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Paul on Science

Facial composite of Saint Paul (* 7-10; † 64-67); created by experts of the Landeskriminalamt of North Rhine-Westphalia using historical sources, proposed by Düsseldorf historian Michael Hesemann; Febrary 2008, LKA NRW Presse- und Öffentlichkeitsarbeit, Düsseldorf, Germany; on request by Túrelio; downloaded from Wikipedia 8 October 2023

Where Science Meets Religion by Trent Dee Stephens, PhD, for the Come Follow Me lesson October 23–29: 1 and 2 Timothy; Titus; Philemon

According to the King James Version of the Bible, Paul said in 1 Timothy 6:20-21, “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: Which some professing have erred concerning the faith…”

The Greek word translated here as “science” is γνώσεως(gnōseōs): to know, knowledge, or wisdom. Gnosis is a word that is quite familiar to us.1 The Oxford Dictionary defines gnosis as: “knowledge of spiritual mysteries.” It is the root of gnostic. So how did gnosis become translated into science? The Oxford Dictionary Word Origin says that “science” comes from Middle English (denoting knowledge): from Old French, from Latin scientia, from scire ‘know’.

The Greek word for science is επιστήμη (epistími), as in epistemology. The Oxford Dictionary defines epistemology as, “the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope. Epistemology is the investigation of what distinguishesjustified belief from opinion.” Therefore, both gnosis and epistimi can be defined as knowledge. Epistemology is what seems to be lacking in our modern anti-science, intellectual laissez-faire era.

What is translated as “science” in the King James Bible for 1 Timothy 6:20 was apparently taken from the Latin Vulgate, which states, “O Timothee depositum custodi devitans profanas vocum novitates et oppositiones falsi nominis scientiae:…” What is gnosis or gnostic in English is also gnosis or gnostic in Latin. Someone writing the Vulgate decided to translate gnōseōs into scientiae rather than leaving it as gnosis.

Jerome’s translation of the Vulgate Old Testament and the Gospels did not include the Acts, the epistles, or Revelation. Those parts of the Vulgate came from the Vetus Latina (Old Latin).2 As Christianity spread across the Roman Empire in the first centuries of the modern era, Latin versions of parts of what would later become the New Testament were produced for people who could not read Greek. Those fragmentary translations, originally made by individual, mostly unidentified Christians for their own use, became known as the Old Latin or Vetus Latina.3

The “science” referred to in 1 Timothy 6:20 should not be equated with modern science. Ellicott says in his Commentary, “Oppositions of science falsely so called.--Rather, of knowledge falsely so called. These ‘oppositions’ have been supposed by some to be a special allusion to some of the Gnostic theories [Gnostic Judaism] of the opposition between the Law and the Gospel, of which peculiar school, later, Marcion was the great teacher. It is hardly likely that any definite Gnostic teaching had as yet been heard in Ephesus, but there is little doubt that the seeds of much of the Gnosticism of the next century were--when St. Paul wrote to Timothy--being then sown in some of the Jewish schools of Ephesus and the neighbouring cities.” The Pulpit Commentary calls this early pre-gnosticism, “an empty philosophy.”4

This is the only place where the word “science” is used in the New Testament. Science is mentioned only once in the Old Testament and that is in Daniel 1:3-4: “And the king spake unto Ashpenaz the master of his eunuchs, that he should bring certain of the children of Israel, and of the king’s seed, and of the princes; Children in whom was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans.”

The phrase in Daniel 1:4 translated as “…wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science…” is derived from חָכְמָ֗ה (ḥāḵ·māh) וְיֹ֤דְעֵי (wə·yō·ḏə·‘ê) מַדָּ֔ע (mad·dā‘) וּמְבִינֵ֣י(ū·mə·ḇî·nê), which would be literally translated as “wisdom, knowledgeable, quick to understand.” 5 The word “science” at the end of that phrase was apparently added during later translations.

The Vulgate for Daniel 1:4 states, “pueros in quibus nulla esset macula decoros forma et eruditos omni sapientia cautos scientia et doctos disciplina et qui possent stare in palatio regis ut doceret eos litteras et linguam Chaldeorum” So the word “scientia” shows up in this phrase, of which “cautos scientia et doctos disciplina” could be translated “cautious in knowledge and learned in discipline.” So the translators of the King James Bible apparently translated “scientia” in the Vulgate as “knowledge” and then threw it back in as “science” at the end just for good measure.

I will start the Fall 2023 series of science/religion discussions on Thursday October 26th. We will meet in the Relief Society room in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at fourth and Fredregill at 6 pm. This Fall’s topic will be “Who is Adam?”

Trent Dee Stephens, PhD


1.; retrieved 9 October 2023

2. Houghton, H. A. G., The Latin New Testament; a Guide to its Early History, Texts and Manuscripts, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, pp. 36, 41, 2016

3.;; retrieved 9 October 2023

4.; retrieved 9 October 2023

5. Ibid

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