While the differences between Gnosticism and Literalism are myriad and varied, the general difference is Gnostics believe that much of the religious literature is an allegory and is open to interpretation whereas Literalists believe in the literal word of the religious text. In all religions there are those who have a more gnostic view of the religion and those that have a more gnostic view. In Christianity, literalists are fundamentalists, those that believe that the Bible is the literal word of God and should be obeyed as such. Their role as believers is to keep the literal word alive through traditions and customs. For those with a more gnostic belief, the Bible harbors stories that are allegories and not meant to be interpreted literally.
The Gospel of John has veins of both Gnosticism and Literalism in its words. Gnostic tendencies include passages that have esoteric meanings, such as in John 5 when the resurrection that is supposed to occur at the tend of time is instead revealed to be an event that occurs within a person the minute they believe in God. However, more literal tendencies are also included in the Gospel of John, such as in the prologue when it is stated that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Gospel of John indicates that this tension between a gnostic and literal approach to Christianity has been with the religion since its very inception.
In the most general sense, it can be seen that Eastern religions are more gnostic and western religions are more literal. In eastern religions, much importance is put on individuals to find God for themselves, to seek a spiritual transformation through experience, such as mediation, rituals and yoga. In western religions, such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam, it is more important that believers follow the literal word of God in their daily lives. Literalists place less value on spiritual transformation and more importance to following the rituals and customs that their culture and society has associated with the religion.