Theology Thursday – The Gospel of Thomas

The Gospel of Thomas is a Gnostic text full of alleged “sayings” of Jesus, likely dating from the late 2nd century. It is one of the most popular of the so-called “gnostic gospels” and is frequently mentioned in secular media around Easter or Christmas, when regular attacks against the Christian faith have become almost expected. The best way to understand the contrast between canonical Scripture and these “gnostic gospels” is to actually read them. To that end, here is an excerpt from the Gospel of Thomas, below:1

These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus| spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down:

  1. And he said, “Whoever finds the interpretation of these sayings will not experience death.”
  2. Jesus said, “Let him who seeks continue seeking until he finds. When he finds, he will become troubled. When he becomes troubled, he will be astonished, and he will rule over the all.”
  3. Jesus said, “If those who lead you say to you, ‘See, the kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.”
  4. Jesus said, “The man old in days will not hesitate to ask a small child seven days old about the place of life, and he will live. For many who are first will become last, and they will become one and the same.”
  5. Jesus said, “Recognize what is in your sight, and that which is hidden from you will become plain to you. For there is nothing hidden which will not become manifest.”
  6. His disciples questioned him and said to him, “Do you want us to fast? How shall we pray? Shall we give alms? What diet shall we observe?” Jesus said, “Do not tell lies,’ and do not do what you hate, for all things are plain in the sight of heaven. For nothing hidden will not become manifest, and nothing covered will remain without being uncovered.”
  7. Jesus said, “Blessed is the lion which becomes man when consumed by man; and cursed is the man whom the lion consumes, and the lion becomes man.”
  8. And he said, “The man is like a wise fisherman who cast his net into the sea and drew it up from the sea full of small fish. Among them the wise fisherman found a fine large fish. He threw all the small fish back into the sea and chose the large fish without difficulty. Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear.”
  9. Jesus said, “Now the sower went out, took a handful (of seeds), and scattered them. Some fell on the road; the birds came and gathered them up. Others fell on rock, did not take root in the soil, and did not produce ears. And others fell on thorns; they choked the seed(s) and worms ate them. And others fell on the good soil and it produced good fruit: it bore sixty per measure and a hundred and twenty per measure.”
  10. Jesus said, “I have cast fire upon the world, and see, I am guarding it until it blazes.”
  11. Jesus said, “This heaven will| pass away, and the one above it will pass away. The dead are not alive, and the living will not die. In the days when you consumed what is dead, you made it what is alive. When you come to dwell in the light, what will you do? On the day when you were one you became two. But when you become two, what will you do?”
  12. The disciples said to Jesus, “We know that you will depart from us. Who is to be our leader?” Jesus said to them, “Wherever you are, you are to go to James the righteous, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.”
  13. Jesus said to his disciples, “Compare me to someone and tell me whom I am like.” Simon Peter said to him, “You are like a righteous angel.” Matthew said to him, “You are like a wise philosopher.” Thomas said to him, “Master, my mouth is wholly incapable of saying whom you are like.” Jesus said, “I am not your master. Because you have drunk, you have become intoxicated from the bubbling spring which I have measured out.”

Notes

1 Helmut Koester, “The Gospel of Thomas,” Sayings 1-13, in The Nag Hammadi Library in English, ed. James M. Robinson, trans. Thomas O. Lambdin, 4th rev. ed. (Leiden; New York: E. J. Brill, 1996), 126–127.

1061 reads

There are 3 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture

Take lots of bits of the genuine Gospels, add a dab of philosophy and two scoops of cult religion, put it all in a blender. The resulting concoction tastes weirdly "almost, but never quite right... and occasionally revolting."

josh p's picture

Tyler thanks for posting this one. I was just talking to my son about this a couple of days  ago. It’s amazing to me how much the “missing gospels” and “there was no canon before it was voted on at Nicea in 325” has made it down to the popular level. 

Darrell Post's picture

Continuing Aaron's analogy, The Gospel of Thomas was likely the 'recipe' from which a forger created the recent 'favorite' gospel of skeptics, the Coptic fragment suggesting Jesus had a wife. The Harvard professor, Karen King, was eager to publish it as a genuine, authentic fragment of an early Christian text. But upon closer scrutiny, the fragment was proven a forgery...written on a medieval papyrus, but in a Coptic dialect that fell out of usage before the 6th century, and the handwriting and style was an exact match for another fragment already proven to be a forgery. 

As far as I know the Harvard Theological Review has never published a retraction. And most people who heard about this in the media remember the story as confirming Jesus had a wife, but they never heard a follow-up story about it being a forgery. 

Help keep SI’s server humming. A few bucks makes a difference.