Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

1 Timothy 2:12 in Context (Part 3)

The Heresy in the Ephesian Church

I recommend reading parts 1 & 2 of 1 Timothy 2:12 in Context first.

Paul’s Reason for Writing to Timothy 

Paul declares his primary reason for writing to Timothy right at the beginning of his letter. After a customary greeting he writes:

“. . . stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. 1 Timothy 1:3-4a (NIV 2011, underlines added)

1 Timothy 2:12 in Context: The Heresy in the Ephesian ChurchPaul was concerned because people[1] within the Ephesian church were teaching false doctrines, and so he wrote to Timothy—who was ministering in the Ephesus at that time—and advised him about how to handle the false teachers and their false teachings. It is possible that these false teachings involved myths about the goddess Artemis. Paul may have been referring to these myths when he told Timothy to “shun the profane and old-womanish myths” (1 Tim. 4:7).[2] It could be that the pure and sincere faith which Paul had brought to Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:5) was being tarnished and corrupted by the merging of  Artemis mythology with the gospel.

Wherever the gospel has gone, many new believers have found it difficult to quickly and completely let go of long-held beliefs and superstitions. These difficulties were due to the fact that religious practices were usually closely tied and interwoven with the local culture and customs of community life.

In Roman Catholicism most of the “Madonnas” or “Our Ladies” started off as local pagan goddesses which were later morphed into “Marys” when Christianity came.[3] Were the new Christians at Ephesus trying to morph Artemis into Mary—both regarded as virgins? There is no clear evidence for this, but there is some indication, in later documents, that at least a few Ephesian Christians were conferring on Eve an almost divine status. In Genesis 3:20, Eve, just like the goddess Artemis, is called “the mother of all living”. [More about Artemis in Part Two.]

Christian Gnosticism and the Early Church

During the Hellenistic period (c. 320–30 BC), the classical forms of Greek religion were increasingly influenced by foreign religions, especially Near-Eastern religions with their elements of initiation, mysteries, salvation, and asceticism. And the great goddess, or feminine principle, was universally sovereign. (Martin 1987:81) A resurgence of interest in Greek philosophy also had an influence on religion. Furthermore, both Greek and Near-Eastern religions influenced local indigenous cults (such as the cult of Artemis) within the Greek world and, later, within the Roman Empire.

This merging of different religious practices and ideologies—syncretism—was a feature of the Hellenistic period and it paved the way for the various sects of Christian gnosticism which would become a huge threat to orthodox Christianity in the second and third centuries AD.[4] I strongly suspect the false teaching in the Ephesian church involved a syncretistic, or pre-gnostic, heresy.[5]

The word “gnosticism” comes from the Greek word gnosis which literally means “knowledge”. Gnostics believe that it is special knowledge that brings salvation; however this knowledge is secret, esoteric, and only accessible to the few who can achieve transcendence.

Tertullian (160-220) identified the false teaching in the Ephesian church as an early, emerging form of gnosticism. In his description of a developed gnostic heresy, Tertullian used Paul’s own expression of “myths and endless genealogies”, and he added, “which the inspired apostle [Paul] by anticipation condemned, whilst the seeds of heresy were even then shooting forth.”[6] Irenaeus, writing in about 180, also identified the false teaching in first century Ephesian church as a kind of gnosticism.[7] However, it is possible that Tertullian and Irenaeus were projecting the gnostic heresies of the late second and early third century back onto the first-century Ephesian church.

Nevertheless, the “endless genealogies”, that Paul mentioned in 1 Timothy 1:4, could refer to a concept similar to that of the complex series of emanations, or aeons, that is a feature in later gnostic teachings. These aeons were seen as a series of links between the supreme God and humanity. Rather than numerous aeons, however, Paul states in 1 Timothy 2:5: “There is one God and one mediator between God and humanity—the human being Jesus Christ.”[8]

Various groups of Christian gnostics borrowed elements from Greek philosophy and pagan faiths, and syncretised them with Christian beliefs. In Ephesus, the pre-gnostic heresy may have incorporated some pagan beliefs and practices from the cult of Artemis. Moreover, the early gnostics, many of whom were Jewish, also incorporated aspects of Judaism and the Jewish Law into their beliefs. This seems to be the case in Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:6-11).[9]

Gnostic Interpretations of the Genesis Creation Accounts

The ancient gnostic texts found in Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945 show that the biblical creation accounts of the Old Testament were interpreted freely and allegorically. “Gnostics often depicted Eve—or the feminine spiritual power she represented—as the source of spiritual awakening.” (Pagels 1989:68) Moreover, Eve, as “spirit” was frequently seen as bringing life when united with Adam’s “soul”.

There were several gnostic creation accounts which gave Eve primacy over Adam.[10] In a few accounts, Eve was regarded as the first human being and, in some texts, even as a member of the Godhead. She is sometimes referred to as “the daughter of light”, “the creator of the Logos”, “the virgin”, and even specifically as the mother of Jesus. In gnosticism, it is Eve who gives life to Adam. Moreover, Eve was a heroine to the gnostics because she desired knowledge (gnōsis) (Gen. 3:6).

Paul closes his first letter to Timothy with one final exhortation concerning this serious issue of a gnostic-like heresy:

“O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding profane chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge (Greek: gnōsis)” which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith. Grace be with you.” 1 Timothy 6:20-21 (NASB, underline added.)

All this information so far may be helpful if we want to understand the meaning and significance of 1 Timothy 2:12 and the verses surrounding it. In Part Four we begin going through 1 Timothy 2:11-15, verse by verse.


[1] Note that “certain men” used in the NIV 1984 translation of this verse is not a completely accurate translation from the Greek. A more faithful translation would read “certain ones” or “certain people”. The new NIV (2011) has translated it as “certain people”. Women may have been among the false teachers at Ephesus (cf. 1 Tim. 5:13-15).

[2] Paul uses the word “profane” (bebēlos) a few times to describe the false teaching in Ephesian church: 1 Timothy 4:7; 6:20; 2 Timothy 2:16. See also 1 Timothy 1:9. Bebēlos is used five times in the New Testament: four times in 1 Timothy, and once in Hebrews 12:16. It means ungodly, profane, and heathenish. Furthermore, Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–c. 215) used the expression “old wives tales” (“old womanish myths”) in reference to occult practises. (The Paedagogus, Book 3, Chapter 4.)

[3] Luther H. Martin (1987:72) notes that the fusion of Mary with a pagan goddess is exemplified in the case of Isis. The Hellenistic mysteries of the Egyptian goddess Isis became universal in the Greco-Roman world, and survived until the imperial prohibition of pagan religions in the fourth century AD. Martin writes, “In one sense, however, Isis survived even Christian dominance, for together with her divine son Horus, she is remembered in the sentiment and iconography of Roman Catholic Mariology.”

[4] Scholars are increasingly reluctant to call syncretistic religious beliefs before the second century AD, “gnosticism”. In the context of the letter to the Ephesians, which was probably written towards the end of the first century (shortly before the letters to Timothy were written), Clinton Arnold (1989:12) is wary about the calling the heresy in Ephesus, “gnosticism”, but concedes:

A total dismissal of all Gnostic interpretation of Ephesians would not be a proper conclusion to draw . . . . Even if the thoroughgoing dualism characteristic of fully developed Gnosis cannot be demonstrated before A.D. 135 . . . , other streams of religious influence (with permutations already in process) may have existed which had a profound impact on developing Gnosis. One or a number of these merging streams may have been converging in the first century forming the beginning of Gnosis.

[5] Gnosticism rapidly grew at the same time, and in many of the same places, where the gospel was growing. It would develop into highly organised and complicated mythological systems during the second and third centuries, and it posed a huge threat to the church at that time. However the beginnings of gnostic-like beliefs are evident in the New Testament. Several later New Testament letters address the problem of a pre-gnosticism, in particular, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, 2 Peter and John’s letters.

[6] Tertullian provides a detailed account and refutation of the Valentinian branch of gnostic heresy in Against the Valentinians (c. 200-220), and writes in chapter 3: “. . . as soon as he finds so many names of aeons, so many marriages, so many offsprings, so many exits, so many issues, felicities and infelicities of a dispersed and mutilated deity, will that man hesitate at once to pronounce that these are ‘the fables and endless genealogies’ which the inspired apostle by anticipation condemned, while these seeds of heresy were even then shooting forth?”

[7] Irenaeus wrote a five-volumed work (c. 180) in which he identified and refuted several sects, or systems, of Gnosticism. This work is commonly called Against Heresies; however its true, or full, title is: On the Detection and Overthrow of the Falsely-called Knowledge (Greek: Gnōsis)(Underline added.) Irenaeus exactly copied Paul’s expression from 1 Timothy 6:20, “falsely-called knowledge”, for the title. This work opens with Irenaeus remarking on “endless genealogies”, a phrase copied from 1 Timothy 1:4. Irenaeus recognised traits of Gnosticism in 1 Timothy.
Eusebius (263–339) also used Paul’s phrase of “falsely-called knowledge” when describing the gnostic heresy that threatened the church in the second and third centuries (Ecclesiastical History, Book 3, 32,8)

[8] 1 Timothy 2:5 also addresses a gnostic belief termed Docetism, which is that Jesus Christ did not really come in a human body of flesh, but only seemed to be human.

[9] Some strains of Judaism were influenced by the teachings and practices of Jewish sorcerers and exorcists who were well known in the Greco-Roman world, including the cities of Asia Minor such as Ephesus. These apostate Jews combined Judaism with the occult (Acts 13:6-11; 19:13-19; cf. Simon Magus in Acts 8:9-15).

[10] Gnostic texts from Nag Hammadi which give Eve primacy include: Apocryphon of John, Gospel of Philip, Hypostasis of the Archon, Thunder: Perfect Mind, and Apocalypse of Adam. More on these texts here.

© 8th of December 2009; revised the 5th of August 2010; Margaret Mowczko


« Part Two: Understanding the Ephesian Culture

» Part Four: 1 Timothy 2:11-12 – Phrase by Phrase

Related Articles

Kephalē and Proto-Gnosticism in Paul’s Letters
The Consensus and Context of 1 Timothy 2:12
Adam and Eve in Ancient Gnostic Literature
Gnosticism: The Deep Things of Satan

Posted April 17th, 2013 . Categories/Tags: Church History, Equality and Gender Issues, Equality in Ministry, The "Difficult" Passages, , , , , , , , ,

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

11 comments on “1 Timothy 2:12 in Context (Part 3)

  1. Bob Edwards says:

    Hi Margaret, here is the information you requested on facebook:


    “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet” (1 Timothy 2:12 NIV).

    Complementarians assert that 1 Timothy 2:12 is a universal decree prohibiting all women from ever teaching or having authority over men in the church. Egalitarian scholars have suggested that this interpretation contradicts clear biblical examples of women leading or teaching in the Old and New Testaments:

    “Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time.” (Judges 4:4).

    “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae” (Romans 16:1 NIV).

    “Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately” (Acts 18:24-26).

    Egalitarian scholars have also demonstrated that the Greek word authetein, often translated “to assume authority,” had other meanings in ancient literature. Catherine Kroeger explains,

    “Although the usages prior to and during the New Testament period are few and far between, they are briefs of murder cases and once to mean suicide, as did Dio Cassius. Thucydides, Herodotus, and Aeschylus also use the word to denote one who slays with his own hand, and so does Euripides. The Jewish Philo, whose writings are contemporary with the New Testament, meant ‘self-murderer’ by his use of the term.”


    “Clement of Alexandria wrote a detailed refutation of the various groups who endorsed fornication as accepted Christian behavior. He complained of those who had turned love-feasts into sex orgies, of those who taught women to “give to every man that asketh of thee,” and of those who found in physical intercourse a “mystical communion.” He branded one such lewd group authentai (the plural of authentes).” (Kroeger, C. as cited at God’s Word to Women).

    Kroeger, and others, highlight the importance of translating the word “authentein” in light of its Ephesian context. They assert that Paul was likely writing to Timothy about practices in Ephesus related to the prevalent worship of the goddess Artemis. If this is true, then Artemis worship must have involved practices like murder and/or sexual immorality.

    One school of complementarian thought claims that Artemis worship has been misrepresented. S. M. Baugh (1999) suggests that information about Artemis worship in Ephesus from antiquity makes no reference whatsoever to any forms of sexual impurity (as cited at biblicalstudies.org.uk). He concludes therefore, that egalitarian scholars are misrepresenting the context of Paul’s letter.

    Baugh’s conclusion rests exclusively on the claim that ancient literature does not mention elements of authentia (e.g. murder or sexual impurity) in the worship of Artemis, particularly at Ephesus. He could not be more mistaken. Why he was unable to find this information, I can only guess. It is widely available for anyone to find and review. Here is a sampling:

    “A fragment of Diogenes quoted by Athenaeus reads as follows: ‘I hear that the Bacchic maidens of Lydia, dwelling by the river Halys honour Artemis the goddess of Tmolus in a Laurel-shaded grove.’ The goddess of Tmolus worshipped by Maenads is certainly Cybele, but is here given the name of the Greek goddess.” (Farnell, Cambridge University Press, 1896, p. 473–see page footnotes for source material in Greek).

    In Parthenius,Love Romances 9 from the 1st Century B.C. we read,
    “The men of Miletus made an expedition against the Naxians [historical] .. . [during the time of the campaign] came the Milesians’ celebration of theThargelia [i.e. an Ionian festival of Apollon and Artemis held in early summer]–a time when they indulge in a deal of strong wine and make merry with very little regard to the cost.” (trans. Gaselee)

    To help the reader understand these quotations in context, Bacchic celebrations involved drinking wine and sexual indulgence (i.e. orgies). These practices are both highlighted and condemned by Clement of Alexandria in his “Exhortation to the Greeks, Book 1.” In particular he condemns “Bacchic orgies” celebrating the “Mother of the Gods,” known in Lydia (where Ephesus was located) first as Cybele, and later as Artemis. Miletus, the cite of the celebration of the Thargelia—celebrating Apollon and Artemis–was located in Lydia, just south of Ephesus. Furthermore, In his Exhortation to the Greeks, Book 3, Clement also condemns the ritual sacrifice of men to Tauric Artemis. (The Tauri invaded Lydia prior to New Testament times, bringing their concept of Artemis with them.)

    Rachel Lesser of McGill University wrote an excellent essay available online that describes how Artemis of Ephesus was an amalgam of Greek and Anatolian traditions. These traditions did indeed involve celebration or worship involving sexual immorality and/or murder. Further traditions involving the ritual lashing of boys and the shedding of male blood in worship to Artemis in other parts of ancient Greece were recorded in Pausanias 3.16.9-11.

    So, in the worship of Artemis in Ephesus, is it probable that elements of sexual immorality and/or the abuse of men were involved? Well contrary to Baugh’s assertion, numerous sources from antiquity say, “yes.” Are these practices consistent with egalitarian assertions about meanings of the word authentein other than “to assume authority?” Once again, the answer is clearly, “yes.”

    It appears, therefore, that despite overlooked or denied evidence from primary sources in antiquity, it is still likely that Paul was writing to Timothy to address specific issues that he faced as a young pastor in Ephesus, home to Artemis’ famous shrine.

  2. Bob Edwards says:

    Hi again Margaret. Here is a follow up to the original post you requested:


    The following quotes come from Baugh (1999). He attempts to undermine the validity of egalitarian claims that Artemis worship involving sexual immorality was the context of Paul’s first letter to Timothy, who was pastoring in Ephesus. Here are his comments:

    “Sharon Gritz asserts that ‘there existed elements of sexual impurity’ in the festivals of Artemis Ephesia. However, without citation of ancient sources for this statement, how can one either confirm or deny that ancient references to these festivals have been properly interpreted? We can only guess, particularly when experts in the field know of no such sexual elements.”

    “It is not my intent to conduct a full review of all the evidence here, but hopefully enough will be given and briefly discussed to provide a more accurate picture of Artemis Ephesia and her priestesses.”

    “For Gritz, this all relates to Paul’s prohibition of women teachers and elders (1 Tim 2:11–15) in that he refers only to the Ephesian women, because “undoubtedly, some of the new Christian converts had once been cultic priestesses” and were therefore unstable sorts who were loaded down with “guilty memories of ‘sacred’ sexual misconduct.”

    “The scenario just depicted might seem quite plausible in abstract, but, unfortunately, it has almost nothing to do with ancient Ephesus. In fact, if one removes the historical errors from the material supporting Gritz’s conclusions, very little remains except modern fancy. She refers to “ancient sources” but cites none.”

    From these points Baugh draws a number of conclusions:

    1) Because a doctoral student, Sharon Gritz, cites no ancient sources regarding “sexual impurity” in Artemis worship, no ancient sources exist.

    2) Based on this conclusion, Baugh asserts that there was no sexual impurity in Artemis worship, and that any reports to the contrary are nothing but “modern fancy.”

    3) Baugh defines sexual impurity very narrowly (exclusively as formal cult prostitution). However, uses of the word authentein in ancient literature do not have so narrow a focus. Authentein can mean murder, suicide or sexual immorality of various forms.

    4) The notion that Paul was writing to Timothy about the practices of former worshippers of Artemis, Baugh describes as a red herring, designed to obscure the clear meaning God’s word in 1 Timothy chapter 2.

    Baugh later suggests in his article that people should stop preaching about this; they should be silent.

    A number of problems with Baugh’s analysis are readily apparent:

    1) Just because a doctoral student fails to cite “ancient sources” does not mean that they do not exist. Ancient sources discussing “authentia” (murder and/or sexual immorality) regarding Artemis worship include the following: Diogenes, Athenaeus, Parthenius, Euripides, Pausanias and later Clement and Tatian. Some of these sources have been quoted and referenced in my earlier post.

    2) Baugh states that it is not his intent to conduct a full review of all of the evidence. That much is clear. He ignores or fails to locate all of the sources from antiquity that I have highlighted. He then claims that they do not exist. Failing to find something one does not thoroughly review is not the same thing as suggesting it does not in fact exist. This approach to debate is a logical fallacy referred to as an “argument from silence.” It is not persuasive.

    3) Not only did sexual impurity exist in the worship of Artemis, it clearly existed in the location of Ephesus.

    4) Stating that there are no ancient sources related to sexual impurity in the worship of Artemis Ephesia, Baugh then concludes that egalitarian interpretations of 1 Timothy are invalid. Well, since his original claim is evidently incorrect, so is his conclusion.

    Baugh claims that the worship of Artemis in Ephesus did not involve “sexual impurity.” He says that no “ancient sources” exist to confirm egalitarian claims. This is quite simply inaccurate. These sources do exist, as I have demonstrated. Therefore, I believe it remains important to understand Paul’s letter to Timothy in light of its Ephesian context. Women in Ephesus were likely involved in the worship of Artemis, and it did in fact involve practices consistent with the use of the term authentein, meaning either murder/and or sexual immorality.

  3. Bob Edwards says:


    As I continued to sift through the literature related to Artemis worship in and around Ephesus, I discovered that a local goddess named Anaitis was indeed worshipped via ritual prostitution. When the Greeks arrived in this area, they called her…you guessed it…Artemis. Ritual prostitution persisted in Lydia (where Ephesus is found) until the second century A.D.. While this practice may or may not have taken place in the temple of Artemis in Ephesus itself, Artemis worship in this province certainly involved not only “Bacchic” celebrations, but formal prostitution as well. Farnell, in his book, “The Cults of The Greek States Volume Two” provides plenty of evidence for this from primary sources on page 590.

    Here’s what I’m finding. Without doing a very thorough literature review on this subject, one might conclude that the Greek, virgin, huntress Artemis is the goddess that was worshipped in and around Ephesus. This is at best a half truth. The Greek’s did have a virgin goddess by this name, but they also applied the name, quite freely, to pre-existing deities that were anything but virginal. There were similarities, but sexual purity was not one of them. The pre-existing goddesses, later called Artemis, were in fact worshipped with sexualized dance, human blood sacrifices and yes even ritual prostitution. These practices are certainly consistent with an egalitarian understanding of the word “authentein” in 1 Timothy 2. I truly hope that this information serves as encouragement to all those dedicated to understanding Paul’s letters in light of their historical and cultural context. I’m coming across all of this information as I’m researching for my second book. I’m happy to share what I’m learning with my friends here along the way :). Bless you all.

  4. Bob Edwards says:

    I’m currently reading Sharon Hodgin Gritz’s doctoral dissertation entitled, “Paul , Women Teachers, and the Mother Goddess at Ephesus.” It is an absolutely fantastic read; highly recommended for anyone who can find it at a local library or bookstore. Contrary to complementarian criticisms of her work, she DOES cite “ancient sources” to back up her observations and conclusions (e.g. Tatian, Apuleius, Lucian, Josephus, Demosthenes). With regard to ritual prostitution, orgiastic celebration and human sacrifice specifically, she repeatedly cites Farnell’s excellent book series, “The Cults of the Greek States.” This is significant because Farnell does not just reference primary sources from antiquity, he actually copies out the ancient inscriptions as they originally appeared; he does this in his extensive footnotes. His primary sources include but are not limited to: Pausanias, Plutarch, Clement of Alexandria, Strabo, Philo, Scymnus Chius and Tatian. He lists not just the authors, but the books chapters and verses of the original sources before copying out the original text. Why complementarians would claim that “ancient sources” do not exist is a complete mystery to me at this point.

  5. Krysta says:

    Wow! This is crazy! I’m learning a TON and it’s really bringing so much clarity to 1 Timothy! Thanks Marg and Bob!

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