The garments are better than those who have put them on

A few years ago I would have found it convenient to dismiss any expressions that smacked as ‘gnostic’, a term I would have held to be basically synonymous with dualist (body = bad / spirit = good).  After all the church has had centuries of developing coherent defenses against any claims too far out of creedal orthodoxy. Over the past couple of years and have been able to allow myself to actually read non-orthodox expressions and allow their logic and orientation to develop their own merit.

In any event I have finally got around to chipping through the standard English translation of the Nag Hammadi library. Some of the texts clearly demand some sort of secondary explanation to orient the reader to what, at least on the surface, is a foreign concept (or expression) of reality. However, others provide surprisingly contemporary readings of theology. The question of course is what we would make them being ‘contemporary’ (i.e. non-orthodox). Are we doomed as they were? What does it mean to be doomed? Is doomed a theologically negative category?

In the Gospel of Philip (which I have just started) we have an account that unravels the easy criticism of a strict dualist outlook of the world.

Light and darkness, life and death, right and left, are brothers of one another. They are inseparable. Because of this neither are the good good, nor the evil evil, nor is life life, nor death death. For this reason each on will dissolve into its earliest origin. But those who are exalted about the world are indissoluble, eternal.

The virgin birth is also denied. The logic for this is also interesting. The Holy Spirit is female and so cannot conceive with another female. This of course raises some interesting possibilities for orthodoxy as Jesus being the conception of a lesbian union.

What I have been most curious about is a passage regarding the role of the ‘flesh’. I wanted to write it out here so that I could read it through more slowly.

Some are afraid let they rise naked. Because of this they wish to rise in the flesh, and they do not know that it those who wear flesh who are naked. It is those who [ . . . ] to unclothe themselves who are not naked. ‘Flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God’ (1 Cor 15:50). What is this which will not inherit? This which is on us. But what is this, too, which will inherit? It is that which belongs to Jesus and his blood. Because of this he said, ‘He who shall not eat my flesh and drink my blood has not life in him’ (Jn 6:35). What is it? His flesh is the word, and his blood is the holy spirit. He who has received these has food and he has drink and clothing. I find fault with the others who say that it will not rise. Then both of them are at fault. You say, that the flesh will not rise. But tell me what will rise, that we may honour you. You say the spirit in the flesh, and it is also this light in the flesh. But this too is a matter which is in flesh, for whatever you shall, say, you say nothing outside the flesh. It is necessary to rise in this flesh, since everything exists in it. In this world those who out on garments are better than the garments. In the kingdom of heaven the garments are better than those who have put them on.

I am not quite sure how to orient my thinking on this passage but I find the last few lines very suggestive and much more ‘earthy’ but not predictably so. Thoughts.


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