Muslims today propose a variety of theories to explain what has
become, to them, inexplicable: for instance, that Judas Iscariot was
substituted for Jesus. This is at any rate an improvement over the theory that
appealed to the amoral gnostics, that it was the blameless Simon of
Cyrene. But not only does the Bible teach that it was Jesus Himself who
suffered on the cross, even pagan historians admit this much.
Our time is a time of great diversity of religious opinion, with a wild profusion of sects proclaiming every old heresy, and
some new ones. The early Christian centuries were likewise a time of great diversity: "For if he who comes preaches another Jesus
whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not
accepted—you may well put up with it!" (2 Corinthians 11:4). It is alleged that this a good thing. But the apostles did not think
so: "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be
accursed." (Galatians 1:8). While certain ways of arriving at uniformity, like the disastrous marriage of church and state,
lead to ruin, the apostles' goal should be our goal.
“There are also those who heard from him that John, the disciple of the
Lord, going to bathe at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus within, rushed
out of the bath-house without bathing, exclaiming, 'Let us fly, lest even
the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is
within.'” (Irenaeus, Against All Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 3:4).
The Gospel of Judas shows just what the problem is. The barbarously-named
Barbelo is not the God of Israel. When it comes to gods, new is not good:
"If your brother, the son of your mother, your son or your daughter,
the wife of your bosom, or your friend who is as your own soul, secretly
entices you, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which you have not
known, neither you nor your fathers, of the gods of the people which are
all around you, near to you or far off from you, from one end of the earth
to the other end of the earth, you shall not consent to him or listen to
him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him or conceal him;..."
"Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth..." (Ecclesiastes 12:1)
We expect people to show gratitude to their benefactors. The law that came
down at Sinai commands us to honor father and mother: they brought us into
this world, they shared their food with us, they did not leave us out in
the cold and the rain.
Yet the gnostics are not grateful to their Creator, though they admit it
was He who created them, or at least some portion of their frame: the clay
prison-house into which the divine spark of the alien god has somehow migrated.
They admit it is the Creator who established the sun to shine upon them,
and sends the cooling breeze on their face, yet they will not say 'Thank
you.' They admit it is His beneficent order of nature which ripens the
crops in the field that nourish them, but they are not grateful. They have,
it would seem, abundant leisure in which to trace out their elaborate organizational
charts of the heavenlies, yet they do not thank the God who put food on
their table, though they admit it was He, not their unknown God. Would
they rather He had left them to starve in the gutter?
If they pick up a seashell on their beach walks, they will not marvel at
its intricate beauty, though their own god has produced nothing to rival
the Creator's handiwork. Their own god, the alien god, made nothing, evidently
not being in that line of work.
Like children of a broken home forced to prioritize their loyalties by
the poisoned atmosphere of the divorce, they have chosen sides. But they
have not chosen the custodial parent: the one who puts cereal in their
bowl, who tucks them in at night. Another way of putting it is that they
are plain ingrates.
Which Side are You On?
God's children love their Lord: "Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love
the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all
your mind.’" (Matthew 22:37). The Bible teaches that God is good:
"You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness."
(Habakkuk 1:13). God's creation is good: "Then God saw everything
that He had made, and indeed it was very good." (Genesis 1:31).
In gnosticism all this is inverted. The God of Israel is evil. The 'heavies'
of scripture, people like Cain and Korah, are heroes because they rebelled
against the evil God of Israel. In this new gospel, Judas is quite consistently
added to the gnostic honor roll. The snake in the Garden of Eden is good:
he is mankind's 'instructor:'
"They hid under the trees in Paradise. Then, because the Rulers did
not know where they were, they said, 'Adam, where are you?' [...] Then
they said to that woman, 'What is this you have done?' She answered and
said, 'The instructor is the one who incited me, and I ate.'...They merely
cursed him since they were impotent. Afterward they came to the woman,
and they cursed her and her sons. After the woman they cursed Adam and
the earth and the fruit because of him. And everything which they created
they cursed. There is no blessing from them. It is impossible that good
be produced from evil." (On the Origin of the World, pp. 71-72, The
Other Bible, edited by Willis Barnstone).
It was because of God's fear of man's knowledge that Adam and Eve were
expelled from Paradise:
"Behold, Adam has become like one of us, so that he understands the
distinction of light and darkness. Now lest perhaps he is deceived in the
manner of the Tree of Knowledge, and he also comes to the Tree of Life
and eats from it and becomes immortal and rules and condemns us and regards
us and all our glory as folly -- afterward he will pass judgment on us
and the world -- come, let us cast him out of Paradise..." (On the
Origin of the World, p. 72, The Other Bible, edited by Willis Barnstone).
This is atheism gone postal. The gnostics hate the God of Israel and look
forward to his (their) demise, which, indeed, they are plotting. The "fourth
race," the elect, "will pass judgment on the gods of Chaos and
their powers." (On the Origin of the World, p. 73, The Other Bible,
edited by Willis Barnstone). Thunder signals the twilight of the gods:
"Before the consummation of the Aeon, the whole place will be shaken
by a great thunder. Then the Rulers will lament, crying out on account
of their death. [...] She will cast them down to the abyss. They will be
wiped out by their own injustice. For they will become like the mountains
which blaze out fire, and they will gnaw at one another..." (On the
Origin of the World, p. 74, The Other Bible, edited by Willis Barnstone).
The gnostics follow the Redeemer...who will "trample" the blind
God of Israel:
"And he rejoiced in his heart, and he boasted continually, saying
to them, 'I do not need anything. I am God and no other one exists except
me.'...when Pistis saw the impiety of the chief Ruler, she was angry. Without
being seen, she said, 'You err, Samael,' i.e., 'the blind god.' 'An enlightened,
immortal man exists before you. He will appear within your molded bodies.
He will trample upon you as potter's clay is trampled. And you will go
with those who are yours down to your mother, the abyss.'" (On the
Origin of the World, p. 65, The Other Bible, edited by Willis Barnstone).
God's word asks, "Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said,
Who is on the LORD‘S side? let him come unto me." (Exodus 32:26). You cannot agree with the gnostics that
the creator is blind, evil, and bound for destruction, and also agree with God's word: "But the LORD is the true God; He is
the living God and the everlasting King. At His wrath the earth will tremble, and the nations will not be able to endure His
indignation. Thus you shall say to them: 'The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and
from under these heavens.' He has made the earth by His power, He has established the world by His wisdom, and has stretched out
the heavens at His discretion." (Jeremiah 10:10-12).
It is incredible that this new gospel is reported in the media as if it
were helpful instruction. Christians serve the God of Israel. You cannot
love God and hate Him; you cannot serve Him and conspire to bring Him down.
This information is about as useful to God's people as Nazi propaganda
was to General Eisenhower.
When and Where?
An earlier generation of Bible critics sorted through Paul's letters, tossing
out some on grounds that letters condemning gnostic teachings could not
have been written by Paul because that heresy had not yet appeared. Now,
in their wild oscillations more reminiscent of the fashion world than the
scholarly, they date gnostic writings prior to orthodox. What is the truth?
There is no reason to reject the Bible's testimony that this heresy, or
some embryonic form of it, had already appeared while Paul was writing
his letters in the 50's and 60's A.D. Where? Egypt?
The most jarring note the gnostic writers strike is their 'other' interpretation
of the Old Testament. But one hears the same in the present day from Bishop
Spong and the atheists. Instead of being adored as a God of loving-kindness,
the Old Testament God is condemned on moral grounds, and mocked as inept
on the strength of scriptures like, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). This
'other' Bible interpretation was already prepared and came ready to hand.
Bishop Spong needed to undertake no more creative work to adopt the atheists'
Bible interpretation than first to adopt their attitude.
Atheism was unpopular in those days, but the gnostics needed to look no
further for their ready-made source than to Egyptian anti-semitism. The
Coptic-speaking inhabitants of Egypt, in spite of being the autochthonous
inhabitants of the land and heirs to a great civilization, were no more
than fourth-class citizens in their own native country. They were already
behind the Greek-speakers who had been the governing elite under the former
regime, and lately behind whatever Italian carpet-baggers passed through
town. They were behind also Alexandria's Jews, who had been allotted special
privileges under the early emperors, under the old imperial adage of divide
and conquer. This population's rage nourished, and was nourished by, the
publishing industry. Authors like Apion supplied the goods.
Apion identified the God of Israel with a totemic animal: the ass: "Apion hath the impudence to pretend
that 'the Jews placed an ass's head in their holy place;'..." (Josephus, Against Apion, Book II, Chapter 7).
Empire-building tossed all manner of different peoples into one cauldron,
and it was standard practice for pagan theologians to try to identify foreign
gods with those familiar to them. These identifications seem forced to
modern readers, based as they often are on a single shared attribute, such
as a hardware implement an otherwise differently-described god holds in
his hand. To readers who identify the pagan gods as mere names, poetic
fictions, made-up protagonists of made-up stories, their number might well
be infinite. But to believers who reckoned them real beings of universal
sway, not fictions, not local phenomena, there was no alternative to the
strategy of identification.
This strategy went badly awry with the God of Israel, who is not numbered
amongst the gods of the nations. An Egyptian, starting with the assumption
that all gods have animal forms, might come to a different conclusion reading
the story of Balaam's ass than a reader who understands God's transcendence.
The error would be compounded realizing what deity has the ass as its emblem:
a bad actor, Typhon: "...but the power of Typhon although dimmed and
crushed, and still, as it were, in the last agony and convulsions, they
nevertheless propitiate and soothe by means of certain sacrifices: but
occasionally they humiliate and insult him at certain festivals, when they
abuse red haired men and tumble an ass down a precipice...and altogether,
they regard the ass as an unclean and daemon-like animal on account of
his resemblance to that personage..." (Plutarch, Isis and Osiris, Chapter XXX). Since Typhon was a bad god, linking him with Jehovah yields the 'other' Old Testament of the gnostics.
As to why any nominal Christian would adopt this interpretation of the
Old Testament, why has Bishop Spong adopted it? Some read the Old Testament
and throw themselves down to worship; others despise the God revealed therein.
Not everyone is headed in the same direction.
Another breeding ground is Samaria. Early Christian writers finger Simon Magus
and Dositheus as the first gnostics: