Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Gnosticism In The Pastorals, Pt. II: Eve's Song

“O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge” (1 Timothy 6:20, New King James Version).

The word “contradictions” here in the NKJV is the word “antitheseis” in the Greek, meaning “anti” (against) and “theseis” (arguments). The word “antithesis,” then, means “against arguments.” Used in the context of 1 Timothy 6:20, Paul is saying to Timothy that he should avoid the “arguments against” the truth from “pseudonumou gnoseos,” meaning “false-named knowledge.”

This series will take us through what are called “The Nag Hammadi Scriptures.” For those who have never been introduced to the Nag Hammadi, they are, in the words of James M. Robinson, “a collection of thirteen papyrus codices----bound books, not scrolls---that were buried near the city of Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt most likely in the second half of the fourth century CE...this is indeed a dramatic escalation of source material on early Christian, Neoplatonic, Hermetic, Sethian, and Valentinian thought” (James M. Robinson, “Preface,” from “The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, The International Edition.” New York: HarperOne, 2007, page xi).

The Nag Hammadi are a collection of thirteen books that contain many different theological and philosophical treatises. The name of the Nag Hammadi was given to them because of where they were found (Nag Hammadi, Egypt). According to James Robinson, “most of the tractates are Gnostic” (xi), which leads us to believe that Gnostic thought was highly cherished by the community that lived at Nag Hammadi. It is Gnostic thought that I will be exploring in this enormous series we are embarking upon. The purpose of examining the Gnostic Gospels is so that we can see the types of teaching that existed in Gnostic thought. Upon studying the Pastorals and the Gnostic Gospels, one will understand why the context of the Pastorals had nothing to do with women in ministry and everything to do with false teaching and its destructive impact upon the church of Jesus Christ.

To begin our study of the Nag Hammadi Scriptures, I thought it would be best to start with a small section of a Gnostic work. Tonight’s small section will come from the Gnostic essay, “On the Origin of the World,” described by Marvin Meyer as “a smart Gnostic essay by an author who uses argumentation, narration, and colorful illustration in order to demonstrate the basic points of a Gnostic worldview” (“The Nag Hammadi Scriptures,” page 199).

The section I will come from in “On the Origin of the World” is Eve’s speech, called “The Song of Eve” (114, 4-24):

“Eve is the first virgin, and she gave birth to her first child without a man. She was her own physician. For this reason she is said to have declared:

I am the WIFE, I am the VIRGIN.
I am the comforter of birth pains.
And he is my father and lord.
He is my strength, he speaks of what he wants reasonably.
I AM BECOMING, but I HAVE GIVEN BIRTH TO A LORDLY PERSON’” (“Song of Eve,” from “On the Origin of the World,” 114, 4-24. From the “Nag Hammadi Scriptures, The International Edition.” New York: HarperOne, 2007, page 213).

What is a contradiction? I said it above that a contradiction, or the Greek word “antitheseis,” refers to that which “argues against” something said before it. Well, contradictions are all over the place in the Song of Eve. First, she states, “I am part of my mother, and I am the mother.” How does this occur? How can person be both an offspring AND the parent all at the same time? Were this true, Eve would have been “self-created,” which is a contradiction (and an absurdity!).

The next line “I am the wife, I am the virgin,” is also absurd. If someone is a wife (married), how then can they be a virgin (a sign of singleness)? To be a “wifely virgin” is similar to a woman who is a “married batchlorette” or a man who is a “married batchelor.” The two terms side-by-side are a contradiction, for both cannot be true at the same time. It is likely that a man could once be a “batchelor” and then “married” or vice versa; but both cannot be true simultaneously.

The next major absurdity in the Song of Eve is “My husband produced me, and I am his mother.” How can Eve be the offspring of her “husband,” first of all? If she is his wife, how can she be both wife AND child? Next, if she is either wife or child, how then can she be her husband’s “mother”? These are absurdities that make no sense. And her “husband” cannot be her “father” and “lord”; all three cannot peacefully coexist. A father cannot be a husband (this is incest), and a husband cannot be a father.

Last but not least, what about “I am becoming, but I have given birth to a lordly person”? How can Eve be “becoming” and yet “begetting” at the same time? In order to give birth to a “lordly person,” Eve must be a person herself, with a fixed essence of humanness; this doesn’t exist, however, if Eve is “becoming.” Once again, the contradiction is all over the place.

To conclude, let me say that Paul was write when he wrote to Titus in Crete that he should “avoid foolish disputes...for they are UNPROFITABLE and USELESS” (Titus 3:9). The Song of Eve is such an example: it is a song that is full of contradiction (things that go against common sense) and useless. It serves no purpose to write in the manner in which Eve’s speech is written. Is it no wonder that Paul attacked this heresy of the first-century the way he did?

Gnosticism In the Pastorals, Pt. I: Introduction to Context

“The so-called Pastoral Epistles—the two letters to Timothy and the letter to Titus—,which go back to the beginning of the second century and were perhaps written in Ephesus, discuss the Gnostic heresy, which they explicitly name ‘Gnosis,’ less intensively, but they insist the more on a strict separation; the pursuit of Gnosis is thought to be useless. The soil is here prepared for the later polemic against the heretics: the false teaching is contrasted with the right, sound teaching, the abandonment of which means apostasy from truth, reason and conscience…little can be learned about the ideas of THE REJECTED HERESY; IT SEEMS TO BE A STRANGE MIXTURE OF GNOSTIC DOCTRINES AND JEWISH PIETY, A JEWISH-CHRISTIAN FORM OF GNOSIS. MYTHS (I.E. FABLES) AND GENEALOGIES PLAY A PART, EVIDENTLY IN THE SENSE OF GNOSTIC PLEROMA SPECULATIONS AND INTERPRETATIONS OF THE LAW. ONE GLORIES IN HIGHER KNOWLEDGE AND MAKES ASCETIC DEMANDS AS E.G. ABSTINENCE FROM MARRIAGE AND THE CONSUMPTION OF CERTAIN FOODS” (“Gnosis: The Nature & History of Gnosticism” by Kurt Rudolph. Edinburgh: T&T Clark Limited, 1984, pages 302-303).

Kurt Rudolph argues in the quote above that Gnostic teaching existed in churches of the first century (after Christ’s ascension). First, he tells us that “the Gnostic heresy…which they explicitly name GNOSIS” is the name of the false teaching in the church. To demonstrate this, Rudolph cites 1 Timothy 6:20—

“O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of WHAT IS FALSELY CALLED KNOWLEDGE” (1 Tim. 6:20, NKJV).

The Greek word for “knowledge” is “gnosis.” “Gnosis” is the noun form of “knowledge,” but a word similar to “gnosis” is “ginosko,” meaning “to know.” This is where the word “gnosticism” comes from. Gnosticism is “the study of knowledge.”

Rudolph tells us that “little can be learned about the ideas of the rejected heresy…Myths (i.e. fables) and genealogies play a part, evidently in the sense of Gnostic pleroma speculations and interpretations of the law.”

1 Timothy 1 tells us that myths and genealogies were included in the Gnostic heresy:

“As I urged you when I went into Macedonia—remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, nor give heed to FABLES AND ENDLESS GENEALOGIES, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith” (1 Timothy 1:3-4, NKJV).

The Greek word “genealogiais,” from which our English word “genealogies” derives, refers to a record of birth, a family line or family tree. According to Thayer’s Dictionary of the New Testament, the word “genealogiais” refers to “a record of descent or lineage.” The heresy of the first century, therefore, involved issues of creation order. I will not go into great discussion now, but “genealogies” may be the problem that Paul is getting at in 1 Timothy 2:12-14, when Paul states that “Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Tim. 2:13). The reason behind why Paul must argue that Adam was the origin (“author” or “authentikos”) of man is because the women there were arguing that Eve was created first. This will be a most interesting thing to explore when we dive into the Gnostic Gospels themselves.

Not only were myths and genealogies a problem for Timothy at Ephesus, they also troubled Titus on the island of Crete. Paul writes:

“But avoid foolish disputes, GENEALOGIES, contentions, and STRIVINGS ABOUT THE LAW; for they are unprofitable and useless” (Titus 3:9).

As we can see, genealogies are also a problem at the church in Crete. In addition to this, though, we find that the Law and “strivings about” it are problems as well. The Law was also a problem for the church at Ephesus:

“From which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, DESIRING TO BE TEACHERS OF THE LAW, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm. But WE KNOW THAT THE LAW IS GOOD, IF ONE USES IT LAWFULLY, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate…and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:6-10).

The Law, being the Old Testament Scriptures, was also a part of the chaos at the church at Ephesus as well. Paul, however, wanted Timothy to know that the Law is not bad in and of itself—but it can be bad based upon how the Law is used. If the Law is used in a good way, then it will do much good…but if it be used in a wrong way, it will do much harm. We also see that there are those who desire to teach, but are saying the wrong things and don’t understand that they are propagating heresy and false teaching. Perhaps the women of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 are included here…

One more thing to point out: since the Law itself is involved in the chaos of the churches of Ephesus and Crete, perhaps the Law has something to do with Paul’s need in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 to affirm that Adam was created first and Eve was the one deceived. These events would line up with the events of Genesis chapters 1-3. After all, Genesis is a book of the Law (the OT Scriptures), is it not??

There are other things Rudolph includes in the above quote that I will leave for future days. At the moment, however, let me just say that the goal of this post was to provide for my readership a chance to “peek” into the issues of the Pastorals (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus) and what they can reveal to us about the Gnostic heresy of the first century. While the Gnostic movement was not as formalized as it was in the second and third centuries (one-hundred to two-hundred years later), the ideas were certainly floating around the church. I will begin to glean evidence from Scripture regarding the false teaching in my next post.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Early Church and Gnosticism: The Context Behind the Pastorals

Dearest Readership,

What a joy it is to write this announcement! I am so thankful to the Lord that He has allowed me the opportunity to return to my personal blog ("Men and Women") and continue writing to the glory of God.

I desire to announce that the work here at Men and Women in the Church will begin to take a different turn from the last series I did here. That series was on the Trinity and how we see good news for women in the fact that Christ's subordination on earth was not an eternal subordination. To have a situation of "God in hierarchy" in eternity would lead to such heresies as "tritheism" (three Gods, instead of one God) and the Lord Jesus Himself would be beneath us in eternity. Even Jesus said in the Gospels that there will be no marriage in heaven---which means that male headship in the home will not last forever! And if the church of God is supposed to be the visible sign of the kingdom of God come to earth, then we have got to stop completely living with a "life on earth is how it is" mentality. If we are now sons of God, we have to prepare for the day when we will fully live out that sonship...this means, then, that men have got to stop thinking in terms of power and control and begin to think of what life in Christ is really all about.

Those who stress the differences of the Trinity members do so at great peril; those who stress the similarities too much begin to conflate the Trinity (and the Son and Father, for instance, could be labeled the same person in this mindset). What believers must learn to do is demonstrate both the similarities and differences of the Trinity members. But we must not let go of the fact that, whether it be "Father," "Son," or "Spirit," none are "less God" than the other members. All three members of the Trinity are God, and share the essence of divinity. Because of this, neither can be "eternally subordinate" to the others, in the same way that no one human is eternally subordinate to any other human.

The new series will deal with a subject that I have been wanting to approach for a long time: that is, the context of the Pastorals. I have written some work here on complementarian scholars who argue that Gnosticism and false teaching is not the context of the Pastorals, and that the real issue is the role of women in the church. I intend to look at the Pastorals themselves to glean all the info we can about the situations that existed in the letters themselves; next, I intend to focus on how the details of the Pastorals "line up" with what we know of Gnosticism and the Gnostic Gospels. In addition, I will provide quotes from the church fathers themselves, who battled Gnosticism from even within the church (take Marcion for example, who even truncated down his version of the canon, even diminishing the amount of material in Luke's Gospel; Luke's was all he kept in his version of the Scriptures). All of this research is geared at showing believers that Paul did battle Gnosticism in his day (what scholars call "Proto-Gnosticism," meaning "first Gnostic thought").

It is my prayer that this will put to rest the idea that the Pastorals are just all about church leadership and that they are simply manuals for church leadership. While Paul does provide administrative counsel in these letters, he does so because of the atmosphere at the time: the church was battling false teaching from without that was being brought "within" the church. No wonder then, that Paul could write to the Corinthians, "But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:3, NKJV)!

Thanks so much for your support...and I apologize for my time away. For those of you who desire to see what I've been working on in all the time I've been away, please read posts written at my other blog, "Center for Theological Studies." I've done some interesting work there on the Doctrine of Eternal Security (or Doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints) as well as discussed issues of hermeneutics in the biblical text. I think the church needs to know what hermeneutics is and how valuable it was to the early church (and should be to us today).

Continue to pray for me and the work done here in cyberspace. May God grant you the opportunity to hang in here with me as we embark on this exciting series. May the Lord bless you and keep you until the day of His return.