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Gnosticism's Creed

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Editor’s Note1

So far as I know, Gnosticism in any of its quasi-Christian forms never produced anything like a creedal statement comparable to the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Chalcedonian Symbols and later creedal statements. If I am correct, this implies two closely allied facts. (1) Orthodoxy back down to its earliest forms had a common core of belief, affirmation, and allegiance to the apostolic tradition about Jesus. Sure, there were minor variations to this theme reflected in the various ways the writers of the N.T. portrayed Jesus, but never to the point of surrendering that commonly accepted core of belief about Jesus. This is to say that there existed from earliest times of the faith a common bond, a shared mutual commitment to the apostolic tradition that was coherent, focused, credible on a widespread scale that made possible these many later confessional, creedal statements.

Now, (2) the Gnostic “alternative Christianities” had no such extensive body of shared commitment. Rather, as one reads these Gospels it is so evident that they were spread all across the spectrum of ideas about God, creation, salvation, Jesus, etc. What is noteworthy is the lack of any uniformity apart from its elitist notion that salvation comes by special knowledge. These Gnosticisms were inherently incapable of producing any commonly-agreed confessional or creedal affirmation. A salient difference between the early emerging orthodoxy and early Gnosticism is that Gnosticism is inevitably solipsistic, a fact which in principle excludes any sense of community of faith, a shared passion or mutual responsibility. This is in the starkest contrast to the sense from the start among Christians that they constitute a community, a single body marked by mutual responsibility and love. Gnosticism knows nothing of this because it rests upon an elitist, intellectual, and self-centered sense of what their religion should be. Just a few random assessments...

1 David Wallace was one of the first two Fuller Seminary graduates to earn a doctorate. He did his work overseas in the 1950s, taking his degree under Professor Matthew Black who was then at the University of Edinburgh. But during his doctoral work, he spent time all over Europe, studying with the great Hebraist, Walter Baumgartner, the towering theologian, Karl Barth, and many others. He even took a course from Barth in his home! David’s doctoral thesis, on the Assumption of Moses, is still a standard work on that document. He worked extensively in intertestamental literature and early Christianity. His primary focus over the years has been on Christology. George Eldon Ladd acknowledged him for carefully reading his A Theology of the New Testament. Like many biblical scholars, although David has not written extensively, he is a source of wisdom and clear thinking.

What has impressed me over the years of my acquaintance with the man are several things: chief among them is his steadfast devotion to Christ above all else—a devotion that is not borne out of hollow piety but historical research. (David is a decent, critical historian. And he has a breadth of understanding and tolerance that has been very influential in my own thinking. One thing I have learned from him is that evangelicalism and Christianity are not synonymous.) What also impresses me about him are his insights into the present critical discussions about early Christianity, and his gift for writing. I only wish that he had written more because he is quite good at it, as you will see below.

This short piece was sent to me as an email that I received on St. Patrick’s Day 2007. David called it ‘just a few random assessments.’ In a day when most written communication is via the Internet, and most of it makes modern literacy seem worse than the ancient equivalent of email—the hasty Greek scribblings on papyri found in Egyptian garbage heaps—few folks take the time to craft their electronic missives. David is a stellar exception to this pattern. This email had no intentions of going beyond my desk, but I asked him permission to post it. I hope to post more of his insights if he allows it. I may well be biased about the man; after all, he is my uncle! But even Darrell Bock said of this little piece that it was right on target.

Daniel B. Wallace
March 17, 2007

Related Topics: Theology, Christology, History