What were the beliefs of Docetism and Gnosticism?

Author: BibleAsk Team

Docetism and Gnosticism are concepts that were introduced in the early church. These ideas did not have Biblical support, but were familiar to the beliefs and traditions of that time.


Docetism was the first un-bliblcal belief concerning the nature and person of Christ. It arose in the apostolic era and continued to the end of the 2nd Century. The word Docetism is taken from a Greek word meaning “to appear.” Docetism main concept was that Christ only appeared to have a body, that He was a phantom and not a man. It was adopted by the Ebionites (Jewish Christian) and the Gnostics (Gentile Christians).


Gnosticism was a mix of different pagan philosophies cloaked under Christian terminology. Tradition points Simon Magus (Acts 8:9–24) as the first advocate of this fallacy and the first Christian Gnostic. Later on, Cerinthus promoted these heresies in Alexandria.

Gnostics believe that matter is corrupt, therefore, the body must be corrupt also. This thinking led them to conclude that the divine God could not become a real human being with a fleshly body in Christ Jesus. Therefore, they deny the deity of Christ. And while the majority of Gnostics, teach that the body must be disciplined by strict asceticism, some Gnostics teach that they can have fleshly desires since the body is helpless and can’t be restored to God’s image.

The Gnostic adds that the good God created beings (Archons). And the evil Archon who created our world and pretends to be God, hides truth from humans, but sparks Sophia (wisdom) in some humans to make them want to return to the Pleroma or the divine realm. These special humans alone are capable of redemption.

The Gnostic believes in acquiring mystical knowledge as the means for salvation which is contrary to the biblical message of salvation through the blood of Christ alone (Acts 4:12). In other words, a human depends on self-redemption by his works. By contrast, the Bible teaches that without God man can’t achieve salvation (John 15:5). And instead of seeking to be transformed by Christ, he seeks by his inner “spark” to find the knowledge needed to free himself from his material body and reach God. This belief contradicts the biblical teaching that: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

The Bible and History

During the first half of the 2nd century, various Gnostic teachers arose to corrupt the church in Alexandria such as the Basilides and Valentinus. But the most prominent one was Marcion who taught that the birth, life, and death of Jesus were not real, but only an appearance to reality.

The early church fought against these fallacies. Paul warned the Christians in Colossae in 62 AD against Docetic error (Colossians 2:4, 8, 9, 18). Peter uttered the same warning (2 Peter 2:1–3). And Jude pointed to the Docetic heresy (verse 4).

Irenaeus wrote in the 2d century that the apostle John recorded his Gospel to disprove the Docetic views of Cerinthus (Irenaeus Against Heresies xi. 1, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 426; John 1:1–3, 14; 20:30, 31). And in his epistles, the apostle John taught against the Docetic and names its promoters as “anti-christ” (1 John 2:18–26; 1 John 4:1–3, 9, 14; 2 John 7, 10).

Also, in the book of Revelation, the apostle John spoke against “Nicolaitanes” (Revelation 2:6), who were Gnostics (Irenaeus Against Heresies xi. 1, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, p. 426). Then, Irenaeus Himself exposed these heresies and stressed the unity of God in his famous work “Against Heresies,” which has survived to our modern days.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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