Demonic Doctrines

1 Timothy 1:3-7, 4:1-5, 6:3-5

(c) Copyright 2005 Rev. Bill Versteeg

This morning we are going to be reading from Paul’s first letter to Timothy, chapters 1,4,6, and as we read, I hope you will notice the reoccurring theme that is on Paul’s mind as he gives to Timothy instruction.

1 Timothy 1:3-7
As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer 4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work—which is by faith. 5 The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. 7 They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

1 Timothy 4:1-5
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 3 They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving (the reason for prayer around meals) by those who believe and who know the truth. 4 For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

1 Timothy 6:3-5
If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4 he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions 5 and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.

Paul repeatedly gives Timothy instruction about certain individuals who were teaching false doctrines, getting involved in myths and endless genealogies, following deceiving spirits, doctrines taught by demons, meaningless talk, quarrelling about words, using godliness for financial gain. These instructions are as meaningful today as they were 2000 years ago. My objective this morning is to give you an understanding why these old instruction still apply.

Paul was giving these instructions to Timothy in response to a religious movement called Gnosticism. Gnosticism was a philosophical and religious movement that believed that salvation and a sense of divinity was accomplished by knowledge. We actually get our verb “to know” from the Greek word gnosis and if you have ever wonder why know is spelled so strangely, it is because the Greek letter G is hidden in the know of the “k” of knowledge. Literally Gnosticism means good knowledge or to be good at knowing.

Gnosticism had the following characteristics.

1. Gnosticism, which started some time before Christianity,  probably about 400 BC, 2. focused on esoteric and secret mystical knowledge. It involved speculations and sometimes simply contradictory talk, meaningless talk. For example, the Gnostic document called the Gospel of Thomas says that a women will be saved when she becomes a man.
3. Gnosticism was Pantheistic - it believed that on a certain level everything was God, but that creation or material existence was the very lowest expression of God. Because matter was essentially negative, almost evil, Gnosticism would forbid sex, it would forbid marriage, it would talk about abstaining from certain foods because these had to do with flesh and matter and were less godly. For the same reason, anyone pertaining to be from God could not be human.
4. Gnosticism liked to speculate about the feminine goddess dynamic or the Sophia dynamic of god and had all kinds of speculation about how reality came to be by illegitimate relations between the god and a feminine being.
5. Gnosticism was profoundly syncretistic. Gnosticism did not simply adopt beliefs from other religions, but redefined beliefs and words from other religions to fit the Gnostic religious system. As Paul says, they would quarrel over the meaning of words.

Paul gives to Timothy strong instruction to stand against those who were promoting this pagan religious system called Gnosticism among Christians.

Today, that old old religion called Gnosticism is once again rearing its head, trying to rise to the surface, and in the last while it is having some very significant success.

Many have called New Age theology basically the Gnosticism of today. After all, when we think about it, New Age thought tends toward mystical esoteric knowledge, celebrates god as a women, tends toward pantheism where everything including you and I are gods and it is profound syncretistic. All you have to do is read books like “Touched by the light” to recognize that Christian language is being used by New Age teachers to trick Christians into believing the New Age thought is basically Christian.  I am sure that many of us have watched the show “Touched by an Angel.” Some of us might even think it is a Christian show. And though the show sounds Christian and it borrows our language, how often has it communicated that the deepest human problem is our sin and rebellion against God, and the solution is forgiveness and reconciliation through the death and resurrection of Christ? Touched by and Angel usually communicates that what we really need is more knowledge. It is New Age Gnosticism.  We talk about being born again - and by it we mean that God gives us his Spirit by which we receive a new nature that wants to obey him. New Agers talk about being born again - but by that they mean reincarnation.

But Gnosticism is rearing its head in even more blatant ways. Two ways that I want to highlight this morning. The first is through the book and in a few weeks the movie “da Vinci’s code” by author Dan Brown. You may have noticed that he has been in the news lately because he was sued by other others for stealing their work. In the past I have felt that the historical research in the book is so crappy that it was not worthy of a sermon addressing it. Now however, even the National Geographic has come out with the find “The Gospel of Judas” and it is making a big splash, so I am going to spend a few minutes this morning looking at this book/movie and looking at the gospel of Judas.

At the heart of the da Vinci Code is a conspiracy claim that the council of Nicea, because of political pressure by Emperor Constantine, made Christ equal to God, hiding his marriage with Mary Magdalene (the feminine principle), hiding that he had offspring (an endless genealogy) who were his real continuing presence in this world, hiding the fact that Jesus did die and that was the end of it. And they did this all to maintain their male power and leadership in the church. And this is a secret that has been kept for centuries, now exposed through Dan Brown’s novel. Dan is making his millions off of this “secret knowledge.”
I think there are two reasons why Dan’s book and soon the movie is doing so well. And its not because the book is good, or historically accurate or insightful. The reason why it is doing well is because he is charging that the church has throughout the ages repressed women, but even more than that, he has grasped a very postmodern theme that suggests that it is the conquerors who write history. And since the orthodox church won the battle at the council of Nicea, the orthodox church mixed with Roman power rewrote what Christ was all about.

National Geographic Magazine and “the Gospel of Judas” 

National Geographic Magazine has promoted “the Gospel of Judas” as a document that will shake the foundational Christian understandings of Jesus and Judas and their relationship. It basically suggests that Jesus convinced Judas to betray him so that Judas might have a better placement in heaven. They call it a Gnostic Christian document, I suggest to you that it is not Christian at all.

Let me for a few minute survey early Christian history with you, as I do, I suspect that you will get a sense of the problems that both the da Vinci Code and the National Geographic’s approach to the Gospel of Judas arise.

You will notice in your bulletins a handout that has way to much information on it. You are welcome to take it home and study it. For the purposes of this message I invite you to look at the table with the listing of the New Testament books. The historical picture will come in simplified form on the overhead. (Click on the image to see a clearer version)

Click to see a clearer image

To begin with, Gnosticism started, as far as historians can tell at least a few hundred years before Christ. It is not a Christian religion and it was not part of Christianity. Both the da Vinci’s Code and the NG regarding the gospel of Judas assume that Gnosticism was part of Christianity.  In truth, they were not the same religion at all and that will be demonstrated in the survey I will cover.

An early history of Christianity goes something like this.
There was a Jewish man named Jesus whose teaching shocked people with it profoundness and authority, who claimed he was the Son of God, equal with God and demonstrated his claims through various signs and wonders. He choose for himself 12 disciples who for three years followed him day in day out, listening to his teaching, and learning his character and voice. This Jesus told them that he would die for the sins of the world, but would rise again on the third day. They would not accept that teaching and so when it happened, they were all shocked, but their shock turned to Joy when they witness his resurrection, and not only the disciples but hundreds saw him after he arose from the dead. As he ascended into heaven, he commanded them to tell the world what happened.

These disciples started preaching, the church grew, soon persecution arose and Christians were scattered throughout the Roman Empire. Already, by Acts chapter 15, the church had to deal with theological controversies - this time Jews who were proclaiming that Gentile Christians in order to be truly saved must adhere to all the Old Testament Jewish regulations. Paul, in the passage that we read at the beginning of this message was preaching against certain individuals who were distorting Christian truths and arguing about words - from what we know of this passage - Paul was already combating the attempts of Gnosticism to co-opt Christian language and reinterpret the Christian faith.

 A Roman Historian named Josephus records in his secular history record (he was not a Christian) the story of this man named Jesus and the development of this amazing religious movement that claimed he arose from the dead.

The disciples continued preaching and like Jesus. As these first disciples got older, they saw the need to right down the public historical record of Jesus, his teachings and what happened, these readings functioned as the sermons of the early church. The first disciples themselves made disciples.

 And so disciple John discipled Polycarp who in turn discipled Iranaeus. We know from the historical record that Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Ignatius and Iranaeas were all vigorously arguing against the influence of  Gnosticism especially as expressed through Valentinus and the heresies promoted by a rich ship owner named Marcion.

Now if you look at your table, (Click on the following hyperlink to have the table arise in a new window) ( - the development of the New Testament, you will see quickly who approved of what books. Ignatius, the earliest approves of some, Polycarp approves of more recognizing in them the truth that he has learned from John about Jesus. But then this list gets very interesting because we have records of what Marcion and Valentinus thought about the New Testament books. Notice that Marcion rejected most of them because Marcion rejected the God of the Old testament and any book that quoted from the Old Testament was not something that Marcion favoured unless it was changed.

If however you look at what Valentinus approved of (Va) - you will notice that he approved of much of what we call the New Testament and he is approving of some new documents the Gospel of Truth and the preaching of peter. Gnosticism was syncretistic. It wanted to combine and overtake the Christian faith by using Christian language and so it adopted the Christian faith, but changed the meanings of the stories.

By this time, we know from history that Tertullian and Iranaeus, Polycarp and Justin Martry were all fighting against Gnosticism. In fact the apostles creed which we regularly confess in this church was written somewhere around 150 AD - its basic statements were designed to combat Gnosticism - when it confesses that Jesus died and arose again, it is fight Gnosticism and other heresies which suggested that he never really died, it just seemed like it. When it confesses a holy catholic church, a church out in the open for all to see, it is counter acting the secret of Gnosticism, when it confesses the forgiveness of sins, it is countering Gnosticism which said that sins were not the issue, lack of knowledge was.

More false teaching came along - Arius taught that Christ was not equal with God.  Athanasius defended that Jesus was both complete God and complete human. And so we confess the Athenasian Creed.

What I invite you to notice is that by the time of Athenasius (A) on your table, the church had already decided what was reliable New Testament public witness to Christ and his followers, and what was not reliable, what they regarded as heretical or not worthy of mentioning. (Slide 9 Animation 12) The council at Nicea simply adopted what was already practice in the early church. The decision of Nicea that said in terms of confession that Christ was both human and divine had nothing to do with politics or emperor Constantine or an attempt to keep women down. The Nicean confession, which we also confess had everything to do with the churches practice of discerning what was the true faith and what was not from the very beginning.

In the same way, when we hear of the Gospel of Judas as found as promoted by National Geographic, we need to remember that it was a Gnostic Gospel, and just because it has the word gospel attached to it does not make it Christian. The National Geographic Society says this document goes back to 180 AD. A lot of other gnostic documents go back to that time period. It does not make them Christian. They were not written by the apostles, nor was the gospel of Judas written by Judas. Judas was long dead before 180 AD. Not only does the document, which you can read in its entirety on the National Geographic site have a lot of Gnostic speculation in it, the gospel of Judas has to do with secret conversations between Jesus and Judas. How many of you can remember secret conversations your great great grand father had? You can’t. If you remember anything about your great great grandfather, it had to do with very public things about him. The New Testament documents were chosen because they were public witness to Christ in the churches and that is the reason why even today we have some 5000 manuscripts and manuscript fragments of New Testament writings.

This mornings message is simply a warning. Like in Paul’s day, like in the very early church, there are people spreading doctrines taught by demons. When we read the books, when we watch the movies, don’t be deceived by historical and confessional ignorance. Test everything. The confessions were handed down to us so that with awareness, we might evaluate what we see and hear.

Like this picture Remember that if you dive into the waters of deception pass, the likely hood of getting sucked under is high, unless you choose to stand on the solid rock that has been handed down through the ages, the true testimony of Christ.


(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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