LESSON 34.

HOW DID "POWER" BECOME "A VEIL?"

251.     We can trace the teaching that "power" means a "veil" no farther back in history than to Valentinus. He flourished first at Alexandria, and founded the Valentinian sect of Gnostics. He went to Rome in 140 and died at Cyprus in 160. At Rome he was excommunicated from the church. Clement of Alexandria (b. 150) and Origen (b. 186), both of Alexandria, passed on the teaching. The date of birth of Valentinus is unknown, but presumably it was within 35 years of the death of St. Paul. Clement tells us that Valentinus was a disciple of one Theudas (of whom we know no more), who was acquainted with St. Paul. This is dubious. 

252.      Irenaeus (b. 126) wrote a book which is still extant against heresies, and in it he describes the gnostic teachings of the Valentinians. They taught that there was a primal goddess, Bythus, (depth, profundity), who bore thirty aeons, (ages-ever beings). These were arranged in groups of eight, ten and twelve, and were in pairs,--male and female. Together they constituted the Pleroma (fullness). All this nonsense they pretended to find hidden in the meaning of the first three Gospels, and in Paul's Epistles. They claimed that Paul referred to their Pleroma where he says "throughout all ages.” Thirty aeons were shown by the Lord beginning to preach at thirty years of age; twelve aeons, by the Lord being twelve years of age when He disputed with the doctors in the temple, and by the twelve apostles. The other two groups, ten and eight, were shown by the eighteen months that Jesus spent on earth after His resurrection! Thus they parodied and corrupted Scripture, as is well known.

253.     The initiation ceremony of the gnostics was taught to be a reunion of mortals with celestial consorts of the opposite sex. Naturally, the veil would be desirable to somewhat screen the rites,--for the gnostics fell into gross sensuality. Both men and women veiled. Irenaeus tells us that this is what Valentinus and his associates taught as their warrant for these rites: A certain goddess escaped the Pleroma, and apart from her male consort conceived and brought forth a formless being called Acamoth (Hebrew for "wisdom"; sometimes she is called Sophia, Greek for "wisdom";). Acamoth goes through a series of experiences, always sinking lower and lower into degradation. Then her celestial consort, called Soter ("Savior"; also blasphemously called Jesus, Paraclete and Christ), goes to her rescue with a band of seventy angels. Irenaeus thus continues the account: [We will insert "Soter" always, as the name of her consort.] 

254.     "As he approaches, Acamoth, filled with reverence, at first veiled herself through modesty, but by and by, when she had looked upon him with all his endowments, and had acquired strength from his appearance, she ran to meet him . . . That Soter appeared to her when she lay outside the Pleroma as a kind of abortion, they affirm Paul to have declared in his Epistle to the Corinthians, ”And last of all He appeared to me also, as one born out of due time.” Again, the coming of Soter with his attendants to Acamoth, is declared by him in like manner in the same Epistle, when he says, “a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels.” Now that Acamoth, when Soter came to her, drew a veil over herself through modesty, Moses rendered manifest when he put a veil upon his face.”  

In another place Irenaeus tells us that sometimes the teaching was, "Beholding the angels along with Soter, she did . . . conceive their images.” Theodotus the gnostic says, "Seeing the masculine angels with Soter, she put on a veil.” The whole mass of fables is saturated with sensuality, which we do not care to repeat, Acamoth was typified in the twelve year old daughter of Jairus, whom Christ raised from the dead, etc.

Another Valentinian, is mentioned by Clement of Alexandria as teaching "The woman ought to wear a power.”

At this place in history, then,--among Gnostics--we find the very first interpretation of "power" as "a veil.”

255.     To suit their teachings along lines that we have not space to go into, the Valentinians corrupted "not one thing" (oude hen) into “nothing" (ouden) in John 1:3, and put a period after "nothing," beginning John 1:4, "That which was made in him was life," They then altered the first "was" into "is"; and the word "Son" to "God," in John 1:18. They changed John 12:27 "What shall I say?" into "What shall I say, I know not.” This shows how daring they were. Yet they had such influence in the primitive Church that the very men who denounced their corruptions of Scripture, such as Irenaeus, Clement, Hipppolytus, etc., often inadvertently fell into the use of some of them, in quoting these verses.[4]

256.     After this, it seems superfluous to inquire whether the Valentinians would hesitate to corrupt this verse of St. Paul's, if there was a sufficient motive for it. And there was a motive, --viz., to find Scriptural warrant for the use of the needed veil to obscure the sexual initial rites of their sect. 

We cannot clearly determine from Irenaeus' language whether or not he intended to denounce as a corruption the word "veil.” The gnostics may have influenced him in the same way that, as we have said, he fell into the use of their corruptions elsewhere, even when he denounced them. "Power" could not be made over into "veil" in Greek. The first word is exousia and the second kalumma. But the translation from the one to the other could easily be accomplished in the Coptic language.

257.     We remind you (see par. 254), that Clement, Origen and Valentinus were of the same place--Alexandria, Egypt--which was the birthplace likewise of the gnosticism of which Valentinus was, in his days, the chief exponent. The native tongue of these three men was Coptic, and "power" bore a close resemblance to "veil" in that language. In an imperfect or dim manuscript of a Coptic translation of Paul's Epistle, one word could readily be mistaken for, or altered into the other. Here are the two words: Ouershishi, Ouershoun.  The first, ouershishi, means "power, authority," the second, ouershoun, means "veil."

258.     And again we remind you that it was Clement of Alexandria and Origen of the same place who confirmed by quotations the idea that "power" meant a veil, first taught by Valentinus when as yet he was considered worthy of membership in the primitive Church.

259.     While Valentinus and his followers did not have the precise Coptic version of the Scriptures now in existence, it is almost certain they had earlier Coptic versions of portions of the N. T., for it is easily demonstrable that their false teachings and corruptions have left their traces on the present Coptic version. No other ancient version has attempted to substitute "veil" for "power" but the Coptic, in which it could be easily accomplished. The Coptic N. T. recently issued by the Clarendon Press lies before me as I write. A footnote at this verse states that fifteen Coptic manuscripts read "power," and four or five "veil. " Here we must leave the matter. Some may think this insufficient proof that the idea of a veil crept into the interpretation through a readily accomplished Coptic corruption. But until we obtain light to the contrary, we hold this belief.

(To be continued.)

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[4] These facts we gather from the highly valuable work of Dean Burgon, "The Revision Revised," and of Burgon and Miller, "Causes of Corruption in the Traditional Text of the N. T.”

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