Gnosticism is a syncretistic cult which attempts to combine the beliefs of Greek religion and philosophy with Christianity. The term is derived from the Greek word gnosis which means knowledge. The gnostics taught that salvation comes through believing in secret knowledge which only they had access to rather than faith in Christ and repentance from sin. As a syncretistic cult, it is parasitic of Christianity and borrows from it much of its teaching while twisting the key doctrines of the Christian faith. There are many misconceptions about gnosticism which is understandable given that there are many different forms of gnosticism in existence. The gnostics produced many alternative gospels and writings which claimed that they had the true teachings of Jesus. The Gospel of Thomas is the most well-known gnostic writing which completely perverts the Christian message.
The gnostics believed that all things were created ex deo (out of God) as opposed to the Christian belief of creation ex nihilo (out of nothing). The world that now exists was created by a demiurge who is the lowest aeon on the chain of gradation of divine beings. That means gnosticism is polytheistic believing in many gods as opposed to Christian monotheism. The aeons of gnosticism flow out of or emanate from the being of higher aeons who in turn come from even higher aeons leading back to an original divine being who is too pure to interact with the material world which is viewed as intrinsically evil.
The best comprehensive definition of gnosticism that I have found is by Stephan A. Hoeller in his article on the subject:
“The Gnostics posited an original spiritual unity that came to be split into a plurality. As a result of the precosmic division the universe was created. This was done by a leader possessing inferior spiritual powers and who often resembled the Old Testament Jehovah. A female emanation of God was involved in the cosmic creation (albeit in a much more positive role than the leader). In the cosmos, space and time have a malevolent character and may be personified as demonic beings separating man from God. For man, the universe is a vast prison. He is enslaved both by the physical laws of nature and by such moral laws as the Mosaic code. Mankind may be personified as Adam, who lies in the deep sleep of ignorance, his powers of spiritual self awareness stupefied by materiality. Within each natural man is an ‘inner man,’ a fallen spark of the divine substance. Since this exists in each man, we have the possibility of awakening from our stupefaction. What effects the awakening is not obedience, faith, or good works, but knowledge. Before the awakening, men undergo troubled dreams. Man does not attain the knowledge that awakens him from these dreams by cognition but through revelatory experience, and this knowledge is not information but a modification of the sensate being. The awakening (i.e., the salvation) of any individual is a cosmic event. Since the effort is to restore the wholeness and unity of the Godhead, active rebellion against the moral law of the Old Testament is enjoined upon every man.”
This rebellion against the moral law of God is the essence of Satanism. Gnosticism in many ways is the forerunner of the new age movement and there are many parallels between gnosticism and eastern religions. In these religions, our primary problem is not sin or rebellion against God, but a lack of knowledge. Through this knowledge, they believe we can become our own saviors. The heretic Marcion advocated a form of this gnosticism by teaching that the God of the Old Testament is evil while the God of the New Testament is good. As a result, he rejected the Old Testament and its teachings together with the four Gospels except an edited version of Luke.
The worldview of gnosticism and the beliefs of Christianity are diametrically opposed to each other. This is apparent to anyone who reads the writings of gnosticism for himself. An example of this is seen in the gnostic Gospel of Judas which claims that Jesus requested that Judas betray him. In one of the more interesting lines from the document, Judas says to Jesus:
“I know who you are and where you have come from. You are from the immortal realm of Barbelo. And I am not worthy to utter the name of the one who has sent you.”
Barbelo in some forms of gnosticism is the first emanation from God and highest of the aeons. The unique terminology of these gnostic forgeries betrays their pagan origin and demonstrates that their authors were not Jewish monotheists living in the first century as the authors of the New Testament were, but polytheistic Gentiles living in the second century.