Tuesday, September 14, 2010

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.

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