The Gnostic Origin Myth: Blueprint of a Bad Design
Theories, like buildings have supports, and to destroy those theories, you need to destroy the pillars that hold it up. Tearing apart a bad idea is sort of like causing a building to implode. Before you begin placing explosives, you need to study the blue prints of the building so that you know where to place them effectively. The gnostic origin myth is one of those ideas that has become “common wisdom” in our modern culture. The gnostic origin theory states that the New Testament gospels were never intended to be taken as history, but were written as “myths” to communicate intangible truths. In the first article, we noted certain modern myths surrounding this theory that makes the theory more imposing than the evidence actually allows for. Now, we will plan our attack on the theory itself. Therefore, we will begin our dissection of the Gnostic origin Myth with one question that will help us to deal with this problem.
So what exactly is the Gnostic origin myth?
You’ve probably heard various discussions about how the gospels are derived from other previous stories, but let’s make sure we understand the full story. In the nineteenth century, a few German scholars noticed some similarities between some phrases Paul used and some phrases used in the mystery religions (religious secret societies which were very popular in the Roman world). Based on a few verbal similarities, they began to hypothesize that Paul had borrowed various elements of his teachings from the mystery religions. This theory became known as the “religiongeschicte school” (meaning the history of religion). Over time, those holding to this approach began to suggest that the gospels were simply a myth, intended to teach estoric truths. This became connected to a second and third century heresy known as Gnosticism (from the Greek word “gnosis” meaning knowledge). The gnostics are difficult to explain because there were a lot of different types of gnostics. The real key to understanding the gnostics, for our purposes, is to understand that they mixed Christianity with non-Christian teachings (most notably Greek philosophy, and the mystery religions). The theory as it stands today is that the gnostics were the original Christians. They believe that many of the myths of the ancient world are retelling the same story, and the Christian gospels are merely another version. There are many variations on this theme. In some cases, for example, some people pay a lot of attention to the gnostic gospels and others will say that the gospels developed over a long period of time, from historical legends.
One of the most commonly cited mythical deities is Mithras, the problem is that their analysis is based on sources that are no longer considered valid. For example, more recent scholars would disagree that Mithras was viewed as Virgin born or that he was resurrected.
Tearing Down the Supports
With this thumbnail sketch, we can start seeing where the “supports” are for the Gnostic Origin myth. The first one is the “mythical” nature of the gospels. As was noted in our last issue, our first leg of the positive case for Christ has addressed this question, by noting that the gospels are historically accurate. Yet we must still discuss the question of the comparisons to other myths. Additionally, we must ask the question of whether the gnostics were the first Christians or not. A final support is something that is not as obvious: there is a very important question to be asked that is rarely considered by those who advocate the gnostic origin theory. What kind of sources are the gnostic origin advocates using, and are they using them accurately? Simply put, what do we really know about the written documents that the gnostic origin advocates are comparing to the canonical gospels? Do we have reason to believe that they are using them carefully and accurately? Do they deal with the Biblical texts in an accurate manner? All of these questions are intertwined, but we will start by asking a question about one of these threads, and deal with the rest from here. Our next piece, however will deal with the question of the gnostics, themselves.