To know the mind of God; to have His knowledge and understanding of all things, is the cry of God’s Remnant in this season. The Apostle Paul said, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God” (Philippians 2:5-6). In most Churches today, to know the mind of God, the same mind Jesus had when He walked this earth, is deemed impossible. It is a topic seldom taught to its unadulterated fullness. However, the Word of God expresses otherwise, and in fact, the Early Church believed that the true knowledge (gnosis) of God is hidden, veiled in mysteries. There is a false Gnosis and a true Gnosis, the latter being the understanding of the Revelation of God’s Word.
In last month’s article, we discussed the resurrection of Jesus, and how this symbolizes the resurrection of His Body (the Church) at His second coming. The Early Church had a profound understanding of the resurrection, knowing that those who had been prepared, God’s remnant, would arise from corruption (this flesh) to incorruption (the glorified body). To read more on this go to Resurrected Body. This month, we are discussing what brings about this resurrection, the Gnosis of God. For some, the term gnosis may cause hesitation (due to its relation to Gnosticism), so it is important we explore the meaning of the word, and what the Early Church (pre 325 AD) taught true gnosis is. Gnosis is Greek for the English word knowledge, and means:
This word occurs 29 times in the New Testament (1), and 92 times in the Old Testament (2). Notice the definition highlights that there is a deeper more perfect knowledge, and when we begin to explore the divine Word of God, we will find out what this knowledge is. From ‘gnosis’ derived Gnosticism, a Christian sect dating back to the first century, in which an array of heretical (false) doctrines were taught. Those believing in and teaching these heresies were regarded as “so-called gnostics”, and they, as well as their heresy, were dismissed by the Early Church (pre 325 AD). One of the major heretical beliefs this sect embraced was:
that mankind and the earth were not created by the Father of Jesus. Rather, the Demiurge, who was either a wicked angel or a lesser deity, created mankind and the earth. Because of the imperfections of the Demiurge, all material things (including man’s flesh) are inherently flawed and incapable of salvation. (3)
In many of their writings, the righteous teachers of the Early Church, for example Origen, Irenaeus, and Tertullian (to name a few) refuted these so-called gnostics. Furthermore, several of the Apostles of the New Testament warn that false teachers would rise from within the Church, bringing in destructive doctrines contrary to God’s Word. This was the case for the Earliest Church: Among the leading Gnostic teachers of the second century were Basilides, Carpocrates, Cerinthus, and Valentinus. Another leading second-century heretic, Marcion, held to some of the basic Gnostic tenets. (3) These heretics started within the Church, then strayed from truth and introduced their impious doctrines, such as the aforementioned.
The true Gnosis of God
Now that we have established that there is false a gnosis and a true, let us explore the true Knowledge of God, through the lens of His Earliest Church, the closest source to the well. Above we read that gnosis contains the deeper, more perfect and enlarged knowledge of this religion, such as belonging to the more advanced (1). The Apostle Paul, when writing to the Church of Corinth, said:
However we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. (1 Corinthians 2:6-10 KJV)
Notice Paul highlights there is a specific wisdom (knowledge) that is taught to the “perfect”, those who are spiritually mature (4). This knowledge is hidden in a mystery, which is the secret counsels which govern God in dealing with the righteous, which are hidden from ungodly and wicked men but plain to the godly (5). So, God’s knowledge is not plain to all, and can only be revealed (through a removal of the veil/covering) by His spirit. The term “deep things” in verse ten refers to mysteries (6); this further acknowledging God’s wisdom is hidden, needing to be unveiled to those who search it out. King Solomon boldly stated, “It is the glory of God to conceal [hide, make secret. ] a matter [speech, word, commandment], but the glory of kings to search out [examine intimately] a matter.” (Proverbs 25:2, additional explanations mine as per Strong’s definitions).
Unlike in our Western way of thinking, in which a mystery is something unknown and perhaps never discovered, in God’s language His mysteries are to be discovered. Paul writes to the Church of Ephesus:
if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets (Ephesians 3:2-5)
The grace that Paul received was the revelation of God’s mysteries (His secret counsels), the deeper, more perfect gnosis of His Word. So, if the gnosis of God is hidden, what exactly is it hidden behind? The Early Church makes clear that the mysteries of God are hidden behind a veil, and Paul tells us the veil is symbolic of the flesh (Hebrews 10:20). The term flesh in Greek is ‘sarx’, and when investigated, it refers to mere human nature, apart from divine influence, opposed to God, carnally minded and beastly. (7) So, the veil is referring to man’s carnal (fleshly) interpretation of God’s mysterious Word. Paul terms this “the letter which kills” (2 Corinthians 3:6). Second century Early Church Father Origen explains below:
It is the custom of sacred Scripture, when it wishes to designate anything opposed to this gross and solid body, to call it spirit, as in the expression, “The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life,” (2Co_3:6) where there can be no doubt that by “letter” are meant bodily things, and by “spirit” intellectual things, which we also term “spiritual.” The apostle, moreover, says, “Even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart: nevertheless, when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (2Co_3:6) For so long as any one is not converted to a spiritual understanding, a veil is placed over his heart, with which veil, i.e., a gross understanding, Scripture itself is said or thought to be covered: and this is the meaning of the statement that a veil was placed over the countenance of Moses when he spoke to the people, i.e., when the law was publicly read aloud. But if we turn to the Lord, where also is the word of God, and where the Holy Spirit reveals spiritual knowledge, then the veil is taken away, and with unveiled face we shall behold the glory of the Lord in the holy Scriptures. (8)
Origen beautifully articulates that to understand the hidden things of God’s Word makes one “spiritual”, and it is only through the removal of the veil (carnal understanding) that this can be achieved. He explains that spiritual knowledge is revealed through the Holy spirit, this being in alignment with the Apostle Paul, who wrote “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things [mysteries] of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:10). Moses, the Law, is read by those in the Church, thus Origen articulates (by quoting Paul) that it is those within the Church who are veiled (2 Corinthians 3:6). In another place Origen writes,
Then, finally, that the Scriptures were written by the Spirit of God, and have a meaning, not such only as is apparent at first sight, but also another, which escapes the notice of most. For those (words) which are written are the forms of certain mysteries, and the images of divine things. Respecting which there is one opinion throughout the whole Church, that the whole law is indeed spiritual; but that the spiritual meaning which the law conveys is not known to all, but to those only on whom the grace of the Holy Spirit is bestowed in the word of wisdom and knowledge. (9)
Origen emphasizes that the totality of the law is spiritual, containing a deeper meaning than what it conveys at first site. Only those who have spiritual (unveiled) understanding of the law, are whom the grace of the holy spirit has been given to. A side note- this refutes a major doctrinal belief taught in many Churches today- that to have the holy spirit means to speak in tongues. Does this belief line up with the Scriptures and what the Early Church taught? Something for you to investigate further perhaps.
In the New Testament, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees and lawyers (those who know the Law of Moses indubitably) saying, “Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered.” (Luke 11:52). Although the Pharisees and Lawyers of Jesus’ time knew the law of Moses inside and out, He still rebukes them because they had not sought out the deeper, more perfect knowledge of God. These Law keepers merely obeyed the letter of the Word, and in doing so they held others back from discovering the depth of God. Origen stated, we knock that by the keys of higher knowledge the hidden things of Scripture may be opened to us. (10). Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7). Jesus was not referring to asking and seeking natural “things”, He was exhorting His disciples to seek the higher knowledge of the hidden things in scripture.
The Gnosis of God is a profoundly deep topic, one that will be unveiled for eternity, and we have only just skimmed the surface. Through the Prophet Hosea, the Lord declared “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; Because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.” (Hosea 4:6) When it comes to understanding His Word, the Lord does not play games. He anticipates and exhorts His people to pursue gnosis, as it is through the knowledge of the truth that we might be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). The Earliest Church understood that the revelation of His Word is the true gnosis of God. Let us strive to be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that [we] may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:9-10).
- Thayer’s Greek definitions: ‘Knowledge’ (G1108)
- Strong’s Hebrew and Greek dictionaries: ‘Knowledge’ (H1847)
- Bercot, David W., editor. Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs (p. 305). Hendrickson Publishers
- Thayer’s Greek definitions: ‘Perfect’ (G5046)
- Thayer’s Greek definitions: ‘Mystery’ (G3466)
- Strong’s Hebrew and Greek dictionaries: ‘Deep things’ (G899)
- Thayer’s Greek definitions: ‘Flesh’ (G4561)
- Origen, De Principiis, Book I, Ch. I
- Origen, De Principiis, Preface
- Origen, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Book X
All scripture references from The Holy Bible: New King James Version: NKJV. Thomas Nelson, 2010, unless stated otherwise.