“I can’t wait to get out of this body and off this earth to live with Jesus forever.”

“The things on earth are all evil. Material possessions, earthly relationships, and concerns about your health are all worthless compared to what we will experience in heaven.”

“Death is freedom for the soul.”

“Christ was a divine being in a human shell.”

“The real you is not physical, it’s spiritual. We all must find the divine spark within us.”

“In heaven, there will be no more time.”

“In heaven we will be able to do anything we want. If you want to fly, you can fly. If you want to transport instantly from one place to another, you can. Heaven is a place where the rules of logic and science do not apply.”

I have heard all of these statements before. In fact, I have heard all of these statements from Christians. In many cases I have heard them from the Evangelical pulpits. They have even made it into our hymns. They have become an assumed part of the way we think. The problem is that they come from an ancient Hellenistic (Greek) philosophical system that is decidedly non-Christian in almost every respect. It is often referred to as Gnosticism. While the characteristics of Gnosticism are complex and varied, it is founded on a dualistic worldview that drives many of its conclusions. It is upon this characteristic that I want to spend our time.

Dualism:
“Early philosophical system which sees the universe in terms of two antithetical forces which are continually at odds. These two forces are responsible for the origin of the world. Often the dualist worldview produced a metaphysical separation between the spiritual and physical, with the spiritual being good and physical being evil. Christianity has rejected all forms of a dualism yet its assumptions often find their way into the church.” (Source)

The key here is that Gnostics believe that the physical world and all it contains is evil, or at least of far inferior quality. Whether it is the rocks, trees, human inventions, the human brain, or physical bodies, these are all of secondary value to the spiritual. The spiritual is that which transcends the physical. The spiritual is that which is most like God. Therefore, the spiritual is that to which we must attain.

Mix this type of dualism together with Christianity and we have a form of Christian Gnosticism.

However, the Christian worldview is not dualistic.

1. God created everything physical and called it good.

In Genesis, we are told that God—the same God we worship—created the physical world. God is not responsible for the spiritual side of the universe while some evil entity created the physical. God created it all and called it good (Gen. 1:25).

2. God is in the process of redeeming the physical.

When man fell into sin, God did not move to “plan B” where all people would eventually move to an alternate location with different rules, physics, and biology. God did not say five minutes after his completion when man messed it all up, “Well, it was a good idea, but it did not work. Let’s try something else.” No, God began a process of redemption. His redemptive plan does not only include the spiritual, but the physical as well.

3. Our hope is not an escape from the physical, but a resurrection of our bodies and the restoration of all of physical creation.

I don’t know how many times I have heard a funeral message where the pastor or priest says, in essence, “John has finally escaped the burden of his physical existence. He is now with Jesus forever.” No mention of the resurrection. No mention of the future restoration. All that matters is where John is at now. But this is not how Paul comforted the Thessalonians when they were grieving the loss of their loved ones. He did not tell them that the deceased were in heaven with Jesus (even though he knew they were). Paul only spoke of the future bodily resurrection (1 Thess 4:13-18). According to Paul, then, our ultimate hope is not to get rid of our bodies, but to get them back!

The only time Christians will be without a physical body is during the intermediate state. As Paul says, “we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (1 Cor. 5:4). The “clothing” is our resurrected body. Paul suggests here that the intermediate state of existence—the time without a body—is inferior to the time when we have a body.

4. The Christian worldview is wholistic.

I am careful in using the word “wholistic” since it can carry many connotations that are not representative of where I am going. However, the Christian view of creation is wholistic. We don’t value the spiritual above the physical or the physical above the spiritual. God has created all things in such a way that they are and always were meant to exist together. When they are apart, creation is incomplete. To value one over the other is like to value the hydrogen molecule more than the oxygen in water. Our bodies and spirit work together. Our mind and brain are both necessary. We need the earth and the earth needs us.

An objection:

Often people refer to the “spiritual body” that Paul speaks of to the Corinthians:

“So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (1 Cor. 15:43-44)

But the distinction here is between the fallen body (a natural fleshly body) and the restored body (a spiritual). In other words, Paul is not making a substantial distinction between the two, but a moral distinction. Notice: one is sown in dishonor and weakness (due to sin) the other is raised in glory (due to redemption). Of course the moral distinction has implications for the body itself, as it will not experience death, but it does not speak to a distinction in basic anatomy. After the resurrection, we will still have ten fingers and ten toes. Our heart will still pump blood. Our thoughts will still be neurological. If you were to stub your toe, a warning signal of physical pain will probably let your brain in on the act. Why? Because this was all a part of “plan A.”

Conclusion:

  • When we die, we go to an intermediate state of existence to await the resurrection of our bodies so that we can be whole again. While it is better because we are with Christ (Phil 1:23), we will also eagerly await the resurrection of our bodies precisely because we were created to be physical beings. Our hope is not to escape our bodies, but to have them restored through resurrection.
  • We will most likely be bound by the same laws of physics that we are bound by here. I doubt that we will be flying, walking through walls, running at the speed of light, or going on fasts that last too long. There is no reason to think that God is going to “plan B” with regards to the physical laws and biology he created. They were declared good and they will be restored minus the effects of sin.
  • There is no “spark of the divine” within everyone. All people are created in the image of God and, while God is not physical, this image is born out by the physical. We have been wholistically corrupted with sin, therefore this image is distorted. It is only through the redemption in Christ that we will be restored. The idea of an uncorrupted “spark” is unbiblical.
  • Christ’s incarnation is not that of a divine being within a human shell, as if God could not really become man because man is physical. Christ is completely God and completely man. Otherwise, Christ could not represent us completely and we are still in our sins without a redeemer.
  • Heaven is ultimately the place where God resides. The ultimate end for the redeemed is not some ethereal trans-dimensional existence called “heaven,” but the new physical earth upon which God resides. It is proper to call it heaven since God will be there (Rev. 21:1-3), but we must understand that our future is on a restored physical earth not unlike this one.

In summary, the dualistic components of “Christian” Gnosticism has a hope based on a “plan B” mentality. Christian redemption is not a movement to “plan B” but a restoration of “plan A.”

“For he must remain in heaven until the time for the final restoration of all things, as God promised long ago through his holy prophets.” (Acts 3:21; emphasis mine)


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    16 replies to "Heresies: Gnosticism – A Divided World"

    • Danny

      “We don’t value the spiritual above the physical or the physical above the spiritual.”

      I have a question regarding this statement. I’ve always wondered about 1 Tim. 4:7-8:

      Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

      Does it not seem that godliness is of more value than bodily training?

      Thanks!

    • Hodge

      I think maybe Michael’s point is that we don’t try to preserve the spiritual only, and see the body as a throw away. The spirit is affected by the body. Hence, sanctification of the soul occurs through the sanctification of the body. Both are created by God to be unified. They are only temporarily in disunity because of an unnatural death that occurs because of our sin; but they will be reunited. Hence, what Christ means be “fear not the one who kills the body, but Him who kills the soul,” and “what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet loses his soul,” are referring to this temporary life as opposed to the life to come. Likewise, trying to hang onto the youth and strength of the body in neglect of the spirit would be foolish, since godliness (disciplining the body and spirit) is beneficial for both temporarily and eternally. I would then take the comment toward godliness as including the body.

    • rayner markley

      CMP: ‘God created everything physical and called it good.’

      Yes it was all good, but it had a weakness. That would be Adam’s free will, which allowed evil to enter the physical world. And before that, free will allowed angels to rebel in the spirit realm.

    • Delwyn X. Campbell

      C. Michael Patton said, “Our heart will still pump blood.”

      1Co 15:50 NKJV Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption.

      When Jesus appeared to the 11 the evening of the resurrection, He still bore the wounds, but there is no evidence that He bled from those wounds. I must, therefore, respectfully disagree with you on this point. In addition, Jesus was not restricted by material obstacles, and our body will be like his, ergo, I must also disagree with you where you said that we won’t be able to do the things that He was able to do. We will not have the same body that we have now, for “we will be changed.”

      I get what you were trying to do, but you were doing too much. In attempting to argue against demonic dualism, you also tried to claim that the natural and the spiritual are equivalent, when they are not. they are distinct realms even in the Bible. The difference from a Christian perspective is simply that the material is not essentially evil,. as dualism held, but simply different and more limited.

    • Richard Worden Wilson

      I do agree with Delwyn that the NT suggests flesh and BLOOD will not have a place in the “renewed” creation of the resurrection. However, I don’t think C. Michael was saying “the natural and the spiritual are equivalent.” I got the impression that he was saying that our resurrected bodies will be “physical” and “spiritual.” That is, a “spiritual” body in the thought of Paul still has substantial existence in a realm that has continuity AND disjunction with what we know as the physical today.

      That scientists have recently realized that there is about 85% of the physical universe about which we really have no understanding or knowledge whatsoever, suggests that just as dark matter/energy is still physical, we just don’t know anything about resurrected bodies yet. I used to object to calling Jesus’ resurrected body physical, but I don’t anymore because I realized that I didn’t actually know what I was talking about. I haven’t experienced the resurrected state of being, let alone analyzed it; calling it physical may be altogether appropriate.

      C. Michael, I commend your efforts and most of your results, but would like to hear why you think we will have flesh and blood bodies just like these we have now except for the dying part.

      All of this reminds me that as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:7f:

      ‘we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God,,, 9 But, as it is written,

      “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— 10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit…. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.’

      God has revealed future things to us “in a glass darkly,” yet let us continue clarifying what the Spirit is revealing to us together.
      All the best to all in Christ,
      Richard Worden Wilson

    • rayner markley

      Michael, would you make it easy for me and rate some Gnostic beliefs as to the essential and nonessential categories that you stated in your recent ‘Heretics’ article. If indeed many of these notions have made it into our thinking (as you say), then they must be nonessential.

    • Bill Trip

      You make Heaven sound so academic and boring.

    • GoldCityDance

      Isaiah 65:17-25 (New Heavens and a New Earth)
      17 “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.

      This discussion is incomplete if we do not consider Isaiah 65 (as well as Isaiah 60 and 61).

      It is explicit from verses 21 (building, planting, eating) and 25 (animals eating) that the New Earth is very physical in nature.

    • GoldCityDance

      On question for you all… Isaiah 65:20 seems to suggest death will still be present?? Compare:

      Isaiah 65:19
      “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.

      with

      Revelation 21:4
      and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes ; and there will no longer be any death ; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain ; the first things have passed away.”

      Revelation 21 seems to be an extension of the promise/prophecy stated in Isaiah 65. Notice that, in Isaiah 65, the promise that death will be no more seems to be conspicuously absent. The promise was explicitly included in Revelation 21.
      Is this one of those examples of progressive revelation?

    • Michael T.

      Raynor,
      There is a difference between some Gnostic tendencies which have entered our way of thinking which is heterodox, and full fledged Greco-Roman Gnosticism which is heresy and was declared such in the first few centuries A.D.

    • rayner markley

      Yes, full gnosticism has many points that we reject. Nevertheless, is it impossible for a gnostic to be a Christian? These points of doctrine are troubling, but what I really want to know is if they have faith in Christ and if they show fruits of the Spirit.

      The notion of total depravity seems to fit right in with dualism, and it allows not even a divine spark. In fact, everyone does have an inborn moral sense as St Paul acknowledges. I do recognize of course the different causes of created evil (dualism) and fallen evil (depravity), but they both are extremist in seeing only evil in nature. I don’t mean to imply that man has any ability to merit or earn salvation, by the way.

      Also, I think we shouldn’t be too dogmatic about just what our resurrected body is and what it will do. Jesus took his resurrected body to heaven. It’s true that heaven was not created for us, and a new earth will be made for us. but there is the question of what we will do there. We may be spending some time in heaven too.

    • Michael T.

      Raynor,
      The Eastern Orthodox would actually agree with you’re assessment (though I am not one) to an extent. They largely reject the Augustinian understanding of original sin and total depravity though they do hold to different understandings of these doctrines.

    • Marc

      Whilst I laud this blog and it’s authors for being anti-Platonism and affirming the New Creation and the salvation in time and space brought to this Earth by Jesus I have to take issue with it’s implicit affirmation of a form of Gnosticism (endemic to mainstream western evangelicalism) even though it is explicitly denied in the current post.

      Gnosticism is primarily about saving knowledge (hence the root word gnosis) – the platonist aspect is one form of it whereby the Earth is bad and a disembodied reality (Heaven) is the destination. I am sure the authors would affirm that nobody can be saved without knowledge of Christ – well that’s pretty much Gnosticism: the knowledge saves not the Messiah. This causes all sorts of problems with distant tribes, or small children, not hearing the Gospel etc. because of the Church’s failings and limitations.

      Rather a fair Biblical exposition reveals that all people, non-Christians included, are currently justified by the faithfulness of Jesus and will be justified in the future according to their works. This levels the playing field somewhat and brings Christians down from their lofty pedestal and is therefore not popular. Yes we believers have revelation but the requirements of the Law are also known to all people. Our situation may even be direr: to whom much is give, much will be expected. We who know the Lord’s commands and do not obey are in a worse position than those who do the best they can with what they know. The Muslim who tirelessly serves the poor is in a better position with God than the Christian who does not and considers this an optional nicety.

    • Bryan

      This is something of a hot topic for me. It’s good to see a post about this error.

      It is true that lots of Christians consider a disembodied spirit existence at their end state. It is also true that this is a profound misunderstanding of the Christian message. It is sufficiently serious that St. Paul observed that, but for the resurrection (which is necessarily physical within the meaning of the word, the context of the 1st century, and the viewpoint of the Jewish nexus from which it comes) we are idiots if we are Christians.

      As Robert George has pointed out, it is the implicit dualism of our time that allows, among other things, the disregard of many moral commands. If my body is merely an instrument of the real, immaterial me, then a whole set of conclusions follow. If I am my body, then the things my body does, on the other hand, are things that I am doing. And that changes things quite a lot.

    • Jude

      I’m pretty sure that “flesh and blood” was a Semitic or a Hebrew idiom that meant “merely physical” (just like when we read “heavens and earth” we understand that to mean the Universe). To make a point that Jesus’ wounds didn’t bleed coupled with that (what seems to be a false) understanding of the idiom, and then saying that no one in the Eternal state has any blood at all, seems to be a huge stretch.

      I mean, healed wounds don’t bleed either.

      It’s also a mistake to automagically assume that just because Jesus was able to do A, B and C in his resurrection body, that we’d be able to do the same things. We just don’t know if his actions post-Easter were due to his resurrection body having different abilities or if, perhaps more likely, they were the result of Him being allowed to exercise more of his privileges and rights of being deity.

      It’s much like thinking that once we get to heaven we’ll have omniscience or be able to be everywhere at once, or be able to communicate without speaking, etc.

    • Daedelus

      The distinction between physical and spiritual is a false one because ultimately the physical universe is insubstantial, there’s no “matter” to it at all, its all just energy arranged different ways and our nervous system interprets an object such as a table as solid, even though most of the table is in fact empty vacuum.

      Aquinas in the West and other Fathers in the East implied that resurrected bodies would not be limited in the way that our carnal bodies are. In addition if Christ ascended into heaven and the blessed dead are also in heaven, I think when we are talking about resurrection we are not talking as if we have a complete understanding of a nuts and bolts metaphysical understanding of our future state.

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