Here is a sample of how the Gospel of Philip introduces the early items contained in it:
- A Hebrew makes another Hebrew, and such a person is called "proselyte".
- The slave seeks only to be free, but he does not hope to acquire the estate of his master.
- A Gentile does not die, for he has never lived in order that he may die.
- Those who sow in winter reap in summer.
- Christ came to ransom some, to save others, to redeem others.
- Light and Darkness, life and death, right and left, are brothers of one another.
For those who share my interest in the various passing references to people and places and earthly events, it would be worthwhile to conduct a separate study of passages which mention such things. There are some "compare and contrast" moments that would be of interest to me (did they identify Levi as a dye worker, and what do we make of that beyond the dye motif running through the Gospel of Philip)? However, that kind of question is clearly outside the focus being developed by the author of the Gospel of Philip. Here I pause only to call attention to the fact that those expectations would misdirect us here. The Gospel of Philip is not a narrative but a spiritual treatise; it is not intended to document the life and teachings of Jesus but to develop key spiritual concepts. The author's own focus touches briefly on certain people and actions, but revolves more heavily around thoughts of light and darkness, life and death, and our identity in relation to the eternal.
I find the Gospel of Philip to be an interesting window into a part of early Christian thought. It seems to reflect a time and place when the Gentiles in the Christian community -- maybe especially those from backgrounds other than the apostles' Jewish backgrounds -- were trying to make sense of some key Christian concepts in relation to their own culture's intellectual backgrounds. I see human histories and actions being considered by a culture in which transcendence belonged more to the realm of philosophy. I see baptism being interpreted by a culture without a tradition of ritual washing in terms of purification and reflection and dyeing (not dying but dyeing), introducing some different thoughts on what Jesus accomplished by entering the water. I see salvation and redemption being transposed into a culture without a concept of a last judgment, with concepts of light and brotherhood and holiness. And I wonder about unfamiliar items like the persistent references to the Bridal Chamber (referenced more often than Christ), whether we have enough information to piece together what that was all about, and how it fits into the author's picture of the future perfect day and holy light.