Gnostic Doctrine

Monday, 6 August 2018

Christian Gnostic Understanding of the Soul

Christian Gnostic Understanding of the Soul




The Soul in early church teaching 




Wise men of old gave the soul a feminine name. Indeed she is female in her nature as well. She even has her womb. (The Exegesis on the Soul)

The text from the nag hammadi libray The Exegesis on the Soul says "Wise men of old gave the soul a feminine name." This is true because the word soul is a Feminine Noun, in hebrew, Greek and Coptic. 


According to April D. DeConick in her book The Gnostic New Age "most Gnostics thought that the psyche, or soul, was mortal." 

This is true for the Jewish-Christian Gnostics like the Valentinians however some pagan Gnostics believed in the immortal soul. This study will look at those Gnostic texts which believe the soul is moral.

The concept  of the immortality of the soul comes from Greek philosophy it is not an idea found in Jewish-Christian scriptures known as the Holy Bible

So what is a Christian Gnostic understanding of the soul?


According to the Extracts from the Works of Theodotus found in the works of Clement of Alexandria, the "soul is a body" (Extract 14) it was created from "dust from the earth" with which "he fashioned a soul, earthly and material" (Extract 50)
Therefore according to Valentinian Christians he soul is a natural or physical body:

14 The demons are said to be incorporeal, not because they have no bodies (for they have even shape and are, therefore, capable of feeling punishment), but they are said to be incorporeal because, in comparison with the spiritual bodies which are saved, they are a shade. And the angels are bodies; at any rate they are seen. Why even the soul is a body, for the Apostle says, "It is sown a body of soul, it is raised a body of spirit." (1cor 15:44) And how can the souls which are being punished be sensible of it, if they are not bodies? Certainly he says, "Fear him who, after death, is able to cast soul and body into hell." () Now that which is visible is not purged by fire, but is dissolved into dust. But, from the story of Lazarus and Dives, the soul is directly shown by its possession of bodily limbs to be a body. (Extracts from the Works of Theodotus)

Here the Extracts from the Works of Theodotus is quoting from 1 Corinthians 15:44 this is to show the soul is a body notice it says "is a body" not "has a body"

1cor 15:44 It is sown a body of the soul (literally in Greek - a soulical body) , it is raised a body of the spirit; if there is a body of the soul, there is also of the spirit:— 

45 Thus, also, it is written—The first man, Adam, became, a living soul, the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 
46 Howbeit, not first, is the [body] of the spirit, but that, of the soul,—afterwards, that of the spirit. (Rotherham's Emphasized Bible)

Also  the Extracts from the Works of Theodotus shows that the soul can be destroyed in Gehenna


The Origin of the Soul
Do the Gnostic texts speak about the the origin of the soul?

Yes the gospel of Philip and the Extracts from the Works of Theodotus describe the creation of the soul:

50 “Taking dust from the earth”: not of the land but a portion of matter but of varied constitution and colour, he fashioned a soul, earthly and material, irrational and consubstantial with that of the beasts. (Extracts from the Works of Theodotus)

Adam’s soul came from a breath. The soul’s companion is spirit, and the spirit given to him is his mother. (Gospel of Philip).

Is there a distinction between soul and spirit

Yes like the Bible the Gnostic texts or apocryphal gospels make a distinction between soul and spirit

Then Peter answered, “Look, three times you have told us, ‘Be filled,’ but we are filled.”
The savior answered and said, “For this reason I have told you, ‘Be filled,’ that you may not lack. Those who lack will not be saved. To be filled is good and to lack is bad. Yet since it is also good for you to lack but bad for you to be filled, whoever is filled also lacks. One who lacks is not filled in the way another who lacks is filled, but whoever is filled is brought to an appropriate end. So you should lack when you can fill yourselves and be filled when you lack, that you may be able to fill yourselves more. Be filled with spirit but lack in reason, for reason is of the soul. It is soul.” (The Apocryphon of James)


The Soul is Temporary

Some apocryphal text speak about the death of the soul 


“He  knows about desire and what the flesh needs. Does it not desire the soul? The body does not sin apart from the soul just as the soul is not saved apart from the spirit. But if the soul is saved from evil and the spirit too is saved, the body becomes sinless. The spirit animates the soul but the body kills it. The soul kills itself. (The Apocryphon of James)

Heracleon was a Valentinian Gnostic in his Commentary on the Gospel of John he rejects the doctrine of the immortal soul

Fragment 40, on John 4:46-53 (In John 4:46, “So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose child was ill.) The official was the Craftsman, for he himself ruled like a king over those under him. Because his domain is small and transitory, he was called an “official,” like a petty princeling who is set over a small kingdom by the universal king. The “child” “in Capernaun” is one who is in the lower part of the Middle (i.e. of animate substance), which lies near the sea, that is, which is linked with matter. The child’s proper person was sick, that is, in a condition not in accordance with the child’s proper nature, in ignorance and sins. (In John 4:47, “When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his child , for it was at the point of death.”) The words “from Judea to Galilee” mean ‘from the Judea above.’. . . By the words “it was at the point of death,” the teaching of those who claim that the soul is immortal is refuted. In agreement with this is the statement that “the body and soul are destoyed in Hell.” (Matthew 10:28) The soul is not immortal, but is possessed only of a disposition towards salvation, for it is the perishable which puts on imperishability and the mortal which puts on immortality when “its death is swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:54) [Heracleon: Fragments from his Commentary on the Gospel of John]









Then I answered, "I am not so miserable a fellow, Trypho, as to say one thing and think another. I admitted to you formerly, that I and many others are of this opinion, and[believe] that such will take place, as you assuredly are aware; but, on the other hand, I signified to you that many who belong to the pure and pious faith, and are true Christians, think otherwise. Moreover, I pointed out to you that some who are called Christians, but are godless, impious heretics, teach doctrines that are in every way blasphemous, atheistical, and foolish. But that you may know that I do not say this before you alone, I shall draw up a statement, so far as I can, of all the arguments which have passed between us; in which I shall record myself as admitting the very same things which I admit to you. For I choose to follow not men or men's doctrines, but God and the doctrines [delivered] by Him. For if you have fallen in with some who are called Christians, but who do not admit this [truth], and venture to blaspheme the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven; do not imagine that they are Christians, even as one, if he would rightly consider it, would not admit that the Sadducees, or similar sects of Genist , Meristae,Gelilaeans, Hellenists, Pharisees, Baptists, are Jews (do not hear me impatiently when I tell you what I think), but are[only] called Jews and children of Abraham, worshipping God with the lips, as God Himself declared, but the heart was far from Him. But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged, the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and others declare. (Justin Martyr: Dialogue with Trypho Chapter 80)


So both the Gnostic and orthodox christians did not believe in the doctrine of immoral souls going to heaven


The Gnostics thought that the human soul is limited by language, emotion, and ethics, leaving us with an inadequate and false sense of who we really are.



When we realize that Gnostic spirituality is not focused on the liberation of soul but on the spirit, we find an innovation that makes its way into Gnostic myth and ritual performance. If the gods of this world are false, then the spirit has to come from wherever the true God lives. So we see in Gnostic thought the emergence of a transcendent realm that houses the true God and the human spirit. It is this spirit that descends down through the spheres and takes on a soul and a body in the process. Its liberation means purgation of the soul’s negativity and the body’s inclinations so that the spirit can become lighter and fl y home

No comments:

Post a comment