Illumination vs. Gnosis

From Lewis Sperry Chafer’s “Major Bible Themes” (revised by John F. Walvoord) (Zondervan, 1974):

C. Special Revelation (p. 32-33)

Throughout the history of man, God has given special revelation. Many instances are recorded in the Word of God of His speaking directly to man as He did in the Garden of Eden or to the prophets of the Old Testament or the apostles of the New Testament. Some of this special revelation was recorded in the Bible and forms the only authoritative and inspired record that we have of such special revelation.

Upon completion of the sixty-six books in the Bible, special revelation in the ordinary sense seems to have ceased. No one has ever been able successfully to add one verse to the written Scriptures a normative statement of truth. Apocryphal additions are clearly inferior and without the inspiration which has attended all writing of Scripture itself.

In place of special revelation, however, a work of the Spirit has especially characterized the present age. As the Spirit of God illuminates or casts light upon the Scriptures, this is a legitimate form of the present tense revelation from God in which the teachings of the Bible are made clear and applied to individual life and circumstances. Coupled with the work of illumination is the work of the Spirit in guidance as general scriptural truths are applied to the particular needs of an individual. While both guidance and illumination are genuine works of God, they do not guarantee that an individual will perfectly understand the Bible or in all cases will understand accurately God’s guidance. Thus, while illumination and guidance are a work of the Spirit, they do not possess the infallibility of Scripture as they are being received by fallible human beings.

Apart form this work of the Spirit of God, however, in revealing what Scripture means, there is no real understanding of truth as stated in 1 Corinthians 2:10. The truth of the Word of God needs to be revealed to us by the Spirit of God, and we need to be taught by the Spirit (1 Cor 2:13). According to 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Accordingly, the Bible is a closed book, as far as its real meaning is concerned, to one who is not a Christian and not taught by the Spirit. It also requires on the part of the individual student of Scripture a close fellowship with God in which the Spirit of God is able to reveal His truth.

Zondervan NASB Study Bible note on 1 Cor 2:14 natural man. Described in Jude 19 as one who is “worldly-minded” (cf Rom 8:9). The non-Christian is basically dominated by the merely physical, worldly or natural life. Because he does not possess the Holy Spirit, he is not equipped to receive appreciatively truth that comes from the Spirit. Such a person needs the new birth (John 3:1-8; Titus 3:5-6).

From “Breaking the Da Vinci Code” by Darrell L. Bock, Ph.D. (Thomas Nelson, 2004), pp 161-162:

In short, Jesus’ resurrection is the collision of death with life, and life wins! But this is not an abstract engagement of life with death, or a depiction of everyone’s life and death. It is the power of God working creatively to renew life in One who had died but made certain claims about God, Himself, and life. Jesus preached that the kingdom of God came with and through Him. That kingdom involves in part a presence and rule of God that bring such order to living that life can become what it was designed to be. Jesus claimed that as the Son, He must return to the Father so that God could give the Sprit to those who embraced what Jesus was saying. A reading of John 14-16 explains that promise. Jesus called this kingdom teaching a mystery, not in the sense of secrets for insiders, because Jesus preached that message openly in the streets and in the countryside. He often preached and then said, “Let the one who has ears to hear, hear.” The mystery is for those who will hear it. It is a secret lost for those who will not listen.

Jesus also said, “I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 NET). In all of this Jesus was bringing a kind of decoding to the mystery of life, life lived consciously in the presence of God. That does not mean that every question about why things happen receives an answer. Nor does it mean that life becomes problem free or less enigmatic. It does mean life begins to make sense because Jesus gives access and understanding to what real life is.

Part of decoding that mystery involves understanding who we are without God and appreciating why we need God. Theologians use the word sin to describe our problem. It is not a popular word in our culture. I often suggest that to see what it means, we just need to read the daily newspaper. Most of us, if we are honest, understand that often we act and react in ways that are destructive to ourselves and others. Sin is not about pointing a finger at others; sin is about understanding who we are and what our tendencies are when we free ourselves from accountability to the living, Creator God. There may be no greater truth more often denied than that sin lives powerfully in our world—and we are powerless in ourselves to deal with it.

. . .

The way out of the mysterious darkness that encumbers life when we live it independently of God is to take the path God shows through the code breaker, Jesus. The way out includes admitting our need for God and for forgiveness. We were created to be dependent upon God. The way out is to acknowledge [Ichthus: by faith] what God has said about us through the message of Jesus’ work for us, that is, through the provision for forgiveness and life that Jesus made through His own sacrifice and death for us.

Such faith is open to God’s leading, direction, and instruction that come through Jesus and the messengers He instructed. Those closest to Jesus have told us Jesus’ story. That is why to understand the code breaker and the real code, we must read their story, for their story is our story.

ibid pp. 67-68:

Third, this entire teaching [found in Apocalypse of Peter 82:17-83:15] is a mystery; it is unique revelation that Peter has received from Jesus. This is the most basic characteristic of these texts. They are filled with mysteries now revealed, and only insiders have access to and can appreciate these mysteries. These insiders have “the knowledge,” the gnosis.

This point stands in some contrast to the view of revelation in the texts that are now a part of the Bible. These biblical texts are recorded and given openly for all to consider. Before the New Testament existed as documents, these respected Christian writings were read to the congregations. They held no claim to “insider” knowledge as the Gnostic-like texts did. Revelation was presented for all to consider, accept, or reject, while setting forth the benefits and consequences of such a deliberation. Neither was there dualism between pure knowledge and the creation as inherently corrupt. God’s creation was good, although creation suffered from the fallenness of sin and its destructive effects. Knowing God meant seeing oneself the way God did and sensing the need for Him, not just getting access to secret knowledge.

ibid pp 81-12:

As we have seen in many of these texts [Apocalypse of Peter 70:20-71:5; 76:27-34, Testimony of Truth 31:24-32:2], the issue is possession of secret knowledge, the gnosis. Jesus is merely a conduit to this higher knowledge. More important, no authority can challenge that revelation, which comes directly to a member of the group. The difference from more traditional Christians is that the role of the already extant, major texts of the faith is relativized and weakened. Also relativized is the importance of Jesus’ unique work for humanity that dealt with the issue of sin from within.

The issue is not merely to know or understand the problem and have a proper, abstract conception of God, but to have been changed so that one can deal with the problem on the basis of having come into a meaningful relationship with God. Spirituality is about more than having right perception; it is about having a realistic perception about God and oneself while being able to respond with openness to God and His leading.

This Gnostic group understood that the means to salvation was the knowledge brought to them by the heavenly Revealer-Savior, whom they associated with the heavenly Supreme Father, the Pleroma of the upper world. That Father was different from the Father of this earthly, physical world with its Demiurge. Again, in contrast to the documents now found in the New Testament, this God was too great to be intimate with his followers. He might give light, but that light came through others. Contact with God was indirect. The light from God triggered a light within individuals that led to knowledge, with knowledge being the key to deliverance.

ibid pp. 71-72:

From “What Heresy?” published in Books and Culture (Nov-Dec 2003)… Frederica Matthewes-Green:

There is such a thing as self-deception, and confusion can bloom in unfamiliar spiritual realms. Though such experiences are indisputably beyond words, after we have them we try to talk about them. We want to share them with others, and we want to check whether we simply flipped out. Say that it’s like going to Paris. Everyone takes a photo of the Eiffel Tower. When we get home, we compare them; some snapshots are fuzzy and some from funny angles, but we can recognize them as depicting the same thing. The snaps don’t capture the reality; nothing can; but they’re OK as records.

The Creeds are photos everyone agreed on. They are minimal and crisply focused, not fancied-up. They are not a substitute for persona experience, but a useful guide for comparison, for discernment. If someone’s snap shows King Kong climbing up the Tower, we can say, “Hey, you’re off base there. Something’s messing with your head.” If Kong is wearing a lei and a paper party hat we might say, “Aw, now you’re just making stuff up.”

That’s what early Christians said to the Gnostics. The problem wasn’t the insistence that we directly experience God. It was that the Gnostics’ schemes of how to do this were so wacky. Preposterous stories about creation, angels, demons, and spiritual hierarchies multiplied like mushrooms. (Even some Christians, like Origen and Clement of Alexandria, dabbled in these fields.) The version attributed to Valentinus, the best-known Gnostic, is typical. Valentinus supposedly taught a hierarchy of spiritual beings called “aeons.” One of the lowest aeons, Sophia, fell and gave birth to the Demiurge, the God of the Hebrew Scriptures. This evil Demiurge created the visible world, which was a bad thing, because now we pure spirits are all tangled up in fleshy bodies. Christ was an aeon who took possession of the body of the human Jesus, and came to free us from the prison of materiality.

“Us,” by the way, didn’t mean everybody. Not all people have the divine spark within, just intellectuals; “gnosis,” by definition, concerns what you know. Some few who are able to grasp these insights could be initiated into deeper mysteries. Ordinary Christians, who lacked sufficient brainpower, could only attain the Demiurge’s middle realm. Everyone else was doomed. Under Gnosticism, there was no hope for salvation for most of the human race.

More from Chafer/Walvoord’s Major Bible Themes (Zondervan, 1974): from pp. 122-123: “C. The Results of the Filling of the Spirit / 2. One of the important ministries of the Spirit is that of teaching the believer spiritual truth. Only by the guidance and illumination of the Spirit can a believer understand the infinite truth of the Word of God. As the Spirit of God is necessary in revealing the truth concerning salvation (John 16:7-11) before a person can be saved, so the Spirit of God also guides the Christian into all truth (John 16:12-14). The deep things of God, truth that can be understood only by a Spirit-taught man, are revealed to one who is walking by the Spirit (1 Cor 2:9-3:2).”

For all interested in doing a Bible study on this topic:

“Inspiration of the Scriptures” p 103-104 USGB
A. Expressed by: “Thus saith the Lord” (Jer 13:1); “The word of the Lord came” (1 Kin 16:1); “It is written” (Rom 10:15); “As the Holy Spirit saith” (Heb 3:7); “According to the Scripture” (James 2:8); “My words in thy mouth” (Jer 1:9).
B. Described as: Inspired by God (2 Tim 3:16); Moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1:21); Christ-centered (Luke 24:27; 2 Cor 13:3).
C. Modes of: Various (Heb 1:1); Inner impulse (Judg 13:25; Jer 20:9); A voice (Rev 1:10); Dreams (Dan 7:1); Visions (Ezek 11:24,25).
D. Proofs of: Fulfilled prophecy (Jer 28:15-17; Luke 24:27-45); Miracles attesting (Ex 4:1-9; 2 Kin 1:10-14); Teachings supporting (Deut 4:8; Ps 19:7-11).
E. Design of: Reveal God’s mysteries (Amos 3:7; 1 Cor 2:10); Reveal the future (Acts 1:16; 1 Peter 1:10-12); Instruct and edify (Mic 3:8; Acts 1:8); Counteract distortion (2 Cor 13:1-3; Gal 1:6-11.
F. Results of Scripture: Unbreakable (John 10:34-36); Eternal (Matt 24:35); Authoritative (Matt 4:4,7,10); Trustworthy (Ps 119:160); Verbally accurate (Matt 22:32, 43-46; Gal 3:16); Sanctifying (2 Tim 3:16,17); Effective (Jer 23:29; 2 Tim 2:15).

“Word” / E: Agency of, to: / Illuminate p. 215 USGB: Psalm 119:120

Hebrew # 1847, Greek # 1922

Ps 18:28
Ps 105:39
Rev 21:23; 22:5

1 John 2:27 Zondervan NASB Study Bible note: have no need for anyone to teach you. Since the Bible constantly advocates teaching (Matt 28:10; 1 Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11; Col 3:16; 1 Tim 4:11; 2 Tim 2:2,24), John is not ruling out human teachers. At the time when he wrote, however, Gnostic teachers were insisting that the teaching of the apostles was to be supplemented with the “higher knowledge” that they (the Gnostics) claimed to possess. John’s response was that what the readers were taught under the Spirit’s ministry through the apostles not only was adequate but was the only reliable truth. teaches you. The teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit (what is commonly called illumination) does not involve revelation of new truth or the explanation of all difficult passages of Scripture to our satisfaction. Rather, it is the development of the capacity to appreciate and appropriate God’s truth already revealed—making the Bible meaningful in thought and daily living. all things. All things necessary to know for salvation and Christian living.

Deut 29:29 (“secret things” meaning the future and all that is beyond the grasp of human understanding); 30:11-13 (God’s revelation – in this case, the covenant – is not beyond human understanding, unlike what certain Gnostics would say about gnosis… see Rom 10:6-10).

Heb 10:26-32  enlightened

Enlightened (with life) 1 Sa 14:27,29
Enlightened (with true “knowledge” of the true God) Job 33:30; Is 53:11
Enlightened (lightning) Ps 97:4

Eph 1:8; Heb 6:4

Insight: Dan 5:11,14 (enlightenment, understanding); 9:22; 12:10; 1 Chr 26:14; Prov 12:8; Mark 6:52; Eph 1:8

Light: John 12:35-50; 1 John 1:5-10

Illumination, spiritual (p. 99, USGB)
The Gospel enlightens…John 1:9
Enlightened at conversion…Heb 6:4
Enlightenment in Christian truth…Eph 1:18
Enlightened (have truth disclosed to oneself) by Holy Spirit…John 16:13-16
Enlightened by God…1 Cor 4:5; John 14:26; 14:16-31
Searches thoughts: Ps 19:12; 139:23-24; Heb 4:12-13

Enlightenment, spiritual (USGB)
Source of: From God (Ps 18:28: “illumines” – see Ps 27:1; KJV says “enlighten”); Through God’s Word (Ps 19:8); By prayer (Eph 1:18); by God’s ministers (Acts 26:18, see NASB note).
Degrees of: Partial now (1 Cor 13:9-12); Hindered by sin (1 Cor 2:14 and all of chapter 2); Complete in heaven (Is 60:19).

Knowledge without Love (grace):
Darkness is ignorance (Heb 6:4) and death (1 Cor 13:12-13).

A quote from p. 82 of “Breaking the Da Vinci Code” (Nelson Books, 2004) by Darrell L. Bock, Ph.D. –

The Gnostic believers in contemporary direct revelation complained about the authority of the bishops in the other Christian groups. The debate centered on who defined and spoke for the Christian faith. … Heracleon, a Gnostic commentator on John’s gospel, in Fragment 13 as recorded by Origen in his Commentary on John 10.33, compared these other, non-Gnostic Christians to Levites shut out from mystery.

Now you can begin to see what the early Christians found heretical. Gnosticism rejected the body and saw it as a prison for the soul; Christianity insisted that God infuses all creation and that even the human body can be a vessel of holiness, a “temple of the Holy Spirit.” Gnosticism rejected the Hebrew Scriptures and portrayed the God of the Jews as an evil spirit; Christianity looked on Judaism as a mother. Gnosticism was elitist; Christianity was egalitarian, preferring “neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free.” Finally, Gnosticism was just too complicated. Christianity maintained the simple invitation of the One who said, “Let the little children come to me.” Full-blown science-fiction Gnosticism died under its own weight.

Pagels does not endorse this aspect of Gnosticism. But the Gnostics would not endorse her version either. They did not think of these elaborate schemes as mythopoeic (which is how Neo-Gnostics describe them), but as factual. Your salvation depended on getting it right, and Gnostics argued with each other much as theologians do today. Some claimed that the body was so evil you had to give up sex; others said the body was so illusory it didn’t matter what you did with it. A well-meaning postmodernist who murmured “You’re both right” would be reviled for not grasping what’s at stake.
– Frederica Matthewes-Green in “What Heresy?” (Books and Culture, Nov-Dec 2003).

I’m putting this in quotes because it is important and takes the conversation in a different direction –

1. A member of ILP has claimed that the higher mysteries (higher gnosis, I suppose) cannot be communicated in words – therefore higher gnosis is useless, like tongues without interpretation (1 Cor 13:1; 14:15-19).

2. The teachings of Christian Gnosticism are not sound doctrine, therefore “gnosis” should be stamped out (1 John 4:1-6). See original post, and the “Against Gnosticism” thread.

3. Gnosis is a counterfeit of certain gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 11:13-15), as well as illumination/enlightenment, which is an important ministry of the Holy Spirit (see above, and the original post).

Three strikes – gnosis is out.

For further study into the spiritual gifts, ministries, effects and manifestations of the Holy Spirit, see: Acts; Rom 12:3-8; 1 Cor 1:7; 12-14; 2 Cor 12:12; Eph 3:7-8; 4:7-16; Heb 2:4; 1 Pet 4:10-11. Unlike gnosis (which is false and not from God), spiritual gifts are free gifts of grace, not earned, and not ways of earning God’s unearnable favor (grace) (as demonstrated in His substitutionary death and resurrection).

There are also ‘fruits of the Spirit’ – of which love is one (1 Cor 12:31; Gal 5:22). Spiritual gifts are given to individuals to serve the common good of the body (church). Fruits of the Spirit are the effect the spirit has on the character of the individual. Gnosis is neither a spiritual gift, nor a fruit of the spirit… it is from man, not God. According to Christian Gnostics, you must be initiated into secret gnosis, and if you are not intellectually capable of such initiation, you are hopeless. This is not in line with God’s freely-given, unearnable love (grace) – and Jesus’ words which speak against keeping His light under a basket, and for shining before all humanity (Matt 5:14-16; 10:26-27; 28:19; Luke 8:16; 11:33; John 18:20; Acts 1:8). See the “Against Gnosticism” thread and the original post of this one.

Hidden truths (see my Mystery thread) are not bad if they point to something good and are available for the inspection of everyone. Of course, as regards the moments we no longer have access to, or do not yet have access to (we only have access to the present moment) – those are like gift-wrapped presents. Wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise. But if one of us gets to see it – we all get to see it, or at least hear about it (in the case of a prophet who has received the future). Some things we just do not have the mental capacity to understand (at least not yet) – but if someone tells you to believe something that contradicts what God has already revealed (and tells you to keep it “hush hush”) – if you walk into that trap, you’re signing your own spiritual death warrant.

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