Sunday, November 04, 2018

The Gospel of Truth: Setting expectations on its authors' terms

This continues the review of various documents both inside and outside the Bible in order to look at the author's point of view and message based on their presentation of material. 

The Gospel of Truth is of a noticeably different character than the documents we've reviewed to this point. When we began this series, we looked at some examples from the Gospel of Mark and how we can tell from the text itself that Mark contains a narrative collection of events. It will be useful to show the steps of the method again with the Gospel of Truth, to see what kinds of material the author is collecting. I'm not sure if the run-on sentences in it are the translator's or the original author's, but due to some sentences that are genuinely unwieldy for quotations, I'm not apologizing for stopping at a certain length here and inviting you to check the original yourself. I'll let the reader know with an ellipsis (...) whenever I've stopped mid-sentence in the text; I have quoted roughly the same amount of introductory material from the early paragraphs of the work:

  • The gospel of truth is joy for those who have received from the Father of truth the grace of knowing him, through the power of the Word that came forth from the pleroma, the one who is in the thought and the mind of the Father ...
  • When the totality went about searching for the one from whom they had come forth - and the totality was inside of him, the incomprehensible, inconceivable one who is superior to every thought - ignorance of the Father brought about anguish and terror ...
  • This was not, then, a humiliation for him, the incomprehensible, inconceivable one, for they were nothing, the anguish and the oblivion and the creature of deceit, while the established truth is immutable, imperturbable, perfect in beauty.
  • Thus, it had no root; it fell into a fog regarding the Father, while it was involved in preparing works and oblivions and terrors, in order that by means of these it might entice those of the middle and capture them.
  • The oblivion of error was not revealed. It is not a [... {damage in the manuscript?} ... ] from the Father. Oblivion did not come into existence from the Father, although it did indeed come into existence because of him. But what comes into existence in him is knowledge ...
It might be just as well to start out with clearing away the expectations that may have been set by previous documents that we've reviewed or that are familiar to the reader. Here, the author makes no move to orient the reader to time and place and action, or to reconstruct the details of earthly occurrences: it not a collection of events and does not intend inform the reader of Jesus' earthly life. There are no conversations recorded or catalog of Jesus' sayings: it does not intend to relay the teachings of Jesus. So much for what it is not, compared to some previous documents. But what is it?

The Father -- things are repeatedly tied back to the Father as the touchstone of this document; thoughts return to him, and the meditations revolve around him as the undisturbed source of all good.
People or entities of the world -- as they are affected in positive ways by actions of the Father either directly or through his intermediaries, or in negative ways by harmful forces; it
Good or beneficial things -- coming from and through the Father, especially through knowing him, at times with a focus on emotions (joy, gladness)
Bad or harmful things -- coming from separation from the Father, especially through forces opposed to the Father or through ignorance of him, again at times with a focus on emotions (anguish, terror).
The Word of God -- as the intermediary between the incomprehensible Father and those who are in harm's way through not knowing the incomprehensible one

As the document progresses, there are passages in which the main focus is the Word of God, or the people who come to know God through his Word; there is also an introduction of the Holy Spirit.

During the course of the document, it becomes clear that the Word of God, when in earthly form, is Jesus:
In this way, the Word of the Father goes forth in the totality, as the fruit of his heart and an impression of his will. But it supports the totality, purifying them, bringing them back into the Father, into the Mother, Jesus of the infinite sweetness. 
In the Gospel of Truth as a whole, "the Word" is spoken of distinctly more often than "Jesus", though the author does not leave us in doubt about viewing Jesus as the Word, and divine at least in some sense as the fruit of the Father's heart and an impression of his will. There are a few references to Jesus' earthly life, though again handled according to the author's interests: 
He was nailed to a tree (and) he became fruit of the knowledge of the Father. It did not, however, cause destruction because it was eaten, but to those who ate it, it gave (cause) to become glad in the discovery, and he discovered them in himself, and they discovered him in themselves.

By theme and content, then, it is not a history or  biography; it is an extended meditation on the goodness of God reaching into the world to work good through the Word, who is Christ, and how this transforms those who come to know the Father. The author's conclusion also tends towards this view, with a closing focus on the love of God
And his children are perfect and worthy of his name, for he is the Father; it is children of this kind that he loves. 


Martin LaBar said...

I hadn't heard of that one. Interesting.

Weekend Fisher said...

Thank you for reading, and taking the time to comment.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF