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Gospel of the Egyptians

EGYPTIANS, GOSPEL OF THE. A Gospel of the Egyptians is mentioned among other apocryphal books by Origen (in Luc. hom. I). Two distinct works are known under this title: (1) a document quoted by Clement of Alexandria in Strom. III, where he was concerned with questions of marriage and sexual morality, and interalia joined issue with the Encratites and other groups. In so doing he mentions their use of this gospel and gives a few extracts from a dialogue between Christ and Salome. A fragment of this dialogue is quoted in II Clement 12.1, 2, but whether the other non-canonical sayings in II Clement also derive from the Gospel of the Egyptians is by no means certain. A further quotation occurs in Clement’s Excerpta ex Theodoto (67), and according to Hippolytus (Ref. V. 7. 8f.) the book was used by the Naassenes. Epiphanius (Pan. 62. 4) mentions its use by the Sabellians, but gives no information of its character.

The evidence is not sufficient to provide a basis for conclusions about the nature, content and structure of the book, but it must go back to the 2nd cent. and seems to have been of a Gnostic, or at any rate, Encratite character. Clement quoted it against the Encratites, but had to read his own interpretation into the text; but while he clearly places it on a lower level than the canonical gospels there is no sign that he entirely disapproved of it. It was probably the gospel of Gentile Christians in Egypt, while the Gospel of the Hebrews (q.v.) was that of the Jewish Christians. Parallels in the Coptic Gospel of Thomas (q.v.) have led to the suggestion that the Gospel of the Egyptians was one of its sources, but this again remains uncertain. (See further NTAp. I. 166ff.).

(2.) Completely different is a document contained in Codices III and IV of the Nag Hammadi library. Both VSS have the title “Sacred Book of the Great Invisible Spirit,” but Codex III also has in the colophon the title, “Gospel of the Egyptians.” The description of the heavenly world from its opening pages has been tr. and discussed by A. Böhlig (Le Muséon 80 [1967] 5ff.). It begins with a description of the great invisible Spirit and of the emanations (Father, Mother, Son) which proceed from Him. The appearance of Barbelo and various points of agreement with the Apocryphon of John suggests a connection with the Barbelognostic sect. (See further NTAp. I. 361ff.)