The Treatise on the Resurrection
Gnostic Scripture


Introduced and translated by

Introduction to the Treatise on the Resurrection

The importance of this short, eight-page, didactic letter lies in its witness to a distinctively unorthodox interpretation of Christian teaching about survival after death. By the late second century, the probable time of its composition, Christians - whether Gnostic or orthodox - were struggling with certain challenges and questions. Was such survival philosophically demonstrable (as Socrates had argued in the Phaedo)? What form might it take? (Immortality of the soul? Resurrection of the body? Reincarnation?) When would such survival be experienced? (At death? At Christ's final return? Perhaps even before death?) The New Testament teaching was somewhat ambiguous on several of these points, though within the great church there seemed general agreement on at least two matters: the prototype and basis of hope for such survival was the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the resurrection of individuals would entail their retention of personal identity.

The anonymous author of The Treatise on the Resurrection, however, claimed a Christ-given knowledge (49,41-50,2) that enabled him to offer direct and unambiguous answers to such questions, questions which in this case had been put to him by his pupil, Rheginos (43,25). First, the resurrection is a matter of faith in the reality of Jesus Christ's resurrection and his destruction of death (46,14-19). Such cannot be the result of philosophical "persuasion," and most philosophers of the world are in fact sceptics.

Second, the form of survival will be the "resurrection," which is not understood as the re-creation of a spiritual body at Christ's Parousia (cf. 1 Co 15 passim). Rather, at the point of biological death, the "elect" believer experiences the separation of the inward, "living members," whose intellectual nature is clarified by reference to the "mind" and its "thought," from the external "body" of "perishable ... .. visible," outward "members" (47,38-48,2; 45,39-46,2; 45,19-21). Even so, this "resurrection body," covered with a new "flesh" (47,4-8) or "garment of light" ("rays" in 45,30-31), retains personally identifiable features, as the appearance of Elijah and Moses at Christ's transfiguration (Mk 9:2-8) makes clear. Such is the "spiritual resurrection" which "swallows up" (i.e., renders nonsensical or destroys) the "resurrection" of either the naked "soul" or of the crudely literal "flesh" (45,39-46,2). Implied is a dualistic doctrine of outer/inner that goes beyond Pauline anthropology.

Third, unlike the early church, which in its resurrection hope held to an Ileschatological reservation" (i.e., the notion that the full benefit of individual Christians' participation in the resurrection would wait the final return of Christ), the author of The Treatise on the Resurrection held that for the elect believer who had proleptically participated in Christ's suffering (death), resurrection, and ascension (45,24-28), the new reality should be clear: one already has the resurrection in the present. In sum, our author, like the Hymenaeus and Philetus condemned in 2 Timothy 2:18, teaches that the resurrection has already occurred! He reinforces it by means of a kind of existential proof: the believer who knows of death's inevitability should consider himself as dead already and thus as already participating in the resurrected state (49,16-30). Thus, the believer is to have "faith" in the reality of Christ's victory over death and its guarantee (45,14-46, 4,14-17; 46,8-13), to avoid all "doubt" (47,36-48,3), to "know" the "Son of Man" and the truth proclaimed about his resurrection (46,13-17, 30-32), to "practise" one9s release from the inimical power of this cosmos (49,30-33) through correct thought, and to realize the mystical unity between the experience of the Savior and that of the believer (45,15-46,2).

Major studies of the text have clarified that the author is a Christian Gnostic teacher who is clearly influenced by Valentinian Gnosticism. The evidence for this is found in the close parallels between the treatise's teaching that the spiritual resurrection has already occurred and the reports of Valentinian "realized eschatology" in Tertullian (De praes. haer. 33.7; De res. mort. 19,2-7) and Irenaeus (Haer. 2.31.2). Also, certain conceptual complexes unique to Valentinianism appear in Treat. Res., such as the idea of a primordial pleroma which suffered a devolution and resulting "deficiency" (46,35-47, 1; 49,4-5) which the Savior must "restore" (44,30-33).

Only to be expected, then, is the presence of Middle Platonic ideas which, as prior scholarship has shown, influenced Valentinianism. Such ideas include a distinction between a world of being (including the Good itself) and the sphere of becoming and corruption (48,20-27), as well as between an "intelligible world" and a "sensible" world (46,35-47,1). Also Platonic are notions of the pre-existence of souls (46,38-47,1; cf. 47,4-6; 49,30-36) and of "practising" for dying (49,28-33).

Rather un-Platonic, however, is the absence of any mention of an ultimate quest for ecstatic vision/union with the ultimate One, as well as our treatise's stress on retention of identifiable personal characteristics in the post mortem resurrected state.

Because of the centrality of Jesus Christ in the text, however, and because the author appeals to the New Testament as highest authority for his proofs (cf. 43,34; 45,4, 24-28; 48,64 1), we conclude that the author is a Christian Gnostic whose thought displays the influence of Middle Platonism as filtered through a late and somewhat vaguely articulated Valentinian Gnosticism.

Critical opinion now generally holds that Treat. Res. is not written by Valentinus himself. Studies of the stage of the New Testament canon of which the anonymous author seems aware, of the place of Treat. Res. teaching in the context of debates over the resurrection in the early church, and of the type of Middle Platonic ideas found in it all converge in pointing toward the late second century as the probable time of composition. As to its provenance, neither internal nor external evidence provides any clues.

Debate continues over whether the writing is a genuine didactic letter lacking a praescriptio naming its author (such as are the Epistula Apostolorum or the Letter of Ptolemy to Flora) and incorporating elements of the diatribe style, or whether it is principally a philosophical discourse decisively shaped by the CynicStoic diatribe. As yet, the last named is lacking a convincing demonstration. Most scholars do seem to reject the suggestions, however, that the text is the result of combining two originally separate letters or that it is the result of a gnostic redaction of an originally Christian text.

(This is a partial text: 1: 43, 25-50, 18)

Some there are, my son Rheginos, who want to learn many things. They have this goal when they are occupied with questions whose answer is lacking. If they succeed with these, they usually think very highly of themselves. But do not think that they have stood within the Word of Truth. They seek rather their own rest, which we have received through our Savior, our Lord Christ. We received it (i.e., Rest) when we came to know the truth and rested ourselves upon it. But since you ask us pleasantly what is proper concerning the resurrection, I am writing you (to say) that it is necessary. To be sure, many are lacking faith in it, but there are a few who find it. So then, let us discuss ' the matter.

How did the Lord proclaim things while he existed in flesh and after he had revealed himself as Son of God? He lived in this place where you remain, speaking about the Law of Nature - but call it Death! Now the Son of God, Rheginos, was Son of Man. He embraced them both, possessing the humanity and the divinity, so that on the one hand he might vanquish death through his being Son of God , and that on the other through the Son of Man the restoration to the Pleroma might occur; because he was originally from above, a seed of the Truth, before this structure (of the cosmos) had come into being. In this (structure) many dominions and divinities came into existence.

I know that I am presenting the solution in difficult terms, but there is nothing difficult in the Word of Truth. But since the Solution appeared so as not to leave anything hidden, but to reveal all things openly concerning existence - the destruction of evil on the one hand, the revelation of the elect on the other. This (Solution) is the emanation of Truth and Spirit, Grace is of the Truth.

The Savior swallowed up death - (of this) you are not reckoned as being ignorant - for he put aside the world which is perishing. He transformed [himself] into an imperishable Aeon and raised himself up, having swallowed the visible by the invisible, and he gave us the way of our immortality. Then, indeed, as the Apostle said, "We suffered with him, and we arose with him, and we went to heaven with him." Now if we are manifest in this world wearing him, we are that one's beams, and we are embraced by him until our setting, that is to say, our death in this life. We are drawn to heaven by him, like beams by the sun, not being restrained by anything. This is the spiritual resurrection which swallows up the psychic in the same way as the fleshly.

But if there is one who does not believe, he does not have the (capacity to be) persuaded. For it is the domain of faith, my son, and not that which belongs to persuasion: the dead shall arise! There is one who believes among the philosophers who are in this world. At least he will arise. And let not the philosopher who is in this world have cause to believe that he is one who returns himself by himself and (that) because of our faith! For we have known the Son of Man, and we have believed that he rose from among the dead. This is he of whom we say, "He became the destruction of death, as he is a great one in whom they believe." (Great) are those who believe.

The thought of those who are saved shall not perish. The mind of those who have known him shall not perish . Therefore, we are elected to salvation and redemption since we are predestined from the beginning not to fall into the foolishness of those who are without knowledge , but we shall enter into the wisdom of those who have known the Truth. Indeed, the Truth which is kept cannot be abandoned, nor has it been . Strong is the system of the Pleroma; small is that which broke loose (and) became (the) world. But the All is what is encompassed. It has not come into being; it was existing. So, never doubt concerning the resurrection, my son Rheginos! For if you were not existing in flesh, you received flesh when you entered this world. Why will you not receive flesh when you ascend into the Aeon? That which is better than the flesh is that which is for it (the) cause of life. That which came into being on your account, is it not yours? Does not that which is yours exist with you? Yet, while you are in this world, what is it that you lack? This is what you have been making every effort to learn.

The afterbirth of the body is old age, and you exist in corruption. You have absence as a gain. For you will not give up what is better if you depart. That which is worse has diminution, but there is grace for it. Nothing, then, redeems us from this world. But the All which we are, we are saved. We have received salvation from end to end. Let us think in this way! Let us comprehend in this way!

But there are some (who) wish to understand, in the enquiry about those things they are looking into, whether he who is saved, if he leaves his body behind, will be saved immediately. Let no one doubt concerning this. ... indeed, the visible members which are dead shall not be saved, for (only) the living [members] which exist within them would arise.

What, then, is the resurrection? It is always the disclosure of those who have risen. For if you remember reading in the Gospel that Elijah appeared and Moses with him, do not think the resurrection is an illusion. It is no illusion, but it is truth! Indeed, it is more fitting to say that the world is an illusion, rather than the resurrection which has come into being through our Lord the Savior, Jesus Christ.

But what am telling you now? Those who are living shall die. How do they live in an illusion? The rich have become poor, and the kings have been overthrown. Everything is prone to change. The world is an illusion! - lest, indeed, I rail at things to excess!

But the resurrection does not have this aforesaid character, for it is the truth which stands firm. It is the revelation of what is, and the transformation of things, and a transition into newness. For imperishability [descends] upon the perishable; the light flows down upon the darkness, swallowing it up; and the Pleroma fills up the deficiency. These are the symbols and the images of the resurrection. He (Christ) it is who makes the good.

Therefore, do not think in part, O Rheginos, nor live in conformity with this flesh for the sake of unanimity, but flee from the divisions and the fetters, and already you have the resurrection. For if he who will die knows about himself that he will die - even if he spends many years in this life, he is brought to this - why not consider yourself as risen and (already) brought to this? If you have the resurrection but continue as if you are to die - and yet that one knows that he has died - why, then, do ignore your lack of exercise? It is fitting for each one to practice in a number of ways, and he shall be released from this Element that he may not fall into error but shall himself receive again what at first was.

These things I have received from the generosity of my Lord, Jesus Christ. [I have] taught you and your [brethren], my sons, concerning them, while I have not omitted any of the things suitable for strengthening you (pl.). But if there is one thing written which is obscure in my exposition of the Word, I shall interpret it for you (pl.) when you (pl.) ask. But now, do not be jealous of anyone who is in your number when he is able to help.

Many are looking into this which I have written to you. To these I say: peace (be) among them and grace. I greet you and those who love you (pl.) in brotherly love.

The Treatise on the Resurrection

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