Gnosis and Nag Hammadi

Authored by: Anne McGuire

The Routledge Companion to Early Christian Thought

Print publication date:  December  2009
Online publication date:  December  2009

Print ISBN: 9780415442251
eBook ISBN: 9780203864517
Adobe ISBN: 9781135193430


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“Gnosticism” is a modern European term that first appears in the seventeenth-century writings of Cambridge Platonist Henry More (1614–87). For More, “Gnosticism” designates one of the earliest Christian heresies, connected to controversies addressed in Revelation 2:18–29 and in his own day.1 The term “gnosis,” on the other hand, is one of several ancient Greek nouns for “knowledge,” specifically experiential or esoteric knowledge based on direct experience, which can be distinguished from mere perception, understanding, or skill. For Plato and other ancient thinkers, “gnosis” refers to that knowledge which enables perception of the underlying structures of reality, Being itself, or the divine.2 Such gnosis was valued highly in many early Christian communities,3 yet the claims of some early Christians to possess gnosis came under suspicion and critique in the post-Pauline letter of 1 Timothy, which urges its readers to “avoid the profane chatter and contradictions of falsely so-called gnosis.4 With this began the polemical contrast between “false gnosis” and “true faith.”

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