The Teachings of Silvanus

The Teachings of Silvanus is the fourth tractate of Codex VII from the Nag Hammadi Library discovered in Egypt in 1945.

The tractate has the literary form of Jewish wisdom literature where a teacher named Silvanus addresses the reader as ‘his son’ asking him to accept his education and teaching.

The teacher encourages his followers to resist unconsciousness:

“listen to my good and useful teaching, and bring an end to the sleep that weighs heavy upon you. Come away from the forgetfulness that fills you with darkness.. why do you pursue the darkness when the light is at your disposal?..Wisdom calls you, yet you desire foolishness.. A foolish person swims in life’s desires and has already sunk to the depths.. He is like a ship tossed to and fro by the wind, and like a loose horse that has no rider. For this person need the rider, which is reason..

Before everything else, know yourself..”

The teacher reminds his pupil of his baptism:

“When you entered into a bodily birth, you were begotten. When you were born again (baptized), you came to be inside the bridal chamber, and you were illuminated in mind.”

The pupil is then warned of the adversary (the demiurge)whose aim is to lead astray with “strange kinds of knowledge”, “spurious knowledge.. disguised as mysterious sayings.”

One should rely on Christ alone.

A wise person watches his speech and does not put his trust in human friendship; “Have a good number of friends, but not many counsellors.. But if you do acquire a friend, do not entrust yourself to him. Entrust yourself to God alone, both as father and as a friend.”

The teacher goes on to describe Christ:

“For he is the true light and the sun of life. Just as the visible sun shines on physical eyes, so Christ illuminates every mind and heart.”

God is impossible to know or understand – He can only be known through Christ: “For it is not only difficult for human beings to comprehend God, but it is also difficult for every divine nature, the angels and the archangels.. You cannot know God through any means except through Christ, who bears the image of the Father. For this image reveals the true likeness of God in a visible way. A king is usually not known apart from an image.”

The reader is urged to examine oneself to ensure one really has the light:

 “My child, do not let your mind stare downward, but rather let it look with the light at things above. For light always comes from above.. Illuminate your mind with heavenly light, so that you may turn toward the light of heaven”

and walk in the way of Christ.

Christ is praised for his descent to “the underworld”, his incarnation on behalf of humanity, that “humanity might become like God”.

One should entrust oneself entirely to him and drink from the true vine:

“Give yourself gladness from the true vine of Christ. Satisfy yourself with the true wine in which there is neither drunkenness nor dregs. The true wine entails the end of drinking, since it can give joy to the soul and mind through the Spirit of God. But first, before you drink of it, nurture your reasoning powers.”

One should let Christ into the temple of the soul and thus become truly blessed.

The author concludes his teachings urging his pupil to:

“Open the door for yourself, that you may know the One Who Is. Knock on yourself, that the Word may open to you. For he is the door of faith and the sharp sword. He became all for everyone, because he wishes to have mercy on everyone.”

The text ends with:

“Accept for yourself the wisdom of Christ, who is patient and mild, and guard this, O my child, knowing that God’s way is always profitable.”


The Greek original was sadly lost; the Coptic version was discovered near a monastery of Pachomius in Egypt and was entered into the Cairo Coptic Museum in 1956.

Scholars (eg Birger A Pearson) agree the tractate contains material dating back to the 1st century and its author was active in Alexandria, Egypt.

#gnostic #jude #naghammadi                                                      

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