Testimony of Truth

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Testimony of Truth is a Gnostic Christian text.[1] It is the third of three treatises in Codex IX of the Nag Hammadi library texts, taking up pages 29–74 of the codex.[2] The original title is unknown; the editor created the title based on expressions in the text, such as "the word of truth" and "true testimony."[3] The text is a homily that argues for accepting spiritual truth and renouncing the material world.[4] The author interprets the serpent that instructed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden[5] as Christ, who revealed knowledge of a malevolent Creator.[6] Testimony of Truth is also the only Nag Hammadi text that identifies opposing Gnostic Christian groups by name.[1]


The text was discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945[7] as one of the 51 total treatises transcribed into the 13 codices that make up the Nag Hammadi library.[8] The codices had been buried around 400 AD.[9] The writing is a Coptic translation of a Greek original.[9] Authorship of the original Testimony of Truth text is estimated to the late 2nd or early 3rd century AD, near Alexandria.[10]

The beginning of the text (pages 29–45) is the best preserved section, whereas the rest of the text is fragmentary.[11] Additionally, the last pages of the codex (75–76) are missing.[11] In total, approximately 45 percent of the text is lost or damaged.[12]

Along with the rest of the works in the Nag Hammadi library, the text was translated into English and published in The Nag Hammadi Library in English in 1977.[13] The publication was part of the work of the Coptic Gnostic Library Project, which began in 1966 at Claremont Graduate University.[7] Birger A. Pearson and Søren Giverson translated the text to English.[14]


The opening addresses those who have searched for truth but have been influenced by the old ways of the Pharisees and the scribes,[15] who belong to the archons.[16] Those who follow the Law are unable to understand the truth[17] and are limited by their carnal desires.[18] The Son of Man, who came from Imperishability,[19] reveals the truth[20] and has overcome passions.[21] The foolish who confess to being Christians only in word and not with power[22] will fall into the hands of the principalities and authorities because of their ignorance.[23] The Son of Man performed many mighty works, including raising the dead[24] and walking on water,[25] but the empty martyrs cannot raise themselves.[26]

Those who believe they will be saved through martyrdom are misguided, since salvation is not achieved through death.[27] Instead, knowledge and self-awareness leads to true salvation.[28] The resurrection of the flesh, which many people expect, is instead a path to destruction.[29] True salvation is achieved through understanding and embracing the word of God,[30] and those who do so will be transferred to the heights and achieve eternal life.[31] But those who receive the word with ignorance will be dominated by defiled pleasures and will not reach heaven.[32]

The text describes the journey of a man who renounces the material world and turns towards the truth to gain knowledge of God and himself.[33] He gains wisdom and insight, breaking free from the constraints of the material world and entering into imperishability.[34] When a person knows both themselves and God, they will be saved and receive the crown unfading.[35] The text also distinguishes between the births of John the Baptist and Christ and encourages the reader to seek the meaning of the mysteries behind their births.[36]

The Brazen Serpent
The Brazen Serpent watercolor painting by James Tissot

The text criticizes the God of the Law as portrayed in Genesis, calling him malicious and envious of Adam for eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.[37] The author argues that the serpent that instructed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is Christ,[38] citing the bronze serpent from Numbers 21:9.[39][40] The author believes that simply saying "we believe in Christ" is not enough and true faith requires a spiritual understanding of Christ.[41]

The latter part of the text discusses different Gnostic sects and their leaders, including Valentinus,[42] Basilides,[43] and Simon Magus.[44] It criticizes the teachings of these leaders and their followers, who do not truly understand salvation.[45] The author calls them heretics,[46] says they belong to the archons,[47] and expects punishment in an unquenchable fire.[48] The author continues condemning those who have failed to renounce their desires, saying they are gratified by unrighteous Mammon[49] and the father of sexual intercourse.[50] But those who renounce their desires are from the generation of the Son of Man.[51]

The conclusion emphasizes the importance of finding the life-giving word and coming to know the Father of Truth.[52] The end of seeking leads to rest and silence.[53] The baptism of truth is achieved through renunciation of the world,[54] and those who only say they are renouncing it are lying.[55] Some have fallen away to worship of idols or have demons dwelling with them, as David did.[56] Solomon, whom David begat in adultery, used demonic powers to build Jerusalem.[57] The free man is not envious and is set apart from everyone.[58]


Eve Tempted by the Serpent
Eve Tempted by the Serpent painting by William Blake

Translator Birger Pearson outlines the structure of Testimony of Truth by dividing it into two sections.[59] The first section consists of radical renunciation, criticism of "foolish" Catholics, rejection of sexual reproduction, a description of the archetypical Gnostic, and a conclusion that emphasizes knowing truth.[60] Pearson believes that the "first edition" of the text may have ended after the first section, and the remaining material complements the earlier arguments.[61] The second section of the text consists of an emphasis on Christ's passing through a virginal womb, an interpretation of Genesis 3 that parallels Hypostasis of the Archons and On the Origin of the World, the nature of true faith, and an anti-heretical thrust against other Gnostics.[62]

Pearson also looks at the entirety of the text and notes that its Christology is largely based on the Gospel of John.[63] The text contains allusions, quotations, interpretations, and allegories relating to the Old Testament, but New Testament literature is utilized much more often.[64] The text's author also had access to extra-canonical Christian literature.[65] The totality of the text is undoubtedly Gnostic, but it is unclear to which Gnostic group the author belonged.[66]

Pearson considers it likely that the text originates from Alexandria, based on the influence of speculative wisdom within Hellenistic Judaism, especially the views of Philo.[67] Based on the location and date of the text's origin, Pearson hypothesizes that Julius Cassianus could have been its author.[68] In the Stromata, Clement of Alexandria criticizes Cassianus for his docetism and rejection of procreation, and Clement states that Cassianus had left the Valentinian school.[69] Clement's description of Cassianus closely aligns with the views expressed by the author of Testimony of Truth.[70]

Religious historian[71] Pamela Mullins Reaves examines how the text redefines Christian identity by rejecting ritualization.[72] She begins by noting that Early Christians reinterpreted martyrdom using sacrificial language within the Roman framework, comparing their own persecution to that of Jesus.[73] Testimony of Truth challenges the martyrs' misguided motives.[12] The text promotes silence as a way to mend rifts in the Early Christian community.[74] Mullins also notes the text's criticism of water baptism.[75] The text's author considers the Jordan River representative of bodily desires and advocates renunciation and asceticism as the proper Christian identity.[76] Ultimately, the text emphasizes individual progress toward knowledge instead of group rituals, but it also supports good communal relations.[77]


  1. ^ a b van Os, Bas (22 March 2017). "The Impediment of the Passions: The Testimony of Truth (nhc ix,3) as Deliberative Rhetoric Against the Teaching that the Confession of Faith and Baptism are Salvific without Celibacy". Gnosis. 2 (1): 40–62. doi:10.1163/2451859X-12340026. Retrieved 1 June 2023.
  2. ^ Meyer & Robinson 1977, p. XIV.
  3. ^ Pearson, B. A. (1 January 1972). "Jewish Haggadic Traditions in The Testimony of Truth from Nag Hammadi (CG IX, 3)". Ex Orbe Religionum. 22. Brill: 458. Retrieved 1 June 2023.
  4. ^ Pearson, Birger (26 October 2020). Nag Hammadi Codices IX and X. BRILL. pp. 101–120. ISBN 978-90-04-43887-3. Retrieved 1 June 2023.
  5. ^ Genesis 3
  6. ^ Pearson 2020, p. 106.
  7. ^ a b Meyer & Robinson 1977, p. IX.
  8. ^ van den Broek, Roelof (24 January 2013). Gnostic Religion in Antiquity. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 19. ISBN 978-1-107-03137-1. Retrieved 22 June 2023.
  9. ^ a b Meyer & Robinson 1977, p. 2.
  10. ^ Robinson, James McConkey; Smith, Richard (1 January 1996). The Nag Hammadi Library in English (4th ed.). BRILL. p. 449. ISBN 978-90-04-08856-6. Retrieved 1 June 2023.
  11. ^ a b Pearson, Birger A. "Testimony of Truth". ccdl.claremont.edu. Claremont Graduate University. School of Religion. Retrieved 1 June 2023.
  12. ^ a b Reaves 2013, p. 143.
  13. ^ Meyer, Marvin W.; Robinson, James MacConkey (1977). The Nag Hammadi Library in English. Brill Archive. ISBN 978-90-04-05434-9. Retrieved 1 June 2023.
  14. ^ Pearson, Birger A.; Giverson, Søren (1981). The Nag Hammadi library in English. San Francisco: Harper & Row. pp. 406–416. ISBN 9780060669294. Retrieved 8 June 2023.
  15. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 406–407. 29:9–14. "For many have sought after the truth and have not been able to find it; because there has taken hold of them the old leaven of the Pharisees and the scribes"
  16. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 407. 29:18–21. "The Pharisees and the scribes are those who belong to the archons who have authority over them."
  17. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 407. 29:22–24. "For no one who is under the Law will be able to look up to the truth"
  18. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 407. 30:5–7. "But passion which is a delight to them constrains the souls of those who are begotten"
  19. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 407. 30:18–19. "But the Son of Man came forth from Imperishability"
  20. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 407. 31:5–8. "And this is what the Son of Man reveals to us: It is fitting for you (pl.) to receive the word of truth."
  21. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 407. 31:13–15. "Those who have known Imperishability, however, have been able to struggle against passions"
  22. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 407. 31:22–26. "The foolish—thinking in their heart that if they confess 'We are Christians' in word only but not with power"
  23. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 407. 32:4–8. "...hasten towards the principalities and the authorities. They fall into their clutches because of the ignorance that is in them"
  24. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 407. 32:24–27. "He went down to Hades and performed many mighty works. He raised the dead therein"
  25. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 407. 33:8–9. "And he walked upon the waters of the sea."
  26. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 407. 33:24–29; 34:1. "These are empty martyrs, since they bear witness only to themselves. And yet they are sick, and they are not able to raise themselves."
  27. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 408. 34:26–28; 35:1–3. "And some say, 'On the last day we will certainly arise in the resurrection.' But they do not know what they are saying."
  28. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 408. 36:26–28. "This is the perfect life, that man know himself by means of the All."
  29. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 409. 36:29–30; 37:1. "Do not expect, therefore, the carnal resurrection, which is destruction"
  30. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 409. 37:23–25. "Those who do not have the word which gives life in their heart will die"
  31. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 409. 38:22–27. "Those who receive him to themselves with uprightness and power and every knowledge are the ones whom he will transfer to the heights, unto life eternal."
  32. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 409. 38:27–29; 39:1. "But those who receive him to themselves with ignorance, the pleasures which defile rule over them."
  33. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 410. 41:4–8. "No one knows the God of truth except solely the man who will forsake all of the things of the world"
  34. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 410. 44:23–25. "He bore witness to the truth [...] the power, and he went into Imperishability"
  35. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 411. 45:1–6. "...the true testimony: When man knows himself and God who is over the truth, he will be saved, and he will be crowned with the crown unfading."
  36. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 411. 45:6–11. "John was begotten by the Word through a woman, Elizabeth; and Christ was begotten by the Word through a virgin, Mary. What is the meaning of this mystery?"
  37. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 412. 47:28–30. "Surely he has shown himself to be a malicious envier."
  38. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 412. 49:5–9. "'...the one who will believe in this bronze serpent will be saved.' For this is Christ; those who believed in him have received life."
  39. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 412. 48:26–28. "Again it is written (Numbers 21:9), 'He made a serpent of bronze and hung it upon a pole'"
  40. ^ Numbers 21:8–9
  41. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 412. 50:1–3. "...you do not understand Christ spiritually when you say, 'We believe in Christ."
  42. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 413. 56:4–5. "...his disciples resemble the disciples of Valentinus."
  43. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 413. 57:6–8. "Isidore, also, his son, resembled Basilides."
  44. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 413. 58:2–4. "For the Simonians take wives and beget children."
  45. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 413. 55:4. "But they know not what salvation is"
  46. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 413. 59:4. "...the heretics"
  47. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 413. 59:8–9. "...belong to the world-rulers of darkness"
  48. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 413. 60:3–4. "...in a fire unquenchable [...] they are punished."
  49. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 414. 68:3–4. "...they are gratified by unrighteous Mammon."
  50. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 414. 68:7–8. "But he who is father of Mammon is also the father of sexual intercourse."
  51. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 414. 68:8–11. "But he who is able to renounce them shows that he is from the generation of the Son of Man"
  52. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 414. 69:1–3. "But he who has found the life-giving word and he who has come to know the Father of Truth has come to rest."
  53. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 414. 69:3–4. "...he has ceased seeking, having found. And when he found he became silent."
  54. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 414. 69:22–24. "But the baptism of truth is something else; it is by renunciation of the world that it is found."
  55. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 414. 69:24–26. "But those who say only with the tongue that they are renouncing it are lying"
  56. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 415. 69:33; 70:1–4. "...some of them fall away to the worship of idols. Others have demons dwelling within them as did David the king."
  57. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 415. 70:6–9. "Solomon, whom he begat in adultery, is the one who built Jerusalem by means of demons, because he received their powers."
  58. ^ Pearson & Giverson 1981, p. 415. 73:3–5. "A free man is not envious. He is set apart from everyone"
  59. ^ Pearson 2020, p. 102–103.
  60. ^ Pearson 2020, p. 103–105.
  61. ^ Pearson 2020, p. 105.
  62. ^ Pearson 2020, p. 106–108.
  63. ^ Pearson 2020, p. 110.
  64. ^ Pearson 2020, p. 112.
  65. ^ Pearson 2020, p. 113–114.
  66. ^ Pearson 2020, p. 114–116.
  67. ^ Pearson 2020, p. 117.
  68. ^ Pearson 2020, p. 118–120.
  69. ^ Pearson 2020, p. 118–119.
  70. ^ Pearson 2020, p. 119–120.
  71. ^ "Pamela Reaves - Colorado College". www.coloradocollege.edu. Colorado College. Retrieved 6 June 2023.
  72. ^ Reaves, Pamela Mullins (2013). Gnosis, Witness, and Early Christian Identities: The "True" Martyr in Clement of Alexandria and Gnostic Traditions. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina. pp. 141–180. Retrieved 6 June 2023.
  73. ^ Reaves 2013, p. 141–142.
  74. ^ Reaves 2013, p. 151.
  75. ^ Reaves 2013, p. 157.
  76. ^ Reaves 2013, p. 157–158.
  77. ^ Reaves 2013, p. 173–176.

External links[edit]