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The Secret Revelation of John: Not without Controversy

by Shirley Paulson, PhD

The last verses of the Secret Revelation of John

Final Verses of the Secret Revelation of John, Folio 32 of the Nag Hammadi Codex II
Image from Wikimedia Commons, image in the public domain

I’m excited to tell the world about my new book, Illuminating the Secret Revelation of John.

To be clear, my book does not address the mysteries of the Biblical book known as the Revelation to John. Rather, it is an explanation and paraphrase of another ancient Christian book that is unrelated.  The Secret Revelation of John could have been written roughly around the same time period as the Revelation to John, or maybe a few decades later. It was a time when people desperately wanted guidance and help, and found that help in Jesus’s teachings.

Fundamentally, the ancient text, the Secret Revelation of John was a message of hope, offering a path of freedom for those who have been denied the right to speak or live under systems of domination. The book itself offers help (i.e. ‘salvation’) by outlining a spiritual path to attaining health and freedom.

For those who want to hold power and authority over others, the value of this ancient text remains controversial, because it discusses the kind of freedom that offends authoritarian control.

The Romans had conquered Israel, and they were still pursuing their policies of terror-by-crucifixion, high taxation, and oppression. Human bodies, political bodies, and social bodies (such as families) were brutally attacked and destroyed, raped, or enslaved. At the time, then, the act of writing or reading a book like the Secret Revelation of John was an act of resistance to the domination of the Roman Empire.

If you didn’t know this book was written in the context of violence and cruelty, you might think it was just an ethereal make-believe story. But really, the author offers three timeless gems of insight for people living with pain and suffering. First he offers consolation and guidance to those already in need. Second, he exposes the illegitimacy of evil and uncovers its counterfeit claims to power. And the third and final gem embedded in the author’s story is found in his explanation of how everyone, regardless of religious affiliation, birthrights, social stature, education privileges, wealth, or national heritage, is free to experience healing and saving help.

Is this too optimistic? Not if you take seriously the author’s conditions for effecting change. Healing of one’s physical body (as well as the political environment one lives in) comes about, not through changes outside our control, but through our own personal transformation. The divine Savior—who appears in both male and female forms—can guide anyone willing to follow, but a real transformation requires a change in one’s convictions to a higher consciousness. A better mind and body will become evident when one realizes they are a part of a universe governed by a benevolent power greater than any human accumulation of forces. This is the force that empowers those who awaken to the God who is good.

It is important to remember that when individuals become empowered, it threatens the people who desire to hold power over others (and the religious, political, and economic systems they create and support). In fact, all three of the gems amplified in the Secret Revelation of John have provoked theological controversies and accusations of heresy over the millennia. Lumping it all together, some call it ‘gnostic;’ some call it charismatic fancy; some call it the devil itself. But these generalities are excuses to denounce. It is not hard to imagine that when Christians finally gained the upper hand and began to dominate others, their own patriarchal leadership could have found themselves on the other side of the domination controversy. Admitting the right to self-government for others is tantamount to hierarchical self-destruction.

Nobody really knows what the secret part of the Secret Revelation of John refers to. But a couple of possibilities present themselves. It could be the secret among the readers of the book who found strength in opposition to their Roman oppressors. It could be an oblique reference to the “secret place of the Most High” from the 91st Psalm. That is, there is a way to find refuge in spiritual consciousness.

For those willing to hear, the insights in this ancient writing stretch our contemporary minds. And more importantly, when people find a path to freedom, they’re eager to share the secret of it. So concludes the Secret Revelation of John. My paraphrase of the ending of the book is as follows:

These things come in the purity of heart-to-heart prayer with God. And then the presence leaves us, so that we can go out to share it freely with anyone willing to hear.

Jesus Christ Amen!

Narrator: “This is the secret revelation according to John”

I look forward to conversations about this remarkable ancient book.

Shirley Paulson’s book, Illuminating the Secret Revelation of John: Catching the Light, was published by Cascade Books. To help readers better engage with the book, Shirley is discussing some of the more thought-provoking and startling issues raised in Illuminating… here on the Bible and Beyond Blog.