Gnosticism and Canonical Narrative

Just a brief thought from R. Kendall Soulen this morning. We have talked in the past about the SCN (Standard Canonical Narrative) or the way the Bible is typically read as a unified story.

Typically the story of the Bible is seen as: (1) God made the world perfect, (2) people screwed it all up (the fall), (3) Jesus came to redeem the world from the fall (redemption), and (4) Jesus is coming back to perfect all things (consummation).

As we have said in the past, this way of viewing the Bible is deficient because: (a) It sees only a preparatory role for Israel (they are the people through whom Jesus came) and (b) it omits most of the Bible, needing only Genesis 1-3 and the New Testament.

In place of this SCN I have offered an alternative:
1. Creation with a plan to make the perfect world (creation was not yet perfect–man was alone, serpent was in the Garden, knowledge of good and evil had not been shared, etc.).
2. The fall of humans into evil that already existed (serpent) and the move further away from God’s plan to perfect the world.
3. God’s restoration is through election of Israel and covenants that will lead to both redemption and consummation of the world.
4. God’s redemption is decisively begun through Yeshua’s atoning death and resurrection, to be completed at the end of the age.
5. God’s consummation of the world is happening through Israel and will come to completion at Messiah’s return.

What I wish to share this morning is the Gnosticism of the traditional Canonical Narrative. This is a concept from Soulen’s The God of Israel and Christian Theology.

What is Gnosticism? It is a heresy battled by the early church. The Gnostics believed that matter or physicality is evil and spirit is good. They believed we are spirit beings trapped in bodies. All our sins are a result of physicality. Creation is not from God, but from an evil deity. Jesus came to liberate us from our bodies and teach us the way of spirit.

As Soulen says, the church rightly declared this a heresy. Many of the early church fathers wrote expressly to deny the error of Gnosticism. The whole DaVinci Code phenomenon of 2006 was a sudden and very brief fascination in the media with the Gnostic gospels, such as Thomas and Peter, gospels written by unknown persons under the assumed names of Thomas and Peter. These Gnostic gospels represented Jesus as a liberator from physicality.

But wait . . . Soulen warns. Has Gnosticism really left the church? Not when the standard canonical narrative is assumed. The SCN is semi-Gnostic. Why? Because the SCN sees little or no role for human history in God’s plan. Human history is merely the record of human sin and a small theme of redeemed humanity amid the wash of iniquity.

But a more mature Canonical Narrative sees that God redeems through history and not from it.

What I get out of this is:

1. God’s plan to redeem and perfect the world was not to go around human history, but to work through it.
2. God’s plan was to redeem and perfect the world through electing and choosing a people in relation to all other peoples.
3. God chose Israel in a way that was and is physical and passed on physically (carnal election).
4. The nations were in God’s plan from the beginning, as Israel is defined as the elect among the nations, the priestly people.
5. God has already done much through the history of Israel and the nations, including bringing the scriptures and the Messiah.
6. God is still at work in Israel’s history bringing consummation, the Age to Come.
7. The Age to Come, Messiah’s kingdom, is to be in Israel and the events of history and the present in Israel are part of bringing that reality to earth.

So let’s rid ourselves of Gnosticism completely. God works through physical people, physical bodies, physical nations. His plan for the World to Come is not a barren realm of spirit with clouds and harps. It is a vision of mountains and rivers and trees. It is centered in Israel and includes all the nations.

Isaiah 65:17-25 For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former things will not be remembered or come to mind. 18 “But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; For behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing And her people for gladness. 19 “I will also rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in My people; And there will no longer be heard in her The voice of weeping and the sound of crying. 20 “No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, Or an old man who does not live out his days; For the youth will die at the age of one hundred And the one who does not reach the age of one hundred Will be thought accursed. 21 “They will build houses and inhabit them; They will also plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22 “They will not build and another inhabit, They will not plant and another eat; For as the lifetime of a tree, so will be the days of My people, And My chosen ones will wear out the work of their hands. 23 “They will not labor in vain, Or bear children for calamity; For they are the offspring of those blessed by the LORD, And their descendants with them. 24 “It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear. 25 “The wolf and the lamb will graze together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox; and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain,” says the LORD.


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christian, Messianic Jewish, R. Kendall Soulen, Replacement Theology, Supersessionism, Theology, Wyschogrod. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Gnosticism and Canonical Narrative

  1. Robert Efurd says:

    I believe the heresy of Gnostic thought permeates the way the theologians approach the Torah. Do you think from a “Greek “ point of view or from a Hebrew point of view? This was a question posed in messiah magazine; Issue 93 (2006) p. 13.

    The early Greek Church Fathers brought with them the Greek worldview in which they had been trained. Perhaps this is best seen in the way they regularly interpreted Scripture allegorically, looking for the ‘idea’ behind the text rather than taking the text literally.

    Moreover, the rise of Gnosticism in the early Christian Church is directly linked to a Platonic worldview.
    As the early church followers tried to push away the traditions, of Torah worship, they embraced a metaphysical or I would say Gnostic point of view/approach to the law. People hunger for more information about the life of Yeshua. This is where the church has failed and where Messianic Judaism comes in to fill the void. Once you read Dr. Stern’s translation of the Tanakh and B’rit Hadashah and attend a dynamic messianic synagogue, you feel as though your eyes have finally opened and you understand that Yeshua is the Messiah, he lived as a Hebrew, and he followed the Torah. The need for the Platonic worldview evaporates.
    Gnostic thought is a hunger that some people need. They want to know about the Messiah from the day he was born and beyond. If the Bible does not provide the answer, then they want then they seek it elsewhere. These believers go outside the canon for those answers and are willing to follow others who are false messiahs. A hit movie or popular book will cause the public to shell out money on repackaged books like the Gnostic Gospels. Prof. Elaine Pagles comes out with a book every few years rehashing the Gnostic ideas to a new audience. True scholarship into these early accounts may give us insight into the nature of beliefs of the earlier followers of Yeshua. However, one can be lost in the esoteric ideas if they are not firmly rooted in Torah. As you know, the results of following Gnostic thought can be a disaster. Many people of faith struggle with these issues on a daily basis. They are unhappy with work, job or_____________(place your answer here). They will go to a Gnostic book or leader. A good example of Modern Gnostic thought would be the Heaven’s Gate Cult. They looked at the world as essentially evil and mutilated their bodies i.e. the flesh- to seek out an esoteric vision of heaven on earth. When that did not happen they allowed themselves to be swayed into a false hope of meeting a space messiah and died for it. Such a waste! I remember the news accounts of the sheer disbelief that anything like this could have occurred. Why is it surprising that the mass media and the public at large embrace many of the esoteric/Gnostic ideas? Does it take a disaster to shake people up?

  2. Robert:

    Christendom has throughout history battled with latent Gnosticism while officially rejecting it.

    Here is my favorite example: how many people imagine a spiritual heaven while being unaware that the World to Come is very much physical (mountains, lakes, rivers, trees, real bodies, etc.)?


  3. Graham says:

    There is no one true religion, using the analogy of the spiritual journey; different modes of transport might be employed, some will be quicker than others. The fastest route might get you there sooner, but it might not be the best. The slower passage enables you to witness more.

  4. wayman29 says:

    Although I have spent time reading the gnostic texts I am not able to contribute very well to the debate. It is my view that each part must be viewed through its own theological looking glass. One issue is when the Old Testament and the Gnostic texts are viewed through the New Testament theology many modern ideas are imposed on the texts. These texts were never meant to be read in such a way by the original writers and distort the metaphoric value.

    For example, who first considered the fall of man, original sin, ect. being attributed to the Garden and the serpent? The idea seems out of place in Jewish texts and the the literature of the ancient Near East.

    The serpent possibly used the tree of good and evil as a way to keep man from eating of the tree of life. And as a martyr like the Greek, Prometheus, was made to crawl and eat dust, which contains some imagery of Sheol or the underworld.. The serpent in the Epic of Gilgamesh stole the plant of eternal life. Immortality is reserved for the heavenly council and those they wish to pass it to. Ezekiel 18 deals somewhat with the issue of sins being passed on.

    I might be mis-informed but I do think the writer Paul of the New Testament laid down much of the foundation to how we view the New Testament and read the Gospels, and also changed the view of the Old Testament. If we are to examine texts we need to get into the heads of the ancients rather then imposing our modern theology.

    enjoyed the post! It made me think.

  5. yisraelite says:

    I want to comment the reply of Robert Efurd,

    He said,

    I believe the heresy of Gnostic thought permeates the way the theologians approach the Torah. Do you think from a “Greek “ point of view or from a Hebrew point of view? This was a question posed in messiah magazine; Issue 93 (2006) p. 13.


    First the Gospels that we have of Gnostic and Canon are bove written in Greek. We don’t have the original’ s. There is some church that have Aramaic and Hebrew versions but they are only translation of the Greek one. Like the HRV Scriptures by Institute for Scripture Research (ISR) claim to have translated the New Testament from the ‘original’ Aramaic and Hebrew. Anyone know that those will help them translate it good in English for a better Hebraic English translation, but nothing els. They are just Aramaic translation of the Greek versions. So how do we know for sure that what we have right now is really based on the teaching and way of life of Yeshua of Yahushua.


    Do you think from a “Greek “ point of view or from a Hebrew point of view?

    All we have are written in Greek and almost all the ”Church Fathers” where Greek or Non-Aramaic,Non-Hebrew.

    And if you have read on the early christian writings website , That Jerome Translated the Original writing of the Nazarenes to Greek or Latin(?) who he said everyone call the Original Matthew(his work). And you could also read that from his own writing or work that he quotes the Nazarenes gospel and the quotes verses from the Nazarenes gosel, and those verse that he quotes are not in the Canon Matthew who is his work(jerome).




    That made me think why do we want to be all Hebrew.

    reply to my email;

  6. yisraelite says:

    And in The Canon Luke the author of Acts , The Messiah said The kingdom will not come by waiting for it, it is not a matter of saying there it is, or here it is, the kingdom is in you. (not from scripture but of how I remember it the best)

    And If he said that it not about saying there it is , or here it is.

    That means who wont see it, it is in us. Meaning that is what we desire in are body. Meaning what we strife for is actually perfection.

    He also said be perfect as your father also is perfect.

    Maybe that is what we are on this world, to be perfected within?

    Maybe the kingdom of God/Heaven means the Spirit of Truth?

    The Spirit of Truth helps us to perfection?

    Like one of The Apostle’s of the Messiah said,

    You don’t need no one to teach you. As the anointing(spirit) you received will teach you everything.

    Do you understand now?

    As the messiah said, Worship the Father in Spirit and Truth.

    As the many evidence that we have That the Matthew gospel that we have are not really 100% what the original was like, that they changed verses and chapter, we can imagine how they must have changed also the whole CANON ‘new testament’. If they could have change the only gospel that the Nazarenes accepted , they could have change the rest, Mark,Luke,acts,John, even the epistles.

    But they have left some stuff behind that makes it gnostic.

    Like this verse of peter or john epistle, sry dont remember which one.

    You don’t need no one to teach you. As the anointing(spirit) you received will teach you everything.

    I could not say that The Apostle where exactly Gnostic , because, like I said we can not trust a writing if its not the original written in Aramaic or Hebrew.

    Bove Gnostic and Canon are of Greek origin. Gnostic have Coptic. Makes it feel strange a little. And the Torah and prophets are from a Greek work if you don’t know yet. Also Masoretic Text but the Greek one was made before Masoretic Text so everyone put their trust in the Greek version because that was translated before The Messiah.

    But now they found that Dead Sea Scrolls and there is this verse that isn’t in the Greek nor Modern Bible, disturb my mind,

    here it is , from Dead Sea Deuteronomy BC

    Rejoice, O ye heavens, with him
    and all ye gods worship him;

    The LXX Septuagint have, BC

    Rejoice, O ye heaven, with him
    and let all the angels of God worship

    The Masoretic text have, AD

    Rejoice, O ye nations, with his people;

    If this verse was changed that is from the Torah,

    why can’t it be that they changed the Original Writings?

    reply email;

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