The Gnostic Society Library

| Valentinus IndexGnostic Society Library | Gnosis Archive |


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).

Old Testament

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:

  1. true law fulfilled by Christ (e.g. Ten Commandments)
  2. law meant symbolically
  3. unjust law abolished by Christ
  4. human legislation which is not binding

Old Testament books refered to in Valentinian sources include:

  1. Genesis
  2. Exodus
  3. Numbers
  4. Leviticus
  5. Deuteronomy
  6. Joshua
  7. 1 Samuel
  8. 1 Kings
  9. Psalms
  10. Song of Songs
  11. Proverbs
  12. Isaiah
  13. Lamentations
  14. Ezekiel
  15. Daniel
  16. Hosiah

New Testament

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 meaning.

Books referred to include:

  1. Matthew
  2. Mark
  3. Luke
  4. John
  5. Romans
  6. 1 Corinthians
  7. 2 Corinthians
  8. Galatians
  9. Ephesians
  10. Philippians
  11. Colossians
  12. 1 Timothy
  13. Hebrews
  14. James
  15. 1 Peter
  16. 1 John
  17. Revelation

Noncanonical Works

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:

  1. The 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 origin.
  2. The Gospel of Thomas A collection of sayings of Jesus possibly used by Valentinus, Theodotus, Ptolemy and Herakleon.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. The 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 Press. Atlanta.


Content authored by David Brons