Symbolic Interpretations Of Scripture By The Gnostics 

The following are examples from the early centuries A.D. of Gnostic heretical cult groups finding false hidden symbolic meanings in various verses of the Scriptures:

Many Gnostics taught there were mystical entities called aeons. Elwell says that in Greek pagan religion, aeons or aions were “used of semi-divine beings standing between God and the world.” [1] “Aeons” can also refer to periods of time or certain areas of space in the spiritual realms. [2] Some Gnostics taught these “aeons” were produced by Logos, Zoe, Ecclesia and other mystical entities.

Note the Greek words “Aion”, “Logos”, “Zoe” and “Ecclesia” are used in the New Testament in right ways. “Logos” means “Word”. “Zoe” means “life” and “ecclesia refers to “an assembly of people or church”. But the Gnostics used these terms partly in agreement with contempory pagan Greek mystical religious concepts.

Some Gnostics taught the twelve apostles symbolised twelve of the aeons. [3] They argued also that the twelve Aeons were symbolised by the fact the death of Jesus supposedly happened in the twelfth month and the twelfth Apostle Judas Iscariot brought it about. [4]

The disciples of the Gnostic Valentinus taught there were 30 “aeons”. His disciples said that the highest “aeon” is perfect, pre-existent, invisible, incomprehensible, eternal, unbegotten and full of peace. [5] They called this highest emanation of god: “Proarche” meaning “First-Beginning”, “Propator” meaning “First-Father” and “Bythus” meaning “Profound”. This highest “aeon” included both male and female elements. [6]

The Gnostics disagreed among themselves about some of the names of the other aeons.[7] Some included Christ and the Holy Spirit as two of these aeons. Some included “Sige” meaning “Silence” but others did not.

The names of some of the other aeons were “Charis” (meaning “Grace”), “Nous” (“Intelligence”), “Altheia” (“Truth”), “Logos” (“Word”), “Zoe” (“Life”), “Anthropos” (“Man”), “Ecclesia” (“Church”), “Henosis” (“Union”), “Monogenes” (“Only Begotten”), “Paracletus” (“Avocate”), “Pistis” (“Faith”), “Agape” (“Love”), “Ainos” (“Praise”), “Elpis” (“Hope”), “Sophia” (“Wisdom”) and “Synesis” (“Understanding”). [8] Because these words were used frequently in the New Testament, the Gnostics used this to try to suggest how Scriptural were their false mystical allegorical teachings.

Similarly these Gnostics taught that the masculine “Nous” (“Mind”) united with the feminine “Altheia” (“Truth”), the masculine “Logos” (“Word”) with the feminine “Zoe” (“Life”) and “Anthropos” (“Man”) with “Ecclesia” (“Church”). [9]

The Gnostics were also full of pride in themselves. Many of them claimed to be the fulfilment of Daniel’s prophecy, in Daniel 12:9-10 about the pure and those of understanding. [10] Daniel 12:9-10 says: “And he said, ‘Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end. Many shall be purified, made white, and refined, but the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand.’”


[1] Walter Elwell (Editor), “Evangelical Dictionary of Theology”, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1984, page 21.

[2] Ibid, pages 19-21.

[3] “Ante – Nicene Fathers”, Volume 1, page 389.

[4] Ibid, page 387.

[5] Irenaeus, “Against Heresies”, Chapter 1:1.

[6] “The Ante-Nicene Fathers”, Volume 1, page 316, footnote 5.

[7] Ibid, page 316, footnote 5.

[8] Ibid, page 316, footnote 6.

[9] Ibid, page 316.

[10] Irenaeus, “Against Heresies”, Book 1, Chapter 19:2.



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