Docetism and Gnosticism in the New Testament


wolf_in_sheeps_clothing1I do not enjoy writing about false doctrines, but I suspect that neither did Paul. Nevertheless, any serious reader of the New Testament cannot side-step the fact that Paul, Peter, John & James spent much of their letters addressing issues of  false doctrines and the need for spirit-led teachers, grounded in the Word teaching sound doctrine. So with that in mind…

I am addressing both Docetism and Gnosticism predominately because I refer to it in another article addressing I Jn. 1:9 & the believer. So I thought that rather than turning THAT study into two studies, I should write this separate article and use it to address these false doctrines. So if you read my article entitled, The Truth about 1 John 1:9 you will find that I reference THIS article in order to define these doctrines.

A secondary reason for writing this article, though arguably of more importance, is because FAR from being antiquated beliefs of 2,000 yrs ago…the basics of them both are very prevalent in today’s world, inside and outside of the church (the actual body of Christ).

Also, there is MUCH misunderstanding often being produced by misinformed teaching about these doctrines. Many well known “teachers” in today’s world confuse, distort and even blend these two doctrines so much so that they barely resemble the doctrines the Apostles addressed in their day in any way. Unfortunately it appears that such misinformed teaching about these topics is NOT because clear historical details are missing or even hard to find, but because many “teachers” take pen to hand hastily and before thoroughly documenting their “facts’ which makes the rest of what they say about these doctrines immediately suspect.

What is Gnosticism?

Gnosticism teaches that it is through the unveiling or revelation of “special” knowledge (Gnosis) that one contemplates the Divine and ascends to the Divine nature.

They believe that the material world is evil, and so is its Creator. So it follows that since the Bible teaches that the world was created by God then, accordingly the Gnostics teach that God is evil. They teach that the “True God” presides over the spiritual universe while this false or evil God created and presides over the physical universe.

According to Gnosticism, our souls became trapped in the evil material world and therefore we must seek the special secret knowledge (gnosis) that allows us to escape from the material world (hell) to the spiritual plain (heaven). In particular, we have to understand that the “god” traditionally worshipped as the Creator(-s) is (are) the ultimate false god(-s), and that therefore Jesus would be the very incarnation of evil.

For a better understanding of the distortions the Gnostic heresies had on the Gospels, reference the Gnostic “gospels” uncovered throughout the last century, such as…

Interestingly enough it is this doctrine which many in the Grace-movement today misappropriate in the letter of 1 John. While there is some limited potential that minor tenants of the Gnostic heresy is addressed in this letter it is NOT the doctrine John is addressing in the 1st chapter.

What is Docetism?

Though I am NOT largely dependent upon Wikipedia for accurate information, this particular paragraph from their entry on Docetism was quite good, so I thought I would allow them to define it. Also, if you pay attention you will notice that even Wikipedia recognizes the wide spread confusion and blending of the two false doctrines of Docetism and Gnosticism…

Docetism:

“Docetism is broadly defined as any teaching that claims that Jesus’ body was either absent or illusory.[11] The term ‘docetic’ should be used with caution, since its use is rather nebulous.[12][13] For Robert Price “docetism”, together “encratism“, “Gnosticism“, and “adoptionism” has suffered a fate similar to modern terms like XeroxJello, and Kleenex, being employed “far beyond what historically descriptive usage would allow”.[14] Two varieties were widely known. In one version, Christ was so divine he could not have been human, since God lacked a material body, which therefore could not physically suffer. Jesus only appeared to be a flesh-and-blood man, his body was a phantasm. Other groups who were accused of docetism held that Jesus was a man in the flesh, but Christ was a separate entity, who entered Jesus’s body in the form of a dove at his baptism, empowered him to perform miracles, and abandoned him on his death on the cross.[15]

Really? People really believed this kinda garbage? Unfortunately yes they did (and some still do).

Now the type of Docetism which was prevalent in the days of the epistle of I John was one in which Jesus was being portrayed as a Spirit, which came “looking like flesh”, but wasn’t. That is why John emphasizes the eternal person of Jesus along with the physical reality and nature of Jesus’ body so strongly in his opening statements. Jesus as God IN THE FLESH was the message being given. Accuse John of what you will but subtlety was not his writing style!

The general idea Docetism was that anything physical is inherently distorted and wicked and therefore God could not have come in the flesh. The devil loves this particular lie, because it completely dismantles the power of the Gospel from the onset. Peter makes it clear – “Who Himself bore our sin IN HIS BODY on the tree” I Peter. 2:24.

The Bible does not mince with words concerning the necessity of blood in redemption. It states that without the shedding of blood there can be NO remission of sins – Heb. 9:22 & Lev. 17:11. This requires a REAL body, with REAL bones which generate REAL blood.

Heb. 10:1-10 effectively closes the door on this ridiculous notion of a Jesus with no physical body to anyone who has even a fleeting, superficial respect for God’s Holy Word,

Heb 10:1-10
(1) For the law having a shadow of the good things to come, not the very image of the things, can never with the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect them that draw nigh.
(2) Else would they not have ceased to be offered? because the worshippers, having been once cleansed, would have had no more consciousness of sins.
(3) But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance made of sins year by year.
(4) For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins.
(5) Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, But a body didst thou prepare for me;
(6) In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hadst no pleasure:
(7) Then said I, Lo, I am come (In the roll of the book it is written of me) To do thy will, O God.
(8) Saying above, Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein (the which are offered according to the law),
(9) then hath he said, Lo, I am come to do thy will. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.
(10) By which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

In fact it is the very BODY of Jesus (by means of the water and the blood) which gives testimony to the redemption of mankind.

1Jn 5:6-8
(6) This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood.
(7) And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth.
(8) For there are three who bear witness, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and the three agree in one.

Jn. 3:5 tells us that being born or water was a Jewish idiom for being born of the flesh,

Joh 3:5-6
(5) Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God!
(6) That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

So it is the body and the blood which actually work together with the testimony of the Spirit. The Spirit is NOT anti-flesh, but in fact works with, in and through it. It was in fact, the Spirit’s medium for salvation in the first place! Jesus Himself offered His Own body BY the aid of the Holy Spirit,

Heb 9:13-14
(13) For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling them that have been defiled, sanctify unto the cleanness of the flesh:
(14) how much more shall the blood of Christ, Who through the Eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish unto God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

Two things are of particular note in reference to I John in the passage above and both are in bold and highlighted.

  1. The offering of the body of Jesus as a spotless lamb sacrifice was by the immediate aid of the Holy Spirit Himself.
  2. The act of redemption included the Cleansing of the flesh!

It was not God’s intention to save the spirit and destroy the flesh. It was God’s intention and in fact His finished work, to accomplish the total restoration of the whole man! We will not realize the redemption of our physical bodies until following this natural life…“And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” ~ Rom 8:23, but it was redeemed (paid for) at the same time as was our spirits and souls.

To see in what ways this false doctrine of Docetism had any effect on the believers John addressed in his letter, read my article The Truth about 1 John 1:9.

This is just a brief “mentioning” of the doctrines of Docetism and Gnosticism. I will return and add to the study with greater depth and additional information at a later time, so refer back to this post in the future for updates.

Hi I am Pastor Mark...

I have been a pastor for nearly 30 years now (2018), though never quite like I am today. (more on that in a moment)

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As to my home, I have been married since 1995 to my wonderful wife Terissa Woodson who is my best friend, greatest personal support and most valued critic.
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As far as my education goes, I grew up in a Christian home, but questioned everything I was ever taught. I graduated from Bible college in 1990 and continued to question everything I was ever taught (I do not mention my college in order to avoid being labeled). Perhaps my greatest preparation for ministry has been life and ministry itself. To quote an author I have come to enjoy namely Fredrick Buechner in his writing entitled, Now and Then,

"If God speaks to us at all other than through such official channels as the Bible and the church, then I think that He speaks to us largely through what happens to us...if we keep our hearts open as well as our ears, if we listen with patience and hope, if we remember at all deeply and honestly, then I think we come to recognize beyond all doubt, that, however faintly we may hear Him, He is indeed speaking to us, and that, however little we may understand of it, His word to each of us is both recoverable and precious beyond telling."

~ Fredrick Buechner

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As I said, as of 2009 I’ve been a Pastor for nearly 20 years. Earlier in 2009 the Lord revealed to me that the way we had structured our church was not in keeping with the New Testament. This was a shock to me and it is was a revelation that did not come all at once but over the course of a few weeks.

We were a traditional single pastor led congregation. It was a top-bottom model of ministry which is in part biblical, but not in the form of a monarchy.

The needed change did not come into focus until about 9 very intense months of study and discussions with those who were leaders in our church at the time.

We believe the Bible teaches co-leadership with equal authority in each local assembly and though we currently only have one Pastor/Elder, it is our desire that God, in His faithfulness and timing, may bring us more as we grow in maturity and even in numbers. Having multiple shepherds with God's heart and equal authority protects both Shepherds and sheep. Equal accountability keep authority and doctrine in check. Multiple shepherds also provides teaching with various styles and giftings with leadership skills which are both different and complementary.

Well that is about all there is of interest to tell you about me. I hope our ministry here is a blessing to you and your family. I also hope that it is only a supplement to a local church where you are committed to other believers in a community of grace.

~God Bless!