Gnosticism was an early Christian sect that taught mysticism, rejected Jewish scriptures, such as the Hebrew Bible, and felt that Jesus' teachings, crucifixion, and resurrection were mere appearances. Jesus' true mission, they said, was to teach mysticism to his few devotees. One of those teachings was in the belief (if we compare it to Zorostriaiam which is similar) of an imperfect creator[1] (Ahriman) who created the world and humans and that of the supreme G-d (or, Wise Lord) who sent Jesus (Zoroaster) to teach the ancient, mystical teachings. As a result, the Gnostics and bishops held many debates, no less fierce as debates between later Christian Catholics and Jews[2]. For example, many bishops called Gnostics "empty ditches" which lacked water of truth flowing from within. The Gnostics similar called the bishops "wolves" who preyed on Christ's flock. The early bishops struggled against Gnostic "ravings," barring Gnostic writings from the New Testament.

My question is:

Where can one find debate(s) of early Gnostic and Chaotolic writings? I am aware of the Disputation at Barcelona between Jewish sage Nachmanides and Jewish convert to Christianity, Pablo Christiani in 1263 before the king of Aragon, James I. Do similar recorded debates exist between Gnostics and bishops?

[1] These were also the views of the pagan Greek philosopher, Plato.

[2] Or, we might compare the Gnostic and bishops' feud to the ancient Jewish sects called Sadducees and Pharisees who argued over the authenticity of Oral Law (Oral Torah).

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    St. Irenaeus was by far the most active church father fighting against Gnosticism. I recommend this great course which also covered early church fathers's reaction to it. Commented Mar 17, 2020 at 16:34
  • @GratefulDisciple Thank you. Can you make this an answer?
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Mar 17, 2020 at 17:09
  • Gnosticism was an early Christian sect - No. It wasn't. Gnosticism is a religion in its own right, mainly consisting of a mix between Platonism and paganism. It was highly syncretistic in nature, therefore interacting with many other (ancient) faiths, including Christianity, but that does not make it a primarily Christian belief system. Non-Christian brands of Gnosticism exist(ed) as well. The Kabbalah, for instance, persists until this day, as does Sabaen Mandaeism.
    – user46876
    Commented Apr 2, 2020 at 21:49
  • @Lucian Interesting. I was not aware that Gnosticism was not a Christian belief but its own religion. This makes sense, since, as you said, Gnosticism accepted or was influenced by other religions, including Christianity. Can the same be said for Judaism? We might call that Kabbalah, though Kabbalah in and of itself is not a religion but is mysticism, whereas Gnosticism is not Christian mysticism. Thank you for the links. I will read them.
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Apr 3, 2020 at 21:55
  • @TurkHill: I would have a favor to ask: Could you let this user know that his question has been answered here ? I only have 12 reputation points, so I cannot leave a comment there myself. Thank you kindly.
    – user46876
    Commented Sep 27, 2021 at 12:00

1 Answer 1


The surviving church fathers's writings contained the still-united Church's defense against one of the earliest heresies: Gnosticism. But we only read the church's side of the argument. Not until the Nag Hammadi discovery 75 years ago that we are now able to learn the Gnostic's own voice through their own writings.

St. Irenaeus (c. 130 - c. 202) wrote extensively about this heresy in his Against Heresies books (c. 174 - c. 189). See also the wikipedia entry. I found a good commentary and annotated text of the first 3 books at these series of blog articles: Book 1, Book 2, Book 3. The 1909 Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Gnosticism under the section "Refutation of Gnosticism" mentioned other early church fathers writing about it, both extant and non, partly informed by Eusebius's indispensable earliest church history written between AD 324 (last date mentioned) and AD 340 (his death).

For the full treatment of what we now know about Gnosticism after the Nag Hammadi discovery, you can watch the highly acclaimed Teaching Company's Great Course Gnosticism: From Nag Hammadi to the Gospel of Judas published in 2015, taught by David Brakke, Ph.D., M.Div., a professor of History of Christianity and History. I found the course notes here and the lecture videos here.

  • Thank you for this well-written answer and links.
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Mar 17, 2020 at 21:15

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