Gospel of Philip Discusses Early Christian SacramentsDid you know that not all early Christians observed the same sacraments as most Christians do, today? In a previous post, we talked about Valentinian perspectives about baptism. The Gospel of Philip in the Nag Hammadi Scripturesdescribes five sacraments: “The master [did] everything in a mystery: baptism, chrism, eucharist, redemption, and bridal chamber.”

Many Christians today think of marriage as a sacrament, but some early Christians thought that the true sacramental marriage was to Jesus Christ, not to other humans. In this post, let’s talk about the depiction of the sacrament of bridal chamber in the Gospel of Philip.

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In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus makes a claim that sounds incredibly misogynistic and offensive to modern ears. Working from Marvin Meyer’s translation in The Nag Hammadi Scriptures , the final saying (#114):

Simon Peter said to them, “Mary should leave us, for females are not worthy of life.”
Jesus said, “Look, I shall guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter heaven’s kingdom.”Jesus on Gender- Gospel of Thomas Saying 114

Reading that passage at first value, you probably respond with disgust– as is appropriate for a text that makes sexist claims. However, it’s worth digging into this further. Why did the authors make this claim? What were they trying to assert? How is gender being used in this passage– is it actually being used to reference gender identity, or is it a metaphor for something else? Is it really as belittling to women as it sounds, or is it doing something subversive to upset existing expectations? (Spoilers– there’s some major subversion of gender identity and the role of women going on, here!)

 To learn more, let’s talk about how some early Christians read passages about gender in a fundamental text on the topic, Genesis.

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Gnosis in Paul’s writings– 

Some gnostic Christians, such as the “Valentinians”, read Romans very differently than most Christians do today. They perceived Paul to be a champion of their approach to Christianity, and considered Paul’s writings to be a cornerstone of their perspectives. Let’s continue exploring The Gnostic Paul, written by the Princeton professor Elaine Pagels, to learn why some gnostic Christians saw gnosis as being a critical part of Paul’s vision for the Christian message.

If you haven’t already done so, I’d encourage you to start by reading my previous post on the Valentinian exegesis of Romans 1, Bold Gnostic Thoughts About Jesus (and Homosexuality?) from Romans 1. In that post, I talk a bit about two kinds of Christians– psychic and pneumatic; this distinction will soon become very important!The Gnostic Paul by Elaine Pagels

The Gospel of God, Not The Demiurge

Let’s start off by talking about Paul’s distinction between the God he serves and the Demiurge. In case you’re not certain what I mean by “Demiurge”, I’d encourage you to check out my post, The Demiurge, Intriguing Solution to Hard Old Testament Problems, in which I go into it at greater detail.

To summarize: today, when we read the Old Testament, we’re often struck by how… differently God is portrayed in the Old Testament than in the New Testament. Early Christians were struck by the same thing. Many early Christians responded to the tension by arguing that the God of the Old Testament is not the same God that Jesus serves in the New Testament, rather, he is a “Demiurge”– or, if you’d like, a lower/lesser God.

In Romans 1, according to Elaine Pagels’s book, some gnostic Christians saw Paul as drawing a distinction between God (the father of Jesus) and the Demiurge in passages such this one (this, and all quotes that follow, are from the NRSV):

[Jesus Christ, our Lord, was God’s] Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness

In the previous post on Pagels’ book, we discussed the psychic/pneumatic distinction; let’s tie it to the concept of the Demiurge. When Paul writes that Jesus was descended from David according to the flesh, Valentinian Christians thought that “David” signified the Demiurge– Yahweh, the creator, the giver of the law and the deity in the Old Testament whose actions and commands elicit such tension. However, Jesus’ pneumatic heritage (that is, the spirit of holiness) from the true God reveals that he was able to preach and communicate to the psychic Christians, but also spoke to pneumatic Christians.

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God Is Complicated–

The Demiurge? Many Christians today who read the New Testament struggle with God’s portrayal in the Old Testament. Some early Christians used the concept of a “Demiurge” to help resolve these tensions.

Let’s fly through some examples (quoting the NRSV):

An eye for an eye…

As a launching point, let’s talk about how discussions of retributive justice differ in the two testaments:

  • In Exodus 21, the LORD instructs that serious injury is to be compensated by similar injury to the perpetrator:
    If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life,  eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe
  • Similarly, in Leviticus 24, the LORD says to Moses that:
    Anyone who maims another shall suffer the same injury in return: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; the injury inflicted is the injury to be suffered.
  • However, in Matthew 5, Jesus directly refutes that line of reasoning– “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also;  and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well;  and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.  Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

Now, you may have a straightforward vision for resolving this tension– for example, you may think that the Old Testament is referring to a legal system of laws to be followed, while Jesus is referring to a more personal application. The important thing to note for our purposes is that you have attempted to resolve a tension in the texts; if you did not see a tension, you would not feel a need to harmonize them. Whether a given tactic is valid or not isn’t our concern here; we’re going to be talking primarily about some early Christian tactics at harmonize. They may sound unintuitive to our modern ears, but the inverse would likely be true, as well!

…A Tooth for How Many Teeth?

Consider, as well, how the LORD instructs his chosen people to approach conflict with other groups:

  • In Deuteronomy 7, the LORD calls the hearer to “enter and occupy” lands, to “dispossess” the nations, and that, “when the Lord your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy.” The LORD will “send the pestilence against them, until even the survivors and the fugitives are destroyed”, and will “throw them into great panic, until they are destroyed. “
  • In Genesis 19, “the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities, and all the Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground”. Why? Opinions on this differ– some say due to perverse sexual practices, other due to offenses against hospitality– but the text simply states, “because the outcry against its people has become great before the Lord“.
  • In Genesis 7, the LORD not only threatens, but follows through in killing almost every living thing on the planet. The LORD is given particular responsibility for this– “He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, human beings and animals and creeping things and birds of the air; they were blotted out from the earth“.

Clearly, the actions and guidance of the LORD in these passages set up readers for some ethical tension! How did the earliest Christians wrestles with questions like these? Click through to read more.

Continue reading “The Demiurge, Intriguing Solution to Hard Old Testament Problems”

Paul and Gnostic Thinkers-

Did you know that some ancient gnostics, such as those today called Valentinians, considered Paul to be primary source of their theology? In what is perhaps professor Elaine Pagel’s best work, The Gnostic Paul, she explores the perspective of these early Christians writing in the second century, who thought very differently than how most approach Christianity today. “Gnostic” can mean many different things, and it’s unlikely that many (if any) ancient Christians branded “gnostic” by heresiologists would have self-identified as such, but let’s stick with the concept for now as we explore some different perspectives. In this post, we’ll explore Romans 1 by using Pagel’s work as our guide.

The Gnostic Paul by Elaine Pagels

Ready to dive in? Let’s go!


Christians have long discussed and debated the theological significance of baptism; just as modern Christians differ, so did early Christians. The Gospel of Philip is a Christian text, likely written in the second or third century, that explores this in several ways. This text is considered by most scholars to be written by a gnostic Christian, probably one thinking along Valentinian lines. Christianity has always been composed of varied and different perspectives; let’s explore some thoughts from the Gospel of Philip on baptism!

Continue reading “Baptism… God Is a Dyer? Fascinating Valentinian Argument”