The Importance of 1 Corinthians in the Catholic vs. Gnostic Debate of the Second Century

Saint Irenaeus of Lyons
During the second century, the Catholic Church continued in its battle against the Gnostic sects. The Gnostics believed that human salvation was accomplished through secret knowledge. They gained their name from Greek word “gnosis” meaning “knowledge.”
Saint Irenaeus was a Greek and bishop of Lyons. He was reputed to be a disciple of Saint Polycarp.
The battleground text between the Catholics and the Gnostics was Saint Paul’s 1 Corinthians. This is the most often quoted epistle in debates with the Gnostics. 1 Corinthians 15:50 is the most controversial verse, as it reads:

“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot possess the kingdom of God: neither shall corruption possess incorruption.” (1 Corinthians 15:50, D-R)
The Gnostics claimed that this verse “proved” that Christ did not have a true physical body, that the Eucharist could not then be His true body, and that there would be no final resurrection at the end of the world.
Notice that heretics often appeal to Sacred Scripture, and especially to Saint Paul.

The Gnostics believed that “Christ” and the historical Jesus were two separate realities that united at Christ’s baptism. The “Christ,” they said, became united to the historical man Jesus. For them, the the spiritual Christ, not the man, is the focus of Saint Paul’s theology.
The reply of Saint Irenaeus (and the Catholic Church throughout time) is to always study Scripture in context. Heretics always lift singular verses from context and argue from them. This is not the Catholic way. Catholic theologians read Scripture in the context of Scripture and in the context of Tradition. It’s a much broader approach to theology.
The answer to the Gnostics, then, is to look at 1 Cor 15 with a wider lens. In the same chapter, we find:
“And if Christ be not risen again, then is our preaching vain: and your faith is also vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:14, D-R)
And if the Gnostic should claim that Paul is only referring to the “spiritual Christ,” one need only to refer to Romans:
“Who was predestinated the Son of God in power, according to the spirit of sanctification, by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead:” (Romans 1:4, D-R)
The Catholic Church is catholic both because she is universal, but also because she holds to the Faith wholly and entirely – kata holos.

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Gnostic Contents of the Nag Hammadi Library

A number of leather codices were found at Nag Hammadi in Southern Egypt in 1945. They are Coptic translations of Greek Gnostic documents. They likely belonged to an Egyptian monastery were disposed of after Gnostic literature was categorically rejected by decree of St. Athanasius of Alexandria.

The leather bound volumes contain the following works. They are mostly Valentinian Gnostic texts that were popularized in Egypt after the second century A.D.

Codex I (The Jung Codex)
The Prayer of the Apostle Paul
The Apocryphon of James
The Gospel of Truth
The Treatise on the Resurrection
The Tripartite Tractate

Codex II
The Apocryphon of John
The Gospel of Thomas a sayings gospel
The Gospel of Philip a sayings gospel[citation needed]
The Hypostasis of the Archons
On the Origin of the World
The Exegesis on the Soul
The Book of Thomas the Contender

Codex III
The Apocryphon of John
The Gospel of the Egyptians
Eugnostos the Blessed
The Sophia of Jesus Christ
The Dialogue of the Saviour

Codex IV
The Apocryphon of John
The Gospel of the Egyptians

Codex V
Eugnostos the Blessed
The Apocalypse of Paul
The First Apocalypse of James
The Second Apocalypse of James
The Apocalypse of Adam

Codex VI
The Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles
The Thunder, Perfect Mind
Authoritative Teaching
The Concept of Our Great Power
Republic by Plato [The original is not gnostic, but the Nag Hammadi library version is heavily modified with current gnostic concepts.]
The Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth – a Hermetic treatise
The Prayer of Thanksgiving (with a hand-written note) – a Hermetic prayer
Asclepius 21-29 – another Hermetic treatise

Codex VII
The Paraphrase of Shem
The Second Treatise of the Great Seth
Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter
The Teachings of Silvanus
The Three Steles of Seth

Codex VIII
The Letter of Peter to Philip

Codex IX
The Thought of Norea
The Testimony of truth

Codex X

Codex XI
The Interpretation of Knowledge
A Valentinian Exposition, On the Anointing, On Baptism (A and B) and On the Eucharist (A and B)

Codex XII
The Sentences of Sextus
The Gospel of Truth

Codex XIII:
Trimorphic Protennoia
On the Origin of the World