Gnosticism and Color-Blindness

by | Aug 16, 2022

Every so often, someone with a large platform will become interested in Gnosticism. The Gnostic heresy is old enough that it is addressed in several New Testament epistles. Some opponents of orthodox Christianity characterize the Gnostics as an early Christian sect which was bullied out of the Church. I think that perspective would be less widely held if folks read early Gnostic writing. The Gospel of Thomas is an important text for understanding Gnosticism and color-blindness. Its themes include teaching on the corrupted nature of physical matter, including human bodies. The book closes with the following verse:

Simon Peter said to him, “Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.” Jesus said, “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.” (1)

Note how differently Jesus treats women in the Gospels and in this Gnostic text. In the canonical Gospels, the first people to whom Jesus appears after his resurrection are women (John 20:16). In that time, women were not even treated as trustworthy enough to be witnesses in trials. Jesus trusted them enough to authenticate his resurrection. The Gnostics believed that womanhood had to be shed in order to enter glory.

I bring this up because some Christians today treat ethnicity the way the Gnostics treated gender. They believe that ethnicity is a trait which will not last into glory. Some who advocate a color-blind approach to ethnicity believe it is a distinction between people that God does not recognize, so neither should we. After all, hasn’t God made us one new man in Christ (Ephesians 2:14–16)?

When interpreting Scripture, a key rule is to not place passages in opposition to one another. If we build from one passage a principle which we use to deny or ignore another, we are not being faithful to the whole Bible.

Did Paul teach that ethnicity is an irrelevant consideration? In Ephesians 2, he wrote that Jesus tore down the wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile, uniting them in Christ. He also wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). If these were the only texts we had on ethnicity or gender, I could see how one might reach the conclusion that all such distinctions are irrelevant in light of the gospel. But they are not.

Paul also taught that ethnicity was an important consideration for how he tried to reach people for Christ (1 Corinthians 9:20). He gave specific instructions to Christians according to gender (Ephesians 5:22–33). He also acknowledged ethnic differences in the body of Christ and opposed Peter for ethnic partiality (Galatians 2:11–14). Reading all these passages in harmony, we understand that Paul taught that ethnicity was not a barrier to salvation but was a human distinction to be understood and acknowledged.

Beyond Paul, Jesus taught his disciples to take the gospel message to all nations (Matthew 28:19–20). John taught that the saints in glory are people from every tribe, tongue, and nation, a distinction which is not done away in the New Creation  (Revelation 7:9). A diverse, redeemed people has been God’s plan from the beginning (2).

When we treat ethnicity as irrelevant, we are not honoring God’s plan for diversity. When we treat ethnicity as an effect of the fall to be done away with in glory, we are being more Gnositc than Christian. While we may not make ethnicity ultimate, we must not ignore it, either.

Color-blindness is one of those things that sounds really good when you first hear it. Why wouldn’t we want to view and treat everyone exactly the same in every situation? There are many reasons, history, context, culture, etc., but the main reason is because the Bible doesn’t take that approach. We shouldn’t either.


(1) https://www.marquette.edu/maqom/Gospel%20of%20Thomas%20Lambdin.pdf

(2) For a thorough treatment on this topic, see Jarvis Williams, Redemptive Kingdom Diversity: A Biblical Theology of the People of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2021).

 


Prayer Requests:

  1. Pray that God would make us faithful to all of Scripture in all of life.
  2. Pray that we have wisdom in how we deal with all the many kinds of people God has put in our lives.
  3. Pray for the realization of Jesus’ commission to reach all nations with the gospel.

 

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Author

  • Austin Suter

    Austin is the executive director and editor for U?WP. He is a husband, father and seminary student at RTS Charlotte. Austin is a member at Iron City Church in Birmingham, AL. @amsuter

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