Gnosticism Definition, Beliefs and an Explanation

Gnosticism Definition
The Ancient of Days by William Blake (1794). Public Domain

Gnosticism was a second-century heresy claiming that salvation could be gained through secret knowledge. Gnosticism is derived from the Greek word gnosis, meaning "to know" or "knowledge."

Gnostic beliefs

Gnostics also believed that the created, material world (matter) is evil, and therefore in opposition to the world of the spirit, and that only the spirit is good. They constructed an evil God and beings of the Old Testament to explain the ​creation of the world (matter) and considered Jesus Christ a wholly spiritual God.

Gnostic beliefs clash strongly with accepted Christian doctrine. Christianity teaches that salvation is available to everyone, not just a special few and that it comes from grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9), and not from study or works. The only source of truth is the Bible, Christianity asserts.

Gnostics were divided on Jesus. One view held that he only appeared to have human form but that he was actually spirit only. The other view contended that his divine spirit came upon his human body at baptism and departed before the crucifixion. Christianity, on the other hand, holds that Jesus was fully man and fully God and that his human and divine natures were both present and necessary to provide a suitable sacrifice for humanity's sin.

Gnostic Bible

The New Bible Dictionary gives this outline of Gnostic beliefs: "The supreme God dwelt in unapproachable splendour in this spiritual world, and had no dealings with the world of matter. Matter was the creation of an inferior being, the Demiurge. He, along with his aides the archōns, kept mankind imprisoned within their material existence, and barred the path of individual souls trying to ascend to the spirit world after death. Not even this possibility was open to everyone, however. For only those who possessed a divine spark (pneuma) could hope to escape from their corporeal existence. And even those possessing such a spark did not have an automatic escape, for they needed to receive the enlightenment of gnōsis before they could become aware of their own spiritual condition... In most of the Gnostic systems reported by the church Fathers, this enlightenment is the work of a divine redeemer, who descends from the spiritual world in disguise and is often equated with the Christian Jesus.

Salvation for the Gnostic, therefore, is to be alerted to the existence of his divine pneuma and then, as a result of this knowledge, to escape on death from the material world to the spiritual."

Gnostic writings are extensive. Many so-called Gnostic Gospels are presented as "lost" books of the Bible, but in fact did not meet the criteria when the canon was formed. In many instances, they contradict the Bible.


NOS tuh siz um


Gnosticism claims hidden knowledge leads to salvation.

(Sources:,, and the Moody Handbook of Theology, by Paul Enns; New Bible Dictionary, Third Edition)