The Testimony of Truth

The Testimony of Truth is the third and final tractate of Codex IX from the Nag Hammadi Library. The Greek original is lost and the Coptic version is badly damaged with half of the text lost. However, there is sufficient material to get a good gist of the content.

The author is intent on presenting his version of the truth, criticising the false opinions and practices of his ‘heretical’ opponents. His opponents are not only the catholic or ‘orthodox’ church, but also other gnostic communities who practice rituals he strongly disagrees with.

The text begins with an address to a gnostic community:

“Now, I shall speak to those who understand how to listen with spiritual ears and not with their physical ones.”

This text is an impassioned plea to encourage its hearers to remain steadfast in their faith, warning them of the errors of catholic opponents.

A verbal attack is launched against the law (Torah) with its command to procreate:

“The law commands one to take a husband or wife, and to produce children, to multiply like the sand of the sea. But passion, which is their delight, controls the souls of those who are begotten down here…and turning away from the light. For them it will be impossible to pass by the archon of darkness…”

The descent of the Son of Humanity from “imperishability” is a sign that the dominions of the law have come to an end.

The Testimony of Truth is different from many other Christian texts in that it doesn’t portray martyrdom as something to be glorified; in fact it declares enthusiasts for martyrdom “do not know who Christ is”:

“Foolish people have it in their minds that if they simply make the confession, ‘We are Christians’, in words but not with power, and ignorantly give themselves up to a human death, they will live. But they are in error and do not know where they are going or who Christ really is. Instead, they are hastening toward the principalities and the authorities. They fall into their clutches because of the ignorance that is in them.” The author ridicules the popular view at that time that martyrdom ensures salvation: if it were that simple, everyone would confess Christ and be saved!

These same “foolish” people are also criticised for believing in a physical resurrection, not understanding resurrection as spiritual resulting from self-knowledge or gnosis.

The second part of the tractate opens with a contrast between John the Baptist, “begotten through a womb worn with age”, and Christ, who “passed through a virgin’s womb.”

The author admonishes his hearers for not trying to interpret “mysteries” found in scripture:

“Why do you go astray by not seeking after the interpretation of these mysteries which were prefigured for our sakes?”

In the Testimony of Truth the story of the Garden of Eden is told from the viewpoint of the serpent. Here the serpent, known in Gnostic texts as the principle of divine wisdom, convinces Adam and Eve to partake of knowledge while the biblical creator (demiurge) threatens them with death, trying jealously to prevent them from attaining knowledge, and expelling them from Paradise when they achieve it.

The author rejects all church dogma. Obedience to the church officers requires believers to submit themselves to “blind guides” whose authority comes from the malevolent creator (demiurge). Conformity to imposed faith attempts to limit all Christians to an inferior ideology:

“They say, ‘Even if an angel comes from heaven and preaches to you contrary to what we preached to you, may he be cursed.”

Faith in the church sacraments shows naïve thinking; catholic Christians practice baptism as an initiation rite which guarantees them a “hope of salvation”, believing that only those who receive baptism are “headed for life.”

Against such “lies” the author declares that:

“This, therefore, is the true testimony: when a person comes to know himself and God, who is over the truth, that person will be saved and crowned with the unfading crown.”

The gnostic who comes to know himself can discover what even Christ cannot teach. The Testimony of Truth says the gnostic becomes a “disciple of his own mind”, discovering that his own mind “is the father of the truth”, learning what needs to be known by being in “meditative silence.”

Consequently, he considers himself equal to all, not subjecting himself to anyone’s authority.

“And he is patient with everyone; he makes himself equal to everyone, and he also separates himself from them.”

#egypt #gnostic #naghammadi #spiritual

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