Question: "What is the Pistis Sophia?"
Answer: The Pistis Sophia is a Gnostic document that purports to contain additional teachings of Jesus Christ given after His resurrection. Pistis Sophia, which means “Faith Wisdom,” is not its true title and is found no place in the document itself. The Pistis Sophia was written long after the apostles had died, anywhere from the late second to the fourth century AD. Originally written in Greek, the oldest surviving copy of the Pistis Sophia is in Coptic.
The Pistis Sophia is divided into three sections, with a fourth, unrelated text usually included at the end. The document narrates the events that supposedly took place after Jesus’ resurrection: Jesus spends eleven years (or perhaps eleven months) teaching His disciples. Then, surrounded by flashes of lightning and blinding light, He ascends to a great height but then descends again thirty hours later, wrapped in light, to tell the disciples of His experiences. Jesus says that He ascended through various planes or levels of consciousness where He met several entities; just below the thirteenth level, Jesus met a woman in distress named Pistis Sophia who was enamored with the light of Christ and achieved a salvation of sorts.
The Pistis Sophia and the Gnostic gospels are writings by early “Christian” Gnostics, who espoused heretical beliefs couched in Christian language. During the first few centuries AD, Gnosticism became an influential movement, teaching that anything physical is inherently evil and anything spiritual is inherently good. The orthodox Christians during that time held to the books we now have in the Bible and to what is today considered orthodox theology. The Gnostics held a distinctly different view of the Bible, of Christ, of salvation, and of virtually every other major Christian doctrine. However, they did not have any apostolic writings to give legitimacy to their beliefs. So they wrote their own supporting documents.
That is why and how the Pistis Sophia and the Gnostic gospels were created. The Gnostics fraudulently attached the names of famous Christians to their writings, naming their books things like the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Mary, etc. The Pistis Sophia is not a gospel narrative; rather, it is a mystic presentation of Gnostic teachings. It is usually interpreted as an allegory of the soul’s journey to increasingly higher cosmic planes as it apprehends more and more esoteric truth.
The Pistis Sophia is not a source of truth. The early church fathers were nearly unanimous in recognizing the Gnostic texts as promoting false teachings about virtually every key Christian doctrine. There are countless contradictions between the Pistis Sophia and other Gnostic texts and the true Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Gnostic writings can be a resource for the study of early Christian heresies, but their doctrine should be rejected outright. They do not represent genuine Christian faith.