Ptolemy's Commentary On The Gospel Of John Prologue
Translation by Bentley Layton
Introduction by Craig Schenk
Irenaeus, in his work "The Detection and Overthrow of
Falsely So-Called Gnosis" (written c. 180, also called "Against
Heresies"), recorded a commentary written by the Valentinian
teacher Ptolemy (2nd Century) on the prologue to the Gospel of
John (Irenaeus, Adversus Heraeses 1.8.5).
In this commentary, Ptolemy interpreted the prologue of
John's gospel (Jn 1:1-14) as it related to the first octet of
aions. This primal octet can be shown graphically as follows:
Parent - Loveliness
Only-Begotten - Truth
Word - Life
Human Being - Church
"Parent" is usually called "Father" or "the Deep." "Loveliness"
is usually called "Silence." In the Valentinian version of the
Gnostic Myth, these are the first eight aions (at least in
Ptolemy's variant of the Valentinian myth). There was a split
among Valentinians as to the relationship of the Father and
Silence. Some claimed that the Father was a monad, and Silence
was the state in which he exists. Some said that Silence was the
Father's femenine consort, and the two together were called the
Source. Ptolemy falls in the second group.
The full Gnostic Myth and its many variants is too complex a
topic for this introduction, and I would refer you to Hans Jonas'
book, "The Gnostic Religion," or to the book from which this
translation was taken, Bentley Layton's "The Gnostic Scriptures."
Ptolemy's Commentary On John
John, the disciple of the Lord, intentionally spoke of the
origination of the entirety, by which the Father emitted all
things. And he assumes that the First Being engendered by God is
a kind of beginning; he has called it "Son" and "Only-Begotten
God." In this (the Only-Begotten) the Father emitted all things
in a process involving posterity. By this (Son), he says, was
emitted the Word, in which was the entire essence of the aions
that the Word later personally formed.
Now since he is speaking of the first origination, he does
well to begin the teaching at the beginning, i.e with the Son and
the Word. He speaks as follows: "The Word was in the beginning,
and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. It was in the
beginning, with God." [Jn 1:1] First, he distinguishes three
things: God; beginning; Word. Then he unites them: this is to
show forth both the emanation of the latter two, i.e. the Son and
the Word, and their union with one another, and simultaneously
with the Father. For the beginning was in the Father and from the
Father; and the Word was in the beginning and from the beginning.
Well did he say, "The Word was in the beginning," for it was in
the Son. "And the Word was with God." So was the beginning. "And
the word was God;"reasonably so, for what is engendered from God
is God. This shows the order of emanation. "The entirety was made
through it, and without it was not anything made." [Jn 1:3] For
the Word became the cause of the forming and origination of all
the aions that came after it.
But furthermore (he says), "That which came into being in it
was Life."[Jn 1:4] Here he discloses a pair. For he says that the
entirety came into being through it, but Life is in it. Now, that
which came into being in it more intimately belongs to it than
what came into being through it: it is joined with it and through
it it bears fruit. Indeed, inasmuch as he adds, "and Life was the
light of human beings," [Jn 1:4] in speaking of human beings he
has now disclosed also the Church by means of a synonym, so that
with a single word he might disclose the partnership of the pair.
For from the Word and Life, the Human Being and the Church came
into being. And he called Life the light of human beings because
they are enlightened by her, i.e. formed and made visible. Paul,
too, says this: "For anything that becomes visible is light."
[Eph 5:13] So since Life made the Human Being and the Church
visible and engendered them, she is said to be their light.
Now among other things, John plainly made clear the second
quartet, i.e. the Word; Life; the Huan Being; the Church.
But what is more, he also disclosed the first quartet.
Describing the Savior, now, and saying that all things outside
the Fullness were formed by him, he says that he is the fruit of
the entire fullness. For he calls him a light that "shines in the
darkness" [Jn 1:5] and was not overcome by it, inasmuch as after
he had fitted together all things that had derived from the
passion they did not become acquainted with him. And he calls him
Son, Truth, Life, and Word become flesh. We have beheld the
latter's glory, he says. And its glory was like that of the Only-
Begotten, which was bestowed on him by the Father, "full of grace
and truth." [Jn 1:14] And he speaks as follows: "And the Word
became flesh and dwelt among us; we have beheld its glory, glory
as of the Only-Begotten from the Father." [Jn 1:14] So he
precisely discloses also the first quartet when he speaks of the
Father; Grace; the Only-Begotten; Truth. Thus did John speak of
the first octet, the mother of the entirety of aions. For he
referred to the Father; Grace; the Only-Begotten; Truth; the
Word; Life; the Human Being; the Church.