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

Adam and Eve in Ancient Gnostic Literature (cf 1 Tim. 2:13-14)

Adam and Eve in Ancient Gnostic Literature (1 Timothy 2:13-14)

For Beth

INTRODUCTION

In other articles on this website I have suggested that the heresy in Ephesus—which motivated Paul to write his first letter to Timothy—was an early kind of gnostic or syncretistic heresy (cf. 1 Tim. 1:3-7; 2:5; 4:1-4, 7; 6:20; etc). I have also suggested that 1 Timothy 2:13-14 was written to correct some proto-gnostic teachings concerning Adam and Eve.[1]

The ancient gnostic texts found in Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945 show that the biblical Creation accounts were interpreted freely and allegorically. “Gnostics often depicted Eve, or the feminine spiritual power she represented, as the source of spiritual awakening.”[2] Moreover, Eve, as “spirit” was frequently seen as bringing life when united with Adam’s “soul”.

One of my readers wanted more information about these gnostic texts, and wanted to check them for herself. So in this post I provide links to gnostic works which present Eve in a very different light to how the Bible presents her. In these texts, Eve is sometimes described as Adam’s teacher. She is also depicted as superior to Adam, as preceding him, and as giving life to him in some way. Furthermore, unlike 1 Timothy 2:14a, she is rarely, if ever, referred to as a sinner.

The links to these texts, along with a few sample quotes, are provided to show the plausibility that 1 Timothy 2:13-14 was written to correct a faulty, gnostic-like understanding that Eve was created first and that she was neither deceived nor a sinner.

Most of the texts are not long but, if you want to read just the pertinent sentences, I suggest searching the texts using the word “Adam”.  [To search, go to the text online, press and hold Ctrl and then press the letter F key. Then type in the word “Adam” in the field that pops up in the right hand top corner.]

Reading the gnostic texts is one thing, understanding them is another. To help in understanding, it is important to note that “Eve” is equivalent to “Zoe” in Greek, and that both words mean “Life”.[3] Eve, or Zoe, is portrayed in some texts as the daughter or messenger of the divine “Sophia”, considered by gnostics as the feminine hypostasis, or manifestation, of the Godhead. Other gnostic terms are also applied to other “heavenly projections” of Eve, such as “Epinoia” (which, in other contexts, usually means “thought”).

A SELECTION OF GNOSTIC TEXTS

Apocalypse of Adam (50-150) In this work Adam speaks and says that Eve “taught me a word of knowledge of the eternal God.” The text thus refers to Eve as a teacher of theological knowledge.
Online text and commentary.

Thunder, Perfect Mind (100-230) is the ramblings of a woman called “Life” (i.e. Zoe, a.k.a Eve). Unlike what the title suggests, this piece of writing is not conducive or indicative of a perfect mind.

This piece is not especially helpful in discussing the heresy of 1 Timothy 2:12 but merely lends weight to the idea that some early unorthodox Christians had some pretty weird ideas about Eve.
Online text and commentary.

Gospel Of Philip (180-250) is even weirder. This work states that Adam came into being through two virgins, one of whom is Spirit and seems to be Eve.
Online text and commentary.

The Apocryphon of John (120-180) portrays Eve as a teacher of Adam:

And he sent, through his beneficent Spirit and his great mercy, a helper to Adam, luminous Epinoia which comes out of him, who is called “Life” (Zoe). And she assists the whole creature, by toiling with him and by restoring him to his fullness and by teaching him about the descent of his seed (and) by teaching him about the way of ascent, (which is) the way he came down.

In this passage Eve is shown as superior to Adam:

I am the light which exists in the light, I am the remembrance of the Pronoia—that I might enter into the midst of darkness and the inside of Hades. And I filled my face with the light of the completion of their aeon. And I entered into the midst of their prison, which is the prison of the body. And I said, ‘He who hears, let him get up from the deep sleep.’ And he wept and shed tears. Bitter tears he wiped from himself and he said, ‘Who is it that calls my name, and from where has this hope come to me, while I am in the chains of the prison?’ And I said, ‘I am the Pronoia of the pure light; I am the thinking of the virginal Spirit, who raised you up to the honored place. Arise and remember that it is you who hearkened, and follow your root, which is I, the merciful one, and guard yourself against the angels of poverty and the demons of chaos and all those who ensnare you, and beware of the deep sleep and the enclosure of the inside of Hades.

Stephan A. Hoeller, a gnostic scholar and a gnostic believer, comments on this passage and writes,

Nowhere is Eve’s superiority and numinous power more evident than in her role as Adam’s awakener. Adam is in a deep sleep, from which Eve’s liberating call arouses him. While the orthodox version has Eve physically emerge from Adam’s body, the Gnostic rendering has the spiritual principle known as Eve emerging from the unconscious depths of the somnolent Adam.[4]

Online text and commentary

Adam and Eve in Ancient Gnostic Literature (1 Timothy 2:13-14)

Image is of the first two pages of the of The Apocryphon of John
from a codex (book) found in Nag Hammadi. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Hypostasis of the Archons (200-300 CE) is an esoteric interpretation of Genesis chapters 1-6. It is a long text and includes several passages about Adam and Eve including the following passage where Adam acknowledges that Eve has given him life:

The rulers took counsel with one another and said, “Come, let us cause a deep sleep to fall upon Adam.” And he slept. – Now the deep sleep that they “caused to fall upon him, and he slept” is Ignorance. – They opened his side like a living woman. And they built up his side with some flesh in place of her, and Adam came to be endowed only with soul. And the spirit-endowed woman came to him and spoke with him, saying, “Arise, Adam.” And when he saw her, he said, “It is you who have given me life; you will be called ‘mother of the living’. – For it is she who is my mother. It is she who is the physician, and the woman, and she who has given birth.

Also, The Hypostatis of the Archons (or The Nature of the Rulers) refers to the serpent as “The Teacher” who is guided by the feminine principle which mystically inhabits it.  The Serpent is portrayed in a somewhat positive manner which is very different to the biblical account where the serpent is cursed by God for bringing about the downfall of Adam and Eve.

This gnostic text is disturbing because of the way it portrays God. Gnostics believe that the Creator is demented and distant; and “the rulers” (archons) in this text (which parallel God in Genesis 1 but with corrupted twists) are described as arrogant, as giving humans a hard time, and even as spiteful.
Online text and commentary.

The Origin of the World (270-330) is difficult to follow and contains the following enigmatic passage about Eve:

When Sophia let fall a droplet of light, it flowed onto the water, and immediately a human being appeared, being androgynous. That droplet she molded first as a female body. Afterwards, using the body she molded it in the likeness of the mother, which had appeared. And he finished it in twelve months. An androgynous human being was produced, whom the Greeks call Hermaphrodites; and whose mother the Hebrews call Eve of Life (Zoe), namely, the female instructor of life. Her offspring is the creature that is lord. Afterwards, the authorities called it “beast”, so that it might lead astray their modelled creatures. The interpretation of “the beast” is “the instructor”. For it was found to be the wisest of all beings.

And this:

Now, Eve is the first virgin, the one who without a husband bore her first offspring. It is she who served as her own midwife. For this reason she is held to have said:

It is I who am the part of my mother; and it is I who am the mother.
It is I who am the wife; it is I who am the virgin.
It is I who am pregnant; it is I who am the midwife.
It is I who am the one that comforts pains of travail.
It is my husband who bore me; and it is I who am his mother.
And it is he who is my father and my lord.
It is he who is my force; What he desires, he says with reason.
I am in the process of becoming; yet I have borne a man as lord.

In this passage, Adam (again) claims that Eve has given him life, and that she has preceded him:

After the day of rest, Sophia sent her daughter Zoe, being called Eve, as an instructor, in order that she might make Adam, who had no soul, arise, so that those whom he should engender might become containers of light. When Eve saw her male counterpart prostrate, she had pity upon him, and she said, “Adam! Become alive! Arise upon the earth!” Immediately her word became accomplished fact. For Adam, having arisen, suddenly opened his eyes. When he saw her, he said, “You shall be called ‘Mother of the Living’. For it is you who have given me life.”

Online text and commentary.

PROTO-GNOSTICISM IN THE EPHESIAN CHURCH

Most, if not all, of these gnostic writings were penned after First Timothy was written. However some of these heretical ideas were, most likely, circulating for years before they were written down. Some of these ideas may have shared similarities with the heresy at Ephesus.

There is no doubt that a form of gnosticism, or syncretism, was a problem in the Ephesian church. Cerinthus was a well-known proto-gnostic teacher who had come to Ephesus from Alexandria some time in the later half of the first century.[5] Like his compatriot Philo of Alexandria, Cerinthus favoured allegorical interpretations of Old Testament scripture; yet we do not know what Cerinthus thought or taught about Adam and Eve.

Revelation 2:6 mentions that there was a heretical sect known as the Nicolaitans in Ephesus, but we know little about this relatively short-lived group. It is within First Timothy itself that there are the strongest clues about the nature of the proto-gnostic or syncretistic heresy (1 Tim. 1:3-7; 2:5; 4:1-4, 7; 6:20). Moreover, it is these clues that led men such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Eusebius to link First Timothy with the gnosticism they knew.[6]

Unlike the gnostics, Paul gives a brief and straightforward summary of the biblical account in Genesis 2 and 3, albeit leaving out the bit that Adam was also a sinner.

For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 1 Timothy 2:13-14 (Italics added.)

Paul may have written this to correct the false notion, evident on some gnostic writings, that Eve was created first and then Adam, and that Adam was the (only) one deceived and  a sinner.

IS 1 TIMOTHY 2:13-14 A REASON OR REFUTATION?

A lot is riding on how we understand the Greek word gar, which is translated as “for” in most English translations of 1 Timothy 2:13. This small Greek word occurs over one thousand times in the New Testament and is used in a variety of ways. It is often used to give the reason for a preceding statement or command, and this is how many have understood it in verse 13. But gar can also be used to introduce extra information related to the preceding statement, though sometimes it is not immediately apparent how this extra information relates to the preceding verse. (More on gar and 1 Timothy 2:13 here.)

There are several instances in the Acts of the Apostles where gar introduces a new thought or new information that is only indirectly or parenthetically related to previous verses (e.g. Acts 15:20-21). In John 4:44 there is a similar use of gar, in that the information in verse 44 does not seem to be directly related to verses 43 and 45. The NIV translates gar as “now” in John 4:44, which fits the context rather well. “Now”, rather than “for” could be a good translation of gar in 1 Tim. 2:13. The NRSV places John 4:44 within brackets. If 1 Timothy 2:13 began with the word “now” in English translations, or if verses 13-14 were placed within parentheses, perhaps we would have a better appreciation of Paul’s true intent in these verses.

The fact that Adam was created first is not a logical reason to prohibit women from leadership, especially as many godly women were leaders in Bible times, including some of Paul’s female coworkers. And the fact that Eve was momentarily deceived is not a reason to permanently prohibit all other women from teaching. The Bible nowhere states that women are more easily deceived than men. In fact, the biblical narratives sometimes show men deceiving and being deceived (e.g. Gen. 31:20, 27; Judg. 16:10, 13, 15; 1 Sam 28:12; see also Rom. 7:11; etc).

To use 1 Timothy 2:13-14 as a reason to ban women from leadership and teaching does not stand up to either logic or biblical precedents. So, I suggest that Paul’s statements in 1 Timothy 2:13-14 must be something other than his reason for not allowing a woman to teach or dominate (authentein) a man.[7]


Endnotes

[1] “Modern scholars apply the term Gnosticism to a variety of religious movements which developed in the Mediterranean world during the same historical period in which Christianity formed.” Laura Hobgood-Oster, “Another Eve: A Case Study in the Earliest Manifestations of Christian Esotericism”, Esoterica Vol. I (1999) 49. Many modern scholars, however, are reticent about calling syncretistic religious ideas and movements before the second century AD gnosticism.

[2] Elaine Pagels, Eve and the Serpent (New York: Vintage Books, 1989) 68.

[3] The Septuagint (the Greek New Testament) has “Zoe” in Genesis 3:20, but “Eva” in Genesis 4:1.

[4] Stephan A. Hoeller, The Genesis Factor, published in Quest, September 1997. Available online at The Gnosis Archive here.

[5] According to Ernest Renan, Cerinthus was “considered to be the bitter opponent of Paul.” “Chapter XVIII Ephesus—The Old Age of John—Cerinthus—Docetism”, History of the Origins of Christianity. Book V. The Gospels, 219. (Source) It is more certain, however, that Cerinthus was an opponent of John who, in later life, lived in Ephesus. John may have had Cerinthus in mind when he wrote 1 John 2:22-23.
There is a much repeated story that John ran out of a bath-house in Ephesus when he discovered Cerinthus was inside. John ran out yelling, “Let’s get out of here in case the bath-house falls down for Cerinthus the enemy of truth is inside.” Ireneaus, Against Heresies, 3.3.4.

[6] See the section entitled Evidence of Gnosticism in 1 Timothy, and the corresponding endnotes 7, 8, and 9, here.

[7] Albert Wolters writes,

. . . the word authentēs played a prominent role in Gnosticism; for example it was the name of the supreme deity in the systems of the early Gnostics Cerinthus and Saturninus (first and second centuries AD).
“A Semantic Study of Authentēs and its Derivatives” in the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 1/11 (Spring 2006) 50. This paper can be viewed here.

Authentēs is typically translated into English as “supreme power” in works by Early Church Fathers who addressed Christian Gnosticism. I suggest that authentein (usually translated as to have authority over” in 1 Timothy 2:12 does not refer to a usual kind of authority, but may allude to some heretical practice of Proto-Gnostics in the Ephesian church.


Related Articles

1 Timothy 2:12 in Context
The Consensus and Context of 1 Timothy 2:12
Kephalē and Proto-Gnosticism
Gnosticism: The Deep Things of Satan
What must a women do to be saved? (1 Timothy 2:15)
Questions about how to interpret and implement 1 Timothy 2:12
Women, Eve, and Deception

Posted March 9th, 2015 . Categories/Tags: Church History, Equality and Gender Issues, Gender in Genesis 1-3, The "Difficult" Passages, , , , ,

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17 comments on “Adam and Eve in Ancient Gnostic Literature (cf 1 Tim. 2:13-14)

  1. […] [6] 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. […]

  2. Cassandra Wright says:

    I am truly convinced that Paul was writing against Gnosticism in his letters to Timothy. When we also consider that odd word in I Tim 2 about “authority,” it works out better with the idea of “usurping” that simply having it. I can really picture these Gnostic women coming in and trying to take over, “correcting” the preaching of the Christians. That ties together much better. Of no one should usurp someone else’s authority, but this was a personal letter about a specific topic.

    Gnostic thought also helps with that confusing verse at the end of I Tim 2 about a woman or women being safe in childbirth. Since material things were seen as evil to gnostics, it was evil to create a child. Perhaps the verse is really teaching that a new Christian woman giving birth was not evil and she would not be punished or her soul harmed.

    SO much we don’t understand. Yet people act like those verses are perfectly clear and make eternal rules out of them. How presumptuous.

    • Marg says:

      Irenaeus, Tertullian, Eusebius and others also believed that the heresy addressed in 1 Timothy was some kind of Gnosticism. And, I agree, Gnosticism helps to make sense of 1 Tim 2:15.

      The English translations make it sound straightforward, but the Greek raises some perplexing issues, including the word authentein, which despite appearances is not etymologically related to the word “authority”, and may mean something entirely different in 2:12 (considering how the cognate nouns are used.)

      For an explanation that strains credulity, here’s John Piper’s take on 1 Tim 2:12 which he provides when answering the question, “Can a Woman Preach If Elders Affirm It?” His answer is “no”.

  3. Donald Johnson says:

    Good info.

    I believe there is merit in Bruce Fleming’s take on 1 Tim that Paul is doing a triple mapping of himself when deceived (before Damascus road) to Eve with the serpent to some woman or some small group of women at Ephesus with the idea that the solution to address being deceived is to be taught the truth, ala the imperative (command) in 1 Tim 2:11 which does not seem like a command in English.

    The point is that there was some sort of false teaching that implied getting gnosis/knowledge of some sort. And Gnostic teaching certainly fits the bill.

  4. […] Adam and Eve in Gnostic Literature […]

  5. judy says:

    To all here, you will find another article stating much the same information halfway down the page at

    http://godswordtowomen.org/fees.htm

    By Don Rousu from Alberta Canada, it corroborates much of the teaching here…and ends with a paraphrase of 1 Tim 2:11-14.

    If he and this writer are correct, we have wasted the lives of multiplied thousands of women with our determination to avoid higher learning and context in many churches.

    I would like to add that so many men have been deceived throughout history, namely leading a multitude of false cults, that to accept females as solely deceived is nonsense.

  6. Very interesting. I assumed that Paul was refererring a cult of Artemis where taught that women were descendants of the Amazon tribe and women’s superiority where Eve was created first and women would be saved in childbirth from Artemis the fertility goddess. I wasn’t even aware of the Gnostic teachings but that was fasinating. Great post once again.

    • Marg says:

      I’m pretty sure that Artemis was making her presence felt in some way in the Ephesian church, but there is much more evidence which directly connects the Ephesian church with the heresy of Proto-Gnosticism.

  7. […] Adam and Eve in Gnostic Literature and 1 Timothy 2:13-14 […]

  8. […] Many Gnostics were fascinated by the Genesis accounts of the Creation and the Fall, and Adam and Eve, because of the myth-like elements of a talking snake and trees with special properties, etc. Several Gnostic texts found in Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945 show that the biblical Creation accounts were interpreted very freely and allegorically, to say the least. “Gnostics often depicted Eve – or the feminine spiritual power she represented – as the source of spiritual awakening.”[11] Eve was frequently seen as “spirit” and Adam as “soul”, and Eve, as “spirit”, brought life to Adam when united with his “soul”. […]

  9. […] I suggest that Paul was using the teaching of Genesis 2:21-24 to correct a few of the false teachings circulating at Ephesus. These false teachings were that the Gnostic Eve was created first and then Adam; and that it was Adam who had been deceived. Paul corrects this with: “For it was Adam who was formed first and then Eve, and it was not Adam who was deceived but Eve . . .” […]

  10. […] Another interesting fact about 1 Timothy is that the myths and endless genealogies circulating in Ephesus included the idea that Eve was created before Adam and was superior to him. (Read this post for other facts about Ephesus and goddess worship and this one for detailed explanation of gnostic teachings about Adam and Eve.) It is likely that Paul was writing to correct false notions that were circulating rather than suggesting that Eve’s deception should be the basis for banning women from teaching. This cultural context also helps us understand Paul’s mention of the creation order in verses 13 and 14[…]

  11. […] There were many myths circulating in the Greco-Roman world about the creation of particular men and women, and the creation of men and women in general. Hesiod’s Theogony, which was popular among the pagan population, states that the origin of woman was independent of man. Unlike the Genesis accounts, this view myth denied that men and women were compatible and equal. A very different Greek myth was that the goddess Athena was miraculously “born”, or generated, as a fully formed adult woman from the head (kephalē) of Zeus. This myth, and a few others like it, show that the Greeks saw the head (kephalē) as being some sort of a source of life. Still other myths, circulated by Gnostics, and which seem to have been causing problems in the Ephesian church, told the story that Eve was created first and that Adam was the one deceived. […]

  12. Krysta says:

    This is amazing!! I was just reading in Kostenberger’s “Women in the Church” and he talks about how Artemis isn’t directly mentioned or even implied in the Pastoral Epistles. We can’t determine how much that cult affected the church but I found it interesting to learn about the early church’s struggle with gnosticism! Now we have TWO possible sources of influence that required Paul’s correction of their skewed creation account in 1 Timothy 2:13-14! Fascinating! My husband poo-pooed my idea that Paul was correcting false teaching there and NOT giving a permanent reason for his prohibition rooted in creation order! But gnosticism fits the bill, even when it comes to women being fearful of bearing children! It makes so much sense to me! I really had no idea what gnosticism was or that it had infiltrated the church much less that they believed that Eve was superior to Adam! Amazing! I was researching it and Google suggested you Marg! I was like, “Yes! A source I can trust!”! Thanks Marg!

  13. […] Adam and Eve in Ancient Gnostic Literature […]

  14. Jean says:

    This is really fascinating. I consider myself fairly well read, but I didn’t know these early gnostic texts existed, much less were prominent. Your explanation makes a whole lot more sense than the universal prohibition that is preached in many conservative/reformed circles. Thanks for the food for thought!

  15. […] I strongly suspect Paul did not mention the created order as a reason for his prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12, but was giving additional information. (Time permitting, I hope to write a post on 1 Timothy 2:14 where I’ll explain what I think verses 13-14 address, but I’ve already had a go at explaining it here and here.) […]

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