The New Gnostics


From James Jordan, The Framework Hypothesis: A Gnostic Heresy, Biblical Horizons No. 107

…I submit that the entire Christian faith stands or falls on how Genesis 1 is interpreted, and that the guardians of the Church must take an unequivocal stance on this matter.

The issue is hermeneutics and religion. Since these “contradictions” in Genesis 1 serve to indicate that this passage is not to be taken historically, the only alternative is to take the passage as giving some kind of archetype for creation by God. It is a foundational “myth,” expressing in “human language” matters that cannot be expressed any other way. It is a true myth in that the ideas taught in Genesis 1 are true.

And this is where the shift from true religion to gnosticism comes in. History has been replaced by ideas.Now, with the arbitrariness of a man selecting a meal from a smorgasbord, evangelicals who reject the historicity of Genesis 1 insist on the historicity of later passages in the Bible. In this happy inconsistency they rest, never inspecting their intellectual sloppiness.

But let us turn to two other seemingly historical events in the Bible and apply the hermeneutical principles of these gnosticizing brethren. The first to which we turn is the ten plagues visited on Egypt.

First of all, we note that 20th century historians of the ancient world cannot find any evidence of a vast host of people leaving Egypt at the time the Bible says it happened. Moreover, according to the text of Exodus, all the Egyptian crops and cattle were destroyed, along with the Egyptian army and a large number of Egypt’s sons. Modern “scientific” archaeology and history finds no such event. Therefore, we have to look at the text of Exodus anew. Maybe these events never really happened. Maybe they are just a “true myth,” providing archetypical “ideas” that undergirded God’s relationship with Israel.

Well, do we find any indications in the text that the ten plagues are only a story, that they never really happened? Yes, we do, it seems. According to Exodus 9:6, all the livestock of Egypt died in the fifth plague, but according to 9:19, there were still more livestock to be killed in the seventh plague. Also, according to Exodus 8:22, the insects destroyed all of Egypt, clearly including the plants, while in 9:31, the flax and barley were destroyed later on in the seventh plague, and then in 10:15, the locusts ate all the remaining plants. These are much clearer “contradictions” than anything found in Genesis 1. And to these we may add that repeatedly Pharaoh says he will let the people go, and then changes his mind. How likely is this?

Well, since we have found such clear indications that these plagues are not to be taken as real history, do we find a literary framework to posit as some kind of alternative? Certainly. There are three groups of three plagues, and then a tenth. The first plague in each cycle begins with a command to go to Pharaoh in the morning. The second in each cycle begins with a command simply to go to Pharaoh. The third in each cycle is not announced to Pharaoh at all. The first three plagues are brought by Aaron’s staff, while the last three are brought by Moses’ hand. And so forth. So, we have a clear literary structure.

Of course, traditional expositors have suggested ways around the “contradictions” in the historical narrative of the ten plagues, but if we are going to let the interpretation of Genesis 1 be our guide, we may not try to get around these “contradictions.” Rather, we must let them be indicators that these events never really happened. The plagues on Egypt were not historical events, but are a foundational and archetypal myth for the nation of Israel, just as the six days of Genesis are a foundational and archetypal myth for the whole universe.

Now let us turn to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Repeating our Genesis 1 procedure, we note first of all that “scientific” historians can find no evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. Josephus says nothing about it, and neither does any other “unbiased” source. So, maybe it never happened. We must inspect the text anew.

Do we find contradictions that indicate that the resurrection never happened? Of course we do! The four gospels are in obvious conflict with one other regarding the events of Easter morning. Of course, traditional expositors try to harmonize these four accounts, as John Wenham does in his book Easter Enigma: Are the Resurrection Accounts in Conflict? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984; highly recommended). But no, we should let the contradictions stand as they are, for they indicate to us that we are not dealing with what we think of as history at all.

So, seeing that there are contradictions in the text, do we find literary structures that indicate the real meaning of the text? Certainly. In John, for instance, Jesus’ tomb is presented as a holy of holies with the slab on which He lay as an Ark-cover ith two angels at either end. Moreover, Jesus appears as Gardener in a new Edenic garden in John. Thus, John is giving us theology, ideas, not history.

…If we approach the Bible the way the ahistorical interpreters of Genesis 1 want us to, the Christian religion disappears into gnosticism. By the same token, if we take other passages of the Bible in their obvious historical sense, and resolve seeming contradictions in the way the Church has always done, then we must do the same with Genesis 1.

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3 Responses to “The New Gnostics”

  • Robert Murphy Says:

    That was great! For a split second there, I thought, “No! J.J. going off the rails!?!” Then I kept reading. What a great reductio ad absurdum. The same even applies to the analogical interpretation.

  • Kelby Carlson Says:

    I absoultely hate this argument, and it is going to end up remaining one of the points of contension i have with both you and Jordan. The Bible is like the Trinity: an organic whole, unity in diversity. That means that different parts of the Bible need to be interpreted differently; this is really foundational to exegesis and hermeneutics, and i honestly think it gets missed when typology is used as such an all-encompassing framework. Genesis 1 and Matthew are different genres; we don’t look at them the same way, just as we don’t look at a biography and a poem the same way. I refuse to believe that God forbids us from using our reason in this matter. THe stance I reject is not so much young-earth creationism (which you are espousing here), but an unflinching, uncompromising approach to a clearly nonessential doctrine of scripture. It isn’t in the Apostle’s creed, so I don’t bother with it most of the time. But to claim an honestly reasoned position that does the best it can to interpret Genesis both within its original context and in the light of general revelation “gnostic’ poisons the well right off.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Wow, sweet AND sour.


    The need to classify Genesis 1 as a different genre to the rest of the book comes from attempting the impossible feat of maintaining biblical inerrancy while compromising with modern scientism.

    For other readers (Kelby’s probably already read these), here’s some related posts:

    Thanks for your comments, guys!