Skip to content

What are the Gnostic Gospels?

What Are the Gnostic Gospels?

The Gnostic Gospels refer to a collection of ancient texts that present teachings distinct from the canonical (official) gospels in the New Testament. These texts include gospels such as the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Philip, and others. They are termed “Gnostic” because they convey ideas associated with Gnosticism, a diverse set of early Christian and pre-Christian beliefs that emphasized special, secret knowledge (gnosis in Greek) as the path to salvation.

History of the Gnostic Gospels

  1. Origins and Discovery:
  • Dates: Most Gnostic Gospels were written between the 2nd and 4th centuries AD.
  • Discovery: Many were discovered in 1945 near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, known as the Nag Hammadi Library.
  1. Beliefs:
  • Dualism: Gnostics often viewed the material world as evil and the spiritual world as good.
  • Salvation through Knowledge: They believed that salvation could be attained through secret knowledge rather than faith alone.
  1. Relationship with Orthodox Christianity:
  • Gnostic beliefs differed significantly from those of the early church fathers.
  • Church leaders like Irenaeus and Tertullian strongly opposed Gnosticism, branding it heretical.

How the Gnostic Gospels Differ from the Canonical Gospels

  1. Theological Focus:
  • Canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John):
    • Focus on Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as central to salvation.
    • Emphasize Jesus as both divine and human, and stress faith in Him for salvation.
  • Gnostic Gospels:
    • Often present Jesus as a revealer of secret knowledge.
    • Emphasize spiritual enlightenment and understanding rather than the death and resurrection of Jesus.
    • Examples: Gospel of Thomas presents Jesus giving secret sayings, while Gospel of Philip discusses mystical ideas about sacraments.
  1. Narrative Structure:
  • Canonical Gospels:
    • Include coherent narratives about Jesus’ birth, ministry, miracles, crucifixion, and resurrection.
  • Gnostic Gospels:
    • Often lack coherent narratives.
    • More akin to collections of sayings, dialogues, or philosophical reflections.
  1. View of Jesus and God:
  • Canonical Gospels:
    • Jesus is portrayed as the Son of God, fully divine and fully human.
    • God is seen as the creator and sustainer of the universe.
  • Gnostic Gospels:
    • Jesus is more of a spiritual guide or revealer of mysteries.
    • Some Gnostic texts depict the God of the Old Testament as a lesser deity (Demiurge), distinct from the supreme, unknowable God.

Relevant Biblical Verses

  1. Warnings Against False Teachings:
  • Colossians 2:8 (ESV): “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”
  • 1 Timothy 6:20-21 (ESV): “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge,’ for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.”
  1. Affirmation of the Canonical Jesus:
  • John 14:6 (ESV): “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'”
  • 1 John 4:2-3 (ESV): “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.”

Examples of Gnostic Texts

  • Gospel of Thomas: 114 sayings attributed to Jesus, focusing on esoteric knowledge.
  • Gospel of Mary: Depicts Mary Magdalene as a prominent disciple who receives secret teachings from Jesus.
  • Gospel of Philip: Discusses spiritual sacraments and mystical teachings.

Three Main Takeaways

  1. Different Theology:
  • The Gnostic Gospels present a view of salvation rooted in secret knowledge rather than faith in Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection.
  1. Historical Opposition:
  • Early church leaders like Irenaeus opposed Gnostic teachings and affirmed the canonical Gospels.
  1. Biblical Caution:
  • The New Testament cautions believers against teachings that deviate from the core message of Jesus as the way to salvation.

Understanding the Gnostic Gospels provides insight into the diversity of early Christian thought and helps clarify the foundational beliefs that shaped the Christian canon.


  • Greg Gaines

    Father / Grandfather / Minister / Missionary / Deacon / Elder / Author / Digital Missionary / Foster Parents / Welcome to our Family https://jesusleadershiptraining.com/about-us/

Spread the Gospel