The radical and subversive nature of Gnosticism can best be appreciated when contrasted with the teachings of Scripture. The Bible reveals that an all-powerful God created the earth and the universe (Genesis 1:1). This magnificent creation was produced according to a well-thought-out plan (Psalm 139:14; Proverbs 8:22-31; Job 3. Everything God made was very good (Genesis 1:10, 18, 21). God created human beings in His own image (Genesis 1:27). Male and female were created as separate genders for the purpose of marrying and reproducing in a family context (Genesis 1:28, 2:22-25). Satan, in the form of a serpent (Ezekiel 28:13), deceived the first human beings by insinuating that God was a liar and was withholding valuable information from them (Genesis 3). Adam and Eve were banished from the garden paradise for disobedience. Jesus Christ died for the sins of mankind, making it possible to be reconciled to God, receive the Holy Spirit, gain eternal life and participate in the future kingdom of God (John 3:16-17; Acts 2:38; Mark 1:14-15).
Gnostic teaching totally reverses nearly every detail of these biblical accounts! Gnostics taught that the real God is unknowable and incomprehensible. This world "is a stupendous mistake, created by a foolish or vicious creator-god" (Mystery Religions in the Ancient World, Godwin, 1981, p. 84). Humans are merely "fragments of the universe... sediment from a lost heaven" (Lacarriere, pp. 16, 19). This evil, incompetent god was self-conceived by Sophia (goddess of wisdom) and later seduced Eve, who then gave birth to Cain and Abel. The serpent was actually sent by the true God to teach wisdom to Adam and Eve before they were unmercifully expelled from the garden. This wicked god, the Jehovah of the Hebrew Scriptures, tricked people into worshiping him as the true God, and the Old Testament "is the story of his tyranny and egotism" (Ibid., p. 85). The villains of the Bible (Cain, Esau, the Sodomites, etc.) are regarded as heroes by Gnostics for standing up to this evil god!
In Gnostic belief, salvation is obtained not by accepting the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins and changing our life, but by learning secret knowledge. For Gnostics, knowledge comes from within oneself—not from revealed Scripture, yet the Bible says just the opposite (Proverbs 3:5; John 17:17)! For Gnostics, this world is evil; the body is the evil—a corrupt prison for the soul—from which one must seek to escape. Marriage and procreational sex are also seen as evils dreamed up by the wicked creator-god. The real hope, to Gnostics, is not to see the future kingdom of God, but to regain an imagined past, freed from the fetters of this world (spirit from matter, light from darkness) in a timeless and incorporeal Kingdom of Light. It is not hard to see why the ideas of Simon and his followers "flew in the face of the whole Apostolic doctrine and the teaching of Jesus" (Lacarriere, p. 47). Gnostics literally turn the Bible upside down!
one faction as anti-sex another faction is sex without boundaries
Some of the most controversial teachings of the Gnostics had to do with the lifestyle they advocated. Marriage and procreational sex were scorned as the distractions of a wicked god. This led to drastic extremes! Certain teachers, such as Marcion and Valentinus, advocated asceticism (self-denial). They forbade marriage and taught that Gnostics should remain celibate. Initiates already married were told to abstain from sexual relations for life (After Jesus, Reader's Digest, 1992, p. 132). Since some Gnostics taught that Adam was created without gender, the ideal state one should aspire to is androgyny—where sexual identity is suppressed or eliminated. The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas states, "when you make the male and female into one, so that the male is not male and the female is not female... then you shall enter the kingdom" (Unearthing the Lost Words of Jesus, Dart and Riegert, 1998, p. 54). Celibate asceticism—denying one's sexuality and abhorring marriage—was a way of achieving this androgynous ideal and becoming like the true God.
However, other Gnostic teachers advocated just the opposite! Simon Magus appears to have rejected marriage and promoted free love! Gnostics saw laws given by an evil creator-god as restrictive and inhibiting. They taught the "practice of free love must be the means of bursting out of the social straight jacket specifically invented to stifle its [love's] liberating spontaneity... in the promiscuity of men and women lies the true communion" (Lacarriere, p. 51). Some Gnostic sects participated in orgiastic rites of almost indescribable perversion. The idea was that to extirpate evil, it must be practiced until it is exhausted! This stood in marked contrast to the biblical admonitions to "flee sexual immorality" (1 Corinthians 6:18-20) and avoid all forms of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22).
Why do many Early Church Fathers talk negatively about sex & marriage?
Let us glean some of the ideas presented by these early fathers of Christianity:
Women are the root of all evil -
(This contradicts God's own words in Genesis 1:31 and also contradicts directly 1 Timothy 6:10)
Those who have sex with their wives for pleasure are adulterers -
(This contradicts the definition of adultery in Greek and Hebrew, not to mention many scriptures, such as Leviticus 18:7-23)
Marriage only exists only after the Fall of Man -
(This contradicts Genesis 1:23-24, as it states the marriage design and that Eve was one flesh with Adam, both prior to the Fall)
Christians marry only to produce children -
(Although this one is less in error than most of the other statements above, it does contradict the Song of Solomon, which has nothing to do with producing children and everything to do with the joys of love and sex.)
Women are the Devil's Gateway. Meaning, sin was a result of you, via sex and temptation. -
(Here we see the influence of Gnosticism and Platonism on sex. Apples were considered the fruit, as it symbolizes sex in ancient times. Hence the woman had sex with the man early, and this is where sin came from. And it is assumed the man is somehow without sense when a woman seduces. However, none of this is from scripture. This is all a cleverly devised fable, which we are warned against believing. Further, it contradicts Genesis 3:1-8, as it says they ate a fruit, not that they had wild premarital sex or ate an apple. Last, God created woman as a helper, not as a devilish gateway to sin. Today, we laugh at this viewpoint, however, this is the ground on which many ideas in the church derive. )
Women are temptresses. -
(When I read this, it reminds me of the mindset of many muslim societies. It is not the man's fault, that he wants to have sex with a woman, but rather the woman for tempting him. This is just passing blame. Every man is responsible for his actions, as is made clear in these passages: 1 Peter 4:5, Matthew 3:8-12, Ezekiel 3:18. Further, this assumes a general state of evil within woman, which is greater than sinful nature, which is not accounted for within scripture).
Women's only function is to bear children. -
(Again, this would contradict both God's design of woman as a "helper", equal to man, contradicts Song of Solomon and simple common sense).