By Jeffery Kingry
Gnosticism is a system of philosophy that sought to destroy the New Testament church in the first century. John’s first epistle combats this influence that was prevalent in the church at the time. The situation that brought this error into the church parallels a condition ,hat exists today. Many years had passed from the dawn on Pentecost; the church then had large numbers of 1, second and third generation” Christians. As Jesus had prophesied, “The love of many shall grow cold” (Matt. 24:12). Being a Christian had become an inherited responsibility, a traditional habit, rather than “walking in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). There were those who were no longer content with being a “new man” in the Lord. They were tired of standing out as separate from !he world. They wanted a “new song” to sing, a “relevant” truth to embrace. The threatened destruction of the church to which John addressed himself came not from without, but from within, as had been prophesied (Acts 20:29, 30).
As William Barclay put it, “The trouble which 1 Jn. seeks to combat did not come from men who were out to destroy the . . . faith; it came from men who thought that they were improving (the truth). It came from men whose aim was to make Christianity intellectually respectable. It came from men who knew the intellectual tendencies and currents of the day, and who wished to express Christianity in terms of these current philosophical ideas. It came from men who felt that the time had come for the (church) to come to terms with 1he secular philosophy and with contemporary thought” (Barclay, DSBS, Letters Of Jude And John, p. 5).
Gnosticism was the “secular philosophy . . . and contemporary thought” of the day. It was based upon ,he assumption that only the intellect or spirit of man was of any value, and any philosophy worth following would “liberate” the mind from the flesh. The very word gnosios, from which the Gnostics took their name means “to know.” Since the Gnostics sought “to know” everything, they plumbed the depths as well as the heights. The Gnostic not only looked for God in the light, he also sought God in darkness. John refers to this in 1 Jn. 1:5.
The Gnostic exists today in varying forms without the church, personified in those Eastern Religions which seek a “higher peace” through intellectual meditation. It can be seen in the denial of material reality by the Christian Scientists. It can be observed in another form in the “other-worldliness,” withdrawal, and bodily abuse of some Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox religious orders. To a certain degree Gnosticism is reflected in the humanistic influence of Higher Criticism, in that these critics believe that the intellect of man is the only avenue through which a “knowledge” of Jesus (“The Historical Jesus”) shall ever be accomplished. There is one thing all facets of the Gnostic philosophy have in common: their denial of the simple, non-mystical, and practical teaching of the Scriptures. The Gnostic wants more than a simple way of life that ends in heaven. He desires a mystical experience that reflects upon his intellectual ability and stamina “to know.”
In 1 John, though, it is revealed that we are “to know” God, not through gnostos, but through ginosko. Gnostos means to subjectively learn something,.to have an intellectual knowledge of something. Paul used the word gnostos in Rom. 2:20, “An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge (gnostos) and of the truth in the law.” The Jews knew the facts of the law, but seldom the right application (cf. vs. 21-29). Paul’s conclusion was that it was not the man who knew the law that was saved, but the man who lived by faith in obedience before God (vs. 29). Vine says of another usage by Paul in Rom. 1:19, “Because that which may be known (gnostos) of God is manifest in them, for God hath shown it unto them:” Literally, “The knowledge of God,” referring to the physical universe in the creation of which God has made himself knowable, i.e. by the exercise of man’s natural faculties, without supernatural revelations as those given to Israel” (W. E. Vine, p. 300).
But John does not use the verb gnostos, he uses ginosko. Knowing God is not something achieved by disciplined meditation, as in knowing a fact. Knowing God is having a relationship with God through the revelation of God’s word. The difference in these two words can be seen easily in Eph. 3:19. Paul prayed in verse 16 “that God would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened by his spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; ,hat ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know (ginosko) the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge (gnostos), that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.”
“Knowing” God means having the right kind of relationship with God. “I am the Good Shepherd, and know (ginosko) my sheep, and am known (ginosko) of mine” (Jn. 10:14). The hireling of verse 13 may know (gnostos) all about the sheep, but he has no relationship with them. “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew (ginosko) him not” (Jn. 1:10). Why did they not know him?”
Because men loved the darkness rather than the light . . . he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made evident, that they are wrought in God” (Jn. 3:18-21).
How can we know God? How can we tell if others know God? How can we tell if one is in darkness?
(1) By Keeping His Commandments: “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of’ God complete: hereby know we that we are in him. He that says he abides in Him, ought himself also so to walk, even as Jesus walked” (1 Jn. 2:3-6).
(2) By Abhorring and Avoiding Sin: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God . . . when he (Jesus) shall appear we shall be like him . . . And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as Jesus is pure. The one who commits sin, violates God’s law, for sin is the transgression of law, and you know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. Whosoever abideih in him sinneth not. Whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth what is right is right, even as Jesus is righteous” (1 Jn. 3:2-7).
(3) By Keeping a Pure Conscience: “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart and knoweth all things” (1 Jn. 3:18-20).
(4) By Loving the Brethren: “Beloved let us love one another. For love is of God, and every one that loveth God is horn of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God.
Truth Magazine XX: 49, pp. 781-782
December 9, 1976