by James Brantingham PhD

(Listen to our interview with James on the Gospel of Philip)

Is the Gospel of Philip (GsPh) Gnostic or Christian? That may be determined by comparison.  Each “Saying or Verse” has to be compared against Canonical versus Classical Gnostic mythotheology.

The heresiologist Irenaeus (130 – 202 CE) found it difficult to detect Gnostic Christians.  Two millennia ago “normative” Christianity (“or the Way”) was not a singularly unified body. Like today’s Protestant Christianity there was a great diversity. And a multiplicity of different congregations “or denominations”. (Akenson, Donald H. 2000; 2001; Boccaccini, Gabriele 1998; Barnstone, William. 1984; 2009)


Valentinian Gnostic Christians and “Catholics”


Over many hundreds of years, there were many Gnostic Christian sects. But by a few generations after the Apostles, the largest groups were Valentinians and Sethians. This brief essay will concentrate on the Valentinian Gnostics. And attempt to answer the question was the GsPh a “Christian text”?

Who wrote the GsPh? The disciples of the proto-canonical and “Catholic” priest Valentinus (c. 100 to 160 CE). Valentinus was an ordained, Catholic teacher and preacher. Valentinus taught in Rome around 136 CE and was almost voted Bishop (or “Pope”) of Rome. Valentine taught from most of the proto-canonical scriptures. From most of what makes up today’s Old and New Testaments (hereafter OT and NT). But he also led a “School” that wrote their own Gnostic scriptures. Or they “Christianized and redacted” other Gnostic scripture. The GsPh was one of these “Valentinian” texts. (Bron, David 2015; Gnostic Society Library, The. 2015.)


Councils of Niceae and Chalcedon


The average Valentinian “Gnostic” Christian was a local “catholic”  in a Christian church. These churches were proto-orthodox and pre-Nicean. Nicea held in 325 CE and Chalcedon by 451 CE determined acceptable Christian mythotheology.  Before Chalcedon numerous Christian congregations held different, even opposing beliefs about Jesus the Christ.

Most Scholars believe the GsPh was composed between 150 and 250 CE. So it is unfair to require the GsPh to contain all “correct doctrine and belief” from these Councils. This Catholic theology was only argued and strenuously agreed upon (and not by all!) from 451 CE onwards.


What did Christianity believe before 325?


Then what did Christianity believe before the Council of Nicaea in 325? According to Akenson (2000; 2001) the NT was a part of Second Temple Jewish literature. Canonical and non-canonical NT scripture was extremely diverse. Different Ante-Nicene Christian beliefs caused endless internecine conflicts. And led to amalgamations adopted by the different churches before (and after) CE 325.

So in or about 130 to 160 did catholic Christians believe Jesus was God? Or that God incarnated in the man Jesus? Well, these issues were not fully decided by the time the GsPh was written. The majority of Christians agreed upon NT verses such as found in the Gospel of John (Gs Jn) 14:11:

14:11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and that the Father is in me…

And though some have denied that Gnostics applied this to God and Jesus the GsPh verse 11 says:

       11 There is a Sacred name the Father shares with the Son. The Holiest name — yet they do not speak it. But, the Son of God is the Father and, the Father is the Son; both Lord and God of Israel (Brantingham 2017).

Father and Son were one; and as in the Gospel of John so in the Gospel of Philip. But, what did they mean by “one”?


Was Jesus God?


Arius, a Catholic priest in Alexandria (c. 250–336), believed that God incarnated in Jesus but that this made Him a high prophet. But He was subordinate to God (“divine” like Moses, but not God). When the Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity legal he called for a council. A council of Nicaea held in 325 CE to determine who Jesus the Messiah was in relationship to God the Father. Was He equal with God?  Post-Nicene theology affirmed that the Son of God was identical with the Father (God). Ironically, “homoousios” a word meaning of the same substance or essence, resolved the issue. With this, the council affirmed that the Son and The Father were of the same substance or equal. Yet it was first used by Valentinian himself. And Valentinus had been labeled a heretic for using it! Arius was exiled (Turner, Martha L. 1996).


The Word or Logos


Further, we see in GsJn 1:1:

            1:1 In the beginning was the Word (the original Greek in the GsJn was: Logos — Italics mine), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

But the use of the Greek word Logos to mean “the Word” or Jesus the Messiah is found repeatedly. See the GsPh Verse 29:

            29 Yeshua did not reveal himself as he is, but, according to the capacity of those who seek Him. He is unique to all. Yet to the great he appeared great; to the small, small; to angels as an angel and to human beings as a man. Yet the Incarnation is the secret. The Word, the Logos walked and talked, lived in our skin and walked in our shoes…

GsPh Verse 29 not only used the “Word or Logos” it proclaimed the “physical incarnation” of the Word.  Jesus incarnated the Logos when He lived. His “physical resurrection” after death was overwhelmingly declared in the GsPh Verse 25. And it is not just a “spiritual resurrection”:

        25 I pity and rebuke those who deny resurrection of the flesh. Who claim no flesh can inherit eternal life. Neither human flesh nor blood can inherit the Kingdom; the Life to Come. Then what is unable? Yeshua said it: he who eats not my flesh and drinks not my blood, has no eternal life within him.

What is his flesh? It is the Bread of Being (the Logos, Torah, and Gnosis). And what is his blood? (the wine) the Holy Spirit and Life. Those who have this, have spirit and life now and, in the Life to Come.

Whoever welcomes these has received real food, real drink, and a garment. But remember…

What you are — you are in a body;

What you do — you do in a body.

Arise thou now — in this body, in this life!

For everything exists in it.

Death awaits us, but God will remember.

Remember your body, soul and spirit.

And the Breath of the Blessed One will knit you back together.

His divine gnosis and power will bring us back. And the Logos resurrect and animate us and we will become light.

The Trinity


Finally, the core completion of canonical Christian theology was summed up. And proclaimed at the Council of Chalcedon (in 451 CE). So it was proclaimed that God was three consubstantial persons. All are of one “substance, essence or nature”. Thus there is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit that together make up the “One God”.

This was a necessary theological requirement. Why? Jesus himself was asked by a scribe in Mark 12:28–30 “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one…’ Thus Christians could not evade this issue and continue to worship Jesus the Messiah.

Valentine and his disciples used trinitarian concepts before Ignatius, Justin Martyr, or Theophilus of Antioch.  But Theophilus defined it as… God, His Word (Logos) and His Wisdom (Sophia)! Yet even before this we find in the GsPh… the “Trinity”(Brown, P 2014; Smoley, R. 2007.) So GsPh Verses 6 and 12:

            GsPh 6: When we were Israelites, knowing only Torah, we were orphans. But we were turned and brought around by the Mother (or Holy Spirit). Then we became Messianic. Now we also have the Father, the Son, and the Mother.

GsPh12: The One is singular while being many! Thus without the Father, the Son would be        unknown; and unknowable. Truth is One, but its names are many. The Holy Mother teaches us this, that One through love is many (Brantingham 2017.)

The Holy Mother or Holy Spirit


The Holy Spirit is often called the “Holy Mother” in the GsPh.  But was used too by the canonically Orthodox church. So in GsPh is found the Father (God). The Son (as Son, Word, or Logos). And Holy Spirit (as Spirit and/or Mother) 150 to 250 years before Chalcedon.

Ante-Nicene written works of the Church Fathers are dated near composition of the GsPh.  They were crucial in the development of Christian belief and praxis. They include many texts. Clement I and II, Seven letters of Ignatius, and the letter of Polycarp.  The Gospel of Peter, the Didache, the letter of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas. All were initially considered canonical. By Irenaeus, Tertullian and Papias of Hierapolis (who sat at the feet of the “Apostle” John). By Justine Martyr and Origen. Yet, like the GsPh none are part of the NT today.


Use of the OT and NT and One God


Like normative early Christianity (and Judaism), Valentinian Gnostics held as “inspired” the  Septuagint LXX.  As the Old Testament.  It was the Greek translation of the Hebrew Tanakh. But, neither the Old Testament nor the OT God are attacked in the GsPh. There is no use of the “Classical Gnostic” term the “Demiurge or Yaldabaoth” for an evil ‘lesser god’.  And, if there is a helping ‘craftsman or woman’ it is just as likely Jesus Christ or ‘Sofia’ (Wisdom). In the GsPh God is One. (Smith, Andrew P. 2005)

Valentinians also used the common core of the universally accepted and “inspired” NT texts. David Brons lists quotes from seventeen NT texts in Valentinian scripture. (Bron, David. 2015).

Valentinus claimed Apostolic descent for Gnostic scripture. Valentine claimed to have been trained by Theudas a disciple of the Apostle Paul who wrote God has revealed in Romans 16:25 “…the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages…” (KJ21).


Thus the GsPh is Christian


Thus the GsPh is Christian. With the right exegesis, the GsPh does not contradict core modern Christian beliefs. Yet it must be conceded that the Gospel of Philip can be read “Gnostically”.  Some believe that the GsPh claims pre-existence of the soul in Verse 6. But this can also be understood as all creation is from Heaven Most High. Others hold that reincarnation is clear in Verse 48. Yet this can be interpreted as an exhortation to practice Imago Dei.  Or loving the ‘other’ as the Father (God) or Christ would do.

And being “saved by faith”. In fact, the Gospel of Philip does not contradict this modern Protestant theology. However, one must first read or hear OT and NT scriptures (and in this case also Gnostic Apocryphal NT) scriptures to attain such trust; or faith. Then, beyond faith like today’s modern Catholic and some Protestant groups require, complete the sacraments; and try to live a more sacramental life. So as I see it: “saved by faith… but, faith without works is dead” is one legitimate message found in the Gospel of Philip.



Akenson, Donald H. (2001.) Surpassing Wonder: The Invention of the Bible and the Talmuds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Akenson, Donald H. (2001.) Surpassing Wonder: The Invention of the Bible and the Talmuds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Barnstone, William. (1984.) The Other Bible. HarperCollins 10 East 53rd St., New York, NY

Barnstone, William. (2009.) The Restored New Testament: A New Translation with Commentary Including the Gnostic Gospels of Thomas, Mary and Judas. Publisher W.W. Norton & Co. New York, NY

Boccaccini, Gabriele. (1998) Beyond the Essene Hypothesis: The Parting of the Ways between Qumran and Enochic Judaism. William B Eerdmans Publishing. Grand Rapids, MI 

Brantingham, James. (2017.) The Gospel of Philip: A New Translation. (Amazon) Kindle Edition.

Bron, David. (2015.) Valentinus in: Gnostic Society Library, The.

Brown, Patterson. (2014) The Gospels of Thomas, Philip and Truth. Available from http://www.freelyre- Accessed 5 25 2014

DeConick, April D. (2017.) The Gnostic New Age: How a countercultural spirituality revolutionized religion from antiquity to today. Columbia University Press. New York, NY

Gnostic Society Library, The. (2015) The Nag Hammadi Library. Available at Accessed 2/7 2015

Meyer, Marvin. Ed. (2007.) The Nag Hammadi Scriptures. HarperCollins 10 East 53rd St., NY, New York

Smith, Andrew P. (2005) The Gospel of Phillip Annotated & Explained. Woodstock, Vermont: SkyLights Path Publishing

Smoley, R. (2007) Forbidden Faith The Gnostic Legacy. Harper Collins New York, NY

Turner, Martha L. (1996.) The Gospel According to Philip: The Sources and Coherence of an Early Christian Collection (Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies). Publisher EJ Brill, Leiden, The Netherlands

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