It can be hard for those with different perspectives on religion and spirituality to be bold and direct. In the Secret Book of James, Jesus commands Peter and James to resist the temptation to shy away from conflict and keep their faith as a strictly internal matter. Let’s dive into a few passages from the text, using the Marvin Meyer’s translation found in the Nag Hammadi Scriptures

How Dare  You Be Apathetic?

In the Secret Book of James, Jesus reprimands James and Peter:

Do you still dare to listen when from the beginning you should have been speaking? Do you still dare to sleep when from the beginning you should have been awake so that heaven’s kingdom might receive you?The Secret Book of James (Bold Christian Text)

For Jesus, there may indeed be a time for listening, but this is not it. We must not go through our lives as those asleep, when we are called to being awake that the kingdom of God might receive us. We are challenged to not accept passivity or apathy, but to be bold and active as we engage with spirituality. This passage is immediately followed by:

I tell you the truth, it is easier for a holy person to sink into defilement and for an enlightened person to sink into darkness than for you to reign— or not to reign.

To reign is to commit; to not reign is to commit. Jesus here challenges James and Peter that it would be easier for them to become sinners or unenlightened (which should sound impossible for apostles such as these!) than it would be for them to be bold, as they are commanded to do. They– and thus we– stand condemned if they refuse to take a stand, make a commitment, and to live with their decision.

Interested in learning more? Click below to keep reading!

But What If I Am Rejected?

Certainly, one might be afraid of rejection. Rejection can be scary, and it can be hard when people don’t want to engage with matters that are important to you. Still in the Secret Book of James, Jesus notes that he himself went through this:

I tell you the truth, if I had been sent to those who would listen to me and had spoken with them, I would never have come down to earth. Now be ashamed.

This is some seriously snarky Jesus! He’s noting that, if he came to Earth to speak with those that would’ve taken him seriously, he never would’ve come at all! Therefore, we should be ashamed— Jesus sacrificed everything to share his message and God’s will, despite knowing he would be rejected; why won’t we do a fraction of what he did?

Nevertheless, you, through faith and knowledge, have received life. So disregard rejection when you hear it, but when you hear about the promise, be joyful all the more. I tell you the truth, whoever will receive life and believe in the kingdom will never leave it, not even if the Father wants to banish him.

So, here we’re getting into some more complex content. We’re told that our faith and knowledge (gnosis) have brought us life, and the promise of the kingdom of heaven should fill us with joy. It is our bold affirmation— our belief– that secures our place.

Why, then, you may be wondering, would the Father ever want to “banish” us? Doesn’t seem bizarre to think that God would want to banish us from the kingdom of heaven? I’ll argue that there are two levels at which we should understand this passage; the first is the superficial understanding, and the second is the implied meta-commentary:

  1. The “Father”, in this sense, may well refer to the Demiurge; if you’re not familiar with that word in this context, you can read more about it here. The Christians who wrote and read the Secret Book of James likely belonged to a demiurgical tradition, and thus the Demiurge would want to banish those who know that there is a greater God above it. However, according to the Secret Book of John, if we stand firm in our faith and are bold in choosing the path of true knowledge/gnosis of God, the Demiurge is powerless to condemn us.
  2. The deeper meaning here is likely that the Demiurge is a metaphor for a broader Christian community. By the time this book was written (probably between 100-150, AD), Christian communities were experiencing strong tensions about beliefs that helped identify them. The writer may have been thinking in terms of Christians who would be expelled or banished for holding certain demiurgical beliefs, and noting that their faith in God would preserve their salvation even if they were banished.

I should note, though, that some thinkers don’t think it’s correct to associate “the Father” in this passage with the Demiurge. I’m not completely confident, at this point– it’s worth investigating other interpretations.


If I’m Bold, Should I Be Prideful?

While the Secret Books of James encourages Christians to be bold, it also warns them not to be prideful.

Jesus commands Peter and James:

Do not let heaven’s kingdom become a desert within you. Do not be proud because of the light that enlightens. Rather, act toward yourselves as I myself have toward you. I have put myself under a curse for you that you might be saved.

These apostles may have had an enlightened faith; however, Christ was not prideful about it, and neither should they be. In fact, Jesus put himself under a curse– he lowered himself– that he might share this salvific knowledge with others. We are instructed to do the same. If we have the light that enlightens, we are to help others obtain it as well, even if it involves lowering our own stature or position.


If I’m Bold, Should I Be Selfish?

To conclude this post, I want to walk through a part of the Secret Book of James which occurs near the end, after James and Peter return to the other disciples who clearly have questions:

For the other disciples called to us and asked us, “What did you hear from the teacher? What did he tell you? Where did he go?” We answered them, “He ascended. He gave us his right hand, and promised all of us life. He showed us children coming after us and commanded [us] to love them, since we are to be [saved] for their sakes.” When they heard this, they believed the revelation, but they were angry about those who would be born.

There are two specific points I want to break down, here:

  1. When asked to summarize of Jesus’ revelation, note that the apostles have a very straightforward and easily understandable affirmation:
    “He ascended” — Jesus left for someplace greater.
    “He gave us his right hand”– Jesus invited James and Peter to join him in ascension.
    And promised all of us life“– Jesus’ reward is not death or destruction, but boldness and life.
    He showed us children coming after us and commanded [us] to love them“– Our commandment is to love the weaker and those developing their faith
    “Since we are to be [saved] for their sakes.“– We are not saved for our own sake, but for the sake of those who walk after us.
  2. How did the disciples respond? On the one hand, they objectively believed everything that was said. Could they affirm that Jesus ascended, gave us his right hand, promised us life, and promised us to love those who are children? Absolutely.
    Nevertheless, they were “angry about those who would be born”. The disciples wanted to be a big deal. They wanted salvation, enlightenment, and the kingdom of heaven to ultimately be about their own salvation. Even though they knew intellectually that this was wrong, that nevertheless was their perspective and practice.

So, here’s a summary of (this part of– there’s more we could cover!) the Secret Book of James:

Be bold– take responsibility for your faith and spiritual development, and don’t be afraid to make waves. However, don’t let your boldness turn into pride, and remember that it’s ultimately not about you– you need to pass it forward.


Further Reading


2 thoughts on “Jesus Commands: Be Bold (in the Secret Book of James)

Leave a Reply