Thursday, October 1, 2009

1 Tim 6:20-21 - The threat of Gnosticism

1 Timothy 6:20-21 (NIV)

20Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, 21which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith.
Grace be with you.

What are these opposing ideas called knowledge? This was addressed extensively in the letters of Apostle John. John's readers were confronted with an early form of Gnosticism and here Paul warned Timothy about this. So what is Gnosticism?

This is one of the most dangerous heresies of the early church in the first two centuries. In a nutshell, it teaches an unbiblical dualism that says anything spirit in nature is entirely good and matter is entirely evil. The truth is, we are to hold things spiritual and material both in a right and biblical manner. Paul said God "richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment." (1 Tim 6:17d) Without trying to spiritualise everything, Paul is talking about material things as well that God has provided for our enjoyment and they are not evil in themselves. For e.g. money is a neutral tool, but the love of it is sin when it leads to covetousness and greed, and some have wandered from the faith. (1 Tim 6:10) 1 Tim 6 is worthwhile reading for those who are wealthy. There are great wealth stewardship teaching there!

Coming back to Gnosticism. False teachings arise when truth is taken to mean something else. Let me sum up for you in a simple way the major errors of Gnosticism:

  1. Spirit is good and matter evil. Therefore man's body is evil. While we agree that we constantly fight with our flesh (Romans 7:7-25), we can through this body be used for good. There is no necessity to have this dualism that pit one against the other. If this body is evil, why then do we need to take care of it. Do you see where this is heading if I continue along this logic. See point 4 & 5.
  2. Salvation is not through faith in Christ but by an escape from the body through special knowledge (that's what Paul warned Timothy about). The Greek word for knowledge is "gnosis", hence Gnosticism.
  3. Christ's humanity is denied. If we hold the doctrines of Christ in a biblical way, we know our Lord is fully God and fully human. Therefore we use terms like the "Deity of Christ" and the "Humanity of Christ". He is not half man, half God. He is fully man and fully God. Same concept with Trinity, God fully Father, fully Son and fully Spirit, but yet one God. Gnosticism took this and suggest two ways of looking at the deity and humanity of Christ. (1) Christ only seemed to have a body, that means it is in some sense a virtual body (this is called Docetism, from the Greek dokeo "to seem") (2) Christ was joined with this man called Jesus at baptism and left him before he died (this is called Cerinthianism, after a man called Cerinthus.). Cerinthianism was the main view of the day to the readers Apostle John was addressing.
  4. Since the body is evil, it needs to be treated harshly. This leads to asceticism that Paul addressed to the Colossians (2:21-23). This leads to the denying of the regeneration of our spirit that can lead to the proper use and place of our human body for the glory of God.
  5. On the other hand, this dualism can also lead to licentiousness (meaning, unrestrained indulgence in sexual pleasure.) Since our body is evil and our spirit good, it doesn't matter what we do to our bodies and there will be no moral consequence. You see how deceptive this can be where we can be sitting in church worshipping God and yet indulging in all kind of sexual sins and immoral behaviors and conducts the other 6 days of the week.
We are to guard against false teachings. Half truths are often more dangerous than outright lies. You can easily detect outright lies, but not the former. To guard against this, we must therefore know the Word of God well. So keep reading and studying. Don't give up! :)

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