The Gospel of Truth is the third tractate of Codex I from the Nag Hammadi Library and is considered one of the most poetic and well written texts from the Nag Hammadi Library. It is not a “gospel” as such, but a discourse on the good news about the appearance of the Saviour on earth and the message he brought to humanity. The text alludes to the New Testament but cites John’s gospel the most often.
The story of salvation is told on both a historical and a mythical level: on one level we hear about the Saviour being sent down by God to teach humanity the truth, but he was persecuted and crucified. However, his death brought life to mortal humans, waking them up from their forgetfulness and enabling to return to the Father.
In parallel, a myth tells how the world came into existence as a result of ignorance. Initially, the All, the Entirety of aeons or eternal realms, existed inside the Father, who was so vast and unfathomable they were unable to perceive him. This resulted in ignorance, anguish and terror which took hold of the aeons; Error was produced instead of truth, and the world created was based on ignorance and fear, a “fog”. The work of the Saviour was not only to bring the knowledge to humanity, but also to rectify the “cosmic error”. He revealed the unknown Father to the aeons and gave them a harmonious relationship to their originator. The Gospel of Truth uses beautiful imagery. For example, a long section is devoted to the concept of “the book of the living”. The Saviour is presented as a teacher, instructing “the little children”, where he reveals the book, whose contents were the Father’s thoughts, hidden from before creation. The contents of the book represent knowledge. However, the book is also compared to a will only made public after the testator’s death. In being crucified, Jesus posted the book on the cross, making it a public proclamation.
Jesus appeared, put on that book, was nailed to a tree, and published the Father’s edict on the cross. Oh, what a great teaching! He humbled himself even unto death, though clothed in eternal life. He stripped off the perishable rags and clothed himself in incorruptibility, which no one can take from him.
Furthermore, the book of the living is a roll of names where those who have been appointed for salvation are written down. Finally, opening the book means the names are called out, and whoever is called listens, turns around and hastens towards the one calling.
The Gospel of Truth moves from one theme to the next, using striking imagery with subtle allusions to New Testament texts, touching the soul in a masterful way.
Unity and fullness are the next theme using the image of a house and jars. One moves to a new house, but only the good jars are taken along – the ones that are unbroken and full. The others are discarded. The sorting of the jars refers to the separation of the non-spiritual from the spiritual people who came to know the Saviour.
The author compares those who received the revelation with those who do not as a distinction between ‘being’ and ‘not being’. This inspires another impressive image of cosmic existence as a nightmarish dream, whose unreal nature is understood only when the dreamer wakes up. Aroused, the dreamer then receives the spirit, which enables him to stand up. The spirit enables some people to perceive the nature of the Saviour.
The Saviour now becomes ‘the way’ and the text moves seamlessly into the parable of the lost sheep and the good shepherd. The good shepherd laboured on the Sabbath, representing the world, and brought the sheep into the higher day, or pure light. To those who experience life in this world as a nightmare, this message offers hope :-
“You are the perfect day, and in you dwells the light that does not fail.”
Those who do the Father’s will are described as his “fragrance”,
“For the Father is sweet, and goodness is his will.. For the Father’s children are his fragrance; they are from the beauty of his face. The Father loves his fragrance and disperses it everywhere, and when it mixes with matter, it gives his fragrance to the light.”
The text then reverts to the theme of the deficiency that has been transformed into fullness and to the image of the jars; the full jars are those that have been sealed with ointment.
“The ointment is the mercy of the Father.. and those anointed are the perfect.”
This is the clearest reference to ritual practices in the Gospel of Truth.
The discourse now turns to a description of the Word, which has revealed the hidden Thought of the Father, followed by a section where the Son is portrayed as the Father’s Name – an image that expresses the indissoluble relationship between Father and Son as well as the Son’s role as the revealer of the unnameable Father of the All.
Finally, by stating that the Son revealed the origins and the destiny of the Father’s children, the text arrives at its conclusion – the place of rest in the Fullness.
“They rest in one who rests, and they are not weary or confused about truth. They are truth. The Father is in them and they are in the Father, perfect, inseparable from him who is truly good. They lack nothing at all but are at rest, fresh in spirit.. For he is good, and his children are perfect and worthy of his name. Children like this the Father loves.”
Next Blog: The Gospel of Judas (Codex V) – a shocking account of what really happened to Judas..
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