Comments and Replies ... and Who We Are

TANATA is devoted to discussing the paradoxes and the mysteries of life, among which is the paradox of the coexistence of good and evil. “God is love,” John tells us. Evil exists, we would suggest, not because God is detached or unconcerned, but because free will exists which is required for true, unforced love to exist. Still, it is painfully hard to reconcile this paradox. We believe that all evil one day will be judged and destroyed, until then we must pray.

DANIEL 7:13-14

13 “I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him.

14 Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.


7 Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.

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Child Of My Faithhood

When I was roughly the age of 5, I began experiencing night terrors with full-blown hallucinations. (When I became an adult and a father, I waited for my two children to have trouble sleeping, assuming all children did; but apart from a few normal nightmares, my kids never went through what I did.) At times one floating spirit after another burst onto my face and passed through me. I could see them even with my eyes closed — so it was in my mind. I’ve struggled to understand why these terrors occurred at all; they would keep me up all night, leaving me and my bedclothes soaked with sweat by morning. I can only presume I was feeling guilt for my molestation at 5. Satan was accusing me of having done a very wrong thing with two female babysitters.

I assumed that it was God I felt tormenting me. The night terrors continued until I reached a night where I was exhausted and absolutely spent worrying about the fearful things I saw and felt. I knew I had reached a limit; I knew I would go insane if nothing changed. Somehow God communicated to my mind that he was not the source of my guilt and shame, anxiety and hallucinations; that He was not tormenting me, but rather Satan was. As soon as I had that thought, I fell happily to sleep after telling myself a brief story about animals going on a picnic, and I never had another night terror. I had God on my side; Satan was powerless against me.

As I look back and look at today and perhaps at what lies ahead, I see a world where there are actually people who believe there is no evil persona opposing God, but that God, if there is one, is both evil and good at the same time. I know this is true, because a very intelligent and learned rabbi once told me that he didn’t believe in a persona that represents evil, i.e. Satan, the devil. He believed evil was a choice that some people just chose to make, without being tempted or coerced by any evil spiritual force behind the scenes, and, presumably not deserving of hell, even if they do evil. It is a very dangerous layout of dominoes, which tells you that you can do what you want without eventually getting caught. While I am not possessing of “the gnosis” or “inner knowledge,” or “Kundalini fire,” or whatever, I do have the simple faith of a child that God is somehow living in and around me, which I don’t understand. God doesn’t make me feel guilty when I do wrong, his pure, loving nature won’t permit Him.

“God is love,” John wrote.

Many Gnostics, and or followers of Kabbalah teachings, believe that the Tree of Life, or Sephirot, accurately portrays a dark universe, with evil being on one side and good on the other, but both of them being part of the same tree. What a license to do wrong Gnosticism could become in the minds of people who actually believe Jesus was trailer-park trash, if he existed at all, kissing the girls and making them cry, having nothing ultimately to do of a redemptive nature. Gnostics also believe in the Demiurge, which is another way of saying “a god of both good and evil.” We should be told and told repeatedly that evil exists because of the free will that must be present for love and good to exist. God is no part evil in any sense — but it makes some people feel better to pull God down below the point where they find themselves in life, cursing him for their lives, believing they have a license even to kill, since God himself kills. But He doesn’t. He has dominion over us and loves us, before and after we die.

What is most remarkable about the Gnostic gospels in the Nag Hammadi Library is how little the authors have to say about Jesus, who should be their unwavering focus, and how much the gospels appear to be unimpressively esoteric and apparently fabricated to the point of being nonsensical. As one of the twelve, Philip, in any piece of writing he might produce, would surely not spend his time babbling in print, as much of the Gnostic Gospel of Philip appears to be, if there were stories to tell about Jesus the person, the miraculous works he did and his ultimate role in redeeming the world. And yet there are those, including scholars, who embrace the Gnostic gospels and the rest of the Nag Hammadi Library, as if the material were on par with the Dead Sea Scrolls, which it is not. They praise the gnosis or inner knowledge the library attempts to purport. But alas, we must believe that those people would have also “seen” the new outfit of the stupid king.

Where should we begin to make our case that the Gnostic gospels, in particular those of Philip, Mary Magdalene and Thomas, are bogus forgeries, which just happen to be written in the Coptic language? And what should we say about where the Nag Hammadi Library was found (under a heap of dung in Nag Hammadi, Egypt), which ought to eliminate the Coptic material as authentic, because we would not expect Egyptians to have the words of Philip, Mary and Thomas, when no one else anywhere else does? How did the Coptic writer come by these materials? Were they first written in the languages of Philip, Mary and Thomas, which would have been aramaic? If they were first penned in aramaic, or some other language besides Coptic, where are the original manuscripts? Are we to believe that Philip, Mary and Thomas traveled to Egypt to give their accounts to the Coptic writer?

And then we have an author who has managed to find a way of making hay by giving credibility to the Gnostic material, which portrays Jesus as a kisser of prostitutes, at best, which would have, had it happened, ruled Jesus and his ministry out in the minds of his closest disciples. But those who praise the library in question are not convinced that Jesus could have been the perfect man the true Gospels claim he was. 

Finally, we have to ask ourselves not what can the Gnostic writings teach us, but what can they tell unless about fraudulent people who were obviously impressed with the New Testament Gospels and couldn’t resist trying their hand at writing something resembling scripture. Forgers are not new; presumably they’ve been around since there has been ink transferred to parchment. What does it say about a person who must, by writing, make such an ugly mark?

“No harm, no foul,” some people might say. What’s wrong with embracing materials which, for one, make Jesus out to be a pretty amorous guy, even where presumed prostitutes are concerned? We forget the story of Jesus and the woman at the well; it is a story that shows the morality and the non-judgmental nature of Jesus, who tells the woman that she has been sleeping around, and is on her fifth “husband” — all so that he may explain to her, in glowing terms, that the salvation of all men was “of the Jews.” He further describes the Father, not in weird or bizarre terms, which we repeatedly find in the Nag Hammadi Library, but in gentle, loving, spiritual terms she can understand. The authority of the New Testament Gospel material is inherent; it doesn’t try to preach any kind of elaborate knowledge, but rather succinctly and matter of factly describes the life and ministry of a carpenter’s son and how that ministry might be applied to every person’s life. 

Looking at the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and comparing them to the Nag Hammadi Library, is like comparing a Grand Piano to a cheap keyboard you can get online for 30 bucks.

… to be continued


John's Gospel Vs. Gnosticism

By Ken Briggs

Gnosticism developed after Jesus lived. Many however feel that perhaps John’s gospel was a Gnostic gospel and perhaps should not have been recorded in the bible. This is a discussion on this argument.

The Gospel of John, written before the major Gnostic writings recovered so far, clearly refutes the dualistic teachings that were giving strength to the Gnostic philosophies of the time by pointing to Jesus being human and yet God, thereby arguing against the spiritualism and the perverted symbology promoted by Gnostics at that time.

Our understanding of Gnosticism at that time comes from some key historical writings such as:

  • ·         Gnostic Fragments in various Patristic Sources, originating from around 130 A.D. to 215 A.D ,
  • ·         Gnostic Acts and Other Classical Texts, originated around 130 A.D. to 250 A.D.
  • ·         Marcion and his writings, originated around 140 A.D.
  • ·         Gospel of Thomas fragments in the Papyrus Oxyrhynchus (Anonymous1994), originated around 150 A.D
  • ·         Texts from the Bruce Codex (Anonymous1892), originated somewhere between 150 A.D. and 200 A.D.
  • ·         Texts from the Askew Codex, originated in the beginning of the 3rd century, such as Pistis Sophia (Sophia Codex 1921)
  • ·         Texts from the Akhmim Codex, originated around 250 A.D to 300 A.D
  • ·         Nag Hammadi Library, originated about 3rd to 4th century.

The basic tenant of Gnosticism is its downfall as described succinctly by Schaff in which he states;

 “It endeavors to harmonize the creation of the material world and the existence of evil with the idea of an absolute God, who is immaterial and perfectly good. This problem can only be solved by the Christian doctrine of redemption.” (Schaff. 1997)

A central perspective of Gnosticism is that the whole universe is created by entities as a result of errors made and that there is much that is wrong with it and that only a few select individuals by finding specific inner knowledge can resolve the situation.

A modern description of this is propounded by Elaine Pagels who says;

“Yet to know oneself, at the deepest level, is simultaneously to know God; this is the secret of gnosis. Another gnostic teacher, Monoimus, says: Abandon the search for God and the creation and other matters of a similar sort. Look for him by taking yourself as the starting point. Learn who it is within you who makes everything his own and says, “My God, my mind, my thought, my soul, my body.” Learn the sources of sorrow:, joy, love, hate … If you carefully investigate these matters you will find him in yourself.” (Pagels. 1979)

  “Gnosis” is used in the Gnostic texts to refer to the inner knowledge. The Gnostics believe that not everyone will be able to gain this ‘knowledge’ or “Gnosis” as it is only available to a special few, the “pneumatics”. Gnosticism also uses the contrast of matter and spirit, where matter is considered evil and spirit good, to try to explain the bigger question of good and evil. There is however a dualism that is introduced regarding good and evil, where good and evil are ultimately considered one once one has achieved that level of knowledge called “gnosis”. The bible never directly refers to Gnostics by that specific word or uses the term “Gnosis”. John while appearing to use some of the words familiar to Gnostics clearly wants to ground the audience in the reality of a physical Christ in his writing. It is rather the Gnostic texts that refer back to the biblical texts, although components of gnosticism predated Jesus’ birth. The Christian perspective of good and evil can be found by the statements in John’s Gospel that Jesus makes, such as;

“Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (NIV1996, c1984.)

In this statement the Gnostic “Dualism” that considers Good and Evil ultimately being one, is clearly contradicted by John and clearly different paths are indicated for those that differ in their choice of good and evil. Gnosticism is also syncretistic, i.e. it incorporates different views and attempts to combine them into one. The Gnostics of John’s day probably comprised multiple groups.  There were the Naasenes and Ophite groups referred to by Hippolytus in the third century who apparently re-interpreted the last supper in a non-Christian manner and supported the fact that spirit and flesh cannot exist with one another. These groupings apparently held the belief that Christ was an incarnation of the serpent in the Genesis account of Adam and Eve. There was the Docetic group who said Christ’s humanity was invalid, and the Cerinthian group who said Jesus the man needed to be differentiated from Christ the spirit who came upon him at baptism. Another group, the Valentinian group, put forward some of the more sophisticated concepts, and to be able to discuss Gnosticism with respect to John’s Gospel, it is important to lay out some detail of at least one example of Gnosticism that can be used as a basis to the discussion. To give a flavour of the structures and mystical concepts incorporated in the beliefs of the time and discuss them with reference to John’s gospels, it is therefore necessary to devote the next few paragraphs to describing one view of this Valentinian concept, elusive and variable though it is. Even in this discussion it is necessary to adopt one illustrative viewpoint, as there were many variations at the time due to the syncretistic nature of Gnosticism. The Valentinian School is chosen as a base of the initial discussion as it was documented closest to the time period of John’s gospel and appears to have the most influence during that early time period. Valentinus, one of the architects of Gnosticism was originally part of the Christian church, but he got expelled during the second century. Tertulliani reports Valentinus left with negative attitudes towards the Christian church;

“Valentinus expected to become bishop because he had great abilities of mind and tongue, but another was preferred for the position because he suffered as a martyr. Angry at this, Valentinus broke with the legitimate church. Just as minds who have been excited with the hope of advancement usually burn anticipating revenge, he turned to overthrowing truth.“ (Riley. 1971)

It is important to note that John’s gospel pre-dated Valentinus and so Valentinus’ theories could well have been established using aspects of the gospel (rather than the other way around). What follows is one interpretation of the Valentinian School’s teachings.The Gnostic god who is considered indescribable, is understood to create by his “aeons”, i.e. his attributes or qualities, that flow from himself. He is known by terms such as “the perfect Aeon”, “original Father”, ”original beginning”, “abyss” as reported by Tertulliani(Riley. 1971). Tertulliani describes how the “Abyss” gives rise to other Aeons with support of Sige (Silence). The first of these are Nus (mind), Truth, Word, Life, Man and Church. These in turn produce other aeons. The youngest of twelve Aeons produced by Man and Church is called Sofia. She gets into trouble and is helped out of it by Horos (who is also referred to as Cross). In order to stabilize the crowd of aeons and stop similar trouble, Nus then produces “Christ” and “Holy Spirit”. This “Christ” is to teach the Aeons how they should understand the Father, and “Holy Spirit” was to teach Aeons tranquillity and how to give thanks.This crowd of thirty Aeons is living in the “heaven” of the Gnostics called the Pleroma. The Kenoma explained is the emptiness outside of the Pleroma. One of these aeons Achamoth, daughter of Sofia, produces a “Demiurge of matter” (Riley. 1971) that is the “Father of the soul-like elements” (Riley. 1971). This entity is ruler over everything that is material. Tertulliani explains that

“the Demiurge stands outside the Pleroma’s boundaries in the solitary confinement of eternal exile, he founds a new realm, this world of ours.” (Riley. 1971)

This Demiurge then creates the Cosmos, within the Kenoma, that contains the material world. Achamoth at the time of creating Demiurge hides a piece of spirit in him and when Demiurge creates Adam, he unintentionally does the same for Adam. This piece of spirit the Gnostics call the “church”, not related in any way to the Christian church, it is a reflection of the “Church” in the Pleroma, although it exists as part of the Cosmos. Tertulliani describes how Man is made of flesh (which leads to destruction), and a soul that can either tend towards the spirit or the material. The Demiurge produces a son through a virgin, and Tertulliani clearly explains this is not “of” the virgin, but “through” the virgin. This is to explain clearly that Gnostics do not accept God as man was born by the virgin birth. Then at baptism, Jesus the Saviour, through the symbolism of the dove descends onto this Christ. This Jesus is to help Men come to faith. Men are described as mortal unless they, by finding the inner knowledge inside themselves, using the piece of the spirit the Demiurge unintentionally hid in Adam, can then join with the Demiurge in sneaking into the Pleroma. They do this by cultivating the spirit like components given initially to Adam into a fullness of knowledge or gnosis.From the previous description of one variation of Gnostic beliefs, it is clear to see how easy it would be for the first century Christians to have been assailed by confusing and conflicting concepts, particularly as the Gnostic had a syncretism approach to everything and interpreted the content John writes according to three human natures, firstly the “hylic” or physical nature, then the “psychic” or the non-natural psyche, and lastly the “pneumatic” which is the Gnostic spiritual nature. These are bent and intertwined into different Gnostic schools of thought that modern writers again re-interpret to their benefit as one.It is into this mix of differing views that John was injecting his Gospel. He would have known these views and focused his writing to people exposed to them. He probably would also have used words the audience would understand while making it very clear that he did not subscribe to the Gnostic views, and ensuring his interpretation of these words was defined in his writings of the time by re-using them in different contexts to ensure they are understood correctly.Part of the problem that occurred after John had written the gospel was that the meaning of the words within the gospel was re-interpreted by the Gnostics and then used to change the meaning of what John intended to portray. They did this to support their beliefs as will be explained later.John’s own intent towards Gnosticism is most clearly portrayed in his statement in 1 John where he states;

“This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”[1] (NIV1996, c1984.)

Here John ties Gnostic teachings clearly with the anti-Christ. Gnostic’s would not agree that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh and so John is clearly stating a mechanism by which Christians could discern and avoid this Gnostic perspective in this letter. His gospel however takes a softer approach than his letter. Unfortunately, this enables the Gnostic writers to further their goals by abusing it.

Three key Valentinian Gnostic sources of information as it relates to the gospel of John come from the Nag Hammadi Library. The Nag Hammadi is that group of thirteen codices discovered in 1945 and which provided a large set of information supporting Gnostic perspectives. One perspective is popularized by Elaine Pagels in her papers and books published in recent years, “The Gnostic gospels” (Pagels. 1979) and “The Johanniane Gospel in Gnostic Exegenesis” (Pagels. 1989) are probably currently the most applicable Gnostic critiques of John’s gospel. Particularly in the latter, Pagels attempts to show how John’s gospel should be interpreted from a Gnostic perspective and makes extensive use of Heracleon’s commentary on John.

Many critics indicate that John’s gospel was a Gnostic gospel and used Gnostic language.  Gnostics are particularly fond of quoting the usage of Λογος, “Logos” or “the Word” in John 1:1. Robertson’s remark on John’s purpose is probably correct;

“This term suits John’s purpose better than σοφια [sophia] (wisdom) and is his answer to the Gnostics who either denied the actual humanity of Christ (Docetic Gnostics) or who separated the ἀεον [aeon] Christ from the man Jesus (Cerinthian Gnostics).” (Robertson. 1997)

Those wanting to portray John’s Gospel as Gnostic and that refer to “Logos” need to look at verse 14 where John says “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (NIV1996, c1984.)  John is clearly stating “Logos” was a human being and that he knew him because he had lived with him. This is far from the other-worldly, dis-interested, non-fleshly entity the Gnostics would have referred to as “Logos” since the Gnostic logos would be a spiritual entity with no link to the flesh. The two meanings therefore could not be further from each other.

The concept of Logos tied to the beginning would therefore have been a common consideration for the Greek and Jewish minds of the time. John being Jewish would have clearly known his Jewish audience would correlate the meaning of “Word” associated to “in the beginning” to the initial verses of the old testament scripture. “Logos” to a Jew would have brought up religious ideas such as: creation, what God said, and various Old Testament prophesies. John would have been aware of using all these nuances when referring to Jesus the man as “the Word”.

John however lived in a community that comprised of non-Jews and Jews with differing perspectives. The non-Jews would have tended to think in terms of the Gnostic origin of the word “Logos”, and could easily have misinterpreted John’s initial statement and therefore he clarifies it later in the gospel as in verse John 1:14 where he clearly states the word refers to a live flesh and blood human being by saying;

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (NIV1996, c1984.)

The usage “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.   He was with God in the beginning.” (NIV 1996, c1984.)  also needs to have the word “was” discussed as Robertson indicated;

“Was (ἠν [ēn]). Three times in this sentence John uses this imperfect of εἰμι [eimi] to be which conveys no idea of origin for God or for the Logos, simply continuous existence. Quite a different verb (ἐγενετο [egeneto], became) appears in verse 14 for the beginning of the Incarnation of the Logos. (Robertson. 1997)

However in the translation of Ptolemy’s commentary on the gospel of John prologue, Layton describes the Gnostic view of this piece of scripture as;

“First, he distinguishes three things: God; beginning; Word. Then he unites them: this is to show forth both the emanation of the latter two, i.e. the Son and the Word, and their union with one another, and simultaneously with the Father. For the beginning was in the Father and from the Father; and the Word was in the beginning and from the beginning. Well did he say, “The Word was in the beginning”, for it was in the Son. “And the Word was with God.” So was the beginning. “And the word was God”; reasonably so, for what is engendered from God is God. This shows the order of emanation. “The entirety was made through it, and without it was not anything made.” [Jn 1:3] For the Word became the cause of the forming and origination of all the aions that came after it.” (Schenk, 1994)

This commentary does not take into account the imperfect usage of “was” indicating no origin. Therefore Ptolemy’s view of the Gnostic “Word”, having a beginning which is based on the fact that “the Original father” Aeon preceded the “Word” Aeon, can be discarded. John is not referring to the Gnostic interpretation of the “Word” having a beginning in John 1:1.

When John then says “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”[2] (NIV 1996, c1984.) he is clearly saying Jesus was the only creator and that the Aeon’s or Demiurge had no part in it. This again counters the Gnostic view of the Demiurge creating the universe creating a problem the Gnostics have to construct concepts to refute. They really stretch themselves to acheive this.

Pagels states

“The Naassenes, reading that ‘all things were made through him’(John 1:3), reject the ‘simple reading’ which would suggest that the passage refers to the demiurge ‘through whom’ all things were created.” (Pagels. 1989)

She suggests the verse refers to another entity Geryon who is referred to in Greek mythology as a three bodied giant with wings. She then gives an alternative explanation for the “Peratae” Gnostics, saying they reject it by saying that the “son of man has come into the ‘cosmos’ not to destroy the ‘cosmos’ but to save it.”, explaining the first usage of the term cosmos differs from the second in the same sentence.  The third argument she puts forward for John1:3 is a Valentinian argument and she goes to great lengths to explain that the three different versions from three different manuscripts that are used to attempt to refute this piece of scripture as referring to Jesus Christ are all the same. She states;

“(1) Ptolemy, in his commentary on the Johannine prologue, interprets this verse in terms of the myth of pleromic aions, (2) Theodotus refers the same verse to the saviour, who, having emerged from the Pleroma, constitutes Sophia in the kenoma, the ‘Emptiness’ or void. (3) Heracleon refers the same verse to the creation of the cosmos” [3](Pagels. 1989)

and then spends considerable time explaining why the differences are not different, finally concluding the same verse refers to three different frames of reference and that each writer is referring to a different frame of reference. An argument I suggest that should be rejected based on logical arguments and context in which the statement is found!

Another usage of John’s that is criticized as having Gnostic overtones is his use of “light” as used in verse 4. “Light” in Gnostic terms varies in meaning depending on the specific context in which it is used. Sometimes it is referred to as a power, as in Piste Sophia (Sophia Coptice 1921). Light is particularly used referring to that apparent contrast of light and darkness which Gnostics say become one once gnosis is attained. John on the other hand is using this word to draw the audience to an understanding that Jesus is to give life to those who are living in lack of knowledge of Jesus and living in the lack of spiritual acceptance of Jesus as the Son of God who had come in the flesh to remove the darkness of sin. I believe John refers to Jesus as “the true light” to ensure the audience discerns him from the false light referred to by the Gnostics.There is also the potential that by using the analogy of Jesus as the Light of the world, John was appealing to the Jewish contingent of his readers. Light would have reminded them of the “menorah” which had one stem leading to seven branches each having an olive oil reservoir that sustained a flame. John also uses seven signs in his gospel. Could John perhaps using this analogy of light to show that all seven signs reflect the one “light of the world”. The seven signs are: turning water to wine, healing the nobleman’s son, healing the lame man, feeding the five thousand, walking on the water, healing the blind man and raising Lazarus from dead. Since the signs were physically performed by Jesus some of the relatives could probably be reached for verification and disproving of the Gnostic claims at the time of writing the gospel.

The word “life” is also taken by Gnostics to be John referring to one of the Aeons and Ptolemy (Schenk, 1994) indicated John is combining the Life, Word, Man and Church Aeons in his references in the first verses of John.  While these words are used, the context of their use does not support the Gnostic usage of the terms as has already been illustrated for “word” or “logos” above.  In John1:4 “In him was life, …”[4] (NIV 1994) the “life” is shown to be in the “Logos” not the Logos in Life. The Gnostics would not have agreed the “Life” was in “Logos” as the “Life” was part of the Pleroma and preceded “Logos”. So this could be another case of incorrect usage of context by those having the Gnostic perspective.

Again John 5:26 “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself.”[5] (NIV 1996, c1984.) can be misconstrued by Gnostics who would like this to refer to the Demiurge unwittingly transferring the spirit to the Savior, but would be wrong in this case as John clearly defines “Life” as in John 20:31 quoted above, where Christ and Jesus are linked (which is at least clearly against the Docetic Gnostic notion).

Ptolemy tries to build another Gnostic concept into John’s words in further comments on John 1:4;

“Here he discloses a pair. For he says that the entirety came into being through it, but Life is in it. Now, that which came into being in it more intimately belongs to it than what came into being through it: it is joined with it and through it it bears fruit. Indeed, inasmuch as he adds, “and Life was the light of human beings”, [Jn 1:4] in speaking of human beings he has now disclosed also the Church by means of a synonym, so that with a single word he might disclose the partnership of the pair. For from the Word and Life, the Human Being and the Church came into being.”[6] (Schenk, 1994)

He invents the reference to Church, calling it a synonym, to enable him to link the four concepts he wants to link without even considering that this concept is not linked in there by John and is a Gnostic assumption. However, John by referring to “Him” in the same verse is referring to “Logos” which we have already seen is clearly tied to a fleshly human being, Jesus. Ptolemy deliberately ignores this fact that is clearly explained later in John’s gospel.

The concept of the pair in Gnostic terms is superimposed onto the gospel to introduce concepts never intended by the author. In the above quote Ptolemy is trying to tie Men and Church together as a pair. John only talks of the Men, not the Church in John 1:4.

Pagels in explaining John1:4 reverts back to breaking the verse into three different reference systems which are being addressed differently by Ptolemy, Theodotus, and Heracleon. She constructs a consistent structure, that is nowhere detailed as such in original manuscripts, from fragments of three people saying different things and indicates they all mean the same thing! Such is the syncretism nature of the Gnostic views John was attempting to thwart with his gospel.

The next component of the prologue that the Gnostics find difficulty with is John 1:14;

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, d who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”[7] (NIV 1996, c1984.)

Key to the discomfort they experience is the statement “the Word became flesh” as this now links the original use of the “Word” which they want to interpret as having meanings with Pleroma and Kenoma, to being clearly tied to what they refer to as the Cosmos since only the Cosmos can be related to flesh. Pagels states that the “Word” as used in John 1:3 referred to all three reference frames, but now does a turn about and indicates that here it only refers to only the one. Pagels also argues that the selective use of passages fits the Gnostic theological structure and should therefore be allowed. The basic human construct, that a person tends to use the same meaning for the concept denoted by a word, particularly within the same piece of writing, seems to elude Pagels. In addition when Gnostic writers skip verses of John that conflict with the views in their exegesis, Pagels subscribes this to the fact that they should be allowed the selective use of passages. The Christian perspective is explained by Bruce (Bruce 1994) who clearly states John was making a clear anti-docetic statement in John 1:14.John’s discourse around John the Baptist in John1:19 to 34 is another area where the Gnostics interpret the text differently to Christians. One key area is Heracleon’s pointing out that John’s gospel differs from the synoptic gospel by saying that John the Baptist is not Elijah;

“They asked him, ‘Then who are you? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet? He answered, ‘No.’”[8] (NIV 1996, c1984.) 

however Jesus says of John the Baptist;

“And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.”[9] (NIV 1996, c1984.)  . 

Pagels explains that Heracleon clarifies this by indicating that John has now moved to a level higher than the prophets, and so can deny John the Baptist was Elijah.  Nowhere does she look at that other scripture that clarifies this issue;

“And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” [10](NIV 1996, c1984.) 

This scripture shows John’s Gospel to be correct as John the Baptist was not Elijah but was operating in the spirit and power of Elijah. He was not the person of Elijah and so there is no contradiction and so Christians do not have to accept the complicated Gnostic contortions needed to align facts that are already aligned.

While this explains the person of John the Baptist, it does not explain the Gnostic view of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. Pagels explains Heracleon’s concept of Baptism as having three levels, the lowest being the “somatic” order that actually does the physical baptizing or washing the body, the next being the “psychic” that understands forgiveness and then comes the third or “Christ” that does the baptism that “conveys” the spirit. John the Baptist as reported Heracleon, and according to Pagels, is the Demiurge and operates only at the first two levels.  The third baptism that only Christ can give makes the spirit perfect. Irenius (Roberts, unknown date), the second bishop of Lyons describes how the Gnostics believe this Christ is indicated to be a spirit that descends on Jesus the Man. In so doing they deny Jesus was God prior to this point in time and build a means to ensure that Jesus the man is kept separate from Christ the spirit in order to allow them to propound their distortion of the truth.

To further complicate this, Pagels describes how Heracleon only considers John the Baptist to have been a symbol and not an actual person of the first century. The Demiurge cannot be a fleshly human in Gnostic terms. How John’s disciples could argue with Jesus’ if they were not humans and both John and Jesus being human (John 3:22 to 36) is not explained.

In John 2, the descriptions of Jesus clearing the temple, and his statement “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” [11](NIV 1996, c1984.)   are both interpreted by Hercleon as being symbolic and Gnostic in origin. In Gnostic terms “pneumatics” are considered to be the further enlightened and purified.  The story of Jesus clearing the temple is interpreted by the Gnostics to be that of Jesus purifying the pneumatics using a whip that is symbology that aligns with that of the cross. The moneychangers are those who want to gain from bringing others into the new understanding and represent aliens (not sin) that need to be cleaned out.  It is horrifying how poor an interpretation this is of so rich a scene that John communicates so clearly. Again the distortion of truth is by twisting the interpretation of the texts.

Jesus’ referring to himself as the temple as explained in John 2:18 to 22, is also described by Pagels to be used differently by the Gnostics who use the temple as symbology of the church of pneumatics at one level, Jesus’ physical body at another and finally that of the actual temple at yet another level. Again this multi-dimensional interpretation of the same concept is used to twist the words of John’s gospel to Gnostic uses. The Levites in Gnostic terms come to be the saved psychic’s or pneumatics. Psychic’s being a lower level of being in the cosmos. Pagels points out one interpretation of the Holy of Holies is a symbolic place only accessible to pneumatics by the Gnostic Savior. The movement from one area of the temple to the other is interpreted as transcending from one level of knowledge to the next.

The story of the Samaritan women as John 4 describes is interpreted by Pagels to be highly symbolic of the struggle of the pneumatic elect for redemption.  The Well of Jacob is supposed to represent this world, Abraham, Moses and Jacob represent together the Demiurge. The non-existent husband refers to one of an Aeon pair in the Pleroma. The Saviour shows the women she is incorrectly identified with the cosmos and is “’prostituted’ to materiality” but she need only understand this and accept her true pneumatic nature to achieve the gnosis she requires. This story is meant to show that psychics are excluded from pneumatics.

How this nonsense can be extracted from a clear unadulterated story is amazing but Pagels not only extracts it but also defends it.

John 4:46 to 52 is similarly extrapolated into symbology and in this case the story of the healing of the centurions son is intended to reveal the process of psychic salvation according to Pagels.

One other clear picture John uses to point out just how ludicrous these claims are, is explained by Melton(Melton 2005) in the scene where Jesus is showing his wounds to Thomas.

“Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”[12] (NIV 1996, c1984.) 

 John reveals that Jesus has pierced hands that Thomas can touch (ghosts don’t have physical bodies). Jesus had a resurrection body but he could still walk through closed doors. By showing Jesus has a real material body he refutes the dualism of Gnostic belief.  The ability to move through materials shows he was spirit as well. John also is showing that Jesus was a historical person tied to specific historic events again disconnecting the Gnostic spiritualization of Jesus by linking him to a traceable history.

The Gospel of John written before the major Gnostic writings forces Gnostics to attempt to change the meaning of the words by changing the contexts to which the words refer, building referential systems that have no grounding in reality, and disregarding the life of Jesus as simultaneously being God and Man. These concepts are clearly refuted by John when 1 John is brought into context with John’s Gospel. The clarity of John’s rejection of Gnosticism is very evident. He believes Jesus Christ was the son of God, born of the virgin Mary, conceived by the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of our sin’s. Jesus was fully human and at the same time fully God. John was writing to Jews and Greeks and ensuring they would understand Jesus was not only Spirit but also a fleshly man with whom he had lived and who they should understand as the way to the Father

[1] 1 Jn 4:2-3.

[2] Jn 1:3.

[3] pg24

[4] Jn 1:4

[5] Jn 5:26

[6] Ptolemy, Ptolemy’s Commentary on The Gospel Of John Prologue


d Or the Only Begotten

[7] Jn 1:14.

[8] Jn 1:21.

[9] Mt 11:14

[10]Lk 1:17..

[11] Jn 2:19.

[12] Jn 20:27.




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Bruce,F.F., The Gospel of John, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994 

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Elain Pagels, The Johannnaine Gospel in Gnostic Exegensis, Society of Biblical Literature: Scholars Press, 1989. 

Mark T. Riley Q. S. FL. TERTULLIANI ADVERSUS VALENTINIANOS TEXT, TRANSLATION, AND COMMENTARY  February 1971 [online]; available from ; Internet; accessed 7 March 2006.

Robertson, A.T. Word Pictures in the New Testament. Vol.V c1932, Vol.VI c1933 by Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention., Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997