Not long ago, I received an email from a woman who asked me if I could direct her to some information that refutes Gnosticism. She wrote that a friend of hers “claims to be on an extraordinarily intense spiritual ‘pilgrimage’ of ‘really pressing in to know God intimately’—but this guy has in effect divorced himself from the material world and from all relationships (including his wife and 10 children) which he views as a hindrance to his spiritual growth.”

Gnostics claim to have special knowledge (gnosis is the Greek word for “knowledge”) on how to live the Christian life that is not revealed to “ordinary Christians.” God’s revelation in Scripture is not good enough or sufficient to give direction on how to live the Christian life. Of course, this refutes what the Bible says when it states that Scripture is “adequate” and equips the Christian “for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17). She went on to say that this friend, a farmer, “was putting up hay recently and needed to get it in as they were expecting rain. Before he finished, he remembered that he had scheduled a Bible study, so he left his hay to keep the ‘spiritual’ duty. The rain came and the hay was lost, but he felt justified that he had chosen the higher calling.” Another feature of Gnosticism is the belief that there are two separate realms — “one spiritual, the other material. The spiritual realm, created by God, [is] all good; the material realm, created by the demiurge, all evil. Man [needs] to be saved, not from Original Sin, but from enslavement to matter.”

A further expression of Gnosticism was expressed by someone who “doesn’t believe in voting because that is a ‘worldly affair,’ and he wants only to be engaged in truly spiritual activities.” For the Gnostic, the material world is on a lower plane. Only “spiritual things” are useful and profitable. A Gnostic-like belief might forbid marriage while advocating “abstaining from foods” even though God has created these things “to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth” (1 Tim. 4:3). Godliness for the Gnostic is defined as a retreat from the world and despising the things of the world.

Matthew 24 Fulfilled

Matthew 24 Fulfilled

There was a time (prior to the mid-1800s) when the most prominent interpretation of Matthew 24 was from the preterite standpoint, and the dating of Revelation was believed to be at an earlier date than is now believed." Grasp what this book teaches, and you won't waste any more of your time on the pre-mil, pre-trib fiction put out by the so-called "prophecy experts." Matthew 24 Fulfilled examines the issues related to popular "end-times" hysteria and counters with a view consistent with all of Scripture.

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The rudiments of Gnosticism go back a long way. Today, however, if you question certain elements of eschatology because the arguments used to support those elements are suspect, you could be labeled a Gnostic. It’s like playing the race card. When someone cannot or refuses to engage in a debate over a topic in terms of facts about eschatology, they often play the Gnostic card. It frequently works because few people can define Gnosticism, therefore, it becomes a wax nose to be shaped to fit the contested view. John Calvin explained it well:

Against opposing arguments they will set up this brazen wall — Who are you to question the interpretation of the Church? This, no doubt, is what they mean by a saying common among them, in that Scripture is a nose of wax, because it can be formed into all shapes. If postulates of this kind were given to mathematicians, they would not only make an ell [cubit] [1] an inch, but prove a mile shorter than an ell, till they had thrown everything into confusion.[2]

“Twisting Scripture” is another apt metaphor. Some argue that an emphasis on the “spiritual” is a form of Gnosticism. If so, then the Bible is a Gnostic document, but it isn’t. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again [from above] he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which has been born of the flesh is flesh, and that which has been born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear its sound, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who has been born of the Spirit.” (John 3:4-8).

Jesus mentioned “living water” to the Samaritan woman. She immediately thought of H2O from a well (John 4:7-15). Earlier Jesus said, “Destroy this temple [He had just cleansed it], and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). The Jews thought He was speaking about the physical temple (v. 20) not realizing “He was speaking about the temple of His body” (v. 21). Even His disciples were perplexed (v. 22). False witnesses used Jesus’ statement against Him before Caiaphas (Matt. 26:61).

Jesus’ critics were not arguing that Jesus was a Gnostic. They were attacking His interpretive model that is found in both Testaments (e.g., Ps. 18; Isa. 19:1; Matt. 24). Not everything should be interpreted in physical terms and not everything should be interpreted in non-physical, metaphorical, and symbolic terms. For example, Kenneth Gentry describes the coming of Jesus mentioned in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 as “Jesus’ metaphorical judgment-coming against Israel in the first century.” I agree. On the other hand, Gentry interprets 2 Peter 3:10-13 in physical terms while many others take a non-physical covenantal interpretation. He would claim that those who do not interpret 2 Peter 3 in physical terms are flirting with Gnosticism. This would mean that people like John Owen, John Lightfoot, John Brown,[3] Charles Spurgeon,[4] and others were crypto-Gnostics. Douglas Wilson takes a non-literal approach to 2 Peter 3 as does Peter Leithart.[5] See Wilson’s comprehensive chapter on “The New Heavens and New Earth” in the 1993 book And It Shall Come to Pass.

What is Gnosticism, and does it have anything to do with metaphorical, non-physical, or symbolic interpretations of prophetic texts? Not at all. Valentinus (c. 100-180) was an early Gnostic teacher who started his own sect where he “taught a complicated and confusing doctrinal scheme consisting of complex drama between multiple deities and aeons.”[6] Included in his Gnostic worldview was “that there were three kinds of people, the spiritual, psychical, and material; and that only those of a spiritual nature received the gnosis (knowledge) that allowed them to return to the divine Pleroma, while those of a psychic nature (ordinary Christians) would attain a lesser or uncertain form of salvation, and that those of a material nature were doomed to perish.”[7]

The basic structure of his Gnosticism can be summed up as follows: “God is unknown; the creation, an accident, is a mixture of good … and evil … redemption is through Jesus, who is neither God nor human; salvation is for those who can rise above the material into the spiritual.”[8]

These early Gnostics did not exegete Scripture. To argue that those who disagree with prophecy writers like Ken Gentry are Gnostics is a desperation play. How can a preterist like Gentry, for example, interpret Daniel 12:2 and Revelation 1:7 in non-physical ways and not be considered a Gnostic while other preterists who interpret Acts 1:11, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (Phil Kayser and dispensationalists), and 2 Thessalonians 1:7 in non-physical ways are? Gentry would have to declare Milton Terry[9] a Gnostic, all dispensationalists as Gnostics, and Paul himself as a Gnostic because they do not interpret certain passages the same way as Gentry does. Since in 2 Thessalonians 1:7 (actually verses 4 to 12) Paul had his present recipients of his letter in view: “for you … your faith … love of each other … speak proudly of you … your persecutions and afflictions which you endure … that you may be considered worthy … indeed you are suffering … those who afflict you and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire.” Are we to believe that Paul switches from his present audience to a yet future where He will deal “out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (v. 8)? Paul is referencing what Jesus said in Matthew 16:27-28 (also Jude 1:14-16), verses that Gentry and others apply to the events surrounding AD 70. How would have the Thessalonians been vindicated in their day if a long-term postponement was proposed by Paul? That retribution came in events leading up to and including the destruction of the temple in AD 70.

It’s these types of inconsistencies and refusal to acknowledge and counter other interpretations that frustrate many Bible students who are asking honest questions.

Last Days Madness

Last Days Madness

In this authoritative book, Gary DeMar clears the haze of "end-times" fever, shedding light on the most difficult and studied prophetic passages in the Bible, including Daniel 7:13-14; 9:24-27; Matt. 16:27-28; 24-25; Thess. 2; 2 Peter 3:3-13, and clearly explaining a host of other controversial topics.

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[1] “[T]he combined length of the forearm and extended hand). The word literally means ‘arm,’ and survives in the form of the modern English word ‘elbow’ (arm-bend).” [2] John Calvin, Acta synodi Tridentinae cum antidoto (Geneva, 1547). Antidote to the fourth session. “Adversus contrarios rationes hic oppositus erit muris aheneus: Tu quis es, qui ecclesiae interpretationi obstrepis? Hoc scilicet est, quod vulgari proverbio inter se praedicant: Scripturam esse nasum caereum; quia converti possit in omnes formas." English translation by Henry Beveridge (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1851).
[3] The 19th-century expositor John Brown wrote: “A person at all familiar with the phraseology of the Old Testament scriptures knows that the dissolution of the Mosaic economy, and the establishment of the Christian, is often spoken of as the removing of the old earth and heavens, and the creation of a new earth and heavens. . . . The period of the close of the one dispensation, and the commencement of the other, is spoken of as the last days and the end of the world’; and is described as such a shaking of the earth and heavens, as should lead to the removal of the things which were shaken (Hag. 2:6; Heb. 12:26-27).” John Brown, Discourses and Sayings of Our Lord, 3 vols. (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, [1852] 1990), 1:171-172. [4] “Did you ever regret the absence of the burnt-offering, or the red heifer, or any one of the sacrifices and rites of the Jews? Did you ever pine for the feast of tabernacle, or the dedication? No, because, though these were like the old heavens and earth to the Jewish believers, they have passed away, and we now live under the new heavens and a new earth, so far as the dispensation of divine teaching is concerned. The substance is come, and the shadow has gone: and we do not remember it. Now, I want you to feel just the same with regard to all your former life as you now feel towards that old dispensation.” C. H. Spurgeon, “God Rejoicing in the New Creation” (No. 2211), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit (1891), 37:354. [5] The Promise of His Appearing: An Exposition of Second Peter (Moscow, ID: Canon Press. 2004). [6] William Edgar and Scott Oliphint, eds., Christian Apologetics Past & Present: A Primary Source Reader (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009), 84.
[7] Dan Dery, “And He Shall Come to Judge the Quick and the Dead: An Ante-Nicene Rule of Faith” (October 29, 2019). [8] Edgar and Scott Oliphint, eds., Christian Apologetics Past & Present, 84. [9] “Acts i, 11, is often cited to show that Christ’s coming must needs be spectacular, ‘in like manner as ye beheld him going into the heaven.’ But (1) in the only other three places where ὃν τρόπον [hon tropon], what manner, occurs, it points to a general concept rather than the particular form of its actuality. Thus, in Acts vii, 28, it is not some particular manner in which Moses killed the Egyptian that is notable, but rather the certain fact of it. In 2 Tim. iii, 8, it is likewise the fact of strenuous opposition rather than the special manner in which Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses. And in Matt. xxiii, 37, and Luke xiii, 34, it is the general thought of protection rather than the visible manner of a mother bird that is intended. Again (2), if Jesus did not come in that generation, and immediately after the great tribulation that attended the fall of Jerusalem, his words in Matt. xvi, 27, 28, xxiv, 29, and parallel passages are in the highest degree misleading. (3) To make the one statement of the angel in Acts i, 11, override all the sayings of Jesus on the same subject and control their meaning is a very one-sided method of biblical interpretation. But all the angel’s words necessarily mean is that as Jesus has ascended into heaven so he will come from heaven. And this main thought agrees with the language of Jesus and the prophets.” Milton Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics (page 247, note 1).