Theme: Warning Against False Doctrine
In this week’s lessons, we are reminded of the importance of sound doctrine if the church is to function properly and be protected from false teaching.
Scripture: 1 Timothy 1:1-11
Now Paul mentions false doctrines that were plaguing the church, and he has particular ideas in mind. They have to do with myths and genealogies. Now I don’t think this has to do with the kind of genealogies you find in the Old Testament, or of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospels. It is not the tracing of descendants that Paul is addressing. Rather, Paul combines this reference to genealogies with myths. Beginning in the latter half of the first century, and growing in influence in the next century, was teaching that collectively was known by the name of Gnosticism.
It took different forms, but one of its interests was in mythological genealogies. These kind of genealogies are not the ones we know. Instead, they had to do with the origin of things, which were thought to be emanations from the gods. So one god would produce two gods, one male and one female. These in turn would produce other gods, and so on, until there was this whole genealogy of divine beings. Moreover, because all of this grew out of the philosophical groundings of Greek thought, the basic idea is that God by his very nature as a spirit being would not create or have contact with that which is material. So the only way you can explain the generation of all things is by a generation of gods, such that the one who actually brings about the creation of the world is separated from the true God who as spirit cannot be contaminated by such things.
Now something of this sort is what presumably was going on and was making its way into the churches. Consequently, it was diverting Christians from that which was propositional and biblically grounded, causing them to become interested in dabbling in these speculative ideas about divine genealogies. Paul is exhorting Timothy to make sure that the churches remain faithful to the teaching that God has delivered for their spiritual growth.
At this point, we need to say a bit more about Gnosticism because we have modern forms of it. Gnosticism had two basic tenets, and two bad consequences from the point of view of Christianity. The first tenet is that the Gnostics put a premium on the intellect, maintaining that this is how salvation comes. In fact, the word “Gnosticism” comes from the Greek word gnosis, or knowledge. The idea was that if you had knowledge of certain things, that was Gnosticism’s understanding of how salvation was achieved; it is on the intellectual and spiritual levels. Gnostics, therefore, rejected Christianity’s idea that God has intervened in history.
The second tenet of Gnosticism was what I alluded to a moment ago. It is this chasm between the spirit and the flesh or between God and matter. This was an unbridgeable gulf, according to Greek philosophy, and it found its way into Gnosticism, which taught that salvation was by the intellect and completely divorced from how one lived. So the intellect or spirit could be saved, but not the body, which was considered evil. Moreover, Gnosticism went on to claim that since this is the case, it makes no difference what one does with the body, since in Gnostic salvation the mind would eventually leave the evil body behind.
From these two tenets we can observe two bad consequences that directly oppose Christian doctrine. First, because the body and physical matter is evil, in Gnosticism you can’t have an incarnation because God, as a spiritual being, cannot come in human flesh. Thus, this necessary theological truth is a direct antithesis to Greek philosophy.
Explain the mythological genealogies to which Paul refers.
Describe the two tenets of Gnosticism mentioned in our study.
What is the first consequence of Gnosticism for the Christian faith?
Reflection: What false doctrines are affecting the church today?
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