Thoughts on the Gospel of Thomas

The Gospel of Thomas was found among the Coptic translated texts in upper Egypt, known collectively as the Nag Hammadi Library. It announces itself as a collection of Jesus’s sayings that were transcribed by Didymos (meaning “twin” in Greek) Judas Thomas (meaning “twin” in Aramaic). Jesus says: “whoever discovers the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death,” -a heretical teaching that others may overcome death by following Jesus’s teaching. The gospel is described as “hidden words” -an echo of its Gnostic origins.

Unlike the canonical New Testament gospels, The Gospel of Thomas is not a narrative. The text reads like a scattered list of Jesus’s teachings, a series of logia. Many of the sayings and parables parallel, or perhaps give an even more interesting context to the sayings described in the canonical gospels. There is no direct account of Jesus’s divinity in the Gospel of Thomas. Some have suggested that this style of listing the sayings of Jesus was the earliest form of writing about Jesus, and that the narrative of his life was added later. Others have added that the earliest writings of Jesus reflect the teachings of an apocalyptic preacher (Gospel of Mark and the authentic Pauline epistles), while writings like the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of John reflect a much more existential teachings (“the kingdom of heaven is within” and so on). In fact, Thomas may have been a source document for the Gospel of John. Some believe The Gospel of Thomas is the oldest surviving collection of Jesus’s sayings. It may formally predate the canonical gospels. Eusebius listed is among the heretical texts of his time.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading through this short gospel, knowing it comes from a wellspring of creativity and diverse perspectives on Jesus in the early centuries have Jesus’s death. The Gospel of Thomas is surely a treasure, regardless of its authenticity or presumed heresy. There was quite a wide variety of literature surrounding the Thomas name – an Apocalypse of Thomas, Acts of Thomas, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the Book of Thomas the Contender, Hymn of the Pearl, the Psalms of Thomas, and others.

Here are a few examples of the sayings in the text:

“Jesus said, “Know what is in front of your face, and what is hidden from you will be disclosed to you. For there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed. [And there is nothing buried that will not be raised.]” (5).

“The disciples said to Jesus, “We know that you are going to leave us. Who will be our leader?” Jesus said to them, “No matter where you are you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.” (12).

“Jesus said, “Perhaps people think that I have come to cast peace upon the world. They do not know that I have come to cast conflicts upon the earth: fire, sword, war.” (16).

“Jesus said, “Congratulations to the one who came into being before coming into being. If you become my disciples and pay attention to my sayings, these stones will serve you. For there are five trees in Paradise for you; they do not change, summer or winter, and their leaves do not fall. Whoever knows them will not taste death.” (19).

“Jesus said, “Congratulations to those who are alone and chosen, for you will find the kingdom. For you have come from it, and you will return there again.” (49).

“Jesus said, “Congratulations to the person who has toiled and has found life.” (58).

“They showed Jesus a gold coin and said to him, “The Roman emperor’s people demand taxes from us.” He said to them, “Give the emperor what belongs to the emperor, give God what belongs to God, and give me what is mine.” (100).

“His disciples said to him, “When will the kingdom come?” “It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, ‘Look, here!’ or ‘Look, there!’ Rather, the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it.” (113).

“Simon Peter said to them, “Make Mary leave us, for females don’t deserve life.” Jesus said, “Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven.” (114 – may have been a latter interpolation).

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