Sentences of Sextus

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The Sentences of Sextus (not to be confused with Sextus Empiricus) is a Hellenistic Pythagorean text, modified to reflect a Christian viewpoint which was popular among Christians.[1] The earliest mention of the Sentences is in the mid 3rd century by Origen.[2] Origen quotes Sextus on self-castration, a widespread habit among ascetic early Christians, which Origen deplores, and mentions in passing that the work is one "that many considered to be tested by time."[3] While previously known from other versions, a partial Coptic translation appears in one of the books of the New Testament apocrypha recovered in the Nag Hammadi library.


The work is similar to the sayings gospels called the Gospel of Phillip and the Gospel of Thomas in that it is purely a collection of sayings, with no bridging framework. Unlike the Christian sayings gospels, the wisdom comes from a man named Sextus rather than Jesus. Sextus appears to have been a Pythagorean. Some of the 451[4] sentences are:

  • The soul is illuminated by the recollection of deity
  • Bear that which is necessary, as it is necessary
  • Be not anxious to please the multitude
  • Esteem nothing so precious, which a bad man may take from you
  • Use lying like poison
  • Guard yourself from lying. (Because when you lie) there is a deceiver and the deceived.
  • Nothing is so peculiar to wisdom as truth
  • Wish that you may be able to benefit your enemies
  • A wise intellect is the mirror of God
  • Cast away any part of the body that would cause you not to live abstinently. For it is better to live abstinently without this part than ruinously with it. (quoted by Origen)


One possible author of the Sentences is Quintus Sextius, a Roman philosopher who combined Stoicism with Pythagoreanism, and who lived in the 1st century BC.[5] By the time that Rufinus translated the Sentences into Latin (c. 400), the work had become attributed to Pope Sixtus II,[6] in early times one of the most venerated of all church figures. It is unlikely that he authored the text (partly as he wasn't Pythagorean). Such attribution to important figures, which frequently happened in the apocrypha, was usually an attempt to give them more authority.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Domach 2013, p. 29
  2. ^ Origen, Contra Celsum, viii. 30; Commentary on Matthew, xv. 3
  3. ^ Origen, Commentary on Matthew, xv. 3
  4. ^ Domach 2013, p. 33
  5. ^ Richard M. Gummere, (1917), Seneca, Epistles 1-65, page 412. Loeb Classical Library.
  6. ^ Martha Lee Turner, (1996) "The Sentences of Sextus and Related Collections" in The Gospel according to Philip, page 104. BRILL.
Relevant literature
  • Wilson, Walter T. 2012. The Sentences of Sextus. (Wisdom Literature from the Ancient World 1.) Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature. [Text and commentary]
External Links
  • Chadwick, Henry, ed. (2003). The Sentences of Sextus. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521541084.
  • Domach, Zachary M. (2013). Tempered in the Christian Fire (PDF). Emory University. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-04-02.
  • "Select Sentences of Sextus the Pythagorean". Internet Sacred Text Archive. Retrieved 2017-11-13.
  • "The Nag Hammadi Library - The Sentences of Sextus". Translated by Frederik Wisse. The Gnostic Society Library. Retrieved 2017-11-13.