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Valentinians and the Bible
Like all Christians, Valentinians regarded the Bible as authoritative scripture.
They were the first Christians to write extensive commentaries on the Gospels.
Their unconventional interpretive methods were frequently criticized by their
contemparies. In Egypt, they were among the earliest translators of Biblical
texts into Coptic e.g. Papyrus Bodmer III (M. Massaux, 1959, New Testament Studies
5, pp 210-12).
The Old Testament stories were interpreted allegorically. As with other early
Christians, the most commonly referenced book was Genesis. The Old Testament
Law was divided by Valentinians into:
- true law fulfilled by Christ (e.g. Ten Commandments)
- law meant symbolically
- unjust law abolished by Christ
- human legislation which is not binding
Old Testament books refered to in Valentinian sources include:
- 1 Samuel
- 1 Kings
- Song of Songs
Valentinians claimed to offer a spiritual interpretation of the New Testament.
In general, ethical passages such as the Sermon on the Mount were taken literally.
Other passages and stories were interpreted allegorically. As Elaine Pagels
(1973) shows, individual passages could have up to three layers of allegorical
Books referred to include:
- 1 Corinthians
- 2 Corinthians
- 1 Timothy
- 1 Peter
- 1 John
Like all Christians of the time, Valentinians made some use of some works which
were not later incorporated into the official canon of scripture. These include:
Apocryphon of James This work describes the final conversation Jesus
has with James and Peter before he ascends to heaven. Scholars are sharply
divided as to whether this work is Valentinian or Jewish Christian in
Gospel of Thomas A collection of sayings of Jesus possibly used by
Valentinus, Theodotus, Ptolemy and Herakleon.
- Gospel of the Egyptians This work seems to have been a sayings gospel
similar to the Gospel of Thomas. It was used by Egyptian Christians including
Valentinians in the second and third century. Apart from a few excepts, this
work is now lost.
- Proclamation of Peter This was a pseudonymous Christian apologetic
work which was widely circulated in the second century. It was used by Herakleon
in his Commentary on the Gospel of John. Much of this work survives.
Infancy Gospel of Thomas This is a collection of legends about the
childhood of Jesus. It was used by used by Marcus. The work was a favorite
of Catholics and survives virtually intact.
Elaine Pagels, 1973. The Johannine Gospel in Gnostic Exegesis: Heracleon's
Commentary on John.Nashville and New York: AbingdonPress
Elaine Pagels, 1975. The Gnostic Paul: Gnostic Exegesis of the Pauline Letters.
Philadelphia: Trinity Press International
J.A. Williams. 1988. Biblical Interpretation in the Gnostic Gospel of Truth
from Nag Hammadi. Society of Biblical Literature Dissertation Series 79. Scholar's
Content authored by David Brons