Tag Archives: gnosticism

Brief History of Rapture (Left Behind) Theology

The Left Behind reboot with Nicolas Cage has Christians talking about all things rapture. Oh, joy.

I suspect that the continued cinematic production of such a ridiculous and counter-biblical narrative will only serve to wake folks up to the undeniable truth that rapture theology is nothing more than a baptized escapism–sort of a neo-Gnosticism. And it has only been around since the early 19th century.

Dr. Ben Witherington III, evangelical professor of NT for doctoral studies at Asbury and St. Andrews, has recently completed a video for Seedbed entitled “Where Did Rapture Theology Come From?” (10-8-14).

This brief history of rapture theology is worth watching.

For those interested, I’ve posted the following on rapture theology:

You might also enjoy reading a few blog posts from my friends:

D.D. Flowers, 2014.

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Then the End Will Come

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.  Matthew 24:14 (NIV)

As far as I can tell, this is as close as Jesus comes to pinpointing the time of his return. The entire chapter of Matt 24 is Jesus responding to the question, “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age” (v.3)? Jesus will list a number of different signs, but makes it clear that it’s ultimately the Father’s business as to when the Son of Man will return (v.36).

I think there is a great deal of confusion among evangelicals as to what the church should expect to happen before and leading up to Christ’s return. Much of this bewilderment concerning eschatology is due to sloppy hermeneutics and the propagation of bad theology.

While I’m not proposing that there isn’t any mystery surrounding the last things, I am saying that rapture theology has grossly distorted Jesus’ gospel message, and NT expectations of a hopeful future for the earth.

Let me break it down.

The “gospel of the kingdom” is not simply a message that Jesus will forgive your sins so that you don’t have to go to hell when you die. This is only part of the good news message, and even this bit is often distorted in the process of marketing the gospel to a consumer culture through fear mongering.

The gospel is frequently reduced down to personal salvation, with no understanding of what it means to be a disciple and a citizen of the Kingdom of God. I highly recommend Scot McKnight’s book The King Jesus Gospel.

The good news of the Kingdom goes beyond the message of Christ’s death on the cross for atonement of our sins (justification). It’s about new life in the here and now (sanctification), and it’s about the future resurrection of the dead along with the restoration of God’s good earth (glorification).

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…” Rev 21:1

We are not bound for an eternity in heaven. Can we please stop saying this? Pop-culture Christianity is obsessed with heaven in neo-Gnostic fashion. What is going on? The apostolic hope was not life after death in heaven, but what N.T. Wright calls, “life after life-after-death.”

The NT is clear that we (believers) will be resurrected on the last day to inherit a renewed creation. This is never called heaven. It’s called the new heaven and earth, the New Jerusalem come to earth (Rev 21).

This is the Christian hope: resurrection of the dead and renewal of the earth.

The good news is about the Kingdom, the reign and rule of God on the earth. Jesus calls it the “gospel of the kingdom” because he envisions that his Father will bring heaven and earth together in a new reality of his perfect reign. And why wouldn’t he? Jesus prayed “your kingdom come… on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10).

This has always been the biblical expectation of the future (Isa 65:17). Israel expected God’s reign on the earth through Messiah (Dan 7:13-14). And the apostles believed that future had broke through into the present with Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus has inaugurated the Kingdom and will soon bring about its consummation in his parousia (coming).

Then he will sit on David’s throne forever (Isa 9:6-7).

We can see this coming together of heaven and earth in the resurrected body of Jesus. He was the firstborn of this new creation. His resurrection is the marriage of God’s space (heaven) and our space (earth). His glorified body resembles something of our present world, but it’s also something very different, i.e. the resurrected Jesus walked through walls!

The disciples couldn’t even find adequate words to describe the great mystery that had been revealed in Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

Rethinking the “Gospel of the Kingdom”

So, what is the gospel? It’s not about an escape from the world for a spiritual existence in white clouds with naked babies playing harps. It’s about God having his way in this world through his church, born out of his Son.

We will not be secretly whisked away to another planet on the other side of the cosmos. Some folks have flattened out the biblical metaphors and abused this apocalyptic vision. God will not literally destroy the earth; he will purify it with his holy fire and winnowing fork.

All those who reject the Kingdom now will not receive resurrection in their bodies for God’s resurrected world that is coming. They will be left outside the city that God will build (Rev 21:27).

Pay careful attention to this truth. It’s those who are righteous that are “left behind” (Matt 24:38-41). The wicked will not inherit the earth. They will be swept away in a flood of judgment.

The “gospel of the kingdom” is about all things being conformed to Christ (Rom 8:29). He is the second Adam, the true Israelite, the new human, and the image of God on the earth. The Lord desires that the image of his Son be reflected in all the earth. This means not only proclaiming a message about Christ, but living out the Kingdom and calling others to do the same.

This gospel of the Kingdom always looks like Jesus—loving, serving, suffering, dying, and rising for his neighbor and his enemies.

Therefore, the preaching of the good news is also action. It’s the manifestation of God’s good will upon the earth. When this is lived out through humans, it looks like Jesus among us.

This “gospel of the kingdom” will be known throughout the whole world before the end of the age—not the end of the space-time continuum. The NT speaks of the end of the present evil age that is marked by sin and death. It’s that age that will come to an end when the “gospel of the kingdom” is realized. The new “eternal” age is the world set to rights at last.

What then does this mean for the church?

It means that the Lord actually expects a great level of the Kingdom to be manifested on the earth through Christian living. He wants to work through free human agents that have surrendered to his will. He will not force himself upon this world. That’s not the way of Christ.

The God we see in Jesus invites us to his table. He calls us to do his work. He wants us to participate in God’s saving act of creation. He waits for a church that cries out for the Kingdom on behalf of the world. The nature of this future is open (to some extent) and full of possibilities!

Christ’s return is mysteriously bound up with our participation in the gospel of the Kingdom. Since the good news of the Kingdom is that God will restore the earth for his resurrected people, we know that our labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Cor 15:58).

We are not tilling a garden today only for it to be paved over with concrete tomorrow. We are not working a field that will be burned up in a cosmic wildfire. What we do for Christ and his Kingdom is one more brick in the building he is erecting on this earth. It matters. It counts.

You matter. You count.

Dear brothers and sisters, let’s speed the coming of Christ (2 Pet 3:12) by proclaiming and acting out God’s beauty and justice on the earth through creative expressions of resurrected living.

Let us imagine what it would look like if God were running the show, and work out our salvation in hopeful expectation of a new world.

Until the whole earth cries out: “thy Kingdom come!”

D.D. Flowers, 2012.


Christian Gnosticism in the Pastorals?

It was largely the work of Rudolf Bultmann in his Theology of the New Testament (1951) that first set out to determine the extent to which the Christian Gospel unfolded by way of Gnostic terminology in order to refute the dangerous fast-growing heresy later to be known as Christian Gnosticism.[1] Bultmann’s reconstruction of early Christianity has been severely attacked and criticized relentlessly in the last fifty years.

Many scholars have abandoned this Hellenistic reading of the New Testament. However, there are certain signs that interest of this Gnostic presupposition is on the rebound.[2]

I believe that the New Testament was in fact written in the context of various Jewish fringe groups that were syncretistic by their nature. It would the appear that second century Christian Gnosticism was born out of a fusing together of a wide array of Jewish religious beliefs with other emerging Hellenistic philosophical ideas.

Although a systematic Gnosticism did not arise until the second century, as William Barclay has written: “The basic ideas of Gnosticism were there in the atmosphere which surrounded the early Church, even in the days of Paul.”[3] Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to uncover any evidence that may exist for an early Christian Gnosticism being addressed specifically by Paul within the New Testament letters to Timothy and Titus.

GNOSTIC CHRISTIANITY
A Synopsis of Origin and Belief

It is necessary to begin this presentation of the evidence with what the student can know about the origins of Gnosticism before turning to what is certain about the fully developed Christian Gnosticism in the second century AD. Then after having explored Gnosticism in its infancy and examined it in full expression, the reader will be more apt to determine what level of Gnosticism is being combated in the first century Pauline texts.

This paper will begin by briefly summarizing Gnostic origin and belief in order that the reader will be familiar with the rhetoric and historical traditions of Gnosticism.

Pheme Perkins says: “The history of both Gnosticism and Christianity begins in the margins of Judaism, among persons whom might be called ‘Jews’ by some and ‘non-Jews’ by others.”[4] Perkins believes a simple division of “Jewish” and “non-Jewish” is not representative of the pluralistic society of Paul’s day. Instead, the world in which Gnosticism was born was one of religious syncretism. This means that determining clear lines of religious belief was often next to impossible.

Perkins mentions Gnostic origins and the New Testament in the following:

Even though Nag Hammadi texts are not evidence for a pre-Christian Gnosticism in the same sense in which the Dead Sea Scrolls provide evidence for messianic expectations in a Jewish sect prior to the emergence of Christianity, it is no longer possible to account for everything in the second-century Gnostic writings as derived from Christianity. They provide a different constellation of traditions from the remarkably varied religious landscape of the first and second centuries. New Testament writings are evidently neither advocating Gnostic ideas nor combating the formal systems that would emerge in the second century. But the religious currents that appear in the Gnostic writings are also part of the environment of the New Testament.[5 

Perkins proposes that the formation of Gnostic mythology first begins in a Jewish context within a Hellenized culture during the first century BC.[6] N.T. Wright suspects the same: “There may have been some before the time of Jesus who claimed to posses a special ‘gnosis,’ a knowledge which set them aside from ordinary folk and marked them out for a heavenly destiny.”[7] Many scholars have acknowledged the evidence for this found in Paul’s letters (e.g. 1 Cor. 8:1-4; Col. 2:6-22).

The second century Apologists’ view of the origins of Gnosticism lay with Simon Magus in Samaria (Acts 8). However, Magus may only mark a turning point whereby Christian teaching was merged with Gnostic myths, thus birthing a Christian Gnosticism.

This is because Samaritan belief and practice cannot account for the bitterness directed at the Creator God of the Old Testament. Perkins states that “periodized salvation history, interest in cosmology, the origins of humanity, myths of the rebellious angels” did not derive from the second century interaction between Gnostic teachers and orthodox Christian apologists.[8] Therefore, the origins of Gnostic thought precede Christianity.

It is most likely that Gnosticism grew out of the Hellenizing of Judaism in the early centuries BC. There are elements of Gnosticism that are similar to Neo-pythagoreanism and Middle Platonism—a revival of Platonism from the first century BC to the second century AD. It was Plato that coined the word gnostikos (related to ‘gnosis’) and it continued to be used philosophically to refer to intellectual knowledge.[9]

Among these ideas, the student must also consider the impact of Stoicism and Epicurean philosophical ideas. All of these Greek ideas fused together with elements of Judaism will eventually threaten the new radical first century sect that proclaimed Jesus Messiah.

Second Century Christian Gnosticism

Helmut Koester has written: “The history of Gnosticism in its early stages during the period of early Christianity cannot be identified with the history of a tangible sociological phenomenon.”[10] The Gnostic teachers, like other teachers in the Hellenistic world, combined religious, mythological, and philosophical ideas each with their own unique spin.

There was no uniform Gnostic system.

However, as previously stated, the second century apologists believed Gnosticism could be traced back to Simon Magus in Samaria.  Even though Gnosticism was a scattered variety, its characteristic features were well known by those church fathers that were schooled in Greek ideas and religious syncretism. The leading apologists were: Irenaeus, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, and Clement.

Among the leading Gnostics were: Basildes, Carpocrates, Cerinthus, and Valentinus. Valentinus held the most attractive and better known systems of Gnostic thought. For the sake of argument it is best that the student be aware of the most basic teachings that all Gnostic sects shared in common. This will help in bridging the gulf between Gnostic origins and the systematic Christian Gnosticism in the second century.

Gnostics believed the material world was not created by the Father of Jesus, but rather a Demiurge (lesser deity) created all things material and therefore all matter was considered evil. The God of the Old Testament was considered to be this Demiurge. Marcion, a Gnostic heretic who first formulated his own canon of Scripture, is best known for teaching against Yahweh of the Old Testament.  It was likely due to the heretical teachings and efforts of Marcion that the early church was intentional in establishing an official canon of the New Testament books.[11]

The Gnostics taught that the God of the Old Testament was evil. The serpent in the Garden of Eden is therefore seen as a liberator of humankind by giving them secret knowledge (gnosis) of their own divinity. Since the Creator is evil, his creation is also evil.  Therefore, flesh is inherently corrupt. This caused the ultimate God, the Father of Jesus, to have pity on humans and send them his Gnostic Son to be savior. Those known as Docetists taught that Jesus had the illusion of flesh. Others said the body of Jesus was merely possessed by the Son upon a Gnostic baptism and abandoned him at crucifixion.[12]

Since the Gnostics thought the flesh was evil and of no consequence, they naturally rejected the Christian teaching of the physical resurrection of the body. This played out ethically in two extremes: liberty and legalism.

It was not until the discovery of the Nag Hammadi documents in 1945 that Gnostic studies were greatly advanced. Before that time, scholars were dependant upon the writings of the early apologists to understand their Gnostic opponent. The Coptic manuscripts date from the mid-fourth century and contain writings that were originally in Greek. Those portions date as early as the second and third centuries.

The Gnostic writings have helped scholars understand the “inner religious spirit”[13] of Gnosticism as a developed rival system of belief in contrast to orthodox Christianity in the second century.

THE LETTERS TO TIMOTHY AND TITUS
Authorship and Date

Did the apostle Paul write the letters to Timothy and Titus? Contemporary critical scholars insist that someone other than Paul wrote the letters to Timothy and Titus as late as the early second century.[14] Donald Guthrie says, “those who deny Pauline authorship must at once accept these epistles as pseudonymous.” And Guthrie believes there is not “impressive evidence” for an early Christian practice of this.[15] There has been considerable debate over Pauline authorship for the following reasons.

Historically there has been difficulty in fitting the letters into the Acts account. P.N. Harrison has postulated a second Roman imprisonment and an extended journey that would allow Paul time to write before being executed in 67-68 AD. F.C. Baur suggested that the epistles were a work of fiction in order to do some good in the name of Paul.[16]

Furthermore, due to the genuine nature of the letters, some believe that a later admirer of Paul collected his notes and incorporated them into letters to preserve them. This view would account for the linguistic problems in the letters. There are a large number of words in the letters not found in the rest of the Pauline corpus.

It is also believed that there are echoes of Pauline theology, but an absence of characteristic Pauline doctrines. Some scholars believe that terms like “the faith” and “sound teaching” suggest a later fixed tradition. Along with the concern of doctrine, comes a claim that the letters reflect a more institutional form of the church.[17]

If critical scholars are correct, it must be concluded that an admirer of Paul is responsible for the composition of the letters and the instruction reflects the church situation in the early second century. I’m not willing to concede with this reasoning and therefore I disagree with the contemporary critics of the letters to Timothy and Titus.

Historically it is possible that the mission accounts contain gaps.[18] Paul mentions activities and events that Luke was unaware or simply did not know about (2 Cor. 11:23-29). Luke is known to give sweeping summary statements that open up possibilities for Pauline activity (Acts 20:1-3). Literary concerns should also be reexamined.

Even the undisputed letters of Paul are not uniform in style. Is it possible that several minds (or hands for that matter) were involved in the process of letter writing (e.g. amanuensis)? [19] There is good evidence that the letters to Timothy and Titus were accepted by Clement (c.95) and Ignatius (c.115) attesting to first century Pauline authorship.[20]

Finally, do the letters to Timothy and Titus reflect an organized second century church? Robert Banks says all too often the differences between Timothy and Titus to other letters of Paul have been exaggerated.[21] For example, Paul still continues to speak in familial terms and uses language of function rather than office (1 Tim. 3:1). There is no teaching of a monarchial bishop that was so emphasized in the second century.

Occasion and Purpose

If the reader accepts Pauline authorship, then the purpose of these three epistles is self-evident. In contrast to Paul’s letters written to churches, these three epistles are addressed to individuals.

It was not until D.N. Berdot (1703) and Paul Anton (1726) that the epistles were designated as “Pastoral” to describe them.[22] This is a bit misleading since the letters are apparently written to co-workers of Paul who are following in his footsteps of apostolic ministry to the Gentiles.

The letters to Timothy were likely written in the early or middle 60’s. The letter to Titus may have been written in the late 50’s.[23]

As the reader will learn in the upcoming section, the letters to Timothy and Titus address similar issues. In 1 Timothy and Titus the apostle Paul gives his young co-workers instructions for dealing with their respective churches and the issues that have presented themselves there.

Paul’s primary concern in both 1 Timothy and Titus is false teachers and the nature of their doctrines. He will also address church leadership in the middle of his instructions on handling those who have “wandered from the faith.” Paul addresses false teaching once again in 2 Timothy, but this time Paul is writing from prison and he is more or less “handing the baton” off to Timothy.

The letters to Timothy and Titus are intimate correspondence sent from Paul to men who have been called to do the work of an apostle—that work requires preparedness “in season and out of season” to correct and rebuke with great patience (2 Tim. 4:2).  Assuming Pauline authorship and a first century context for the epistles, the investigation into the evidence of early Christian Gnosticism within those letters can now begin.

EVIDENCE OF EARLY CHRISTIAN GNOSTICISM
The Letters to Timothy

Paul instructed Timothy to “stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies” (1 Tim. 1:3-4). A few verses later (v.7), Paul describes these men as wanting to be “teachers of the law” but in the end they only teach false doctrines and stir up controversy.

Gordon Fee is convinced that “myths and genealogies” does not fit within Gnosticism and is instead solely reflective of Hellenistic Judaism.[24] It is true that genealogies played an important role in determining a person’s family or tribe and their rights by birth, but Paul couples this with “myths” that undoubtedly link this heresy to something more than quarrels over the Jewish family tree (2 Tim. 4:4).

Perkins draws attention to Sethian myth that emerged sometime in the late first century: “At the early stage Sethian mythology includes the concept of a preexistent redeemer associated with Seth, identification with a heavenly Wisdom figure, the origins of evil as a result of the ignorant creator and his offspring.”[25]

Gnosticism taught “myths” in order to describe the families of aeons that separated God from the evil physical world.[26] Gnostics created myths and genealogies in order to make sense of the evil created world so that a person could then climb the spiritual ladder of gnosis to reach the divine. The Gnostic must ascend the many emanations of God with a very special sort of knowledge—a knowledge of the highest caliber.

Paul tells Timothy to “fight the good fight” and to hold on to “faith and a good conscience” because some have “shipwrecked their faith” (1 Tim. 1:18-19). Then Paul names Hymenaeus and Alexander as the culprits. Hymenaeus is mentioned again in 2 Tim. 2:17 along with Philetus as having taught that the resurrection has already happened.

It is believed that Alexander may have moved on after the first letter to Timothy.[27] He is later described as having done Paul “a great deal of harm” and the Lord knows what he has done (2 Tim. 4:14).

As for Hymenaeus and his new partner Philetus, their denial of a future bodily resurrection may be the strongest evidence for an incipient Gnosticism at work in the first century. There is clearly a misunderstanding of resurrection. Towner suggests that it is merely confusion with the tension of the “already” but “not yet” aspect of salvation,[28] but further examination of the letters indicate something more is at work.

In 1 Tim. 2:3-4, Paul declares, “This is right and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (NRSV). The language Paul uses here seems to speak to the beginnings of Gnostic tendencies within Jewish fringe groups. First, Paul repeats “our Savior” and “all men” throughout the letters to speak against any form of elitism as it pertains to salvation.

More to the point, Paul uses “knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25; Titus 1:1) to seemingly contrast a gnosis of lies (1 Tim. 1:10, 4:2; Titus 1:12).  Paul says, “For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth” (1 Tim. 2:7).

Paul may have in mind those in Ephesus who were challenging his apostolic authority.[29] There could also be much more being implied here. Paul is a teacher of the “true faith to the Gentiles” and not the Hellenized elitist version of faith within Judaism. There is reason to suspect elements of Gnosticism within his words to Timothy. It is highly unlikely that Paul would need to convince Timothy of this truth by saying “I am not lying.” Paul’s Gospel belongs to Gentiles more than some secret gnosis of lies sent out from the syncretistic false teachers claiming they have the edge on truth.

In 1 Tim. 3:16, Paul recites what appears to be an early creed or hymn:

“Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was  vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory” (NIV, emphasis mine).

Towner says that Paul’s statement “the mystery of godliness is great” is an echo of the city’s cry, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” (Acts 19:26, 34).[30] It is interesting that the hymn is concerned with Christ’s resurrected body and mentions the Spirit, angels, the nations believing on Christ in the world, and that Christ was taken up into glory.

All of these speak against an elitist Jewish fringe group with Gnostic tendencies. Within Gnosticism, resurrection is denied, angels are really demons, Gnostic spirits bring salvation, and only a select group is able to tap into the gnosis of a spiritual other-world.[31]

In 1 Tim. 4:1-10, there continues to be ample evidence of a Jewish-Gnostic asceticism that Paul says are due to some who have followed “deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (v.1). They forbid marriage, abstain from certain foods, and in response Paul says, “everything God created is good” (v.4). There is a Jewish flavor to all of this, but yet there still remains a more than Jewish atmosphere to the things that Paul describes. It was the Gnostics that taught a strict dualism and asceticism as they rejected the material world.

One again Paul says, “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales” (v.7). Some women were apparently being idle and “going from house to house” stirring up trouble (1 Tim. 5:13). In 2 Tim. 3:6, Paul says the false teachers found women (particularly widows) as easy targets for their gnosis of lies.

These false teachers embraced what Paul called a “false” knowledge and have “wandered from the faith” (1 Tim. 6:20-21). There were even some who were peddling their doctrines for cash (1 Tim. 6:5). Here is how Paul describes them to Timothy: they are devoted to myths and genealogies (1 Tim. 1:4, 4:7; 2 Tim. 4:4), desire to be teachers of the law (1 Tim. 1:7), ungodly and hypocritical liars (1 Tim. 1:10; 4:2), consciences are seared (1 Tim. 4:2); teachers of strict asceticism (1 Tim. 4:3-4); elitists (1 Tim. 2:3-4; 4:10); conceited and controversial (6:4); and obtaining a false knowledge (6:20). Paul urges Timothy to devote himself to the public reading, teaching, and preaching of Scripture in response to these false doctrines (1 Tim. 4:13).

Paul says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16 NIV). He is told to “gently instruct, in the hope that God will give them a change of heart leading them to a knowledge of the truth” for they have been taken captive to the devil (2 Tim. 25-26).

Timothy is commanded to rebuke these teachers in love from a pure heart with a good conscience (1 Tim. 1:3-5). Paul is confident that these false teachers and their doctrines will not triumph (2 Tim. 3:9).

The Letter to Titus

Paul writes to Titus in Crete (1:5, 12). He begins his letter to Titus by declaring that he is an apostle of Jesus Christ for the sake of the “knowledge of the truth” and a “knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life” (v.1-2). Paul is saying that real gnosis belongs to the God who alone is aionios (eternal). The Gospel does not offer an intellectual creed or a way of life for the spiritual elite. Paul says that God chose to reveal his truth as it was promised before time began. As Paul will make clear in this letter, God’s salvation has come to “all men” (2:11).

Part of the reason Paul sent Titus to Crete was to “straighten out what was left unfinished” (1:5 NIV). He gives a brief description similar to the qualifications of an elder given to Timothy and proceeds to warn Titus of those of the “circumcision group” (1:10).  Titus is commanded to “rebuke them sharply” and ignore those who are distracted by “Jewish myths” (1:13). These “Jewish myths” do in fact identify these false teachers in Crete as Jewish to some degree. Just how Jewish they are is debatable. Towner seems to think that it is likely that Jewish-Christian opponents were creating doctrine based on OT heroes and using them against Paul in some way.[32]

Whatever their teachings were, they were not a part of mainstream Judaism.

The false teachers described in Titus would certainly appear to be more Jewish than those mentioned in the letters to Timothy. A major difference with the teachers in Crete is their licentious behavior. Paul says that their “minds and consciences are corrupted” and that believers should reject their “worldly passions” (1:15-16; 2:11-12). Once again, Paul tells Titus to avoid “arguments and quarrels about the law” (3:9). There is unquestionably a greater Jewish brand of heresy that Paul is addressing in Crete.

CONCLUSION—THE EVIDENCE DEMANDS A VERDICT

W. Schmithals is best known for his belief that the letters to Timothy and Titus were written at the beginning of the second century.[33] He proposed that the vocabulary in the letters were so distinctively Gnostic that they simply could not have been written by Paul in the first century.

I believe that the epistles do in fact include Gnostic terminology, but the systematic Gnosticism of the second century is just not in play in Timothy and Titus. Paul is not even able to give the heretical teaching a name, as other NT authors have done (Rev. 2:6,15). Paul’s inability to give this heresy a name does not rule out Gnosticism, it actually confirms an incipient Christian Gnosticism starting to vie for the hearts and minds of believers.

As one author has written: “1 Timothy probably represents an early stage in the emergence, identification, and rejection of the Gnostic viewpoint.”[34]

It is likely that Gnosticism is not the only heresy threatening the early Christian communities, but there is strong evidence that it is certainly one of them. Even in Titus, which is more Jewish than anything else, the heresy seems to come from “Gnosticizing Judaists”[35] who were masquerading as genuine Christians.

There is reason to believe that an incipient Gnosticism was clutching to the back of Christianity due to its explosive growth.

Bultmann elaborates on this:

At first, Gnosticism probably penetrated into the Christian congregations mostly through the medium of a Hellenistic Judaism that was itself in the grip of syncretism. The Gnostic Spirit-enthusiasts whom Paul opposes at Corinth are of Jewish origin (2 Cor. 11:22). Whether the false teachings advanced in Colossae are also derived from a syncretistic Judaism, is not certain (cf. Col. 2:11,14 and espec. 2:16). But in the case of the pastorals it is probably a Jewish-Christian Gnosticism that is involved.[36]

Philip Lee in his book Against the Protestant Gnostics writes: “The syncretism of Gnosticism was purposeful.”[37] This syncretism of religious and philosophical ideas would make it very difficult to give any heresy a name—just as the Romans confused Christianity with all manner of fringe cults in the middle of the first century. It was only a matter of time before Christianity would stand alone as a separate religious movement.

It will continue to be a matter of scholarly debate on how much Gnosticism influenced Christian vernacular. Some even today would like to say that Paul was himself a Gnostic that inspired the likes of Valentinus.[38] Folks like Elaine Pagels have helped to bring about a revival of Gnosticism, not only within scholarly circles, but in pop-culture as well. [39] The world of evangelical Christianity is indebted to those serious scholars who have taken the time to refute the Gnostic dreamers still among us today.

The letters to Timothy and Titus still speak to those Gnostics who will listen.

In Gnosticism we see the intellectualism, the intellectual arrogance, the fables and genealogies, the asceticism and the immorality, the refusal to contemplate the possibility of a bodily resurrection, which are all part and parcel of the heresy against which the Pastoral Epistles were written.[40]

D.D. Flowers, 2011.


[1] Rudolf Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament. Trans. Kendrick Grobel (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1951), 164.

[2] N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, Vol. 1: Christian Origins and the Question of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 156.

[3] William Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus and Philemon. The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 11.

[4] Pheme Perkins, Gnosticism and the New Testament (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 49.

[5] Ibid, 4.

[6] Perkins, Gnosticism and the New Testament, 29.

[7] Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, 155.

[8] Perkins, Gnosticism and the New Testament, 39.

[9] Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 3d ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003), 300-301.

[10] Helmut Koester, History and Literature of Early Christianity, Vol. 2: Introduction to the New Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982), 207.

[11] F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 134-144.

[12] David W. Bercot, A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1998), 305.

[13] Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 306.

[14] D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 555.

[15] Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, Rev. ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1990), 607-608.

[16] Ibid, 614.

[17] Charles B. Cousar, The Letters of Paul (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 177.

[18] Philip H. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2006.), 22.

[19] Michael J. Gorman, Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul and His Letters (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2004), 536.

[20] Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 24.

[21] Robert Banks, Paul’s Idea of Community, Rev. ed. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), 197-198.

[22] Donald Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles, Rev. ed. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1990), 17.

[23] Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament, 571-582.

[24]  Gordon D. Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus. New International Commentary (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1988), 41.

[25] Perkins, Gnosticism and the New Testament, 46.

[26] William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles. Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000), lxxi.

[27] Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 630-631.

[28] Ibid, 528.

[29] Ralph Earle, “1 & 2 Timothy.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, 341-418. Vol. 11 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 359.

[30] Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 277.

[31] Perkins, Gnosticism and the New Testament, 16-17.

[32] Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 705.

[33] Walter Schmithals, “The Corpus Paulinum and Gnosis.” The New Testament and Gnosis. ed. Logan and Wedderburn, 107-124. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1983.

[34] Robert A. Spivey and D. Moody Smith, Jr., Anatomy of the New Testament: A Guide to Its Structure and Meaning, 2d. ed. (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1974), 394-395.

[35] Edmond D. Hiebert, “Titus.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, 421-449. Vol. 11 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 432.

[36] Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, 171.

[37] Philip J. Lee, Against the Protestant Gnostics (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1987), 41.

[38] Stephan A. Hoeller, Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing. (Wheaton: First Quest, 2002), 112.

[39] Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels. New York: Vintage Books, 1989.

[40] Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus and Philemon, 10.


Heaven to Earth: The Christian Hope in the Resurrection, Part II of III

“For if the dead are not raised then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.” Paul, 1 Cor. 15:16-18

It is quite clear that the resurrection of Christ is the one event upon which our entire faith rises or falls. Paul, quoting from an early creedal statement, says, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3). “According to the Scriptures,” would of course be referring to the Old Testament Prophets.

The Pharisees often debated with the Sadducees whether or not resurrection could be a reality. Many Jews confidently believed that God would renew his creation and restore what was lost. But not even the Pharisees expected the resurrection to happen until the final Day of the Lord.

The resurrection of Christ even took his closest disciples by surprise. Jesus goes before us all by being the “firstborn among the dead” (Col. 1:18). The apostle Paul believed in this resurrection, not only in the possibility of it, but in the reality that he had indeed seen the crucified and resurrected Messiah Jesus (Acts. 9).

“It’s one thing to believe it. It’s another thing to see it.”  ~Benjamin Linus, LOST, “Dead is Dead” season 5, episode 12 (Ben’s response to seeing John Locke alive again.)

For a person to believe in the resurrection of Christ is to accept that they too will pass from death to a new bodily existence at the second parousia (i.e. “coming”) of Christ. Jesus himself passes from an earthly body to a real “spiritual body” and promises that those who follow him shall do the same (Jn. 11:25).

Jesus not only spoke of this new existence, but he allowed his closest followers to witness the glorious transfiguration, and later his visible presence in his resurrected body (Matt. 17; Lk. 24:36-49).

According to Paul, Jesus appeared to “more than five hundred” people in this new body. And at the time of Paul’s writing, these folks were “still living” and you could go talk to them yourself (1 Cor. 15:6).

Life After Death

Contemporary visions of the “afterlife” stand in stark contrast to the uniquely Christian hope in the resurrection of the dead. Let’s take a moment to briefly examine what others believe about the divine destiny of man.

We have already seen the Platonic or Gnostic vision of the immortality of the soul. This view seeks to emphasize the individual. In this vision, our lives culminate at death when the soul is released from the body and we are freed from the imperfections of the material world.

According to this view, discarding the body is necessary to reach the world of eternal ideas and touch the divine.

Another prominent view teaches that we all are destined for a blended union with the divine. Proponents of this idea, often known as monism, believe that God is impersonal and lacks personal distinctions. To become “one” with the divine is actually to lose all of your own personality and be absorbed in with the “great spirit” in the sky.

This view undermines the personhood and character of God as well as the personal nature of human beings.

Reincarnation goes a step further in this idea of union with the divine. According to this view, we do not blend with the divine immediately, but after a series of “rebirths” that continue until the soul has reached perfection. Since this cycle of rebirths is actually never-ending, life is ultimately meaningless. It believes the real person to be only the soul that moves from body to body.

Reincarnation denies the perfect God-created union of spirit, soul, and body.

Finally, we can’t leave out those who believe that a person simply ceases to exist upon death. This belief may just be the saddest of all things a person chooses to embrace. Believing that everything ceases at death rejects the created order left by God to lead us to knowledge of himself (Rom. 1:20). And it denies that internal longing for life beyond the grave.

This person should stop to observe the seasons. Winter can be dreadful, but Spring is forthcoming.

Pop-Culture Christianity

“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” Paul, 1 Cor. 15:51-52

Somehow believers have failed to recognize that Scripture teaches that the culmination of our earthly life is found in the future resurrection of the dead when the Lord will break through from heaven and establish his Kingdom upon the earth. They have missed John’s revelation of the Holy City “coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev. 21:2).

Instead, many have embraced an eschatological view that propagates some of the tenants of the pagan ideas already discussed. We see this most clearly in Christian funerals and popular teachings on the eschaton (i.e. “last things”) from the pulpit and the pen of preachers everywhere.

Pop-culture Christianity teaches a distorted view of death and the last days. And I believe it is partially born from a resistance to suffering in the New Testament fashion. We say we have the Kingdom in mind through “winning the culture” by legislating sin, when in reality we don’t wish to rely on the foolishness of the cross and suffer as Christ in patient love. We, like the world, are fighting against death instead of embracing it with hope in the resurrection.

American Christianity has made it possible for us to look past Paul’s words, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12) and “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him” (Phil. 1:29). We have built for us a faith that wants nothing but comfort in this world, only to turn and grieve in sorrow as the world grieves.

We have failed to know the true hope that comes by first confronting the ugliness and reality of death. To cope with the “sting” of death we resort to absurd beliefs that are more reflective of pagan teachings than they are of our distinctly Christian hope in the resurrection.

How can we know the victory until we have felt the defeat? Death has “lost its sting” because of the finished work of Christ (Rom. 6:5; 1 Cor. 15:55). Why would we ever use language that takes away from that work?

Evangelical Christianity has largely adopted pagan ideas of the “afterlife” that allows us to continue propagating the “no suffering for me” theology.

The Left Behind Series has done much to further the idea that what we all need is to escape or be “raptured” from this evil world and our lowly, decrepit bodies for a future “spiritual” existence on the other side of the cosmos.

Meanwhile, we are learning to care less and less about the soul of a terrorist, genocide, and the many ways we are destroying the planet.

What does it matter when the Christian life can be summed up in “going to heaven when you die”… which translates: this world isn’t so important after all. We can hardly see the urgency and the importance of it because the Gospel has been mixed with worldly political agendas.

You have heard it many times at funerals before and probably have said it yourself at some point: “they are in a better place… they have gone home.” Our hymns even reflect this Platonic idea of the soul’s escape from the body. “I’ll fly away O glory… when I die hallelujah by and by… I’ll fly way!”

Really? Are we flying away or are we awaiting the resurrection of the dead for a new existence when heaven comes to earth? If we are flying away, where are we going? Cause I’m not too sure I want to go there anymore.

Does this sound like a teaching that reflects our hope in the resurrection of the dead? Is it a development or a deviation from the Gospel that testifies that someday soon heaven will break through to this groaning earth and God’s reign will be known among the nations? According to the New Testament, it’s a clear deviation from the Gospel of “peace on earth.”

Why do we insist on furthering a dim view of the Christian hope?

We should stop and reconsider our anticipation in the resurrection of the dead when a believer is struck by the awfulness of death. In a better place, I’m sure, but “home,” I should think not. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, sure.  (Lk. 23:42-43; Rom. 8:38-39; Phil. 1:23). But who can be home when they are separated from their body?

It is in the climatic event of resurrection that we shall enter our rest.

“The doctrine of the resurrection affirms that we do not enter into the fullness of eternity apart from the body, but only in the body.”  Stanley Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, pg. 588

When we reduce the Gospel to a few clichés and water it down with pagan ideas of life after death, all that is left is to convince our neighbors that hell is hot and that they better hop aboard the J-train before it shoves off headed past a few stars to the right and on till morning. Are we followers of Christ or members of the Heaven’s Gate cult?

If we believe there is life after death without the body, then we have greatly misunderstood our hope in the resurrection of the dead. All the saints past and present await the coming judgment and resurrection of the dead. It is as if all of creation is on the edge of its seat crying out for that passing from death to life (Rom. 8:22; Rev. 6:9-11).

Heaven and earth cry out, “Come, Lord Jesus! Come!”

“Now, at the climax of God’s salvation in the bodily resurrection of believers, the final enemy is defeated, the final victory won.” Michael S. Gorman, Apostle of the Crucified Lord, pg. 281

Until heaven comes to earth and God remakes the world for our new resurrected existence, we live in that hope. We live to testify of the coming Kingdom of God that is already, but not yet. Winter is here and the times are dreadful, but Spring is coming!

Heaven to Earth: The Christian Hope in the Resurrection, Part III


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