The Gnostics were an early heretical sect beginning later in the first century. The basis of the Gnostic teaching was the idea of a fundamental antagonism between the world of matter and the world of spirit. Matter was evil, spirit alone was good, the world is bad and the body is bad, being a prison for the soul. These false teachers, similar to the Jehovah Witnesses of our day, allowed that Christ was a unique personage, perhaps even "a" son of God, but that He was "equal" with God, was vigorously and viciously denied. There were certain philosophers that had tried to combine this believe with Christianity and taught that Jesus could not have had a human body (since the body is evil) and therefore could have not been crucified. Paul and John both confronted these false teachings by affirming that God in all His fullness dwelt in the body of Jesus.

They were characterized by a distinctive "spiritual" theology or philosophy that emphasized the perfection and transcendence of the true God and the fallen state of nature and humanity pre-figuring the Calvinists. They viewed the visible creation with its imperfection as the work of a lesser power, in many ways prefiguring the Mormon heresies. The Gnostics tended to reduce revelation to a mere philosophy. Christ was not truly God, and that he took only an apparent body.

Named from the Greek word gnosis (knowledge) they constituted a loose group within the early Christian movement and also outside it. The teaching of the Gnostics is gnosis, one of the gravest threats to the new Christian teaching. They claimed to possess secret knowledge about God and his purposes by which they were confident of gaining eternal life. In its developed form, Gnosticism pictured a redeemer coming from Heaven to earth in human appearance to liberate mankind from enslavement to the world of matter, prefiguring the Christian Scientists.

The struggle with Gnosticism compelled the church to put its teaching, its worship, and its discipline into fixed forms and ordinances, develop creeds, and to exclude everyone who would not yield them obedience. A form of Gnosticism which was disrupting the churches in John's day taught that there is in human nature an irreconcilable principle of dualism, that spirit and body are two separate entities, that sin resided in the flesh only, that the spirit could have its raptures, and the body could do as it pleased, that lofty mental mystical piety was entirely consistent with voluptuous sensual life. They denied the Incarnation, that God had in Christ actually become flesh, and maintained that Christ was a phantom, a man in appearance only.

In Ephesus a man named Cerinthus was a leader of this cult. Starting from the belief that evil is inherent in matter, this type of teaching disparaged man's bodily life, and as it affected Christian thought, denied the reality of the incarnation of the Lord. Gnostic heresy was endemic in the district around Ephesus by the time the Gospel of John was written and combated by the declaration that "the Word became flesh.". One of their beliefs is that it was Simon the Cyrene who went to death in the place of Jesus.
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