been written on Gnosticism. It's not the purpose of this site to summarise everything academia knows about Gnosticism, but that is Wikipedia's job. – curiousdannii Aug 2 '16 at 0:59

The key difference between orthodox Christianity and gnostic Christianity was that the orthodox required faith in what was taught by the elders, as received (or, if you like, supposedly received) from the apostles. In order to ensure uniformity, orthodox Christianity developed a hierarchy, so that bishops could oversee presbyters, who oversaw deacons, all passing on the same gospel message.

Gnostic Christianity had no need for bishops, because gnostic Christians were permitted to seek knowledge by revelation. If a member received, in a dream or otherwise, new knowledge (gnosis) then he or she could tell others in his community. If it was widely accepted, the community might adopt it, resulting in an evolution in belief. If only some members in the community accepted the new knowledge, it might result in a breakaway movement, something which occurred from time to time and generally without acrimony. At its peak, it is suggested that around half of all Christians were gnostics.

As you could guess from the above, there was no one Gnostic belief, and it would be too broad to summarise them all. What gnostic groups tended to believe in common was that the Old Testament Creator God, whom they called the Demiurge, was a different God to the more loving New Testament God. Sophia, the Lady Wisdom of Proverbs and other Jewish wisdom literature generally played a key part in gnostic theology. Gnostics were discouraged from bringing children into this evil world, to suffer here. 'Light', which we see mentioned frequently in John's Gospel in reference to Jesus, was an important motif. Most gnostics were vegetarians, because they knew that vegetables contain light, and melons were favoured because they contain more light.

The earliest known gnostic gospel was the sayings Gospel of Thomas, now generally believed to have been written in the middle of the first century.

  • there was no one Gnostic belief A good point, and as one learns about all Abrahamic religions, a very consistent theme. In answering the question, are you addressing Gnosticism as it was actually practiced, or as it has been reinvented in the 20th century? For example, the Cathars seem to have adopted some gnostic forms (perfecti, among others) but how much substantial evidence for the actual gnostic practices in the pre-Constantine ear is there -- what they did before the heresy (as seen by the institutional church) faded? – KorvinStarmast Jul 30 '16 at 19:15
  • @KorvinStarmast I was addressing the pre-Constantine gnostics. I chose not to cover the Cathars as that would make my answer too broad, and they were not typical gnostics anyway. I know very little about 'neo-gnostics'. – Dick Harfield Jul 30 '16 at 21:21
  • It's a difficult topic, to be sure. Good answer. – KorvinStarmast Jul 30 '16 at 22:27

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