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Short description: Common Greek noun for knowledge

Gnosis is the common Greek noun for knowledge (γνῶσις, gnōsis, f.).[1][2] The term was used among various Hellenistic religions and philosophies in the Greco-Roman world.[1][3][4][5] It is best known for its implication within Gnosticism,[1] where it signifies a spiritual knowledge or insight into humanity's real nature as divine, leading to the deliverance of the divine spark within humanity from the constraints of earthly existence.[3][4][5][6][7]


Gnosis is a feminine Greek noun which means "knowledge" or "awareness."[8] It is often used for personal knowledge compared with intellectual knowledge (εἴδειν eídein), as with the French connaître compared with savoir, the Portuguese conhecer compared with saber, the Spanish conocer compared with saber, the Italian conoscere compared with sapere, the German kennen rather than wissen, or the Modern Greek γνωρίζω compared with ξέρω.[9]

A related term is the adjective gnostikos, "cognitive",[10] a reasonably common adjective in Classical Greek.[11] The terms do not appear to indicate any mystic, esoteric or hidden meaning in the works of Plato, but instead expressed a sort of higher intelligence and ability analogous to talent.[12]

Plato The Statesman 258e
—Stranger: In this way, then, divide all science into two arts, calling the one practical (praktikos), and the other purely intellectual (gnostikos). Younger Socrates: Let us assume that all science is one and that these are its two forms.[13]

In the Hellenistic era the term became associated with the mystery cults.

In the Acts of Thomas, translated by G.R.S. Mead, the "motions of gnosis" are also referred to as "kingly motions".[14]

Irenaeus used the phrase "knowledge falsely so-called" (pseudonymos gnosis, from 1 Timothy 6:20)[15] for the title of his book On the Detection and Overthrow of False Knowledge, that contains the adjective gnostikos, which is the source for the 17th-century English term "Gnosticism".[16]

Comparison with epignosis

The difference and meaning of epignosis (Greek: ἐπίγνωσις) contrasted with gnosis is disputed. One proposed distinction is between the abstract and absolute knowledge (gnosis) and a practical or more literal knowledge (epignosis). Other interpretations have suggested that 2 Peter is referring to an "epignosis of Jesus Christ", what J. B. Lightfoot described as a "larger and more thorough knowledge". Conversion to Christianity is seen as evidence of the deeper knowledge protecting against false doctrine.[17]


Main page: Philosophy:Gnosticism
A lion-faced, serpentine deity found on a Gnostic gem in Bernard de Montfaucon's L'antiquité expliquée et représentée en figures may be a depiction of the Demiurge.

Gnosticism originated in the late 1st century CE in non-rabbinical Jewish and early Christian sects.[18] In the formation of Christianity, various sectarian groups, labeled "gnostics" by their opponents, emphasised spiritual knowledge (gnosis) of the divine spark within, over faith (pistis) in the teachings and traditions of the various communities of Christians.[3][6][7][19] Gnosticism presents a distinction between the highest, unknowable God, and the Demiurge, "creator" of the material universe.[3][6][7][20] The Gnostics considered the most essential part of the process of salvation to be this personal knowledge, in contrast to faith as an outlook in their worldview along with faith in the ecclesiastical authority.[3][6][7][20]

In Gnosticism, the biblical serpent in the Garden of Eden was praised and thanked for bringing knowledge (gnosis) to Adam and Eve and thereby freeing them from the malevolent Demiurge's control.[20] Gnostic Christian doctrines rely on a dualistic cosmology that implies the eternal conflict between good and evil, and a conception of the serpent as the liberating savior and bestower of knowledge to humankind opposed to the Demiurge or creator god, identified with the Hebrew God of the Old Testament.[6][20] Gnostic Christians considered the Hebrew God of the Old Testament as the evil, false god and creator of the material universe, and the Unknown God of the Gospel, the father of Jesus Christ and creator of the spiritual world, as the true, good God.[3][6][20][21] In the Archontic, Sethian, and Ophite systems, Yaldabaoth (Yahweh) is regarded as the malevolent Demiurge and false god of the Old Testament who generated the material universe and keeps the souls trapped in physical bodies, imprisoned in the world full of pain and suffering that he created.[22][23][24]

However, not all Gnostic movements regarded the creator of the material universe as inherently evil or malevolent.[21][25] For instance, Valentinians believed that the Demiurge is merely an ignorant and incompetent creator, trying to fashion the world as good as he can, but lacking the proper power to maintain its goodness.[21][25] All Gnostics were regarded as heretics by the proto-orthodox Early Church Fathers.[3][6][7][20]


Main page: Philosophy:Manda (Mandaeism)

In Mandaeism, the concept of manda ("knowledge", "wisdom", "intellect") is roughly equivalent to the Gnostic concept of gnosis.[26] Mandaeism ('having knowledge')[27] is the only surviving Gnostic religion from antiquity.[28][29]:15 Mandaeans formally refer to themselves as Nasurai (Nasoraeans) meaning guardians or possessors of secret rites and knowledge.[30][31] The Mandaeans emphasize salvation of the soul through secret knowledge (gnosis) of its divine origin.[27][32] Mandaeism "provides knowledge of whence we have come and whither we are going."[33]:531

Christian usage

Despite rejection of Gnosticism,[citation needed] Christianity has sometimes used the term or derivatives of it in a laudatory rather than lambasting sense.

New Testament

The New Testament uses the term γνῶσις (Strong's G1108, Transliteration gnōsis) 28 times.[34]

Patristic literature

The Church Fathers used the word gnosis (knowledge) to mean spiritual knowledge or specific knowledge of the divine. This positive usage was to contrast it with how gnostic sectarians used the word. Cardiognosis ("knowledge of the heart") from Eastern Christianity related to the tradition of the starets and in Roman Catholic theology is the view that only God knows the condition of one's relationship with God.[35][36] Boston College Catholic philosopher Dermot Moran notes that

...even in early Christianity, matters were complex, such that an anti-gnostic writer like Clement of Alexandria can regularly invoke the notion of gnostike theoria in a positive sense.[37]

Eastern Orthodox thought

Gnosis in Orthodox Christian (primarily Eastern Orthodox) thought is the spiritual knowledge of a saint (one who has obtained theosis)[38] or divinely-illuminated human being. Within the cultures of the term's provenance (Byzantine and Ancient Greece ) Gnosis was a knowledge or insight into the infinite, divine and uncreated in all and above all,[39] rather than knowledge strictly into the finite, natural or material world.[40] Gnosis is transcendental as well as mature understanding. It indicates direct spiritual, experiential knowledge[41] and intuitive knowledge, mystic rather than that from rational or reasoned thinking. Gnosis itself is gained through understanding at which one can arrive via inner experience or contemplation such as an internal epiphany of intuition and external epiphany such as the theophany.

In the Philokalia, it is emphasized that such knowledge is not secret knowledge but rather a maturing, transcendent form of knowledge derived from contemplation (theoria resulting from practice of hesychasm), since knowledge cannot truly be derived from knowledge, but rather, knowledge can only be derived from theoria (to witness, see (vision) or experience).[42] Knowledge, thus plays an important role in relation to theosis (deification/personal relationship with God) and theoria (revelation of the divine, vision of God).[43] Gnosis, as the proper use of the spiritual or noetic faculty plays an important role in Orthodox Christian theology. Its importance in the economy of salvation is discussed periodically in the Philokalia where as direct, personal knowledge of God (noesis) it is distinguished from ordinary epistemological knowledge (episteme—i.e., speculative philosophy).


Main page: Religion:Irfan


Knowledge (or gnosis) in Sufism refers to knowledge of Self and God. The gnostic is called al-arif bi'lah or "one who knows by God". The goal of the Sufi practitioner is to remove inner obstacles to the knowledge of God. Sufism, understood as the quest for Truth, is to seek for the separate existence of the Self to be consumed by Truth, as stated by the Sufi poet Mansur al-Hallaj, who was executed for saying "I am the Truth" (ana'l haqq).[44]

Jewish usage

Hellenistic Jewish literature

The Greek word gnosis (knowledge) is used as a standard translation of the Hebrew word "knowledge" (דעת da'ath) in the Septuagint, thus:

The Lord gives wisdom [ħokhma] (sophia), from his face come knowledge [da'ath] (gnosis) and understanding [tevuna] (synesis)"
—Proverbs 2.6

Philo also refers to the "knowledge" (gnosis) and "wisdom" (sophia) of God.[45]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Hunter, David G.; van Geest, Paul J. J.; Lietaert Peerbolte, Bert Jan, eds (2018). "Gnosis/Knowledge". Brill Encyclopedia of Early Christianity Online. Leiden and Boston: Brill Publishers. doi:10.1163/2589-7993_EECO_SIM_00001440. 
  2. Porter, Stanley E. (2016). "What Do We Mean by Speaking of Paul and Gnosis/Knowledge? A Semantic and Frequency Investigation". in Porter, Stanley E.; Yoon, David. Paul and Gnosis. Pauline Studies. 9. Leiden and Boston: Brill Publishers. pp. 7–22. doi:10.1163/9789004316690_003. ISBN 978-90-04-31668-3. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Mitchell, Margaret M.; Young, Frances M., eds (2008). "Part V: The Shaping of Christian Theology - Monotheism and creation". The Cambridge History of Christianity, Volume 1: Origins to Constantine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 434–451, 452–456. doi:10.1017/CHOL9780521812399.026. ISBN 9781139054836. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Kurt Rudolph (2001). Gnosis: The Nature and History of Gnosticism. A&C Black. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-567-08640-2. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Williams, Michael (20 July 1998). "Gnosticism". Encyclopædia Britannica. Edinburgh: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.. Retrieved 12 April 2021. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 Ehrman, Bart D. (2005). "Christians "In The Know": The Worlds of Early Christian Gnosticism". Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 113–134. doi:10.1017/s0009640700110273. ISBN 978-0-19-518249-1. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Brakke, David (2010). The Gnostics: Myth, Ritual, and Diversity in Early Christianity. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. pp. 18–51. ISBN 9780674066038. 
  8. Liddell Scott entry γνῶσις, εως, ἡ, A. seeking to know, inquiry, investigation, esp. judicial, "τὰς τῶν δικαστηρίων γ." D.18.224; "τὴν κατὰ τοῦ διαιτητοῦ γdeetr." Id.21.92, cf. 7.9, Lycurg.141; "γ. περὶ τῆς δίκης" PHib.1.92.13 (iii B. C.). 2. result of investigation, decision, PPetr.3p.118 (iii B. C.). II. knowing, knowledge, Heraclit.56; opp. ἀγνωσίη, Hp. Vict.1.23 (dub.); opp. ἄγνοια, Pl.R.478c; "ἡ αἴσθησις γ. τις" Arist.GA731a33: pl., "Θεὸς γνώσεων κύριος" LXX 1 Ki.2.3. b. higher, esoteric knowledge, 1 Ep.Cor.8.7,10, Ep.Eph.3.19, etc.; "χαρισάμενος ἡμῖν νοῦν, λόγον, γνῶσιν" PMag.Par.2.290. 2. acquaintance with a person, "πρός τινα" Test. ap.Aeschin.1.50; "τῶν Σεβαστῶν" IPE1.47.6 (Olbia). 3. recognizing, Th.7.44. 4. means of knowing, "αἱ αἰσθήσεις] κυριώταται τῶν καθ᾽ ἕκαστα γ." Arist.Metaph.981b11. III. being known, "γνῶσιν ἔχει τι", = "γνωστόν ἐστι", Pl.Tht.206b. 2. fame, credit, Hdn.7.5.5, Luc.Herod.3. IV. means of knowing: hence, statement in writing, PLond.5.1708, etc. (vi A. D.). V. = γνῶμα, Hsch. s. h. v.
  9. Pagels, Elaine (1995). The Origin of Satan. Allen Lane, The Penguin Press. p. 167. 
  10. LSJ entry γνωστ-ικός, ή, όν, A. of or for knowing, cognitive: ἡ -κή (sc. ἐπιστήμη), theoretical science (opp. πρακτική), Pl.Plt.258b.c., etc.; τὸ γ. ib.261b; "ἕξεις γ." Arist.AP0.100a11 (Comp.); "γ. εἰκόνες" CA25p.475M.: c. gen., able to discern, Ocell. 2.7. Adv. "-κῶς" Procl.Inst.39, Dam.Pr.79, Ph.241.22.
  11. In Perseus databank 10x Plato, Cratylus, Theaetetus, Sophist, Statesman 2x Plutarch, Compendium libri de animae procreatione + De animae procreatione in Timaeo, 2x Pseudo-Plutarch, De musica
  12. Cooper and Hutchinson. "Introduction to Politikos." Cooper, John M. & Hutchinson, D. S. (Eds.) (1997). Plato: Complete Works, Hackett Publishing Co., Inc. ISBN:0-87220-349-2.
  13. Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 12 translated by Harold N. Fowler. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1921.
  14. George Robert Stow Mead, and Stephen Ronan. The Complete Echoes from the Gnosis. London, Chthonios Books, 1987, p. 113.
  15. feminine nominative adjective
  16. "Gnostic | Origin and meaning of the name Gnostic by Online Etymology Dictionary". Retrieved 2021-07-24
  17. Green, Michael (1987). 2 Peter & Jude. Eerdman's. p. 70. ISBN 9780802800787. 
  18. Magris 2005, pp. 3515–3516.
  19. Layton, Bentley (1999). "Prolegomena to the Study of Ancient Gnosticism". in Ferguson, Everett. Doctrinal Diversity: Varieties of Early Christianity. Recent Studies in Early Christianity: A Collection of Scholarly Essays. New York City and London: Garland Publishing, Inc. pp. 106–123. ISBN 0-8153-3071-5. 
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 20.4 20.5 Kvam, Kristen E.; Schearing, Linda S.; Ziegler, Valarie H., eds (1999). "Early Christian Interpretations (50–450 CE)". Eve and Adam: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Readings on Genesis and Gender. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. pp. 108–155. doi:10.2307/j.ctt2050vqm.8. ISBN 9780253212719. 
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 Bousset, Wilhelm (1911). "Valentinus and the Valentinians". Encyclopædia Britannica. 27 (11th ed.). pp. 852-857. 
  22. "Part I: The Self-deifying Rebel – “I Am God and There is No Other!”: The Boast of Yaldabaoth". Desiring Divinity: Self-deification in Early Jewish and Christian Mythmaking. Oxford and New York City: Oxford University Press. 2016 [2015]. pp. 47–65. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190467166.003.0004. ISBN 9780199967728. OCLC 966607824. 
  23. Fischer-Mueller, E. Aydeet (January 1990). "Yaldabaoth: The Gnostic Female Principle in Its Fallenness". Novum Testamentum (Leiden and Boston: Brill Publishers) 32 (1): 79–95. doi:10.1163/156853690X00205. ISSN 0048-1009. 
  24.  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainArendzen, John Peter (1908). "Demiurge". in Herbermann, Charles. Catholic Encyclopedia. 4. New York: Robert Appleton. 
  25. 25.0 25.1 Esler, Philip F., ed (2002) [2000]. "Part IX: Internal Challenges – Gnosticism". The Early Christian World. Routledge Worlds (1st ed.). New York City and London: Routledge. pp. 923–925. ISBN 9781032199344. 
  26. Buckley, Jorunn Jacobsen (2002). The Mandaeans: ancient texts and modern people. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-515385-5. OCLC 65198443. 
  27. 27.0 27.1 "Mandaeanism | religion". 
  28. McGrath, James (23 January 2015), The First Baptists, The Last Gnostics: The Mandaeans,, retrieved 8 February 2022 
  29. Rudolph, Kurt (1977). "Mandaeism". in Moore, Albert C.. Iconography of Religions: An Introduction. 21. Chris Robertson. ISBN 9780800604882. 
  30. Rudolph, Kurt (7 April 2008). "MANDAEANS ii. THE MANDAEAN RELIGION". 
  31. Drower, Ethel Stefana (1953). The Haran Gawaita and the Baptism of Hibil-Ziwa. Biblioteca Apostolica Vatican. 
  32. Drower, Ethel Stephana (1960). The secret Adam, a study of Nasoraean gnosis. London UK: Clarendon Press. p. xvi. Retrieved 19 February 2014. 
  33. Deutsch, Nathaniel. (2003) Mandaean Literature. In The Gnostic Bible (pp. 527–561). New Seeds Books
  34. Lexicon: Strong's G1108 - gnōsis Blue Letter Bible
  35. Donald K. McKim, Westminster dictionary of theological terms, 1996, p. 39
  36. Gerald O'Collins, Edward G. Farrugia (2004). concise dictionary of theology p. 130 Publisher: T. & T. Clark Publishers ISBN:978-0-567-08354-8
  37. "Gnostic Return in Modernity and Gnostic Apocalypse". Notre Dame. 
  38. "Spiritual knowledge is the state of spiritual theoria, when one sees invisibly and hears inaudibly and comprehends incomprehensibly the glory of God. Precisely then comprehension ceases and, what is more, he understands that he does not understand. Within the vision of the uncreated Light man also sees angels and Saints and, in general, he experiences communion with the angels and the Saints. He is then certain that resurrection exists. This is the spiritual knowledge which all the holy Prophets, the Apostles, Martyrs, ascetics and all the Saints of the Church had. The teachings of the Saints are an offspring of this spiritual knowledge. And, naturally, as we said earlier, spiritual knowledge is a fruit of the vision of God. "THE ILLNESS AND CURE OF THE SOUL" Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos [1]
  39. St. Symeon the New Theologian in Practical & Theological Discourses, 1.1 The Philokalia Volume Four: When men search for God with their bodily eyes they find Him nowhere, for He is invisible. But for those who ponder in the Spirit He is present everywhere. He is in all, yet beyond all
  40. Faith And Science In Orthodox Gnosiology And Methodology by George Metallinos "The scientist and professor of the knowledge of the Uncreated, in the Orthodox Tradition, is the Geron/Starets (the Elder or Spiritual Father), the guide or "teacher of the desert." The recording of both types of knowledge presupposes empirical knowledge of the phenomenon. The same holds true in the field of science, where only the specialist understands the research of other scientists of the same field. The adoption of conclusions or findings of a scientific branch by non-specialists (i.e. those who are unable to experimentally examine the research of the specialists) is based on the trust of the specialists credibility. Otherwise, there would be no scientific progress. The same holds true for the science of faith. The empirical knowledge of the Saints, Prophets, Apostles, Fathers and Mothers of all ages is adopted and founded upon the same trust. The patristic tradition and the Church's Councils function on this provable experience. There is no Ecumenical Council without the presence of the glorified/deified (theoumenoi), those who see the divine (this is the problem of the councils of today!) Orthodox doctrine results from this relationship." University of Athens - Department of Theology
  41. The Philokalia Volume Four Palmer, G.E.H; Sherrard, Philip; Ware, Kallistos (Timothy). ISBN:0-571-19382-X, glossary, p. 434, Spiritual Knowledge (γνῶσις): the knowledge of the intellect (q.v.). As such, it is knowledge inspired by God, as insight (noesis; see also Noema) or revelational, intuitive knowledge (see gnosiology) and so linked with contemplation and immediate spiritual perception.
  42. Glossary of terms from the Philokalia p. 434 the knowledge of the intellect as distinct from that of the reason(q.v.). Knowledge inspired by God, and so linked with contemplation (q.v.) and immediate spiritual perception.
  43. The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, SVS Press, 1997. (ISBN:0-913836-31-1) James Clarke & Co Ltd, 2002. (ISBN:0-227-67919-9) p. 218
  44. Nasr, Seyyed Hossain (2007). The Garden of Truth: The Vision and Promise of Sufism, Islam's Mystical Tradition. Harper Collins. p. 30. 
  45. New Testament studies: Society for New Testament Studies – 1981 "see also the more extensive analysis of gnosis in Philo by Hans Jonas, Gnosis und spatantiker Geist 11/1"


  • Magris, Aldo (2005). "Gnosticism: Gnosticism from its origins to the Middle Ages (further considerations)". in Jones, Lindsay. Macmillan Encyclopedia of Religion (2nd ed.). New York City: Macmillan Inc.. pp. 3515–3516. ISBN 978-0028657332. OCLC 56057973.