HOGD Cross

Arena Sine Calce

Jesus Christ
(Artwork is copyright © 2002 by V. H. Soror Z.O.C.Q.)

The Apostle Paul has commonly been understood by both early Christian fathers as well as contemporary New Testament scholars as being antagonistic towards what has been called the ‘Gnostic heresy.’  Promoting this view of Paul the early church fathers of the second century often cited passages like that of 1 Timothy (6, 20-1) that warn readers to, “…avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called gnosis, [2] ” as an attack against all Gnostics. In addition to the Pastoral Letters, the early orthodoxy cited other letters from the generally accepted Pauline Corpus such as 2 Corinthians (11:13), “…for such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ [3] ,” to bolster their position further against the Gnostics. 

However, the Valentinians, claimed not only direct lineage from Paul, but also that he imparted to them certain esoteric knowledge that is the foundation of their theology.  The chain of Pauline succession the Valentinians claimed is through Paul’s disciple Theudas to the sect’s founder Valentinus. It is through this line the Valentinians claim to possess secret knowledge of both Jesus as well as how to properly interpret Paul’s writings.

Despite this claim of succession most of the scholarly work done on Gnosticism focuses on Gnosticism as being a separate entity from Christianity with scholars proposing incommensurate notions of development ranging from Jewish Apocalypticism [4] to Plato’s Timaeus. [5]   In defining the origins of Gnosticism Pearson follows Friedl√§nder’s arguments as well as R.M. Grant’s in stating that:

"Judaism, as a religion that takes history seriously, and that also has a marked tendency in the direction of messianism, provides ipso facto a context in which, given the critical circumstances of history and attitude of revolt could easily develop. There is a strong case to be made for the view that ancient Gnosticism developed, in large part from disappointed messianism, or rather as a transmuted messianism" [6]

 In opposition to this view, Layton points to the influence of the Middle Platonism as a source for Gnosticism. Layton hypothesizes, “The formulation of the gnostic myth ultimately drew on Platonists interpretations of the myth of creation in Plato’s Timaeus combined with the book of Genesis. [7]

Additionally, there is debate concerning whether or not the school of Valentinus and the Valentinians should be considered Gnostic at all.  Valentinus was born in Egypt around 100 C.E. and educated in Alexandria.  He moved to Rome around 140 C.E. and according to Tertullian was a serious candidate for the office of Bishop of Rome. [8] Valentinus accepted the authoritative orthodox texts of Holy Scripture and the traditional formulation of Roman belief.  Much of what is considered to be Gnostic speculation on his part consists of Gnostic myth conceptualized in accordance to the terms and categories of emerging orthodoxy. [9]   More recently scholars such as Bentley Layton have categorized Valentinus’ work the Gospel of Truth among other writings as  a “…Christian sermon on the theme of Salvation by acquaintance with god (gnosis), [10] ” heavily influenced by Hellenism and Middle Platonism.

These points of debate seem to hinge on the assumption that Gnosticism is a foreign body or ‘parasite’ in terms of its influence and interaction with Christianity.  Although it is without the scope of this paper to examine all forms of what we call “Gnosticism” or even to debate the value of the term, I will propose that the relationship of Valentinianism and formative orthodoxy needs to be re-examined.  Furthermore, I will argue that Irenaeus’ attack on Valentinian theology and in particular his portrayal of Valentinian ideas on resurrection is polemical in nature and as such does little to portray correctly the Valentinian interpretation of Pauline Doctrine.

Far from being a group rooted in other traditions the very idea of gnosis for the Valentinians is inextricably linked to the notion of a baser form of salvation present in the literal readings of Paul and the Gospels.  These literal meanings are present for the salvation of the psychics who in Valentinian terms have their salvation through faith and works rather than knowledge. “Perfect gnosis is the secret or higher meaning of the same tradition that the orthodox hold onto by faith, [11] ” and the pneumatics discern through the grace of their election. 

However, setting aside the relationship of pneumatics and psychics in Valentinian theology for the moment let us first examine the conception that Paul is decidedly anti-Gnostic.  Paul’s proclamation in 1 Corinthians 15 that “if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen [12] ” provides the principal foundation from which beginning with Irenaeus and Tertullian and more recently continued by such scholars as W. Schmitals and Bultmann, the orthodox position of 1 Corinthians 15 as an anti-Gnostic polemic rests. [13]   The thesis that Bultmann and Schmitals put forward comes mainly from Irenaeus’ attack against the Gnostic interpretations of Christ’s resurrection in Ch. XXXI of Adversus Haereses:

"For the heretics, despising the handiwork of God, and not admitting to the salvation of their flesh, while they also treat the promise of God contemptuously, and pass beyond God all sentiments they form…those persons, therefore would disallow a resurrection affecting the whole man…know nothing as to the plan of resurrection." [14]

Schmitals reiterates Irenaeus’ charge when he announces that gnostic interpretations of the resurrection which takes the form of “…spiritualized terminology is nothing other than the general philosophic doctrine of immortality of the soul.” [15]

Nonetheless, the Valentinian claim to 1 Corinthians 15 is just the opposite. Indeed it is Irenaeus who reminds us that, “it is the Valentinians who insist on introducing texts from 1 Corinthians 15 to support their own position against the “orthodox;” the Gospel of Phillip demonstrates just such an exegesis. [16] ”  According to the Gospel of Phillip, “Flesh [and blood will not] inherit the kingdom [of god] What is this flesh that will not inherit it? The one that we are wearing. And what too, is this flesh that we will inherit? It is Jesus’ flesh, along with his blood...For my part I condemn (also) those others who say that the flesh will not rise [17] ”  Hence, for the author of the Gospel of Phillip it is only the flesh of Christ that the pneumatic has been clothed with that is resurrected or rises; “in this flesh the individuality of the gnostic’s flesh seems to disappear completely; having Christ’s flesh and blood as food, drink, and clothing, it looses its own identity.” [18] From this testimony it can be garnered that it is not the resurrection of the flesh that Valentinian theology rejects rather it is the traditional view held by Irenaeus and others that states that the body of the resurrected will rise just as it is now.

Likewise the Epistle to Rheginos speaks of a spiritual resurrection that has already taken place for the pneumatic through Christ’s conquering of death and transformation into the “imperishable aeon.”  In this sense the reawakening and restoration of the pneumatic has restored the elect and brought them to life whereas the psychic having not received this through grace is still counted among the dead.  However, the epistle does not preclude the resurrection of the dead -for the dead are in Valentinian language the psychic followers of the kerygma of Christ.  As Pagels points out “these terms are to be interpreted not literally (as of biological death) but symbolically, in reference to the “dead members” of the “body of Christ”—i.e., the psychics.” [19]   The epistle clearly states a formula similar to that in Ev. Phil. when the author instructs “…never doubt concerning the resurrection, my son Rheginos. For if you did not exist in flesh, you received flesh when you entered this world. Why then will you not receive flesh when you ascend into the Aeon?” [20]

The evidence given in the Epistle to Rheginos concerning spiritual resurrection is not an act of accretion or the blending of multiple traditions; rather it is based firmly in the sacramental metaphors used in the Pauline and Deuteropauline epistles.  From the Epistle to Rheginos we hear stated that Christ “gives us the way of our immortality… as the Apostle said, ‘We suffered with him, and we arose with him, and we went to heaven with him.’” [21] This same formula of salvation is found throughout Paul’s writings as we see in: (1) Rm 8.17 “We suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (2) Eph. 2:4-6 “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, (3) Col. 2:12 “and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.” And (4) Col. 3:1-3:3 “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”  This reliance on Pauline formula suggests that Valentinian theology concerning the resurrection does indeed find its roots in the message of the Apostle.

Like Irenaeus and his contemporaries the Valentinians claimed that their own interpretations of the concept of resurrection were based on their exegesis of 1 Corinthians 15.  The basis for differences in proto-orthodox and Valentinian explanations were the Valentinian rejection of the use of “literal interpretation.”  Instead the Valentinians argued that secret teachings and wisdom passed down to them through Paul were the source of their exegetical tradition and this tradition allowed them to discern scripture symbolically. Theodotus explains that the Apostle taught and preached two messages at once:

"On the one hand he preached the savior ‘according to the flesh’ as one ‘who was born and suffered,’ the kerygmatic gospel of ‘Christ crucified’ (1 Cor 2:2) to those who were psychics, ‘because they were capable of knowing, and in this way they feared him.’ But to the elect he proclaims Christ ‘according to the spirit, as one born from the spirit and a virgin’ (cf. Rom 1:3) for the apostle recognized that ‘each one knows the Lord in his own way: and not all know him alike." [22]

Bolstering Theodotus’ claim in regard to the dual message of Paul we find evidence in the Pauline Corpus itself.  In reminding the Corinthians of how he came to teach them Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:1- 7:

"When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  And I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling; and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification."

Further support for symbolic interpretation is Paul’s exclamation in 1 Cor. 15:51-2, “Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”  The use of the term musterion or mystery occurs in other places throughout 1 Corinthians (1) 1 Cor 2:7 “But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom (musthvrion) of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification,” (2) 1 Cor 4:1 “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries (MUSTERION) of God,”  and (3) 1Cor 14:2 “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries (MUSTERION) in the Spirit. [23] ”  The use of (MUSTERION) in these passages suggests that Paul was speaking not only figuratively but in the manner that most mysteries are conveyed. 

Although a fuller examination of Valentinian texts dealing with resurrection in particular the Gospel of Phillip and the Epistle to Rheginos is still needed there is enough evidence to further investigate the legitimacy of the Valentinian claim of a Pauline based resurrection theology.  There is also evidence to suggest that Valentinianism with its dependency upon what would later become orthodox scripture developed not prior to or as a mutated form of Christianity but rather alongside what would later become the orthodox Church.  

***Note several of the original Greek words in this article have been either transliterated or substituted for English equivalents to avoid any font and/or html problems while viewing the document onlinet***


[1] The title refers to the process of making concrete/mortar, literally it reads ‘sand without lime’ or building an argument without the proper foundation.

[2] See The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Revised Standard Edition. Edited by Bruce Metzger and Herbert May. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

[3] Ibid

[4] See Grant, Robert McQueen. Gnosticism and Early Christianity. New York: Columbia University Press, 1959. Pp. 13-14

[5] See Layton, Bentley. The Gnostic Scriptures : A New Translation with Annotations and Introductions. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1987.

[6] See Pearson p. 27

[7] See Layton, Bentley. The Gnostic Scriptures : A New Translation with Annotations and Introductions. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1987. pp. 8-9

[8] See Mircki, Paul Allen. Valentinus. Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. VI Pp. 783-784

[9] Ibid.

[10] See Layton p. 250

[11] McCue, J.F. “Orthodoxy and Heresey: Walter Bauer and the Valentinians” Vigiliae Christaea 33, 118-130 North-Holland Publishing Company 1979. p. 121

[12] 1Cor. 15:13

[13] see Pagels, E. “The Mystery of the Resurrection” A Gnostic Reading of 1 Corinthians 15” Journal of Biblical Literature Vol 93. No. 2, June 1974 pp. 276-288

[14]   Irenaeus. Adversus Haereses Book 5. The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325. Edited by Rev. Alexander Roberts, D.D., and James Donaldson, LL.D., American reprint of the Edinburgh edition. Revised and chronologically arranged, with brief prefaces and occasional notes, by A. Cleveland Coxe, D.D.  10 vols. Buffalo: The Christian Literature Publishing Company. 1885-96.

[15] See Schmitals, W. Gnosticism pp. 157-158

[16] Pagels, E. “The Mystery of the Resurrection” A Gnostic Reading of 1 Corinthians 15” Journal of Biblical Literature Vol 93. No. 2, June 1974 pp. 276-288

[17] See Layton, Bentley. The Gnostic Scriptures : A New Translation with Annotations and Introductions. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1987.p. 333

[18] Van Ejik, A. H. C. “The Gospel of Phillip and Clement of Alexandria: Gnostic and Ecclesiastical Theology on the Resurrection and the Eucharist” Vigiliae Christanae 25 (1972) 94-120 North Holland Publishing Company p. 98

[19] Pagels, E. “The Mystery of the Resurrection” A Gnostic Reading of 1 Corinthians 15” Journal of Biblical Literature Vol 93. No. 2, June 1974 pp. 276-288

  [20] The Epistle to Rheginos: A Valentinian Letter on the Resurrection. Peel, Malcolm Lee. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1969. p. 32

[21] Ibid p. 31

[22] Pagels, Elaine H. The Gnostic Paul: Gnostic Exegesis of the Pauline Letters. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975. p.5

[23] See RSV



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