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? — Fauston (Brazil), Daniella (North Carolina), and several others.
Indeed, tradition is strong that the apostle Thomas established the church in India sometime in the 50s. 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. But the "gospel" attributed to him is another matter.
Thomas was considered by some Gnostics to be the twin brother of Jesus. "Judas Thomas the Twin" is the key phrase. The Egyptian Gnostics who created this "gospel" in fact identified Thomas with the Jude we know from the New Testament as one of Jesus’ four brothers.
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 is 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 180. Even in the first century, proto-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 given the shortness of Thomas, you should have no trouble locating the original sayings if 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.
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!”
Comment: 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!
Comment: 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?
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."
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). Or listen to my 2-CD set, The Lost Books of the Bible that were Never Missing.
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