It’s a common belief on the internet, and in pop depictions of Gnosticism (think Da Vinci Code), that the canonical Bible was extensively rewritten, edited, and mistranslated, in a coordinated plot to cover up, destroy, and defame, Gnosticism.
However, it does seem this trope is overstated, obviously no one can say for sure, I mean, it could be true, but the evidence we do have doesn’t seem to indicate such an extensive project of Biblical rewriting (well at least with New Testament texts, we’ll touch on a conspiracy with the Hebrew scriptures). BUT, that doesn’t mean there isn’t some truth to this exaggerated claim, there does some to be some scribal changes, additions, subtractions, and translating, that make canonical texts less in line with Gnostic ideas and perspectives. So, shine up your tin foil hats my dudes as it’s time for another mystical listicle to examine the times THE MAN did fudge the texts to keep us down:
Luke 17:21, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you!”
A supremely mystical and gnostic statement that is amplified and taken to the next level in Gnostic texts like the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus telling his disciples in the canonical Gospel of Luke where heaven is, it’s within, has often been mistranslated to, “heaven is amongst you” or “heaven is in your midst.” You have to torture the original Greek to make it read other than “within you,” plus the Syriac and Latin translations, as well as ancient commentaries, all keep the “within you” reading.
John 8:44, “You belong to the father of the devil and you want to carry out your father’s desires.”
The proto-Gnostics who wrote the Gospel of John seemed to have a cosmology and system where our universe is ruled by the evil demiurge who has a son, the devil, who he’s placed in charge of our world. This conception of the cosmos got obscured and orthodox-ized through translation—like in John 8:44 where Jesus is addressing his critics and tells them “You belong to the father of the devil,” which has been subtly changed through translation to, “You belong to your father, the devil.”
A little change but it makes a big difference. Again, the correct reading is more clear in the Greek, plus we have plenty of early commentaries on the text preserving this language—including arguments with Gnostics about this particular line and what it actually says.
Isaiah 7.11, “Ask a sign from the Mother of the LORD your God.”
Hey, remember a few paragraphs ago where I opened saying there probably wasn’t a conspiracy to edit the Bible with a specific agenda, well about that…at Talk Gnosis we’re big fans of theologian and Biblical scholar Margaret Barker, who has a cohesive theory about how the canonical Bible, mostly the Hebrew scriptures (the so-called “Old Testament) was edited and changed to remove a number of important mystical aspects of ancient Semitic religion, with the expulsion of the Divine Feminine from the texts being one of the major revisions. This is easier than it sounds as the original Hebrew that the books are composed in was originally written with no vowels, just consonants, so it’s easy to change whole words and phrases by swapping in different vowel combos.
An example is Isaiah 7.11 where changing one letter transforms, “Ask a sign from the Mother of the LORD your God,” into “Ask the LORD your God to give you a sign.” Now, conspiracy theorists looooove the Dead Sea Scrolls, and make up a bunch of untruths about what they contain, but in this case looking to the DSS is spot on, because that’s where the previously lost, “mother of the LORD,” reading was preserved.
If you know any other examples or have any follow-up questions you want addressed when I do part 2 then leave your feedback in the comments below: