Early Christian Spiritism in Translation: The Shepherd of Hermas--Mandate 11

The Jewish-Christian text known as The Shepherd of Hermas was composed during the mid-second century in or near Rome.  Hermas is the name of an individual who received revelations from his "shepherd," i.e., his guardian angel.  The text is structured with five visions, twelve mandates, and ten similitudes (or parables).  Interested readers can purchase the Greek texts, their discovery, history, and transmission along with an English translation found in Michael W. Holmes, ed.,  The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1999; fourth printing, 2005).

The 11th Mandate describes Hermas' guide discussing with Hermas the difference between a true prophet and a false prophet.  In the Greek text a "true prophet" is simply called "a prophet" and a "false prophet" is actually qualified by the Greek word pseudos, "false."  The 11th Mandate also describes a Christian gathering whereby those who are gathered "sit" in the presence of a medium and offer prayers to God in the hopes of the descent of "the holy spirit" who will speak through the medium.  Hermas, 11th Mandate runs as follows:

[1]. He (the guardian angel) showed me (Hermas) men seated on a bench, and another man seated on a chair.  And he said to, "Do you see those men seated on the bench?"  "I see them, sir," I replied.  "These," he said, "are faithful, but the one seated on the chair is a false prophet who destroys the mind of God's servant; that is, he destroys the mind of the double-minded, not of believers.

[2]. These double-minded ones come to him as to a fortune-teller, and ask him what will happen to them.  And that false prophet, not having the power of a divine spirit in himself, answers then in accordance with their questions and their wicked desires, and fills their souls just as they themselves wish.

[3]. For since he himself is empty, he gives empty answers to empty inquirers, for no matter what is asked, he answers according to the emptiness of the man asking.  But he does speak some true words, for the devil fills him with his spirit, to see if he will be able to break down any of the righteous.

[4]. So, those who are strong in the faith of the Lord, having clothed themselves with the truth, do not associate with such spirits, but have nothing to do with them. But those who are double-minded and frequently change their minds practice fortune telling like the "pagans" and bring greater sin upon themselves by their idolatries. For the one who consults a false prophet on any matter is an idolator and lacks the truth and is an idiot.

[5]. For any spirit that is given by God is not to be consulted; rather, having the power of the Godhead, that spirit speaks everything on its own initiative, because it is from above, from the power of the divine spirit.

[6]. But the spirit that is consulted and which answers according to the desires of the people consulting it is earthly and fickle, and has no power, and does not speak at all unless it is asked."

[7]. "So how, sir," I replied, "will a man know which of them is a prophet, and which is a false prophet?" "Hear," he said, "about both the prophet, and on the basis of what I am going to tell you, you can test the prophet and the false prophet.  Determine the man who has the divine spirit by his life.

[8]. In the first place the one who has the divine spirit from above is gentle and quiet and humble, and stays away from all evil and futile desires of this age, and considers himself to be poorer than others, and gives no answer to anyone when consulted.  Nor does he speak on his own (nor does the holy spirit speak when a man wants to speak), but he speaks when God wants him to speak.

[9]. So, then, when the man who has the divine spirit comes into an assembly of righteous men who have faith in a divine spirit, and intercession is made to God by the assembly of those men, then the angel, who is the prophetic spirit which is assigned to that man, fills the man, and the man, being filled with the holy spirit, speaks to the multitude, just as the Lord wills.

[10]. In this way, then, the spirit of the Godhead will be obvious.  Such, therefore, is the power of discernment with respect to the divine spirit of the Lord.

[11]. "Now hear," he said, "about the earthly and worthless spirit, which has no power but is foolish.

[12]. In the first place, that man who thinks he has a spirit [is a speaking-medium for spirits] exalts himself and wants to have a seat of honor, and immediately is arrogant and shameless and talkative and well acquainted with many luxuries and with many other pleasures, and receives money for his prophesying, and if he does not receive money, he does not prophesy.  Now, can a divine spirit receive money and still prophesy?  It is impossible for a speaking-medium [prophet] of God to do this, but the spirit of such prophets who do is of the Earth.

[13]. Next, he never comes near an assembly of righteous men; instead, he avoids them, and associates with the double-minded and the empty-headed, and prophesies to them in a corner and deceives them; everything he says is in accordance with their own desires and characterized by his own empty manner, for he is answering those who are empty.  For the empty vessel placed together with other empty vessels is not broken, but they match one another.

[14]. But when he comes to an assembly full of righteous men who are in communication with the holy spirits [who have a divine spirit], and intercession is made by them, that man is emptied and the earthly spirit that regularly spoke through him flees from him in fear, and that man is rendered speechless and is completely shattered, unable to say a thing.

[15]. For if you store wine or oil in a storeroom and place an empty jar in among them and then later you wish to clear out the storeroom, you will find that empty jar you placed there still empty.  So it is with empty prophets [speaking-mediums for evil spirits]; whenever they encounter the spirits of the righteous, they are found to be just as they were when they arrived.

[16]  You now have descriptions of the life of both kinds of speaking mediums.  Therefore, test by his or her life and by his or her actions that person who claims that he or she is a speaking-medium for spirits of any kind.

[17].  Put your trust in the spirit that comes from God and has power, but do not trust in any way the earthly and empty spirit, because it has no power, for it comes from the devil.

[18]. Listen to the parable I am about to tell you.  Take a stone and throw it toward the sky; see if you can reach it.  Or, for another example, take a water pump and squirt it toward the sky; see if you can penetrate it."

[19].  "How," I asked, "can these things be, sir? For both these things you just said are impossible."  "Well then," he said, "just as these things are impossible, so also are the earthly spirits powerless and weak.

[20] Now take the power that comes from above.  A hailstone is a very small pellet, but when it falls on a man's head, what pain it causes!  Or, for another example, take a drop that falls on the ground from the roofing tiles, and wears a hole in the rock.

[21] You see, then, that even the smallest things from above falling on the earth have great power; so also the divine spirit that comes from above is powerful.  So put your trust in this spirit [God's holy spirits from above], but have nothing to do with the other one [the devil's spirits from below who are earthly and empty]."


The text above may be thought of as a supplement to the Christian spiritism elaborated by Paul in First Corinthians 12 and 14.  Note here in Hermas, Mandate 11 the difference between those speaking mediums who are instruments for "the earthly and empty spirit" or "the devil's spirit" [and further note that this spirit is actually a plurality of SPIRITS as we see in 11.4,19], and those speaking mediums who are the instruments for "the divine spirit" or "the spirit that comes from God" [note also that just as there are a plurality of earthly spirits, so too are there a plurality of DIVINE SPIRITS from God as we see in 11.5.].  The grammatical phenomenon of using the singular "spirit" in place of the plural "spirits" is not unique to Hermas, Mandate 11.  We also find it in 1 John 4:1-6 where "the spirit of God" or "the spirit of truth" is "every spirit that comes from God" and "the spirit of antichrist" or "the spirit of error" is "every spirit that does not come from God."

Hermas, Mandate 11.9 gives us a glimpse into a Christian spiritist prayer service wherein a speaking medium for holy spirits ["divine" spirits] is present among those who are in communication with these spirits.  The assembly first has to give prayers to God, "intercession is made to God by the assembly of those men," in order for the manifestation of the holy spirits to occur.  Once this is done, a holy spirit enters into the speaking medium, "the man filled with the holy spirit," and speaks to the assembled congregation, but "just as the Lord wills."  One must not mistake the assertion in 11.5 that a holy spirit "must not be consulted" to mean that a holy spirit cannot be questioned or tested.  11.5 certainly does not mean that one should not ever consult God's spirits either, for the end of 11.5 states clearly that holy spirits do speak, but they speak on their own, that is, what the Lord wills them to speak and not what someone wants them to say.  The word "soothsayer" is derived from the activity of those speaking mediums who are instruments for spirits who say only "soothing" and "pleasing" things to its inquirers; that which the people want to hear with no care as to what God wants them to hear.  Hermas, Mandate 11 provides another piece of textual evidence that modern Christians deem "occult" or "Satanic," i.e., consulting spirits.  But among the Christians of the first, second, and third centuries communicating with the spirit world was the only means to know the Truth from God.  It is made clear to Hermas that there exist two spirit worlds, those spirits who serve "the devil" and those spirits who serve God.  There are also mediums for both camps and it is of the utmost importance that Christians know the difference between the two.  Both the true and false prophet are "inspired," i.e., are speaking mediums for spirits as we see in 11.16.  The Greek word used in 11.16 for "inspired" is pneumatophoron, literally, "moved by a spirit."  Since the topic is on prophets who speak, then it is apropos to understand this term to mean, in context, "moved to speak by a spirit."  Thus, I have translated pneumatophoron as one who is "a speaking medium for spirits of any kind" since the topic is on distinguishing the earthly from the divine spirits who speak through a prophet.  The point is to be extremely careful when communicating with the spirit world.  The assembled group who communicate with the spirit world must be a "righteous" group, believe in and pray to God, and must be interested only in communicating with spirits sent from God who, indeed, will speak through a speaking medium for God's spirits (11.9).