Gnostic Doctrine

Monday, 3 September 2018

The Father is both One and Many The Tripartite Tractate




The tripartite tractate is a unnamed text found in the Nag Hammadi library it is a Christian document from the second or third century AD


The tripartite tractate  begins by teaching that the Father is one and many at the same time:


He existed before anything other than himself came into being. The Father is singular while being many, for he is the first one and the one who is only himself.  Yet he is not like a solitary individual. Otherwise, how could he be a father? For whenever there is a "father," the name "son" follows. But the single one, who alone is the Father, is like a root, with tree, branches and fruit. (The Tripartite Tractate Einar Thomassen Translation)


When I first read this translation by Einar Thomassen it made me think of a few quotations from Phanerosis and Eureka by Dr John Thomas but first we will look a what professor Einar Thomassen says in his commentary and translation of the The tripartite tractate

Einar Thomassen writes 


“The Father is a single one, like a number” this cannot mean "number" in the sense of the numeral 1, as all translations have a better translation is "The Father is both one and many"


The emphasis in this paragraph is thus not on the oneness of the Father but on his being simultaneously one and many: While remaining one the Father contains within him the All in the sense that he contains its origin, as the root contains the tree


This agrees with the view attributed by Irenaeus (AH I 11:5) and Hippolytus (El. VI

29:3) to one Valentinian faction, which held the Father to have the principle of procreation in himself, being either male-female or above sexual distinctions


The emanations of the Father
The tripartite tractate goes on to describie the emanation of divine beings who are called aeons the figurative language is taken from the analogy of the natural world: 


They were forever in thought, for the Father was like a thought and a place for them. When their generations had been established, the one who is completely in control wished to lay hold of and to bring forth that which was deficient in the [...] and he brought forth those [...] him. But since he is as he is, he is a spring, which is not diminished by the water which abundantly flows from it. While they were in the Father's thought, that is, in the hidden depth, the depth knew them, but they were unable to know the depth in which they were; nor was it possible for them to know themselves, nor for them to know anything else. (The Tripartite Tractate)

The Father brought forth everything, like a little child, like a drop from a spring, like a blossom from a vine, like a flower, like a <planting> [...], in need of gaining nourishment and growth and faultlessness. (The Tripartite Tractate)

All those who came forth from him <who> are the aeons of the aeons, being emanations and offspring of <his> procreative nature, they too, in their procreative nature, have <given> glory to the Father, as he was the cause of their establishment. This is what we said previously, namely that he creates the aeons as roots and springs and fathers, and that he is the one to whom they give glory. (The Tripartite Tractate)

Quotating now from Phanerosis by Dr John Thomas we can see the same analogy of the natural world 

The Deity who is Light, and with whom is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5), and who is the great Fountain of life (Psa. 39:9), out of whom are all things (1 Cor. 8:6). "From everlasting to everlasting Thou art AIL" (Psa. 90:2). Ail, or EL, as it is most frequently transliterated, is the Hebrew word that stands for God in this place. It denotes Power. Power, light, and life, inherent and underived, are the attributes of the Father who is Spirit (John 4:24);
The source or fountain of power in the universe is one. It is a unit. Therefore, everything which exists is ex autou out of (emanation) Him. Hence the Creator did not "make all things out of nothing." 
(Phanerosis 1869)

The Supreme Power, or Ail, is "the Godhead," or source, fountain, or sole spring of Power. Moses and the prophets do not teach that "there are three persons, three essences, three somethings, or three anythings, in the Godhead; and that these three distinct units, or unities, constitute only one unit or one Unity -- and that that Tri-Unity is the God of Israel." They do not teach this. 
(Phanerosis 1869)

By Godhead is meant the source, spring, or fountain of Deity -- the Divine Nature in its original pre-existence before every created thing. He teaches that this Godhead was a Unit --a Homogeneous Unit, undivided into thirds, or fractions. (
Phanerosis 1869)



As we have seen, Moses and the prophets teach "One" self-existent, supreme fountain of Power, AIL who is Spirit, and self-named I SHALL BE, or Yahweh: that is ONE YAHWEH-SPIRIT POWER is "God" in the highest sense, and constitutes the "Godhead," or FATHER IN HEAVEN; and He is the Springhead of many streams, or rivers of spirit, which assume "organic forms," according to the will of the Yahweh-Spirit Power, and that when formed after the model, archetype, or the pattern, presented in HIS OWN HYPOSTASIS, or Substance, they become SPIRIT-ELOHIM, or sons of God; and are Spirit, because "born of the Spirit" -- Emanations of the formative Spirit being out of him. The Spirit-Elohim was also "God"; nevertheless they are created. They are formed and made out of and by that which is uncreated. They are Spirit-Forms, the substance of which (spirit) is eternal; while the forms are from a beginning. Each one is a God in the sense of partaking of THE DIVINE NATURE, and being therefore a Son of God. (Phanerosis 1869)

He existed before anything other than himself came into being. The Father is singular while being many, for he is the first one and the one who is only himself.  Yet he is not like a solitary individual. Otherwise, how could he be a father? For whenever there is a "father," the name "son" follows. But the single one, who alone is the Father, is like a root, with tree, branches and fruit. (The Tripartite Tractate Einar Thomassen Translation)
One Deity - One in Many, and Many in One
He existed before anything other than himself came into being. The Father is singular while being many, for he is the first one and the one who is only himself.  Yet he is not like a solitary individual. Otherwise, how could he be a father? For whenever there is a "father," the name "son" follows. But the single one, who alone is the Father, is like a root, with tree, branches and fruit. (The Tripartite Tractate Einar Thomassen Translation)

YAHWEH is as a noun, and means "He who will be," it is the memorial name the Deity chooses to be known by among His people. It reminds them that HE will be manifested in a multitude and that, in that great multitude which no man can number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, which shall stand before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands (Apoc. 7:9) - in each and every one of them, "He will be the all things in all" (1 Cor. 15:28); or, as it is expressed in Eph. 4:6, "there is one Deity and Father of all, who is upon all and through all, and in you all."

The Deity, then, in a multitude is a clearly visible element of bible teaching. It is not "One God in three Gods," and "Three Gods in One;" but one Deity in a countless multitude revealed in the memorial name, and set forth in the mystery of godliness.


The knowledge of this mystery was lost sight of by the Babel-builders of the third and fourth centuries; who, as a substitute, invented the Athanasian conceit of three persons in the Divine Essence, co-eternal and coequal. They bound up the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, three distinct persons, into one person, or body; and called the fiction "the Triune God." They did not perceive that the Deity was but one person, and one substance, peculiar to himself. One Deity and not three; that Holy Spirit is an emanation from His substance, intensely radiant and all pervading; and that, when focalized under the fiat of His will, things and persons without limit, as to number or nature, are produced.


This multitudinous manifestation of the one Deity - one in many, and many in one, by His spirit - was proclaimed to the Hebrew nation in the formula of Deut. 6:4, "Hear, O lsrael, YAHWEH our ELOHIM is the ONE YAHWEH;" that is, "He who shall be our Mighty Ones is the One who shall be." Certain Mighty Ones are promised to Israel - pastors according to YAHWEH's heart, who shall feed them with knowledge and understanding; - they will be spirit, because "that which is born of the spirit is spirit."

He, the Spirit, the Power of the universe, self-titled YAHWEH, is their Divine Father. His nature will be theirs; so that they will be consubstantial with Him, as all children are consubstantial with their parents. The Deity will then be manifested in the Sons of Deity; He in them, and they in Him, by the one spirit. And this company of sons, led to glory by the captain of their salvation, is "the ONE who shall be," or "the ONE YAHWEH."


Of these sons, or Elohim, One is "the Firstborn" - "the child born, and the son given" (Isa. 9:6). He is the chief, "the Head of the Body;" in whom it pleased the Father that all the fulness should dwell, that among all He might have the preeminence.


There are not three Gods in the Godhead; nor are there but three in manifestation; nevertheless, the Father is God and Jesus is God; and we may add, so are all the brethren of Jesus gods; and "a multitude which no man can number." The Godhead is the homogeneous fountain of the Deity; these other gods are the many streams which form this fountain flow. The springhead of Deity is one, not many; the streams as numerous as the orbs of the universe, in which a manifestation of Deity may have hitherto occurred. (Phanerosis 1869)


Taken from Eureka by Dr John Thomas (Christadelphian)

1 comment:

  1. The father who is the root of the totality the one from whom we have received grace to speak about so of course this is just introducing to us that this section is going to be about God in the beginning. Second, the Father has existed before any other being came into existence. The Father is a single one, like a number for he is the first one and the one who is only himself yet he is not like a solitary individual otherwise how could he be a father. Now this is where the writer is going to break away from some concepts of the way perhaps some Gnostics understand God some Gnostics will present to you what is called the monad that was the beginning meaning God was totally by himself and there was nothing else but God from the beginning. There are others that believe God was in fact a Godhead made up of a trinity such as you get from the Catholic Church

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