Valentinians and the Bible


Like all Christians, Valentinians regarded the Bible as authoritative scripture. They were the first Christians to write extensive commentaries on the Gospels. Their unconventional interpretive methods were frequently criticized by their contemparies. In Egypt, they were among the earliest translators of Biblical texts into Coptic e.g. Papyrus Bodmer III (M. Massaux, 1959, New Testament Studies 5, pp 210-12).

Old Testament

The Old Testament stories were interpreted allegorically. As with other early Christians, the most commonly referenced book was Genesis. The Old Testament Law was divided by Valentinians into:

    true law fulfilled by Christ (e.g. Ten Commandments)

    law meant symbolically

    unjust law abolished by Christ

    human legislation which is not binding

Old Testament books refered to in Valentinian sources include:

New Testament

Valentinians claimed to offer a spiritual interpretation of the New Testament. In general, ethical passages such as the Sermon on the Mount were taken literally. Other passages and stories were interpreted allegorically. As Elaine Pagels (1973) shows, individual passages could have up to three layers of allegorical meaning.

Books referred to include:

Noncanonical Works

Like all Christians of the time, Valentinians made some use of some works which were not later incorporated into the official canon of scripture. These include:


NT Canon: Valentinus and the Valentinians

Elaine Pagels, 1973. The Johannine Gospel in Gnostic Exegesis: Heracleon's Commentary on John.Nashville and New York: AbingdonPress

Elaine Pagels, 1975. The Gnostic Paul: Gnostic Exegesis of the Pauline Letters. Philadelphia: Trinity Press International

J.A. Williams. 1988. Biblical Interpretation in the Gnostic Gospel of Truth from Nag Hammadi. Society of Biblical Literature Dissertation Series 79. Scholar's Press. Atlanta.