There are a number of ancient, non-canonical texts used by sect leaders or heretical groups in the early history of Christianity. One of these is a gnostic document called The Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit. Is this non-biblical text reliable? Was it written by an eyewitness who accurately captured the actions and statements of Jesus? There are four attributes of reliable eyewitness testimony, and the first requirement is simply that the account be old enough to actually be written by someone who was present to see what he or she reports. The Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit was written too late in history to have been written by anyone who could have actually seen the ministry of Jesus, and like other late non-canonical texts, this errant document was rejected by the Church. In spite of this, The Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit may have contained small nuggets of truth related to Jesus. Although it is a legendary fabrication altered by an author who wanted to craft a version of the Jesus story that suited the purposes of his religious community, it likely reflected many truths about Jesus:
The Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit (120-180AD)
Two versions of The Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit were discovered in 1945 among the papyri of the Nag Hammadi Library in Egypt. Based on the Gnostic contents of the text and its position among other documents, scholars place the writing of the book in the 2nd century as yet another Gnostic Sethian document.
Why Isn’t It Considered Reliable?
The text is a 2nd century document and is therefore far too late to have been written by one of the apostolic eyewitnesses. More importantly, The Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit has been dramatically influenced by the heretical Sethians who predate Christians. Sethian Gnosticism was condemned as heretical by many early Church Fathers.
How Does It Corroborate the Life of Jesus?
The text diverges from Christian orthodoxy in many ways, but also refers to many points of agreement. The God described in The Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit is triune, but the Spirit is described as a “mother”. Interestingly, this member of the triune godhead is also a virgin. The member of the Godhead who is described as the “Son” is also described as the “Christ”. Jesus is only mentioned in the text in three places, but He is described as the “Son of God” and the “living one” who “possesses the life, and who came and crucified that which is in the law”.
Where (and Why) Does It Differ from the Reliable Accounts?
Sethian Gnostics believed that Seth was the first of several incarnations of God on earth. For this reason, The Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit describes Jesus as merely another divine incarnation who resides with God, along with Seth, Adamas, Oroiael, Davithe, Eleleth, Yoel and Poimel. Very little of text is in any way similar to the Old Testament creation story or the life of Jesus due to the influence and corruption of Sethianism.
This ancient non-canonical Sethian Gnostic text was a late, heretical document. When examined under the criteria we use to determine eyewitness reliability, it fails the test. The four canonical Gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke and John) are still the earliest reliable record of Jesus, written within the lifetimes of the eyewitnesses who knew Jesus personally.
For more information about the reliability of the New Testament gospels and the case for Christianity, please read Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. This book teaches readers ten principles of cold-case investigations and applies these strategies to investigate the claims of the gospel authors. The book is accompanied by an eight-session Cold-Case Christianity DVD Set (and Participant’s Guide) to help individuals or small groups examine the evidence and make the case.
J. Warner Wallace is a Dateline featured Cold-Case Detective, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Adj. Professor of Christian Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, author of Cold-Case Christianity, God’s Crime Scene, and Forensic Faith, and creator of the Case Makers Academy for kids.
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