Background of John's Epistles
- How do we Know?


Notes on the Apostle John’s Epistles
Taken at a Bible Study Led by Walt Henrichsen
In San Francisco, 10-14 March 2008

I suggest it’s difficult to understand the rationale for John writing his epistles without understanding Gnosticism (諾斯底主義). Gnosticism is the Greek work for ‘know’.  Philosophers have debated throughout the centuries ‘how do you know?'  René Descartes (1596-1650), the French philosopher said, “I think, therefore I am.”  So understand Gnosticism, we first must understand where it came from.

Two mother religions of the world – Hinduism and Judaism

The two mother religions of the world are Hinduism (印度教) and Judaism (猶太教).  The primary distinction is in the way each answers the question, “How do we know?”  Hinduism is a religion of reason and observation [and usually polytheism].  Judaism is a religion of revelation [and usually monotheism.]


Hinduism says everything is cyclical.  For example, after spring we have summer, then fall then winter, followed by spring.  The rain goes up to the clouds, falls back down, goes into the rivers and the sea, evaporates up to the clouds and then comes down again as rain.  So based on this observation Hinduism says that after this life we have reincarnation; man dies and is reborn in another form in endless cycles.

Hinduism’s sister religions

From Hinduism came the religions of the orient.  Buddha (佛陀) was a Hindu, so Buddhism (佛教) was a reformation movement within Hinduism.  Shintoism (日本之神道教) and Taoism (道教) and other related religions came from this.  They all answer the question “How do we know?” with observation and by reason.  Ancient Greek philosophy (古希臘哲學) was also essentially Hindu in its view.  Socrates (蘇格拉底) believed in transmigration of the soul, which is another name for reincarnation (輪迴, 轉世).  Gnosticism is a sister religious worldview of ancient Greek thought.  [Perhaps all these views originated around 2100B.C. at the time of Nimrod and the Tower of Babel, so that some followers went east and some went west.]


[Judaism started around the same time.  God called Abraham around 1900 B.C.  Abraham was the father of the Jews and Judaism.]  The mother religion of Judaism spawned Christianity, Islam and numerous cults.  Judaism says that we know by revelation.  As a brief review, no other group of people in history has ever even suggested that something like what happened at Mount Sinai around 1460B.C. was possible.  One entire nation [of around one to three million people] said they all were at one place and saw the same thing – the giving of the Law of God.  This was spectacular! [He declares His word to Jacob, His statutes and His judgments to Israel.  He has not dealt thus with any nation; and as for His judgments, they have not known them.  Praise the Lord! – Psalm 147:19,20 NKJV]  That’s why the Law [and revelation] play such a central role in Judaism.

Scientific Method and Modernism

Judaism and the Gospel began in the Middle East, and although it influenced India, basically its migration was westward.  As a result, it spawned the scientific method – which is based on the premise that [natural] laws are inviolable.  For example, when the space shuttle Columbia blew up in the air, people didn’t ask why it blew up in space; they asked what laws were violated.  So it’s on that basis that we have the scientific method.  Just as spiritual law is absolute, so also natural law is absolute.  The two came together and produced what some people call modernism (現代主義).  [Wikipedia says modernism is “an array of cultural movements rooted in the changes in Western society in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The term covers a series of reforming movements in art, architecture, music, literature and the applied arts, which emerged during this period.  It is a trend of thought that affirms the power of human beings to create, improve, and reshape their environment, with the aid of scientific knowledge, technology or practical experimentation.”]

Existentialism and Nihilism

[In the 19th century there were philosophers like Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) who began to question traditional philosophies, such as rationalism (理性主義) and empiricism (經驗主義).  One result was the emergence of existential thought.  Most existentialists refused to belong to any popular school of thought.  Although Kierkegaard and a minority of existentialists believed in God, Nietzsche proclaimed that “God is dead”, so eventually most existentialists embraced atheism.]  Existentialism (存在主義) says there is no purpose or rationale of life.  If you strip away all the purpose, it becomes nonsense.  Every religion is supposed to define purpose (not salvation), why are we here.  The existentialist says that’s a question we cannot answer.  Nietzsche’s philosophy produced nihilism (虛無主義).  [Nihilism says] nothing makes sense – I don’t know why I’m here and where I’m going.  All I have is this existential moment, so I’m going to try to glean (點滴搜集) from this whatever significance (意義) I can find.  That in turn produced post-modernity.


Postmodernism (後現代主義) in this country [the U.S.A.] began to gain credence (信用, 相信, 歡迎) around the 1960’s during [the time of] the Vietnam War.  Academia said our suppositions and presuppositions have to be wrong.  It became skeptical of modern thought.  It called into question absolutes.  [Allan Bloom,] a professor at the University of Chicago wrote “A Closing of the American Mind.”  I encourage you to read it.  [Published in 1987, it is a critique of contemporary American universities and the influence of pop music on America's youth.  Bloom said modern professors of philosophy “simply would not and could not talk about anything important, and they themselves do not represent a philosophic life for the students.”  He argued that commercial pursuits have become more highly valued than the philosophic quest for truth or the civilized pursuits of honor and glory.  He also explored music’s power over the human soul and how rock music often leads American youth to embrace short-term, erotic relationships and foolish rebelliousness that actually places them under the control of the men who manage the money of the pop music stars.]  Basically, his thesis was that although postmodernism may be right, you’ve got to assume in natural science that all the laws are correct.  Otherwise, you’ll destroy the ability to investigate.  You’ve got to assume correctly to get involved in the scientific method.

Natural law and moral law are related

To illustrate that science is a child of Judeo-Christian religion, take gunpowder (火藥) for an example.  It was discovered in China, but it wasn’t used to great effect.  When westerners examined it, they said it’s not working because of violation of some natural laws of science.  They discovered that it didn’t work as well when it was wet as it did when it was dry.  So in the west they made bullets, and it worked.  They assumed there are natural laws.  Assuming that natural law exists is a step of faith, and it goes back to the question, ‘How do you know?’   It was built upon the laws of Judaism.  In nature you rely on natural laws.  For moral laws you rely on revelation.

Hinduism, Gnosticism and post-modernity in the Church today

Gnosticism is eastern.  It says you can’t have absolutes.  [However, today, due to globalization and other factors,] the eastern and western cultures [and Hinduism and Judaism and Christianity] are overlapping in our culture, even though they are mutually exclusive ideas.  We can talk about them in absolute terms, but their application is always a mixture.  We are all influenced by our culture far more than we want to admit.  The ethos (社會) in which we grow up has a profound (很深的) influence on us in a way that we ourselves don’t fully understand.  So when I talk about these two worldviews, it’s not that they don’t blend, because we are all syncretistic (融合的) in one way or another.  One of the most frightening thoughts to me is wondering how much my culture has influenced my view of God.  It terrifies me!  The problem is I don’t know.  If I knew, I’d change it.  That is precisely the problem.  But with this skepticism (懷疑論) that really started to pick up momentum in our [U.S.A.] culture in the 1960’s it was what we call post-modernity.  That is, it was a rejection of the modern way of looking at the world in reality.


Gnosticism and the Emerging Church  | The Emerging Church Movement  |  Some Helpful Information

This web page was last updated on 03 September 2008 .