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 previously suggested that 1 Timothy 2:13-14 was written to correct heretical ideas concerning Adam and Eve.[1]

Several texts (discovered in 1945 in Nag Hammadi, Egypt) show that the biblical creation accounts were interpreted freely and allegorically in the first few centuries of the common era. In some of these texts, Eve is depicted as a powerful force while Adam is passive.

One of my readers wanted more information about these 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, or as giving life to him in some way.

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 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 the Greek word “Zoe,” and that both words mean “Life”.[2] 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 applied to other “heavenly projections” of Eve, such as “Epinoia” (a Greek word which, in other contexts, typically means “thought”).

A SELECTION OF GNOSTIC TEXTS

Apocalypse of Adam (c. 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 (c. 100-230)

This text contains 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 lends weight to the idea that some strands of Judaism and early Christianity held to strange ideas about Eve.
Online text and commentary.

Gospel Of Philip (c. 180-250)

This work is even weirder. It 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 (c. 120-180)

This book 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  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.[3]

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 book found in Nag Hammadi. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Hypostasis of the Archons (c. 200-300 CE)

This long text is an esoteric interpretation of Genesis chapters 1-6. It includes several passages about Adam and Eve including the following 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 (c. 270-330)

This work 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

Many 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 little 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 latter half of the first century.[4] 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 heresy at Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3-7; 2:5; 4:1-4, 7; 6:20). These clues led men such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Eusebius to link the heresy in First Timothy with the gnosticism they knew in the second and third centuries.[5]

Unlike the elaborate gnostic stories, Paul gives a succinct and straightforward summary of the biblical account of creation and the Fall, 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 in some gnostic writings, that Eve was created first and then Adam, and that Adam was the one deceived.

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

How we interpret 1 Timothy 2:13-14 is largely dependent 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.

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. (More on gar and 1 Timothy 2:13 here.)

However we interpret gar, the fact remains that Adam being 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. Rather, the biblical narratives 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.[6]


Endnotes

[1] Laura Hobgood-Oster writes, “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.” “Another Eve: A Case Study in the Earliest Manifestations of Christian Esotericism,” Esoterica Vol. I (1999), 49. Most scholars, though, are reticent about applying the label “Gnosticism” to syncretistic religious ideas and movements before the second century AD.

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

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

[4] 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.
Epiphanius, who is not a reliable source of information, claims that Cerinthus was from Asia Minor and began his teaching there. He also claims that Cerinthus was already causing trouble in the mid-first century and that Acts 15:24 refers to him and other Judaisers like him. Panarion Book 1 28. 

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

[6] Albert Wolters writes,

It is noteworthy that the word authentia 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,  and in the gnostic writing Poimandres (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.

The noun authentia is typically translated into English as “supreme power” in works by Early Church Fathers who addressed Christian Gnosticism. The infinitive authentein, sometimes translated as “to have authority over” in 1 Timothy 2:12, does not refer to a usual kind of authority. Is there an allusion to gnosticism in Paul’s use of the word authentein? More on authentein here.


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