Marital Gnosticism?


Christianity has always had a problem with heresies and bad teachings, and as I have pointed out in my different Bad Teaching posts (listed here), many of these deal with marriage and sexuality. One early Christian heresy that has continued to plague the church was Gnosticism. Despite Paul condemning an early version of Gnosticism in his letters to the Galatians and Colossians, versions of the heresy were brought into the church, sanctified by teachers and continue in some form or other to this day. And for some of my readers, a version of Gnosticism may be affecting your marriage.

What Is Gnosticim?

As a cultic offshoot of Christianity, Gnosticism had two distinctive teachings that set it apart from orthodox Christianity. The first, which is really no longer a problem is the idea that salvation came with learning and receiving a secret knowledge, a gnosis, that brought the learner into a deeper, more special relationship with the truth and with God. This aspect of Gnosticism really isn’t a problem today.

The second feature of Gnosticism, which set it apart and became an identifying tenet, was a dualistic view of man and nature. According to Gnosticism, the only part of man that mattered was the spirit; the flesh and nature were evil and corrupt. This belief in the imperfection of the flesh and the perfection of the spirit manifested itself in two different attitudes and behaviors, which were actually opposite of each other.

One response of dualistic Gnosticism was to teach that the flesh was, you should pardon the pun, immaterial, and that whatever a person did, physically, didn’t matter. Only the spiritual mattered, and so what occurred in the physical didn’t matter; only the purity of the soul mattered. This enabled some gnostics to teach that it didn’t matter if you sinned or didn’t sin in the body; what you needed to keep in mind was that your soul was pure, no matter what you did physically. Hence, the result, for some strains of gnosticism, was to excuse a “Party on, Dude” hedonism.

The second response was an aesthetic one: since the flesh was corrupt and only the spirit was pure, physical defilement was to be shunned, so that the soul could remain pure. This became the dominant reaction in the Church, leading to monastic hermits and celibate clergy. The leading lights of the Church began to teach that sex was the original sin, even to the ridiculous teaching, via Augustine, that Original Sin is carried in semen. This was why Christ had to be born of a virgin; a sexless conception meant no semen and no Original Sin.

Through the likes of Augustine and Jerome, the Church began to teach that, while sex was a necessary evil for married Christians to engage in, sexlessness was the better state. The Church even began to teach that virgins and celibates were a higher class of Christian, that they were more Christ-like and more worthy of God’s blessings; priests, monks, nuns and celibates were viewed as first-class Christians, separate from the run-of-the-mill variety of Christians.

Are You Married To A Marital Gnostic™?

Just as Gnostics believed that the body and body-related matters are of secondary importance, so, too, do the MG™s. Well, maybe not everything. After all, they are very solicitous about the physical health and well-being of their children, and may be just as mindful of their own health and fitness. But as to the physical nature of their marriages? Not so much.

It is as if, for the MG™, marriage is a separate entity apart from each spouse; a third party, if you will, an entity with its own life and needs, for which physicals needs don’t exist. To the MG™, the only aspect of marriage that matters is the spiritual; in fact, to the MG™, sexuality may even be a negative force in the marriage, just as it became so to the Church.

So, how do you tell if you are married to a MG™? Gnosticism and Marital Gnosticism share similar concepts and assumptions, so let’s take a look at possible indicators.

Spirituality is consequential, the physical is not.
Gnosticism believed that only that which is spiritual is real and of consequence, and that which is physical is not. For Gnostics, denial of physical needs is an approach to godliness and relationship with the Spirit. To a Gnostic, God is not experienced in the natural world (having no truck with it), but only in ethereal pursuits.

For the MG™, marriage about companionship and emotional connection; sex is “just sex.” The refused spouse is constantly informed that sex, while it may be nice, isn’t needed in a marriage or in a relationship. Companionship and fellowship, these are what make a marriage. After all, marriage is for holiness, not happiness.

Spirituality confers a superior status; physical concerns demonstrate spiritual failure.
According to the belief of Gnosticism, being spiritual conferred a superior status in the Church, and confirmed a sense of superiority. To be concerned about the matters of the flesh means that you are ‘carnal’ and do not have your mind on the things of the Spirit; of course, this serves to confirm the carnal believer’s second-class status as a Christian.

Marital Gnostics, of course, also see marriage as a spiritual entity, and those who see marriage as melding of two hearts are superior to those who believe that marital relationships should include a ‘one flesh’ aspect. After all, we are told, marriage is the earthly representation of the relationship between Christ and the Church, and it is a spiritual relationship.

“It’s not about you (hmmm, it’s about me)”
Paul tells us that the Gnostic heresy seemed to be godly, seemed to be holy, because of its aestheticism. In Col. 2:23, he wrote:

These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body,…

This aesthetic bent presents a facade of holiness, even preaches a desire for holiness, but at the expense of denying God’s creation as evil. What God has pronounced as “Good,” Gnostics call evil. That which God has given as blessing is spurned as a bane.

A MG™ does the same, telling his/her spouse that sex just isn’t that necessary in a marriage, that it might even be a detriment; after all, it has become a point of contention between us, right? There may be any number of reasons why sex isn’t all that important or necessary, but a MG™’s argumentation rests on the bedrock that, “Honey, our marriage is fine; we don’t need sex. Just don’t think about sex and it won’t matter.” In other words, “it’s not about you, it’s about our marriage.”

(But isn’t it funny that “it’s not about you and your sex drive” somehow transforms itself into “it is about me and my not-sex drive”? Convenient, huh?)

Is There a Remedy For Marital Gnosticism?

I acknowledge that I can be pretty cynical. Not only do I believe that the glass is half empty, I’m pretty sure someone drank from it first. But I’m Christian enough to believe that God’s Word is the remedy for pretty much everything.

Now, I’ve read statements from different women who have been refusers in the past and who now see that how they did marriage before was wrong that seem to discount the efficacy of the Bible. These women have said that trying to change them by beating them over the head with scripture would not have been well-received. One idea that seems to be expressed frequently is that they feel that they “weren’t in a place where they could receive it.”

That may be true. But the thought comes niggling at the edges of my mind: Paul didn’t wait until the Gnostics were ready to receive his words, did he? He just wrote the truth. Scripture is true, whether I want to believe it or not, isn’t it? Whether I’m ready to receive it or not, right?  So, if I, a Christian, am confronted with the truth from the scriptures, I can either take it to heart or turn my back on my faith. And if my commitment to my libido-less state means more to me than my commitment to God and His word, then I’m not really a Christian, am I? Jes’ sayin’.

I know, there’s going to be push-back here. “After all, CSL, you can’t just lord it over your wife and expect her to be happy about it, right?” Yeah, you’re right.

But then, I’m not saying that what the refused spouse should do is say, “The Bible says you are supposed to do me or you’re a sinner.” No, that won’t fly. But the truth is the truth, nonetheless. You can arm yourself with the truth, and and work from that place of knowledge, so that when marital gnostic ideas are thrown up against you, you can destroy the faulty reasoning behind them.

Paul wrote of “destroying arguments and opinions raised against the knowledge of God,” in 2 Cor. 10:5. We also know that one of the functions of scripture is correction (2 Tim. 3:16). Scriptures are capable of the correction of personal conduct, of personal character, and of biblical error, and Marital Gnosticism is as much an error as any other heresy.

So, what I am saying is that you should arm yourselves with the truth of God’s view of Marriage. God created marriage to include a sexual component, and what the MG™ dismisses, God called “Good.” You should, too.



Filed under Marriage & Sexuality

5 responses to “Marital Gnosticism?

  1. sandi

    “That may be true. But the thought comes niggling at the edges of my mind: Paul didn’t wait until the Gnostics were ready to receive his words, did he?”

    This might be a valid argument against someone needing “to be ready to here the message”, except that Paul wasn’t talking to the Gnostics in either Galatians or Colossians. He was speaking to Christians and warning them against false teachings that were invading their churches. That is not the same thing, Christians have the Holy Spirit, The Gnostics and Judaizers Paul was warning against did not.

    I believe we all have areas where Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 applies to us. “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?”

    I don’t believe this message is telling them they aren’t Christians or accusing them of abandoning the faith because they haven’t gotten it right yet.

    “So, if I, a Christian, am CONFRONTED with the truth from the scriptures, I can either take it to heart or turn my back on my faith. And if my commitment to my libido-less state means more to me than my commitment to God and His word, then I’m not really a Christian, am I?”

    Where I think you struggle in your understanding is that there is more to being confronted with the truth of scripture than hearing someone telling you what it says. Without understanding from the Holy Spirit they are just words on a page.

    I may be wrong here, but you seem to struggle with often being sarcastic. Or perhaps you consider it satire.
    Full Definition of sarcasm
    : a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain
    a : a mode of satirical wit depending for its effect on bitter, caustic, and often ironic language that is usually directed against an individual
    b : the use or language of sarcasm

    Full Definition of satire
    : a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn
    : trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly

    I don’t think there’s any way, based on your continued use of sarcasm/satire, that I can conclude that you haven’t taken to heart the scriptures or turned your back on your faith because you don’t seem to be heeding the words of Proverbs 15:1 and 4, Proverbs 25:15, 1 Peter 3:15, Titus 3:2, to name a few, because you still struggle with being sarcastic. What I believe is that you haven’t yet felt the full weight of conviction regarding using words as weapons against people.

    I certainly agree with you that God’s plan for sex in marriage is good and those that don’t appreciate this gift are in need of growth. I would suggest that there are likely areas of growth that may be more needful at a particular time than sex. The Holy Spirit was working in me on respecting my husband and fighting my selfish nature in general before he helped me feel the weight of conviction about my refusal/gatekeeping in the marriage bed. I wouldn’t disagree that there are very likely spouses out there who have felt the weight of conviction and ignore it. Their spouses may need to take a more proactive approach, but still applying 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love”

    I think you’re doing a good thing encouraging spouses in sexless marriages to work on them. I applaud your commitment to helping others find the joy in their marriage beds that you have found in yours.

    Be blessed,

    PS: My apology for the blog post sized comment. This comment is really a response to several of your posts, so proportionally, maybe not so bad.😉


    • Apology accepted.

      As I recently said to someone via email, I am more suited to administer the friendly, well-meant boot-in-the-butt rather than tea-and-kleenex. As noted in my About, I don’t play well with others.🙂

      I wrote on my other blog that George Barna noted there is a difference between Creedal christians and Notional christians. I have a problem with who can set the Bible aside for their own will.

      Now, I don’t discount a Christian’s struggle to live in accord with God’s word. Watchman Nee tells of once overhearing his mentor, Margaret Barber, in prayer saying “God, I don’t want to obey You in [this matter], but don’t remove Your pressure to do it from me.” Yes, we can struggle with doing what we know to do, but that doesn’t mean that His ways are to be set aside.


  2. This very interesting to me. I think a lot about the influence of culture on the Church because it is such a constant and insidious pressure. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone explicitly teaching gnosticism in sermons or Bible studies, but that is what allows distorted cultural mores to slip in unscrutinized.

    My perspective has focused more on the postmodern influences. Most Christians I’ve heard on the topic boil postmodernism down to its aversions to absolutes in truth and morals. I think those are just the ugly symptoms. Even in conservative churches I think we can see the “kernel” of postmodernism — an emotionally reasoned, broken version of the Golden Rule. It says we don’t do things to others that would be unpleasant because we wouldn’t want them to do anything to us that isn’t nice. Self-love is assumed.

    Within that mess of emotion=reality, and always be nice (especially to me), there is a lot of room for redefining formerly solid spiritual concepts. I could easily see that gnostic types of beliefs could be adopted if a person found something personally attractive in it. It would be entirely motivated by emotional reasoning, and likely still appear to be intellectually sound if left unscrutinized (which is mean and judgemental). There would be no solid reason to prevent it.

    When you think about it, this means it is possible to have a gnostic view of marriage if it suits… but any other area of life can be defined using another, possibly incompatible, set of doctrines. Whatever makes us feel nice (because that is love).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I LOVE this post! I’m going to have to riff on it.

    You and I have got to sit down and talk, it will be a blast!

    Liked by 1 person

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