The basic doctrine of Gnosticism was that matter is essentially evil and spirit is essentially good. The Gnostics went on to argue that on that basis God himself cannot touch matter and therefore did not create the world. What he did was to put out a series of emanations. Each of these emanations was further from him, until at last there was one so distant from him that it could touch matter. That emanation was the creator of the world.
By itself that idea is bad enough, but it was made worse by an addition. The Gnostics held that each emanation knew less and less about God, until there was a stage when the emanations were not only ignorant of God but actually hostile to him. So they finally came to the conclusion that the creator god was not only different from the real God, but was also quite ignorant of and actively hostile to him. Cerinthus, one of the leaders of the Gnostics, said that “the world was created, not by God, but by a certain power far separate from him, and far distant from that Power who is over the universe, and ignorant of the God who is over all.”
from: The Gospel of John by William Barclay (1955)
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A “cut-and-paste” spirituality emerges from the Gnostic writings. As Philip Lee observes, “Gnostic syncretism…believes everything in general for the purpose of avoiding a belief in something in particular. In the case of Christian Gnosticism, what is being avoided is the particularity of the Gospel, that which is a ‘stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.'” It is generally agreed that Gnosticism emerged as a form of mystical Christian spirituality blended together with Greek paganism. We recall Paul in Athens, in the Areopagus, where “people did nothing but discuss the latest ideas” (Acts 17:21), telling the Greeks that they were “very religious.” Gnosticism was an attempt to incorporate the seeker spirituality of the Greeks into Christianity.
from: The New Gnosticism by Michael Horton, Modern Reformation
Scholars who define “Gnosticism” generally agree that Gnostic philosophies had their source in the Zoroastrianism and Hinduism of Persia and India, and that these ideas were brought into the West via Alexander the Great’s conquest of Persia. These Eastern thoughts blended with Greek culture, producing a heady mixture that profoundly influenced the Jews of the time and Christians centuries later.