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The Gospel According to Thomas, commonly shortened to the Gospel of Thomas, is a well-preserved early Christian, non-canonical sayings-gospel which many scholars believe provides insight into the oral gospel traditions. It was discovered near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in December 1945, in one of a group of books known as the Nag Hammadi library. The Gospel of Thomas was found among a collection of fifty-two writings that included, in addition to an excerpt from Plato's Republic, gospels claiming to have been written by Jesus' disciple Philip. Scholars have speculated that the works were buried in response to a letter from Bishop Athanasius, who for the first time declared a strict canon of Christian scripture.
The Coptic-Language text, the second of seven contained in what modern-day scholars have designated as Codex II, is composed of 114 sayings attributed to Jesus. Almost half of these sayings resemble those found in the Canonical Gospels, while it is speculated that the other sayings were added from Gnostic tradition. Its place of origin may have been Syria, where Thomasine traditions were strong.
The introduction states: "These are the hidden words that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas wrote them down." Didymus (Greek) and Thomas (Aramaic) both mean "twin". Some critical scholars suspect that this reference to the Apostle Thomas is false, and that therefore the true author is unknown.
It is possible that the document originated within a school of early Christians, possibly proto-Gnostics. Some critics further claim that even the description of Thomas as a "gnostic" gospel is based upon little other than the fact that it was found along with gnostic texts at Nag Hammadi. The name of Thomas was also attached to the Book of Thomas the Contender, which was also in Nag Hammadi Codex II, and the Acts of Thomas. It is important to note, however, that while the Gospel of Thomas does not directly point to Jesus' divinity, it also does not directly contradict it, and therefore neither supports nor contradicts gnostic beliefs. When asked his identity in the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus usually deflects, ambiguously asking the disciples why they do not see what is right in front of them. This is similar to passages in the canonical gospels like John 12:16 and Luke 18:34. The text itself, however, continuously reflects Gnostic teachings by continuously referring to Jesus's sayings as "secret" and "mysterious", which were common gnostic catchphrases.
The Gospel of Thomas is very different in tone and structure from other New Testament apocrypha and the four Canonical Gospels. Unlike the canonical Gospels, it is not a narrative account of the life of Jesus; instead, it consists of logia (sayings) attributed to Jesus, sometimes stand-alone, sometimes embedded in short dialogues or parables. The text contains a possible allusion to the death of Jesus in logion 65 (Parable of the Wicked Tenants, paralleled in the Synoptic Gospels), but doesn't mention his crucifixion, his resurrection, or the final judgment; nor does it mention a messianic understanding of Jesus. Since its discovery, many scholars have seen it as evidence in support of the existence of the so-called Q source, which might have been very similar in its form as a collection of sayings of Jesus without any accounts of his deeds or his life and death, a so-called "sayings gospel".
Bishop Eusebius included it among a group of books that he believed to be not only spurious, but "the fictions of heretics". However, it is not clear whether he was referring to this Gospel of Thomas or one of the other texts attributed to Thomas.
The manuscript of the Coptic text (CG II), found in 1945 at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, is dated at around 340 AD. It was first published in a photographic edition in 1956. This was followed three years later (1959) by the first English-language translation, with Coptic transcription. In 1977, James M. Robinson edited the first complete collection of English translations of the Nag Hammadi texts. The Gospel of Thomas has been translated and annotated worldwide in many languages.
After the Coptic version of the complete text was discovered in 1945 at Nag Hammadi, scholars soon realized that three different Greek text fragments previously found at Oxyrhynchus, also in Egypt, were part of the Gospel of Thomas. These three papyrus fragments of Thomas date to between 130 and 250 AD. Prior to the Nag Hammadi library discovery, the sayings of Jesus found in Oxyrhynchus were known simply as Logia Iesu. The corresponding Koine Greek fragments of the Gospel of Thomas, found in Oxyrhynchus are:
The wording of the Coptic sometimes differs markedly from the earlier Greek Oxyrhynchus texts, the extreme case being that the last portion of logion 30 in the Greek is found at the end of logion 77 in the Coptic. This fact, along with the quite different wording Hippolytus uses when apparently quoting it (see below), suggests that the Gospel of Thomas "may have circulated in more than one form and passed through several stages of redaction."
The earliest surviving written references to the Gospel of Thomas are found in the writings of Hippolytus of Rome (c. 222–235) and Origen of Alexandria (c. 233). Hippolytus wrote in his Refutation of All Heresies 5.7.20:
"[The Naassenes] speak...of a nature which is both hidden and revealed at the same time and which they call the thought-for kingdom of heaven which is in a human being. They transmit a tradition concerning this in the Gospel entitled "According to Thomas," which states expressly, "The one who seeks me will find me in children of seven years and older, for there, hidden in the fourteenth aeon, I am revealed."
This appears to be a reference to saying 4 of Thomas, although the wording differs significantly.
In the 4th and 5th centuries, various Church Fathers wrote that the Gospel of Thomas was highly valued by Mani. In the 4th century, Cyril of Jerusalem mentioned a "Gospel of Thomas" twice in his Catechesis: "The Manichæans also wrote a Gospel according to Thomas, which being tinctured with the fragrance of the evangelic title corrupts the souls of the simple sort." and "Let none read the Gospel according to Thomas: for it is the work not of one of the twelve Apostles, but of one of the three wicked disciples of Manes." The 5th century Decretum Gelasianum includes "A Gospel attributed to Thomas which the Manichaean use" in its list of heretical books.
Richard Valantasis writes:
Assigning a date to the Gospel of Thomas is very complex because it is difficult to know precisely to what a date is being assigned. Scholars have proposed a date as early as 40 AD or as late as 140 AD, depending upon whether the Gospel of Thomas is identified with the original core of sayings, or with the author's published text, or with the Greek or Coptic texts, or with parallels in other literature.
Valantasis and other scholars argue that it is difficult to date Thomas because, as a collection of logia without a narrative framework, individual sayings could have been added to it gradually over time. (However, Valantasis does date Thomas to 100 – 110 AD, with some of the material certainly coming from the first stratum which is dated to 30 – 60 AD.)
Robert E. Van Voorst states:
Most interpreters place its writing in the second century, understanding that many of its oral traditions are much older.
Scholars generally fall into one of two main camps: an "early camp" favoring a date for the "core" of between the years 50 and 100, before or approximately contemporary with the composition of the canonical gospels and a "late camp" favoring a date in the 2nd century, after composition of the canonical gospels.
Theissen and Merz argue the genre of a collection of sayings was one of the earliest forms in which material about Jesus was handed down. They assert that other collections of sayings, such as the Q document and the collection underlying Mark 4, were absorbed into larger narratives and no longer survive as independent documents, and that no later collections in this form survive. Meyer also asserts that the genre of a "sayings collection" is indicative of the 1st century, and that in particular the "use of parables without allegorical amplification" seems to antedate the canonical gospels. Maurice Casey has strongly questioned the argument from genre: the "logic of the argument requires that Q and the Gospel of Thomas be also dated at the same time as both the book of Proverbs and the Sayings of Amen-em-Opet."
Stevan L. Davies argues that the apparent independence of the ordering of sayings in Thomas from that of their parallels in the synoptics shows that Thomas was probably not reliant upon the canonical gospels and probably predated them. Several authors argue that when the logia in Thomas do have parallels in the synoptics, the version in Thomas often seems closer to the source. Theissen and Merz give sayings 31 and 65 as examples of this. Koester agrees, citing especially the parables contained in sayings 8, 9, 57, 63, 64 and 65. In the few instances where the version in Thomas seems to be dependent on the Synoptics, Koester suggests, this may be due to the influence of the person who translated the text from Greek into Coptic.
Koester also argues that the absence of narrative materials (such as those found in the canonical gospels) in Thomas makes it unlikely that the gospel is "an eclectic excerpt from the gospels of the New Testament". He also cites the absence of the eschatological sayings considered characteristic of Q to show the independence of Thomas from that source.
Another argument for an early date is what some scholars have suggested is an interplay between the Gospel of John and the logia of Thomas. Parallels between the two have been taken to suggest that Thomas' logia preceded John's work, and that the latter was making a point-by-point riposte to Thomas, either in real or mock conflict. This seeming dialectic has been pointed out by several New Testament scholars, notably Gregory J. Riley, April DeConick, and Elaine Pagels. Though differing in approach, they argue that several verses in the Gospel of John are best understood as responses to a Thomasine community and its beliefs. Pagels, for example, says that John's gospel makes two references to the inability of the world to recognize the divine light.[better source needed] In contrast, several of Thomas' sayings refer to the light born 'within'.
John's gospel is the only canonical one that gives Thomas the Apostle a dramatic role and spoken part, and Thomas is the only character therein described as having apistos (unbelief), despite the failings of virtually all the Johannine characters to live up to the author's standards of belief. With respect to the famous story of Doubting Thomas, it is suggested  that John may have been denigrating or ridiculing a rival school of thought. In another apparent contrast, John's text matter-of-factly presents a bodily resurrection as if this is a sine qua non of the faith; in contrast, Thomas' insights about the spirit-and-body are more nuanced. For Thomas, resurrection seems more a cognitive event of spiritual attainment, one even involving a certain discipline or asceticism. Again, an apparently denigrating portrayal in the "Doubting Thomas" story may either be taken literally, or as a kind of mock "comeback" to Thomas' logia: not as an outright censuring of Thomas, but an improving gloss. After all, Thomas' thoughts about the spirit and body are really not so different from those which John has presented elsewhere. John portrays Thomas as physically touching the risen Jesus, inserting fingers and hands into his body, and ending with a shout. Pagels interprets this as signifying one-upmanship by John, who is forcing Thomas to acknowledge Jesus' bodily nature. She writes that "...he shows Thomas giving up his search for experiential truth – his 'unbelief' – to confess what John sees as the truth...". The point of these examples, as used by Riley and Pagels, is to support the argument that the text of Thomas must have existed and have gained a following at the time of the writing of John's Gospel, and that the importance of the Thomasine logia was great enough that John felt the necessity of weaving them into his own narrative.
As the scholarly debate continues on the issue of possible John–Thomas interplay, Christopher Skinner more recently responded in part to Riley, DeConick, and Pagels with John and Thomas – Gospels in Conflict? (Wipf and Stock, Princeton Theological Monograph Series 115, 2009).
Albert Hogeterp argues that the Gospel's saying 12, which attributes leadership of the community to James the Just rather than to Peter, agrees with the description of the early Jerusalem church by Paul in Galatians 2:1–14 and may reflect a tradition predating AD 70. Meyer also lists "uncertainty about James the righteous, the brother of Jesus" as characteristic of a 1st-century origin.
In saying 13, Peter and Matthew are depicted as unable to understand the true significance or identity of Jesus. Patterson argues that this can be interpreted as a criticism against the school of Christianity associated with the Gospel of Matthew, and that "[t]his sort of rivalry seems more at home in the first century than later", when all the apostles had become revered figures.
According to Meyer, Thomas's saying 17: "I shall give you what no eye has seen, what no ear has heard and no hand has touched, and what has not come into the human heart", is strikingly similar to what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:9 (which was itself an allusion to Isaiah 64:4)
The late camp dates Thomas some time after 100 AD, generally in the mid-2nd century. They generally believe that although the text was composed around the mid-2nd century, it contains earlier sayings such as those originally found in the New Testament gospels of which Thomas was in some sense dependent in addition to inauthentic and possibly authentic independent sayings not found in any other extant text.
Several scholars have argued that the sayings in Thomas reflect conflations and harmonisations dependent on the canonical gospels. For example, saying 10 and 16 appear to contain a redacted harmonisation of Luke 12:4912:51–52 and Matthew 10:34–35. In this case it has been suggested that the dependence is best explained by the author of Thomas making use of an earlier harmonised oral tradition based on Matthew and Luke. Biblical scholar Craig A. Evans also ascribes to this view and notes that "Over half of the New Testament writings are quoted, paralleled, or alluded to in Thomas... I'm not aware of a Christian writing prior to AD 150 that references this much of the New Testament."
Another argument made for the late dating of Thomas is based upon the fact that Saying 5 in the original Greek (Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 654) seems to follow the vocabulary used in the gospel according to Luke (Luke 8:17), and not the vocabulary used in the gospel according to Mark (Mark 4:22). According to this argument – which presupposes firstly the rectitude of the Two-Source Hypothesis (widely held amongst current New Testament scholars), in which the author of Luke is seen as having used the pre-existing gospel according to Mark plus a lost Q document to compose his gospel – if the author of Thomas did, as Saying 5 suggests – refer to a pre-existing gospel according to Luke, rather than Mark's vocabulary, then the gospel of Thomas must have been composed after both Mark and Luke (the latter of which is dated to between 60 AD and 90 AD).
Another saying that employs similar vocabulary to that used in Luke rather than Mark is Saying 31 in the original Greek (Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 1), where Luke 4:23's term dektos (acceptable) 4:23 is employed rather than Mark 6:4's atimos (without honor). The word dektos (in all its cases and genders) is clearly typical of Luke, since it is only employed by him in the canonical gospels Luke 4:19; 4:24; Acts 10:35). Thus, the argument runs, the Greek Thomas has clearly been at least influenced by Luke's characteristic vocabulary.
According to John P. Meier, c 1990, scholars predominately conclude that Thomas depends on or harmonizes the Synoptics.
Several scholars argue that Thomas is dependent on Syriac writings, including unique versions of the canonical gospels. They contend that many sayings of the Gospel of Thomas are more similar to Syriac translations of the canonical gospels than their record in the original Greek. Craig A. Evans states that saying 54 in Thomas, which speaks of the poor and the kingdom of heaven, is more similar to the Syriac version of Matthew 5:3 than the Greek version of that passage or the parallel in Luke 6:20.
Klyne Snodgrass notes that saying 65–66 of Thomas containing the Parable of the Wicked Tenants appears to be dependent on the early harmonisation of Mark and Luke found in the old Syriac gospels. He concludes that, "Thomas, rather than representing the earliest form, has been shaped by this harmonizing tendency in Syria. If the Gospel of Thomas were the earliest, we would have to imagine that each of the evangelists or the traditions behind them expanded the parable in different directions and then that in the process of transmission the text was trimmed back to the form it has in the Syriac Gospels. It is much more likely that Thomas, which has a Syrian provenance, is dependent on the tradition of the canonical Gospels that has been abbreviated and harmonized by oral transmission."
Nicholas Perrin argues that Thomas is dependent on the Diatessaron, which was composed shortly after 172 by Tatian in Syria. Perrin explains the order of the sayings by attempting to demonstrate that almost all adjacent sayings are connected by Syriac catchwords, whereas in Coptic or Greek, catchwords have been found for only less than half of the pairs of adjacent sayings. Peter J. Williams analyzed Perrin's alleged Syriac catchwords and found them implausible.  Robert Shedinger wrote that since Perrin attempts to reconstruct an Old Syriac version of Thomas without first establishing Thomas' reliance on the Diatessaron, Perrin's logic seems circular.
Bart Ehrman argues that the historical Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher, and that his apocalyptic beliefs are recorded in the earliest Christian documents: Mark and the authentic Pauline epistles. The earliest Christians believed Jesus would soon return, and their beliefs are echoed in the earliest Christian writings. The Gospel of Thomas proclaims that the Kingdom of God is already present for those who understand the secret message of Jesus (Saying 113), and lacks apocalyptic themes. Because of this, Ehrman argues, the Gospel of Thomas was probably composed by a Gnostic some time in the early 2nd century.
N.T. Wright, the former Anglican bishop and professor of NT history at Cambridge and Oxford, now Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St Mary's College in the University of St Andrews in Scotland, also sees the dating of Thomas in the 2nd or 3rd century A.D. Wright's reasoning for this dating is that the "narrative framework" of 1st century Judaism and the New Testament is radically different from the worldview expressed in the sayings collected in the Gospel of Thomas. Thomas makes an anachronistic mistake by turning Jesus the Jewish prophet into a Hellenistic/Cynic philosopher. Wright concludes his section on the Gospel of Thomas in his book "The New Testament in the People of God" in this way: "[Thomas'] implicit story has to do with a figure who imparts a secret, hidden wisdom to those close to him, so that they can perceive a new truth and be saved by it. 'The Thomas Christians are told the truth about their divine origins, and given the secret passwords that will prove effective in the return journey to their heavenly home.' This is, obviously, the non-historical story of Gnosticism... It is simply the case that, on good historical grounds, it is far more likely that the book represents a radical translation, and indeed subversion, of first-century Christianity into a quite different sort of religion, than that it represents the original of which the longer gospels are distortions... Thomas reflects a symbolic universe, and a worldview, which are radically different from those of the early Judaism and Christianity."
The harsh and widespread reaction to Marcion's canon, the first New Testament canon known to have been created, may demonstrate that, by 140 AD, it had become widely accepted that other texts formed parts of the records of the life and ministry of Jesus. Although arguments about some potential New Testament books, such as the Shepherd of Hermas and Book of Revelation, continued well into the 4th century, four canonical gospels, attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, were accepted among proto-orthodox Christians at least as early as the mid-2nd century. Tatian's widely used Diatessaron, compiled between 160 and 175 AD, utilized the four gospels without any consideration of others. Irenaeus of Lyons wrote in the late 2nd century that since there are four quarters of the earth ... it is fitting that the church should have four pillars ... the four Gospels (Against Heresies, 3.11.8), and then shortly thereafter made the first known quotation from a fourth gospel—the canonical version of the Gospel of John. The late 2nd-century Muratorian fragment also recognizes only the three synoptic gospels and John. Bible scholar Bruce Metzger wrote regarding the formation of the New Testament canon, "Although the fringes of the emerging canon remained unsettled for generations, a high degree of unanimity concerning the greater part of the New Testament was attained among the very diverse and scattered congregations of believers not only throughout the Mediterranean world, but also over an area extending from Britain to Mesopotamia."
It should be noted that information about the historical Jesus himself was not a singular criterion for inclusion into the New Testament Canon. Not all of the books that ended up in the New Testament contain information about the historical Jesus nor teachings from the historical Jesus, as evidenced by the Epistles and the book of Revelation.
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In the Thomas gospel, Jesus is presented as a spiritual guide whose words (when properly understood) bring eternal life (Saying 1). Readers of these sayings are advised to continue seeking until they find what will enable them to become rulers of their own lives (Saying 2) and thus to know themselves (Saying 3) and their legacy of being the children of "the living Father" (Saying 3). These goals are presented in the image of "entering the Kingdom" by the methodology of insight that goes beyond duality. (Saying 22). The Gospel of Thomas shows little or no concern for orthodox religious concepts and doctrines. Scholars have traditionally understood the Gospel of Thomas as a Gnostic text because it was found amongst other gnostic texts, was understood as being prone to a Gnostic interpretation by the early Church, and emphasized knowledge as the key to salvation, particularly in Saying 1. However this view has recently come under some criticism by suggesting that while it is possible to interpret the text in a way that aligns with Gnosticism there is nothing inherently Gnostic about the text itself.
The Gospel of Thomas emphasizes direct and unmediated experience. In Thomas saying 108, Jesus says, "Whoever drinks from my mouth will become as I am; I myself shall become that person, and the hidden things will be revealed to him." Furthermore, salvation is personal and found through spiritual (psychological) introspection. In Thomas saying 70, Jesus says, "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you." As such, this form of salvation is idiosyncratic and without literal explanation unless read from a psychological perspective related to Self vs. ego. In Thomas saying 3, Jesus says,
...the Kingdom of God 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.
In the other four gospels, Jesus is frequently called upon to explain the meanings of parables or the correct procedure for prayer. In Thomas saying 6, his disciples ask him, "Do you want us to fast? How should we pray? Should we give alms? What diet should we observe?" For reasons unknown, Jesus's answer is found in saying 14, wherein he advises against fasting, praying, and the giving of alms (all contrary to Christian practice of the time), although he does take a position similar to that in Mark 7: 18–19 and Matthew 15:11 that what goes into the mouth will not defile a person, but what comes out of the mouth will. This is just one example in Thomas in which the hearer's attention is directed away from objectified judgments of the world to knowing oneself in direct and straighforward manner, which is sometimes called being "as a child" or "a little one" through the unification of dualistic thinking and modes of objectification. (For example, Sayings 22 and 37) To portray the breaking down of the dualistic perspective Jesus uses the image of fire which consumes all. (See Sayings 10 and 82).
The teaching of salvation (i.e., entering the Kingdom of Heaven) that is found in The Gospel of Thomas is neither that of "works" nor of "grace" as the dichotomy is found in the canonical gospels, but what might be called a third way, that of insight. The overriding concern of The Gospel of Thomas is to find the light within in order to be a light unto the world. (See for example, Sayings 24, 26)
In contrast to the Gospel of John, where Jesus is likened to a (divine and beloved) Lord as in ruler, the Thomas gospel portrays Jesus as more the ubiquitous vehicle of spiritual inspiration and enlightenment, as in saying 77:
I am the light that shines over all things. I am everything. From me all came forth, and to me all return. Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift a stone, and you will find me there.
In many other respects, the Thomas gospel offers terse yet familiar if not identical accounts of the sayings of Jesus as seen in the synoptic gospels.
The question also arises as to various sects' usage of other works attributed to Thomas and their relation to this work. The Book of Thomas the Contender, also from Nag Hammadi, is foremost among these, but the extensive Acts of Thomas provides the mythological connections. The short and comparatively straightforward Apocalypse of Thomas has no immediate connection with the synoptic gospels, while the canonical Jude – if the name can be taken to refer to Judas Thomas Didymus – certainly attests to early intra-Christian conflict. The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, shorn of its mythological connections, is difficult to connect specifically to our gospel, but the Acts of Thomas contains the Hymn of the Pearl whose content is reflected in the Psalms of Thomas found in Manichaean literature. These psalms, which otherwise reveal Mandaean connections, also contain material overlapping the Gospel of Thomas.
As one of the earliest accounts of the teachings of Jesus, the Gospel of Thomas is regarded by some scholars as one of the most important texts in understanding early Christianity outside the New Testament. In terms of faith, however, no major Christian group accepts this gospel as canonical or authoritative. It is an important work for scholars working on the Q document, which itself is thought to be a collection of sayings or teachings upon which the gospels of Matthew and Luke are partly based. Although no copy of Q has ever been discovered, the fact that Thomas is similarly a 'sayings' Gospel is viewed by some scholars as an indication that the early Christians did write collections of the sayings of Jesus, bolstering the Q hypothesis.
Most scholars do not consider Apostle Thomas the author of this document and the author remains unknown. J. Menard produced a summary of the academic consensus in the mid-1970s which stated that the gospel was probably a very late text written by a Gnostic author, thus having very little relevance to the study of the early development of Christianity. Scholarly views of Gnosticism and the Gospel of Thomas have since become more nuanced and diverse. Paterson Brown, for example, has argued forcefully that the three Coptic Gospels of Thomas, Philip and Truth are demonstrably not Gnostic writings, since all three explicitly affirm the basic reality and sanctity of incarnate life, which Gnosticism by definition considers illusory and evil.[dead link]
Mani had three disciples: Thomas, Baddas and Hermas. Let no one read the Gospel according to Thomas. For he is not one of the twelve apostles but one of the three wicked disciples of Mani.
Many scholars consider the Gospel of Thomas to be a gnostic text, since it was found in a library among others, it contains Gnostic themes, and perhaps presupposes a Gnostic worldview. Others reject this interpretation, because Thomas lacks the full-blown mythology of Gnosticism as described by Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. 185), and because Gnostics frequently appropriated and used a large "range of scripture from Genesis to the Psalms to Homer, from the Synoptics to John to the letters of Paul."
Some modern scholars believe that the Gospel of Thomas was written independently of the canonical gospels, and therefore is a useful guide to historical Jesus research. Scholars may utilize one of several critical tools in biblical scholarship, the criterion of multiple attestation, to help build cases for historical reliability of the sayings of Jesus. By finding those sayings in the Gospel of Thomas that overlap with the Gospel of the Hebrews, Q, Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, and Paul, scholars feel such sayings represent "multiple attestations" and therefore are more likely to come from a historical Jesus than sayings that are only singly attested.
The Gospel of Thomas does not refer to Jesus as "Christ" or "Lord," as the New Testament does, but does call him "Jesus," and "Son of Man," which are concurrent with the canonical Gospels. The Gospel of Thomas also lacks any mention of Jesus' birth, baptism, miracles, travels, death, and resurrection. However, some of the sayings in Thomas are similar to sayings and parables found in the canonical gospels.
The Gospel of Thomas does not list the canonical twelve apostles and it does not use either this expression or the terms "the twelve" or "the twelve disciples." It does mention James the Just, who is singled out ("No matter where you are you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being"); Simon Peter; Matthew; Thomas, who is taken aside and receives three points of revelation; Mary; and Salome. Although here Mary (presumably Mary Magdalene) and Salome are mentioned among the disciples, the canonical gospels and Acts make a distinction between an inner group of twelve male disciples, with varying lists of names, and a larger group of disciples, among which there may well have been women. Despite the favorable mention of James the Just, generally considered a "pro-circumcision" Christian, the Gospel of Thomas also dismisses circumcision:
His disciples said to him, "Is circumcision useful or not?" He said to them, "If it were useful, their father would produce children already circumcised from their mother. Rather, the true circumcision in spirit has become profitable in every respect."
Compare Thomas 8 SV
8. And Jesus said, "The person is like a wise fisherman who cast his net into the sea and drew it up from the sea full of little fish. Among them the wise fisherman discovered a fine large fish. He threw all the little fish back into the sea, and easily chose the large fish. Anyone here with two good ears had better listen!"
with Matthew 13:47–50 NIV:
47"Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Note that Thomas makes a distinction between large and small fish, whereas Matthew makes a distinction between good and bad fish. Furthermore, Thomas' version has only one fish remaining, whereas Matthew's version implies many good fish remaining. The manner in which each Gospel concludes the parable is instructive. Thomas' version invites the reader to draw their own conclusions as to the interpretation of the saying, whereas Matthew provides an explanation connecting the text to an apocalyptic end of the age.
Another example is the parable of the lost sheep, which is paralleled by Matthew, Luke, John, and Thomas.
This is the parable of the lost sheep in Matthew 18:12–14 NIV
12"What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost."
This is the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15: 3–7 NIV
3Then Jesus told them this parable: 4"Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' 7I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent."
This is the parable of the lost sheep in Thomas 107 SV
107. Jesus said, "The kingdom is like a shepherd who had a hundred sheep. One of them, the largest, went astray. He left the ninety-nine and looked for the one until he found it. After he had toiled, he said to the sheep, I love you more than the ninety-nine."
This is the lost sheep discourse in John 10: 1–18 NIV
1"I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. 3The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice." 6Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them.
7Therefore Jesus said again, "I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. 11"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14"I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life — only to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father."
Other parallels include
The material in the Comparison Chart is from the Gospel Parallels by B. H. Throckmorton, The five Gospels by R. W. Funk, The Gospel According to the Hebrews, by E. B. Nicholson & The Hebrew Gospel and the Development of the Synoptic Tradition by J. R. Edwards.
|Item||Matthew, Mark, Luke||John||Thomas||Nicholson/Edwards Hebrew Gospels|
|New Covenant||The central theme of the Gospels – Love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself ||The central theme – Love is the New Commandment given by Jesus ||Secret knowledge, love your friends ||The central theme – Love one another |
|Forgiveness||Very important – particularly in Matthew and Luke ||Assumed ||Not mentioned||Very important – Forgiveness is a central theme and this gospel goes into the greatest detail |
|The Lord's Prayer||In Matthew & Luke but not Mark ||Not mentioned||Not mentioned||Important – “mahar” or "tomorrow" |
|Love & the poor||Very Important – The rich young man ||Assumed ||Important ||Very important – The rich young man |
|Jesus starts his ministry||Jesus meets John the Baptist and is baptized in the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar ||Jesus meets John the Baptist, 46 years after Herod's Temple is built (John 2:20)||Only speaks of John the Baptist ||Jesus meets John the Baptist and is baptized. This gospel goes into the greatest detail |
|Disciples-number||Twelve||Twelve ||not mentioned ||Twelve |
|Disciples-inner circle||Peter, Andrew, James & John ||Peter, Andrew, the Beloved Disciple ||Thomas, James the Just||Peter, Andrew, James, & John |
Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James, Simon the Zealot, Judas Thaddaeus, & Judas Iscariot
Matthew, James the Just (Brother of Jesus), Simon the Zealot, Thaddaeus, Judas Iscariot
|Possible Authors||Unknown; Mark the Evangelist & Luke the Evangelist||The Beloved Disciple ||Unknown||Matthew the Evangelist (or Unknown) |
|Virgin birth account||Described in Matthew & Luke, Mark only makes reference to a "Mother"||Not mentioned, although the "Word becomes flesh" in John 1:14||N/A as this is a gospel of Jesus' sayings||Not mentioned|
|Jesus' baptism||Described ||Seen in flash-back (John 1:32-34) ||N/A||Described great detail |
|Preaching style||Brief one-liners; parables||Essay format, Midrash||Sayings, parables ||Brief one-liners; parables |
|Storytelling||Parables ||Figurative language & Metaphor ||proto-Gnostic, hidden, parables ||Parables |
|Jesus' theology||1st century liberal Judaism.||Critical of Jewish Authorities ||proto-Gnostic||1st century Judaism |
|Miracles||Many miracles||Seven Signs||N/A||Fewer miracles |
|Duration of ministry||Not mentioned, possibly 3 years according to the Parable of the barren fig tree (Luke 13)||3 years (Four Passovers)||N/A||1 year |
|Location of ministry||Mainly Galilee||Mainly Judea, near Jerusalem||N/A||Mainly Galilee|
|Passover meal||Body & Blood = Bread and wine||Interrupts meal for foot washing||N/A||Hebrew Passover is celebrated but details are N/A Epiphanius |
|Burial shroud||A single piece of cloth||Multiple pieces of cloth ||N/A||Given to the High Priest |
|Resurrection||Mary and the Women are the first to learn Jesus has arisen ||John adds detailed account of Mary's experience of the Resurrection ||N/A||In the Gospel of the Hebrews is the unique account of Jesus appearing to his brother, James the Just.|
Elaine Pagels, in her book Beyond Belief, argues that the Thomas gospel at first fell victim to the needs of the early Christian community for solidarity in the face of persecution, then to the will of the Emperor Constantine, who at the First Council of Nicaea in 325, wanted an end to the sectarian squabbling and a universal Christian creed. She goes on to point out that in spite of its being left out of the Catholic canon, being banned and sentenced to burn, many of the mystical elements have proven to reappear perennially in the works of mystics like Jacob Boehme, Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross. She concludes that the Thomas gospel gives us a rare glimpse into the diversity of beliefs in the early Christian community, an alternative perspective to the Johannine gospel.
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