The Gnostic message had a wide appeal. First of all, the prospect of obtaining a higher, secret knowledge is always tempting. Second, Gnosticism provided a plausible explanation of the problem of evil as the result of the impulsive and vindictive whims of an inferior god, and this struggle between two deities made sense. Third, the Gnostics’ contempt for the material world allowed many of them to consider pagan ceremonies inconsequential. They could in good conscience accept the demands of the Roman government and escape persecution. In addition, their message sounded biblical enough to attract those who didn’t have time to submit their claims to serious examination.
For Irenaeus, the main problem with Gnosticism was that it was not historical Christianity. The Gnostics were not interested in the historical Jesus and didn’t see the Bible as a unified story of redemption. To them, salvation was obtained through enlightenment and was only available to a chosen few. Their writings were earnest and poetic but quite different in scope and spirit from the canonical gospels.
Since the biblical narrative was not important to them, they could cast doubts on some of the basic tenets of the Christian faith. For example, some taught that the man on the cross was not the same as the miracle-working Christ, because it was not fit for Christ to suffer. This was problematic on both soteriological and practical levels. To persecuted Christians, it would have raised the question of why Christ asked his followers to accept abuses to the point of death when he himself escaped all suffering.
Besides, while most Gnostics were sincerely convinced of possessing the truth, a few used the appeal of higher knowledge as a means of exploitation. A Gnostic named Marcus was especially crafty around Lyon, performing tricks with water and wine to mimic Christ’s miracles and amaze his followers. He targeted wealthy women, urging them to give messages from God by saying the first thing that came into their minds. When they did, he proclaimed them prophetesses, accepting their valuable gifts and sexual favors as tokens of their gratitude. Only a few women recognized the deception and returned to the church.
How Irenaeus debated the Gnostics with logic and Scriptures https://t.co/7hc0fcZFK8
— Christianity Today (@CTmagazine) June 18, 2019