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The Third Book of Hermas,
called Similitudes


That seeing we have no abiding city in this world, we ought to look after that which is to come.

1. And he said to me, You must know that you who are the servants of the Lord live here as in a pilgrimage, for your city is far off from this city.
2. If, therefore, you know your city in which you are to dwell, why do you here buy estates, provide yourselves with delicacies, stately buildings, and superfluous houses? For he who provides himself these things in this city, does not think of returning into his own city.
3. O foolish and doubtful and wretched man who does not understand that all these things belong to other men, and under the power of another. For the Lord of this city says to you, Either obey my laws, or depart out of my city.
4. What therefore must you do who are subject to a law in your own city? Can you deny the law for your estate, or for any of those things which you have provided? But if you will deny it, and will afterwards return into your own city, you will not be received, but will be excluded from there.
5. See therefore that like a man in another country, you procure no more to yourself than what is necessary and sufficient for you. And be ready, so that when the God or Lord of this city will drive you out of it, you may oppose his law and go into your own city, where you may with all cheerfulness live according to your own law with no wrong.

Compare with: "For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker [is] God.... But now they desire a better [county], that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.... For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come." (Hebrews 11:10, 16; 13:14)

6. Take heed therefore you that serve God and have him in your hearts. Work the works of God, being mindful both of his commands and of his promises, and be assured that he will make them good to you, if you will keep his commandments.
7. Instead of the possessions that you would otherwise purchase, redeem those who are in want from their necessities, as everyone is able; justify the widows, judge the cause of the fatherless, and spend your riches and your wealth in such works as these.
8. For this purpose has God enriched you, that you might fulfill these kind of services. It is much better to do this than to buy lands or houses, because all such things will perish with this present time.
9. But what you will do you for the name of the Lord, you will find in your city, and will have joy without sadness or fear. Therefore do not covet the riches of the heathen, for they are destructive to the servants of God.

Compare with: "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break though and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Matthew 6:19-21)

10. But trade with your own riches, by which you may attain to everlasting joy.

Compare with: "Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Luke 12:33, 34)

11. And do not commit adultery, nor touch any other man's wife, nor desire her; but desire that which is your own business, and you will be saved.


As the vine is supported by the elm, so is the rich man helped by the prayers of the poor.

1. As I was walking into the field and considered the elm and the vine, and thought with myself of their fruits, an angel appeared and said to me, What is it that you think upon so long within yourself?
2. And I said to him, Sir, I think of this vine and this elm because their fruits are fair. And he said to me, These two trees are set for a pattern to the servants of God.
3. And I said to him, Sir, I would know in what consists the pattern of these trees which you mention. Pay attention, he said. Do you see this vine and this elm? Sir, I said, I see them.
4. This vine, he said, is fruitful, but the elm is a tree without fruit. Nevertheless, unless this vine were set by this elm and supported by it, it would not bear much fruit; but lying along upon the ground, it would bear but ill fruit, because it did not hang upon the elm; whereas, being supported upon the elm, it bears fruit both for itself and for that.
5. See, therefore, how the elm gives no less, but rather more fruit, than the vine. How, Sir, I said, does it bear more fruit than the vine? Because, he said, the vine being supported upon the elm gives both much and good fruit; whereas, if it lay along upon the ground, it would bear but little, and that very sickly too.
6. This similitude, therefore, is set forth to the servants of God, and it represents the rich and poor man. I answered, Sir, make this clear to me. Hear, he said, the rich man has wealth, nevertheless towards the Lord he is poor, for he is distracted about his riches and prays but little to the Lord; and the prayers which he makes are lazy and without force.

Compare with: "A faithful man shall abound with blessings: but he that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent." (Proverbs 28:20); "Then said Jesus unto his disciples. Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:23, 24)

Various interpretations have been suggested for the impossible image of a camel going through the eye of a needle: e.g., that the word was not "camel," but "rope"; or that the eye of a needle was a city gate through which camel might barely squeeze. (The Talmud uses a similar expression, "for an elephant to go through the eye of the needle.") But whatever the phrase refers to, it displays the difficulty of salvation for those who are attached to riches. The Bible presents wealth both as a blessing of God and a peril for the wealthy who do not use their riches to help the poor.

Compare with: "And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful." (Mark 4:19); "But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and [into] many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition."

7. When, therefore, the rich man reaches out to the poor those things which he lacks, the poor man prays to the Lord for the rich. And God grants to the rich man all good things because the poor man is rich is prayer, and his requests have great power with the Lord.
8. Then the rich man ministers all things to the poor, because he perceives that he is heard by the Lord, and he more willingly and without doubting affords him what he needs, and takes care that nothing be lacking to him.
9. And the poor man gives thanks to the Lord for the rich, because they both do their work from the Lord.
10. With men therefore, the elm is not thought to give any fruit; but they do not know or understand that by being added to the vine, the vine bears a double increase, both for itself and for the elm.
11. Likewise, the prayers of the poor to bless the rich are heard by the Lord; so their riches are increased, because they minister to the poor of their wealth. Therefore they both are made partakers of each other's good works.

Aside from the rather idealized portrayal of the spirituality of the poor, verses 7-11 present a novel rationale for benevolence and charity.

12. Whoever therefore will do these things, he will not be forsaken by the Lord, but will be written in the book of life.
13. Happy are they who are rich and perceive themselves to be enriched, for he that is cognizant of this will be able to minister something to others.


As the green trees in the winter cannot be distinguished from the dry, so neither can the righteous from the wicked in this present world.

1. Again he showed me many trees whose leaves were shed, and which seemed to me to be withered, for they were all alike. And he said to me, See these trees? I said, Sir, I see that they look like dry trees.
2. He answering said to me, These trees are like the men who live in the present world. I replied, Sir, why are they like dried trees? Because, he said, neither the righteous, nor unrighteous, are known from one another, but all are alike in this present world.
3. For this world is as the winter to the righteous men, who are not known, but dwell among sinners.
4. As in the winter all the trees having lost their leaves are like dry trees, nor can it be discerned which are dry and which are green, so in this present world neither the righteous nor wicked are distinguishable from each other, but are all alike.


As in the summer the living trees are distinguished from the dry by their fruit and green leaves, so in the world to come the righteous will be distinguished from the unrighteous by their happiness.

1. Again he showed me many other trees, some of which had leaves, and others appeared dry and withered. And he said to me, See these trees? I answered, Sir, I see them. Some are dry and others full of leaves.
2. He said, These green trees are the righteous who will possess the world to come. For the world to come is the summer to the righteous, but it is the winter to sinners.
3. When therefore the mercy of the Lord will shine forth, then they who serve God will be made evident and plain to all. For as in the summer the fruit of every tree is shown and made manifest, so also the works of the righteous will be declared and made manifest, and they will be restored in that world merry and joyful.
4. For the other kind of men, namely the wicked, like the trees which you saw dry, will be found just as dry and without fruit in that other world, and like dry wood will be burned; and it will be made clear that they have done evil all the time of their life;

Compare with: "Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither [can] a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them." (Matthew 7:17-20)

5. And they will be burned because they have sinned and have not repented of their sins. And also all the other nations will be burned, because they have not acknowledged God their Creator.

Compare with: "The wicked shall be turned into hell, [and] all the nations that forget God." (Psalm 9:17)

6. Therefore bring forth good fruit, so that in the summer your fruit may be known. Keep yourself from too much business, and you will not offend. For they who are involved in much business sin much, because they are taken up with their affairs and do not serve God.
7. And how can a man that does not serve God, ask anything of God and receive it? But they who serve him, ask and receive what they desire.
8. If a man has only one thing to follow, he may serve God because his mind is not taken off from God, and he serves him with a pure mind.
9. If therefore you do this, you may have fruit in the world to come; and all, as many as will do the same, will bring forth fruit.


Of a true fast, and the rewards of it, also of the cleanliness of the body.

1. As I was fasting in a certain mountain and giving thanks to God for all he things that he had done to me, behold I saw the shepherd, who was accustomed to converse with me, sitting by me and saying to me: What has brought you here so early in the morning? I answered, Sir, today I keep a station.

As in station or office of prayer, a recommended but voluntary devotional habit.

2. He answered, What is a station? I replied, It is a fast. He said, What is that fast? I answered, I fast, as I have been used to doing. You do not know, he said, what it is to fast to God; nor is this a fast which you fast, profiting nothing with God.
3. Sir, I said, what makes you speak like this? He replied, I speak it, because this is not the true fast which you think that you fast; but I will show you what is a complete fast, and acceptable to God.
4. Pay attention, he said. The Lord does not desire such a needless fast; for by fasting in this manner, you advance nothing in righteousness.
5. But the true fast is this: do nothing wickedly in your life, but serve God with a pure mind, keep his commandments, and walk according to his precepts, nor permit any wicked desire to enter into the mind.
6. But trust in the Lord, so that if you do these things and fear him, and abstain from every evil work, you will live to God.
7. If you will do this, you will perfect a great fast, and an acceptable one to the Lord.

For the nature of the acceptable fast, see Isaiah 58:3-11.

8. [New paragraph in the oldest extant manuscripts] Listen to the similitude which I am about to propose to you as to this matter.
9. A certain man having a farm and many servants, planted a vineyard in a certain part of his estate for his posterity,

This similitude begins like the parable of the vineyard in Matthew 21:33, but it turns quite different in development and in interpretation.

10. And taking a journey into a far country, chose one of his servants whom he thought the most faithful and approved, and delivered the vineyard into his care, commanding him that he should take up the vines. Which if he did, and fulfilled his command, he promised to give him his liberty. Nor did he command him to do anything more; and he so went into a far country.
11. And after that servant had taken that duty upon him, he did whatever his lord commanded him. And when he had staked the vineyard and found it to be full of weeds, he began to think with himself, saying:
12. I have done what my lord commanded me; I will now dig this vineyard, and when it is digged, it will be more beautiful; and the weeds being pulled up, it will bring forth more fruit and not be choked by the weeds.
13. So setting about this work he digged it and plucked up all the weeds that were in it; and so the vineyard became very beautiful and prosperous, not being choked with weeds.
14. After some time the lord of the vineyard came and went into the vineyard, and when he saw that it was handsomely staked and digged, and the weeds plucked up that were in it, and the vines flourishing, he rejoiced greatly at the care of his servant.
15. And calling his son whom he loved, and who was to be his heir, and his friends with whom he was accustomed to consult, he told them what he had commanded his servant to do, and what his servant had done more; and they immediately congratulated that servant, because he had received so just a commendation from his lord.
16. Then he said to them, I indeed promised this servant his liberty if he observed the command which I gave him; and he observed it and besides has done a good work to my vineyard, which has exceedingly pleased me.
17. Therefore for this work that he has done, I will make him my heir together with my son, because when he saw what was good, he neglected it not, but did it.
18. Both his son and his friends approved this design of the lord, namely, that his servant should be heir together with his son.
19. Not long after this, the master of the family called together his friends and sent from his supper several kinds of food to that servant.
20. Which when he had received, he took so much of it as was sufficient for himself, and divided the rest among his fellow servants.
21. Which when they had received, they rejoiced for what he had done to them and wished that he might find yet greater favor with his lord.
22. When his lord heard all these things, he was again filled with great joy; and calling again his friends and his son together, he related to them what his servant had done with the meats which he had sent to him.
23. They therefore assented even more to the master of the household that he ought to make that servant his heir together with his son.
24. [New paragraph in the oldest extant manuscripts] I said to him, Sir, I know not these similitudes, neither can I understand them, unless you expound them to me. I will, he said, expound all things to you whatever I have talked with you, or shown to you.
25. Keep the commandments of the Lord and you will be approved and will be written in the number of those that keep his commandments. But if besides those things which the Lord has commanded, you will add some good thing, you will purchase to yourself a greater dignity and be in more favor with the Lord than you would otherwise have been.
26. If therefore you will keep the commandments of the Lord and will add to them these stations, you will rejoice, but especially if you keep them according to my commands.

The phrase "add to them these stations" means to practice additional self-assumed, specific habits of devotion.

27. I said to him, Sir, whatever you will command me, I will observe, for I know that you will be with me. He said, I will be with you who have taken up such a resolution and with all those who purpose in like manner.
28. This fast, if you also observe the commandments of the Lord, is exceeding good. Therefore keep it.
29. First of all, take heed to yourself, and keep yourself from every shameful act, and from every filthy word, and from every hurtful desire; and purify your mind from all the vanity of this present world. If you will observe these things, this fast will be right.
30. Thus therefore do. Having performed what is before written, that day on which you fast you will taste nothing at all but bread and water; and computing the quantity of food which you are accustomed to eat upon other days, you will lay aside the expense which you would have made that day, and give it to the widow, the fatherless, and the poor.

It is unfortunate that this simple, practical advice, written early in the second century, has been unknown to Christians all this time.

31. That he who receives of it may satisfy his soul, and his prayer come up to the Lord God for you; thus you will perfect the humiliation of your soul.
32. If therefore you will thus accomplish your fast as I command you, your sacrifice will be acceptable to the Lord, and your fast will be written in his book.
33. This station, thus performed, is good and pleasing and acceptable to the Lord. If you will observe these things with your children and with all your house, you will be happy.
34. And whoever will do these things when they hear them, they also will be happy and receive whatever they will ask of the Lord.
35. And I begged him to expound to me the similitude of the farm, and the Lord, and of the vineyard, and of the servant that had staked the vineyard, and of the weeds that were plucked out of the vineyard, and of his son and his friends which he took into council with him. For I understood that this was a similitude.
36. He said to me, You are very bold in asking, for you ought not to ask anything, because if it is appropriate to show it to you, it will be showed to you.
37. I answered him, Sir, whatever you will show me without explaining it to me, if I do not understand what it is, I shall in vain see it. And if you propose any similitudes and not expound them, I shall in vain hear them.
38. He answered me again, Whoever is the servant of God and has the Lord in his heart, he desires understanding of him and receives it; for he understands the words of the Lord which need an inquiry and explains every similitude.
39. But they who are lazy and slow to pray, doubt to seek from the Lord. although the Lord is of such an extraordinary goodness that without ceasing he gives all things to them that ask of him.
40. You therefore who are strengthened by that venerable messenger and have received such a powerful gift of prayer because you are not slothful, why do you not now ask understanding of the Lord and receive it?
41. I said to him, Seeing I have you present, it is necessary that I should seek and ask it of you, for you show all things to me and speak to me when you are present.
42. But if I saw or heard these things when you were not present, I would then ask the Lord to show them to me.
43. [New paragraph in the oldest extant manuscripts] And he replied, I said a little before that you were subtle and bold, in that you ask the meaning of these similitudes.
44. But because you still persist, I will unfold to you this parable which you desire, so that you may make it known to all men.
45. Hear therefore, he said, and understand. The farm before mentioned denotes the whole earth. The Lord of the farm is he who created and finished all things, and gave virtue to them.
46. His son is the Holy Spirit; the servant is the Son of God; the vineyard is the people whom he saves. The stakes are the angels who are set over them by the Lord to support his people. The weeds that are plucked up out of the vineyard are the sins which the servants of God had committed.
47. The food which he sent him from his supper are the commands which he gave to his people by his Son. The friends whom he called to counsel with him are the holy angels whom he first created. The absence of the master of the household is the time that remains to his coming.
48. I said to him, Sir, all these things are very excellent, and wonderful, and good. But, I continued, could I or any other man, though ever so wise, have understood these things?
49. Therefore now, Sir, tell me what I ask. He replied, ask me what you will. Why, I said, is the Son of God in this parable put in the place of a servant?
50. Pay attention, he said. The Son of God is not put in the condition of a servant, but in great power and authority. I said to him, How, Sir? I do not understand it.
51. Because, he said, the Son set his angels over those whom the Father delivered to him, to keep every one of them; but he himself labored very much, and suffered much, that he might blot out their offenses.
52. For no vineyard can be digged without much labor and pains. For that reason after having blotted out the sins of his people, he showed to them the paths of life by giving them the law which he had received of the Father.
53. You see, he said, that he is the Lord of his people, because he received all power from his Father. But why the Lord took his Son and the good angels into counsel about dividing the inheritance, hear now.
54. That Holy Spirit, which was created first of all, he placed in the body in which God should dwell: namely, in a chosen body, as it seemed good to him. This body therefore into which the Holy Spirit [as before above] was brought, served that Spirit by walking rightly and purely in modesty, nor ever defiled that Spirit.

Most commentators suggest that the Holy Spirit in this similitude means the created Spirit of Christ as man; not the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity. The Shepherd of Hermas often turns the usual symbolisms of Bible commentators upside down, and symbols become symbolic of other symbols, etc.

55. Seeing therefore the body at all times obeyed the Holy Spirit and labored rightly and chastely with him, nor faltered at any time, that body was wearied and indeed lived servilely, but being mightily approved to God with the Holy Spirit, was accepted by him.
56. For such a stout course pleased God, because he was not defiled in the earth, keeping the Holy Spirit. He called therefore to counsel his Son, and the good angels, that there might be some place of standing given to this body which had served the Holy Spirit without blame, for fear it would seem to have lost the reward of its service.
57. For every pure body in which the Holy Spirit has been appointed to dwell and that is found without spot, will receive its reward. And thus you now have the exposition of his parable also.
58. Sir, I said, since I have heard this exposition, I now understand your meaning. Listen further, he said. Keep this your body clean and pure so that the Spirit which will dwell in it may bear witness to it, and be judged to have been with you.
59. Also take heed that it not be instilled into your mind that this body perishes, and you abuse it with any lust. For if you will defile your body, you will also at the some time defile the Holy Spirit; and if you will defile the Holy Spirit, you will not live.

For "defile the Holy Spirit" some copies read "defile your body."

60. And I said, What if through ignorance this might have been already committed before a man heard these words; how can he who has thus defiled his body attain to salvation?
61. He replied, As for men's former actions which they have committed through ignorance, only God can afford a remedy to them, for all the power belongs to him.
62. But now guard yourself, and because God is almighty and merciful, he will grant a remedy to what you have formerly done amiss, if for the time to come you will not defile your body and spirit;
63. For they are companions together, and the one cannot be defiled but the other will be so too. Keep therefore both of them pure, and you will live to God.


Of two sorts of voluptuous men, and of their death, defection, and of the continuance of their pains.

1. As I was sitting at home praising God for all the things which I had seen, and thinking concerning the commands, that they were exceedingly good, and great, and honest, and pleasant, and such as were able to bring a man to salvation, I said thus within myself, I shall be happy if I shall walk according to these commands, and whoever will walk in them will live to God.
2. While I was speaking like this within myself, I saw him whom I had before been accustomed to see, sitting by me, and he spoke thus to me:
3. Why do you doubt concerning my commands which I have delivered to you? They are good, doubt not, but trust in the Lord, and you will walk in them. For I will give you strength to fulfill them.

Compare with: "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of [his] good pleasure." (Philippians 2:13)

4. The commands are profitable to those who will repent of those sins which they have formerly committed, if for the time to come they will not continue in them.
5. Whoever therefore you are who repents, cast away from you the vulgarity of the present world and put on all virtue, and righteousness so you will be able to keep these commands and not sin anymore from now on.
6. For if you will keep yourselves from sin in the time to come, you will cut off a great deal of your former sins. Walk in my commands, and you will live to God. These things have I spoken to you.
7. And when he had said this, he added, Let us go into the field, and I will show you shepherds of sheep. I replied, Sir, let us go.
8. And we came into a certain field, and there he showed me a young shepherd, finely arrayed, with his garments of a purple color. And he fed large flocks, and his sheep were full of pleasure and in much delight and cheerfulness, and they ran skipping here and there.
9. And the shepherd took very great satisfaction in his flock; and the countenance of that shepherd was cheerful, running up and down among his flock.

Every time we assume we can guess the Shepherd's meaning, he surprises us with his interpretation.

10. [New paragraph in the oldest extant manuscripts] Then the angel said to me, Do you see this shepherd? I answered, Sir, I see him. He said to me, This in the angel of delight and pleasure. He therefore corrupts the minds of the servants of God, and turns them from the truth by delighting them with many pleasures, and they perish.
11. For they forget the commands of the living God and live in luxury and vain pleasures, and are corrupted by the evil angel, some of them even to death and others to a falling away.

Falling away means defection from faith.

12. I replied, I do not understand what you mean by saying to death, and to a falling away. Hear, he said: All these sheep you saw exceeding joyful are such as have forever departed from God and given themselves up to the lusts of this present time.
13. To these therefore there is no return by repentance to life, because that to their other sins they have added this, that they have blasphemed the name of the Lord. These kind of men are ordained to death.
14. But those sheep which you saw not leaping, but feeding in one place, are such as have indeed given themselves up to pleasures and delights, but have not spoken anything wickedly against the Lord.
15. These therefore are only fallen off from the truth, and so yet have hope laid up for them in repentance. For such a falling off has some hope still left of a renewal, but they who are dead are utterly gone forever.
16. Again we went a little farther forward, and he showed me a great shepherd who had as it were a rustic figure, clad with a white goat's skin, having his bag upon his shoulder, and in his hand a stick full of knots and very hard, and a whip in his other hand, and his countenance was stern and sour; his look was enough to frighten a man.
17. He took from that young shepherd such sheep as lived in pleasures but did not skip up and down, and drove them into a certain steep craggy place full of thorns and briars, so much so that they could not get themselves free from them.
18. But being entangled in them, fed upon thorns and briars, and were grievously tormented with his whipping. For he still drove them on, and afforded them no place or time to stand still.
19. [New paragraph in the oldest extant manuscripts] When therefore I saw them so cruelly whipped and afflicted, I was grieved for them because they were greatly tormented, nor had they any rest afforded them.
20. And I said to the shepherd that was with me, Sir, who is this cruel and implacable shepherd, who is moved with no compassion towards these sheep? He answered, This shepherd is indeed one of the righteous angels, but he is appointed for the punishment of sinners.
21. To him therefore are delivered those who have erred from God and served the lusts and pleasures of this world. For this reason he punishes them with cruel and various kinds of pains, every one according to their deserts.
22. Sir, I said, I would know what kind of pains they are which every one undergoes? Pay attention, he said. The numerous pains and torments are those which men every day undergo in their present lives. For some suffer losses, others poverty, others various sicknesses. Some are unsettled, others suffer injuries from those that are unworthy, others fall under many other trials and inconveniences.
23. For many with an unsettled design aim at many things without profit, and they say that they do not have success in their undertakings.
24. They do not call to their mind what they have done amiss, and they complain of the Lord. When therefore they will have undergone all kind of vexation and inconvenience, then they are delivered over to me for good instruction to be confirmed in the faith of the Lord and to serve the Lord all the rest of their days with a pure mind.
25. And when they begin to repent of their sins, then they call to mind their works which they have done amiss, and give honor to God, saying that he is a just Judge, and they have deservedly suffered all things according to their deeds.
26. Then for what remains of their lives, they serve God with a pure mind and have success in all their undertakings, and receive from the Lord whatever they desire.
27. And then they give thanks to the Lord that they were delivered to me, nor do they suffer any more cruelty.
28. [New paragraph in the oldest extant manuscripts] I said to him, Sir, I entreat you still to show me now one thing. What, he said, do you ask? I said to him, Are they who depart from the fear of God tormented for the same time that they enjoyed their false delight and pleasures? He answered me, They are tormented for the same time.
29. And I said to him, They are then tormented but little, whereas they who enjoy their pleasures so as to forget God, ought to endure seven times as much punishment.
30. He answered me, You are foolish, neither understand the efficacy of this punishment. I said to him, Sir, if I understood it, I would not desire you to tell me.
31. Listen, he said, and learn what the force of both is, both of the pleasure and of the punishment. An hour of pleasure is over within its own space, but one hour of punishment has the efficacy of thirty days. Whoever therefore enjoys his false pleasure for one day, and is one day tormented, that one day of punishment is equivalent to a whole year's space.

In those days, one day was counted as twelve hours (one night is also twelve hours). Thus, the day starts at six in the morning and ends at six in the evening. Thus, the third hour of the day was nine o'clock, the sixth hour was noon, etc. The sixth hour of the night was midnight, etc. One hour is calculated as a twelfth of a day; thirty days is a twelfth of a year. Compare with: "Are there not twelve hours in the day?" (John 11:9)

32. Thus look how many days anyone pursues his pleasures, so many years is he punished for it. You see therefore how that the time of worldly enjoyments is but short, but that of pain and torments a great deal more.
33. I replied, Sir, because I do not understand at all these times of pleasure and pain, I entreat you that you would explain yourself more clearly concerning them. He answered me, Your foolishness still sticks to you.
34. Should you not rather purify your mind and serve God? Take heed, for fear that when your time is fulfilled, you be found still unwise. Hear then, as you desire, so you may more easily understand.
35. He who gives himself up one day to his pleasures and delights, and does whatever his soul desires, is full of great folly, nor understands what he does, but the day following forgets what he did the day before.
36. For delight and worldly pleasure are not kept in memory, by reason of the folly that is rooted in them. But when pain and torment befall a man a day, he is in effect troubled the whole year after, because his punishment continues firm in his memory.

Ancient writings sometimes contain remarkable psychological insights. This refers to the psychological phenomenon of time-distortion; we commonly say "Time flies when you're having fun," yet time drags when we are in pain or discomfort. (A stressful five minutes in a dentist's chair seems like an hour, and can ruins the whole day.) Here, the principle is applied to retribution.

37. Therefore he remembers it with sorrow the whole year, and then calls to mind his vain pleasure and delight, and perceives that for the sake of that he was punished.
38. They who have delivered themselves over to such pleasures are thus punished, because when they had life, they rendered themselves liable to death.
39. I said to him, Sir, what pleasures are hurtful? He answered, That is pleasure to every man which he does willingly.
40. For the angry man, gratifying his passion, perceives pleasure in it; and so does the adulterer and drunkard, the slanderer and liar, the covetous man and the defrauder, and whoever commits anything like these. Because he follows his evil disposition, he receives a satisfaction in doing it.

The phrase "follows his evil disposition" can be translated "obeys his disease."

41. All these pleasures and delights are hurtful to the servants of God. For these therefore they are tormented and suffer punishment.
42. There are also pleasures that bring salvation to men. For many, when they do what is good, find pleasure in it and are attracted by the delights of it.
43. Now this pleasure is profitable to the servants of God and brings life to such men. But those hurtful pleasures, which were before mentioned, bring torments and punishment.
44. And whoever will continue in them, and will not repent of what they have done, will bring death upon themselves.


That they who repent must bring forth fruits worthy of repentance.

1. After a few days in the same field where I had seen those shepherds, I saw the same person who before talked with me. And he said to me, What do you seek?
2. Sir, I said, I came to entreat you that you would command the shepherd, who is the minister of punishment, to depart out of my house, because he greatly afflicts me.
3. And he answered, It is necessary for you to endure inconveniences and vexations, because that good angel has commanded it concerning you in order to test you.
4. Sir, I said, what great offence have I committed, that I should be delivered to this angel? Pay attention, he said. You are indeed guilty of many sins, yet not so many that you should be delivered to this angel.
5. But your house has committed many sins and offenses, and therefore that good angel has been grieved at their doings and has commanded that for some time you should suffer affliction, so that they may both repent of what they have done and may wash themselves from all the lusts of this present world.
6. When therefore they will have repented and be purified, then that angel who is appointed over your punishment will depart from you.
7. I said to him, Sir, if they have behaved themselves so as to anger that good angel, yet what have I done? He answered, They cannot otherwise be afflicted, unless you, who are the head of the family, suffer.
8. For whatever you will suffer, they must necessarily feel it, but as long as you stand well established, they cannot experience any vexation.
9. I replied, But, Sir, behold they also now repent with all their hearts. I know, he said, that they repent with all their hearts, but do you therefore think that their offenses are immediately blotted out?
10. No, they are not presently; but he that repents must afflict his soul and show himself humble in all his affairs, and undergo many and diverse vexations.
11. And when he will have suffered all things that were appointed for him, then perhaps he that made him, and formed all things besides, will be moved with compassion towards him, and afford him some remedy, especially if he will perceive his heart to be pure from every evil work.
12. But at present it is expedient for you, and for your house, to be grieved; and it is needful that you must endure much vexation, as the angel of the Lord who committed you to me has commanded.

This is another of those hard explanations of why the righteous suffer. No single explication suffices for each individual case. Job's friends had cogent explanations in general, but none applied to his suffering. That a person may suffer because of the sins of loved ones, because only that can move them to repentance is a startling concept -- which applied to Hermas, but is not meant to be taken as a universal principle.

13. Rather give thanks to the Lord, that knowing what was to come, he thought you worthy to foretell that trouble was coming upon you, who are able to bear it.
14. I said to him, Sir, if you also be with me, I shall easily undergo any trouble. I will, he said, be with you, and I will entreat the angel who is set over your punishment to moderate his afflictions towards you.
15. And moreover you will suffer adversity only for a little time, and then you will again be restored to your former state; only continue in the humility of your mind.
16. Obey the Lord with a pure heart, you, and your house, and your children, and walk in the commands which I have delivered to you, and then your repentance may be firm and pure.
17. And if you will keep these things with your house, your inconveniences will depart from you.
18. And in the same manner all vexation will depart from all those who will walk according to these commands.


That there are many kinds of elect, and of repenting sinners; and how all of them will receive a reward proportionate to the measure of their repentance and good works.

1. Again he showed me a willow which covered the fields and the mountains, under whose shadow came all such as were called by the name of the Lord.
2. And by that willow stood an angel of the Lord very excellent and lofty, who cut down boughs from that willow with a great hook and reached out little rods, as it were about a foot long, to the people who were under the shadow of that willow.
3. And when all of them had taken them, he laid aside his hook, and the tree continued entire, as I had before seen it. At which I wondered and mused within myself.
4. Then that shepherd said to me, Forbear to wonder that the tree continues whole, notwithstanding so many boughs have been cut off from it, but wait a little, for now it will be shown you what that angel means, who gave those rods to the people.
5. So he again demanded the rods from them, and in the same order that every one had received them, he was called to him to restore his rod. When he had received them, he examined them.
6. From some he received them dry and rotten, and as it were touched with the moth; those he commanded to be separated from the rest and placed by themselves. Others gave in their rods dry indeed, but not touched with the moth; these also he ordered to be set by themselves.
7. Others gave in their rods half dry; these also were set apart. Others gave in their rods half dry and cleft; these too were set by themselves. Others brought in their rods half dry and half green; these were in like manner placed by themselves.
8. Others delivered up their rods two parts green, and the third dry; they too were set apart. Others brought their rods two parts dry, and the third green; they also were placed by themselves.
9. Others delivered up their rods less dry, that is, only a little of their tops were dry, but they had clefts; these were set apart the same way by themselves. In the rods of others there was but a little green, and the rest dry; these were set aside by themselves.
10. Others came and brought their rods as green as they had received them, and the greatest part of the people brought their rods thus, and the messenger greatly rejoiced at these; they also were put apart by themselves.
11. Others brought in their rods not only green, but full of branches; and these were set aside, being also received by the angel with great joy. Others brought their rods green with branches that also had some fruit upon them.
12. They who had such rods were very cheerful, and the angel himself took great joy at them, nor was the shepherd that stood with me less pleased with them.
13. [New paragraph in the oldest extant manuscripts] Then the angel of the Lord commanded crowns made of palms to be brought, and the angel crowned those men in whose rods he found the young branches with fruit, and commanded them to go into the tower.

The tower, of course, the same one in Visions, the First Book of Hermas, and means the Church.

14. He also sent into the tower those in whose rods he found branches without fruit, after giving a seal to them. For they had the same garment, that is, one white as snow, with which he bade them go into the tower. And so he did to those who returned their rods green as they had received them, giving them a white garment and sending them away to go into the tower.
15. Having done this, he said to the shepherd that was with me, I go my way, but send these within the walls, every one into the place in which he has deserved to dwell, first examining their rods, but examine them diligently so that no one deceive you. But and if anyone will escape you, I will try them upon the altar. Having said this to the shepherd, he departed.
16. And after he was gone, the shepherd said to me, Let us take the rods from them and plant them, if perhaps they may grow green again. I said to him, Sir, how can those dry rods ever grow green again?
17. He answered me, That tree is a willow and always loves to live. If therefore these rods will be planted and receive a little moisture, many of them will recover themselves.
18. Therefore I will try, and will pour water upon them, and if any of them can live, I will rejoice with him; but if not, at least by this means I shall be found not to have neglected my part.
19. Then he commanded me to call them, and they all come to him, every one in the rank in which he stood, and gave him their rods, which having received, he planted every one of them in their several orders.
20. And after he had planted them all, he poured much water upon them, to the point that they were covered with water and did not appear above it. Then when he had watered them, he said to me, Let us depart, and after a little time we will return and visit them.
21. For he who created this tree would have all those live who received rods from it. And I hope now that these rods are thus watered, many of them will receive in the moisture and will recover.
22. [New paragraph in the oldest extant manuscripts] I said to him, Sir, tell me what this tree denotes? For I am greatly astonished that after so many branches have been cut off, it seems still to be whole, nor does any less of it appear to remain, which greatly amazes me.
23. He answered, Listen carefully. This great tree which covers the plains and the mountains, and all the earth, is the law of God that is published throughout the whole world.
24. Now this law is the Son of God, who is preached to all the ends of the earth. The people that stand under its shadow are those who have heard his preaching and believed.
25. The great and venerable angel whom you saw was Michael, who has the power over his people and governs them. For he has planted the law in the hearts of those who have believed, and therefore he visits them to whom he has given the law, to see if they have kept it.
26. And he examines everyone's rod, and of those, many that are weakened; for those rods are the law of the Lord. Then he discerns all those who have not kept the law, knowing the place of every one of them.
27. I said to him, Sir, why did he send away some to the tower and left others here to you? He replied, Those who have transgressed the law they received from him are left in my power so that they may repent of their sins, but they who fulfilled the law and kept it are under his power.
28. But who then, I said, are those who went into the tower crowned? He replied, All are crowned who have striven with the devil and have overcome him; they are those who have suffered hard things in order to keep the law.
29. But they who gave up their rods green and with young branches, but without fruit, have indeed endured trouble for the same law, but have not suffered death, neither have they denied their holy law.
30. They who delivered up their rods green as they received them are those who were modest and just, and have lived with a very pure mind, and kept the commandments of God.
31. The rest you will know, when I shall have considered those rods which I have planted and watered.
32. [New paragraph in the oldest extant manuscripts] After a few days we returned, and in the same place stood that glorious angel, and I stood by him. Then he said to me, Gird yourself with a towel and serve me.
33. And I girded myself with a clean towel, which was made of coarse cloth. And when he saw me girded and ready to minister to him, he said, Call those men whose rods have been planted, every one in his order as he gave them.
34. And he brought me into the field, and I called them all, and they all stood ready in their several ranks. Then he said to them, Let every one pluck up his rod, and bring it to me. And first they delivered theirs, whose rods had been dry and rotten.
35. And those whose rods still continued so, he commanded to stand apart. Then they came whose rods had been dry but not rotten. Some of these delivered in their rods green, others dry and rotten, as if they had been touched by the moth.
36. Those who gave them up green, he commanded to stand apart, but those whose rods were dry and rotten, he caused to stand with the first sort. Then came they whose rods had been half dry, and cleft; many of these gave up their rods green and uncleft.
37. Others delivered them up green with branches, and fruit upon the branches, like those who went crowned into the tower. Others delivered them up dry but not rotten, and some gave them up as they were before, half dry and cleft.
38. Every one of these he ordered to stand apart, some by themselves, and others in their respective ranks.
39. Then came they whose rods had been green but cleft. These delivered their rods altogether green and stood in their own order. And the shepherd rejoiced at these, because they were all changed and free from their clefts.
40. Then they gave in their rods, who had them half green and half dry. Of these some were found wholly green, others half dry, others green with young shoots. And all these were sent away, every one to his proper rank.
41. Then they gave up their rods, who had them before two parts green and the third dry. Many of those gave in their rods green, many half dry, the rest dry but not rotten. So these were sent away, each to his proper place.
42. Then came they who had before their rods two parts dry and the third green, and many of these delivered up their rods half dry, others dry and rotten, others half dry and cleft, but few green. And all these were set every one in his own rank.
43. Then they reached in their rods, in which there was before but a little green, and the rest dry. Their rods were for the most part found green, having little boughs with fruit upon them, and the rest altogether green.
44. And the shepherd, upon sight of these, rejoiced exceedingly because he had found them thus, and they also went to their proper orders.
45. [New paragraph in the oldest extant manuscripts] Now after he had examined all their rods, he said to me, I told you that this tree loved life: you see how many have repented and attained to salvation. Sir, I said, I see it.
46. That you might know, he said, that the goodness and mercy of the Lord is great, and to be had in honor, who gave his Spirit to those who were found worthy of repentance.
47. I answered, Sir, why then did not all of them repent? He replied, Those whose minds the Lord foresaw would be pure, and that they would serve him with all their hearts, to them he gave repentance.
48. But for those whose deceit and wickedness he beheld and perceived that they would not truly return to him, to them he denied any return to repentance, for fear they should again blaspheme his law with wicked words.
49. But I said to him, Now, Sir, make known to me, what is the place of every one of those, who have given up their rods, and what their portion, that when they may have not kept their seal entire, but have wasted the seal which they received, will hear and believe these things, they may acknowledge their evil deeds and repent;
50. And receiving again their seal from you, may give glory to God, that he was moved with compassion towards them, and sent you to renew their spirits.
51. He said, Pay attention. They whose rods have been found dry and rotten, and as it were touched with the moth, are the deserters and the betrayers of the Church.
52. Who, with the rest of their crimes, have also blasphemed the Lord and denied his name which had been called upon them. Therefore all these are dead to God. And you see that none of them have repented, although they have heard my commands that you have delivered to them. Therefore life is far distant from these men.
53. They also who have delivered up their rods dry, but not rotten, have not been far from them. For they have been counterfeits, and brought in evil doctrines, and have perverted the servants of God; but especially those who had sinned, not allowing them to return to repentance, but keeping them back by their false doctrines.
54. These therefore have hope, and you see that many of them have repented since the time that you have laid my commands before them, and many more will yet repent. But they who will not repent will lose both repentance and life.
55. But they who have repented, their place is begun to be within the first walls, and some of them are even gone into the tower. You see therefore, he said, that in the repentance of sinners there is life, but for those who do not repent, death is prepared.
56. [New paragraph in the oldest extant manuscripts] Hear now concerning those who gave in their rods half dry and full of clefts. Those whose rods were only half dry are the doubtful, for they are neither living nor dead.
57. But they who delivered in their rods, not only half dry but also full of clefts, are both doubtful and evil speakers, who detract from those who are absent and never have peace among themselves, and who envy one another.
58. Nevertheless to those also repentance is offered, for you see that some of these have repented.
59. Now all of this kind who have quickly repented will have a place in the tower, but they who have been slower in their repentance will dwell within the walls; but they that will not repent, but will continue on in their wicked doings, will die the death.
60. As for those who had their rods green, but yet cleft, they are such as were always faithful and good, but they had some envy and strife among themselves concerning dignity and preeminence.
61. Now all who contend with one another about these things are vain and without understanding.
62. Nevertheless, seeing they are otherwise good, if when they will hear these commands they will amend themselves and will at my persuasion suddenly repent, they will at last dwell in the tower with those who have truly and worthily repented.
63. But if any one will again return to his dissension, he will be shut out from the tower and will lose his life. For the life of those who keep the commandments of the Lord consists in doing what they are commanded, not in dominion or in any other dignity.
64. For by forbearance and humility of mind, men will attain to life, but by seditions and contempt of the law, they will purchase death to themselves.
65. [New paragraph in the oldest extant manuscripts] They who had their rods had half dry and half green are those who are engaged in many affairs of the world, and are not joined to the saints. For which reason half of them live, and half are dead.
66. Since the time that they have heard my commands, many of these have repented and begun to dwell in the tower. But some of them have wholly fallen away; to these there is no more place for repentance.
67. For by reason of their present interests, they have blasphemed and denied God; and for this wickedness they have lost life. And of these many are still in doubt; these may yet return, and if they will quickly repent, they will have a place in the tower, but if they will be more slow, they will dwell within the walls; but if they will not repent, they will die.
68. As for those who had two parts of their rods green and the third dry, they have by manifold ways denied the Lord. Many of these have repented and found a place in the tower, and many have altogether departed from God. These have utterly lost life.
69. And some being in a doubtful state, have raised up dissensions; these may yet return, if they will suddenly repent and not continue in their lusts. But if they will continue in their evil doing they will die.
70. [New paragraph in the oldest extant manuscripts] They who gave in their rods two parts dry and the other green are those who have indeed been faithful, but besides are rich and full of good things, and thereupon have desired to be famous among the heathen outside, and have thereby fallen into great pride and begun to aim at high matters, and to forsake the truth.
71. Nor were they joined to the righteous, but lived with the heathen, and this life seemed the more pleasant to them. Nevertheless they have not departed from God, but continued in the faith; only they have not wrought the works of faith.
72. Many therefore of these have repented and begun to dwell in the tower. Yet others, still living among the heathen and being lifted up with their vanities, have utterly fallen away from God and followed the works and wickedness of the heathen. These kind of men therefore are reckoned among strangers to the Gospel.
73. Others of these began to be doubtful in their minds, despairing by reason of their wicked doings ever to attain to salvation. Others who were thus made doubtful, stirred up dissensions as well.
74. To these therefore, and to those who by reason of their deeds are become doubtful, there is still hope of return, but they must repent quickly for their place to be in the tower. But they that repent not, but continue still in their pleasures, are near to death.
75. [New paragraph in the oldest extant manuscripts] As for those who gave in their rods green, excepting their tops, which only were dry and had clefts, these were always good and faithful, and upright before God; nevertheless they sinned a little by reason of their empty pleasures and trifling thoughts which they had within themselves.
76. When many of them they heard my words, they immediately repented and began to dwell in the tower. Nevertheless some grew doubtful, and others to their doubtful minds added dissensions. To these there is still hope of return because they were always good, but they will not easily be moved.
77. Lastly, those who gave in their rods dry except for their tops, which alone were green, they are such as have believed indeed in God but have lived in wickedness, yet without departing from God, having always willingly borne the name of the Lord and readily received the servants of God into their houses.
78. For that reason, when they heard these things they returned and without delay repented, and lived in all righteousness. And some of them suffered death, while others readily underwent many trials to remind them of their evil doings.
79. [New paragraph in the oldest extant manuscripts] And when he had ended his explications of all the rods, he said to me, Go and say to all men that they repent, and they will live to God because the Lord, being moved with great clemency, has sent me to preach repentance to all.
80. Even to those who by reason of their evil deeds do not deserve to attain to salvation. But the Lord will be patient and keep the invitation that was made by his Son.
81. I said to him, Sir, I hope that when they will hear these things, all will repent. For I trust that everyone, acknowledging his crimes and taking up the fear of the Lord, will return to repentance.
82. He said to me, Whoever will repent with all their hearts and cleanse themselves from all the evils that I have before mentioned and not add anything more to their sins, if they will not doubt any of these commands, will receive from the Lord the cure of their former iniquities and will live to God.
83. But they that will continue to add to their transgressions and still persist in the lusts of the present world, will condemn themselves to death. But you walk in these commands, and whosoever will walk in these, and exercise them rightly, will live to God.
84. And having showed me all these things, he said, I will show you the rest in a few days.

The categories in the interpretation do not always correspond exactly to the terminology in the similitude (probably due to copyists' errors), but here is a summary of this complex passage:

The willow tree is called both the law of God, and the Son of God; the angel who separates the believers into their various groups is Michael.

Those with dry and rotten rods "as it were touched by the moth" are deserters and betrayers of the Church, blasphemers of the Lord, none of whom repent.

Those with dry rods, but "not touched by the moth" (not rotten) are the counterfeit teachers with evil doctrines, some of whom repent.

Those with half dry rods are the doubtful, "neither alive nor dead," some of whom repent.

Those with half dry and cleft rods are the doubtful and evil speakers, full of envy, some of whom repent.

Those with half dry and half green rods are those engaged in worldly affairs, some of whom repent, but others completely fall away.

Those with green but cleft rods (a description in the interpretation that does not reflect any in the vision) are people who are always good and faithful, but with more or less envy, some of whom repent.

Those with rods two parts green, and the third dry are those who in manifold ways denied the Lord by dissensions, some of whom repent, although others altogether depart from God.

Those with rods two parts dry, and the third green are rich and more or less faithful but desirous of being famous among the heathen, some of whom repent.

Those whose rods were green except for tops, which were dry with clefts, are believers who were faithful but sinned a little through empty pleasures and trifling thoughts, some of whom repent.

Those whose rods were a little green but the rest dry (assuming these are the same in the interpretation, whose rods were dry except for the tops, which were green), believed in God but lived in wickedness without departing from God, and willingly bore his name and showed hospitality to the servants of God; some of this group immediately repented, others only after trials, some of those trials leading to including death.

They who delivered up their rods as green as they received them were those who were modest and just, and lived with a very pure mind, and kept the commandments of God; these were given white garments and sent to the tower. (Most of the people were in this category.)

Those who gave up their rods green and full of young branches but without fruit, were those who did not deny the holy law but endured trouble for the Lord, although they had not suffered death. These were given a seal, a white garment, and sent to the tower.

Those whose rods were green with branches and some fruit were those who had striven with the devil and overcome him; they had suffered hard things in order to keep the law. All these were given crowns and sent into the tower.

Thus the chosen (elect) and repenting sinners fall into one of twelve categories.

Continue to Similitudes 9 and 10


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