“Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did”(v. 6).
- 1 Corinthians 10:1–6
Full-blown Gnosticism had not yet emerged in the first century, but many Gnostic ideas were present in an incipient form. Second John 7 addresses the reality of the incarnation, which the docetic school of Gnosticism denied. Colossians 2:16–19 warns us about angel worship and asceticism, ideas that were also prevalent within later Gnosticism.
Gnosticism tended toward angel worship due to its exaltation of the spiritual world. Remember that the Gnostics thought the further something was from pure matter (such as rocks) the better. The greater the distance from pure matter, which is evil, the closer you get to pure spirit, which is good. Since angels are spirit creatures, they are superior to the mixture of matter and spirit known as human beings. This motivated Gnostics to worship angels.
Believing that creation is inherently evil, Gnostic thinkers also advocated extreme asceticism. If physical things are bad, then the best spiritual exercise is to deprive oneself of physical pleasure. So Gnostics abstained from sexual intercourse, eating meats, and other things that the physical senses find pleasing.
Marcion, a Gnostic who came to Rome in AD 139, embraced such asceticism. He stands out because his teachings helped the church formally recognize those books that belong in the New Testament. According to Marcion, Yahweh is a demiurge, an evil god who occupies a lower plane of being than the pure spirit from which all things come. Yahweh created the physical world and is not Jesus’ father. Christ is the son of the loving, pure spirit and source of all, and He rescues us from the capricious Yahweh. Marcion removed all Old Testament references from Luke and ten of Paul’s letters, using this abbreviated canon to promote his aberrant views.
The early church excommunicated Marcion, receiving the Old Testament as the word of the one true, creator God given for our instruction (1 Cor. 10:1–6). Moreover, though there was already widespread consensus on the extent of the New Testament canon, Marcion’s challenge revealed to the church that a more formal listing of books was needed lest the apostolic faith be overturned.
Most professing Christians today would not think of altering the biblical text, but there is a widespread, often unspoken belief that the God of the Old Testament became nicer in the New Testament. But the God revealed in both testaments is the same holy and merciful Creator, and we must not think that God somehow changed His character and demands once He sent Christ. God is no more and no less loving or holy today than He was before Jesus came.
Passages for Further Study
- Numbers 14:18
- Malachi 3:6
- John 8:48–59
- Hebrews 13:8
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