Clues in 1 Tim 2:1-11 that Paul has Gnostic Beliefs in Mind

At the beginning of chapter 2, there is a call for prayer to be made on behalf of all people, and specifically, “for kings and for all those who are in authority” (remember that Gnostic thought promoted rebellion). Paul is calling for members of the Ephesian church to be responsible and loyal citizens of the state, and lead peaceable and quiet lives (the opposite of the disruption reflected in chapter 1 arising because of the false teachers). Such lives are “good and acceptable before God our Savior who desires everyone to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (2:3-4), over against the false knowledge of the Gnostics.

Then Paul turns to an important doctrinal issue: there is only one God (2:5). This is important because Ephesus was a city characterized by a paganism that had many gods. Gnostic thought teemed with celestial beings who were arranged into hundreds of ranks, and in many Gnostic systems, the Jewish God, the creator of the world, is not the highest diety, but rather, is considered a craftsman who made the universe. Paul’s claim in 2:5 that there is only one God refutes this idea.

Paul also stresses in verse 5 that there is only one mediator. This is also important because the paganism of Ephesus had many mediators standing between the gods and humans. Further, these mediators were often women, functioning as priestesses and mouthpieces of the gods. Roman satirist Juvenal even speaks of a Jewish woman who was “a mediator of highest heaven, the interpreter of Jerusalem’s laws.” She purported to be “the high priestess of the tree” (of knowledge), suggesting she had Gnostic leanings.

Gnosticism placed an especially great emphasis upon the role of the female mediator. In their writings, Mary of Bethany, Mariamne (sister of the apostle James), Philoumene, Sophia, and Eve all served as mediators of truth. Paul’s claim in verse 5 that Jesus is the only mediator combats the idea that women were necessary in the communication of ultimate truth and that they had a monopoly on divine enlightenment.

In verse 8, Paul turns to instructions on how men are to pray, and as v. 9 begins with “Likewise also the women. . .” it appears the following instructions to women are related to how they are to pray: with “modesty and good sense.” Regarding their appearance while praying, they should not have braids (which were considered by at least some in that culture as seductive), nor should they wear gold, pearls, and costly clothing (frequently considered a sign of promiscuity in the ancient world).

Paul then says, “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission” (v. 11). The reference to “learn” indicates that Paul believed women were to be well taught in the Word, an enlightened stance since this was not ordinarily the practice in Jewish tradition. The reference to learning “in silence” simply reflects the duty of the Jewish learner (even the rabbinic scholar was required to learn in silence). Further, the phrase “silence and submission” is a Near Eastern formula implying a willingness to heed and obey instruction (in this case, that contained in the Word of God). Thus, 1 Tim 2:11 asks women to learn with an attitude of receptivity.

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