Theosophy is more of a philosophy of religion than a religion per se. The word theosophy comes from the Greek words theos “god” and sophia “wisdom”. Literally, theosophy means “divine wisdom.” The roots of this philosophy can be traced back to ancient Gnosticism, with borrowings from Greek philosophy and medieval mysticism. Modern theosophy also draws heavily on Hinduism.
The Theosophical Society was founded in New York in 1875 by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, a Russian-born spiritualist, and Henry Steel Olcott, an American lawyer and newspaperman. Three years later, they moved the international base of operations for the Theosophical Society to India.
Theosophy teaches that all religions contain elements of the “Ancient Wisdom” and that wise men throughout history have held the secret of spiritual power. Those who have been enlightened by the divine wisdom can access a transcendent spiritual reality through mystical experience. Like Hinduism, theosophy teaches reincarnation and a belief in karma. Theosophists also place their trust in the Mahatmas (literally, “Great Souls”), also referred to as the Great Masters or the Adepts—those who have reached an exalted state of existence and who possess the sum of the world’s accumulated knowledge. According to theosophists, these Mahatmas are directing the spiritual evolution of mankind.
In 1911, the Theosophical Society proclaimed the advent of a “World Teacher”—a young Hindu named Jiddu Krishnamurthi. Theosophists heralded this messianic character as the world’s hope of enlightenment, peace, and unity. However, a few years later, Krishnamurthi renounced his position as “World Teacher” and stopped claiming to be a messiah.
Although theosophists contend that their philosophy is compatible with Christianity (and with Buddhism, Hinduism, and all other religions), it is clear that theosophy is at odds with the Bible. Not only does the Bible refute the idea of reincarnation and karma (Hebrews 9:27), it also differs from theosophy on the following points:
1) Theosophy denies the existence of a personal, infinite God. The Bible plainly teaches the existence of a God who is both personal and infinite (Hebrews 1:10, 11:6).
2) Theosophy denies the need of forgiveness. The Bible proclaims all mankind to be in need of God’s forgiveness, available only through the death of Jesus Christ (Romans 3:23-25).
3) Theosophy teaches that Christ was a “Great Soul” who inhabited the body of a man named Jesus for a few years (this is an ancient Gnostic heresy). The Bible teaches that Jesus is the eternal Son of God (John 1:1-14).
While the number of theosophists has dwindled through the years, the philosophy itself has had a marked influence. Theosophy has produced great interest in the Eastern religions among those in the West, leading to revivals of Hinduism and Buddhism. It has also heavily influenced the rise of other religious movements, such as Rosicrucianism, unity, and the New Thought movement.
Theosophy seeks a higher wisdom, but it fails to recognize that there is no higher wisdom than is found in Jesus Christ, “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24).