I understand that Thomas went as far as India, but I am not so sure
whether he is the one who wrote ?The Gospel of Thomas.? Should this book
be in the Bible?
Indeed, tradition is strong that the apostle Thomas established the church
in India sometime in the ?40s. Although I started out skeptical about the
various accounts, I have read enough now to be fairly convinced. I have
even seen Thomas? tomb in south India. There seems little reason to doubt
the veracity of the tradition. The “gospel” attributed to him is another
The Gospel of Thomas is increasingly popular these days, especially among
people who want us to believe that the New Testament is not a complete or
accurate record of what Jesus taught during his earthly ministry.
Actually, this book, or collection of supposed sayings of Jesus, is not
really a “gospel” at all, since the Passion narrative is totally absent.
There is no emphasis either on self-sacrificing love, except possibly one
saying about carrying one?s cross.
Unlike the four canonical gospels, Thomas is only a sayings list. Before I
present an assortment of passages from Thomas, let me reiterate that I
doubt strongly that Thomas in any way responsible for its creation. The
theology of the book, if there is a real theology, is Gnostic. Insight is
more important than morality, spirit more real and significant than
matter. Gnosticism is making a comeback today in the New Age Movement.
This was a philosophy-religion that appealed to the ego, without requiring
any real commitment.
Manuscripts, complete or partial, have been found from the second and
third centuries, so probably Thomas was written no later than about 100 or
150, and may possibly date to the first century. The Bible reader will
recall that as early as Paul?s own lifetime, Gnosticism was a growing
threat to the nascent church. (See, for example, 1 Timothy, which is full
of warnings about the Gnostic teachers.) Note: Gnosis is the Greek word
for “knowledge”?as in 1 Timothy 6:20. The numbering of the following
excerpts may vary slightly from edition to edition, but give the shortness
of Thomas, you should have no trouble locating the original sayings in you
decide to go further in your study.
The Gospel of Thomas (Excerpts)
“These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and Judas Thomas
the Twin recorded.”
Comment: Here is purported to be a “secret” source for a competing
tradition about Jesus. Fragments of Thomas were discovered in the late
1800s, and by 1945 the Egyptian Desert had begun to yield more or less
complete copies. By reading these sayings, you enter an elite circle who
know what Jesus really said. Arcane sayings A number of sayings in Thomas
seem to defy analysis. What did they mean? What was their original
context? For example, consider the following two sayings. While
explanations have been offered, no one really knows what the writer?
whoever he was?meant to convey. ?
Saying 3: “Jesus said, ??the kingdom is inside you and outside you??”
Saying 7: “Jesus said, ?Happy is the lion whom the man eats, so that the
lion becomes a man; but woe to the man whom the lion eats, so that the man
becomes lion!?” In short, because we do not understand what these sayings
refer to, and because they are lacking the literary and historical
contexts that would give us the necessary clues, they must remain shrouded
in mystery. For all intents and purposes, they are arcane. Authentic
sayings? Some of the sayings reflect the genuine gospel tradition. In
fact, it is not possible to “prove” that none of these sayings is
authentic?especially with a little imagination! ?
Saying 2: “Jesus said, ?Let not him who seeks desist until he finds. When
he finds he will be troubled; when he is troubled he will marvel, and he
will reign over the universe.?” ?
Saying 47: “?a person cannot mount two horses or bend two bows, and a
servant cannot serve two lords?” ?
Saying 64: “?Business people and merchants will not enter the realm of my
Father.” (This saying appears at the end of Thomas? version of the Parable
of the Banquet. The beginning of the story is not especially problematic,
despite its rather disturbing ending.) ?
Saying 98: “?Give Caesar what is Caesar?s, give God what is God?s, and
give me what is mine!” Once again, there is no reason that some of Jesus?
words unrecorded in the scriptures (John 21:25) could not have found their
way into various sayings sources. Yet who is to assay them? Who will
assess whether they are authentic? Absurd sayings The following three
sayings reflect the Gnosticism of the early heretics, and the middle one
appears to be pantheistic. (Pantheism is the doctrine that God is
everything.) It is highly unlikely Jesus is the one behind any of them.
Saying 67: “Jesus said, ?He who knows the All and has no need but of
himself has need everywhere.?” ?
Saying 77: “Jesus said, ?I am the light which shines upon all. I am the
All; All has gone forth from me and All has come back to me. Cleave the
wood, and there am I; raise the stone, and there you will find me.?” ?
Saying 113/114: “Simon Peter said to them, ?Let Mary leave us, because
women are not worthy of life.? Jesus said, ?Behold, I shall guide her so
as to make her male, so that she may become a living spirit like you men.
For every woman who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Conclusion So is the N.T. missing any books? Not at all. Nothing is
“missing,” because nothing was removed or lost.
Quite simply, the early church did not recognize the authority of this
“gospel”?nor has any part of Christianity subsequently. Next time your
friends or workmates drop comments about the Gospel of Thomas, hopefully
you will be well equipped to respond!
Are you interested in further reading? Translations from the original
Coptic are easily obtainable. Try The Secret Teachings of Jesus: Four
Gnostic Gospels, tr. Marvin W. Meyer (New York: Random House, 1984), or
Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament, F. F. Bruce
(London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1974).
Douglas Jacoby, Ph.D. (www.douglasjacoby.com)