The Gospel of John, Gnosticism, and Mistranslations

01 Mar

Over at Prof. DeConick’s blog, she posted quite a teaser:

The name of my talk on the Gospel of John for the Hidden God, Hidden Histories conference is: “What is hiding in the Gospel of John? Reconceptualizing Johannine Origins and the Roots of Gnosticism”.

My “paper” has become so full and so detailed that it looks like it is going to become the basis of another book. I already have the title for it:

John Interrupted: What can the Gospel of John tell us about the origins of Christianity and Gnosticism?

The work I’m doing is from the ground up, straight back to the ancient sources. And all because one day, while preparing to deliver an undergraduate lecture on the Gospel of John, I stumbled upon a passage in Greek that is not translated accurately in any modern translation I have been able to find.

I wanna know which passage she’s talking about! lol She said in response to some inquiries in the comments “[…] I can’t reveal yet, but will once I have the paper firmly written and an abstract I can share. SOON. Another month.” So I guess I’ll have to wait to find out what the offending passage is (and which Greek text(s) she’s using).

Another one of the comments:

Rev. Fr. Troy Pierce said…
John 8:31-35 has much of interest in this regard. Especially 8:32, which I have often said is the core of Gnosticism in a nutshell.

This is what I have in my W&H version of John 8:31-35


31 ελεγεν ουν ο ιησους προς τους πεπιστευκοτας αυτω ιουδαιους εαν υμεις μεινητε εν τω λογω τω εμω αληθως μαθηται μου εστε

32 και γνωσεσθε την αληθειαν και η αληθεια ελευθερωσει υμας

33 απεκριθησαν προς αυτον σπερμα αβρααμ εσμεν και ουδενι δεδουλευκαμεν πωποτε πως συ λεγεις οτι ελευθεροι γενησεσθε

34 απεκριθη αυτοις [ο] ιησους αμην αμην λεγω υμιν οτι πας ο ποιων την αμαρτιαν δουλος εστιν [της αμαρτιας]

35 ο δε δουλος ου μενει εν τη οικια εις τον αιωνα ο υιος μενει εις τον αιωνα


31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.

32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s seed and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.

35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but the son belongs to it forever.

If this is the offending passage (which I doubt), then the only possible “mistranslation” would be rendering αιωνα::aiona (i.e. “age” or “eon”) as “permanent”. But I’ve suspected John’s origins in Gnosticism for a while – Valentinus, a Gnostic, seems to be the first witness to the gospel of John.


Posted by on March 1, 2010 in gnosticism, gospel of john


2 responses to “The Gospel of John, Gnosticism, and Mistranslations

  1. beowulf2k8

    March 2, 2010 at 4:35 am

    John 4:19-24 The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. (20) Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. (21) Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. (22) Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. (23) But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. (24) God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

    The phrase “for salvation is of the Jews” can also be (and is in some translations) translation “for salvation is from the Jews.”

    This is probably not her 'mistranslation' but this is certainly always misinterpreted.

    He isn't agreeing with the Jews against the Samaritans by saying that “salvation comes from the Jews” but is showing that both Samaritans and Jews are wrong, because salvation is salvation from the errors of the Jews (Samaritans are Jews too in a way): Salvation is based in a rejection of the Jewish forms of worship which are carnal, for “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

  2. Fr. Troy Pierce

    March 7, 2010 at 6:46 am

    I don't think that passage is the one April DeConick was talking about as being mistranslated. I was suggesting it in connection with the theme of the book she mentions, “Reconceptualizing Johannine Origins and the Roots of Gnosticism.”

    In 8:31 there is the much repeated theme in Gnostic texts that Gnosis leads to freedom. And in the larger passage it compares being a slave to being a son in the household of God. So, in the passage is Gnosis as the method of liberation, and reconnecting to ones divine heritage.

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