Doctrine of Gnosis

July 17, 2010

A. The noun gnosis (gno~si$) has the following cognates:
1. Agnoeo (a&gnoevw) (verb), “to not know, to be ignorant of.”
2. Akatagnostos (a&katavgnwsto$ ) (adjective), “above disgrace, beyond reproach.”
3. Anaginosko (a&naginwvskw) (verb), “to read, to recognize.”
4. Ginosko (ginw/skw) (noun), “doctrine perceived in the left lobe”
5. Epignosis (e)pi/gnwsi$) (noun), “metabolized doctrine”
6. Epiginosko (epiginwskw) (verb), “to metabolize doctrine”
7. Kataginosko (kataginoskw) (verb), “to condemn, to scorn, to judge, to blame.”
8. Kardiognostes (kardiognwvsth$) (noun), “knower of the heart.”
9. Akatagnostos (a)katagnostw$) (adjective), “above disgrace, beyond reproach.”
10. Proginosko (proginwskw) (verb), “to know beforehand.”
11. Prognosis (prognosi$) (noun), “foreknowledge.”
12. Sungnome (suggnwmh) (noun), “concession.”
13. Gnome (gnwmh) (noun), “opinion, judgement, intention.”
14. Gnorizo (gnwrizw) (verb), “to make known, to reveal, to declare.”
15. Gnostos (gnwstw$) (adjective), “known, knowable acquaintance, friend, intimate”
16. Gnostes (gnwvsth$) (noun), “an expert, one who knows.”
17. Diaginosko (diaginwvskw) (verb), “to decide, to determine by examination.”
18. Diagnorizo (diagnwrivzw) (verb), “to give an exact report, to make known.”
19. Diagnosis (diavgnwsi$) (noun), “decision.”
B. Classical Usage
1. The noun gnosis (from Heaclitus on) originally expressed the act of knowing through experience.
2. It is knowledge that is derived from the nous (gno~si$), which is the left lobe of the soul.
3. It is derived from the verb ginosko (ginw/skw), which we dealt with in detail in the exegesis of Philippians
4. The concept of knowledge had a central place in Greek philosophical systems.
5. The inscription at Delphi, gnothi sauton, “know yourself,” is a virtual motto.
6. It expresses the urge to reach beyond, to know oneself.
7. This drive characterized the Greek people for several centuries.
8. To the Greek mind, knowledge (gnosis) was explicitly linked to knowing the “truth,” aletheia.
9. The question of “truth” chiefly revolved around being able to distinguish between “actual” and “imitation.”
10. Truth was reality rather than something apparent or ostensible.
11. And for the Greeks the external object essentially expressed an underlying reality.
12. Gnosis therefore was to know these ideas that belong to a superior realm of reality, a world of timeless
realities which stand unchanged and unaffected by the events around it.
13. To know this truth, this ultimate reality, was significant because the one who possessed insight into this
reality also had the ability to control it.
14. Consequently for the philosopher gnosis is an existential knowledge which is decisive for a person’s life
and destiny.
15. Such concepts as these formed the basis or points of contact for the later systems of gnosticisim.
16. In gnosticism, the noun gnosis connotes knowledge as well as the act of knowing, and it can thus be used in
the absolute without any supplementary genitive, though what is meant is not knowledge generally
(episteme) but the knowledge of God.
17. E.D. Schmitz states that Gnosticism is a “general term denoting a manner of life which sprang from a
denial of the validity of human existence in history and the cosmos. It found expression for its beliefs in a
syncretistic mythology, and expressed itself in the negation of ethics” (New International Dictionary of
New Testament Theology, volume 2, page 394).
18. Gnosticism was an attitude to life which expressed itself in a feeling of superiority over all non-gnostics-in
Christian gnosticism, over all mere believers.
19. In the writings of Plato gnosis in its concern for what really is attains to the divine, in Gnostic sources God
is regarded much more exclusively as the self-evident object of gnosis.
20. He is so indeed against the background of a dualism which does not accept the Greek view that the deity is
beyond the world of becoming in the sense of a reality that underlies all becoming, but which conceives of
this transcendence in terms of an absolute separation from all becoming, so that we cannot discover the
Godhead by a “recognitive” contemplation of the world but only by turning away from it.
21. This means, however, that the knowledge with which the Gnostics were concerned, in contrast to that of the
Greeks, was distinct from all other kinds of knowledge; and this is in keeping with the restriction of
aletheia and ousia to the divine reality.
22. While ginoskein is for the Greeks the cultivated methodical activity of the nous or logos, fulfilled in science
and particularly philosophy, the gnosis of the Gnostic, both as process and result, is a charisma which is
given by God to man.
23. It is thus radically distinguished from rational thought; it is illumination.
24. God is inaccessible to man as such.
25. But he knows men, i.e., the pious, and reveals Himself to them.
26. Such gnosis is ecstatic or mystical vision, and to this extent knowing is still understood as a kind of seeing,
though in the sense of mystic vision rather than the older Greek sense.
27. It does not make what is seen a possession of the one who sees.
28. On the contrary, he must pray that he may be kept in gnosis.
29. Not merely the culmination of the divine vision is described as gnosis, but more often the way which leads
to it and whose goal is theoria in the sense of ecstatic mystical vision.
30. Since on this way there is imparted a knowledge which can be possessed, a medley of mythological and
philosophical tradition penetrates into Gnosticism, and in certain types and strata it is hard to distinguish
Gnosticism from philosophical speculation.
31. For Plato gnosis was a dunamis, “power.”
32. In Gnosticism it meant magical power.
33. Gnosis gave the Gnostic exousia, “power, authority” and granted him freedom from emarmene.
34. In this sense gnosis is a possession, though it is always in jeopardy and must be made secure by asceticism.
35. It is so as a mysterious quality of the soul which is regarded as a substance, not as knowledge which in the
act of comprehension controls the content of what is comprehended.
36. Gnosis pertains to those things which we experience through the senses of the body.
37. Epignosis and gnosis differ.
38. The former is the complete comprehension after the first knowledge (gnosin) of a matter.
39. It is bringing me better acquainted with a thing I knew before; a more exact viewing of an object that I saw
before afar off.
40. That little portion of knowledge which we had here shall be much improved, our eye shall be raised to see
the same things more strongly and clearly.
41. The distinctions are clear in the apostle Paul’s writings and is confirmed by Chrysostom who states, “You
knew (egnote), but is necessary to know thoroughly (epignonai)” (Trench’s Synonyms of the New
Testament, page 298).
42. Thus, gnosis is found in the nous which contains object information from perception and epignosis is found
in the kardia which contains object information which has been metabolized or believed upon.
43. Liddel and Scott list the following classical meanings for the word (page 355):
a. Seeking to know by inquiry, investigation, especially judicial
b. Result of investigation, decision
c. Knowing, knowledge
d. Higher, esoteric knowledge
e. Acquaintance with a person
f. Recognizing
g. Means of knowing
h. Being known
i. Fame credit
j. Means of knowing, hence, statement in writing
C. LXX Usage
1. The noun gnosis appears 59 times in the LXX, of which 15 are non-canonical.
2. It is much rarer than the verb ginosko in the LXX.
3. It is used comparatively much more often in a spiritual and ethical sense to denote a revealed knowledge
whose author is God or sophia, “wisdom.”
4. God is the God of knowledge.
5. The gnosis of the righteous derives from God.
6. It is a spiritual possession resting on revelation (Prv. 24:26).
7. All capacity for spiritual knowledge is denied to the unregenerate mind.
8. True spiritual knowledge is concealed from the wise of this world.
9. Gnosis in the LXX is a technical spiritual term in antithesis to the secular sophos.
10. Gnosis and sophia are frequently related, and sophia can even be the superior principle.
11. In the LXX gnosis is divine revelation of an objective character, but under Hellenistic influence there is a
plain subjective element of profound spiritual knowledge in the mystical and Gnostic sense.
12. Thus gnosis may be insight into the world plan of God (Dan. 12:4).
13. Gnosis is knowledge concerning God and His work which goes beyond all human comprehension and
which is proclaimed for believers by the whole creation.
14. In the LXX, gnosis replaces 5 different Hebrew terms:
a. de`ah (hud), “knowledge” (1 Sm. 2:3; Ps. 73:11 [72:11] ).
b. da`ath (jud), “knowledge” (Prv. 8:9; Hos. 4:6).
c. yadha` (udy), “know” (Josh. 23:13; Jer. 40:14 [47:14]).
d. yedha` (udy), “know” (Dn. 2:30 – Aramaic).
e. ka`as (suk), “grief” (Ecc. 1:18).
D. NT Usage
1. The noun gnosis appears 29 times in the NT and only once in the book of Philippians.
2. Louw and Nida list the following meanings for gnosis from their research (Greek-English Lexicon of the
New Testament Based on Semantic Domains volume 2):
a. To possess information about (page 334).
b. The content of what is known (page 336).
c. Esoteric knowledge (primarily philosophical and religious), with the implication of its being heretical
and contrary to the gospel (page 337).
d. To come to an understanding as the result of ability to experience and learn (page 382).
3. Bauer, Gingrich and Danker list the following (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other
Early Christian Literature page 164):
a. Knowledge as an attribute of God and of man
b. Specifically of Christian knowledge
c. Of the heretical gnosis (Gnosticism)
4. The New Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon (page 119):
a. Knowledge
b. Intelligence, understanding
c. Objective knowledge: what is known concerning divine things and human duties
5. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words states that gnosis ^1108^, primarily “a seeking to know, an
enquiry, investigation” (akin to A, No. 1), denotes, in the NT, “knowledge,” especially of spiritual truth; it
is used (a) absolutely, in (Luke 11:52; Rom. 2:20; 15:14; 1 Cor. 1:5; 8:1) (twice), (7,10,11; 13:2,8; 14:6; 2
Cor. 6:6; 8:7; 11:6; Eph. 3:19; Col. 2:3; 1 Pet. 3:7; 2 Pet. 1:5,6); (b) with an object: in respect of (1) God, (2
Cor. 2:14; 10:5); (2) the glory of God, (2 Cor. 4:6); (3) Christ Jesus, (Phil. 3:8; 2 Pet. 3:18); (4) salvation,
(Luke 1:77); (c) subjectively, of God’s “knowledge,” (Rom. 11:33); the word of “knowledge,” (1 Cor.
12:8); “knowledge” falsely so called, (1 Tim. 6:20).”
6. There are 2 categories of gnosis in the NT:
a. Anthopocentric (Rm. 2:20; 1 Cor. 8:1; 1 Tm. 6:20)
b. Theocentric or Christocentric (Rm. 11:33; 15:14; 2 Cor. 2:14; 4:6; Eph. 3:19; Phlp. 3:8; 2 Pt. 3:18).
7. The Greek concept of gnosis was anthropocentric whereas the Biblical concept of gnosis is Theocentric or
8. The Christian view of knowledge is thus largely determined by the OT.
9. An obedient and grateful knowledge of the deeds and demands of God is linked with knowledge of God
and what He has done and demands.
10. It is in keeping that this Christian knowledge is not a fixed possession but develops in the life of the
believer who is positive towards the Word of God and whose soul is controlled by the Holy Spirit.
11. Gnosis is a gift of grace which marks the life of the Christian by determining its expression (1 C. 1:5; 12:8;
2 C. 8:7).
12. Christian knowledge is based upon the absolute truth of the Word of God.
13. In relation to learning the Word of God gnosis knowledge is the responsibility of every believer.
14. The Gnosis stage is knowledge understood objectively.
15. The Gnosis stage cannot take place without the controlling of the Spirit or simply while the believer is in
16. There is no application at this stage but simply the comprehension of what is being taught by the
communicator of doctrine.
17. Gnosis includes 3 basic factors under the ministry of God the Holy Spirit:
a. Positive volition (Luke 8:18)
b. Recognition of the Authority of the Pastor-Teacher (1 Cor. 16:15-16; 1 Thess. 5:12; Heb. 13:7, 17).
c. Concentration (Mark 4:23; Luke 11:28; 2 Pet. 1:19).
18. The Gnosis stage occurs in the nous, “left lobe,” and is when the believer is simply a hearer of the Word
and not yet a doer of the Word (James 1:21-25).
19. Gnosis resides in the nous as objective biblical information.
20. It is transferred at the moment of pistis, “faith” through the pneuma, “human spirit” to the kardia “right
lobe” where it becomes epignosis, “metabolized objective biblical information.”
21. Thus, there is a distinction in the Greek NT between gnosis and epignosis.
22. Epignosis is gnosis metabolized or that which is believed by the believer.
23. Epignosis biblical information in the kardia is thus a result of a non-meritorious decision by the believer
which is called pistis, “faith.”
24. It becomes sophia, “wisdom” through its application.
25. The perceptive apparatus in the unregenerate is different from the regenerate.
26. A regenerate person possesses a body, soul and human spirit thus making them trichotomous whereas the
unregenerate person possesses only a body and a soul making them dichotomous.
27. The body is called soma, the soul is called psuche and the spirit is called pneuma in the original language of
the Greek New Testament.
28. The mentality of the soul is divided into 2 parts:
a. Nous (nou~$), “left lobe of the soul.”
b. Kardia (kardiva), “right lobe of the soul”
29. Essence of the soul:
a. Self-consciousness
b. Conscience
c. Mentality
d. Emotion
e. Volition
30. The Essence of the Heart
a. The frame of reference: the entrance antechamber for doctrine (Prov. 4:4).
b. The memory center: the “pump” that circulates doctrine into various areas of the right lobe (Phlp. 1:3).
c. The vocabulary storage: the supply house for the information of thought.
d. The categorical storage: the supply house for the classification of thoughts.
e. The conscience: storage for all norms and standards (Rm. 2:15; 9:1; 13:5; 1 Co. 8:7; 2 Co. 4:2; 5:11;
Tit. 1:15; Heb. 9:14; 1 Pet. 2:19).
f. The launching pad: source of all mental attitude in life.
g. Department of growth
h. Subconscience-stores various categories of things that shock or impress from adversity, sin, failure or
31. The kardia in the Bible is the mental activity or function of the psuche, “soul.”
32. In the psuche, it “circulates” thought, mental activity just as the physiological heart does the same with
33. It is the thinking part, analytical, reasoning part of the soul.
34. The kardia is the dominant thinking part of the soul.
35. It is the target of Bible teaching, the Word of God.
36. The nous is the perceptive lobe of the brain.
37. It is the left lobe or perceptive lobe and is designed for receptive comprehension.
38. The left lobe is designed to understand various types of data and to digest objective information.
39. The volition determines whether or not the objective information in the nous or perceptive lobe is
transferred to the kardia, i.e., the right lobe.
40. The perceptive process is different in the believer who is in fellowship with God from the unregenerate and
the believer who is out of fellowship with God.
41. So the perceptive process is the same in the believer who is out of fellowship with God and the
42. The human spirit in the believer was designed by God to give the believer the ability to understand the
Word of God and the capacity to store it as well.
43. The Holy Spirit reveals or makes understandable the Word of God to the human spirit of the believer who
is in fellowship with God.
44. He reveals or makes understandable the will of God for the believer through the communication of the
Word of God.
45. The human spirit is not operational unless the believer is in fellowship with God.
46. The believer who is in fellowship with God has no unacknowledged sin circulating in his stream of
consciousness and is permitting the Holy Spirit to control or influence his soul by means of the human
47. The psuche or human soul was designed originally by God to be subordiante to the human spirit.
48. The believer who is in fellowship with God permits this to take place whereas the believer who is out of
fellowship does not permit this to take place.
49. The unregenerate and the believer who is out of fellowship are said to be psuchikos, “soulish,” whereas the
believer who is in fellowship with God is said to be pneumatikos, “spiritual.”
50. The believer in fellowship is said to be spiritual because he is permitting the Holy Spirit to reveal the will
of God through the communication of the Word of God to the believer’s human spirit.
51. When an unregenerate person hears information from the cosmic system it enters his nous where it is
gnosis information.
52. If he makes a decision to accept this cosmic information, it is transferred from then nous to the kardia
where it becomes epignosis information.
53. Epignosis information is knowledge that is applied to the kardia, the dominant lobe.
54. It then becomes a part of the person’s frame of reference, their memory center, their vocabulary, and
classification of their thoughts.
55. It forms their conscience where it becomes a part of their norms and standards.
56. Lastly, epignosis is the mental attitude of the person.
57. Now the believer who is out of fellowship with God goes through the same process since he is not
permitting the Holy Spirit to reveal the will of God through the Word of God and he is not enabling his
human spirit to function.
58. When a believer in fellowship hears the communication of the Word of God it enters his nous where it is
gnosis information.
59. It is transferred to the kardia through the human spirit where it becomes epignosis information.
60. The epignosis information though is spiritual phenomena, i.e. divine viewpoint whereas the unregenerate
and the psuchikos believer possess only cosmic information, i.e. Satanic viewpoint.
61. When the epignosis information in the believer is spiritual phenomena, i.e. the Word of God becomes a
part of the believer’s frame of reference, their memory center, their vocabulary and the classification of
62. The Word of God now forms their norms and standards since it becomes a part of their conscience.
63. It is also cleans out the subconscience of the believer where the everything shocking, experiences in
adversities, failure and disappointment are stored.
64. The believer’s mental attitude is now based upon the Word of God as result of being in fellowship.
65. So gnosis information is either cosmic or divine viewpoint and likewise epignosis information is either
divine viewpoint or cosmic viewpoint.
66. The believer must make a decision to get in fellowship and then to either accept or reject the Word of God
as it is revealed to the believer’s human spirit by the Holy Spirit.