The Interpretation of Knowledge is the first tractate of Codex XI from the Nag Hammadi Library.
The Greek original is lost and the Coptic version, as is the case with Codex XI in general, is in poor condition with more than half of the text lost.
The main theme of the tractate is humility, with ideas such as endurance in adversity and the importance of faith central to the text.
The author addresses internal strife within the community; the members are urged not to be jealous of one another if some display greater spiritual gifts than others.
The author explains that Christ came into the world and died for the sake of the “church mortals”, now this church, the “place of faith”, was split and divided into factions – spiritual and unspiritual Christians. What differentiated them was their level of understanding. Uninitiated Christians mistakenly worshipped the creator (demiurge) as if he were God, believed Christ would save them from their sins, and had risen bodily from the dead. But those who had gone onto receive gnosis recognized Christ as the one sent from the Father of Truth, whose coming revealed to them that their own nature was identical with his, and also with God’s.
Some members had received spiritual gifts – power to heal, prophecy and above all, gnosis. Others had not, and this caused resentment and hostility. Those who were ‘spiritually advanced’ tended to withdraw from those they considered ‘ignorant’, and hesitated to share their insights with them. Those who lacked spiritual inspiration envied those who spoke in public at the worship service, taught, prophesied and healed others.
The author recalls the words of Paul (Corinthians), reminding them that all believers are members of the church, the “body of Christ”:
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ…The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’
The author then addresses those who feel inferior because they lack spiritual gifts:
“Do not accuse your Head (Christ) because it has not made you as an eye, but a finger; and do not be jealous of what has been made an eye or a hand or a foot, but be thankful that you are not outside the body, but have the same head as that for which the eye exists, as well as the hand and the foot and the other parts.”
To those who have attained gnosis and received spiritual gifts he says:
“Someone has a prophetic gift. Share in it without hesitation. Do not approach your brother with jealousy…How can you have knowledge (gnosis) if you are ignorant of the brothers? For being ignorant, hating them and being jealous of them, you will not receive the grace that is in them, because you do not wish to be joined with them for the gift of the head…For the Word is rich and generous and it is good.”
Like Paul, the author urges all members to love one another, to work and suffer together, mature and immature Christians alike in order to “share in the true harmony”.
The author concludes with a directive to continue the struggle against sin:
“If we overcome all sin, we shall receive the crown of victory, just as our head was given glory by the Father.”
Scholars are unsure as to who the author is; they acknowledge he or she was educated, with a good knowledge of the scriptures and wrote using powerful imagery. They believe it was written in Alexandria in the 2nd century.
The Interpretation of Knowledge was written to address both internal and external problems within a community and gives us a rare insight into the social dynamics of a Gnostic Christian community.
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