Additional Note on the Heresy Combated in the Pastoral Epistles

The form of heresy presented to us in the Pastoral Epistles has been much canvassed. Some have recognised in it a Judaism of the extreme Pharisaic type. To others, it has appeared in the directly opposed form of strictly Gentile Gnosis. Some again have traced one form of error in this group of Epistles, while others have discovered as many as four distinct heresies.

It will be necessary to start from a careful examination of the passages in which the false doctrine is alluded to. From the results thus obtained, with the light thrown by the false teaching combated in the Epistle to the Colossians and by the form of heresy known to have prevailed in the age which followed upon the Apostles, we are enabled to draw a tolerably vivid and consistent portrait of this branch of false doctrine.

From the Pastoral Epistles themselves these five characteristics of the heresy are elicited :—

(1) It was Jewish in its origin, promulgated chiefly by converts from Judaism and maintaining the observance of the law as a fundamental tenet.

Cf. 1 Tim. i. 7, 8 flt'Aovrts eivoi Vo/aosiooo-koaoi K.t.a., Tit. i. 10 turtv yap roAAoi dwirdraKTOi, /xartuoAoyot xat <f>ptvard.Tai, puxkurra ol {k r>Js TrepiTo/x^s, 14 firj irpoci^ovrt^ "iou&ukois fivdois Kal tvroAals dvOpujirujv, iii. 9 fjuopa.% hi (ijnprnf Kal ytvtakoyCas Kal ipiv ni pa^af vofiu(ds ripiixrraao.

(2) It vaunted a superior knowledge (yv<oo-«) and busied itself in idle speculations. Under this head the three points, on which we may fix attention, are (a) its foolish and profane disputations and combats of words, (6) fables, (c) genealogies.

Cf. 1 Tim. i. 4 wpo<ri^tiv pnOoK Kal ywsaAgyfms drtpdvrois amvts iK{i^ri7<rets rrape^ovai fiaXXov rj outovofitav Otav rrjv iv irCarti, 6 i£erpdmjaav eis fiaraiokoyiav, iv. 7 Tovs /Jt^SijAovs <ttu ypcuiSttf firf$ovs, vi. 4 vtKr&v rtpl trjnqo-tit ital \oyofia\lai, 20, 21 hcrptwofityot rds ySt^jjXous Ktvo^xaviat Kal avrif)i<Tii% r^s yptv&avvfiov yvwrtws K.t.k., 2 Tim. ii. 14 firj \oyofia^tiv fr' ovStv xpij<rifi.ov, 16 rds fitpykum Ktv<xpav{as, 23 futpat Kal mnuMvrovt forfarus, iv. 4 dn-6 fiiv njs aArjOtias rqv autorjv droarpixf/owTtv irl 8i Tovs fivOovs /KTpamjowrat, and Tit. iii. 9 already quoted. Tt would seem that in some cases at least this speculation assumed the form of denying the resurrection of the dead (2 Tim. ii.


(3) Its adherents practised mysterious or magical rites. They are spoken of as wizards.

Cf. 2 Tim. iii. 13 irovripoi avOpanroi K<u yorjrK, to which perhaps we may refer 1 Tim. iv. 1 irptxrt^oiTes irveufuitri irXavois nal SiSao-KaAicu? Saifiovimv.

(4) There was a strongly ascetic tendency in their teaching. Marriage was forbidden, and they distinguished between meats clean and unclean.

Cf. 1 Tim. iv. 3 KwXvoiraji' yapuiv, airc\€o-dcu. /3pu>p.artav, 8 rj <r<i>furrun/ yvp-vao-la irpds o\lyov toriv uxptkipMS, Tit. i. 15 7ravra KaBapa rots KaOapoii K.t.\.

(5) In character they were corrupt, deceitful and selfseefcing. Cf. 1 Tim. iv. 2 KiKavo-rr)<itv rfjv ISlav Ctwtist/o-iv, vi. 5

Swiiraparpifial 8it<f>Oapp.tvo)V avOpunrtav rbv vovv rat d.irio-rtprjp.ivtov rip dXr/Ofias, vop.i£6vrwv iropurphv tlvai rrjv cvo-if3iiay, 2 Tim. iii. 6, 8 iv8vvovr€S eis rds ootias...av^«rTavrai rjj dXrjdtCa dvdputiroi K<rrt<pOapfJiCVOi Tov vovv, a8oKip.ot Tripl rrjv irtoriy, iv. 3 Kara Tas iSias iiri&vp-ias iaarrois itnatDpevo-ova-iv StSaoWXovs Ki-rjOuptvot rrjv duorjv, Tit. i. 16 Star 6pu>\oyovo-Lr eiSeVat, Tois Si tpyois dpvovvrax, /3SeXvKTol Sires Ko! <£jr«Otis Ko.1 trpo's Tr5.v ipyov dyaOov dSdKip-oi.

In this enumeration I have made two assumptions. First, that all the passages refer to one and the same heresy. Now there is nothing in the Epistles themselves from which to infer that distinct forms were contemplated. The characteristic elements, which I have elicited, do not refuse to combine, and, strange as the resulting compound may appear to modern habits of thought, it was in one guise or another a common phenomenon when Oriental mysticism and Greek thought came in contact for the first time with the ordinances of the law and the spiritual truths of the Gospel. On the other hand, it would be anticipating history to regard the heresy as having assumed a definite creed or a distinct organisation. Floating speculation, vague theories, coalescing gradually to a greater consistency and tending more or less in one direction—this, and not more than this, we are at liberty to assume at the date of the Pastoral Epistles. Indeed the phenomena do not justify more.

Secondly, I have drawn my deductions not less from the prophetical warnings than from the historical statements. Whoever will read these predictions in connexion with their context will see that they are but a declaration of the inevitable consequences to which the spiritual insight of the Apostle foresaw the irregularities of the present would lead, that in fact these irregularities were in themselves the beginning of the end.

Now, combining these features together, we obtain a portrait of an early phase of Jewish Gnosticism, very similar in character to, but more advanced and definite than, that which appears in the Epistles to the Colossians and Ephesians. The later date appears in the directions for dealing with the heretics, pointing to them as recognisable enemies to be treated as such (e.g. Tit. iii. 10 alperutdv avOpwirov... trapairov).

On a previous occasion' I devoted some time to the study of the origin and character of Gnosticism; it will therefore suffice to recapitulate as briefly as possible some of the most important points arrived at, as serving to explain the allusions in the Pastoral Epistles. The three notes of Gnosticism were found to be (1) its intellectual exclusiveness; (2) certain speculative tenets chiefly relating to the creation of the world and the existence of evil, creation being accounted for by the doctrine of emanations, the existence of evil by postulating matter as an antagonistic principle independent of God; (3) as a practical consequence of these speculations, a twofold and divergent result upon the ethical systems of their advocates, either rigid asceticism, or unrestrained licence. I proceeded to point out distinct traces of all these three characteristics of Gnosticism in the heresy portrayed in the Epistle to the Colossians. St Paul is there confronting false opinion itself; he argues against it directly, and opposes to it the truths of the Gospel. Consequently from that Epistle we get a fuller conception of its general principles and bearing. Here the case is different. St Paul is writing to a friend, and instructing him to deal practically with the question. No lengthy exposition is necessary, nor would such be in place. It is from a single word here and there—a descriptive epithet or attribute—that we gather the character of the heresy in the Pastoral Epistles. But these notes are significant enough when we get the key to their interpretation; and with the light of the Colossian Epistle thrown on the previous era and the light of the heresiologists on the succeeding, we are at no loss to elucidate the intermediate stage in the progress of the error. The heresy in both cases has its root on the same ground, in Asia Minor, the fittest meeting-point of Oriental mysticism, of Greek thought, of Judaism, and of Christianity.

1 See Colossians, p. 73 sq., esp. pp. 76—80.

It is evidently the same in most of its features, though, as was natural, in the earlier Epistle the picture given us is fuller, the canvas broader, but on the other hand, the individual features of the landscape are less clearly marked.

1. With respect to the esoteric spirit, the intellectualism of Gnosticism.

The phase of heresy in the Pastoral Epistles is an advance on that exhibited in the Colossians. 'Knowledge' is in the Colossian Epistle a favourite word with the false teachers, a word constantly on their lips; but it has not yet become the watchword of the sect. In these later Epistles, we find it as a distinct title, adopted by them and vaunted as peculiarly their own (1 Tim. vL 20 Tt/s ^<v&»vvfixni yv<oo-€<im). We may compare also the antithesis between knowledge and faith implied in 1 Tim. i. 4 airivts ejtfonjo-as irapiX<nxn /xaWov rj oiKovopiav Otov rrjv Iv trurru. Perhaps the emphatic declaration of the universality of the Gospel (1 Tim. ii. 4-6) is a protest against this intellectual aristocracy in religion. From this intellectualism arose those questionings, vain-talkings and combats ,of words, which the Apostle so frequently and so severely rebukes.

2. Again, in the speculative theories which characterize the Gnostic system—especially as regards the doctrine of emanations— we have an advance upon the yiw« of the Colossian Epistle. There the emanation of angels, the mediation of superior essences, appears in a vague, shadowy form (Col. ii. 18 dprjo-Ktia T&v dyyiXmtv). Here it has assumed a definite shape. The 'genealogies' are mentioned twice over (1 Tim. i. 4, Tit. ill. 9), in the former passage with the epithet 'endless' (anipavroi). The term certainly does not explain itself, but by the light of the later Gnostic systems it becomes clear enough. It refers to the successive generations of aeons, or emanations from the pleroma, which occupy so important a place in the speculations, for instance, of the Ophites and Valentinians. To the Apostle they are but tiresome pedigrees. To the same feature in Gnosticism may be referred the expression 'fables' or 'myths.' No term would better express the manner in which the Gnostics embodied these speculations, representing them in the concrete form of stories, as nobler teachers, like Plato, had done before them. There may be a reference to these false mediators in the emphatic declaration of the one, only mediator in 1 Tim. ii. 5, and perhaps also to the dualistic tendencies of the heresy in the doxology of 1 Tim. i. 17 (novu> 0«3).

These theories respecting the invisible world, proceeding from, or

at least fostered by, a love of the marvellous, found a practical expression in mystic or magical rites, the common refuge of oriental superstition. Hence the Apostle says that these heretics were misled by 'doctrines of devils' (1 Tim. iv. 1), and calls them 'wizards,' 'enchanters' (2 Tim. iii. 13).

3. We saw that in the case of the Colossian heretics the doctrine that matter was the source of evil led to the nobler of the two extremes, a rigid asceticism. In this earlier stage there is no trace of immorality. In the Pastoral Epistles, however, we find that we are on the confines of a new development of Gnostic ethics. It is true the ascetic theory still prevails. This asceticism, as in the case of the Colossians, is partly based on the Mosaic law, partly independent of, and contrary to, the spirit of Judaism. Of the former class is the abstaining from meats (1 Tim. iv. 3), though doubtless it went beyond the Mosaic distinction of meats clean and unclean; of the latter the prohibition of marriage (ib.), a tenet of many of the Gnostic sects. Having debarred themselves from the lawful use of God's creatures under the idea of keeping themselves clean from the contamination of matter, they fell into vices of another kind. Avarice, selfishness and deceit are their prevailing sins (see esp. 1 Tim. vi. 5).

But there are besides this traces, more or less distinct, of the opposite extreme, deduced from the Gnostic principle—a reckless sensuality, an indulgence in profligate habits themselves and a pandering to the vices of others (Tit. i. 16, 2 Tim. iii. 6). The wild and unbridled profligacy of some of the later Gnostic sects is a constant theme of reproach with the writers of the Church. In the Pastoral Epistles we discern only the first beginnings of this tendency, which is spoken of as future rather than present, having hitherto, it seems, manifested itself only in a few.

All the later Gnostic sects were essentially anti-Judaic; but this is not the case with the earlier forms of Gnosis. Arising as it did from an oriental mysticism, it took up its sojourn first in Judaism and Judaic Christendom, with which it came in contact first. But it was only by violent wresting and distortion that the teaching of the Old Testament could be brought into any sort of fellowship with the Gnosis. The fundamental principle of the Old Testament, the immediate and direct control of the supreme Lord over the material world and over the affairs of men, was diametrically opposed to the fundamental principle of Gnosticism, which was dualism in some form or other. The whole spirit of the Mosaic legislation, the high honour in which marriage was held, especially, was a protest equally against the asceticism and the unbridled profligacy of the two extremes of Gnostic practice. Thus Gnosticism soon found that itwas unequally yoked with Judaic Christianity, and betook itself to a more congenial, or at least a less impracticable, companionship in Gentile Christendom. Here at all events it was not fettered by any allegiance to the Mosaic dispensation. So it severed its connexion with the Old Covenant, and assumed a position of direct antagonism to Judaism.

But the earlier forms of Gnosticism are all, or nearly all, Judaic. The uses which it made of Judaism were twofold—both of them abuses.

(1) The narrative of the Old Testament, its antiquity and its supernatural element, yielded a rich harvest for mystic application. The real significance of this narrative, as the history of the progressive dealings of God with man, was entirely lost sight of.

(2) The ordinances, especially with reference to clean and unclean things, were made a starting-point for asceticism. It is needless to say that in this their spirit was entirely misapprehended. They were intended to serve as a disciplinary training. They were perverted into a condemnation of God's creatures.

Speaking then of the heresy of the later Epistles with reference to its position in the Gnostic systems, we may call it Judaic Gnosticism. Speaking of it with reference to its position as a phase of Jewish thought, we may call it Essene Judaism.

Having thus drawn the portrait of this heresy, the infancy of which we trace in the Epistles of the First Roman Captivity, and the early childhood in the Pastoral letters, we are led to enquire whether it corresponds to any form of error of which we have a historical record.

The discovery of the treatise of Hippolytus on heresies has thrown great light on this, as on many other points in early Church History. First in the series of his heresies, before Simon Magus, before Cerinthus, he places the Ophites or Naasenes, so called from the fact that the serpent (o<£is was the symbol of their worship

(Hippol. Refut. v. 6, p. 132 ed. Duncker et Schneid. ol ovv Itptis $au rpofTraxai Tos Boyiiaros ytylvyjrtai rpiurot ol tTTLKk-qOivTc: Noao-OTjvo^ Tj} 'E/8paiSi <f>vtvji Ovtois wvoft-ao-fxivoi' vaas hi 6 o<j>is KaXetrai). His Order is generally chronological, interrupted now and then to keep the same knot of heresies together. "We may therefore assume that the origin of the Ophites was contemporaneous with the Apostles. On the other hand, in the documents of the sect, which he quotes largely, we find citations from the Gospel of St John, and perhaps traces of the influence of Gnostic speculations of the second century. We must not therefore suppose that he presents the original form of the heresy. It is evident that later accretions have gathered about it.

Now as to this heresy we have the following facts from Hippolytus.

(1) It took its rise, or flourished chiefly, in Phrygia. It delighted especially in the Phrygian rites of Cybele (p. 170 iraptSptvouo-t Tois Xeyopevots Mjyrpds p«ydX7/s /iiKm^puus), and Phrygian legends are referred to frequently in the books of the sect (e.g. p. 154 Tovtor SpaKts Kopv/Jaira Ko\ov<ti Kcu. ®pa(;\v oi &pvyts irapairkqaiuis, p. 156 Tovtov $pvy«s jtat Hdirav Kclxovitl, p. 160 ojros Vtto Tu>v <bpvyu>v Kal aKapitos KaAetrai, p. 162 Xiynvai 8i avrdv 4>pirycs Kcu YXotpdy Ot&)qiv

rfOfpiafiivov, etc.).

(2) It was Jewish. The name 'Naasene' indicates this. The Ophites professed to derive their Gnosis from James the Lord's brother (p. 134 Touto Kt<f>d\aia a tpijo-i irapa&t&u>Ktvai Maptdp.iTj T6v 'laKtu/3ov Tou Kvptov Tov dSeAt/xiV). Some of their mystical formulae were derived from the Hebrew of the Old Testament (p. 150 KavXaKau o-avXa<rav £trj<rdp: cf. Is. xxviii. 10).

(3) They called themselves 'Gnostics.' Indeed Hippolytus seems to imply that they were the first to assume that name (see esp. p. 132 ptrd 8i Tavra iirtKaXtaav tavrovs yva><rrotovs tpao-KoiTts poVoi Ta fidOrj yiviLiTKtlV. cf. p. 160 Ol yVWOrlKOl Tt'Xtiot, p. 176 Ttl Kutpvfxfxiva rfjs dyias 68ov yvHiaiv KaXeo-as).

(4) They dealt largely in mystic rites. The mysteries of Osiris (p. 142 1. 11), of the Assyrians (p. 140 L 90), of Samothrace (p. 152 L 80), of Eleusis (p. 146 L 80, p. 162 1. 58), but especially, as remarked before, of the Phrygian Cybele, all contributed their quota to the Ophite system. We may believe that many of these were incorporated at a later date into their system, to give a comprehensiveness and universality to it; and that originally it dealt with the Old Testament chiefly or solely, putting a mystical sense upon it. Thus the Apostle might well refer to them the term yoifres.

(5) As the whole of Hippolytus' account shows, they taught by myths (e.g. p. 134 oOtv avrois Ovtos d ft.vOo%).

(6) They forbad marriage (p. 170 irapayycXXovo-ii' dir«Y«r0ai tus aVoKCKOftyUVOt njs irpds ywauta opiXtas).

(7) They maintained that the resurrection was a spiritual resurrection, i.e. they said in other words that the resurrection was past (p. 158 f£aAovmr<u iK Tiov /xi/ij/mW ol vtKpoi Tovrioriv ix T<3k aaifxaruiv Tiov )(oiKmV dvaytvvrj$(VTH mrtv)uxTiKol ov aapKiKoC, and the whole passage).

(8) Though the genealogies referred to by St Paul are not so distinctly traced in the Ophite system, as painted by Hippolytus, as in later Gnostic sects, still there are evidences of these. Compare especially the hymn, which, as Hippolytus says, contains a summary of all their mysteries (p. 174 vo)xo% Jjv ,ymitos Tov ravros d 7tp<3to5 voos' 6 Si SeuVtpos rjv K.T.K.). And other accounts of the Ophites are very full on this characteristic of the sect (cf. Neander Ch. Hist. iL p. 109 Engl, transl. ed. Torrey).

There is therefore sufficient correspondence between the two systems to enable us to conclude that the heresy combated by St Paul in the Pastoral Epistles was identical with the heresy of the Ophites, or at least partook largely of an Ophite character.