1 The teaching of the Savior, and the revelation of the mysteries and things hidden in silence, things that he taught to his disciple John.
2 One day, when John the brother of James (the sons of Zebedee) went up to the temple, it happened that a Pharisee named Arimanios came over to him and said to him, "Where is your teacher, whom you have been following?"
3 John said to him, "He has returned to the place from which he came."
4 The Pharisee said to him, "This Nazarene has deceived you badly, filled your ears with lies, closed your minds, and turned you away from the traditions of your parents."
5 When I, John, heard these remarks, I turned away
6 from the temple toward a place of solitude. I was very sad, and said within myself, How was the Savior selected? Why was he sent into the world by his Father?
7 Who is his Father, who sent him? To what kind of eternal realm shall we go?
8 For what was he saying when he told us, "This eternal realm to which you will go is a copy of the imperishable eternal realm." but did not teach us what kind of realm that one is?
9 At the moment I was thinking about this, behold, the heavens opened, all creation under heaven lit up,
10 and the world shook. I was afraid, and behold, I saw
11 within the light a child standing by me. As I was looking, he became like an older person. Again his appearance changed, and was like that of a servant.
12 Not that there were several persons before me. Rather, there was one figure with several forms
13 within the light. These different forms came into view one after another, and three forms appeared.
14 He said to me, "John, John, why are you doubting? Why are you afraid? Are you not familiar with this figure?"
15 "Then do not be fainthearted! I am with you always. I am the Father, 16 I am the Mother, I am the Child. I am the incorruptible and the undefiled one.
17 I have come to tell you about what is, what was, and what is to come,
that you may understand what is invisible and what is visible; and to teach you about perfect Humanity.
18 So now, lift up your head, that you may understand the things I shall tell you today, and that you may relate these things to your spiritual friends, who are from the unshakable race of perfect Humanity."
CHAPTER 1 NOTES:
1:1: Incipit, or Opening. While the title of the text (Secret Book [Apokryphon] of John) is given in the manuscripts, the poorly preserved incipit may also refer to the text as "the teaching of the Savior" and possibly "the revelation" (if the restoration adopted here is accurate).
1:2-18: Introduction to the revelatory appearance of the Savior. 2: John the son of Zebedee is confronted by a Pharisee (a member of an ancient Jewish sect noted for strict observance of rites and ceremonies of traditional law). The name Arimanios is probably taken from the evil spirit of Zoroastrian fame, Ahriman. 3: Compare Secret Book of James 4:13; 5:3; 9:8; John 17:5. 5: One version of the text (Berlin Gnostic Codex 8502) specifically states that John went onto a mountain. In numerous ancient and modern traditions, visions and religious experiences are described as taking place on mountains, where one is in solitude, removed from mundane affairs, and close to the divine. 6-8: A list of questions summarizing what one must know for salvation. Other Gnostic texts also include such lists of questions; compare the indirect questions in the Book of Thomas 1:3, as well as in the present text, 1:17. Here the list functions as a table of contents for the text. 7-8: "Eternal realm," aeon here and elsewhere in the translation. 9: The glorious vision of the luminous being is accompanied by apocalyptic phenomena: the heavens open (compare Mark 1:10 = Matthew 3:16 = Luke 3:21; John 1:51; Acts 7:55-56; Revelation 4:1; 19:11) and the world is illuminated and shaken (compare Secret Book of James 10:2; Mark 13:8, 24-26 = Matthew 24:7, 29-30 = Luke 21:11, 25-27). 10-13: The luminous figure of the Savior changes from one form to another. 15-16: Revelatory "I am" statements (compare the Gospel of John and numerous Gnostic texts; also Matthew 28:19-20), and the disclosure of the divine triad of Father, Mother, Child. 17: See 1:6-8 and the note; Book of Thomas 1:3. "The unshakable race," the phrase used to describe the Gnostic group. These people cannot be shaken, and do not waver, in their quest for truth. See also 14:2; 15:14; 16:18.
1 When I asked if I might understand this, he said to me, "The One is a sovereign that has nothing over
2 it. It is God and Father of all, the Invisible One that is over all, that is imperishable, that is pure light no eye can see.
3 It is the invisible Spirit. One should not think of it as a god, or like a god. For it is greater than a god, because it has nothing over it and no lord above it.
4 It does not exist within anything that is inferior to it, since everything exists only within it. It is eternal,
5 since it does not need anything. For it is absolutely complete. Rather, it has always been absolutely complete in light.
6 It is illimitable, since there is nothing before it to limit it. It is unfathomable, since there is nothing before it to fathom it.
7 It is immeasurable, since there was nothing before it to measure it. It is eternal, and exists eternally.
8 It is unutterable, since nothing could comprehend it to utter it. It is unnameable, since there is nothing before it to give it a name.
9 It is the immeasurable light, pure, holy, bright. It is unutterable, and is perfect in its imperishability.
10 Not that it is part of perfection, or blessedness, or divinity: it is much greater.
11 It is neither corporeal nor incorporeal. It is neither large nor small.
12 It is impossible to say, 'How much is it?' or 'What kind is it?' for no one can understand it.
13 It is not one among many things that are in exist-
14 ence: it is much greater. Not that it is actually greater. Rather, as it is in itself, it is not a part of the worlds or of time, for whatever is part of a
15 world was once produced by something else. Time was not alloted to it, since it receives nothing from anyone.
16 That would be a loan. The one who exists first does not need anything from one who is later. On the contrary, the later one looks up to the first one in its light.
17 For the Perfect One is majestic; it is purely and immeasurably great.
18 It is the World that gives a world, the Life that gives life, the Blessed One that gives blessedness, the Knowledge that gives knowledge, the Good One that gives goodness, the Mercy that gives mercy and redemption, the Grace that gives grace.
19 Not that it is actually like this. Rather, it gives immeasurable and incomprehensible light.
20 What shall I tell you about it? Its eternal realm is imperishable: it is quiet, it is silent, it is at rest, and it is before everything.
21 It is the head of all the worlds, and it sustains them through its goodness.
22 Yet we would not know . . . , we would not understand what is immeasurable, were it not for one who has come from the Father and has told us these things.
CHAPTER 2 NOTES:
2:1-22: Revelation about the One. A classic statement of divine transcendence, formulated with terms of negation. Compare the via negativa of the Upanishads, with the insistence that the Ultimate is neti neti, "not this, not that." 2: The One may be considered as Father, the first in the divine triad. 3: "The invisible Spirit," a common designation for the One (compare 3:5, 7, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, etc.). It is beyond deity. 10: It is beyond perfection, or any other finite category. 13: It is beyond being, as the ground of all being. 14: It is the wholly other. 18: Compare Secret Book of James 1:1. 20: Finally, it can only be said that the One is in silence, at rest, before all. The divine Silence is a common image in mystical traditions. 22: Several lines of the text are rather badly damaged, and a portion cannot be reconstructed with confidence. This verse suggests that the ineffable Father can be known in a limited way only because a revealer has come forth from the Father. Compare John 1:18.