Gnostic Writings:

The Gospel of Truth

Information on Gospel of Truth


by Glenn Davis

The gospel of truth is joy to those who have received from the Father of truth the gift of knowing him by the power of the Logos, who has come from the Pleroma and who is in the thought and the mind of the Father; he it

Irenaeus reports that the Valentineans used of the Gospel of Truth as scripture. Unfortunately, he reveals little about the content of the work, except that it differed significantly from the canonical Gospels. Scholars are divided as to whether the Nag Hammadi Gospel of Truth (for text see [Robinson]) derives from Valentinus. More like a meditation on the Christian life and salvation than a traditional gospel, the treatise shows little trace of the elaborate speculations that are associated with the Valentinian system. Some scholars, however, believe that these speculations are not emphasized in order to conciliate orthodox opinion. If so, a date of composition in the middle of the 2nd century would be established.

On the basis of literary and conceptual affinities between the Nag Hammadi text and the exiguous fragments of Valentinus, some scholars have suggested that Valentinus himself was the author. Whatever the precise date and authorship, the work was certainly composed in Greek in an elaborate rhetorical style, by a consummate literary artist.

Despite its title, this work is not a gospel of the sort found in the New Testament, since it does not offer a continuous narration of the deeds, teachings, passion, and resurrection of Jesus. The term "gospel" in the first line preserves its early sense of "good news". It defines the text's subject, not its genre, which is best understood as a homily. Like other early Christian homilies, such as the Epistle to the Hebrews, The Gospel of Truth alternates doctrinal exposition with paraenesis and like that canonical work, it reflects on the significance of the salvific work of Jesus from a special theological perspective.

The Gospel of Truth's combination of literary and conceptual sophistication with genuine religious feeling suggests much better than the rather dry accounts of Gnostic systems in the heresiologists why the teaching of Valentinus and his school had such an appeal for many Christians of the 2nd century.

(courtesy of http://www.ntcanon.org)

S. Kent Brown writes (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, v. 6, p. 668):

The date and place of composition remain obscure. Although the work was composed in Greek before it was translated into Coptic, whether it was written in Egypt or elsewhere is uncertain. Allusions to documents known from the NT, such as Matthew (Tuckett 1984) and certain Pauline Epistles (Menard 1972), place the date well into the 2d century, a period that harmonizes with the rising influence of Valentinus. The richly subtle and sophisticated style and organization of the text, designed to invite readers in an inoffensive way to a certain view of Jesus' salvific role (Attridge 1988), may argue for a later date.

Here is what Harold W. Attridge and George W. MacRae have to say about the dating of the Gospel of Truth (The Nag Hammadi Library in English, p. 38):

A Valentinian work entitled the "Gospel of Truth" is attested in the Adversus Haereses (3.11.9) of Irenaeus. Unfortunately the heresiologist reveals little about the content of the work, except that it differed significantly from the canonical gospels. Given the general Valentinian affinities of the text of Codex I, it is quite possible that it is identical with the work known to Irenaeus. If so, a date of composition in the middle of the second century (between 140 and 180 C.E.) would be established. On the basis of literary and conceptual affinities between this text and the exiguous fragments of Valentinus, some scholars have suggested that the Gnostic teacher himself was the author. That remains a distinct possibility, although it cannot be definitively established.

Valentinus flourished from c. 140 CE to his death c. 160 CE.

(courtesy of http://www.earlychristianwritings.com)