Gnosis or wisdom?

Cynthia Bourgeault describes the gospels of Thomas, Philip and Mary as wisdom gospels rather than gnostic gospels.

Gnostic is an emotive term for Western Christianity. The gnostic gospels emphasised gnosis – knowledge. Many gnostic sects taught that matter was essentially evil in nature. This is why these sects were condemned as heretical.

Now we know that whilst Jesus’ taught the masses in parables, the disciples were taught the secret or hidden meaning directly:

He told them, The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’
– (Mark 4:11-12)

Paul confirms this in his first letter to the Corinthians

So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.
– 1 Corinthians 4:1

There’s no evidence here that Jesus didn’t teach that correct knowledge and understanding was important. It’s quite the opposite. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus rebukes the disciples for their lack of understanding.

The term gnostic gospels allows the mainstream church to dismiss these texts in bulk, but many of them are not really gnostic texts. As Cynthia Bourgeault says, they are wisdom gospels rather than gnostic gospels. They belong to the wisdom tradition, which has always been opposed by those who emphasised the law. Margaret Barker calls this tradition that of the deuteronomist.

The same conflict is in evidence then in Judaism in the Old Testament that we now see in Christianity in the New Testament.

Expanding Cynthia Bourgeault’s formulatio, we have this:

Canonical gospels emphasise right belief (faith)
wisdom gospels emphasise right practice (works)
gnostic gospels emphasise right understanding (knowledge)

Do we really have to choose between these?

In Kabbalah, understanding (binah) is seen as reflection upon the light of wisdom (hokhmah), and these two form a pair. In Jungian terms, the solution of any antimony (pair of apparent opposites) is not to choose one but to rise to a higher level of awareness from which the choice is no longer necessary.

Here though it is an antimony of three – a trinity.

It’s ironic that the mainstream church gets hung up on law, when it is exactly because it was virtually impossible to perfectly keep the law that Jesus had to come into the world.


~ by scalambra on April 1, 2011.

One Response to “Gnosis or wisdom?”

  1. How much do you believe Paul’s teachings are influenced by Gnosticism ? He certainly puts his own radical spin onto Christ’s teachings.

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