GOSPEL OF TRUTH
An apocryphal work probably of the second century. The Gospel of Truth survives in two versions from the NAG HAMMADI LIBRARY: a well-preserved copy (I. 3) and a very fragmentary piece (XII. 2). While the original title remains unknown, the initial phrase (“The gospel of truth”) may have served as an incipit title and certainly has been adopted as its title by modern investigators. One might even hazard a guess that the meaning of this text is elaborated elsewhere within the first paragraph: “the name [of] the gospel is the revelation of hope” (I. 17. 1-3). Whether this document has any literary connection with the “Gospel of Truth” mentioned by Irenaeus (Adversus omnes haereses 3. 11. 9) cannot be demonstrated in a decisive way, although it would not be surprising if the two were related.
Naturally, since this text was one of the first to be published from the Nag Hammadi collection, it has been widely studied, as the specialized bibliography gathered by H. W. Attridge and G. W. MacRae (1985) attests. Further, its language consists of the sub- Akhmimic dialect, and its text is to be regarded as a translation from a Greek original. This estimate is not altered by either a few traces of Latin influence or arguments that it exhibits characteristics best understood as deriving from a Semitic (Nagel, 1966) or Coptic (Fecht, 1961) original.
In spite of its title, it is not a gospel in the New Testament sense, describing the life of Jesus or rendering his words. It is, in fact, a charming, sophisticated meditation or homily about Jesus, “the eternal and divine Son, the Word who reveals the Father and passes on knowledge, particularly self-knowledge” (MacRae, 1977). As a revealer of the Father, Jesus is seen imparting answers to the basic questions about the nature of man, his origin, and his destiny. This gospel, or good news, which involves revealing the divine character of those who are able to receive Jesus’ message, gives joy, or, as the opening words affirm, “the gospel of truth is joy.”
At first glance, the teaching about Jesus seems closer to the tradition of the great church than the view commonly expressed in Christian Gnostic texts. But a closer examination reveals clear if subtle connections with the Gnostic theological world. In a related vein, if VALENTINUS himself is the author of the document, as some have suggested, its teaching does not seem fully to agree with Valentinian sources. But the discrepancies may be due simply to the fact that the text’s author was not interested in spelling out the full dimensions of his own belief (Attridge and MacRae, 1985).
In this connection, whether or not one maintains that Valentinus wrote the document, the date of composition is likely to be in the middle or late second century. In fact, its thought fits rather well into what is known of that time. One thinks, for instance, of the debate of Irenaeus with Gnostic dualists concerning whether their deity encompassed all things (Adversus omnes haereses 2. 1. 2-3). The gospel text clearly holds that the Father included all spaces and emanations within Himself, specifically speaking of Him as “the one who encircles all spaces while there is none that encircles him” (I. 22. 25-7).
In the text there are no clear quotations from the Old or New Testaments. Even so, a number of references and allusions to New Testament passages exist, which have been collected by J. E. Ménard (1972, pp. 3-9) and W. C. van Unnik (1955). However, one should not postulate that the author of this treatise somehow depended directly on one or another of the New Testament documents for his inspiration (but see Tuckett, 1984). Further, there seem to be allusions in the text to the initiation rites of baptism and chrism but hardly to the “higher” rites known from, say, the GOSPEL OF PHILIP.
- Attridge, H. W., and G. W. MacRae. “NHC I. 3: The Gospel of Truth.” In Nag Hammadi Codex I (The Jung Codex). Nag Hammadi Studies 22. Leiden, 1985.
- Facsimile Edition of the Nag Hammadi Codices: Codices XI, XII, XIII. Leiden, 1973.
- Facsimile Edition of the Nag Hammadi Codices: Codex I. Leiden, 1977.
- Fecht, G. “Das erste “Teil’ des sogenannten Evangelium Veritatis.” Orientalia 30 (1961):371-90.
- Grobel, K. The Gospel of Truth: A Valentinian Meditation on the Gospel. Nashville, Tenn., 1960.
- Helderman, J. Die Anapausis im Evangelium Veritatis. Nag Hammadi Studies 18. Leiden, 1984.
- MacRae, G. W. “The Gospel of Truth.” In The Nag Hammadi Library, ed. James M. Robinson. New York, 1977.
- Malinine, M.; H.-C. Puech; and G. Quispel, eds. Evangelium Veritatis. Zurich, 1956.
- Malinine, M.; H.-C. Puech; G. Quispel; and W. Till, eds. Evangelium Veritatis (Supplementum). Zurich and Stuttgart, 1961.
- Ménard, J.-E. L’Evangile de vérité. Nag Hammadi Studies 2. Leiden, 1972.
- Nagel, P. “Die Herkunft des Evangelium Veritatis in sprachlicher Sicht.” Orientalistische Literaturzeitung 61 (1966):5-14.
- Story, C. I. K. The Nature of Truth in “The Gospel of Truth” and in the “Writings of Justin Martyr.” Supplements to Novum Testamentum 25. Leiden, 1970.
- Tuckett, C. M. “Synoptic Tradition in the Gospel of Truth and the Testimony of Truth.” Journal of Theological Studies 35 (1984):131-45.
- Unnik, W. C. van. “The “Gospel of Truth’ and the New Testament.” In The Jung Codex, ed. F. L. Cross, pp. 81-129. London, 1955.
ERIC SEGELBERG S