Women teaching and gnosticism

Considerable light was shed on the heresy of gnosticism in 1945 when a number of ancient gnostic manuscripts were found in the Nag Hammadi Valley in Egypt. (Gnostics believe in secret or hidden knowledge and reverence women.)

It became clear from these new discoveries that gnostics believed that Adam and Eve were mythical figures and represented soul (Adam), and spirit (Eve). In gnostic teaching, the role of Eve was to awaken Adam, who was in a deep sleep.

Gnosticism was present in Asia around the time that Paul wrote to Timothy in Ephesus.

According to Richard Clark Kroeger and Catherine Clark Kroeger in their book,  I Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking I Timothy 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence, an alternative reading to 1 Timothy 2:12, based on the Greek word authentein,  might be:

I do not allow a woman to teach nor to proclaim herself as originator of man.”

Another gnostic belief was that Satan was good and that Eve ate from the tree of gnosis (knowledge) in order to bring enlightenment to Adam.

We know that much of Paul’s letters to Timothy was written to combat wrong doctrine. If the 1 Timothy 2:12 passage were written to combat the heresy of gnosticism, what Paul writes next makes sense.

For God made Adam first, and afterward he made Eve.  And it was not Adam who was deceived by Satan. The woman was deceived, and sin was the result.

It makes sense to me…

Photo credit: http://www.nag-hammadi.com.

Information on gnosticism was found here and here.

15 thoughts on “Women teaching and gnosticism”

  1. It makes sense to me too. Especially as, at the end of his first letter to Timothy, Paul wrote “Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’, which some have professed and in so doing have departed from the faith.” (1 Tim 6:20-21)

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    1. It seems that’s a huge emphasis in the letters Paul wrote to Timothy. Heresy was obviously a big problem in Ephesus–crazy when you think Paul spent 3 years there,

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      1. It’s amazing that the Christian faith has survived considering the formidable threats it has continually faced.

        And thinking that Paul spent three years at Ephesus . . . it is crazy.
        And Paul (of course) was not the only renowned minister who served there. The list of ministers who lived and served in Ephesus reads like an early Church “Who’s Who”. In New Testament times, apart from Paul and Timothy, many well-known Bible figures ministered at Ephesus. Priscilla and Aquila had a house church there. Apollos ministered there. Towards the end of their lives, the Apostle John and Mary the mother of Jesus lived at Ephesus and were buried there. John wrote his gospel from Ephesus.

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  2. A few thoughts:

    Re authentein: “1 Tim 2:12 might be interpreted not as an absolute prohibition of women teaching but as a repudiation of allowing them to domineer and lay down the law. The hapax legomenon authentien can mean both to have authority over, and to domineer (cf Arndt, 120). (Ref. Dictionary of New Testament Theology Vol. 3, p 1066).
    (Domineering women are as bad as domineering men, in a church society in which domineering is not part of normal Kingdom life).

    The “I do not allow a woman to teach …”, appears timeless, but in the Greek it is a present active indicative verb, which can be translated “I am not presently permitting a woman to teach …”. (Ref. The Apostle Paul and Women in the Church, p 112, Don Williams, Regal Books publication)
    The context is that once the women have been instructed they can then teach.
    (In the synagogues women were not taught, in the early Church they were).
    Note: that in Crete there were authorised women teachers Titus 2:3
    Adam received his prohibition first hand from God. Eve didn’t, hence the deception.

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    1. Great thoughts, Graeme. I’ve come across some of them before, but not the idea that once a woman has been instructed, she could teach. Makes sense.

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      1. There certainly are many ways that 1 Tim. 2:12 has been understood. I’ve heard the idea before that perhaps it was only the uneducated women in Ephesus who were prohibited from teaching; and that the prohibition no longer applied once a woman had learnt (1 Tim. 2:11).

        Here is an article that brings up questions about how 1 Tim. 2:12 might be implemented. One of the questions it asks is “Can an educated woman teach?”
        http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/questions-about-how-to-implement-1-timothy-212/

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      2. Throughout the NT we see women teaching, the 2 Tim 2 prohibition is conditional. Paul seems to be correcting Gnostic thought on who “came first”, Adam or Eve

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  3. This passage was the topic of discussion last night at my bible study. They happen to be a very consecrative group. I was going to bring up this argument, but before I could, the leader of the group, who is probably 10 years older than me and more established in the faith, said that some recent finding showed that gnosticism was less prevalent than people who interpret this passage this way think.

    Unfortunately, since I am a newer Christian, the fact that he brought that argument up with no sources wouldn’t matter and it would potentially cause most of the group brush it to the side. Do you have any recommendations as to how to go about sharing this with them? The group had 2 women and 7 men this week.

    It’s hard to go about this when the leader seems to have a hard heart in this area. He is very defensive when he is challenged so it shall be difficult. The other people in the group are a little younger than him and have softer hearts.

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    1. Brian, it can be tricky when “The Leader” is not open to other comments and thoughts from the others. (I know what it is like to be thrown out of a house because of a different view to the leader – oh yes, it escalated to being thrown out of “he church” too. 🙂 )

      I find that the contrary stand by another makes me go back and research more, to be sure I am seeing it (what ever it is), as a viable and perhaps the correct way to view it. (for me lately, it has been discussing “another gospel” on two fronts, 1. to be saved you must be water baptised, or 2. you must speak in tongues to be saved) But I diverge.

      I’ve learnt (from my son), to say, “I don’t want to debate it, but I’m happy to discuss it. Here is/are the reason/s I believe this this way.”

      Bear in mind the Bereans, and Hebrews 13, which is in the context of being persuaded, not steam rolled!!

      I’ve taken the liberty to attach my margin notes:
      Heb.13:17 ( 2 Cor. 5:10; Eph.6:1-2; Col. 3:20; 1 Pet. 5:2)
      This is teaching authority:

      “Obey” – Gk.
      peithesthe –
      “Let yourself be persuaded or convinced”

      “Your leaders” – Gk. Tois hegeumenois hymon
      “to lead or guide”

      “submit to (them)
      their (teaching) authority” – Gk. Hypeikete

      Not “given in”, but,
      “be disposed to yielding”
      i.e.: In your relationship with those who are your leaders and guides to godliness, be sure you maintain a yielding disposition and remain open to their persuasion.

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      1. Great thoughts, Graeme, thank you.

        Brian, Marg linked to a great article in her comments below. You can read it at http://bit.ly/16poRQE. It gives other ways to interpret the passage too. It will help you to understand the interpretation better, and maybe your leader would be open to read it.

        When I cannot persuade someone, I usually tell them, “I respect your position, we’ll have to agree to disagree on this.”

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