Posts Tagged With: dualism

2 Peter 1: Real Knowledge

Well, folks, we are on to the third last book of the year.  One more month and we will have met a great goal of reading through the New Testament this year.  The reading plan we are using takes us now to Peter’s second letter, out-of-order as we read 1 Peter a month ago or so.  I am sure they have put 2 Peter here because of its many connections to the book of Jude.  If you would like to review the short introduction the Petrine letters I wrote back when we came to 1 Peter, you can find that here.

What does it mean to know God?  What is real spiritual knowledge?  

As we will learn more about on Monday, there were false teachers in the churches Peter was addressing.  Most people identify these as early versions of Gnostics, Christians who mixed their Christianity with significant doses of Greek philosophy and mystical kind of thinking.  These dualists made a strong contrast between the flesh and the spirit and, given the emphasis in this chapter on moral purity, they often taught that one showed their spiritual strength by engaging in sin with the body so as to show that their spirits were pure enough to remain unaffected.  Gnostics spoke often of having “knowledge,” which for them meant an intellectual and spiritual understanding that allowed them to rise above the mundane matters of physical life.  These false teachers had definite ideas on what it meant to have “knowledge.”

But so did Peter.  As he uses the word “knowledge” five times in this opening chapter and refers to “truth” and the “mind” as well, we know Peter wanted to weigh in on what true “knowledge” is.  Knowledge gives us everything we need to live a godly life that runs away from the “corruption of lust” (1:3-4).  Knowledge is one element necessary in living a fruitful life, a partner to character traits like virtue, patience, self-control, faith, and love (1:5-8).  In short, for Peter “knowledge” is an embodied understanding and skill that allows its possessor to live an earthly, physical life in the nitty-gritty in a way that glorifies God and maintains a high level of moral quality.  Knowledge is as much about the hands as the head.  Knowledge is lived, not simply believed or thought.  Truth is a lived, physical reality.  That would be a definite contrast to Gnostic thinking.

God has bestowed upon us, through his divine power, everything that we need for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and virtue. (1:3)

What did you notice anew in this chapter?

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BONUS: An Introduction to Colossians

If one thinks that Paul wrote the other Prison Epistles, most agree that Colossians was authored by the Apostle Paul while in prison likely in Rome sometime before AD 61 when Colossae and the Colossian church were ravaged by an earthquake.  Interestingly, Paul had never been to Colossae when he wrote this letter.  Epaphras, who likely started the church in Colossae, had just come to Paul in Rome and reported on the progress of the church and its challenges (1:8).  Paul writes this letter in response as a form of encouragement.

Much of the background of Colossians revolves around a false teaching in the church or some to come their way that is often called the Colossian Heresy.  The Colossian Christians are or will be tempted to leave the simple gospel of grace through Christ alone for a set of teachings that emphasize asceticism (2:16, 21), everyday wisdom (2:8, 23), veneration of angels (2:18), and the insufficiency of Christ to fulfill the fundamental needs of life (1:15-20; 2:9).  Over 45 different theories have been given for who exactly these false teachers were in Colossae.  These theories usually include bits of Judaism, Gnosticism, Greco-Roman philosophy, and pagan religions from that area mixed together with Christianity.

This is the first time we have come this year to Gnosticism so an explanation is in order, especially as many who study Colossians believe the heresy was an early version of Gnosticism mixed with Judaism.  We know that by the second century AD there was a Christian philosophy in place in many churches that accepted a dualistic worldview.  A Gnostic thought the world was composed of two parts: the evil and degrading physical layer of life, and the pure and edifying spiritual aspects of life.  A human, for instance, was a good spiritual being trapped in an evil prison of flesh.  Sin comes as we follow our physical desires, and redemption can be found by listening and developing our spiritual self.  (You may be thinking to yourself at this point, “Hey, I know Christians who believe that today!”  Yes, there is a dualistic Christian worldview that still exists today, but I would question whether it is biblical.  Is God not the Creator and Redeemer of all we are?)  Consider how Gnosticism would affect beliefs and ethics.  They did not believe that Jesus was physical.  Jesus did not die a physical death on a cross, it only seemed that way.  Our greatest mission is to escape this physical world, not redeem it.  There were also two opposing views on how to deal with this physical body we live in: 1) deny your flesh and beat it into submission to your superior spiritual willpower, and 2) indulge your flesh and satisfy your physical desires wantonly showing that you have the spiritual strength within your pure soul to wallow in the mire of life and not be affected adversely by your physical behaviors. If an early form of Gnosticism was present in Colossae, the details of the letter suggest it was of the ascetic variety.

Personally, I don’t think we can downplay the fact that the main threat to the early Christians in Asia Minor at this time were Christian and non-Christian versions of Judaism.  Note that circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, holy days, and food laws — all hallmarks of Judaism — are mentioned often in Colossians.  In my opinion, the likeliest explanation for the Colossian Heresy is that the young Gentile Christians of Colossae were being be swayed away from the gospel of grace alone in Christ by a legalistic version of Jewish Gnosticism that emphasized law observance, physical asceticism, and the belief that the work of Jesus was not enough to save people.

In this letter, we will see Paul warn the Colossian Christians that there is nothing fulfilling or lasting in this “hollow and deceptive philosophy” (2:8) because true fullness, power, wisdom and life are found in Christ (2:3, 9-10; 3:4).  His desire is that “you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured” (4:12).

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