There is actually no such thing as “Christian Gnosticism,” because true Christianity and Gnosticism are very different, and the principles of Gnosticism contradict what it means to be a Christian.
Gnosticism was the most dangerous heresy that threatened the early church during the first three centuries. Influenced by such philosophers as Plato, Gnosticism is based on two false premises. First, it espouses a dualism regarding spirit and matter. Gnostics assert that matter is inherently evil and spirit is good. As a result of this presupposition, Gnostics believe anything done in the body, even the grossest sin, has no meaning because real life exists in the spirit realm only.
- The Gnostics believed they had a higher knowledge of spiritual things than the typical believer. Their name came from the Greek word “gnosis,” to know. Thus, they were the knowledgeable ones.
- They believed that all matter, which would include the human body, is evil.
- If Jesus was God, it is impossible that He actually became a Man. He could not have been God in a body of sin. Jesus was an emanation of God, but not God Incarnate. He had to be some kind of pseudo-physical phantom.
- We must consider how this thinking benefited the Gnostics. They were touted as great spiritual thinkers, enlightened ones: but they were free to live sinful lifestyles because the body was evil.
- Practices varied among those who were Gnostics… but those John was refuting practiced Docetism.
- Gnosticism was primarily defined in a Christian context.
In light of this, right at the outset of his letter, in essence, John says, “wait a minute, Jesus wasn’t a phantom, an emanation, or a vision. We saw Him, walked with Him, touched Him, and studied Him. He was revealed to us. He is refuting the false teaching that was beginning to lure His spiritual children.