Gnosticism was first believed to be a heresy that arose at the beginning of the Apostolic Church, but modern research from the past century began to discover Gnostic roots in Greece from around 200 B.C.
I think Scripture backs this up. In Acts 17 the Apostle Paul addresses the Athenians at Mars Hill:
22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.
Ancient Gnosticism held that the God of the Universe was eternal and unknowable, as opposed to the Hebrew and Christian God who makes Himself known through creation and revelation.
This Grecian Gnosticism was different from later Gnosticism in it’s forms and expressions, but not in it’s substance.
20th century research then began uncovering Gnostic evidence from Mesopotamia from around 500 B.C., then uncovered evidence of Gnosticism in Egypt dated much earlier. IOW, we really don’t know when Gnosticism began.
Or do we? The following probably won’t mean very much to our Pagan friends, but it will to Christians.
For background, read Genesis 2: 15-17:
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Now Genesis 3: 1-6:
1Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.
First of all, who does Satan approach? You’d think it would be Adam, who was given the command and who had authority over Eve. But that would have been a power move. This was a subversive move, and in it he introduces, to the person a little lower in the hierarchy, the first temptation, ENVY.
The key verse is number 5. The appeal here is for knowledge and equality. First let’s look at the equality angle. In the previous verses, Satan intimates that God is holding out on them, not giving them the best of the Garden. He sows the seeds of distrust. Then he offers her a way to equality with God, by taking what was forbidden. He promised that she would be like God. So Eve gives in to the temptation, and takes the fruit, and in doing so unmasks what equality has always been really about: POWER.
Think about it. If Eve really desired to be like God, then why didn’t she talk to God about it? Why didn’t she ask her husband? She didn’t really want equality, she wanted control. So she just took it. Lucifer used envy because he knows it well. It was what caused his own fall.
For sin to be enticing, it has to have a promise, a reward. In verse 5, cultivating envy was the stick, and the carrot was knowledge. Knowledge as the path to salvation. Not obedience to the Covenant. Not faith in the Creator. Those things are more difficult, require more effort. Knowledge, so that we can find our own salvation. Now, knowledge is good, as Scripture asserts quite often, but it’s proper place is below faith, and the obedience that comes from faith. Out of place, knowledge puffs up. This is no different than any virtue elevated beyond it’s station.
So there you have it. The original temptation was envy, which makes perfect sense to me. Hasn’t the root issue always been about control? Who has it, who gives it up, what we’re willing to do for it.
As for the rest of this passage in Genesis, there’s a lot that can be said, and has been said. I’ll leave it to you to make connections here with current feminism and male leadership (or lack thereof), among many other possibilities. We’re making the connection to Gnosticism, and I’ve found it helpful to understand that the dark impulse that drives it, that animates the modern Left, is envy.
And the first Gnostic was the Devil himself.