Gnostic Doctrine

Saturday, 26 December 2020

The Gnostic Priesthood

The Gnostic Priesthood
Do Gnostics Need Priests?

Since the Jewish priesthood is referred to in some texts of the Nag Hammadi we should look at the Jewish priesthood normally referred to as the the Levitical priesthood

The idea of a Priesthood comes from the Old Testament

In the Bible we can read how a priesthood was set up for the people of Israel in Old Testament times, by God's command to their leader Moses. A considerable proportion of the priests' duties was in connection with animal sacrifices which the people offered to God for the forgiveness of sins, or as an act of thanksgiving. The offerings were only accepted if offered through the service of a priest. 

In the New Testament it is made very clear that for the Christian, Christ has taken over the function of High Priest and that in offering himself on the cross, for the sins of the world, he has removed the value of any other sacrifice. He has also removed the need for any other priest. as we can read in the apostle Paul's letter to the Hebrews :

"Consequently he is able for all times to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them" (Heb. ch 7 v 25 RSV)

The need for no other mediator except Christ is put very strongly by the Apostle Paul in his second letter to Timothy:

"For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. ch 2 v 5 AV )

Wherever we look in the New Testament it is clear that the early churches did not have priests. We read in Acts chapter 3 verse 46, that they went from house to house breaking bread and praising God.

Later on in time, Paul writing to the church in Corinth said that:
". . . . God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets,. third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues". ( 1 Cor. ch l2 v 28 NIV )

He makes no mention of the need for priests.
Bishop and Deacons
elders, sometimes called "bishops" (meaning shepherds or overseers had, as we have seen, responsibilities towards their fellow believers. The bishop's role was that of a shepherd. He was not in Jesus' place in the community, but had to display the same concern for the "flock" - of which he was also a part. 

Other tasks, also of service, were entrusted to men and women qualified to fulfil them. Whereas elders' responsibilities were directed more to the spiritual needs of believers, "deacons" were involved with their physical needs. In the New Testament only the Lord Jesus Christ is recognised as a priest. Nor do any of the descriptions of the work of elders, bishops or deacons suggest that these had any priestly function. None of the other church "offices" are Bible terms either: they have all been invented by men. 

“All you are brothers,” Jesus had said to his disciples. “Your Leader is one, the Christ.” (Matt. 23:8, 10) So there was no clergy class within Christian congregations of the first century. As to organization, each congregation was supervised by a body of overseers, or spiritual elders. All the elders had equal authority, and not one of them was authorized to ‘lord it over’ the flock in their care. (Acts 20:17; Phil. 1:1; 1 Pet. 5:2, 3) However, as the apostasy unfolded, things began to change—quickly. (The Watchtower)

Yet by A.D. 200, the situation had changed. Christianity had become an institution headed by a three-rank hierarchy of bishops, priests, and deacons, who understood themselves to be the guardians of the only "true faith." (The Gnostic Gospels, Elaine Pagels)

The author accuses them of having misinterpreted the apostles' teaching, and thus having set up an "imitation church" in place of the true Christian "brotherhood." Other gnostics, including the followers of Valentinus, did not challenge the bishop's right to the common apostolic tradition. Nor did they oppose, in principle, the leadership of priests and bishops. But for them the church's teaching, and the church officials, could never hold the ultimate authority which orthodox Christians accorded them. All who had received gnosis, they say, had gone beyond the church's teaching and had transcended the authority of its hierarchy. 
(The Gnostic Gospels, Elaine Pagels)

Gnosis offers nothing less than a theological justification for refusing to obey the bishops and priests! The initiate now sees them as the "rulers and powers" who rule on earth in the demiurge's name. The gnostic admits that the bishop, like the demiurge, exercises legitimate authority over most Christians—those who are uninitiated. But the bishop's demands, warnings, and threats, like those of the demiurge himself, can no longer touch the one who has been "redeemed." (The Gnostic Gospels, Elaine Pagels)

Speaking about the organisation of the Valentinian church Einar Thomassen writes 

The community would meet on Sundays (whether before sunrise or in the evening—or both—we do not know).

Valentinian initiates took turns performing the various liturgical tasks ensuring a high degree of participation by the membership. According to Tertullian, "Today one man is bishop and tomorrow another; the person who is a deacon today, tomorrow is a reader; the one who is a priest is a layman tomorrow. For even on the laity they impose the functions of priesthood." ( Tertullian Against the Valentinians 1) He goes on to relate that even women could take the role of bishop, much to his horror.
The Priesthood in Gnostic Gospels
The Gospel of Thomas and the Apocarphon of John refer to the Pharisees

Pharisee a Jewish religious party Josephus claimed that Pharisees received the full support and goodwill of the common people, apparently in contrast to the more elite Sadducees, who were the upper class. 

Sadducees represented the authority of the priestly privileges and prerogatives established since the days of Solomon, when Zadok, their ancestor, officiated as High Priest.

only those of the family line of Arron could be a priest who would serve at God’s altar, this is called the Levitical priesthood. 

The word priest is used in the gospel of Philip in relation to the Jewish priesthood:

If some are in the tribe of the priesthood, these shall be permitted to enter within the veil (of the Temple) with the High Priest. Therefore the veil was not torn at the top only, else it would have been opened only for those who are above; nor was it torn at the bottom only, else it would have been revealed only to those who are below. But rather it was torn from the top to the bottom. Those who are above opened to us who are below, in order that we shall enter into the secret of the truth. (Gospel of Philip)

the word priest is used again in the second apocalypse of James

This is the discourse that James the Just spoke in Jerusalem, which Mareim, one of the priests, wrote. (second apocalypse of James)

And I was with the priests and revealed nothing of the relationship, since all of them were saying with one voice, 'Come, let us stone the Just One.' And they arose, saying, 'Yes, let us kill this man, that he may be taken from our midst. For he will be of no use to us.' (second apocalypse of James)

Mareim: Scribe said to have written down the words of James the Just in the Second Revelation of James.

Some Gnostic texts refer to the Catholic Priesthood: 

The Gospel of Judas

THE DISCIPLES SEE THE TEMPLE AND DISCUSS IT They [said, “We have seen] a great [house with a large] altar [in it, and] twelve men— they are the priests, we would say—and a name; and a crowd of people is waiting at that altar, [until] the priests [… and receive] the offerings. [But] we kept waiting.” [Jesus said], “What are [the priests] like?” They [said, “Some …] two weeks; [some] sacrifice their own children, others their wives, in praise [and] humility with each other; some sleep with men; some are involved in [slaughter]; some commit a multitude of sins and deeds of lawlessness. And the men who stand [before] the altar invoke your [name], [39] and in all the deeds of their deficiency, the sacrifices are brought to completion […].” After they said this, they were quiet, for they were troubled. 

JESUS OFFERS AN ALLEGORICAL INTERPRETATION OF THE VISION OF THE TEMPLE Jesus said to them, “Why are you troubled? Truly I say to you, all the priests who stand before that altar invoke my name. Again I say to you, my name has been written on this […] of the generations of the stars through the human generations. [And they] have planted trees without fruit, in my name, in a shameful manner.” Jesus said to them, “Those you have seen receiving the offerings at the altar—that is who you are. That is the god you serve, and you are those twelve men you have seen. The cattle you have seen brought for sacrifice are the many people you lead astray [40] before that altar. […] will stand and make use of my name in this way, and generations of the pious will remain loyal to him. After him another man will stand there from [the fornicators], and another [will] stand there from the slayers of children, and another from those who sleep with men, and those who abstain, and the rest of the people of pollution and lawlessness and error, and those who say, ‘We are like angels’; they are the stars that bring everything to its conclusion. For to the human generations it has been said, ‘Look, God has received your sacrifice from the hands of a priest’—that is, a minister of error. But it is the Lord, the Lord of the universe, who commands, ‘On the last day they will be put to shame.’” [41] Jesus said [to them], “Stop sac[rificing …] which you have […] over the altar, since they are over your stars and your angels and have already come to their conclusion there. So let them be [ensnared] before you, and let them go [—about 15 lines missing—] generations […]. A baker cannot feed all creation [42] under [heaven]. And […] to them […] and […] to us and […]. Jesus said to them, “Stop struggling with me. Each of you has his own star, and every[body—about 17 lines missing—] [43] in […] who has come [… spring] for the tree […] of this aeon […] for a time […] but he has come to water God’s paradise, and the [generation] that will last, because [he] will not defile the [walk of life of] that generation, but […] for all eternity.” (Gospel of Judas)

The Apcapsel of Peter

And as he was saying these things, I saw the priests and the people running up to us with stones, as if they would kill us; and I was afraid that we were going to die. 
And he said to me, "Peter, I have told you many times that they are blind ones who have no guide. 
If you want to know their blindness, put your hands upon (your) eyes - your robe - and say what you see." 
But when I had done it, I did not see anything. I said "No one sees (this way)." 
Again he told me, "Do it again." 
And there came in me fear with joy, for I saw a new light greater than the light of day. Then it 
came down upon the Savior. And I told him about those things which I saw. 
And he said to me again, "Lift up your hands and listen to what the priests and the people are 
And I listened to the priests as they sat with the scribes. The multitudes were shouting with their voice. 
When he heard these things from me he said to me, "Prick up your ears and listen to the things they are saying." 
And I listened again, "As you sit, they are praising you". 
And when I said these things, the Savior said, "I have told you that these (people) are blind and deaf. Now then, listen to the things which they are telling you in a mystery, and guard them, Do not tell them to the sons of this age. For they shall blaspheme you in these ages since they are ignorant of you, but they will praise you in knowledge." (The Apcapsel of Peter) 
The Priesthood of the New Covenant
On Pentecost day of the year 33 C.E., the Law covenant came to an end and the “better covenant,” the new covenant, was inaugurated. (Heb 8:6-9) On that day God made manifest this change by the outpouring of holy spirit. The apostle Peter then explained to the Jews present from many nations that their only salvation now lay in repentance and acceptance of Jesus Christ. (Ac 2; Heb 2:1-4) Later, Peter spoke of the Jewish builders rejecting Jesus Christ as the cornerstone and then said to Christians: “But you are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession.’”—1Pe 2:7-9. (Watchtower)

Peter explained also that the new priesthood is “a spiritual house for the purpose of a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1Pe 2:5) Jesus Christ is their great High Priest, and they, like Aaron’s sons, make up the underpriesthood. (Heb 3:1; 8:1) Yet, different from the Aaronic priesthood, which had no part in kingship, kingship and priesthood are combined in this “royal priesthood” of Christ and his joint heirs. (Watchtower)

Wisdom summons you in her goodness, saying, "Come to Me, all of you, O foolish ones, that you may receive a gift, the understanding which is good and excellent. I am giving to you a high-priestly garment which is woven from every (kind of) wisdom." What else is evil death except ignorance? What else is evil darkness except familiarity with forgetfulness? Cast your anxiety upon God alone. Do not become desirous of gold and silver, which are profitless, but clothe yourself with wisdom like a robe; put knowledge on yourself like a crown, and be seated upon a throne of perception. For these are yours, and you will receive them again on high another time. (The Teachings of Silvanus)

In the Teachings of Silvanus from the Nag Hammadi Library we find the author speaking about a "high-priestly garment"  which is "woven from every kind of wisdom." 

Let Christ alone enter your world, and let him bring to naught all powers which have come upon you. Let him enter the temple which is within you, so that he may cast out all the merchants. Let him dwell in the temple which is within you, and may you become for him a priest and a Levite, entering in purity. (
The Teachings of Silvanus)

Revelation 7:7 12,000 from the tribe of Levi,

In the list of 12 tribes in Revelation 7 Joseph replaces Ephraim, suggesting that it is the Israel of God (Gal. 6:16), and not natural Israel, to which reference is made. Levi is listed as possessing a tribal inheritance whereas under the Law he had none, suggesting that the Melchizedek priesthood has replaced the Levitical (Ezek. 44:15; Rev. 5;9-10).

The Temple, the naos, only priests could lawfully enter. Both the individual believer (1 Cor. 6:19), as well as the Ecclesia (Eph. 2:21; 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 2 Cor. 6:16) are treated as the Temple, or naos.

In the Valentinian Exposition from the Nag Hammadi Library Jesus is the "true High Priest" and "the one who has the authority to enter the Holies of Holies"

When he willed, the First Father revealed himself in him. Since, after all, because of him the revelation is available to the All, I for my part call the All 'the desire of the All'. And he took such a thought concerning the All - I for my part call the thought 'Monogenes'. For now God has brought Truth, the one who glorifies the Root of the All. Thus it is he who revealed himself in Monogenes, and in him he revealed the Ineffable One [...] the Truth. They saw him dwelling in the Monad and in the Dyad and in the Tetrad. He first brought forth Monogenes and Limit. And Limit is the separator of the All and the confirmation of the All, since they are [...] the hundred [...]. He is the Mind [...] the Son. He is completely ineffable to the All, and he is the confirmation and the hypostasis of the All, the silent veil, the true High Priest, the one who has the authority to enter the Holies of Holies, revealing the glory of the Aeons and bringing forth the abundance to <fragrance>. The East [...] that is in Him. He is the one who revealed himself as the primal sanctuary and the treasury of the All. And he encompassed the All, he who is higher than the All. 
(A Valentinian Exposition)

According to Herakleon, the Fullness is "the Holy of Holies, into which only the High-Priest enters, into which the spiritual go" (Herakleon Fragment 13). The Gospel of Philip links the opening provided by Christ with the tearing of the veil at the time of Jesus' death (Matthew 27:51). According to Philip,

"If others belong to the order of the priesthood they will be able to enter within the veil with the High Priest. For this reason the veil was not torn at the top only, since it would have been open only to those above; nor was it torn at the bottom only, since it would have been revealed only to those below. But rather it was torn from top to bottom. The upper realm was opened to us in the lower realm, in order that we may enter into the hidden realm of Truth....The Holies of the Holies was uncovered, and the Bridal Chamber invites us in. " (Gospel of Philip 105).
The Modern Gnostic Priesthood
The following is written by Tomas Kindahl

It’s either paleo-Gnostic (old Gnostic) Mandaeans tarmidas, like these:

or it is neo-Gnostics (new Gnostics), for example like these guys (Ecclesia Gnostica):

The only surviving paleo-Gnostics are the Mandaeans, they branched from Judaism probably before Jesus. They refer John the Baptist — not Jesus.

The neo-Gnostics are (almost always) Christians that has added some beliefs from what’s considered Valentinian scriptures in the Nag Hammadi library. Among them are a lot of annoying New-Age self-elected prophets. There are many branches among the neo-Gnostics.

There are a lot of pseudo-Gnostics (fake Gnostics) too: the common trait being that they don’t care about the Mandean Scriptures nor the Nag Hammadi scriptures, but instead refer to some self-elected prophet, either Aleister Crowley, or Gurdjieff, or Victor Gomez-Rodrigues (calling himself Samael Aun Weor). They’re not in any way useful.

To be “gnostic” means that you claim to have “secret knowledge;” in other words, knowledge revealed only to you which you are meant to reveal to the world in your own time and your own way.

This is a direct contradiction of ancient Christian belief which says that public revelation - that is, new knowledge revealed by God for all people - ended with the death of the last Apostle, the last person given authority directly by Christ.

Thus, a “gnostic priest” is not a “mystic,” which is a person who studies and lives the depth of the public revelation given to the Church (both in Sacred Tradition and in Scripture), but is simply a person who claims to have knowledge from God that no one else has

These people should be avoided, for the sake of your soul.

Been to that church several times. They consider themselves to be Gnostic-Catholics, which, to be sure, is a contradiction. They borrow a lot from orthodox Christian liturgies (both Roman or Protestant) and remold them to better fit the Gnostic heresy. 

Of course, it’s all anachronistic confusion. 

Ancient gnostics had their own liturgical practices and elaborate rituals. And, of course they were basically corruptions of the Christian liturgies of that time. 

Gnosticism is not Christianity though, no more than Islam is Christianity.


  1. A very well researched piece of work, informative and has given me something to seriously think about.
    Perhaps a priest role is better defined as a focus for those of Gnostic mind who wish to come together or a priest can act like a teacher but instead of offering interpretation offers direction as to where to find the knowledge.

    We all need teachers to some degree.

    1. Valentinian initiates took turns performing the various liturgical tasks ensuring a high degree of participation by the membership. According to Tertullian, "Today one man is bishop and tomorrow another; the person who is a deacon today, tomorrow is a reader; the one who is a priest is a layman tomorrow. For even on the laity they impose the functions of priesthood." ( Tertullian Against the Valentinians 1) He goes on to relate that even women could take the role of bishop, much to his horror.

  2. Look up epignosis. If your soul are on the road of AO back to God, away from this world creator, would you like to experience how the bigger sacraments are like buss stops on that road that takes you home? When the holy spirits hits you it very often those so in stages... Look at what happend to JC, what he went through... To have somebody that have traveled this road before you would maybe be like having an buss driver. If not you might drive the wrong way in the wilderness. Would you need a priest or a buss driver? The question is not if you need on, but if you can find the right one, and how is done. Most modern priest are not good buss drivers, they simply do not know how. But there are a few good ones out there in the wilderness. Gurdjieff was once asked who are are you. He said if you really want or need to know look at me as john the Baptist, I'm only a witness... The he went on talking about what Christianety really is... And how people have forgotten that in about 2000 years. So now it's Christmas, and what is really that? And what kind of buss stop would that be on the road from A to O. A priest? I don't know 🤔 A buss driver from A to O... Yes thank you 🙏 🙂, as long as he knows the road, and to merely give a impression on it. Happy Christ-mass to all of you 💙+++🙏

    1. Do we really need a priest to help us gain enlightenment and the forgiveness of sins from God?

    2. Jesus himself intercedes for us as High Priest, just as was prefigured in Israel’s priesthood. Hebrews 9:24 says: “Christ entered, not into a holy place made with hands, which is a copy of the reality, but into heaven itself, now to appear before the person of God for us.” Thus, the surpassing excellence of Christ’s high priesthood makes obsolete the need for human priests as intercessors. Yet, the services of underpriests are still necessary. In what way?