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Heresies Then and Now: Gnosticism | Theology Matters

  • March 2006 Issue
Practical Theology

Dan Brown’s best-selling novel, The Da Vinci Code, is built around the claim that Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous painting indicates that Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene and she bore His child. This radical revision of the story of Christ is rooted in an ancient heresy known as Gnosticism.

Gnosticism claimed to possess secret knowledge about God that was reserved only for certain initiates. Many teachings of ancient Gnosticism are collected in writings that purport to contain sayings of Jesus not recorded in the four canonical Gospels. The so-called Gospel of Philip, for example, was the basis for Dan Brown’s premise that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married. Gnosticism taught that the material world was created by an evil god associated with the Old Testament. Most Gnostics denied the reality of Christ’s incarnation and suffering.

Some of the teachings that developed into Gnosticism in the second century were already condemned in the New Testament. Paul’s criticism of myths, genealogies, and “old wives’ tales” seems aimed at the kind of fanciful speculation that was characteristic of Gnostic writings (1 Tim. 1:4, 4:7; Titus 1:14).

Why Theology Matters

Although Gnosticism was widely condemned by the church from its very inception, Gnostic themes have gained new interest today in both popular and scholarly writing. Gnostic claims of suppressed teaching and secret truth appeal to modern suspicion of religious institutions. The belief in a “divine feminine” is attractive to those who see the church as too patriarchal. The Gnostic gospels are not historically reliable, and they do not present a true picture of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For Further Reading

For a critique of the Gnostic assertions made by Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code read The Da Vinci Deception by Erwin Lutzer (Tyndale House).

BY Dr. John Koessler

Dr. John Koessler, who retired as professor emeritus from Moody Bible Institute, formerly served in the division of applied theology and church ministry. John and his wife Jane enjoy living in a lakeside town in Michigan. A prolific writer, John’s books include Dangerous Virtues: How to Follow Jesus When Evil Masquerades as Good (Moody Publishers), The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody), and True Discipleship (Moody). John is a contributing editor and columnist for Today in the Word.

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