Gnosticism, Essenes, and Christianity

Gnosticism, Essenes, and Christianity

Copyright 2019 by Joan Berry

         “Know what is in front of your face and what is hidden from you will be disclosed to you. For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed,” (From the Book of Thomas).

                In some Christians’ opinion, they believe that Christianity in its early stages was of one accord; it was united, had one doctrine, and was charismatic. They further think all the people were inspired by the life and teachings of Jesus and that all believed in the same religion. In truth, all that is a myth. The early church was not united and there were many sects of Christianity that believed they were the only true believers. Some were Christians in name only. This is still true today with innumerable Christian Protestant denominations.

            In this study, there is a comparison between the most prominent sects aside from the basic Christianity; the Essenes and the Christian Gnostics. With the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Scriptures (NHS) in 1945, a portal was opened to present a fresh view of early Christian communities. Further studies revealed that Christian Gnostics and Christianity were not divergent branches of the same religious tree. Claremont Graduate University professor James M. Robinson translated the Scriptures and learned that Gnostic writers were not the depraved cult described by some church leaders who held  personal opinions. [These were the same leaders who discriminated against women and displaced them from church]. Gnosticism was recognized as a legitimate religious movement.

In the 1970s, after translation from Hebrew to Greek, to English, the NHS Codices provided a clear explanation of the diverse and philosophical ideas that found a place in early Christianity; an alternate view of the movement. Most of the NHS are Christian and were widely available in the early church. The contents of our Protestant Bible are only a small selection of Christian writings. Centuries later, various Christian writers used personal opinion as their guide to try to discredit the Gnostic Scriptures. Today, the NHS is a favorite with students of religions.

            At the time of the Jesus Movement, the society was influenced by Greek and Roman cultures. The Gnostics were influenced by these cultures as well as by Jew and Christian doctrines. They ascribed to the belief that the universe was composed of two realms. One was present and visible world of matter; the other was spiritual, light, and good. They further believed that within themselves was a spark of divinity and by living a righteous life they could acquire special knowledge and practices to allow them to be free of their bodies and join Jesus in Heaven. Apparently, they believed they were physical matter, but a spiritual being.

            A big difference between the Christians and Gnostics was that the Gnostics believed they were the only true believers and the Chosen Ones and that only they could have the special knowledge of the Gospels. Of course, the Christians were not having any of that and declared the Gospels were to be preached to all people – the world.

            Christianity has its origins in Judaism and was considered to be a Jewish sect for some time. The separation came after the resurrection of Jesus. Christians lived among other sects such as the Pharisees, Sadducees, Gnostics, and Essenes. There were texts among religious writings of the times describing the ascetic and apocalyptic beliefs of the Essenes. This sect was totally devoted to their faith and embracement of martyrdom. The belief in martyrdom may have influenced this practice in Christian thought. Both shared the belief such as the imminent end of the world and return of Jesus. Furthermore, they held in common the belief that they should live pious and ascetic lives, be separate from cities and secular places.  They ascribed to a life of solitary or communal prayer and self-denial. We see this today in convents, monasteries, and communal groups.

Conclusion:

While some of us, including myself, do not totally agree with Gnosticism [Remember there were different sects of Gnostics just as our Protestant churches], there is common ground and this is true of the Essenes to a degree. Christianity, as we know it, was not organized and fully developed at this time either.

A Great decade

During the 1940s, after 2000 prior years, two great biblical discoveries were discovered. In 1945, the Nag Hammadi Scriptures were found buried in a clay jar at the base of the Jabal Cliffs near the Nile River in Egypt. There were13 papyrus codices(bound as books, not scrolls). In all, there were 52 tractates, six were duplicates, and some were in tatters with many Christian writings included. This collection is also known as the NHS Library due to the variety of its contents. In later years, other copies of the NHS were discovered.

In 1947, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered 30 miles from Jerusalem in a cave at Khirbet Qumran. The importance of this find is that its discovery, after being hidden for 2000 years, the scrolls proved the Old Testament had not been changed. The scrolls did not pertain to the Jesus Movement as this event occurred in New Testament times.

Gentile Conversions

Gentile Conversions

Copyright 2018 by Joan Berry

The stoning of Stephen in Jerusalem was the event that triggered the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles. Many of the believers fled for their lives to Antioch in Syria where a large population of Jews was already established. Once there, the refugees established the mother church for the believers (Carson & Moo, 2005, p.238).  Antioch is where the first Gentile church was established because the gospel message of Jesus was so well received (Alexander & Alexander, 2009, p. 643). After a controversy over restrictions Jews wanted to place on Gentile converts, Paul removed the two main obstacles that Gentiles faced in converting to Christianity; the circumcising of men and dietary laws. [In Galatians 2, Paul removed these restrictions from non-Jewish converts.  He wanted no obstacles in the way of their conversion]. From the Antioch church, Paul’s missionary journeys were commissioned to the world as presented in the Book of Acts which covers 30 years beginning with the birth of the new church at Pentecost until Paul’s imprisonment in Rome (Alexander & Alexander, 2009, p. 643).

Paul’s Missionary Journeys

Paul’s missionary home base was in Antioch, Syria about 300 miles north of Jerusalem. Looking on a map (see insert) one can see the advantage of that location as access to other regions. Antioch was a Christian stronghold and remained so until the Muslim invasion in the seventh century (Niswonger, 1992, p. 206). The founding of the church at Antioch is believed to have taken place circa 32-44 A.D. by church members fearing for their lives following the stoning of Stephen (Niswonger, 1992, p. 208).  Believers in Antioch were the first to become known as Christians, given that name by people outside the fellowship of the church (Niswonger, 1992, p. 207). At the time of Paul’s missionary journeys, the Jewish population in the city was about a half million and under Roman rule. Antioch was a commercial center and due to the wealth of the Christians there, they were able to send Paul and Barnabus with supplies to the Jerusalem poor during the famine (Acts 11:29-30), (Niswonger, 1992, p. 206).  It was during the trip to Jerusalem that they added John Mark, cousin of Barnabus, to their company. The first missionary journey most likely began around 47-48 A.D. and was commissioned by the Antioch church.

         Map of Paul’s missionary journeys courtesy of Ken Anderson.

Paul’s Missionary Journeys Timeline.

Circa 47-48 C. E.,.  Paul’s first missionary journey was to Galatia (Acts: 13-14 NIV).  The places Paul and Barnabus traveled to were: Selucia, Cyprus (native land of Barnabus), Salamis, Paphos, Attalia, Perga, Antioch of Pisidian, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, and then returned to Antioch of Syria. At Paphos, Paul struck Elymas, a sorcerer, blind because he had interfered with the faith of a new convert, Proconsul Sergius Paulus (Niswonger, 1992, p. 212). John Mark, for reasons not explained, left the journey shortly after the group landed at Perga in Pamphylia which created a rift between the apostles (Niswonger, 1992, p. 210). Paul and Barnabus preached first to the Jews in the synagogues and when the message was rejected, they preached to the Gentiles (Carson & Moo, 2005, p.288). At Lystra, they encountered a problem with the pagans proclaiming they were gods after they healed a lame man and Paul preached to them that they needed to worship the true God.  The Jews stirred up a crowd which stoned Paul and left him for dead outside the city (Niswonger, 1992, p. 213). 

Paul’s Second Missionary Journey: Greece.

            A.D. 50-52.The second missionary journey (Acts 15:36-18:22 NIV) began in Antioch of Syria and from there they traveled through Cyria and Cilicia to Lystra, Phrygia, Galatia, Traos, Philippi in Macedonia, Thessalonica (largest city in Macedonia, Berea, Athens, Corinth (where they stayed for nearly two years, Ephesus, Caesarea, and then returned to Antioch of Syria. Due to the rift over John Mark, the apostles separated for this trip with Paul recruiting Timothy and teaming with Silas to return to Asia Minor; Barnabus took Mark with him to continue ministering in Cyprus (Niswonger, 1992, p. 222). Paul and Silas run into trouble in Philippi when Paul performed an exorcism and landed in jail. Paul fell back on his Roman citizenship and secured his release. They likewise had to flee Thessalonica and Berea and ended in up in Athens for safety (Carson & Moo, 2005, p.288-289). They preached for a time in Athens but not with much success and they moved on to Corinth where they remained for about a year and a half and where he had to defend himself before Gallio, a Roman official.  Also at this juncture, they recruited Priscilla and Aquila to help spread the gospel and they in turn enlisted the help of Apollos (Carson & Moo, 2005, p.289). Paul, Silas, and Timothy left for Ephesus where they remained for two and one-half years. Forced to leave by an uprising, Paul left there and made his way to the coast, sailed to Caesarea and then further traveled to the mother church at Antioch, Syria (Acts 18:20-22 NIV).

Paul’s Third Missionary Journey: Return to Asia and Greece.

            A.D. 53-58. The third missionary journey (Acts 18:23:21-21:15 NIV)  of Paul began in Antioch, Syria through regions of Galatia and Phrygia, Ephesus where he remained for about two years, Macedonia in Greece, Traos where he raised Eutyches from the dead, Assos, Mitylene, Chios, Samos, Miletus, Tyre, Ptolema, Caesarea, and Jerusalem. On his return to Ephesus, Paul learned that the disciples there only knew of John the Baptist’s baptism and he laid hands on them so they received the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  His book of I Corinthians was written in Ephesus and later wrote 2 Corinthians somewhere else in Macedonia (Niswonger, 1992, p. 233; Acts 19:4-7 NIV).  His plans to sail to Syria were changed when he learned of an assassination plot to kill him on board the ship. Instead, he went to Miletus where he met the elders for what they thought would be their last meeting. From there he traveled to Palestine where he received the prophetic message that he if he went to Jerusalem he would be arrested (Niswonger, 1992, p. 238). He was determined to deliver an offering for the church there and was arrested as prophesized, his missionary journey at an end (Acts 21:27 NIV). 

Epilogue:

            A.D. 60. Paul was arrested in Jerusalem and imprisoned in Caesarea and Rome. However, on the way to Rome, his ship was caught in a storm and drifted to Malta from where Paul eventually made his way to Rome and placed under house arrest (A.D. 60-62). Due to that limitation, he wrote letters to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon (NIV note on p. 1876). Tradition says that Paul was released and he again traveled about the region spreading the gospel until arrested again during the reign of Nero and beheaded in A.D. 64 (NIV note on p. 1876).

Conclusion:

            God, as usual, used a tragic event to bring greater glory to the cause of salvation. Stephen is stoned to death in Jerusalem causing believers to scatter in fear, but taking the gospel with them to share with others; in this case, it was a large Gentile audience who gladly received it.  The church born at Pentecost was established in Antioch which then sent apostles on missionary journeys to the world. The missionaries endured hardships and some were martyred but the gospel message was delivered, received and spread throughout the known world.

References

Alexander, P., & Alexander, D. (2009). Zondervan handbook to the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI:   Zondervan

Carson, D.A. & Moo, D.J. (2005). An introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan

Life Application Study BibleNew International Version (NIV). (2005). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers

Niswonger, R.L. (1992). New Testament History. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan

Illustrations: Anderson, K. (n.d.). Apostle Paul’s missionary journeys. Retrieved from http://kenanderson.net/bible/html/apostle_paul.html

The Three Persons of the Trinity

The Three Persons of the Trinity copyright 2019 by Joan Berry

The doctrine of the Trinity that is central to the Christian faith was not articulated in Scripture, but rather by the church in the first centuries following the writing of the New Testament and before the Council of Chalcedon (circa 100-451), (Grenz, 2000, p. 76; Grenz & Franke, 2001, p.172). The scope of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is beyond human intellect to accurately explain. However, scholars have attempted to express the Trinity as being economic, essential, and social and this essay will follow that train of thought in examining this view (GCU, 2011, para. 14).

In common knowledge, the trinity is often thought as the Father being the creator and provider, the Son as mediator of salvation, and the Holy Spirit as the activator of salvation. Other Thoughts regarding the trinity are Immanent or essential trinity is that in which ‘God exists internally, separated from history, time and space; and Essential trinity said to be focused on the relationship of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Among the trinity members, their relationship is known as social trinity.

Dawson McAllister, in his 1997 article, “I Don’t Understand the Trinity,” for Campus Life, explains the concept in answer to a student who asked him the following questions: What exactly is the Trinity? How can God be three people at once? Which one should I pray to? And what does each of the three do?  McAllister answers the student’s first and second questions with scripture by quoting Matt. 28: 18-20 NIV: 18 “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  McAllister again quotes Matthew to answer the question about prayer: 6” But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you,” (V.6 NIV). In answer to the question about what role each of the Trinity plays, McAllister gives a fuller answer: From God, the Father, things originate and are generated. He is equal to the Son and the Holy Spirit and he is responsible for sending the Son (John 3:16-17 NIV) and the Holy Spirit (John 14:26 NIV) into the world. God, the Son, was sacrificed to cover our sins and open the door to salvation. He also is our advocate before the Father (I Tim. 2:5; I John 2:1). God, the Holy Spirit, has many responsibilities because he helps us pray, comforts us, opens our minds to God’s Word, lifts up Jesus, convicts us of our sins and guides us toward righteousness (Rom. 8:26-27; John 3: 3-6, 14:26, 15:26, 16:7-11, Rom. 15:16 NIV). In addition, the Holy Spirit dwells within us, helps us witness to others, and is faithful to give us joy, love, kindness, peace, and self-control (Rom. 8:11; Acts 1:8; Gal. 5:22-23 NIV).  McAllister admits that we cannot precisely define the Trinity or God and leaves the student with this truth: “Who among us can know the mind of the Lord?” (Rom. 11:34), (p.80).

Steve Berg, in 2001, also writing for Campus Life, told why he believed in the Trinity even after being told that if something could not be explained, one should not believe it. He posits that just because the Trinity cannot be fully explained, it was not impossible for it to exist (p.42).  Berg asserted that if the Trinity was biblical, then it is true. He pointed out Old and New Testament scripture to back up his claim – Deut. 4:35; John 17:3; and I Cor. 8:6 NIV) – God, the Father. Other scripture that Berg pointed to were Paul’s writings for God, the Son, in Col. 2:9, Titus 2:13, John 1 NIV.  For reference to the Holy Spirit, Berg used the examples of Act 5, and I Cor. 3:16 where it said “Christians are God’s temples – the place where God’s Spirit lives.” He also used the examples of the Nicene and Apostles creeds and the names under which we were baptized as proof they were based on the Word of God (p.42).

Cappadocian author, Gregory of Nazianzus, wrote in circa 380 that the nature of the Godhead evolved in the three stages and he also revealed why he believed the doctrine of the Trinity was not clearly stated in the Scriptures (McGrath, 2011, p.163). According to Gregory, the Old Testament spoke of the Father openly, but the Son vaguely. The New Testament revealed the Son openly and gradually revealed the divinity of the Holy Spirit (p.163). Gregory posits that since the Spirit indwelled the believers, they could see this more clearly. Gregory believed that it was proper for God, the Father, be recognized first, God, the Son revealed, once the Father was clearly revealed, and then the Holy Spirit acknowledged (p. 163). He argued that it was a gradual progression in order to clarify the understanding of the Trinity through God’s divine self-revelation (p. 163).

Conclusion

            Although it is impossible for us to accurately and fully describe the Holy Trinity, we can have a certain amount of understanding about the Godhead. We can understand from the Scriptures that all things are generated by the Father, the Son is our mediator or salvation, and the Holy Spirit is the activator of our salvation and comforter. God has revealed the Trinity in an orderly manner throughout the Scriptures to help bring understanding to us about the Trinity as he uses self-revelation in nature and the Bible.

References

Grenz, S. (2000). Theology for the community of God. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Grenz, S. J. & Franke J. (2001). Beyond foundationalism: Shaping theology in a postmodern context. Louisville, KY: Westminister John Knox

Life Application Study BibleNew International Version (NIV). (2005). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers

McGrath, A. (2011). Christian Theology: An introduction. (5th ed.). West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

McGrath, A. (Ed.) (2011). The Christian theology reader. (4th ed.). West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Electronic sources:

Berg, S. (2001). Why believe in the trinity? Campus Life, 60(1), 42. Retrieved from http://ehis.ebscohost.com.library.gcu.edu:2048/eds/detail?sid= . . .

Allister, D. (1997). I don’t understand the trinity. Campus Life, 56(4), 80. Retrieved from http://ehis.ebsohost.com.library.gcu.edu:2048/eds/detail?vid=30&sid=ee871674-a82a-4a0c-. . . ty(c,b,g

Our Father Who art in Heaven

Copyright 2019 by Joan Berry


In the beginning, the focus was on God creating the material world including mankind. Man, made in God’s image was given sovereignty over the newly created world (NKJV, 2007, 1995, p. 7).

God is introducing Jesus Christ as the Servant-Messiah who would bring the world to knowledge of God. God is asserting his authority in v. 5 by announcing that he the source of physical and spiritual life (NIV Study Bible, 1995, p.1102-1103)

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The Word was Christ and he was with God, the Father, before Creation. The world was created through God, the Creator Son (NKJV, 2007, p. 1656); John records a great tragedy in that humankind did not recognize their own creator (Barton et al., 2001, p. 365). “

In the call to praise the Creator, it is a call to praise God for all creation from the heavens to the human heart. It is the call for the heavens to praise him, for the elements of earth to praise him, and for the people to praise him (NIV Study Bible, p. 982; NKJV, p. 960).

Moses had been speaking to the Israelites at the Jordan River, but before they crossed, he made an intercession prayer to God for the Israelites by appealing to God’s faithfulness, mercy, and honor. He reminds God of his redemption of the Israelites, his promises, and his reputation among all nations and his election of Israel (NKJV, 2007, p. 286).
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A highway makes traveling easier and the “way of holiness” was a road built up between temples where only the holy and redeemed could walk on because they had to be ceremoniously clean. Wild animals made travel dangerous but the redeemed would be safe. The redeemed are those God redeemed from bondage and they are to enter the gates of Zion pursued only by gladness, not wild animals. Sorrow will flee (NIV Study Bible, 1995, p. 1058).

The psalmist considers his own faults, hidden and presumptuous, and asks to be delivered from them. He calls upon God as his rock and redeemer to redeem him (NIV Study Bible, 1995, p. 796).

The Christian is no longer under the control of evil, but under the benevolent will of Jesus Christ, the redeemer. The believer is delivered freed, redeemed from the penalty of sin by the payment of Jesus’ death on the cross (NIV Study Bible, 1995, p. 1815).
 
Jesus is telling his followers of the signs that will precede his second coming and refers to himself as their redeemer (NIV Study Bible, 1995, p. 1579).