I was watching a “made-for-TV” movie based on a series that I believe originally aired on the History Channel. That movie, “The Son of God,” is a dramatization of the Gospel of John. The Gospel of John is the most theologically sophisticated of the four canonical Gospels. It is also the only one of the four Gospels where Jesus claims divine status. What most people do not know about the Gospel of John is that it is also the most heretical of the four Gospels. It has some serious Gnostic theology underlying this story of Jesus.
The Gospel of John presents its Gnostic heresy in the very first verse: “in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The reason most modern-day Christians miss this Gnostic heresy is because of a mistranslation Of the Greek Word logos. Logos is a Platonic concept in Christian Gnosticism. The Logos was not a statement made by God as the verse from John seems to imply because of the mistranslation. Logos is better thought of as “creative force,” like the creative force of a great artist. For instance, the creative force that was Michelangelo is reflected in his paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. That creative force is also seen in his sculptures. Leonardo da Vinci had a similar creative force, reflected in paintings like the Mona Lisa and his inventions found in his sketchbooks. Neither Michelangelo nor da Vinci would be who they were if they did not have that creative force. It is not separate from them. It cannot exist without them. The same goes for the Logos. The Logos is part of God. It is what makes God God. God would not exist without the Logos. The Logos cannot exist separate from God.
Just as Michelangelo had a creative force that was different and separate from that of da Vinci, and vice a versa, so Jesus had his own Logos. Jesus was not the Logos of God. It was his Logos that enabled Jesus to perform all those miracles. Unfortunately, thanks to the influence of Platonic philosophy, the wellspring of Western dualism, Christian Gnostics see the Logos as an archon, a supernatural entity that can and does exist on its own, separate from God or from an individual man. If we were to apply the Christian Gnostic understanding of logos to say Michelangelo, his creative force could exist even after his death. As far as I know, Michelangelo’s art creation stopped when he died
We Western Christians tend to forget, or possibly intentionally ignore, the fact that Jesus was a Jew, and a very devout one at that. More on that in a later post. As a devout Jew of the first century, Jesus’ worldview was monistic rather than dualistic. Judaism had not yet succumbed to the influence of Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy. That happens some centuries later. In Jesus’ mind, the body and the soul/spirit are a unitary. One cannot exist without the other. They cannot be separated. I suggest you read John’s version of the resurrection story very closely. Pay special attention to what Jesus says to Magdalene at the tomb the first time he appears after his resurrection. His resurrection is of body and soul/spirit. He can be touched because he is substantial (has substance in the metaphysical sense of the word). The Gospel of John is obviously an early attempt to synthesize Christian Gnosticism with the more mainstream non-Gnostic tradition. The end result is that Christian orthodoxy is actually Christian heresy. I find it darkly humorous that people like Augustine, a diehard Neoplatonist and completely a dualist, actually condemned Christian Gnosticism. At the same time, as bishop of Hippo, I am quite sure he preached sermons based on the Gospel of John, especially chapter 1. It is this attempt to integrate Christian Gnosticism with mainstream Christianity in the third and fourth century, that led to the Nicene Creed and its claim that Jesus was “the only begotten son of God.” After all, the ancient Greek religion is full of stories about various Greek pagan deities having intercourse with mortals and producing children. So, what makes Jehovah different from Zeus? The influence of Greek culture on what became Christian orthodoxy led to some very interesting, and in my mind heretical, doctrines that have been accepted as orthodoxy.
In part two we will look at some other interesting and often overlooked influences of Greek culture on Christian orthodoxy, using both the Gospel of John, the Acts of the Apostles, and Paul’s letters. Until then, peace be with you!