You can listen to the article below on my Gnostic Insights podcast. Available now on most podcast platforms, or visit my GnosticInsights.com website for easy access to all podcast episodes.
In 2017, Yale University Press published a new edition of the New Testament. This New Testament was translated afresh by David Bentley Hart. This new translation of Hart’s was, as he puts it, “scrupulously faithful” to the original Greek text, and not merely a reiteration of conventional versions. In his introduction to the book, Hart says that “most modern readers are separated from the new Testament not only by obvious differences in language, culture, and intellectual formation that put them at an immense historical remove from the authors, but also to a considerable degree by the doctrinal expectations that have shaped the decisions of translators through the centuries.”Hart points out that theology not only shapes translations, but particular translations have had enormous consequences for the development of theology. He goes on to say that “in extreme cases doctrinal or theological or moral ideologies drive translators to distort the text to a discreditable degree.” Hart holds up the New International Version and The English Standard Version as notorious examples of distortion, with “preposterous liberties taken” to accomplish ‘correct theology’ often verging “on a kind of pious fraudulence.” “Where difficult words or syntactical uncertainties or grammatical obscurities appear in the Greek, the solutions favored by earlier translators are generally carried over by their successors, even where there may be more plausible or more interesting alternatives.”
Hart has produced, as he puts it, “an almost pitilessly literal translation.” Hart even matches style. He says, “Where the Greek of the original is maladroit, (left handed, awkward), broken, or impenetrable, as it is with some consistency in Paul’s letters, so is the English of my translation; where an author has written bad Greek, such as one finds throughout the book of Revelation, I have written bad English.”
He also translates many words by their literal meanings in English, departing from tradition. Thus the Anglicized Greek word “Christ” is translated “Annointed;” the Anglicized Persian word “devil” is translated “Slanderer;” and “Church” becomes “Assembly.” Although Hart admits he could not bring himself to render “angel” as “messenger” in all instances, because it would render some famous passages “absurd”—“legions of messengers,” for example, or that the face of Stephen before the Sanhedrin looked like “the face of a messenger.”
Hart then mentions another word he struggled with: aion, and aionios—what we would call aeon and aeonic. In the scientific postscript to his New Testament, Hart spends seven pages on the topic of aeons.
Now, you know from your general studies of gnostic literature and our studies here at Gnostic Insights, that gnostic cosmology considers aeons to be the differentiated qualities of the Son of God. When the Son becomes self-aware, it differentiates itself into ALL of its parts. These parts or differentiations of the Son do not fly apart into individual entities, but they stay tucked up inside the Son, sitting together in perfect harmony, each one a self-aware unit of consciousness. This place where the aeons dwell is called the Totalities, or the Fullness, or the Pleroma of God.
The aeons of the Pleroma is an integral concept in our understanding of gnostic theology. The aeons are thought of as conscious entities that came before the creation of our cosmos. Moreover, they are thought of as our parents in a sense, for we are described as “their fruit.” The aeons not only represent our ancestors, but they also constitute all of the powers, forces, and relationships that manifest here in creation, forces and relationships such as the laws of physics and chemistry, biology, logic and math, and every conceivable relationship amongst the objects of creation.
This is how I describe the aeons of the Fullness in my book, The Gnostic Gospel Illuminated:
“The ALL, like the Father and Son, is infinite and limitless in scope and capability. The awakened aeons sorted themselves into a mutually beneficial and cooperative colony—a hierarchy consisting of names, stations, ranks, duties, and locations. Each aeon occupies a unique place and perspective in the union of the Fullness. The newly self-aware aeons were not separated from the One Who Is, for their Father was the Son and embodiment of the Formless one, and His Holy Spirit flowed throughout them as a reassuring presence. Although the aeons dwelt within the single body of the Fullness, they were each an independent self. Their variety required them to work together and remain in full agreement, for only through their union could they approach the Father’s greatness.”
One wonderful aspect of Hart’s New Testament is that each time aions and ainoios are mentioned in the original Greek, Hart footnotes the word as an uncertain translation. He notes that aionios in most traditional translations is rendered as “eternal” or “everlasting;” in other words, as a unit of time rather than a unit of consciousness. Hart points out that “there are many Christians whose sometimes furious objection to any other rendering revolves around a single verse, Matthew 25:46."
Here is how the verse reads in the New King James version:
“Then he will say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels, for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
Then they also will answer Him, saying ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me. And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’”
So, you can see how the King James version threatens to punish the cursed into “everlasting fire,” with everlasting being the word ainios.
According to Hart, this passage, used to threaten eternal damnation by pious Christians for centuries, is replete with mistranslations, so much so, that even the concept of eternal punishment is erased from the New Testament. Hart translates “punishment” as correction or pruning—in other words, not as a vindictive activity but rather a learning experience with correction as a goal, rather than eternal torment.
Here is Hart’s translation of the same passage:
“Then he will say to those on the left, ‘Go from me, you execrable ones, (execrable means cursed, very bad, hateful), into the fire of the Age prepared for the Slanderer and his angels. For I was hungry and you did not give me anything to eat, I was thirsty and you did not give me drink, I was a stranger and you did not give me hospitality, naked and you did not clothe me, ill and in prison and you did not look after me.’ Then they too will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison and did not attend to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Amen, I tell you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these my brothers, neither did you do it to me.’ And these will go to the chastening of that Age, but the just to the life of that Age.’”
But in my gnostic reading of this passage, I prefer to go all the way and substitute the word Age with the concept of the aeons of the Pleroma. So in my rendering of the passage, I would have Jesus say, ‘Go from me, you execrable ones, into the fire of the aeons of the Totality, prepared for the Slanderer and his archons.’ Remember, the “angels” of the demiurge are not true angels but archons, or messengers of the Slanderer. So this is an example where Hart should have left the word “messenger” rather than “angel,” as these are actually archons and not angels.
Jesus says later in this passage, which again to remind you, is Matthew 25:46, “And these will go to the chastening of that Age, but the just to the life of that Age.” Here, using our gnosis, we can tell that Jesus more likely said, “And these will go to the correction of the Aeons, but the just to the life of the Aeons,” which we can consider to be the original source of life itself, the Pleroma.
There is no eternal damnation spoken of. There is a correction for the unrighteous, a dropping of the memes of vice and the worldview of the demiurge, a burning away of the emotions engendered by the Slanderer—which are those whispers of archonic voices that condemn us already and keep us from blissful union with the Totalities of the Pleroma.
With gnosis we can see that this well-known passage in the book of Matthew does not promise any eternal anything, because the ainion of the original Greek is not a reference to eternity or any amount of time; it is a reference to the abode of the aeonic forms.
And what is the chastening, or correction, that is required of those on the left? Here is what it says in Mark 3, verse 29:
“Amen, I tell you that all will be excused the sons of men, the transgressions and the blasphemies, howsoever they may blaspheme; But whoever blasphemes against the Spirit, the Holy one, has no excuse throughout the age, but is answerable for a transgression in the Age.”
I would turn those references to time, age and Age, to references to the life of the Pleroma, to read, “But whoever blasphemes against the Spirit, the Holy one, has no excuse to provide the aeons, but is answerable for a transgression to the entirety of the Fullness,” or words to that effect.
As far as the blasphemies, those unkind and untruthful things we say to one another in anger or jealousy, those are against each other and entirely irrelevant to the aeons above. Those will be forgiven upon death when your unit of consciousness loosens its grip upon your incarnation. And in the final death where we are free from returning to this earth and are welcomed to dwell in the paradise of the Pleroma with the aeons. There our minor blasphemies will be forgotten and we will exist on the right side of the virtue ledger, with our negative karma and memes entirely forgiven. They will hold no place with the aeons.
But the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is a different thing altogether. This is not nastiness to one another; this is rather the state of not loving the Father. This is the state of mind that leads one to hate holiness and virtue. This is a state that is antithetical to the love of God and the life of the aeons. It is a state where the person does not want to go home; where the person would rather hate righteousness and virtue than surrender to it. It is the person actively pushing the aeons away. It is this hardness of heart against the Father than requires correction, or chastening. Or as it could alternatively translated in Hart’s New Testament: “answerable for a transgression against the aeons.”
But the good news is
that, according to the Tripartite Tractate and my own rendition of the Tripartite,
The Gnostic Gospel Illuminated, everyone will eventually surrender their fallen
ego and happily return to the Pleroma.
Even the hylics, the materialists, and the atheists. When every second order power begins to know the Father and surrender their egos to their higher Self, then all of creation will be redeemed. And our psychic and spiritual selves will pass over into Paradise at last. When the last second order power is redeemed, Logos will be fully redeemed from the Fall.
So, you begin to see how gnostic the New Testament can be when one simple but major translation correction is made: aeons for age, or units of consciousness for units of time. I can assure you that these Greek words, aion and aionios, appear throughout the New Testament. Fortunately, Hart footnotes most of them as “unclear,” and so points out their appearances on the pages where they appear, giving us an easy way to locate the passages. Just thumbing through the book reveals numerous passages where Age and Ages can be easily rendered as aeons and Pleroma. Which suddenly makes the New Testament entirely compatible with certain gnostic texts of the Nag Hammadi.
Join me for our next episode and I’ll go through Hart’s New Testament and share these aeonic passages with you. Until then, be well. God bless. And onward and upward.